On the face of it, Ram Marwa and Nik Keswani have little in common. Marwa is a fit 40-year-old based in England who had a middle rung football career. Keswani is a successful 22-year-old social media star from San Diego, United States, but with severe health complications.
Look closer, though, and important similarities emerge between the two. Both took up the coolest careers of their respective eras. Marwa played football while Keswani became a popular content creator. Both also faced adversity and bullying. Initially, they laughed off the offending remarks. But recently, both spoke out about their experiences.
Keswani has been a key figure in the recent fall from grace of YouTube superstar David Dobrik, who is 24 and owns a $9.5 million mansion.
Advertisers are cutting ties with Dobrik and his team of creators called 'Vlog Squad' after allegations emerged of their cruel treatment of some colleagues, such as Keswani. Blind in his left eye and suffering from dwarfism, Keswani was regularly mocked in Dobrik’s videos.
At first, Keswani swallowed his pride and played along. But in February, he opened up on the H3H3 podcast. “I felt worthless being in those videos. I was like, dude, why am I even here? What’s the point of my existence? Because I was just treated like this punching bag. Everyone's just mocking me and I had a long look in the mirror and I was like 'wow I'm really depressed'."
Marwa’s scarring experience took place many years ago, when he was a young footballer in the United Kingdom. One day, when he was in the changing room, his coach said, “Shouldn’t your family own a corner shop?”
“I felt belittled,” Marwa told The Guardian, on the condition they did not reveal the name of the coach and the club. “I remember him [the coach] looking around for approval after saying what he said and other people who were there laughing. There’s nothing degrading about owning a shop but I felt degraded and now I think about it, it’s crazy a coach could say that to a person of my age and think it was acceptable. But back then things were different and I just had to suck it up and pretended I found it funny.”
Keswani, who left the Vlog Squad in 2018, is the son of Anil and Vaishali Keswani. He has two sisters, one of whom is a transgender. The brood were the focus of a web series titled ‘The Keswanis: A Most Modern Family.’
Keswani has social media following of his own, but said the experience at the Vlog Squad taught him that followers, money and fame did not matter beyond a point.Marwa, the son of a Norwegian mother and a Kenyan-Sikh father, was seen as a genuine prospect. But the racial taunt ate away at his self-esteem.
“It had a profound effect on me,” Marwa said. “There’s a lot of subconscious biases around Asian players – he’s too skinny, not strong enough, not got his parents’ support – and after what was said to me, I spent my career worried coaches had those biases about me because of my name and skin colour."
“I felt below other players and that I had to work much harder than them in order to succeed. That led to me putting a lot of pressure on myself and not performing at the level I know I could have reached.”
Marwa had to be content toiling in the lower divisions. Later, he became a coach at the Arsenal School in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Currently, he has found new purpose, as his son Bjorn is showing promise. He trains at the Chelsea academy.
“I wanted to play at the top level and Bjorn wants that too. Hopefully he will,” Marwa said.Marwa and Keswani went through painful challenges, but now have the next chapter to look forward to.