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Christmas, 4x4’s... & Parathas
Samala Taqvi, Sub Editor – Lifestyle & Wellbeing

As we approach Christmas festivities - that delicious time of year evocative of log fires, long evenings with friends and family, reminiscing and getting mellow over music and old films - how many of us will observe, at some point, that there must be more to life than work? 

Will you be one of those who resolves that in 2007 you will do things better - find a better life/work balance? Spend as much of your effort on quality of life as you have done this year purely on work?

When I looked around at my friends I realise not only how many of them are resolved to have a better life - and to do better at life - but also how many and varied are the ways in which they are looking to bring this about.  The really great thing is that they have the confidence to try and that, in the Western world today, they have access to a such a range of opportunities to make it happen.  Yoga, religion, meditation, having children or a pet, running, walking cycling and other forms of exercise are all on the list, as are food (eating better, eating and drinking less), smoking not at all … the list is practically endless so varied are the options they are promising themselves. 

On walks around the lake at the weekend we often see older couples wrapped in multi-fruit-pastel coloured lycra, as they pedal gamely on hilly paths, passing young couples with high tech prams walking kids and dogs with some of the brood toddling uncertainly on little legs or peddling manfully (womanfully?) on little cycles.  It is good to see and encouraging for all as we extend the period in which we can enjoy life’s bounties and blessings. 

For myself I have found 2006 a confusing and difficult year.  Religion and the spiritual side of life had always been a rock for me, a firm foundation that was quietly in the background.  Nothing I felt evangelical about nor any wish to have it in the forefront of my conversations or friendships – just something that was reliably ‘there’.  The same with my approach to law, order, immigration and race relations which I recognised as important issues certainly, but nothing I would not trust my fellow countrymen to deal with in their usual way with humour and tolerance.

I would, though, be foolish to now claim that all is as it was - that nothing has changed.  Indeed change was inevitable in view of what has happened, especially what has been done against us and plotted to happen to all of us living in the West. 

I am not one who (to my mind at least) confuses irrational attempts to do good and failing conspicuously (a la Bush/Blair et al) with evil and deliberate attempts to harm innocent civilians in a blatant effort to impose a new world order be it a Caliphate or Fascism.  But I am distressed at the results of all that has happened which has driven many people to the margins.  Tolerance is on the run, as are understanding and compassion and, for many of us, there are threats to our civil liberties. 

I am aware too, of the awful injustices all around us: Dharfur, the Balkans, Israeli bombs and tanks used on civilians (a wonderfully talented people who should be so aware what its like to be treated like animals, but treat others that way and, in the process, betray the great principles of tolerance and humanitarianism on which the state should have been founded); un-targeted rockets on Israeli civilians, fighters hiding in homes and hospitals, 'war lords' in Afghanistan, journalists killed in Moscow, London, Beirut and elsewhere. 

We are not short of disturbing events that threaten our peace of mind and make us, in part at least, long for certainty, humanity and clear solutions.  I for one would dearly like to find a dispute where there is a clear ‘good guy’ fighting fairly and humanely against a clear ‘bad guy’ for issues that I can support without caveat.  No wonder then that many of us find that our lives are governed by a feeling of uncertainty and of not being in charge anymore. 

In the 70’ies and 80’ies we watched as our fellow men and women in the manufacturing and old smoke- stack industries lost their jobs as factories closed or moved abroad.  Today, outsourcing is having a similar impact on the middle and professional classes spreading the feeling of uncertainty and worry. 


Yet, the real picture is often much better than it feels.  I am convinced that even today, with all our problems, we live in better times than some of my colleagues ever enjoyed even, in what are often referred to, in 'the golden days'.   One colleague, born in the North of England 1942, talks of his childhood as having been spent in what was a third-world economy by comparison and of the privations of the post-war period. I have other colleagues who grew up during the 'cold war' and Cuba with US, Russian, UK and French H-bomb tests in which, I am assured, school children were asked to hide under their desk at the detonation of some of the bigger tests!

The media keeps the world more alert to poverty, starvation and war - and we do more about our concerns – but it still takes a Bob Geldof to swear a bit to get people off their bottoms.  Even so, both as citizens and countries, we do more than our parents ever did/ could do. (In fact our parents live longer, better and now join in the ‘doing better’ than most of their parents ever had a chance to do).  Doubtless we can do more, and probably will, but that does not take away the fact that in many key areas things are better even if, because our expectations are so much higher, we are more often disappointed. 

At a personal level I have watched my mother and a good friend deal with cancer and my partner deal with depression.  I have, in the process, been tested and probably learned more from the exercise than from any one of the many good years that I have been lucky enough to enjoy without too much stress.  I am fortunate too, that I love my job and am really looking forward to working with theCafe in 2007.

So you see, in 2006 I have come to understand the need for balance in all things.  I recognise that there is light and dark, good and bad, pleasure and pain in almost everything.  That one is a part of the other.   I have come to accept that it is important to find the right balance in things large and small and I recognise that, as with freedom and dignity, no one can truly take away the balance from you - only you can give it away. 

My remit in 2007 will be to address issues around lifestyle and wellbeing. I would like to do so in ways that will compare and contrast experiences between cultures and religions.  Naturally I am interested also in the role and concerns of women.  In terms of theCafé too many economies deny the contribution of a vital 50% of their population and the loss to culture and development in societies in which that same 50% are limited in the contribution is as sad as it is unacceptable. 

I want to look at what we mean by ‘lifestyle’ and ‘wellbeing’ - and I want to encourage people to share their thoughts and experiences.  The term ‘global village’ is more meaningful now than it was when first coined.  I listened the other day to women in our village complaining about the 'Chelsea tractors' now dropping children off and blocking the narrow lanes outside the school.  I couldn’t help remembering how, in the Kulu valley in the Himalayas, on what was a five-hour climb for us to a village in the hidden valley, those kids whistling and running down to catch the school bus.  And on our back down the steep slopes, the same teenagers passed us on their way back home, carrying strapped to their backs huge sacks of rice and flour - as well as their schoolbooks. 

In the village that afternoon, the smallest children’s well being was improved for a little while - by a few writing books, pencils and pens and, on the day, by dividing and sharing our lunch aloo-parathas (flat bread stuffed with potatoes).  As we sat around in a circle with them, looking out over snow capped mountain ranges, tiny children and even babes patiently awaited their share of the small feast.

As I watch kids here exit the 4x4's and think back, I cannot help but wonder about balance.   

Have a good one.   

  S amala

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