Helen of Troy

Let me tell you about Helen. I caught my eye upon her shadow as I strolled alongside the looming castle walls. A figure bathing within the holy waters, reserved for only a deity herself although I could not see that far along the plane. Curiosity had struck too late, as I found myself already heading towards the untouched river. 

“Unto what may you seek from these holy waters” – I exclaimed, keeping a distance from the figure for it may have been armed. I still could not clearly see the figure for the uprising steam from the hot thermal springs scattered for miles. Silence. I looked down at my riding boots which had now sunk an inch deep into the the mud. The mud always remained this way. The King claims it keeps the ungodly off the waters. It was, of course, from the humidity of the steam but one can never argue with the King. 

I exclaimed again “To what may you seek from these holy waters, show yourself”. My words remained empty, a simple echo. But then I saw a shadow approach me. I stood en garde. I may be in danger. What I saw next, though, was far from it. 

She emerged through the waters up onto the bank which was home to a multitude of lotus flowers, both open and closed. This was no time to admire the landscape for this mysterious shadow had now revealed itself. She possessed thundering beauty. Her face, sculpted so much to perfection that only the finest sculptors with much delicacy could have done the deed. Cardinal red ringlets tumbled over her shoulders and passed her bare back. She stood before, bare breasted. Even her voice was angelic as she pronounced, 

“Helen of Troy, Daughter of Zeus and wife of..” She paused, “Wife of Menelaus” 

Paralysis ran through my body. The Gods have come. The Gods have come unto our holy springs. Above all this, a celestial woman giving me a feeling that I have never before encountered. 

I abstained from telling the King about her. About the Goddess from above and her profound beauty. Instead, when he had his daily nap, I would tell the nurse not to wake him and then head down along the murky path where she would be waiting. Each time I saw her, I would be more mesmerised than the last, encapsulated by her world, fascinated by her flawless allure. I sat on the bank and her in the waters. Sometimes we would sit in silence and admire the river and its creatures. Other times, I would braid her hair whilst she sat transversal to me, speaking of her adventures of the past and the ones she’d wish would come. She never spoke of her marriage. I never spoke of mine. With her, I was in a state of infatuation. 

One day she asked me to join her in the waters.

“Come with me”, she said “Let us forget the life we lead and begin again once more”

This surprised me. I spoke, 

“A Goddess and a sovereign belong in opposite realms. We were anointed to take your messages and pass them to common folk. Such interaction with one so high up within the caste will for sure lead to my abdication.”

She lay for a few moments and collected her thoughts. Then, sat up, cupped her delicate hands around my face and spoke with such enunciation. 

“Even if his love has to be silenced, the freedom we possess will be is limitless. Embrace this lust my dear. Without such thing, what job will there be for my sister Aphrodite. How can we have escapades when we are locked up by patriotism. Embrace this love, my dear. One queen may go missing from this kingdom, but another will be dominated by two. So as a holy figure, I beseech you, to come with me. Let us begin once more.” 

And with that, I undressed and and joined my beloved. Only to never look back. 

Barbie’s problem

A few weeks ago when I was teaching a girl no less than 10, I saw that her pencil case was covered with prints and stickers of Disney princesses. This for me brought back moments to reminisce. I picked up the case and fingered the outlines of it. How I used to look up to all these characters, creating shrines for them in my bedroom and dressing up like them for every birthday. Momentarily, I asked the girl who her favourite was. “Belle” she said. Then I asked her least favourite expecting a villain like Scar or Ursula. “Tatiana”, she said as if it were obvious enough. I asked why. Her response instantly brought me back from my reminiscent high. “Because she’s brown.”

“Brown, but you’re brown too?”. Bearing in mind that the girl, like myself originates from South Asia. “I’m not brown, I’m white” she said almost proudly. I ended the conversation right there. The last thing I wanted was to argue with a child. Her comment angered me but more importantly I was concerned to what made her think this way. What was so wrong with us Asians that made her want to deny the fact that she was brown?

This isn’t the first time that problems have arisen with diversity in fictional characters and toys for children. Take Barbie for example; the doll was first released in 1959 where is wasn’t really a problem for all dolls being identical in skin colour, hair or having the “perfect” body. It was a huge hit with young children and parents since birthday presents had just gotten easier.

The issue relies on the fact that young girls from across the globe will have been conditioned to think that beauty only lies within a woman of white skin, blonde hair and a body shape that is impossible and unhealthy to achieve. Studies show that 40% of children are dissatisfied with the way they look after having received a Barbie doll. This comes from a variety of reasons such as body image and skin colour. Although the demographic for the Barbie is well below the age of ten, the long term consequences are much more severe. Having worries about body image at a young age is more likely to lead to having disorders with eating, social anxiety and body dysmorphia. What Mattel failed to mention is that the real life size of Barbie is frankly impossible to achieve. According to calculations, the doll would have a dress size of 2, this being far below the average dress size of an adult and extremely unhealthy.

It took almost 60 years for Barbie to have a transformation. In 2016 Mattel created dolls with several skin tones and body shapes. One size certainly does not fit all and customers were given a choice of what kind of Barbie they could have. But was it 60 years too late? Barbie’s brand image will always be of a silicon plastic doll with white skin and blonde hair and not the diversity that has recently been introduced. So for the future, children will need to be brought up with the varied dolls, potentially reducing eating disorders in teenagers and a less conditioned vision of beauty.

Barbie body image

The things unknown

Inspired by Maya Angelou’s, ‘I know why the caged bird sings’, I decided a write a short story about the backbone of the poem. I was so moved after reading such emotional piece of writing, I decided to research the history and inspiration that went behind writing the piece. The poem itself is about two birds; one caged and the held captive, symbolising slavery during the slave trade in 17th century America. 

The things unknown:

Cautiously she draws the curtains apart and gazes through the cloudy window of her modest room. Out in the fields, the early cotton workers are busily gathering the harvest before the winter sets in and sends every living creature back into dwellings awaiting the return of spring. The squirrels have long packed their granaries and the sun is showing signs of ageing. All along, the busy summer provided the living with growth and the suffering with comfort. But now, it needs a rest and plans a long break.

On her window sill, a bird perched itself half asleep, soaking his wings in the last gasps of the summer rays. Its eyes dreamy and drunk as they contemplate the vastness of the sky that it owns. In the tainted glass, she glimpses her own reflection. A lonely figure, almost invisible, yet trapped and caged between the walls of a room caving in on her. She reminisces about her life as a child growing freely in the homeland of the sun where elephants trumpeted freely across the savannahs along the tall, elegant giraffes. Her peaceful walk to school across a lush nature reserve and the gathering of smiling faces bearing their white teeth at her as she steps through the playground gates. Why did this have to end so abruptly?

The violent journey on the boat across the rough seas ripped her from her roots and planted her in a sour land where hope and opportunity no longer recognised her. Years of serving the rich and powerful have made her veins swell under her skin like rambling ivies clenching onto her, trapping her inside herself. Years of slavery aged her quickly but with her wings clipped and her feet tied, she envies the little bird on her window sill which now has noticed her frozen shadow and fluttered away to join its companions chirping contentedly across the hills far and wide. She tries to open her mouth and call the winged creature back but soon remembers the wings of her voice have long withered and died and vanished with the thousand and one nights she cried herself to sleep.

Speechless and sad, she gazes through her wet eyes out across the empty fields. The workers have turned in for the night and the birds are now roosting in total tranquillity.

How she longs to sprout invisible wings to hoist her on the last, fading rays of the departing sun if only to carry her back to the land of her childhood – to the land of living dreams where once her voice echoed gleefully across the air with other children.

The night has fallen spreading its shadows across the land and painting her walls with a tinge of rich dark blue. The moon emerges from behind the clouds painting each with a silver lining. A feeling of hope wells up inside her, flooding her very heart, soul and mind with blissful exultation.

48 hours in Prague

Prague. A city of history, culture and a rich profusion of ancient buildings. I actually visited the city for a wedding but having stayed inside the hotel for the most part, I was intrigued to see whether I could explore more of the city, but with a twist: in just 48 hours.

DAY ONE:

I didn’t land in Václav Havel airport in the best of moods. My flight was delayed for 2 hours (thanks EasyJet) and I got no compensation. Outrageous right? We left our things at the hotel and hurried out to make the most of our limited time. First stop, breakfast.

Café Spirit did not fail to keep in touch with it’s name. It was a pleasant café with friendly staff and delicious home-made food whilst being reasonably priced. We decided to spend the rest of the day doing the typical Prague tour. We went around by foot, mainly because I did not want to pay €150 for a Segway tour around the city (although I was tempted). We started at the famous Charles’ bridge; a connection that the King would use to get from his castle to the Olde town square. To the left of the river was

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Waldstein Palace

Waldstein palace, which in my opinion was a piece of architectural genius. A combination of arches and pointed rooftops along with the maze like gardens truly represented the gothic nature of the city and reflected the style of living in the late Middle Ages.

Next we made our way to the dancing house. Contrasting with the palace, the dancing house was an eccentric yet extraordinary building. It brings together both modern and gothic aspects of the city – almost reminding me of something you would find in a children’s horror movie.

As a huge Beatles fan, I needed to visit the Lennon wall and needless to say, I was not disappointed. The wall was originally put up in the late 1940s for protests to occur over the communist takeover. However, this soon became a memorial for John Lennon with Beatles inspired graffiti taking up every inch of wall- it was admirable to say the least. We had lunch in a local pub (the Czechs really do love their bread and potatoes)  and made our way to the other side of the river where we came across the narrowest street in Prague. Although it was just 19.6 inches wide, what fascinated me the most was that there were traffic lights installed telling us when to go! 

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Pub Lunch

The evening sun was fading as we entered the olde town square. And even so, the centre was full of life with the abundance of food stalls, restaurants and crowds gathering to watch the chime of the astronomical clock. If you really wanted to see the true beauty of the clock, my advice would be to start gathering at least half an hour before the chime because there will be A LOT of people. It wasn’t hard looking for the roasted potato swirl stalls because there were so many of them but if you have a sweet tooth, you will love Captain Candy which had more types of candy than you could imagine. Of course I had to stock up. At this point, my legs felt like jelly and we couldn’t go by foot any longer. A taxi back to the hotel it was.

DAY TWO:

The next day started slowly. By the time we were ready, it was almost time for brunch. The fresh and fat bistro (no, I’m not describing myself) did the job. The food was both delicious and instagrammable which is always a bonus. We headed on to Prague National Gallery, where I spent most of my time in the Medieval Arts section (what can I say, I’m a Medieval loving maniac). Unfortunately, Prague castle was closed for the day so we decided to…  The sex machines museum. In all fairness, I was frightened at first by the flexibility of the human body but equally fascinated by how these “machines” had developed over time. 

The next day started slowly. By the time we were ready, it was almost time for brunch. The fresh and fat bistro (no, I’m not describing myself) did the job. The food was both delicious and instagrammable which is always a bonus. We headed on to Prague National Gallery, where I spent most of my time in the Medieval Arts section (what can I say, I’m a Medieval loving maniac). Unfortunately, Prague castle was closed for the day so we decided to…  The sex machines museum. In all fairness, I was frightened at first by the flexibility of the human body but equally fascinated by how these “machines” had developed over time. 

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National Gallery gardens

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Palladium. With 11 floors, it’s definitely the biggest shopping mall in Prague. Architecturally  the building was fairly modern but had gothic accents to reflect the city’s past.

After dinner, we made a quick stop back at the hotel and headed back out to Karlovy Lazne which prides itself in being the largest nightclub in Central Europe. It was also a great time to try famous Czech cocktails – BECHEROVKA AND TONIC IS PHENOMENAL. We then spent the early hours of the morning half-drunkenly packing and heading to the airport. The hangover was unreal but what an amazing 48 hours it was. 

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