What is intelligence?

Someone, an educator in fact, once said that it’s okay. It’s okay to not know where your future is going, it’s okay to be unsure of what you want to be when you ‘grow up’. These words seem utterly futile now, because for every utterance of ‘it isn’t all about academics’, an overwhelming torrent of tests accompany.

I personally, have never experienced an environment so academically intense than in my current school. Hardcore academic merit seems to be measured by achievements in maths and the sciences, with these subjects taking obvious precedence over their more creative counterparts. Whilst this approach has its positive aspect of nurturing intellectual brilliance from its young female students in this all-girls school, it can leave those that don’t follow science or mathematics not considered in the same way. If one struggles with maths and science, there can be a totally inaccurate perception that they are not equal in academic talent. Or that they’ve opted for an easier ride through school. This, more often than not, is a low blow to self-esteem, something which I firmly believe should never have to take a battering from a lone result of a lone test.

Although I sometimes struggle with mathematics, I have rather grudgingly come to the conclusion that it is an essential part of education. Not necessarily the endless textbook questions, but the challenges which force your brain to twist and turn past usual perception. It teaches the ability to problem solve, to manipulate knowns so that unknowns may be found out. But what is intelligence?

Intelligence is many things and yet, somehow the wider educational system has managed to seize particular subjects, elevating their status considering them to be the threshold of intelligence. They are rendered the true test of a clever individual. What about business acumen, common sense, crafting language and the essential ability to adapt to differing situations? What about the truly extraordinary ability to voice an argument so eloquently and so concisely that a point is not only made, but polished, offering little room for a come back argument? What about money, how to make it and how to handle it? This is what intelligence is to many others and myself, but much to our frustration, not the current science and mathematics focused agenda.

License to Ignore?

photo credits – The Washington Times

Internationally watched and seven years on, the Syrian civil war continues to wage. Planned and sporadic massacres slaughter a nation and its children but one seemingly too faraway, too foreign to make the news anymore.

For four days, the enclave of eastern Ghouta has been subject to an intense bombardment by the government of Bashar al-Assad. Over two hundred have died. More harrowing than this is that fifteen children were among those killed on Thursday alone. Ghouta has been described as “drowning in blood” by one of the doctors, “a city of ghosts” as described by another.

Enormously frustrating though it is, one must try to understand why a culture of ignorance is growing, rendering a younger generation oblivious to genocide much closer to them than many would think. Fifty-three hours by car to be exact.

The Syrian civil war was sparked by public demonstrations in March 2011, when protestors demanded for the resignation of the current president, Bashar al-Assad. Much of the government opposition is Sunni, an overwhelming majority when compared to the Shiite minority supporting the government. Both are differing sects of Islam.

In April 2011, the Syrian army fired upon protestors and thus an armed rebellion was born, made up of ex soldiers and volunteering civilians. There are numerous groups under differing names and orientations.

The rebels within the Free Syrian Army receive training, financial support and weapons from the US, Turkey and Gulf Arab states as well as Jordon. The Syrian government receives much the same from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, Russia and Iran.

There have been times when international attention has been caught, for a fleeting moment with eyes widening in horror as if acknowledging and realizing such atrocity for the very first time.

I remember the public outrage when, in 2013, the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against civilians. My aunt, working in a Northern Syrian hospital at the time described the wounded and burnt staggering into the hospital like “zombies, holding their burnt limbs away from their own bodies.” They were victims of a thermal bomb dropped on their school.

I remember when in 2015, the little boy Aylan Kurdi was found, washed up and face down in the sand off the coast of Bodrum, Turkey. The aftermath of this was an upheaval of the long held neutrality, instead an uproar of solidarity. It was a brief moment in the Syrian war’s history, of comment and analysis. It was a spike of life in a flat lining Syria, with international recognition of the refugee crisis meaning that the wider public eye was educated in very real terms of the horrific consequences of this brutal war. And during genocidal times, education is invaluable.

In these two instances, a spark erupted into a flame that roared angrily for a short while before dying, along with any hope it had conjured within the Syrian people. A year after losing his family to the sea Aylan’s father, Abdullah, stated that the “photo of my dead son has changed nothing.”

The wave of international indifference coupled with inaction has seen the UK not honour its pledge to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees. Once again the recent slaughter is buried beyond the front pages from the public eye. Higher on the agenda last week was the story of ‘the cheddar man’.

Not so long ago, many silenced a few minutes of their day to remember those who died in the Holocaust, which ended May 1945. We are reminded of those atrocities committed and we learn of those who suffered and of the perpetrators. International empathy ensues long after the gas chamber was occupied.

Today, we save our sympathies and our empathies for specific past tragic events, perhaps just enough so that we may never be accused of insouciance. But remembering one genocide does in no way give us license to forgot or ignore another.

I sincerely hope, that not one more child will have to die a death captured by a camera and printed in the press before we as a global audience declare enough of this mass slaughter of civilians and of children.

Someone once asked, in a tone riddle with intolerance “but what do you expect a fourteen year old girl to do about it?” The answer is simple; nurture an awareness of the world and acknowledge the need for education.

Through this, support can be given to the millions of victims in the purest way possible; raw human connection, sympathy from one person to another. For it is almost impossible to read about Syria’s state and others’ alike, without a surge of anger or a silent tear.

Arousing an entire population into driven action is idealistic, educating them is not. Practical help and intervention costs time, money, effort as well as being steeped in political mire and so perhaps it is no wonder that this is proving scarce.

On the other hand, in this culture of growing indifference, acknowledgment costs nothing.

Another year over, a new one to begin…

With 2018 almost upon us, I find it unnerving, the unrelenting passage of time having snatched away another year from us. This of course, means more memories to hold, more stories to tell but perhaps most importantly, a moment to reflect. Like most years, academic knowledge has been crammed in at school and then churned out again during assessment periods. However 2017 has brought something new to the table for me; a path paved with growing motivation. I can’t admit to feeling this way before, so what changed in the last twelve months?

Early January 2017 found me browsing through a collection of TED talks, each one interesting in its own right but not attracting me enough to keep me watching until the end. That was, until I watched ‘Every kid needs a champion’, delivered by Rita Pierson, a teacher. She described how every child needs an adult, other than their parents, present in their lives. This adult will be someone who will never give up on them, accepting both their successes as well as their failures in order for them to reach their full potential. Sadly, some may regard this as idealistic sprouting. But I for one, was and am not one of them. So who was my champion, I thought to myself?

As a young person involved in competitive sport, aiming to reach the top, it seemed as though I had hit a plateau. I was happy with my ability but wanted to improve, to be better, faster. That is where my coach comes into the story. Previously I had goals, but never fully understood their weighted importance in achieving my ambitions. It was my coach who changed and continues to change this. He began to question me more about my goals, and more importantly, asked me why. Why was I training so hard and so much, why did I bother? I replied, without hesitation, ‘because I love to do it, it’s my passion’. And to that, my coach replied almost as quickly ‘but to those athletes at the very top, do you think just ‘loving the sport’ is enough for them?’ I replied no and in my head I knew he was right.

As it turns out, it takes a long time to find the answer to your ‘big why’.

This year, I have learnt that almost everything one may wish to achieve, whether that be creative, academic, or in sports, is centered around one’s attitude more than anything else. Time and again, I have heard teachers, adults and people my age, boldly and even naively, claiming that ‘failure isn’t an option.’ This doesn’t make sense to me, because if failure wasn’t an option then why does it exist somewhere in the route to success for all those who have won?

I have learnt the invaluable tool of goal setting. Some may disagree but here I borrow an analogy from my coach who states that ‘a life without goals is a like a car journey with no destination.’

Although this year will have thrown challenges us all, be it in family and social life, academia and even failing in doing what we love, we have emerged at the end of it all, and for that we all deserve a hearty pat on the back. True, we are a little older, a little more weathered from the turbulence of life but, with reflection, perhaps a little wiser.

I would whole heartedly invite you all to find your passion, find your big why and set some goals. This, coupled with hard work, can do wonders. I’m not speaking as someone who has yet achieved her own ultimate goal, but instead as one who is inching their way ever closer because of this.

So here’s to an ambition achieving 2018. Happy new year everyone! 🙂

1947 – The Partition of India


The largest forced mass migration in human history – 1947

It had only been two years since the atrocities of the holocaust had been committed and the world was to see yet another round of barbarism, slaughter and bloodshed. This was the partition of India in 1947. Though a significant event in world history, causing the deaths of up to two million people and the largest mass migration in human history, it is rare that we as students hear about the atrocities committed or the causes behind them. In fact, it seems to me that they are largely ignored.

Colonial India had existed for around three centuries under British rule and the East India Company and despite the British colonization the two main religions in India, Hinduism and Islam had existed somewhat peacefully for centuries. However it would be inaccurate to say there was not occasional dispute and violence between the two religious groups or a culture clash. Having been forced to live under British rule for no other reason than to unwillingly quench Britain’s thirst for imperialism, it is no wonder that India craved independence, craved to be shaken free of the title “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire. This independence, after many riots and protests, both violent and non-violent was finally achieved in August 1947. Perhaps ‘achieved’ is the wrong choice of word, for the aftermath of the exit of Britain from India was nothing short of a calamity.

Britain had ruled India for three centuries but two years after World War II with heavy losses sustained and the debt caused, Britain could no longer fund its ever growing and perhaps over built empire. It was this debt that was later the cause of mayhem and misery throughout India. The result was a sudden withdrawal of power, untimely and poorly judged. Although the initial agreement was to split colonial India into two separate states, one with a Muslim majority Pakistan and one with a Hindu majority India, the border between the new states was not announced until the 17th August 1947. Pakistan celebrated independence on the 14th and India on the 15th.

These borders were hastily drawn up by a lawyer, Cyril Radcliffe, unlearned in Indian geography using out of date maps and inaccurate census data. Perhaps the hurried border plans were due to leaders, both Western and Indian, wanting to establish some semblance of security before the country descended into chaos. The power it seemed, was slipping out of their hands because after all, no lone leader no matter how powerful can control the concrete will of a thousand angry men.

Either way, new borders drawn saw families, farms and land split apart and hence began the largest forced mass migration in human history. Muslims migrated to West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh) and Hindus migrated out of those places into what had been newly established as India. It would have been enough of an atrocity for up to eighteen million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims to be displaced from their homes but the situation escalated into the realms of tragedy because of the genocide, slaughter and rape that followed, on a massive scale.

Those who have not only witnessed, but survived the partition and are alive today are few in number, but willing I am sure to share their stories. It would be a great sin on our behalf to not listen and narrate these untold stories of struggle and violence because perhaps, through our words, we may bring a little justice to the forgotten victims of which there are so many.

My grandfather was a child of eight years when he found himself entangled in these events and thus carries with him a hidden story which I will share with you, and all those willing to listen. All quotations below are my grandfather’s own harrowing narrations.

In 1945 Lord Mountbatten, the British representative leading negotiations, withdrew all British forces and sent them back to England. As a result of this there remained very few military personnel to control and maintain peace. Perhaps this wouldn’t have changed matters had they stayed as British soldiers were ordered not to intervene unless a British life was at risk. It was partly due to this racist regulation that so many people were slaughtered both by those who murdered them and by those who stood by and watched.

“Things were getting worse when Britain decided to quit India. Frictions between Muslims and non-Muslims were growing. Things started getting out of control. The Muslim League leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah vigorously protested that the army should not withdraw otherwise there would be slaughter.” Lord Mountbatten however, ignored this urgent request. “The Congress leaders were happy that the British army had left India but Jinnah knew that the Muslims would be slaughtered in large numbers.

“My father took us from our village in the Patiala state to Pakistan by train three days before the partition was announced. My father worked at the railway station. We reached Lahore at a very big railway junction, a busy station. I could see signs of violence, human bodies on platforms. It was a dreadful scene for an eight-year-old child to see dead bodies on the ground.”

14th August 1947:

“All of a sudden from comfortable middle-class we became poor because we lost everything, land and property. Pakistan was agricultural land; there was no industry, no jobs. We had nothing to survive there. My dad didn’t get his wages for four months because newly formed Pakistan had no money. It was still controlled by the central bank of India who wasn’t ready to release money.

“I was eight years old at that time. I witnessed what true hunger was. I was hungry most of the time; bare feet, no shoes, not properly dressed. It took us a couple of years to resettle but sometimes when I think ‘1947’ I feel a shivering current in my body because of what I went through at that time. I couldn’t understand why people were killing each other and burning each other’s land and property but now I understand that this hatred, was orchastrated by local leaders and fanatics, and that is why after I left Pakistan I never went back. I will never go back. I will never go back.

“Here, I educated myself, went to universities and studied for three degrees. I worked in respectable jobs and earned a moderate pension. That is my story. A sad one isn’t it?”

I reply, “yes”.