Leave a comment

Blaming Starbucks Won’t Change Anything

I drink a lot of Starbucks coffee…a lot, and this past week I have been glued to my iPad reading all about the company’s recent PR nightmare.

Yes the story affects me, a terrible thing was done and yes, this an important conversation to have.  I could even boycott the brand like all of social media is urging customers to. But I won’t. While I understand and share the global anger over last week’s arrest of two African-American men at their local Starbucks; saying no to my Americano and mermaid cup is not going to resolve this deep rooted problem.

Sadly, the company currently faces its worst PR nightmare as people swear off its lattes and macchiatos. Protesters have appeared in public, on TV, inside stores, around street corners and on every nook of the internet. ‘Starbucks is Anti-Black’ and ‘Shame on Starbs’ tweets fill my feed. ‘Boycott Starbucks’ they all demand.

But here’s how I see it, Starbucks most certainly isn’t the problem. Deep rooted implicit racism is. It cannot be argued, that every day countless African-Americans are at the receiving end of implicit racial bias. Sadly their stories never get told, their experiences don’t make it to CNN and most certainly don’t take up space on your social media feed. These people probably deal with everyday racism routinely. If you notice the body language of the two men in the Starbucks video, you cannot help the feeling that this has probably happened to them before, it isn’t as big a deal to them as it was to the upper-middle class, white soccer mum who shot and tweeted the video. To them, racism is probably routine, and what happened, could have happened to them at any other location, restaurant, grocery store, school or medical facility in America. The circumstances change,  but the story never does. It’s merely coincidental that this time it unfolded at a Starbucks.

Months later when the public outcry has moved to the next big story,  America will still be a nation infected with the same idiocy with its elected President – a racist who continues to judge people’s intentions and worth from the color of their skin.

In all these years, it has never come to light that the company has a corporate culture of being condescending to its Black customers. If that is ever revealed to be true then Starbucks deserves what’s coming to it. Until then, what happened in Philadelphia, is the same as what happened to Trayvon Martin, it is also the reason why black actors rarely receive nominations at the Oscars and it is for this same reason countless other African Americans  fight everyday injustices. The only difference is their stories remain untold, perhaps snuffed out by sighs or tears into a pillow or over gloomy dinner-table conversations.

Yes this is an embarrassing moment for Starbucks, but the company will come out ok. On the other hand this is a decisive moment for America, an important conversation is taking place but I am not sure things will change any time soon.

So like many loyal customers across the world, I will wait and watch as the company initiates damage control, trains its staff and reviews its policies. But sitting here in the tanned leather recliner of my local Starbucks at Al Ain Mall, I am certain of this – racism is America’s problem to fix, and blaming Starbucks is not going to change anything.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Darkness Brings The Light Too

I, like many, got lost within the darkness of this past week. Watching news unfold of unimaginable horrors and horrific violence against a little girl – so tragic, the unnecessary loss of human life and the shattered worlds of all those who loved her. I sat in my room, shades drawn to block out the sun, and watched TV newscasters speaking to women and activists – the faces and stories of all the beautiful souls fighting for justice.
Lost within news like this, the world seems to grow darker somehow, doesn’t it? I know evil exists. I am not naïve. I’ve seen it firsthand. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the depths of deplorableness humans can sink to, and the absolute devastation humans can do to one another. We have all seen it. Sadly, many of us have experienced it. Over the course of our lives, we will, at some point, be touched by it. Evil lurks next door to us; down the street, around the corner, one city over, or sometimes, under our own roof. It’s not just in other countries, other states or places we will never step foot in. It’s everywhere and strikes without warning. Evil changes humanity.

But I have come to see how evil also brings out the most amazing good this world has ever seen. Good this world desperately needs. Evil unintentionally brings Good to the forefront so that its light can scatter the darkness of all. Not in any grand, sweeping gesture. Oh, no. But the quiet, suddenly present good that shows because it’s the right thing to do. Light born from a darkness that threatens to overtake us, the good shows up in force to help, to heal and to love.

Yes, there is evil in this world. Yes, it demands and takes headlines, it overtakes our airwaves and generates millions of sound bites. News stories, photos all in real time make it feel like we are in the middle of a war of good vs. evil, and the evil is winning. And the truth of the matter is – we are. Sad fact, evil wins a lot. It does. Just watch the news, read stories online; you see it right in front of you every single moment of every single day. It draws you in, breaks your heart and if you are completely honest with yourself makes you feel some small token of relief that it wasn’t you. Then, the guilt overtakes you, and you are spinning down a road of an uncertain life now. Scared to do things you’ve always done because next time, it could be you. It could be someone you love. It could happen anywhere, at any time.

It’s true. It could.

There is so much good in this world, yet it is so easy to lose sight of. Until moments in time like what we have been living lately – when darkness shows the light of humans reaching out to other humans. Start where you are, with what you have inside of you, right now. Start with your neighbors, strangers at the grocery store or wherever in the world you find yourself. Stop judging people who are different than you. Stop letting your fear control your actions. Stand firm in your beliefs and live your life by them but, for all that is good in this world, give that same right to others.

Sometimes the darkness shows you the light. Sometimes within the darkness, you are the light. Love will always heal. Love will always be a way out. United we are a force to be reckoned with. But, we must first be open and willing to unite with others who live and believe and love differently than we may. Because if we don’t, if we fail to come together and listen and appreciate where others are coming from –evil will always win and all those lives lost will have been in vain.

We live in a world where we will always need to remain vigilant, aware of our surroundings and willing and able to defend not only ourselves but those around us as well. A sad but true fact. However, that being said, we also live in a world that is filled with amazing souls who do good  and who put as much love and light out as humanly possible.

Be a light.

1 Comment

The Eighties’ Child – Guest Blog by Melissa Payne

We, the eighties’ children, are a strange bunch. We long for the simplicity of the past and the technology of tomorrow. Born at a time when every house didn’t have a television and landlines were a mark of social status, we have seen cable television, the mobile phone and credit cards sweep the nation.
Born in pre-liberalisation India, foreign goods were scarce, and the thus the arrival of foreign relatives was a much waited for event. We know what it is, not to have, and what it means to own. For most of us born into the middle class at this time, we were taught early that life was hard. Caned and punished at school, we were taught not to fuss, but to overcome. When I look around at the millennials I know, I am struck by the quality of endurance I see. I am amazed at those who have struggled out of poverty and dysfunctional homes, to be stable individuals with careers and families. I am aware too, of the tremendous need that millennials carry for things to ‘be real’. We are unfazed by the spit and polish, by the ‘show’ that enthralled previous generations or the superficiality that stupefies the next. We long for that which is ‘real’. That which fulfills.
The millennial is tired today. Tired of strategy, tired of the constant packaging of hard truth to tickle one’s ears. Tired of empty schemes that don’t fulfill. Disillusioned by authority figures of the previous generation. When we see corruption, we will not have it explained away. We will not put our heads in the sand, we cannot close our eyes to the evil that stares us in the face. We cannot ‘unsee’ what we have seen. We cannot pretend it doesn’t concern us. We, cannot separate the message and the messenger. Instead, we must react, we must have an opinion. We must make change. We will have justice. This generation has ground in its heels and refuses to go quietly into the night. Don’t shut us down or count us out. Call on us that we may build with you. We have seen the promises and the pitfalls of the transitioning era. How good ideas and intentions ran aground, causing more damage than they did good. We have learned the bitter lesson that everything new is not good. We started out naive, but have seen much; much that has turned us away from the decision makers of the previous generation. We are aware that heroes have feet of clay and that the strongest have weak moments. Our champions have fallen off their pedestals and lie in the dust beneath… Yet, in the midst of all this, we hope. We hope that change is possible, that the tide will turn, that sleeping consciences will awaken and be appalled by bad things happening in good places. We hope that justice will be done. We hope for tomorrow.
Leave a comment

Goodreads – Social Networking for Bibliophiles

Do you ever keep track of your reading? Have you noticed your reading habits evolve over the years? Do you connect with other readers in real time? A few years ago I signed up to use Goodreads, but I hardly spent enough time updating my page or making the experience social, the way it is meant to be. This summer I invested some time in sprucing up my account and what a revelation it was!

If you have not yet heard of Goodreads…where have you been?

good.png

All kidding aside, Goodreads is a social media platform for readers where you have the opportunity to rate, review, and find great book recommendations—and that is only the very basics of what Goodreads has to offer. Making reading social is so important and this one of the best platforms for readers to connect the books we love to the people who love them too! Here are some reasons I love using @Goodreads, and why I think other readers will love it too.

Goodreads gives everyone a voice. Every user has the opportunity to rate and/or review the books they read. It’s no longer critics and professional reviewers who give the final say on whether or not a book is worth reading, the people who are reading them get a say too! I prefer Goodreads ratings and reviews to platforms like Amazon because you know the reviews are coming from honest readers who love books—and if you’re really curious about a bad or excellent review, you can see the reviewers profile to get a sense of what their usual taste in books is.

Goodreads creates your own bookshelf. Have you ever remembered loving a book you read awhile back, but can’t for the life of you remember what it was called? Do you ever get a recommendation from someone about a book to read and forget all about it? On Goodreads, you can create bookshelves for books you want to read, and books you’ve already read, and they’re available for you to look back on anytime your memory takes a hit! Another really cool feature is that you can scan the barcode of a book with your phone, and it’ll automatically get added to your bookshelf. Impressive, no?

Goodreads encourages you to hit your reading goals. The platform encourages setting a yearly goal for how many books you want to read, and keeps track of your progress as you go. Was your New Year’s Resolution to read 100 books by the end of the year? Let Goodreads help. My target for the year was 25 books and @goodreads has helped me track the 16 I have read so far. It tells me I am 2 books ahed of schedule and that I can slow down, but I am blazing my way through the summer and making the most of my time off.

Goodreads allows you to interact with authors. If your favorite author is on Goodreads, go sign up for an account right now. You can keep track of what they’re reading, you can send them questions, and occasionally they’ll do Q&A sessions or giveaways that allow you to get to know them on a more personal level! Before the literary community was separated by readers and authors, but on Goodreads you’re all in one place, on one platform, together.

Do you have a Goodreads account? Make sure to add me as your friend and let me know in the comments below. You can find me here  My Goodreads Profile

 

Leave a comment

The 40 Rules of Love

I  always love to read about a book within a book and so ‘The 40 rules of Love’ by Elif Shafak with its parallel narratives  started off so promisingly. The contemporary story is about an unhappily married Jewish homemaker named Ella living in Northampton, USA.  The second narrative of this novel, ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ is actually about the wandering dervish Shams of Tabriz, who is a mystic Sufi and Jalaluddin Rumi, the now famous Sufi scholar.

The fact that the novel catapults the reader from past into the present and vice versa, from the world of Shams of Tabriz in 13th century Turkey to the world of Ella Rubenstein in 21st America, is deeply symbolic. The fluidity gives the novel a surreal timeless quality, where even the characters from the 13th century seem relatable today. This is where Shafak is brilliant, for this is an underlying message that Rumi and Tabriz’s message of love is not and cannot be limited to encapsulations of time and space.

Bear with my contrived analogy but if Shafaks’ works (the 3 that I have read) were compared to a box of Turkish Delights the delicious and beautifully crafted ‘Three Daughters of Eve’ would remain my favorite while ‘The 40 Rules…’ will have to come in third place after ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’. Unlike the historical storyline, Ella’s narrative is limited to one point of view—hers—and it’s a fairly dull place to be in repeatedly.  Ella’s story proved to be too predictable and her transformation almost expected, because Shafak rarely allows you to see her life from any other vantage point. When you compare it to the multiple voices you hear in in the Konya pages, you begin to see that as a disadvantage.

That being said, the novel is a mastery of words – whether thinly veiled symbols, masterful wordplay, clunky dialogue or fat clichés… the pages are a Bibliophiles delight and Shafak’s attempt to illustrate how and why Rumi continues to exert such a powerful hold over many readers even today is skillful and beautiful.

Now that I am done reading the novel, it’s just a matter of time before I pick up the complete works of the great Rumi and perhaps some more of Shafak herself who is undoubtedly my favorite author this summer.

Eight books down…I think I might just have enough time for one more.

Leave a comment

Ghachar Ghochar

I have just finished reading @VivekShanbhag0’s #GhacharGhochar in one sitting even though I wasn’t intending to. I was astounded by how it progressed and at first my only grouse was that some closure would have been good for the story. I hate open endings and the uncertainty of not knowing if I am in or out, I dislike hazy scenes but somehow this works well in #GhacharGhochar.

DGeGzgHU0AAZl2aIn a handful of deftly drawn strokes, Shanbhag constructs an amazing commentary on class, gender and urban life without ever getting too close to any of these topics. Also the pages discussing ants (regardless of any metaphorical intentions) are just perfect, and will ring true to anyone who has ever lived in India.

Brevity is the best part of Shanbhag’s storytelling and it left me with a familiar feeling of awe mixed with wonder, like I experienced after reading Mansfield’s ‘The Ox’ and ‘The Fly’ for the first time. The way they re both able to say poignant things in such a seemingly simple way is testament to their literary genius.

The splendour of this work doesn’t lie as much in the plot as it does in the narrative and the way in which the characters reveal themselves. The novella is a great look at contemporary life in Indian homes as people learn to walk the tightrope of tradition and modernity.

While this is Shanbhag’s first foray into English writing, I am quite certain it will not be his last.

Leave a comment

Three Daughters of Eve

image.jpg-largeSometimes a book comes along that speaks boldly to our times. As it chips away at the brick and mortar, the ideas contained in it overwhelms and perhaps unsettles, forcing readers to sit back and confront truths that plague modern society. ‘Three Daughters of Eve’, Elif Shafak’s novel, is that kind of book. My 5th read since the summer began and undoubtedly, my favorite.

It is scary how polarized humanity is in our time; where every faction boasts of the certainty of its own ideas and beliefs and religion continues to be at the center of all the raging debates be it cow vigilantism or equal rights. The novel, constructed in elegant and poignant prose makes complicated theological and political questions readable and relevant. It does not matter where you are or what the political climate of your nation, the ideas transcend boundaries of several kinds and they do so, unapologetically. The things the book has to say and the way it says them are extraordinary.

‘Three Daughters of Eve’ is an intense, discursive and absorbing novel about three middle-eastern women, each studying at Oxford, with dramatically contrasting views on faith and personal identity. A spiritually ambiguous female lead character guides us through parallel stories set in Istanbul and Oxford till at least the two come together seamlessly through her soul-searching and persistent questioning.

I will not give away the plot as I am hoping that some of you will pick this book off a shelf or download it onto your devices to read it when you can, but the central character ‘Peri’, is so well fleshed out and wonderfully presented, I could not help bonding with her from the first time our paths crossed. Peri defies the stereotype that Muslim characters are sometimes relegated to and her own quest for answers to questions around her conflicting ideas of faith and identity is the arterial idea of the novel.

 “God was a maze without map, a circle without a center; the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never seemed to fit together. If only she could solve this mystery, she could bring meaning to senselessness, reason to madness, order to chaos, and perhaps, too, she could learn to be happy.” 

Having spent time in both Istanbul and Oxford I welcomed the chance to immerse myself in their sturdy presence in the story. They are as much central characters in this novel as the people are and Shafak writes about them in beautifully vivid prose all the time her love for the complexities of her homeland strikingly evident.

By the time I got to the end, the novel had pushed me to consider so many ideas – life, love, friendship, faith, God, humanity, forgiveness and revenge but instead of closure and answers, it left me with more questions than I had when I began reading.

How well do we know ourselves?

How perfect do we think we are?

How would I respond in a moral crisis like the one Peri is faced with?

How exact is our self image?

How hard is it to say sorry?

I’m certainly going to raid Shafak’s back catalogue after this fantastic introduction to her beautiful writing. If you happen to read the novel I would love to her your views.

Ever since I turned the last page, I have been experiencing that familiar sensation you get after reading a fantastic book. That intuitive feeling that something within you has moved, been affected, changed perhaps? How wonderful is the power of 366 pages of parchment paper and some spectrum ink.

 

%d bloggers like this: