At a very young age of my life, I was exposed to aspects of harsh reality. Wherein things such as Racism, Discrimination and Bullying dominated the major roles of my life. My family at the time had just immigrated to New Zealand from India. So a culture shock and alienation was bound to be expected. Something I didn’t see coming was the break of the shield around me that had been developed by my family for eight years. This sudden entrance into the ‘real world’ forced me to grow faster than my age. The bullying was quite similar to most of the other stories you must have heard of because it all started with a single insecurity. During this time, I really understood the detrimental impact ordinary words could have on a person. There came a time where the mental and emotional trauma eroded the physical pain. The incapability to handle my battered, invisible and not accepted identity helped me unconsciously build an exterior that hid my innocent and bubbly demeanour.
At a very young age, I always believed that just like everyone else I too was unique because I carried a particular purpose for only which I could fulfil. That I could bring about a change of some sort. That whole belief system was shattered and a new reign of pessimism had taken its place. The pessimism had penetrated deeply and my mind could no longer function as before. It silently groped me like a puppet with no strings attached. If I may say so in my defense, being only human I was allowed to make mistakes. But throughout this journey so far I have found experiences that have allowed me to redeem myself somewhat – it’s amazing how karma works!
I had even given up expecting any miracles to occur in my life. I didn’t expect the bullying to subside, the pain to cease, that overnight I would become popular in school and my teachers would give me a red carpet welcome every time I walked into the class. It was nowhere close! The bullying still continued up until the very last day of school, some of my teachers still insisted on ridiculing me in class for not being able to, in their terms, ‘cope up’. They even refused to accept that perhaps the bullying was a reason behind my incapability to ‘cope up’. Along the way of “finding myself,” as I call it, I was handed a lot of not so constructive criticism. There was a lot of pressure to be the model idealistic human being in society. To act as if I was doing very well with my life, when, in fact, reality at the time was completely opposite to what it seemed. To this day, I still have no idea how all of a sudden I found this reservoir of courage within myself that helped me by not allowing me to succumb to any type of public scrutiny.
My school did almost nothing to preventing bullying in general; I say this from my experience. I still saw many girls being bullied and picked on inside and outside class and then heard all the gossip about what that particular girl had been up to. Obviously, the information most often given was not at all close to the truth. All this enraged me! It took me a lot of time to find within myself that lost sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. But once I did, I found the ability to oppose the idea that in this big bad world it wasn’t only power, position and money that mattered. Soon enough, I saw myself speaking up for some of the girls who were being bullied at my school. I provided these girls with not only support and my study notes, but I also felt like as if I had become their voice. I advised these girls on how to take on these challenges and tutored them in whichever subject they felt they were weak at so that they could get back not only the good grades and the support of their teachers but also, most importantly, their confidence. And I am very proud to announce that these same girls who weren’t given any support by their teachers or peers achieved their final exams with Excellence and Merit Endorsements.
I faced a lot of resistance from people with whatever I chose to do, there were even times where I lost the support of a lot of friends for standing by what I believed is right. To be very honest with you, there were times where my determination to follow through with my actions hindered because I always felt what would the other person think, how would they react, would they accept me? It is through these challenges that I not only found out who I really am and where I stand, but also the value of self-respect – where being nice didn’t mean that I could be taken for granted. At the same time, I also realised that philanthropy and world peace are not just a great desire, but it is also a much loved and devoted passion of mine. Tackling some of these obstacles has allowed me gain a greater understanding of my place in life. Without my early exposure to such issues, I wouldn’t have been able to be as grounded as I am today. And have the ability to stand out independently from my peers, and be proud of it too!
Most of us find out the hard way that humanity is taken out of a lot of people in the times of our struggle. And now it is through this struggle that has allowed to me connect further to humanity.
In the recent past, I had the privilege to meet the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, whom is currently working as an Administrator for the United Nations Development, along with Phil Goff and David Shearer, both members of the Labour Party, and discuss with them my views on corruption and poverty. I also began to volunteer extensively at for different causes. In one of the events, I had the a opportunity to meet and interact with Ethiopian Refugees. This opportunity not only allowed me to learn to cook Ethiopian food, which by the way was extremely delicious, but also enabled me to infuse with their culture, which was a truly life changing experience! Just recently, I was presented with another opportunity by International Artists for Peace (ICAP) and Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to participate in an anti-bullying and anti-racism programme called iChoose. iChoose took Auckland City by storm, travelling to 10 schools in total, interacting with the students on how the choice is in their hands and that the ‘real strength actually lies in their hearts and not in their fists.’ Throughout this programme, I was privileged enough to meet with extremely talented, friendly and like-minded individuals who were part of the cast and crew. It was amazing how despite coming from a diverse range of backgrounds and ethnicities, all our struggles had helped us connect and relate to each other, thus eliminating any kind of social barriers or distinctions.
So, how did Messages to Mumbai really come about, you ask? I remember myself sitting in my lounge, besides a tall stack of India Today Magazines, trying to devour each magazine with great zeal when I came across an article related to ‘Pakistani Hindus’. I was flabbergasted, to say the least, at the extent at which this sector of society was being harassed and tortured. Obviously, being a passionate humanitarian, I wanted to change this too. But the thought seemed a bit naïve. I forgot for a second that I live in an age where most individuals like to come back home after a long hard day of work to a great cup of coffee and tune in for their daily dose of Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai (an Indian comedy show) rather then read about something depressing happening elsewhere – as if their problems weren’t enough. Anyhow, that didn’t seem to stop me from creating a change. Well, that was how Messages to Mumbai was born. Gradually, I began to discuss about everyday-life-related issues on my blog in an attempt to motivate and convey to other youth that even they don’t know what they are truly capable of doing until they are bombarded with a whole heap of struggles – I say this from my life’s experiences. I am so grateful, that within only the first month of me writing on my blog, the blog received over 1500 views where viewers are not only from India and New Zealand, but also other places like North and South America, Japan, England and South Africa! I have also received messages from teens all over asking for advice.
I know my journey doesn’t end here. I have so many goals to achieve and dreams to fulfil. Without a doubt, I know it is going to be a tough journey, but I can’t wait to climb that mountain to see that perfect view at the peak. But, then again, I am pretty sure that I will love my journey up that mountain more than the view itself.