A Diplomatic Decision

My bedtime reading (hardly) these days.

My bedtime reading (hardly) these days.

As I was proudly writing down my list of easy and fun posts to write, I realized that with a master’s programme in Global Diplomacy looming over my head, I really cannot afford to spend time researching and writing about dinosaurs, the psychology behind cellotape selfies, singing nuns, or the history of padel tennis. My research and thinking needs to focus on understanding foreign policy and diplomatic relations, especially since my knowledge on the subject is extremely limited and I have a 15,000-word thesis to submit.

So, if I want to keep this writing challenge I so mindlessly decided to embark upon, I need to marry it with other goals for it to be productive rather than a joyful waste of time I don’t have.

This actually makes this challenge seriously harder.  But I’m up for it.

From now on, most my posts will be on current affairs (keyword *most*). I hope to see them evolve from basic information sharing posts to analytical posts.

I find current affairs extremely interesting and have always wanted to understand more about what impacts our world order, which is why I enrolled in this programme. However, when you are starting from scratch, it can get quite overwhelming.  Understanding the subject is one thing, and then writing about it is another. I hope this process accelerates the way I process information on complex political subjects. If it does, it will really help my degree. If it doesn’t then I know that I may have to cross off ever writing for The World Post.

#Day 11, post 8.

Disco Dino at Dubai Mall

dino

Looking at these pictures of dinosaurs I just cannot believe that they inhabited our planet 230 million years ago. They walked the same ground we are walking now!

Looking at the dinosaur at the Dubai Mall, I can’t believe that something from that many million years ago, is just there, next to Tiffany and Cartier – it’s so surreal. 230 million years from now, maybe our bones will be in some public arena for people (or creatures!?) to gape at.

Just to put this all into context, according to the BBC, the history of life on Earth as we know it began about 3.8 billion years ago. The bacteria that we fight everyday were the first living things (!). Evolution did its thing and starting 570 million years ago, species we are familiar with like arthropods (eg. cockroach) and fish started to develop. Mammals came to being about 200 million years ago and us Homo sapiens, only about 200,000 years ago. We’ve hardly been around!

There have been eras of mass extinction that have wiped out entire races of living things, like dinosaurs, while others have survived. When and what will cause the mass extinction of humans? Or will science help us evolve into an immortal race that will still be around 4 billion years from now? Isn’t it crazy to think about!?

So back to the dino in Dubai. She is a 155 million year old long-necked whip-tailed sauropod (translates from Greek to ‘lizard foot’). She is 80 feet long and 25 feet high, and was 25 years old when she died. Had she lived her whole life, she would be at least double the size and weigh as heavy as five elephants put together.

While looking at her, it took me a few seconds to determine which side her head was on. In the image, it’s the bit on the right. It’s a very small head, common for herbivore dinosaurs. Meat eating animals have bigger heads because they need the brains to think about how to find and kill their next prey, is what the Dubai Mall exhibit attendant told me.

They say her bones were found intact in a sleeping position in 2008 in Wyoming (USA), and she probably died after being attacked while fighting for water to drink during a drought. 90% of the bones in the exhibit are original. Her tailbones were damaged and required some fixing.

Dinosaurs first appeared during the Triassic period, 231 million years ago and became extinct about 66 million years ago. The first dinosaur fossils were recognized only in the early 19th century.

It’s so mind-boggling to have access to something that old. I cannot fathom what 155 million years old means. It’s just fascinating. Makes you really think about evolution and what sort of species living beings will turn into in the future.

There is a name the dino competition going on on Twitter #NameTDMDino. I thought I would be able to think of a name once I saw it, but I really can’t – nothing feels right. Cindy? Nicole? Anastassiarex? Natashasaurous? I hope they name her something special, not Dubai Mall Dino.

#Day10, post 7.

The Pursuit of Happiness – #HappyDay

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Today being the International Day of Happiness compelled me to spend some time researching and thinking about ‘happiness’.

The Greek language has a beautiful word for happiness – ‘eudaimonia’ – the exact translation of which is ‘human flourishing’. Eudaimonia is central to Aristotle’s philosophy that ‘happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.’ I often struggle when I think about the purpose of my life, and reading this quote put my mind at ease. Is it really that simple?

Happiness means different things to different people. The World Happiness Report says income levels are not the only indicators of well-being in rich and poor countries. Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are more important; and at the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to rely on, job security and a stable family are central to happiness.  But then again, to people living in poverty, fighting for food and water – 3 billion people (!) – is ‘happiness’ even relevant?

Happiness was put on the global agenda because of Bhutan, a tiny ‘land of dragons’ with a population of about 750,000 people. Happiness has been an organizing principle for governance in Bhutan since the early 18th Century when it declared that “if the Government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.” In 1972, Bhutan launched the Gross National Happiness Index recognizing happiness as a more important measure of prosperity than the Gross Domestic Product.

Following their inherent way of functioning and to extend it beyond borders, Bhutan called for a high-level meeting at the UN headquarters to discuss the importance of happiness as a universal goal. In the meeting held on April 2nd 2012, it discussed the need to have a new global sustainability-based economic paradigm for human happiness and well-being of all life forms to replace the current dysfunctional system that is based on the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet. The full report of the meeting can be read here; it’s fascinating to see how happiness can be incorporated into governance.

Some call the meeting a fantastic public relations stunt by Bhutan, but the concept of happiness is so engrained in the policies that govern the country, it’s definitely more than that. Hats off to them for getting the world to recognize this fundamental need for a better planet, even if it was just for publicity! This year happiness is even on Dubai’s agenda.

And then I was pleasantly surprised to find movements such as actsofhappiness, projecthappiness, actionforhappiness that work towards making people happy and encouraging people and companies to spread happiness and drive socio-economic change.

Today, fortunately or unfortunately Pharrell Williams owns the word Happy. And I really don’t know what to say about that except that you can’t hold anything against anyone who is promoting happiness J.

#Day 7, post 6.

It’s never too late…

Me dancing with Mohammed at a milonga. Picture courtesy Cesar Jaramillo from Latin Soul.

Me dancing with Mohammed at a milonga. Picture courtesy Cesar Jaramillo from Latin Soul.

The Tango community in Dubai is made of some really awesome and unique people. It’s like a big family with members from all over the world, that don’t really have much in common apart from their love of Tango.  In fact, I see them more than I do my own family!

There is one particular couple that inspires me every time I see them: Mohammed and Mary, an Iranian couple, married for around 50 years. Mohammed is almost 80, and Mary is a few years younger. They started learning Tango only five years ago. Today they do shows, still take classes, travel to Tango festivals, and are the life of many milongas.

Their hearts are young, their energy is vibrant, and they are clearly still wonderfully in love. They embody the spirit of dance: full of soul, spreading happiness, and ageless. I hope to be like them 50 years from now.

So do everything you want to. I’m 34 and have just started learning ballet – the average age ballet dancers quit dancing. Sometimes I feel a bit ridiculous in class when 15 year olds talk to me about their day at school before we begin dancing. But I love it, and I don’t care. And people like Mohammed and Mary, remind me that I shouldn’t care. It’s never too late to learn anything.

#Day 4, post 4.

Changing the world with a plastic bottle

Sanjna speaking at a TEDx event in Madrid.

Sanjna speaking at a TEDx event in Madrid.

She is 20 years old and the founder of a social venture that helps slums in Mumbai get free electricity during the day from solar energy. My little cousin Sanjna Malpani is an inspiration to me.

She founded Jal Jyoti (translates to ‘water light’) a few years ago and works with a team of youngsters on this project that is making a big difference to many slum dwellers in Mumbai.

The way it works sounds too easy to be true: You fill a 1.5L bottle with water and 10mm of bleach to prevent algae from growing, and install it in the roof of a house in a slum. The sun’s rays hit the bottle of water; the light refracts and illuminates the house by producing light equivalent to a 55watt bulb. The bottles can last 4-5 years. They also teach the slum residents how to make and install the bottles themselves, so that they can sustain it. Slums are often so densely packed and without windows that they hardly get any light. Most of the people living there cannot afford electricity, or they save it for nighttime. This tactic is saving them money and fulfilling a basic need that we take for granted.

The challenge hasn’t been the science behind it; it has been convincing extremely poor, uneducated strangers that you can give them free light if they let you drill a hole in their roof to insert a water bottle. However, once they see the result in a friends’ or neighbours’ house, they open up to the idea. Also, working with NGO’s who operate in those slums has helped Jal Jyoti gain trust from the residents. So far they have installed a 100 bottles.

Sanjna was inspired by Alfred Moser, a Brazilian mechanic who came up with the idea in 2002 and launched ‘A Litre of Light‘. Recognizing the potential of such a simple idea in India, she jumped on it.

I’m really proud of her. She took her first step towards changing the world at 18. Her ability to not only have understood a great idea, but envision it in her own country and then commit to implementing it, amazes me.

I’m inspired everyday by something, but it remains a fleeting inspiration. How I can change that and develop it into something, I still need to figure out.

Here’s a video of the work they do and how it impacts the community they work in. Do watch / share / like. And if you live in Mumbai, participate or collaborate!

#Day 3, post 3.

60 days, 60 posts

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When I think about the death of this blog, it deeply saddens me. Makes me feel like I gave up on something I really enjoyed: writing for myself.

The voices in my head have turned what used to be a simple joy into a conundrum driven by excuses: I don’t have time. I need a new angle for my blog. Let me launch a new blog and start all over. But what will I write about. When will I study. When will I finish all those books that are half read on my bedside table. Between dancing, yoga, running, work, a masters programme, and learning Arabic, I really don’t have time. I need to give up something. But I don’t want to give up anything!  I need to be going out more I don’t have time to blog. I’m turning into a nerd I need to go out more. No one is going to read my blog anyway. I’ve lost my blogger mojo.

Underneath it all is a nagging subconscious that says just WRITE goddammit.

So here I am making time to redeem the pleasure I used to get from writing. And, I’m happy to realize and admit – I don’t need to write earth-shattering posts. As long as I enjoy writing them, it really doesn’t matter.

Starting today, I will write 60 posts in 60 days with hope to repossess my blogging prowess, and discover a new angle for this blog in the process.

I don’t know what I am going to write about. But I will write everyday. I hope some readers I used to have come back! If not, I’ll just be happy to be writing again.

#Day 1, post 1

(Photo via http://www.gimmemojo.com/)

Ode to my little brother

ImageI’ve changed his nappies. I’ve made him cry. He has made me slam doors and scream my lungs out.

He has made me happy. He has made me proud. He has made me feel like the best human being on the planet.

He has shared secrets with me. I have given him good advice. I have given him bad advice. He has protected me. He has supported me unconditionally.

He drank his first beer with me. He hated it! Now he loves it. So if he ever becomes an alcoholic it will be my fault.

My brother is one of the most sincere, positive, generous, and open hearted people I know. He is also one of the most creative people I know –- except for when he designs his own tattoo. Thanks to me, he now has the coolest tattoo ever. His thoughts, my advice = great result. You are welcome, Anish.

He has a precocious mind. He knew what he wanted to major in, in the eighth grade. His first short story was published when he was in grade 10. He started his own business with his friends when he was 15. He is a football fanatic and I know he will work and excel in that industry one day.

He has numerous unique, multi-dimensional skills:  Intelligence (he passed his CFA the first time round, after studying only for a week!). A diligent and responsible work ethic. Can dance hip hop, rap and bhangra equally well to the same song. Can sing without embarrassing anyone. Superb design and video-editing skills. Taught himself to play the guitar. Can cook Indian food (!). Can do the tough-mudder.

He is amazingly patriotic, even though he hasn’t really lived in India. That feeling along with his talent, could make him a game changer for our country. I hope India doesn’t disillusion him irrevocably.

He has taught me to believe in who I am by always looking up to me. I feel a responsibility towards him as a big sister; it helps me make decisions sometimes. He is the most mature 24 year old I know. I won’t make big decisions without his opinion. He inspires me in many ways.

I hurt when he is hurting, and also when he acts stupid. I want to protect him, but still be the cool big sister. A tough balance to keep.

I worry who he will marry, only because in my mind no one will be good enough for him. But I do hope he finds genuine true love and is able to keep it for life.

He was born on my request when I was 9; I was a lonely child. He is the best gift my parents could ever give me. I am blessed to have him as my brother, and really wish he didn’t live 13,334 kilometres away.

Happy Raksha Bandhan, my dearest brother. I miss you.