Holding hands, code words and night buses

The news of Mel and Chris being attacked on a night bus shook me up. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I know this wasn’t a one-off; violence and abuse like this happens often but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach, nor does it make their story any less important.

I’ve been scared to hold hands with my girlfriend in public since news. The only time I was ever anxious to show signs of affection with a same sex partner was before I came out. I was scared of being outed; scared of family finding out and ostracising me for my sexuality. But alas, no issue there as I’m now out and proud.

I read through twitter threads about the news as queer people came together to show their support and also share similar stories. I read about a British singer who created a code word with her ex for moments of potential danger. My first thought: me and my girlfriend need a code word. My second thought: why the fuck do we need to think about this?

As a community, we shouldn’t be afraid to share affection with each other. We shouldn’t have to fear going out at night in a city that prides itself on being metropolitan and liberal. We shouldn’t have to devise code words for uncomfortable and dangerous situations. We shouldn’t feel like we have to tell our AirBnB hosts that we’re friends, when in actual fact, we’re partners. We shouldn’t have to succumb to ignorant men who want to sexualise and fetishise us for their entertainment.

My heart aches for what happened to Mel and Chris, and the thousands of other queer womxn who have experienced such trauma. They were able to share their story – courageously and fearlessly – but there are many who don’t have this privilege. Their story spread like wildfire on social media and shed light on misogynistic and homophobic crimes, leading to a widespread conversation. But their story is sadly just one of many.

As Chris says so eloquently, “sympathy and action must be for all”.

Advertisements

I’m coming out…

…7 years late.

 

I’ve known for that long that I’m not straight. But I’ve only just plucked up the courage to tell my parents; to tell them that I’m queer and in a loving relationship with a woman.

*

Let me set the scene as I write this long-overdue post:

I’m sat on my bed with a blanket over me, having just watched Our Planet and laughed -perhaps a little too hard? – at the dancing birds. I’ve got a candle burning, dim lights, and feeling extremely chill after a gorgeous picnic on Primrose Hill.

*

My mental health has been shit lately. And I’m lucky that I’ve been able to realise this, admit it, and talk openly about it to loved ones. Some of you have been my rock and will continue to be regardless of how little we speak or see each other. A new rock in my life is my girlfriend; my partner.

It’s never easy having those initial conversations with a new person in your life, and I’ve always been nervous about it. That’s why I told my girlfriend about my low mood and bursts of anxiety before they got worse – as they do sometimes.

Coming out has added a huge stress to my life. In the run-up to the day I was anxious, comfort eating, sometimes relying on substances to chill me out or perk me up after extreme exhaustion. I hadn’t planned the day but I knew it needed to happen ASAP. I was keeping my girlfriend a secret, I was hiding my sexuality, and I was feeling awful about it all. It was monopolising our conversations and getting us both down. So I knew it had to be done.

The day finally came. I felt it bubbling up inside me. My heart was in my throat, beating so fast. Clammy hands took over. Dry mouth. And feeling seriously jumpy. But I did it.

*

I should’ve given my parents more credit. I thought that the way they were brought up would influence their reaction. I thought that growing up around relatives who were close-minded, conservative and stuck to antiquated views would make them hate my sexual identity.

I was wrong.

Coming out to them couldn’t have gone better. They were sweet, understanding – albeit a bit shocked, but understandably so. They both couldn’t believe I’d kept my bisexuality from them for so long. They were fine. And so was I.

*

The first part of this blog post was written a few days ago. I stopped writing it and focussed on my mental health instead. Despite coming out and feeling a huge sense of relief, I still felt waves of anxiety and depression. Perhaps the exhaustion of it all is still catching up with me.

But today I write this somewhat jumpy post after a productive yet relaxed weekend with time to myself, but also time with some of the most important people in my life. Waves of low mood and anxiety may still return but that’s okay. I’m lucky to have supportive people around me, an understanding of my own mental health and what helps me, and weekends like this where I’ve felt at peace.

Berlin: the city of contrasts

Berlin took me by surprise. I hadn’t imagined loving this gritty, edgy and arty city so quickly.

A clever and poignant fusion of history and modern art makes this city so unique in character and style. Take the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. From street-level the concrete slabs (over 2000 of them) seem to create a maze-like installation – and that’s about it. Until you start walking through them. The ground below you undulates and the slabs tower over your head. It becomes claustrophobic as the towers isolate you from the outside world and there’s no longer a view of the street – just the grey above your head and shadows on the ground.

jewish-memorial-berlin

East Side Gallery is another remnant of the city’s history. It’s the longest strip of the Berlin Wall, covered in art and graffiti. Many of the murals symbolise a peace between societies and people; a message to the world about the conflicting nature of building borders. (A topic that’s still so current you’ll see graffiti about Donald Trump and Mexico.)

Me God Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, art on East Side Gallery, Berlin. Copyright: Henna Patel

Amongst this gritty, postmodern Berlin, sit beautiful, regal buildings like the Berlin Cathedral. The city is one of contrasts, adding to its charm and attraction.

Berlin cathedral. Copyright: Henna Patel

(Perhaps not the best contrast I experienced in the city, but it was one nonetheless, so worth mentioning again: racist bouncers among a sea of friendly queer folk.)

Amsterdam: the gingerbread house city

A huge hiccup with my laptop has meant that I’ve been away from my writing tools for quite some time. My trip to Amsterdam and Berlin now seem like forever ago, especially with the excitement and workload of a new job thrown into the mix of new adventures this year. So I suppose it’s time to reflect on the antics of Amsterdam, a city I’d wanted to discover for a while.

Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops and liberal attitude meant that our weekend was – let’s say – hazy. But we hit the spots we’d planned to: the canals and their pretty bridges, the Van Gogh Museum and the Red Light District, all the while dodging cyclists coming at me left, right and centre.

Canal in Amsterdam, with bicycles attached to the rail. Copyright: Henna Patel

I was aware of very little about the history of Amsterdam, so a funny, chilled yet informative canal tour was the perfect thing to do. It provided a great view of the cute, gingerbread house-esque buildings. Being on the water felt so cathartic and a great break from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke – albeit absolutely freezing.

University building in Amsterdam. Copyright: Henna Patel

Now, let’s talk about the Red Light District. I’m still so baffled by the place. I felt sleazy just walking around, looking as a tourist rather than a punter. But I was looking from the male gaze. I saw what they saw and it freaked me out. The women standing there in the windows didn’t seem real to me. The whole concept of parading yourself in a shop front like that is bizarre and it still confuses me as to why it’s allowed in the city. But, it’s reassuring to know that these sex workers are legal and have rights. I would like to know, however, how other feminists feel about it. (Sex work is a highly debated topic, especially as it questions female autonomy, independence and empowerment.)

shopping-mall-exterior-

Amsterdam is a lovely city, but it was quiet for the time of year, and pretty cold. But I will  be back – probably in the spring for those gorgeous tulips.

Do women of colour offend you?

In the early hours of Tuesday 22nd I experienced my first rejection from a club, based on the colour of my skin, and my gender.

I was in Berlin, bar-hopping with my friend, embracing the amazing queer scene of the city. We’d begun in Südblock for some chill drinks, DMCs, and laughs. Next, we went across to Rose’s, a beautifully tacky gay bar with furry walls, cheap booze, decent music and smoke everywhere. We started chatting to a group of gay guys and hit it off; we ended up drinking with them and heading over to one of Berlin’s clubs as recommended.

By this point, we’d all had a lot to drink, so turned up to this club – the name of which neither myself nor my friend can recall – loud and tipsy.

In a group full of white, gay guys, I stood out like a sore thumb. And I was aware of it. I always am. My PoC radar is constantly switched on – I scan bars, restaurants, anywhere I step foot in, for people who look remotely like me. So, I knew that Amsterdam (the first stop on our travels) and Berlin were predominantly white and I was one of very few PoCs, let alone WoCs.

The bouncer (of Arabic descent, I assume) took one look at me and decided I wasn’t fit to enter. He made me walk up and down the stretch of pavement to see if I could walk in a straight line. Did he ask any of the guys I was with? No.

Obviously, I didn’t walk exactly in a straight line, but if the guys were asked to do the same, they also would’ve failed the bouncer’s test.

I challenged him, and rightly so. I knew, that as a woman of colour, I was being called out by this bouncer because of both my gender and the colour of my skin. The fact that he himself wasn’t even white jarred me even more.

The more I spoke to him, and the more I understood what was happening, the more emotional I became. Without even realising, tears were making their way down my face, standing there in the bitter cold, with rage building up inside of me.

What could I do? Absolutely fuck all. 

We walked away, and I tried to put it all behind me. It served me well – we ended up at Tresor, one of the most famous clubs in Berlin. I had no problem getting in at all, and had a pretty decent night.

I KO’d once we got back to the hostel, but my racing mind woke me up. The events of the night/morning slowly unravelled again, and I couldn’t shake them off.

I don’t even remember the last time I was so affected by a racist incident before. To have this happen in a foreign city – which I’d come to love so quickly – was a shock. But, this isn’t the only memory I hold of Berlin.

A more positive blog post is in the works. 

2018: a reflection

2018 was a year of ups and downs, just like any.

  • I started my first proper job in May as an Intern Copywriter at a digital marketing agency in Chiswick. Soon, I became a Junior Copywriter/Social Media Executive (bit of a mouthful, I know).
  • I landed a new job as a Communications Coordinator which I’ll be starting in a couple of weeks.
  • I broke up with my boyfriend which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But, it was for the best. We’re both thriving and becoming ourselves again. And, we’re still friends.
  • I visited the motherland for the first time in around 8 years with my family. I got ill and had a couple of funny turns, despite already being on medication. Apart from that, it was a great trip that involved lots of temples, food, saris, and relatives.
  • I went solo-travelling (in Andalucía) for the first time in over 2 years. I visited old friends and made new ones – something I hadn’t expected to happen.
  • I visited other beautiful sights: Ischia, Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Dublin, Peak District, and Ronda.
  • I established a better relationship with my body and mental heath by swimming and going to the gym again, embracing and getting the most out of veganism, journalling, meditating, and listening to myself.
  • I rekindled old friendships.
  • I explored my sexuality and started dating again.
  • I went to LOADS of gigs and a couple of festivals, bringing about a host of emotions.
  • As a family, we hosted our second Crisis BBQ, raising money for homelessness around the city, and getting the word out.

It’s now 2019, so it’s time to reflect on the last few months, but also look to the future.

Image

Andalucía: back to solo travelling

I hadn’t been solo travelling for over two years. I knew I missed it, but it wasn’t until this week-long trip around Andalucía that I realised just how much travelling means to me.

First stop: Málaga

After a 2.5 hour flight with my ex where we caught up the whole journey, and even went for a beer after (I know, we’re being very mature about the breakup) I checked into my first hostel in Málaga. The following morning was set aside for a reunion. One of my friends from Colima who hosted a lovely Ukrainian Easter breakfast while we were out there, now lives in Marbella. So we went for brunch and caught up on the last three years of our lives where a huge lot had changed for both of us.

Second stop: Córdoba

From the beating sun and sea breeze, to a misty chill and drizzle – I’d arrived in Córdoba.

This part of Andalucía took me by surprise. It’s rich mix of Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures gives it a unique character that adds to its charm. Plus, its patios are absolutely beautiful.

fullsizeoutput_1c38

I was a little worried about staying on my own in hostels again as it’d been a while. But I couldn’t be more grateful for the people I met along the way. We ate, drank and visited beautiful places together. Hearing about their travels, home lives, cultures and beliefs just spurred me on to visit the world.

Last stop: Granada

Another city of reunions. Firstly, the beautiful Alhambra. The last time I came to the city was back in 2015. This year, I stumbled across certain points in the city from 2015 including a spot where I’d gotten lost, our cave house AirBnB, and a couple bars, bringing back lovely memories of a hot summer. One downside of that trip: my camera with hundreds of photos of Alhambra was stolen which was heartbreaking. So this time, my plan was to create new photos and new memories of both the palace and Granada itself.

fullsizeoutput_1cce

The second reunion was with another friend from my Year Abroad in Colima. Catching up was an absolute delight. And it’s great that both him and his ex (the one in Marbella) live in Andalucía, making it all the more easier for me to visit again.

Which I’ll definitely do – solo, of course.

Lessons learnt: solo travelling will always be a part of me, hostel terraces are the place to be, and international friends are great.

fullsizeoutput_1c47

 

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.

Image

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.

 

 

Image

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.

27747543_10213813960376978_3326710401986898651_o