Revisiting Mean Girls

Cady Heron is extremely ignorant for someone who is home-schooled in Africa.

It’s ignorant of her to assume that the Black-American students would understand Swahili. The HUGE continent that is Africa has around 140 languages. So although Swahili may be one of the top languages spoken, she sure made one big assumption.

Remember when she gives Regina George those “weight-loss” bars, and everything’s in Swedish?  She states that everyone in African can read the language. At first I thought she just made it up knowing that Regina George would never know anything about it. But, I’ve come to realise that it’s actually Cady that knows nothing. Sweden did colonise some parts of Africa, but not all of it. So it’s highly unlikely that every person on the continent would be able to read those ingredients.

Also, why is she from a whole continent? If you’re from England you don’t say, “I’m from Europe”. Pick an African country, Cady.

Remember when Cady hides that black and white vase in a cupboard? Her mum finds it and names the Ndebele people. So I did a little research. Southern Ndebele people are found in South Africa, while Northern Ndebele people are found in Zimbabwe and Botswana. None of these countries have Swahili or Swedish as their official languages.

All I want to know is: where are you actually from, Cady?*

 

*This is a clear play on the question PoC are faced with on a regular basis. So I’ll rephrase:

Tell us about the real you, Cady.

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Music heals me

Music can be more powerful than a good book. And that’s controversial coming from a literature student.

A novel can transport you to another era with its characters embracing you and entwining you in their lives. It can provoke all kinds of emotions – cue crying on the train reading The Forgotten Guide to Happiness.

Music is very similar in this respect. But music actually heals me. Live music, in particular. Whenever I see a band or artist on stage, I forget about everything before and I don’t even delve into any future plans, even if it’s how to get home. Anxiety does creep up on me sometimes, but because I’ve been going to gigs since I was around 12, I’ve learnt not to let these emotions get ahead of me. Instead, I get wrapped in the emotions evoked by the incredibly talented people I’m watching on stage. I never want that to change.

I went to see Editors at Brixton Academy the evening of a break-up. Perhaps not the best idea. But as soon as the guys kicked things off, I was transported back to 2010, the first time I went to see them with my aunt, uncle and brother. For me, going to an Editors gig takes me back to that time just a year before my uncle passed away. It’ll always be emotional seeing them and I will always cry – that’ll never change, and that’s okay.

Then last night I went to see alt-J at the Royal Albert Hall, with my oldest friend – coming up to 20 years now. I would’ve gone with my ex had we not broken up, but well, things change.

With their 3D sound effects and incredible lighting that mirrored their music perfectly, we were all consumed by alt-J for the night. My face lit up, I had goosebumps, and I tried my hardest to not get up in the all-seated venue and get my groove on – until the last two songs, where we rebelled against security and all 5,500 of us got on our feet.

After all, we wanted to have a final dance with alt-J and give them the send-off they deserved.

 

 

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Being Hindu and vegan

I’m a bit stuck. Between being Hindu, and being vegan.

I thought I could never be 100% vegan due to my religion, mainly because of our relationship with the cow.

In Hindu mythology a cow is seen as Mother Earth and today cattle continue to be seen as sacred. She provides us with milk, the epitome of nourishment. We use this milk to make ghee, a clarified butter seen in most Indian households – including mine. Milk and ghee can be found in our cuisine and even our religious rituals. They’re both used to make sweets that are offered to the gods in our mandir; ghee is used to create the wicks for religious candles; and  we wash statues of both the cow and other gods with milk.

But if the cow is a symbol of the earth with its milk denoting the rivers, then why don’t we just wash these statues with pure water?

27912778_10213813952896791_1540907788259506446_oThe main issue I have here is that we Hindus believe in karma and non-violence towards animals and humans (ahimsa). So shouldn’t we all be vegans?

Hindus are not usually vegans, however hard the West want to believe that and push it; they tend to be lacto-vegetarians. A huge surge in yoga and meditation as fashionable has led people to push this view of Hindus and vegans being one, even throwing Buddhists and Jains in the mix.

Cows were part of the family, part of a home, and they offered milk to the home because they’re nurturing like mothers. These cows weren’t harmed; they weren’t in factories or farms with harsh conditions. So according to Hindu belief, they’re still practising ahimsa – they don’t believe that taking a cow’s milk is exploitative. My gran believes this. She has had no exposure to Cowspiracy and the likes. But she’s also had no exposure to violent animal rearing, having grown up in a village where cows were treated kindly, and weren’t separated from their calf.

However, my gran does understand and has made me vegan kheer using almond milk which tasted amazing, and no one even noticed that it wasn’t made with cow’s milk. But at the same time I also found myself accepting non-vegan prashad, and not feeling guilty about it. I shouldn’t feel bad for participating in non-vegan religious practices. But then again, there are ways to make our rituals more vegan friendly. 1) Use oil instead of ghee in the candles, 2) wash statues with water, 3) offer fruit to the gods rather than non-vegan sweets. Seems pretty easy.

Vegans are a minority in my family, and when it comes to religious aspects of our life, I don’t have much of an influence to change the rituals that my relatives have been practising for centuries.

If I were born in India, I’d be a lacto-vegetarian. No doubt about it. I’d also be more religious, understanding our scriptures and what they teach about ahimsa. I’d make my own mind up about veganism (if it ever got to that stage), just as I’m trying to do now.

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Why do I stare at interracial couples?

Eyes linger on the unfamiliar. Staring, people-watching, gawking, whatever you want to call it, it exists. And it exists more on subjects that don’t fit a norm, or that don’t tick the boxes of a societal model you’re used to.

I’m in an interracial relationship, and both me and my partner have witnessed stares and even comments implying that the fact we’re together is against racial and societal norms. So why do I find my eyes lingering on interracial couples hand-in-hand walking down the street?

There have only been two interracial couples in my extended family. Not once did I question them, and not once did I find myself feeling too intrigued by an unfamiliar image in an Indian family. Maybe I was too young to question it from a racial point of view. But now that I’m perhaps more switched-on, I find myself looking at other unknown couples and wondering what it’s like for them. Do they become hyper self-aware? Do they experience the glaring stares, not only in their hometowns but further afield in countries with different cultures? Do their families know, and are they cool with it?

It is unfamiliar for me to see couples that aren’t both white, or both Indian – two norms that I have grown up with, for the most part. I look with intrigue and curiosity, and even pride and admiration to witness people breaking cultural boundaries. (Okay, this has been going on for a while now, but the fact that people are still taken aback by interracial couples in the multicultural hub of London goes to show that we still have an issue with race and relationships. Plus, in some cultures, marrying out of caste, class and/or colour is a big no-no.)

Me and my partner come from different countries, backgrounds, cultures and religions which can be a blessing. We’re both curious people who thrive on learning about different places and societies, so as we grow in our relationship, we learn more about our racial differences and the beauty in that. We’re aware of cultural norms that just don’t exist in the other’s world, and we learn to be empathetic of this and find some harmony. Although, sometimes I need to be reminded that we’re from different backgrounds, and that’s absolutely fine.

 

On a side note, how do people feel about the term “interracial couple”? When can we just start calling these people simply “couples”?

 

 

Americanah: a comment on non-white depression

Depression and mental health have always been difficult topics for me. My attention was first brought to them when I was around 13, as close friends confided in me and explained their low spells in a way I never fully understood. It was only years later when I began to see my own symptoms emerge that I actively read more, went to the GP, and went to CBT sessions, finally grasping some of what myself and my loved ones were feeling. I count myself hugely lucky to not have suffered from a serious bout of depression, and to have gotten through some tough times during university with professional support as well as help from family and friends. However, I still feel misunderstood about my emotions and low spells due to the colour of skin, my background, and my heritage, not only by others but by myself.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in Americanah, speaks about just this. I’m not African like her protagonist Ifemelu, a college student, nor am I a first-generation immigrant, but coming from a family of Indian-African immigrants, I understand where she was coming from.

Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness. She was not suffering from depression; she was merely a little tired and a little slow.

 

Panic attacks happened only to Americans. Nobody in Kinshaha has panic attacks. It was not even that it was called by another name, it was simply not called at all. Did things begin to exist only when they were named?

To people of colour with African or Asian roots, depression seems to be a faux illness, something that doesn’t really exist. It exists only in the Western world, where fast-paced lives and stressful jobs suck people into a depressive state. It has no physical symptoms; or rather, the physical symptoms end up being named and shamed as laziness or ‘letting yourself go’ as you suffer from eating problems, or poor sleep patterns. There’s more of a taboo surrounding mental health and depression in non-white societies than in white societies, as my GP once pointed out to me.

Thankfully, more BME people are speaking up about mental health issues and breaking this taboo. Websites and blogs like Burnt Roti and Media Diversified have been insightful sources for me to explore not only health issues within our non-white communities, but also other important topics such as immigration, body positivity and religion.

I’m yet to even get halfway through Americanah, but it’s already had an impact on me and I can completely understand the hype surrounding Adichie’s hugely important third novel. 

Life as an Intern Copywriter

Over a month has passed since I began my internship as a Copywriter for an international digital marketing company, and I’ve definitely learnt a thing or two so far. This is my first internship in a sector I barely looked into when I first began my job search during the height of final year revision, so I knew I would learn a lot within the first month about the role itself and the office environment.

Business meetings aren’t as scary as they sound

I went to my first ever business meeting during the second week on the job with my boss and PM. We met our client and I finally understood their mission and product, and how they want to sell it. It was a huge learning curve for me, not only because it was my first client meeting, but also in terms of my Copywriting – I went away with a much wealthier knowledge of the product and service that put me in good stead to write social media material for them.

Office chats aren’t always interesting

I’ve come to realise I was quite spoilt working at Latin American Women Aid. Lunch chats were always interesting and filled with curiosity, often leading to debates. We were fairly like-minded people who took an interest in similar topics relating to intersectional feminism, cultural diversity, and attitudes towards gender and sexuality, meaning office banter was hardly “normal” in a popular culture sense. Here, at my new job, talk of the World Cup isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

International offices are great

Spread mainly over London and Helsinki, our team is hugely diverse and interesting. I’ve always enjoyed being in diverse spaces where people have different cultural attitudes, have travelled, or speak various languages. I’m yet to meet the Helsinki team, but have met some remotely – another skill I’ve acquired. Slack conversations and Skype meetings mean I can work with the copy team in Helsinki and create collaborative content.

The beginning of this new adventure has been great, but there’s scope to improve; to continue learning more, to reach my full potential, to integrate more within the team, and to delve into new challenges.

 

Head vs Heart: what should I follow in my career?

I recently wrote an article titled Head vs Heart: what should you follow in your career? as part of my freelance blog writing role with Inspiring Interns. To be completely honest, it was a little difficult to write because of my situation. I freelance as a content writer and blog writer, and work for a charity, but I’ve been searching the depths of the editorial and publishing worlds since before I graduated last summer for career inspiration.

As I wrote the article, I began to challenge my views about these industries and attempt to tap into why I wasn’t getting a job. Was I not looking in the right places? Was I being too picky? I came to realise that I’ve actually been following my own advice – as highlighted in the article – without even realising it. I’d never planned to opt for any old job, even though at some low points I almost decided to just screw it, and go back to waitressing. I’d always planned to look for the roles that interested me the most: editorial jobs in publishing. I was definitely following my heart. But since then, I’ve developed great skills through my content writing job and through working at LAWA, that my career choices took a little detour.

I began to apply for Copywriting and Content Writing roles, jobs in Marketing and Social Media Management, because I came to realise that I had the skills necessary for these environments. Publishing was once an unattainable dream for me – albeit a short one – and now it has gone to the back of my mind. Do I see myself striving for a role in Publishing again? Maybe! But I know that now isn’t the right time for me. Publishing may not be the right route for me, and I know that now. Instead I’ve decided to tap into my current skills, develop them, and learn more through other roles relevant to my career goals.

So today I write this, having accepted my first full-time internship in Copywriting after applying for LOADS of jobs since the last stretch of my university career. I’ll be heading into the world of Digital Marketing, an industry I’d never heard of during the first stages of my job-searching endeavours. But here I am, ready to finally embark on my first real adventure into the world of work and see what’s out there for me.

Still We Rise

Monday night saw The People’s Film Club screen the emotional documentary Love You To Death, in order to raise awareness of violence against women and to raise money for two key BME charities that support survivors.

One of which was Latin American Women’s Aid, where I work on a part-time voluntary basis. It’s a support service for women from Latin American, Black or minority ethnic backgrounds, who may often be migrant or refugee women. An organisation like this needs to keep its doors open to those in need, seeking closure, aid and a way to move on, one that is tailored specifically to women and families who come from a different social and cultural background to the White majority. However, we don’t have enough funding. So this is where the fundraising event comes in.

The People’s Film Club organised a screening of the documentary Love You To Death – which highlights the shocking statistics of domestic violence in the UK – as well as a Q&A with the director, representatives of LAWA, and the founder of Sistah Space, a charity supporting women of Black heritage.

Lately, my role at LAWA has put me in charge of social media management, which meant that I’d been scheduling a number of Facebook posts and tweets to promote the screening of Love You To Death. Along with other key organisations for the event, we gained a lot of interest on social media, leading to a sold out screening. 

Not only was the film being shown, but there was also an exhibition of original artwork donated by supporters of the cause or those who work with us, which was a lovely way to see their take on the theme “Still We Rise” and raise some more cash.

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The event raised awareness about the issue at hand, that’s for sure. The documentary was hard-hitting and emotional, and dealt with domestic violence with an air of sensitivity that paid respect to the women who were brutally murdered by their exes or partners, as well as their loved ones. The “Still We Rise” exhibition was a beautiful message to survivors of gendered and sexual violence, showing them that we hear them, understand them, and support them.

If you’d like to donate to Latin American Women’s Aid, head to our JustGiving page. All donations are welcome, and greatly appreciated.

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Gujarat: family, nashto and temples

Returning to India after eight years was a long time coming for me, but I have to admit, going back was a daunting prospect. The last time I went I was young, used to travelling with my parents, and hadn’t yet got that sweet taste of solo travelling. The traveller I am today is much different to that of eight years ago, so I knew that this time in India would be a whole lot different.

Family

The main reason we were heading back to the motherland was because my second cousin  was getting married. This meant that the first week of the trip, staying with relatives, was busy, loud but full of energy. Seeing family again was lovely of course, but I felt more like an outsider this time than I had done before. Even with my cousins speaking some English, I was ashamed to not be able to speak Gujarati with my relatives; those who had so warmly welcomed us back into their homes and lives. Not only that, but I looked more like an outsider this time with my Western clothing, tattoos and an assumed inability to walk in a sari. (I can walk in a sari, by the way. But I may need to master getting out of a car gracefully in one.)

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Nashto

After the wedding festivities, the four of us left the village for a road trip of the surrounding towns in Gujarat. This meant lots of driving down dusty roads and long highways but with the lovely nostalgia of eight years ago doing a similar trip. The smells, the rickshaws, the reckless driving, “Horn OK Please”, the chai stands and guys spitting infamous chewing tobacco out of their cars, will never change.

The early morning starts to get out on the road meant we’d have nashto (breakfast) on the streets. Me and my brother, who have travelled solo and also together, are always on the lookout for great street food. It’s fresh, fragrant and cheap, and these are the places where you get to really meet locals. Street stall nashto in Gujarat is just the same. We were up early eating bhajis and pickles, fried chillies, and puris, washed down with sweet and creamy shots of chai (definitely not vegan) on the roadside with guys on their way to work. (I think it’s fair to say that me and mum were the only women in this predominantly male-dominated space, something I’d never noticed before.)

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Temples

Gujarat is a very religious and spiritual place. You’ll find cows (which are sacred in our culture and religion) living in harmony with the people, an abundance of temples from the more modest buildings to the ostentatious, and black market alcohol on sale due to Gujarat being a dry state. So we ended up doing a road trip of the various towns that are marked as highly religious and sacred due to their connections with various gods.

We stopped off at a small temple on the top of Koyla Hill near the coast driving from Gir National Park to Dwarka. It was built for Harsidhhi Mataji, a goddess who was worshipped by fishermen and Gujaratis as she is considered protector of ships at sea. It’s a beautiful small temple with carvings on the walls and red ribbons tied to surrounding trees as a symbols of wishes and blessings.

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Swaminarayan temples are a lot more extravagant and show off the wealth of this strain of Hinduism. The injustice of it all is heightened by beggars that sit outside these places of worship, and priests who claim to protect you and bless you with the temple’s holy water but then demand money from you. The one that we visited in Bhuj was beautiful with its white architecture and extravagant shrines, but not only were the poor deceived and left outside begging for money, but women too were shunned from one area of the temple as, apparently, the monks would be “tempted” by them.

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Being back in India, seeing my family, being part of a huge and extravagant wedding, and travelling around was definitely a long time coming. It was an enriching experience with its ups and downs, as always.

Lessons learnt: India and Hinduism need some progression, being vegetarian is a breeze but being vegan is a nightmare, and I really need to learn more Gujarati.

Paris: Amélie, lights and crowds

Two weekends ago saw Fran and I head to the city of love: Paris. Quite the appropriate place to spend our one-year anniversary. But did I fall in love with Paris? I wanted to, and hoped to, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, mainly due to the anxiety-inducing hordes that roam the capital.

Regardless, there were some real highlights to the city. The first being a little surprise tour (courtesy of Fran of course) of the stand out places in one of my favourite films Amélie.

Strolling through Montmartre hand-in-hand felt like the romantic and pretty Paris I was hoping for. We started off at Sacré-Cœur, a prominent setting in Amelie, one which hosts the scene with the phone call and the little yellow arrows. Here we stocked up on bread, vegan tapenade, macarons, and crêpes at the food stalls, while taking in the view of the city. From there we strolled down to the famous fruit and veg shop from Amélie. (The one with that prick of a shopkeeper who Amélie truly screws over with her admirable wit and dark side.) Then it was down to Café des Deux Moulins where Amelie worked her magic and played cupid.

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 I have to admit: the hub of Paris is beautiful under the night sky. We got to see a snippet of the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre during the day, but both spots are stunning at night. Every evening (every hour on the hour) is when you’ll see the Eiffel Tower dazzle and sparkle, which in my honest opinion, is a little gimmicky. Five minutes later is when you see the iconic tower in all its glory, without those sparkling lights. The tourists were quiet again as they left our viewing spot, Trocadero. That’s when we could just stand there taking it all in.

I was much more impressed by The Louvre Pyramid though, which stood strong in all its modern confidence in the middle of the Palace grounds. The juxtaposition of the architecture is striking but I love it. It boasts confidence and stylistic flair in a city that still gleams the French Renaissance style despite the modern and urban turn that Paris, like most capitals, tend to take.

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Overall Paris is a lovely city to visit but the swarms of people put a downer on the experience, which is a real shame.

Lessons learnt: expectations don’t always match reality, seeing major sites during the night as well as the day is well worth it, I could eat French baguettes all day every day.