Our Quiet Defiance Against The Mighty Virus.

Yes. I baked banana bread during Lockdown.

I don’t particularly know why there is a banana bread craze. Maybe it’s because it’s relatively easy, it gives you something to do with the panic bananas you bought, it’s not fancy and it’s just pretty damn moreish.

I also don’t know why I made roti after about 10 years and various other dishes that had my pressure cooker whistling like an old Bollywood actor. These were dishes that would make most Indian Aunties proud, as they rush to draw up my profile for Shaadi.com (a famous marriage site).

When I think about it, I think making is a way of fighting back.

Just over a week ago, I was asked by Preetesh Sewraj, the new CEO of the Loeries, to write a positive piece about trading in a post-Covid environment. Like any true creative, I procrastinated. But then I went well over the acceptable procrastination period and had to question myself a little deeper.

The truth: It’s hard to be positive in these times. Positivity feels like privilege. It’s also hard when you’re a creative and quite used to feeling so much and wearing your skin inside-out. It’s hard because I think most of us are sitting in the middle of the see-saw, constantly falling towards fear and constantly climbing up to hope.

I’m no analyst so I’m not going to try to predict what the future of business looks like. But I am a creative and I will say that the best examples of creativity come from adversity – from strife in your heart, fear in your boots and restlessness in your soul. It comes from being vulnerable and seeing your weaknesses pour out of you like a leaky gut. It comes from crying your ugly tears and talking to yourself till you reach your core. And when we reach the core of what makes us who we are, we can relate to others through what we make and put out into the world.

This is the time to reflect and to create, despite everything. Creativity becomes our quiet defiance against the mighty virus. It’s what we do. We find resilience through meme-able joys and silly and provocative humour. We expand consciousness through storytelling and juicy slices of expression. And in spite of distance, we reach humanity by saying the unsaid, by uncovering the unseen and by being the most human we have ever been.

Our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, in his 9th of April address said, “We will learn from global experience and the best scientific evidence but we will craft a uniquely South African response.” And there it is. If there’s anything we’ve learnt about South Africa, it’s that we do things our own way. We have our own brand of humour and an arsenal of creativity and ingenuity that is enviable. We were born different and we will find our own unique ways of surviving and thriving. Though everything we know is being challenged right now and though we are scared, I know that the South African spirit is perfectly au fait with being reincarnated over and over again.

Arundhati Roy recently wrote an article called, “The Pandemic is a Portal”. She said, “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

From our Ndlovu Youth Choir, to Sho Madjozi and Loui London, to Gilli Apter, Coconut Kelz, Loyiso Madinga, Laz Gola, Donovan and Davina Mae, to TikTok legends and Black Twitter, to our young advertising creatives and designers, to Tshepho the Jean Maker, to Kagiso Lediga, to Nelson Makamo and yes – even you, Rasta, to my mom learning to play the guitar all over again at 70, and to you quietly celebrating your banana bread baby…You are the creative soldiers of this country. You will help us all imagine another world. And we’ll be ready to fight for it.

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The Ashtray

Last night I was the ashtray for a white man’s disgruntlement.

Last night, a white man burned with anger and frustration and decided that it was time for another black female to bear his heavy burdens.

It started as a sanitized, harmless conversation then gravitated to a discussion about advertising and transformation. And then it all rapidly unraveled. He spoke to me about his passion for nurturing and growing young, black talent. And I genuinely was inspired and admired him for this.

But then he began to complain about how undervalued he feels as a white male in advertising. Before I knew it, I heard myself saying, “How do you think us black people felt all these years?” Silence.

I knew at that moment that I was opening myself up to a very precarious discussion. I felt my ears get hot and my inner voice tugging on the levers and pulleys to make me slow down and temper my words. Instead, I hurtled forward like a freight train.

I spoke about the problems we face as an industry that is yet in need of legitimate transformation. He accused me of making blanket comments. And though he didn’t, I knew he wanted to use “#NotAllWhiteMen” so I held back on reminding him how that one is closely related to the other problematic hashtag: “#NotAllMen. We both exchanged impassioned arguments. I tried to relate and share his own perspective. But soon I started to feel that my inherent brownness served as a direct affront to this man.

I turned to look at the beautifully inclusive and integrated gathering of humans on the dance floor next to us and said, “See this? This is what I wish our industry looked like. But right now, it’s still very white and very male.” He looked at me and said, “This is exactly why I’m so sick and tired…And because of what you just said – that is the reason I’m leaving South Africa.”

I knew our conversation was over. I put my hand on his chest, said, “Good luck” and walked away.

And then I cried.

I respect the complexity of being a white male in South Africa today. I see the weight of caution, the silent suffering and strange vulnerability that comes with that. But I also see when I become the punching bag for some man who decides that it is okay and right to blame me for his own departure, his own diminished sense of self and his own guilt.

I woke up this morning feeling like an overflowing ashtray. The stink is still present and it’s not even mine to cling to. But I feel this way because, ultimately, I lost the battle and shifted nothing. And until such time other white men add their voices, there’s no chance of ever winning.

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Positive Buoyancy

I reluctantly scoot my bum to the edge of the seat on the boat. I’ve checked, double-checked, buddy-checked and just in case – checked all my dive gear again. My mask is spit-clean and I hear the skipper call, “3, 2, 1, GO!” My mind stalls, “Nope I don’t think you should go,” she says, but my body goes. I let myself fall backwards into the ocean in a nice tumble. Mia, my dive instructor tells us, “Fall back and let the ocean hug you.” The ocean did hug me. It was fresh, cool and exhilarating. And then, it shoved me.

In the last few weeks I’ve been restless. I wanted a shake-up. I wanted to be released from the hamster wheels in my mind and from the drudgery of knowing just what to expect. A friend of mine says I overthink everything. He’s right. I needed something that allowed me to feel without knowing what to feel. And so, I went down to Scottburgh in KZN to do my Open Water diving course.

Diving is one of the most technical sports I’ve ever experienced. Everything is designed around safety and yet every single part of the course reminds you of the vast menu of ways in which you can die. So, on that Friday morning, in Aliwal Shoal, as soon as we started to deflate and go under, all I was thinking of, was ways of not dying. The first stress I felt was when it took me a while to equalize. Thoughts of bursting ear drums and shrapnel of exploded inner-ear floating alongside me was what my mind was conjuring up. An overactive imagination and a penchant for drama do not necessarily suit the diver’s mindset, I soon learnt.

Finally, I make it down to 14 metres. Mia is the most amazing and intuitive instructor and her passion for the ocean is contagious. Sensing my stress, she indicates to me to look at the amazing underwater world around me. Like Dory, I’m soon distracted and begin to calm down. That is, until Mia asks me to perform my ‘regulator release’ skill. Now, this is a concept that seems entirely contradictory to living. It’s ludicrous to be asked to let go of the very thing that allows you to breathe!! Nonetheless, I have practiced this in the pool many times. But the difference between the pool and the ocean is like the leap from story sums to advanced mathematics in one day.

At first, I’m not ready and Mia lets me be. Later on, after seeing a Trumpet fish and a Potato Bass, all feels well in the underwater world. So, Mia comes up close to me and asks again. I release the regulator and lean to the right but for some reason I don’t lean far enough and can’t retrieve it. Immediately panic sets in. Forgetting that I have an alternate, I start hyperventilating and swallowing water. Mia immediately gives me her alternate. But I’m so panicked that I can’t even get it into my mouth. I don’t remember doing this but Mia says through all the mayhem, I managed to communicate the sign for “Something’s wrong! Take me up!”

Mia held me and made eye contact, trying to calm me down but I just couldn’t breathe properly. As we were ascending, I remember thinking, “This is it. I’m not going to make it to the top. This is how I go.”

Clearly, I’m alive and well now, relaying this story, and so Death be kind. Now I can chuckle at the idea that I thought I had reached my Life’s full stop. But in that moment, I didn’t trust the knowledge or the equipment, and I didn’t believe in the little black and white sticker that says, “Everything’s going to be okay.” I came to the top gasping for air, Mia talking to me all the time. She lay me on my back and unzipped my wetsuit as I floated, gasping like a Shakespearean gutted fish, crying my soliloquy to the audience in the sky, “I can’t! I can’t!”

About forty-five minutes later, I was back in the ocean, thanks to the firm persuasion of Mia and the head of the dive school, Nico. This time, I held onto Mia’s hand as if it was a new kind of life source, a fool-proof regulator. I only let go when she had to release the SMB – Surface Marker Buoy (which is not the same as the SPG or the BCD or the DIN, just so you know and don’t get lost in the sea of acronyms).

Diving is unlike any other thing I’ve ever experienced. I have a new respect for the dive community. Yes, the ocean is magical and tranquil but it’s also where you face your own insignificance. Something about it has always scared me. Maybe it’s because my mom and dad taught me to feel humbled by the mightiness of nature – mountains and ocean. Maybe it’s because my father took me to the sea and would raise me up onto his shoulders as soon as the waves licked my little ankles. Or maybe it’s because even as an adult, I would always swim where I could still see him sitting on the shore waiting for me. And maybe it’s because a family friend – a beautiful, adventurous woman, full of joie de vivre – died while diving.

Whatever it is, there is a strange feeling that I need to go back to that washing machine called Aliwal Shoal. They say if you can dive there, you can dive anywhere in the world. Harry, my brother’s father-in-law, says, “When I’m on a dive, the ocean is my church.” I’m still figuring it out but for this past week, the deep sea is the place that has taken up all my dream time. Slowly descending, slowing ascending, never dying… and always coming up with positive buoyancy.

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So long, Luke Perry.

13 was a funny age. Braces, glasses, hairy legs. I begged my mom to let me start wearing a bra even though I had miniature ski slopes and no real need for one just yet. I was starting high school and not allowed to go to the Valentine’s Ball with the guy from my primary school who had asked me out. I watched K-TV and Days of Our Lives while doing Maths homework. On weekends, my brother and I would gather our 99 men to clock Contra and try repeatedly to save the Princess in Super Mario Brothers. Harsha, my best friend and I, would sit on the wall dividing our houses and talk about everything until it was dark and our moms called us back in. ‘Everything’ meant there were no secrets and no stories left untold. We went to an all-girls’ school with high walls topped with barbed wire. And we believed Boys II Men was the best R&B band to hit planet Earth. So at our school concert, a bunch of us girls dressed up like them and performed “In the Still of the Night”.

It was also the time of my life when I was obsessed with Hollywood star, Luke Perry.

Normally when a celebrity dies, they get a ‘RIP’ on my Facebook status. But not Luke Perry. On the morning I found out about Luke Perry’s death, it took me way back. And I knew that Luke Perry deserved way more than 3 lousy letters.

Monday nights in the Gordhan household were like a moment of reverence. Everyone was shushed and at 8pm sharp there was one thing and one thing only that would take place – the viewing of Beverly Hills 90210. Even my father had no say. He was ushered out the lounge with the knowledge that my spot was reserved; that I’d be there eating my Cinnabon ice-cream, tuned in to simulcast, (back then the best shows were dubbed into Afrikaans), and I’d watch every part of the show from opening to closing credits. Each week’s episode was met with the same overboard excitement that only a 13-year-old can summon.

The next day, all the girls would spend the whole of break dissecting every word of Luke Perry’s – like when Brandon’s dad asks Luke about whether he removes his earring when he showers and Luke responds, “Depends on the circumstances, Sir.” Harsha and I would sit on the wall that divided our houses and mimic his über-cool, slightly irreverent delivery and giggle the night away.

When I bought any magazine, even the tiniest picture of Luke was cut up and painstakingly stuck on the inside of my cupboard door. It didn’t matter if the same picture appeared twice. What was wrong with seeing Luke Perry in step and repeat?

On my 16th birthday, the Perry crush still hadn’t died and my family knew it well. So I received a giant Luke Perry poster. It was like the spirit of all the little pics inside my cupboard joined forces to give me one life-size serving. That poster hung on my wall next to my bed – ensuring that I would be greeted by the god of West Beverly High every morning and every evening.

What made this guy park his Porsche 356 Speedster in my teenage heart? Was it his acting, really? Or was it just his brooding, leaning eyebrows and dark, mysterious eyes? His sneaky smile or bad-boy vibes? I even endured all of the movie 8 Seconds, just because he was in it. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. He represented something my innocent teenage-self thought was hella exciting – someone to make up for my awkward teen reality.

This may seem like hagiography but Luke deserves nothing less:

Luke Perry was inexplicably linked to some of my best teen memories. He was the fantastical corrupter in my Age of Innocence. He was to me what Cliff Richard was to my mom. He was a rite of passage and the joyful silliness that is only permitted in your springtime existence. He was the ultimate crush shared by me and my best friend.

I’m sorry you’re gone, Luke Perry. I adore you forever. Rest well, and thank you for the unforgettable years.

The pain and glory of remembering

At school, my history teachers made me learn the important dates off by heart. Battle of Blood River: 1838. Anglo Boer War: 1899-1902. World War 1:1914-1918. Arab-Israeli War: 1967.

My father was my true history teacher. He made me understand that the dates were important but not as important as the context in which those events happened and the bigger stories at play.

We live in an age that asks us to mark dates that mean something to us, be it frivolous and fun or deeply profound – Braai day, National Cleavage Day, break-up dates, hook-up dates, the day we lost our virginity, the day we stopped smoking, the day we cried for the first time in a movie, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Women’s day, Mandela day. And so it goes.

We are date obsessed so when it comes to remembering a day you would rather have obliterated from the Gregorian calendar, it makes it more difficult because of our ceremonious conditioning.

One year ago, today, my father died. June 18, 2014. I want to remember the day because it is natural and it is a marking of a rite of passage of someone I loved. But I also want to forget it so desperately because it was the day the light was snuffed out. The lead up to this day was torture – a giant, looming, dark 18; a clanging bell over my bed. I’ve been tense and angry, irritable and sullen. I don’t want to be reminded of the day the Universe took my rock, my teacher, my hero, my confidant, my father.

If he was alive today, he would say, “Suhani, remember the dates are not that important. History needs to be understood in context. You need to understand the bigger picture.” So I will do just that.

There is a big picture and hundreds of thousands of extraordinary pixels that make up that big picture. I will start with a small list:  Holding me above your shoulders at the beach. Green chillies and salt and vinegar. Red- beans Saturdays. Your red gown. Red Toyota Cressida. 4am History lessons. Chaiyya Chaiyya. Popsicles on holiday with a wheezing chest. Long strides. Arthur Murray. Sunday crosswords – completed. Post-Diwali shopping lounge modelling. Nani bhen. A capful for the ancestors. J&B – Juggath and Bhagath. December 16 Caddie. Old Folks Laugh by Maya Angelou. “Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the rang’d empire fall.” Trips to Silverglen with Pankaj Udhas. Highway Sheila. Impeccable suits. Amitabh Bachchan. Dirty jokes. Clean shave. Kouros.

Veterans of war, wives of soldiers and mothers of sons will always remember dates in ways that historians won’t. June 18th is someone’s birthday. The day someone will get engaged or publish a novel or learn to ride a bike. For us, it is the day we said goodbye. The philosopher in my father would remind us that it was just a farewell to the mortal coil. The pragmatist in him would remark on the laws of equilibrium in all things of this world.

While it is the most difficult thing to do, there is a pain and glory in remembering.

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The Rules of Engagement

bermudatriangleIn my mother’s time, when Cliff Richard was a heartthrob and when a boy and a girl became boyfriend and girlfriend, they would call it “going steady.” If a boy kissed a girl, he would be “getting fresh” with her. Growing up, I would cringe if my mum asked me if I was going steady with a boy. I still cringe when she asks if there’s a “young man in my life.” It makes me feel like I’ve just stepped off a carriage into the worlds of Anne of Green Gables or Pride and Prejudice, which, albeit charming, are a tad archaic.

Like me, I presume that the single women of the thirty-something generation, have been sitting on our couches, eating ice-cream, watching Bridget Jones’s Diary and repeating that line over and over – “He likes me just the way I am.” And boom – midway through our screechy renditions of All By Myself, we’ve suddenly realised that the dating world has changed dramatically. You realise you’re not part of the Elvis generation but you’re not of the Shake It Off-Taylor Swift generation either, which means you’re in the no-man’s land of dating. You’re in the Bermuda Triangle of dating – where people still call shorts, Bermudas.

Upon waking up in Area 51 of boy-meets-girl, I decided to consult with the young ones in my office who seem at ease and au fait with all terms dating related. They were eager to help an aunty out and provided some very useful wisdom. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the terms and stages of engagement as they stand at 2015:

Stage 1: We’re chatting

You went on a night out and kissed someone or just met someone at a pool party and now you’re chatting on Whatsapp. There’s no commitment; it’s nothing serious, just flirtatious and perhaps a bit of Facebook stalking.

Stage 2: Hooking Up

According to my young advisors, this is generally “when the shit starts.” For guys, this stage is just about sex. They prefer you to other girls but will not turn down other opportunities. This is possibly a once-a-week occurrence. For girls, this stage is tricky. Girls know that they are not exclusive with the guy but most girls wouldn’t hook up with other guys at this stage to avoid a “slutty” reputation.

Stage 3: Kinda vibing/Kinda seeing

You see each other on weekends and maybe once during the week. You’re not going to hook up with anyone else but still there’s no real commitment. For girls, this might also be called “A Thing”. For guys, “A Thing” is only the next stage.

Stage 4: Vibing/Seeing/A Thing

This is a level up. It includes seeing each other more frequently; perhaps some sleep overs – without leaving after breakfast.

Stage 5: I’m with…/I’m dating…

You are pretty much a couple but you have not defined the relationship and haven’t put it up on Facebook.

Stage 6: Boyfriend/Girlfriend

Quote my young colleagues: “Obvious.”

What all of this means, is you should thank your lucky stars if you’re safely wedded and not still trying to hook up at thirty-something. It also means that either I have to turn into a Cougar, or find a man my age who has decoded the social-togetherness conundrum.

Shew. Between chatting, hanging, right swiping, vibing, sort-of-seeing, I feel that there are a lot of ‘ings’ out there including beginnings and sharp endings. If it’s okay with the dating world, I might just stay in the Bermuda Triangle for a while longer. Perhaps there, I might encounter my Mr Darcy who maybe wouldn’t mind going out for a coffee.

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The Hills Are Alive

photo copy 2Yesterday I climbed a mountain.  It’s called Policeman’s Helmet. It’s become my ritual hike in the Drakensberg Mountains. Last time I did it, I fell into the river less than ten minutes into the hike and was met by a big, grumpy alpha-male baboon on the way back, whom I’m pretty sure was interested in the savoury rotis stashed in my backpack.

 This time, I didn’t fall into the river or meet King Kong. Being alone on this 3-hour journey, I did, however, imagine the following:

  • Being bitten by a baboon and then being airlifted to safety
  • Encountering a black mamba along the path and then considering the extent of my flexibility and whether I’d be able to reach my calf and suck out the poison
  • Being trapped overnight in the mountains and having a shower under a trickle of water that wasn’t quite a waterfall but just enough to have a morning wash
  • Having just turned a year older, I also imagined my knees giving way and falling off the mountain, where I’d lie in wait for days, drinking my own urine to survive

Of course, my imagination was running wild like Maria in the hills and I knew that this was Policeman’s Helmet, not Mount Everest. Plus, I signed a register before I embarked on the hike and it was sunny with no chance of drama.

Still, I sang loudly to myself just to ward off any mountain creatures (and possibly mountain-men suitors too, if you’ve ever heard my singing voice.) Shakespeare and ee cummings joined me as I thought about love-which-alters-not when-it-alteration- finds and that it felt right to thank-you-god-for-most-this-amazing-day. And then, nature called and I answered by peeing in the bushes whilst a long, sharp blade of grass poked me in the bum. Ahh. One with nature.

But perhaps the moment I wait for out of all moments in the berg, is climbing the ladder onto the plateau and taking in a 360-degree view of the Northern Drakensberg’s Amphitheatre. I gave a thunderous shout out to my father and remembered how he always said: “If you ever feel the need to be humbled, look at the mountains.” With all the time on my hands, I found a perfect spot to assume the lotus position. There, I meditated a little, telling all guides, angels, gods, mountain spirits and Kung Fu Panda my affirmations for the new year. And then I took a couple of shameless selfies, ate my savoury roti, an apple and a biscuit and saved the peach (just in case).

As I sat on that mountain, I thought about three things –

  1. This is the perfect way to open the door to 2015 and send 2014 packing out the back door.
  2. Fearlessness is the feeling I want in the pit of my heart.
  3. Maria from The Sound of Music (Don’t judge. I was on a mountain; it’s an obvious association.)

Maria made me think of the thing we all must do – despite our roaring fears, our nasty inhibitions, heavy hearts, endless subconscious debates and unruly imaginations – we must … Climb Every Mountain.



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Haikus For You


The day still won’t end.

The month gone by just begins.

Ambiguous time.



I want to keep all.

Death is the most unreal real.

Defying any grasp.



When your world ended

The knees of mine buckled, broke.

But I stand in awe.



When walking with you

I tried to keep your long stride.

Walk with me always.





The Awkward Hindu



I believe in the Grand Master Sensei upstairs. I do.

I like to think that He conducts the Universe from a friendly call centre with angels at the operating desks. He takes an interest in our insecurities and idiosyncrasies; He shakes his head in dismay when we ignore the massive signs He places in front of us. He gets angry when we behave like marauding, malevolent idiots. I believe He too likes Nutella and ‘One Simply Cannot’ memes. And I think He is simultaneously saddened and amused by us all.

I recently embarked on a Hindu prayer called Navagraha. Navagraha refers to the 9 planetary Gods in Hinduism – Surya (Sun), Chandra (Moon), Mangal (Mars), Budha (Mercury), Brihaspati (Jupiter), Shukra (Venus), Shani (Saturn) and Ketu and Rahu (points of intersection of the sun and the moon). It is believed that these celestial bodies affect our lives in a good or bad way. The Navagraha prayer is performed to counter any negative effects of these planets. It involves a fast over 9 Saturdays – no alcohol and no meat and a visit to the temple to conduct the ritual.

I’m currently in week 4 of the prayer and it has been something of a comedy of errors. On day one, my spiritual knuckles received a rapping because I wore pants and a hoodie to the Lord’s House. When I asked for a reminder about exactly what to do with the offerings one makes at the 9 statues, the priest gave me a blunt response, effectively slapping this religious ignoramus over her uncovered head.

This week’s temple visit was also particularly embarrassing. The ritual goes like this: Remove shoes. Walk around the main temple three times. Place your fruit and milk at the altar. Stand in the queue to perform the Navagraha. Make your offerings. Perform the chants. Sound the prayer bell. And leave. As I began my walk around the temple, I spotted the priest in his traditional garb. Instead of bringing my hands together and saying, “Vanakam” – the traditional Tamil greeting, I found myself giving the priest a gangster-type nod and a small smile. Immediately, this strange Holier Than Thou Voice rang out in my head: “What is wrong with you??? You can’t nod at a priest!!!”

I sheepishly made my way to the Navagraha queue. Usually, people perform the prayer one party at a time and everyone waits patiently – some pass the time playing with their cell phones. Finally, my turn arrives. I face the sun and start to pray. But halfway through my deep conversation, I am rudely interrupted by a man. He looks at me and as he touches the feet of each statue hurriedly, he says, “You don’t mind if I just do this quickly? I don’t want to disturb you”. And before I know it, I blurt out the line that catapults from head to tongue: “You already did!!!”

Dammit. Here I go again. So I quickly close my eyes and apologise to the Lord for my impatient little rant. I ring the bell and quietly leave.

I wonder whether I am an awkard Hindu or just awkward. Surely my parents taught me well?

They did, indeed. They taught me that my temple can reside in my heart along with my God. They also taught me that the clothes on my back matter not and that awareness and genuine intent certainly does.

Why do I do this Navagraha? I think it’s because I like the symbolism and inherent power of the mantras. I like the physical space of the temple and the peaceful vibrations that emanate from within its walls. Perhaps what I’m slightly less enthused about are the subtle judgements and the parochial human encounters.

I’ve also been thinking about why I make these spiritual faux pas. Apart from my obvious clumsy nature, I think it’s because I’ve always had an informal relationship with my God. He is omniscient, right? So, it’s no point me polishing up my thoughts or my dress sense when I’m in His earthly house. The attempt to ‘stand on ceremony’ would be somewhat hypocritical, especially when I tend to shoot the breeze with Him every now and then.

My God knows me. And I like to think He likes me and my woolly hoodie just the way we are.



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Jam. And Bruce Lee

Jam Bruce Lee

Oh, the politics of choice.

Every time the waiter lingers around our table, we keep saying, “5 more minutes please.” This is why I love being vegetarian. Restaurants that serve vegetarian food often mark their vegetarian meals on the menu with a green leaf or a big ‘V’ and even though my choices are limited, I’m happy because I don’t have to sift through 999 decisions to fill my tummy.

I once dated a guy who was always unhappy with what he ordered and always preferred what was on my plate. Soon, he learnt to say, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Until he spotted the all-you-can-eat buffet.

We live in the generation of expanded choice. We live in a perpetual ‘Baskin & Robbins’ framework where everything is about endless flavors, colours and toppings. Shopping aisles are longer, clothing racks go higher, experience lists trail to the floor and we can download a new app every second.

In the UK, “Tesco stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 of household cleaner.”*  In California, an experiment was conducted in a supermarket. Researchers set up two promotional stands. The first offered taste tests of 24 different jams and the other offered just 6. Shoppers who sampled were given discount vouchers to buy that same brand of jam. More people stopped at the stand with 24 jams. But when it came to buying, 30% of those who stopped at the table with 6 jam options ended up purchasing, while only 3% of those who sampled at the 24-option table, ended up buying.*

My problem with all this choice? My heart is not jam.

I think this libertarian concept of choice makes us perpetual shoppers and restaurant visitors. While it’s great to know that we have 101 craft beers to generate a beer burp, why should we have order envy when it comes to matters of the heart?

When we are in the love trance, induced by the release in our body of all the ‘ines’ – dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine – every other jam on the shelf disappears. But the moment one has sampled three quarters of the jar and the ‘use by’ date looms, one is in search of something else – it might not even be jam. It might be Bovril. Or worse still, fish paste. But we’ll know the right thing when we see it. Or will we?

Choice is proof of liberation. Choice is a sign of evolution and innovation. But the ability to make a life decision and not have FOMO is a mark of character. The ability to know one’s heart, to trust one’s gut and to see the long-term benefit of a good call is the mark of maturity.

I’m not saying that people aren’t allowed to change their minds. Or that what was offered on the menu doesn’t always look the same on the plate. Or that you can be a taste-tester for life without ever picking a favourite. But I am saying that when you utter those three big words, you should have thought about it for quite some time. Even if it means the waiter has to come back in an hour.

Admittedly, I have now taken the supermarket and menu analogy a little too far. Enter the Martial Arts analogy. Remember that classic Bruce Lee moment from “Enter the Dragon?” Even if you do, watch it again here:

Ahh, I love it. Bruce Lee was wiser than his roundhouse kick. He knew that nothing in life can be executed beautifully without the right intent. I believe that the choice warehouse makes us less human. It removes emotional content, the concept of consequence and the ability to enjoy the glory of what is with us right now.

My heart is on the shelf again. And that’s okay. But this time, it ain’t hopping off willingly into just anyone’s trolley – especially if there are one too many jam jars in that trolley.



*Source: The Economist “The Tyranny of Choice: You choose.” Dec 16, 2010 http://www.economist.com/node/17723028



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