Catalunya and Catalan nationalism
I fell in love with Catalunya the first time that I visited. The people of Catalunya remind me of Panjabis in so many ways. Their openness and welcoming nature is coupled with a fierce independence and cultural identity that is remarkably similar to Panjabis, and Sikhs in particular. The relationship of Catalans with the Spanish state is also similar to the relationship of Panjabis with India. Both regions have elements of a shared history with their respective states, but differences in language and culture effectively make them a nation within a nation.
I returned a number of times to Catalunya, including attending a Summer School at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, and each time I felt an increasing attachment with the area. Not only do the Catalan people remind me of Panjab, but the city of Barcelona has a large Panjabi population, and I was surprised to see just how many Sikhs now call the city their home. Even more impressively, I spoke to the Giani of a local Gurdwara who told me that not only do the locals treat them with respect, but they actually attend the Gurdwara in large numbers on weekends as part of yoga retreats where they learn about, and respect the Sikh belief system.
It's this love for Catalunya that had me so interested in the recent Catalan independence referendum, a vote that highlighted to me many similarities with the independence movement for Panjab in India.
The General Election
On 18 April 2017, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May announced that she would be calling an election on 8 June 2017. This follows a General Election in 2015, just two years earlier.
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 had removed the power of the Prime Minister to call an election at the drop of a hat, or when conditions were favourable to the governing party. Under the Act, elections would be held every five years unless the House of Commons voted by two thirds to the contrary. With the spectre of Brexit hanging over the country and the opposition party in disarray, Theresa May decided this would be the perfect opportunity to strengthen her position both domestically and in terms of negotiating the withdrawal from the EU.
Unfortunately for her, as the campaign season kicked off, she began to show signs of weakness, no matter how many times she said she was "strong and stable", whilst the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn somehow got his sh*t together and began closing the gap in polls. Now, for all intents and purposes, the question isn't whether the Conservatives will win, but by how much they will win, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go out and vote.
I'm not telling you who to vote for, you should do the research and make an informed decision. However, for the Sikh community to prosper, we need to become more politically engaged and therefore I will say; go out and vote.
Sikhi and sacrifice
My favourite part of visiting new places is listening to local stories and histories. Its easy to read about different cultures online, but completely different hearing someone tell the stories about their people with passion. It also allows me to contextualise the history of my own ancestors.
Every culture is told they have they have an exceptional history and Sikhs are no different. There are many cultures, countries and religions that have extraordinary individuals and histories. Christians and Muslims were both persecuted during their formative years, Jews were persecuted for almost 2 millenia. Hindus at one point had a culture that extended from Iran all the way to Vietnam. The Inca tell the stories of Tupac Amaru, the Americans of George Washington, the French have Charlemagne and the English have Richard the Lionheart. In fact, in the presence of a few common factors, it is almost inevtiable that extraordinary individuals or events will arise.
Sikhi was borne into a situation where all three of the above factors were prevalent, however it still doesn't explain the disproportinate number of events in Sikh history nor the large number of extraordinary individuals in the Sikh nation within such a short period of time. For this, there is the presence of an extra couple of elements, the first of which is Sikh philosophy.
English company men from the East India Company were astounded when watching the execution of Banda Singh Bahadur and his Sikhs in 1716 by the Mughal Empire. Not only did every Sikh refuse to save his/her life by converting to Islam, but Sikhs were actually fighting with each other to be executed first. The earliest English explorers termed Sikhi as a death cult, erroneously claiming the Sikhs worshipped death and that they would cry at the birth of a child and celebrate the death of a fellow Sikh. In fact, what the British were seeing was the concept of Chardi Kala a central part of Sikh philosophy that focuses on optimism, even in adversity. They were also witnessing the power of Naam where a Sikh in a meditative state of mindfulness can divert their attention from physical pain to a state of serenity.
It's the election that shocked the world. On Tuesday 8 November 2016, the United States of America elected Donald Trump to be its 45th President.
America is a country built on progressive ideals. An open country that has become the superpower it is today through immigration from all parts of the world. A country that has championed free trade and as Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, the 'equality of all men'.
Its precisely for these reasons that it was so shocking to see America turn its back on those very ideals and elect a President who has built his whole campaign on hatred and protectionism. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the world will end just because Donald Trump is President, but it makes you wonder what makes a country such as America elect such a controversial figure.
I have read numerous comments and articles denigrating Americans for their choice of leader. Although I agree that the Government-Corporate machinery that is America is heading down a dark path, I still believe that Americans are honest, decent and hardworking people who do not deserve all the negative attention they are receiving.
Firstly; I'm no Mr Universe. I'm not even close, however I'm a strong believer that physical fitness is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Appearance isn't everything, however you can still make some valid judgements about a person depending on their appearance. It takes discipline to stay in shape and if you can't take care of your health, how are you going to take care of your family or anything else?
Physical fitness is also one of the core requirements within Sikhi, infact the second Guru, Angad, ordered that every Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) should have a gym attached to it and although this custom has fallen in some parts of the world, in the UK its still very strong with groups like Lions MMA, Shin Kin and various Gatka Akharas basing classes in Gurdwara gyms. I did Shin Kin when I was younger and then trained for a short while with Lions MMA when I was a little older and have a lot of respect for these groups. A Sikh is supposed to be 'Tyar bar tiyar' (always prepared) and the life of a Sikh is supposed to be geared toward protecting the innocent. It's pretty hard to protect someone else if you can't even protect your waistline.
I tend to go to the gym between 3-4 times a week, train in Thai Boxing and play football. To test my fitness I took part in a Tough Mudder (which I'd recommend for all) and occasionally do medium distance runs for charity. That being said, as a guy of Panjabi heritage, my diet isn't great, although its something I'm actively trying to improve.
I usually get a little cranky when I don't go gym for a few days, so going on longer travels presents a problem. However, during my first extended trip I found that just because you're travelling, doesn't mean you have to skip gym.
I recently gave a quick interview to a popular lifestyle website on the concept of The Travelling Singh blog, discussing amongst other things difficulties encountered by Sikh passengers and the backlash Sikhs have faced globally as a result of mistaken identity,
I was keen to highlight the various sacrifices Sikhs have made in both World Wars and the economic contributions of Sikhs today.
I also spoke about my adventures, some of the places I have visited and my future bucket list.
You can read the full interview here.
Don't forget to follow The Travelling Singh on Twitter @travellingsingh and you can also follow Suzannah Sylvian (who conducted the interview) on Twitter @suzannahsylvian
During the 2015 election period, the Conservative Party pledged in their manifesto to hold a referendum before 2020 on the issue of the UK leaving the European Union (EU). Following consultations, the Government decided to set a date of Thursday 23 June 2016 for the vote.
After initial engagement in politics during teenage years, the 21-35 year old demographic has a huge drop in political engagement, however, this is one of the most important decisions of our generation, and one that will touch on almost every aspect of our lives whether directly or indirectly.
I tend to keep my blog as politically neutral as possible, if I wanted a blog on politics, I'd make one (and probably have a readership in single digits). However, the referendum has important ramifications for those of us who are interested in travelling and seeing the world. 76% of all foreign holidays are to EU Member States. Unlike most publications I've read on this topic, I'll keep this relatively high level, brief and focused on the affect of the vote on travelling.
Waking up to another mindless act of terror is becoming far too regular an occurrence. From Paris, to Ankara, Istanbul and now Brussels, a group financed by large amounts of foreign oil money and twisted by warped ideologies is causing destruction on a global scale not seen in years.
My thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of all those in Brussels who either lost their lives or suffered life changing injuries for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After any such incident the first thoughts should always be with those suffering, whether its Belgian families who have lost sons and daughters, French citizens who have seen their beautiful capital attacked on a number of occasions or Middle Eastern families who face such acts on a regular basis.
British Sikh in my twenties, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.