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How solid is your solidarity?

If social media were a person, it could very justifiably claim that it can do anything and everything. From generating awareness (and money) for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to trying to #BringBackOurGirls, social media seems to have its foot in every kind of activist campaign.  The shootings at the offices of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, on January 7 2015, catalysed another much talked about Twitter campaign: #JeSuisCharlie. Multiple people (French or not) changed their Facebook profile pictures to a banner stating the same. But are you really Charlie? And honestly, did you know about ALS before the (in) famous ice-bucket challenge took off? I didn’t and, while I could be accused of gross ignorance, I shouldn’t be expected to know everything about every crisis in the world. Neither should anyone else.

The main problem with social media activism is that it makes it far too easy to express solidarity. Living in Toronto, I can condemn the shootings or the abduction of the Nigerian girls by simply changing a status. But it is impossible for me to really feel the pain of individuals who their family members or the shock felt by an average Parisian after an attack in his or her city. Arguably, it is disrespectful to these people. Diana Moukalled, a Web Editor at Future Television (Lebanon), examined social media activism writing that “we feel obliged to express ourselves or react in some way, for when you are silent in the world of social media, you wither away and cease to exist.” The fear of metaphorically dying in a constructed, unreal world should not spur your sympathy: that would be the epitome of the term ‘crocodile tears’.

People deserve the benefit of doubt, so it is safe to assume that when most people heard about these events they were genuinely moved by the news. I use the term to cover a wide range of feelings: you may be “moved” by this article and would want to throw something at its writer. Yet it is much easier to type out and post a hashtag or to change a status or a profile picture than actually do something to change the circumstances. Therefore a social media activists’ outrage or grief is momentary: once it is online they can move onto the next crisis. That said, there are a few people who consistently use social media to constantly raise awareness about various issues. And the effort is truly admirable, because most of us couldn’t do it. Social media is capable of miraculous things, such as raising more than 15 million dollars for the fight against ALS. It has indisputably succeeded in raising awareness about a plethora of issues.

Life does not end with awareness: instead of posting a video of yourself pouring a bucket of ice (yes, its plain ice not cold water- ICE bucket folks) on someone else’s head or your own donate some money to the research foundation. Or do both, as many celebrities have been doing. While telling a bunch of strangers from some stage in your life that you are an upstanding member of society fighting for freedom of speech, try and create a non-judgemental, discussion friendly environment in your social circles. And if you can’t do either of those things do the people, who are actually affecting change around the many issues you regularly post about, a favour and stop pretending that you care. We could all do with a less overworked Newsfeed.

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Ruminations on….well, read on and figure it out :D

Freshmen are often told that they will “discover themselves” at university. The discovery happens both inside and outside the classroom. There are multiple possibilities; the changes that others have told one to expect don’t necessarily happen.
We are often told that we will completely change the course of our degrees. Often, students start with a particular subject and end with its opposite.
Disclaimer: All the instances cited here are based on empirical evidence i.e. what I observe around me, which may be flawed, biased, exaggerated and likely, hysterically funny. DO NOT consider it the Gospel Truth.
The Oh-my-god, need to change majors/ faculties/ perspective on life epiphany
While the first semester of university does deliver many academic epiphanies to a student’s doorstep, they aren’t necessarily as dramatic as widely believed. For example, it doesn’t work like this:
Student: What a wonderful class! Based on this one class alone, I’m going to declare a major in this subject because, hey, all of the courses required to complete this major/ specialist/ minor are as fantastic. Guaranteed. And I don’t need to do any further research, talk to the College Registrar or to any upper year students. When you know, you just know.

It is likely that something similar to the next few scenarios will transpire.

Scenario 1:
A student, looking suitably disheveled from sleep deprivation/ whatever he or she was doing last night, walks into a lecture hall.
Student: This place is massive, I won’t be able to ask a question (because it’s bloody scary). 2000 people in one room- I’m outta here.
Scenario 2:
Another equally morbid, heavily/ under populated lecture hall. Same, long-suffering student.
Student: Hmm… that sounds interesting. The professor doesn’t put me to sleep. Tutorials are interesting. Maybe I won’t drop this course. Considering pursuing a major in this subject, or not. Oh wait, that’s not up to me- GPA’s the boss.
Note: The repeated use of the word “interesting” shows the student’s lethargy.
Scenario 3:
The student is alert completely engaged in the lecture. In love with the professor or, whatever he/she is saying.
Student: THAT WAS AN AWESOME LECTURE! MUST ALWAYS ATTEND THIS LECTURE! I’VE FOUND MY MAJOR.
(Breaks into some form of excited dance)
MUST ALSO VISIT THE PROFESSOR DURING OFFICE HOURS. EVERY WEEK!
Scenario 4:
Student aimlessly wandering, looks tired from too much sleep.
Student: Lecture? What is that? Where is it? Am I enrolled in that course? (Walks away in a daze)
The in-touch with nature moment:
Looking at that first snowflake/ ray of sunlight through the curtains. Violins playing in the mesmerized student’s head.
Student: Nature is beautiful. Life is beautiful. I should take up yoga.
Disclaimer: Weather conditions are subject to change, depending on one’s geographical location.

The realization that “cool” is a subjective word.
Student A: I spent the whole night at the library. There are so many readings, but I really need to work harder. G-panting- P-panting- A
Student B: That’s cool. I had a “sick” week! Was out every night, AND I still made it to class.
Student A: That’s cool.
Student C: Can’t talk now- busy with so many extracurriculars. That resume won’t build itself. (Runs out of room)
Students A & B: That’s cool.
From this we also deduce that word “sick” is also subjective.
You can’t possibly do everything- and it’s okay:
Before beginning university, every student has a “bucket list’- although the contents of each vary. I did too- my list is endless and still incomplete. With great difficulty, I’ve managed to one or two of the things I had originally intended.
Once the onslaught of assignments, readings and tutorial attendance begins there is very little time left. In addition to that, one has to learn to live independently (this involves eating healthy, without parental nagging), cope with homesickness and make friends. The last one is a crucial as maintaining a healthy GPA because, as sociology tells us, “man is a social being”.
Note: This may not be applicable to you if you enjoy being a hermit crab and living (i.e. hiding) under your bed.
You also need to sleep enough…..well…try to sleep enough.

Don’t kill yourself, worrying about everything you didn’t do this semester. There’s still a WHOLE OTHER SEMESTER and lots of snow to trudge through.

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To be or not to be….choices of an average University of Toronto student

To be or not to be- Daily dilemmas of the regular UofT student

2014-09-03 15.33.52
Shakespeare’s oscillating, moody protagonist left us a few wise words before dying. Let us explore how they our daily lives as (clichéd as hell) “leaders of the future”- a title bequeathed to young people across the world by multiple people, that I don’t know who deserves the credit for it (read: citations). Read on , and be amused (hopefully):

1. To drop or not to drop ( a course)
2. To exercise or not to exercise (everyday)
3. To sue or not to sue ( the campus catering)
4. To cry or not to cry (for that dying GPA)
5. To sleep or not to sleep (that extra hour)
6. To live or not to live (in Robarts/ “Insert any other preferred library”)
7. To pursue or not to pursue ( those “meaningful” distractions called extra-curricular activities)
8. To attend or not to attend ( class/that particular party, the weekend before major submissions/tests)
9. To fight or not to fight (with one’s roommate/ the cold weather outside)
10. To run or not to run (away from campus)
11. To be or not to be ( happy, despite the challenging, often heart-breaking UofT universe)

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Canada calling…destination Toronto

The beautiful city of Toronto. #torontobynight
The beautiful city of Toronto. #torontobynight

The reason I haven’t written and no, this isn’t good old procrastination is because I’ve moved to a new city. As a student at the University of Toronto, I now live in as the name of the university suggests Toronto, Ontario, Canada. If you looked into the archives though, you would find that the last post was published in August its November now and I apologize to those kind enough to read this blog.

Being a university student has taught me a few things, but I’ll talk about that later. Mostly I hoped that God and my marginally improved time management skills ensure that I keep updating this blog regularly, since this is the only piece of writing I do now that’s not for class. Across the world many suffering souls i.e. other university students will empathize.

Now, for the big cliché reveal- A few things university has taught me:

  1. Living with a room mate is not as easy and fun as the wise-ones-before-us-say. Even if one has a room mate one actually talks to, one misses the privacy of one’s own space. And the embarrassing walk-ins on the aforementioned room mate and a (possibly) significant other become a fact of life. Rather like the sun rising in the east.
  2. Being a nerd doesn’t lead to expulsion from the rest of the (un)civilized society. In fact it helps maintain those three massively important letters G P A.
  3. Talking about politics (global or local) isn’t considered alien; it can bore others if done all the time. But I suppose that is applicable to anything in life.
  4. A Bathroom Battle Strategy is necessary when one shares a bathroom with forty-seven other people. Beware of the basins and commodes on a Saturday/ Sunday morning or even a very late Friday night.
  5. The library may well become one’s new home, in which case one wonders why one is paying those expensive residence fees. The libraries at the University of Toronto are mostly gorgeous, peaceful environments so no complaints there.
  6. The threat of that mountain of work that they warned us about yes, that’s very real and can be quite demoralizing. Best to work on those time management skills or pay the price.
  7. They also mentioned that the cafeteria food will be terrible, repetitive and make one want to vomit. The last one may be an exaggeration, but point taken. In fact these days my happy expressions closely resemble my I-just-escaped-the-caf face.
  8. Sex is everywhere. People are talking about it or, quite literally “doing it”. Refreshingly though, nobody’s hiding it.
  9. People get drunk routinely (read: frat parties, house parties, college parties), which makes one want to avoid the bathrooms on the weekends. Sadly one can’t. Kudos to those party-hard people who actually make it to class, and through term assignments successfully.
  10. There are lots of activities to pursue from simply the gym to the countless clubs. Don’t worry about getting healthy that automatically happens from all that power walking one does to reach class on time and courtesy of all that sacrificed caf food. Fair warning though; although many things seem appealing one won’t be able to it all.

I won’t be mentioned the crashing averages, because everyone out there ( genius, stupid, average) has already suffered those. No point increasing grief in an already grieving world.

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The Non-Stop Tragedy

Recently I saw a televised news report about an American tourist’s experience in what we would all like to believe is “Incredible India”. The lady stated that India was “a traveler’s heaven and a woman’s nightmare” and judging by the horrific increase in apparently unceasing rape cases she is right.

So I switched on the television, scoured the internet for more information and was deeply disgusted by the response of the “authorities” who simply used their extensive vocabulary of “heinous crime”, “tragic” and “unpardonable” and did nothing (as usual). My anger did not abate for weeks and I went on abusing the authorities, social norms and political apathy to vent my frustration.

However when my rage had (finally) subsided I began to wonder what exactly the men were thinking? I wondered whether if it ever registered in the collective Indian male psyche that A WOMAN NEVER ASKS TO BE RAPED, WHATEVER SHE WEARS. It is like any other crime: a murdered person never asks to be murdered and no one issues public invitations to robbers for them to break in and steal. Yet the habit of blaming the victim continues to dominate the Indian mindset(both men and sadly, women). For example, after Delhi’s horrific gang rape a certain magazine delved deeper and asked men what they thought. Now while it gives one hope that men protested alongside women at India Gate last December, many of them publicly condemning rape and starting organizations to spread awareness among themselves as many men went with the aforementioned “she asked for it” argument. Most of these came from rural back grounds yet the rising number of crime against women in cities, especially the metropolises, suggest that this attitude is pervasive in “Big Cities” as well.

I’m going to play the eternal cynic here. What else can be expected in a country where the moral police brigade overworks itself and stops couples from… wait for it…holding hands in public and legions of clearly desperate men invade pubs and harass the women there. Add to this fine mix, complete politicization of rape cases and an administration that, as mentioned previously, does nothing but “expresses regret”. The point is we’re beating behind the bush on issues that DESPERATELY NEED to be addressed, creating issues out of nothing worthwhile (Eg. Re-naming train stations and imprisoning cartoonists) and as tradition dictates, blaming the victim.

So as the protests grow in numbers, people take to the street and the political class re-iterates its apathy, repeatedly highlighting that their mentality regarding women still resides in 1000 A.D I want to know what the men think and what they plan to do about the present extremely frightening (and disgusting) situation. Women are yelling louder and louder with each passing day.

Are the men listening?

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A 100 likes, 50 comments and an overworked newsfeed :)

Recently while updating my Facebook profile, which I do very rarely now because Facebook is a massive distraction, a number of “stories” popped up on my news feed. Many of these were of photographs, philosophically indulgent quotes and then…more photographs. Clicking on one of these links I soon found myself staring at a huge number of “likes”,an equally big number of inane comments by a variety of people and a few more creative responses like”Thank you :D” and “Love you too!!(saccharine smiley face)”
Now by no means do I object to the use (or voluntary overuse) of Facebook or any other social media, but I’ve begun wondering whether spending so much time in the virtual world is healthy. Admittedly social media has done (initial) wonders for my parents’ generation and others, with all the reconnecting, but in my generation’s case its usage seems to be downright rude and invasive. A Facebook “friend list” may be three thousand people strong but an actual friend list would be perhaps ten people strong. So effectively any poor, overworked news feed continues to give all of us information on the lives of irrelevant individuals who we have (probably) forgotten exist.
The other major feel-bad moment about social media is when real people would rather interact with the virtual “you”,than the real one sitting opposite them, for whatever reason. While talking to a friend or relative,for example,one often finds that they’d rather be talking to their (smart)phones or checking in on their virtual life . How do I know?
Because I most unfortunately succumbed to that very habit when I bought my first smartphone and while I was in the depths of virtual-world induced joy, I failed to notice exactly how unhappy this was making those people who actually wanted to know the “real” me.
Another thing to note (especially for students) about overuse of social media is that it is subtly dangerous.Very dangerous. Especially in the hands of exceptionally bored individuals. On a personal level it can make one very insecure and self-absorbed due to the continuous update of minute information. Online individuals can disguise themselves as different personalities, portray themselves very differently from their real persona and carry with themselves the ability to wreak total havoc. In fact this whole “Anonymously posting nasty comments about others” trend takes bullying and plain old nastiness to a whole different level. If you really hate someone say it to their faces (if you have the guts) or just avoid them in all the ways you think you can (if you don’t want to “court controversy”). Doing it through other people or forums is just plain cowardly and spiteful. A complete contrast to the ” Online Anonymous Nastiness” is the concept of “Anonymous Compliments” while making individuals feel good in that whole “you’ve got people rooting for you!” way, which is a great stand alone concept, begins to feel a little dry, pointless and cowardly after a point of time. If you want compliment a person, why not say it straight to their face? In fact communication of compliments directly will make the concerned person feel LOADS better than an anonymous compliment because now they know who is rooting for them and who to rely on “when the going gets tough”, which ultimately is a great thing for anyone to feel!