I Wanted Columbia So Bad, I Didn’t Have a Plan B.

At Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 8.08.44 PMthe start of 2015, I lined up all my ducks in a row, knowing I wanted this year to be better. I am a nut, I read my horoscopes, I am into astrology, I think manifesting and belief is power, and most importantly I meditate. These habits throughout the years have fluctuated, but I definitely have faith in them. 2014 was an interesting year for me, I started it out working on one of the most demanding projects of my young career with Vice NEWS and finally returned to the United States permanently. I also, if you know me, went through a divorce. The magnitude of the changes in my life at first was very overwhelming.

Divorce is the hardest decision I have ever made, I broke my heart and my ex-wife’s because I knew there was something better for the both of us. The emotions you feel can be debilitating, it was extremely hard some days to wake up and even get out of bed, but every morning that I forced myself to function made me stronger and more confident. Coming back to the U.S. I had a plan, I wanted to become the person I know I am and that I am supposed to be. For many, the fear of losing what you have and the unknown would stop a person from turning their life totally upside down just to have to rebuild it over again, but when you feel in your heart with utmost passion and belief that your existence is valuable and there is a greater purpose, you make that decision.

I was now divorced, broke, a freelancer who lost most his network, back at my parents home, and not sure where to go in life. So I started with the basics, I started a committed routine of exercise and meditation. I knew if I healed my body, my mind, and my soul, that I could start to feel some ownership over what felt like a big storm. It was the best thing I could have ever done in my life. I learned to treat my body like the beautiful temple that it is and I reconnected myself with my mind. I found all the abundance I thought was missing was right in front of me. My heart and soul grew with gratefulness for the simple things. I quickly regained my confidence and decided to do something that had intimidated me for years, apply for graduate school.

I have always believed in two things about myself, but they were not always in sync. First, that I am an awfully hard worker and second, I get what I want. I guess at times I find myself to have a lot of audacity. When it came time to apply for graduate school, I had planted the seeds years before. I already knew my choice, Columbia School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City, the top school in the world for my profession. Years ago I had flirted with the idea visiting the campus and befriending many Columbia J-School students and alumni, but at the time the shitty rationalizing part of my brain told me I wasn’t good enough. I was convinced that my degree from Cal Poly Pomona and the work I had done was not up to par with Columbia’s standards. But, when the shit hits the fan you dig deep and go after what you want.

I started the process of applying for graduate school in September. I decided that I would also consider UC Berkeley School of Journalism, you know just in case… I visited Berkeley’s info sessions, popped up randomly to see the staff, and really get a feel for the school, but those visits left me feeling empty. See I had left my heart in NYC and I knew I wanted to be at only one school, the catch was that the school just needed to want me back. So when November came, I did my applications for Berkeley, but the energy was not positive, very toxic actually. I had too many minds telling me how to write my essays, what work I should submit, and how I should really focus on going to Berkeley because of my chances of getting to Columbia seemed slim.

I wanted Columbia so bad, I didn’t have a plan B.

Luckily, Columbia’s application due date was Dec. 15th, just enough time for me to center myself and make the application a fluid and satisfying process. I collected the work samples I was proud of, letters of recommendations from those I trusted and had seen me in my best light, and I wrote three essays, that may or may not be brilliant, but were my voice. I submitted the application and began manifesting my life in NYC. I would wake up most mornings and head to the famous Runyeon Park in Los Angeles, run till I felt sick and then meditate. I reminded myself every day of all the beauty in my life and how powerful each one of us truly is. I would show gratefulness to the universe for giving me confidence, composure, and the audacity to want something amazing. I believed, like all of us should, that I deserved this.

Relentlessly, I thought about NYC and Columbia J-School, so much that I believed I was going to be there no matter what. I had no choice, remember there was no plan B. See I didn’t want to attend Berkeley, but I considered it a litmus test and it also triggered many people around me saying I should start planning for the worst. Well, I maintained my “no mind” philosophy, which I adopted from the great movie “The Last Samurai,” and didn’t listen. I was determined to be at Columbia, so I continued doing what had brought me this far, I believed.

Sure enough, a few weeks later I received my admittance letter to Columbia Journalism School. Booyah!

Listen, 6 years ago I was working in an industry I did not like, no college education, and my future felt bleak. Over the course of those 6 years, I married a beautiful woman who changed my life forever, she gave me a new way to look at the world and helped me find my passion. I finished college and quickly entered into a profession that is aligned with my existence. Our marriage didn’t work out, but I do not think of it as a failure, it was a success. We both grew immensely personally and professionally and I believe became better individuals because of it. I thank her for that.

As I gear up to make my move to NYC to start J-School for the fall I want to express my gratefulness to everyone who has touched my life, whether negative or positive. I have learned so much about my existence this last year and that we are beautiful creations always evolving. I am impressed with the resilience of the soul, that even in times of pain and despair that we can still nurture ourselves and blossom. I give my love and thanks to you all from the deepness of my heart. Hello New York City! To all of you, visit me!

By: Adnan Khan

Instagram: @khancious

Twitter: @AdnanKhancious


A Letter to My Professor

In May 2013, I had been in Bangladesh for almost two months and met a new side to the country that in my past I had never encountered. What had changed was, first I was not a tourist visiting various families homes around Dhanmondi or the Tri-City (BGB a.k.a. Baridhara, Gulshan and Bonani, the affluent areas of the capital Dhaka.) Second, I had a new lens to see the world through, after earning my degree in political science. I have a strong fascination in dissecting everything from life, to current events, or politics whether it be rational or esoteric. My stay in Bangladesh entertained my senses and the substance that makes me who I am. I am definitely a different human being after my stay. Since then my life has changed dramatically, but I am grateful for the life lessons I have learned. As I continue my journey in becoming a great journalist, I would like to share an email to my professor on how I perceived the chaos the first couple months I started working in journalism.
Below is what I wrote to my Professor.

Hello Dr.            ,

Thank you for the response, I was excited to see you received my card. I truly am grateful I had the opportunity to take one of your classes.

I came to Bangladesh joined a journalist currently working with a local English publication Dhakatribune.com and a correspondent/producer for Al-Jazeera English. I have been joining her on stories as a production assistant. Most notable is the recent collapsing of a building in Savar, Bangladesh which held 5 garment factories. The casualties have passed 1,000 deaths. This experience has been eye-opening for me. Not just because of the graphic nature of the incident, but also the response of the Bangladesh government and these foreign retailers.

For my senior thesis, I covered the corruption in Bangladesh, which I had the pleasure to speak with the executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh and experts in academia, during my trip in December 2012. The events that are unraveling here for me are intense. Being that I freshly graduated from the political science department, I have taken an observers position in the events of this country. Bangladesh is a country that is suffering from so many issues right now that it is painful to watch. Besides the constant issues in the garment sector, the country is facing elections, which are creating disarray for the public as the current party Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh National Party duke it out. The current issues tied to the elections are the battle for a caretaker government to hold power during the elections so that neither party has an advantage. In this case, the sitting party, the Awami League and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, will not instate the caretaker government, which in recent elections has been used.

Also, the current government is holding trials known as the International Crimes Tribunal. They are trying perpetrators who are being charged with crimes performed during the Liberation War of 1971 when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. There are claims that 3 million people were killed and 300,000 women were raped and tortured. The tribunals do not sit well with many because many of the individuals being tried are prominent members of the Bangladesh National Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party. These two parties have an alliance and are the opposite of the Awami League.

The verdicts of the trials have been all consistent with the charges and the punishments are life in prison or death by hanging. The government and the courts have not given access to foreign organizations or the media, which also has created some distrust in how the trials are being conducted.

These current political issues mixed with the rampant corruption and the other weighing problems that the underdeveloped nation have been making the population very unsettled. Almost every other day we witness Hartals, which are strikes conducted by the opposition party and other organizations. Two non-political groups that have the strong following are Shabagh, who is the liberal student body of Bangladesh who organizes in Shabagh Square in Dhaka. They are fighting to keep Bangladesh secular and reinforce the rights of freedom of speech. They also are strong voices against corruption and demand accountability and transparency. The second group is Hafazat Islami. This group is a pro-Jamate Islami group of youth, who sprung from the rural areas. Many are products of the madrases in Bangladesh. They are fighting to make Bangladesh an Islamic nation, to introduce the blasphemy law, hang atheist bloggers and protesters, and remove women from public life; these can be found in their list of 13 demands. In recent weeks they are also responsible for the violent protest and clashes with law enforcement.

In the midst of all of this, I am trying to do some volunteering with BangBallers, an organization that is using basketball as a tool to bring together youth and JAAGO a foundation to fix poverty with education and organization. This year will continue to get more eventful as campaigns for elections continue, the tribunals continue, and the aftermath of Savar.

I hope all is well with your professor. Thank you for your lessons, my time with you was priceless. You gave me a new lens to see the world. Please stay in contact.



Bangladesh makes world’s biggest human flag

Bangladesh makes world’s biggest human flag

I had the privilege last year on December 16, 2013, Bangladesh’s Victory Day to attend the Dhaka’s National Parade ground, where 27,117 Bangladeshi students and armed forces held up red and green placards to create the World’s largest human flag. The flag is the Bangladeshi national symbol which was hoisted up during their claim to independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, after a nine-month war that left over 300,000 women raped and  3 million people dead, at the hand of the Pakistani Armed Forces and collaborators (rajakars).

Many people criticized the government for organizing the attempt at the record. At the time the elections were a month away as the incumbent party, the Awami League, decided to go forward with the elections despite the opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotting the elections out of protest for the removal of a caretaker government, which had been utilized in previous elections to keep them fair. As a result of the large disagreement between the parties, there was constant violence and instability throughout the country.

There is always a plethora of things going on in Bangladesh. The main current events are still the fight between AL and BNP, unregulated garment sector, the controversial International Crimes Tribunal for the war criminals during the 1971 Liberation war, crimes against ethnic and religious minorities, overall corruption of government and bureaucracy, Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, gang-rape, the list goes on.

There a lot of problems in the country which I aim to address in the future, but when I was living in Dhaka, I also reconnected with my roots, my culture, and my father’s tongue. I saw the beauty in the country that my family spoke about. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, the struggle is real, but Bangladeshis are some on the nicest people in the world. I was excited as every individual that participated in the record breaking attempt, because I too have pride for my Bangladeshi ancestry, and any triumph is a triumph. We gotta celebrate every victory, so enjoy the video, it was thrown together quick, but if you weren’t there I hope it gives a little glimpse into what 30,000 Bangladeshis look like.



Bangladesh, Where You Can Piss, But You Can’t Kiss

Man publicly urinating in Dhaka on a popular road.
Man publicly urinating in Dhaka on a popular road.

EDITORIAL – Bangladesh, the land where you can piss but you can’t kiss. On any given day in Bangladesh, you will see a series of men squatting off to the side as a stream of urine splash the ground. Looking side to side with no worries in the world, they continue on their way.

Now the first time I saw this as a kid I giggled, but as an adult, I find this to be obscene and unhygienic.

Why is excreting in public not receiving public outcry but PDA (personal display of affection) is?

Here you see casual hand holding, hugging, and kissing on the streets. But the deep affection is between two men. As a westerner, seeing men walk down the street hand in hand normally means they are a couple. That is why it grabs my attention in a homophobic society. It looks like a paradise for gay couples.

But, PDA between opposite genders in public is considered indecent, even husband and wives do not kiss or hug in public. Unless you venture to safe havens like Gulshan Lake Park or Dhanmondi Lake, it’s impossible to see couples of the opposite sex strolling together.

Even the police officers enforce decent behavior. Now, the police do not dare harass any Western foreigners. However, I have seen a couple walking hand in hand smiling only to have a police officer jump out of the blue blowing his whistle as if he is adverting a calamity.

Apparently, the opposite sex “freely mixing” is a big enough issue to engage law enforcement to act, but public defecation is ignored. The Bangladeshi society is misappropriating what is important for their country.

There is no fine line as what is and is not immoral as the battle between traditionalist and the progressive young generation is growing.

My interpretation of religious teachings is that PDA is viewed as immoral, especially if it includes unmarried women. If she is caught she will be perceived as being loose and bring disgrace to her family. The worry is that if others observe a couple being intimate then it will trigger them to feel and act immorally.

In essence, it means, those who are affectionate are behaving horny and those witnessing the intimate interactions become enticed also.

In Bangladesh, there are no laws that condemn or support PDA. Yet the law enforcement makes it a point to harass affectionate couples on a daily basis.

So if the intimate affection with the opposite sex has to be controlled for the greater good, I am shocked that a homophobic society like Bangladesh has strong disapproval towards heterosexual couples.  They don’t consider the same intimate behavior can trigger the same desire in homosexuals.

It is religious fanaticism with no logic. Bangladeshi youth are seeing through the smog and are developing their perceptions on their own on how society can be.

Take a trip to Dhaka’s city center and there are dozens of billboards that market products like shampoo and perfumes. On the billboards are men shirtless and women pass seductive looks in revealing clothing. Sound the alarm religious police!

The truth is that a battle is being played out between religious conservatives, who are imposing their beliefs on the modern youth who want change. Consumerism is winning; there is definitely money to be made, especially when sex sells.

The need for young adults to display affection is bigger than hormones and feelings. It is a fight for liberation from the Islamic conservative ideals.

Though the younger or lower-ranking members of society in terms of behavior and demeanor treat elders and high-ranking individuals in Bangladesh with deference and respect, the current state of the country is pushing the youth to take a direct and opinionated stance.

Progressive youth are playing the line of defense. For centuries, Islamists have catered to interpretations of the Quran that induce fear in the older generation. The plight of the youth seems radical, immoral, and essentially hell bound.

It is vital for progressive youth to take control of the dialogue and fight against the cultural norms of the older generation.

The religious conservative is threatened by sex. However, sexually repressed societies face issues of sexual assault crimes that go unpunished

Throughout the years South Asia has been dominated by international media, for a very unglamorous topic, rape.

In Bangladesh, this is deep. During the Liberation War of 1971, the Pakistani Army and their collaborators raped 300,000 women. Social norms did not allow these victims to be embraced back into society and many died because of unsafe abortions or suicide.

Because of the stigma, Bangladesh as a culture avoids intimacy and sex. The topic has thrown the country into a cultural panic. The simple element of affection scares the older generation; they do not want to face the truth of human nature. But this new generation sees past that.

We cannot deny teens and young adults the knowledge about sex. The lack of the older generation’s capacity to address the topic has led younger generations to seek knowledge from their peers and other sources like the Internet.

The categorization of all acts with an opposite sex as deviant works against the elder generation. Their aim to hide sex to protect their youth breaks their connection to them. It creates a blockade and further polarizes two large populations of Bangladesh.

Change gradually happens until it reaches its apex, then those opposing sides tighten their grip and the ones pushing it forward are challenged to increase their momentum to break the suppression. As we see in most major metropolises, modernization will win– the world is progressing and society is changing.

After the collapse of Rana Plaza, a complex that housed 4 garment factories that killed 1,129, I witnessed something new.

For the first time, the news covered the final embrace between two people. It was a woman and man found dead holding each other. For weeks people speculated and romanticized the photo.

In a time of desperation, two individuals reached out to each other for physical connection. Anyone who saw this picture thought in their mind, in their last minutes they were not alone. It had nothing to do with sexual desire. It’s a mystery, we will never know.

Affection is bigger than sex for all of you perverts. It is a celebration of happiness, a way to show appreciation and admiration for one another, to console or comfort when things are bad, and to reinforce safety and security when others feel vulnerable. It is the non-verbal communication that human beings flourish by.

It is the reason that men show affection to each other in Bangladesh because we as humans feel emotions and they do not have an outlet to show affection.

As a society, Bangladesh has to usher in changes that come with modernization. The most important concepts to tackle are an interaction between each other. By making a public display of affection taboo we have pissed on the innate urge to show love.

Every day I walk outside Dhaka and I see this dichotomy of religious intolerance and modernization in the media, and I know that things are changing.

With the current political issues that have given rise to religious fundamentalism, I only wish that progress will continue. PDA is not a crime, the lack of it is an indication of how guilty Bangladesh is to progress forward and how much inconsistency it blindly allows.

It isn’t etiquette; if that were the case we wouldn’t have public pissing either.

By: Adnan Khan

Instagram: @khancious

Twitter: @AdnanKhancious

One Helmet, Motorcycle Passengers in Bangladesh

My ride in the United States, a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6r.
My ride in the United States, a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6r.

In the United States my favorite way to get around is by motorcycle. I cut through southern California traffic and get to my destination easily. I take the precaution of wearing denim pants, ankle protecting shoes, a padded jacket, riding gloves, and most importantly a certified helmet. My wife has her own gear for riding as well. We cruise knowing we took the right measures to eliminate the risk of injury.

Of course comparing transportation in the U.S. to Bangladesh is like comparing apple to oranges—but in Bangladesh accidents and fatalities occur on a daily basis.

Statistics report that Bangladesh has the most deadliest roads and highways in the world. Hit the streets anywhere and you will see the obvious. Bangladesh is notorious for its irrational drivers who weave in and out, accelerate, and brake unexpectedly. Cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, and anything else that’s on wheels share the roads. All this chaos occurs with very little enforcement at all. It is no shock that accidents claim over 12,000 lives annually and cause more than 35,000 injuries.

I remember one day sitting in the backseat of a car in Dhaka watching a family of four stacked on a motorcycle wiz by. It is a spectacle when multiple people cram on to a 150 cc two-wheeled machine. It’s like watching trained acrobats. It’s even more eventful when they are carrying luggage with them.

You have dad at the controls, baby number 1 on the gas tank, wife behind the husband, sitting sideways (this is the modest way for a woman to sit in Bangladesh), and another child dangling on the back. This arrangement is not what shocks me though; it is the fact that the only one wearing the safety helmet is the dad who is piloting the motorcycle.

This man has his whole family hanging from the motorcycle as he cuts off other vehicles in an aggressive race against time without strapping a helmet on anyone else but himself.

I asked my father why men neglect to put helmets on their passengers, especially family members. His answer was sarcastic, but does it hold truth? He said, “The man wears a helmet because if he looses is wife or children he can replace them.” I laughed hysterically, but then it started to subside as I realized that, this man has forfeited spending a little bit extra money to keep his family just that much safer.

According to Bangladesh’s national legislation there is a motorcycle helmet law that applies to all riders. On a scale of 0 -10 this law is enforced at 3, which might as well be 0, as even law enforcement officers does not use helmets. Even if you are wearing a helmet, who is to say that it will do its intended job, since there are no mandated helmet standards.

If I had one helmet and my wife climbed on the back of my motorcycle, I would definitely protect her cranium. Her life is important to me. If I had children I assume that their lives would be more important than mine. If the motorcycle is my primary mode of transportation for my household I think an investment in helmets for all is a wise one. I cannot see any justified reason not to take those considerations for my passengers. What I see are acts of pure selfishness on the streets of Dhaka.

Ramadan the Great Act (Arabization)

Practicing religion for others – that is the problem with Muslims today. If in Islam the actions of an individual are measured by their intentions and following the 5 pillars.  Then why is there such a compulsion to be Arab like?

Even converts in the United States adopt clothing, mannerisms, and even speak like Arabs when they accept the religion. This practice extends from the Arabization of regions during the introduction of Islam by Arabs.

Some argue that the Hadith prescribes their practices, which are recorded sayings or actions by Prophet Muhammad. This is where my philosophy comes in. As authentic as we can believe the Quran is the Hadith is merely a complimentary text. It is not a substitute for the revelation by God. Especially, since Hadiths face the same criticism that Muslims make towards the Bible, which they say has some inaccuracies and is written by man.

Today, many people have adopted more than just Islamic practices. They include Arab and/or the tribal culture of Islam. These are customs and traditions that the Quran does not prescribe. The debate can go on and on about what is true to scripture and what is really just the mimicking of Arab counterparts.

I observed this firsthand on the eve of Ramadan in Dhaka. Everyone became holier than thou.  Men flocked to the streets with their thawbs (Arab dress for men) and tupis (white caps). The use of or words like “inshallah”, “mashallah”, and my favorite “astaghfirullah”, were overused as their tusbeehs (prayer beads) hung from necks, wrists, and dangled from pockets. 

I thought the Hefazat (Islamist group) were holding another hartal. But when I saw several women in hijab and burqas I realized that there was something different floating in the air.

Bangladesh is an Islamic country. More than 85% of its population is Muslim. But people use the Arab ornamentation as a way of peacocking their beliefs.

It is that time of year to find forgiveness for your wrong doings after all. Yet, while wearing the Arab attire, the cheating, lying, and backbiting still continues. The inflation in Dhaka is painful during Ramadan, even for the basic necessities.

Since Islam was founded in Saudi Arabia, Arabs claim to hold the true essence of the religion. Non-Arabs are conditioned to believe that the Arab way is the Muslim way. It is a phenomenon known as founderism. Instead of pursuing to be fit Muslims they strive to become Arab. Here in Bangladesh, my fellow brown brothers and sisters see their Bengali identity as inferior and conform to be more Arab like.

Now I was raised Muslim and I understand the significance of some of the practices. But, when does it cross the line of fulfilling religious obligation into convincing everyone around that you are authentically practicing the faith?

It is a paradox. Everyone competes to prove his or her authenticity, but not to impress. Rather it is a fear of being disqualified as a true Muslim.

Flaunting faith becomes more important than practicing it. Instead of faith being personal it has been made into an act of public display.

Much can be learned from the religious minority in Bangladesh.

A Hindu cannot flaunt their faith publicly as they will be ostracized. Their faith remains inside of them, in their homes, with their families; that is a different type of conviction.

For a religion that is supposed to be universal, Arabization has diluted its true value.

Whether for just the month of Ramadan or the whole year, many non-Arab Muslims will dress like Arabs to give them the identity of a true Muslim.

Maybe you will wear your Muslim on your sleeve and you might think you will receive respect, but by doing that it becomes less personal, the sanctity dies, it belonging to you dies, and it is commodified.