There’s more to life than morphine

Small moments landscape

It was in those early few days of returning home from the hospital, and going about the slow business of recovering that it dawned on me.

I’m still here. I keep waking up, day after day. I keep living.

That’s not something that happens by accident. We’re not here to be dead weight, just tread water until one day we’re gone. There’s a purpose to it all.

 

Starting over

That’s a very dramatic way to welcome you back to my blog. It’s been with a heavy heart that I’ve been unable to write over these last few months. I’ve been suffering from a severe form of an illness that took my life apart piece by piece. I stopped working, stopped exercising, stopped socialising. I ceased to be all the people that I’ve cherished being- wife, mum, daughter, friend, writer. I sat in my house for seven months waiting for the pain to stop. Waiting to live again.

“In four weeks you’ll feel better”

“The operation will give you back some quality of life”

Well, two operations, many drugs and seven months later, I’m still on the road to recovery, and there’s a fair distance to go.

But I’ve made a decision. I’m not going to wait any more. I’m getting on with my life. Because in life- in all of our lives, there are no quick fixes to our dramas. Problems surround us.

Broken marriages

Bodies that don’t work as they should

Children living in squalid conditions in refugee camps

Governments bankrupt of money and sense

Cancer

 

Make a different kind of list

But you know where the hope lies? It lies in the many little things that fill our lives. The small moments. No, there are no quick fixes, and we certainly need to find answers to the bigger problems. Cancer ain’t going away. There’s no short term solution to the migrant crisis. As for me, well I face the prospect of yet more pain and more drugs until I can be free of this illness.

The recent operation I had, and the weeks that followed it have taught me to live in the smaller moments. As a good friend of mine says “Today is ok. I can do today.”

In the hospital there was morphine to dull the pain- thank God for it. In life, what dulls the pain?

God’s embrace

My husband’s unconditional love

My daughter

That my parents are still alive

Friends who just ‘know’

Writing that unlocks my soul

Losing myself in a delicious night’s sleep

The first taste of the cheesecake

 

Next steps

That’s my list. Now make yours. As the saying goes, one day, we’ll look back on life and realise that it was the little moments that really mattered and made our lives what they are.

I hope you’ll join me as I begin again. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post while I’m recovering but I aim to try. You can expect to see much of what you guys have told me you love about my blog: my take on cross-cultural life, opinion pieces on current affairs, media reviews. There’ll be new stuff too, because I’ve changed in the time I’ve been away.

It’s a kind of watch-this-space type scenario.

In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Start writing your list….(and feel free to share it below.)

 

P.s. It’s good to be back! x

 

If you’re new here, why not stay and look around? Here’s some of my most popular posts to get you started:

Rape is not just India’s problem

No Country for White Men

An Interview with Gurinder Chada

 

Why do we need International Women’s Day?

 

So what’s the deal with International Women’s Day? Isn’t it just angry women ranting about not getting a pay rise or whatever? A bunch of feminist bloggers?

Hmm, the F word.

Feminism is such a tricky term; one that is often treated with as much contempt as the other F word.

The Huffington Post’s Poorna Bell claims that:

“We have moved beyond the procrastination of 2013, when women were deciding whether or not they were feminists,” to this year where “the voice of women grew from a murmur to a roar.”

Well that maybe true in certain sections of the press, and perhaps on Twitter. But in real life, do people really care about inequality and gender issues? Do you?

 

What was it that broke the internet?

According to one editor of a prominent women’s magazine, the articles that get the most click-throughs on their site are chicken recipes and Mary Berry’s cupcake recipe. It seems we care more about fluffy lifestyle topics such as baking or how to contour our cheekbones to cut glass than we do about FGM, the gender pay gap or domestic violence.

Think about it. It wasn’t the picture of Malala receiving her Nobel Prize that broke the internet was it?

It’s great to celebrate some of the steps forward that we have taken as a society. Like the changes to paternity leave that mean the responsibility of childcare no longer falls solely on women. Or the growing openness around breastfeeding.

But let’s not overstate the case. What about the issues that don’t gain a hashtag or social media attention? What about marginalised women who don’t have a voice at all?

If you need further convincing on this, then consider the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, #PledgeForParity. Not #LetsCelebrateHowFarWe’veCome. According to the official website, “progress towards gender equality has slowed in many places.”

#PledgeforParity is about the continued fight to see women gain equal status all over the world. Not just here in the West. It’s the fight to see women in India have access to indoor toilets. It’s the fight to end FGM, the practice that is said to maintain a woman’s sexual purity. It’s the fight to stop girls being married off as young as 12. And so much more….

But I fear that before we take on that fight, we have to move past our own apathy.

Because let’s face it, most people would rather watch the video of the baby panda sneezing or anything to do with cats before they engage with gender issues.

 

Some unlikely home truths

So how do we get people to care? It seems that once a year, the stats and figures on the plight of women across the world get rolled out; only to be put away again until March 8th the following year. Instead of shocking people once a year with “what’s happening out there”, how do we really bring it home?

Well how about asking a few home truths that may seem unlikely. Like:

Do you have a vagina?

Do you have children?

Do you have a non- English name?

Do you have coloured skin?

Are you gay?

Are you on the minimum wage?

Are you an immigrant or the child of one?

Are you disabled or suffer from a long term illness?

Answering yes to any one of these questions means you WILL face discrimination at one point in your life. Simply because there are power structures in place which mean that most of us will experience discrimination and disadvantage.

That’s why we should all care about International Women’s Day. Because its a day for the disadvantaged, and yes that includes women. Because, as Hilary Clinton so famously said in her iconic 1995 speech to the UN, “because women’s rights are human rights.”

And one more thing. Why should it be me, you, us that roll up our sleeves and do this? Because:

“I am resourced. I am educated, I have the right to vote, I have access to medical healthcare. WE must open doors for others who don’t have the rights that we take for granted.”

Annie Lennox, speaking at Women of the World 2015, London.

 

 

 

If you want to read more on this topic, you might like these posts:

A letter to my daughter on International Women’s Day

Can Twitter really change the lives of women?

Why we don’t care about other women

What is Desi Feminism?

What are your ‘Truths and Secrets’?

Truth, power and cruelty are some of the themes explored in The Coral Strand

Truth, power and cruelty are some of the themes explored in The Coral Strand

What’s your biggest secret? The thing you absolutely would not and perhaps cannot share with anyone, not even your spouse or most trusted friend?

What would happen if you were to share that information? Perhaps you might upset family traditions and go against cultural expectations. But would unburdening your truth liberate you and actually have a positive impact on your life?

This is just one of the aspects of ‘truth and secrets’ that writer Ravinder Randhawa explores in her new book, The Coral Strand. 

Ravinder Randhawa founded the Asian Women's Writers Collective in 1994

Ravinder Randhawa founded the Asian Women’s Writers Workshop in 1984

Founder of the The Asian Women Writers Workshop, Ravinder is the acclaimed author of A Wicked Old Woman, the young adult novel Beauty and the Beast,  and the short story collection Dynamite.

She talks to me before anyone else in the press about The Coral Strand, and her project “A Month of Secrets”.

 

Tell us what The Coral Strand is about?

The Coral Strand is a mystery novel about power and cruelty, truth and secrets.

It’s set in two time periods: modern Britain and 1940’s Mumbai – with all its glitter, glamour and danger.

Sita, the main character, a young British Asian woman, whose past is shrouded in mystery, took a daring revenge on the strange guardians she ran away from, Emily and Champa. The revenge sparks a chain of consequences, which begin to crack the secrets of the past, inexorably linking the three women to each other, to the mysterious grey-eyed man Kala; a heart-breaking disappearance; and the turbulent, impassioned world of 1940’s Mumbai. Fascinating historical detail and the beauties of place and period, provide a rich background.

 

Given the complexities of British Asian life, are there challenges to writing British Asian characters?

The challenge of writing British Asian characters is almost the challenge of writing a new kind of human being, a new kind of character, because they’re at the convergence of major cultures (with lots of sub-cultures thrown in). British Asians have to think about and evaluate different kinds of moralities, religions, and loyalties. They have to work out their own value system, and the right way of being human. That quest forms the heartbeat of literature.

My main characters tend to be British Asian, although that’s not a hard and fast rule. Generally I don’t set out to reflect British Asian life specifically, but find that it enters the story organically, becomes part of the movement and tapestry.

What I think is crucial and challenging, is to create British Asian characters who are imaginative beings, existing in their own right, with all their uniqueness and flaws, whose known and unknown depths are such they give rise to stories which are wondrous and compelling.

 

So what is a Month of Secrets all about?

A Month of Secrets came out of a discussion about The Coral Strand, its theme of secrets, and the realisation that everyone, everywhere has secrets. They may just be secret thoughts, private musings or actions about which a person feels guilty. Secrets can be burdensome and heavy to bear, therefore the Month of Secrets, aims to provide a place where British Asians can, anonymously, unburden themselves, but also where we can learn from each other.

 

Surely secrets, lies, and truth are universal to all cultures and societies. Why make this project a race issue?

I’m not sure I see it as a race issue at all. But as a British Asian myself, I’m aware of the lack of opportunities for open discussion and debate, and of the role that secrecy and secrets play in the functioning of Asian society – given the complex and conflicting rules and expectations.

The PostSecretUK project already exists for the mainstream, so I thought it would be interesting to focus on the British Asian community, so that we can begin to look at ourselves and see what’s happening beneath the surface, and perhaps start to think and talk.  (Details for taking in part are below)

 

One could argue that the unburdening of secrets isn’t just an exercise in disclosure, but actually has an impact on our mental health and well being.

Revealing a secret can be empowering both to the writer and to those who read it; allowing people to identify with others, broadening understanding and acceptance. A revealed secret often casts a spotlight on our deepest selves, our values and illusions.

 

How can British Asians experience a greater degree of freedom and mental well-being when sometimes, our ‘true selves’ aren’t acceptable to our communities and traditions? What can we do with our truths and secrets?

Firstly, let’s get our truths and secrets out into the open. As the Muslim Women’s Network did recently, when they wrote an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn demanding an inquiry into “systematic misogyny displayed by significant numbers of Muslim male local councillors” who have for years, it appears, sabotaged the attempts of Muslim women attempting to stand for public office, often using appalling and unacceptable tactics such as smearing their reputations. This may have been known in certain circles, but it certainly wasn’t known by the wider community, including the wider British Asian community.

Movement can only begin when something is known; when a thought is aired and discussed, or when we realise others have the same experience, are in the same boat.

I love this quote from Alain de Botton commenting on the Waiting Wall project– a digital display of anonymous secrets at Brighton Station in 2015. He said it was:

“…a basic yet infinitely comforting – public acknowledgement that … none of us are alone in the extent of our troubles.”

Ravinder invites British Asians to “lighten their souls” and send anonymous secrets to: 

P.O. Box 67099, London SW2 9LQ on a post card or letter.

The P.O. box ensures even greater anonymity.

Submissions will appear on Ravinder’s website, on the dedicated blog page ‘Secrets’ 

Readers can also visit The Post Secret UK project

 

If you would like to talk somebody about ongoing issues in your life you can contact the Samaritans. They are safe, free, and confidential.

I did not receive payment to write this review. Any payment for any advertising, sponsorship or product reviews will never influence content, topics, posts or opinions in this blog. 

Why you won’t see many brown faces in women’s magazines

mags

One editor of a women’s magazine described it to me like this: “If we can produce an issue that isn’t full of blondes from the Cotswolds, then we’ll be onto something.”

It seems that even the insiders of the British women’s magazine industry are growing tired of publishing the same content each month that’s focussed on one type of woman and allows for very little diversity.

You know what I’m talking about. The endless magazine covers with white women, white models and white celebrities, interspersed with the occasional appearance from Beyonce or one of the Kardashian sisters. Inside is more of the same. Page after page of feature stories, beauty, skin and hair advice…very little of which is targeted at me. Of the few times Asians do grace the pages it’s for the usual stories on forced marriage and other aspects of cultural oppression.

Ok, I know I write about the latter quite often. But outside of that time, I’d like to know which new foundations work on my skin tone. Or about the new generation of products that help tame my often frizzy hair. I know you can find that kind of stuff in specific Desi publications. But where are the mainstream columnists and writers who provide a more culturally diverse perspective on life? Why is content for women like me still so marginalised?

A large part of the problem is the lack of black and minority ethnic (BME) journalists and editors in mainstream women’s magazines.  According to the Creative Skillset Employment Census of 2012, BME representation in the creative industries has declined from 7.4% of the total workforce in 2006 to 6.7% in 2009 and stood at just 5.4% in 2012.

Naturally the end result of such poor BME representation is editorial content with a blindingly white bias. There’s hardly anything that speaks to black and Asian women that is beyond cultural stereotyping.

Whilst there are many editors and writers amongst the British women’s press that I have a lot of respect for, I can’t get past the fact that there are so few black or Asian women in key editorial positions.  Instead, the women who are forecasting trends and telling us what is zeitgeist don’t actually reflect an ethnically diverse Britain at all.

Here’s a case in point. I love the new online publication The Pool, which launched just before Easter this year.

Their manifesto is to provide original, news-y content for busy, on the go women who often consume media on their smartphones. So far so good. It was co-founded by 6 Music DJ and presenter Lauren Laverne and former Cosmopolitan magazine editor Sam Baker. Great.

I was interested to see Sam Baker pop back up in the women’s magazine arena as she worked at Hearst magazines at the same time that I did. And for the record, I do love what they’ve created- it’s innovative, fun and genuinely original.

But it’s very disappointing to see that there isn’t one black or minority ethnic writer on their editorial team.

The Pool

Some of the staff writers at The Pool

Why have Laverne and Baker not accounted for ethnicity at all? Yes they have a fabulous team on-board, many of whom I admire. But – for now- I can’t see anything on The Pool about parenting and ethnicity; beauty for darker skin tones; racist sexism; the ethnic gender pay gap or diversity in the boardroom. Why should topics like that be confined to blogs and specialist publications alone?

So here’s my plea to the women’s magazine industry. Take note of the fact that the women of Britain don’t fit one mould.  If you include a non-white voice in your editorial offering you’re not going to alienate all your white readers. Breaking: they might actually enjoy a different perspective. And with the number of white people decreasing in the UK, chances are your readers won’t all be white women anyway.

Challenging stereotypes & racism – the Desi Vloggers

If you haven’t heard of the likes of Parle Patel, Lilly IISuperwomanII Singh or Humza ‘Badman’ Arshad, you’d be forgiven. They’re not quite household names – yet.

But these young Asian vloggers are taking You Tube by storm. With some of the most popular videos getting around 13million views, they are serious players.

More than a cheap laugh

I must admit that when I first started researching the ‘Desi Vloggers’ as they are becoming known I was slightly put off. Their YouTube parodies of the Asian culture at first, made me cringe. A lot of them use Eddie Murphy-style comedy with the star dressed up to play all the roles of the typical Indian parents and any other family members. It felt like they were rolling out the same tired old stereotypes of the Asian family for the sake of a cheap laugh. But if you keep watching you do see how these youngsters are exposing stereotypes and challenging the double standards that they face growing up- both within the Asian community and society at large.

So when we see Parle Patel parodying the Gujarati mum gossiping and bitching about the wedding they just went to, only to turn on the charm when the mother of the bride calls, viewers can instantly relate. When Lilly Singh laments over having to watch ‘another’ Bollywood movie with her parents, they can relate.

Similarly, any Asian can identify with Jus Reign’s “Shit White guys Say to Brown guys”:

“Teach me how to say ‘what’s up’ in your language”

“Yo Bollywood chicks yo, you gotta hook me up”

“There’s this one brown guy in my high school. Do you like, know him?”

 

Authentic 

YouTube vloggers are gaining success largely with the 15-24 demographic because they are so authentic. It’s one young person talking to another on issues that they recognise. These are not Hollywood stars with a slick post-production crew and an army of PR people; these are real people talking their language.

What’s also impressive to see is the increasing influence they’re having. Humza Arshad teamed up with the Met Police earlier this year to produce a short film aiming to tackle extremism amongst young British Muslims.

Lilly Singh- the only female and arguably the most successful of the pack, has had some notable cameo appearances in her videos. Bollywood legend Madhuri Dixit appears in one of her most popular videos; while Jay Sean, James Franco and The Rock have also starred with her.

I’ve heard some critics say that by parodying the Asian culture, the Desi Vloggers are actually doing more harm than good; that they’re tearing down what the generation before us fought for.

Personally I like the way they challenge the hypocrisy in the South Asian culture. In many of the videos they are holding their elders and others in their community to account. And you can’t help but nod and laugh at the Indian mum laying into her son calling him a bloody idiot every few sentences!

Plus we need to be a people that can laugh at ourselves! Every culture and race has its flaws, and humour is a great way to accept our weaknesses.

So here are some of my favourite Desi Vloggers:

Jus Reign

I love this guy. Canadian Jasmeet Singh started vlogging because he was “bored one summer at college,”  His “Hand Clap Dance” went viral and pretty soon he was being recognised in the streets. He currently has 530k subscribers. I love love love how his comedy exposes the stupidity of so many double standards, both within our culture and from Western society. Poonjabby!

 

Humza ‘Badman’ Arshad

Humza Arshad is from Streatham in London. In 2010 he started Diary of a Badman. By the following year, it was one of the most viewed videos on YouTube in the UK and currently gets around 4.7million views. Since then he has made numerous public appearances including his Badman Comedy Tour across the UK, and his work with the police and young people dealing with extremism.

 

Lilly IISuperwomanII Singh

Another Canadian and the only woman of the comedy genre (I could be wrong- if you know of any other female Desi comedy vloggers, drop me a comment below). Ironically she started vlogging to challenge the lack of desi female representation in the media. She is undoubtedly the most successful of all the vloggers, with her 5million subscribers. She has since branched into motivational speaking, rapping, acting and stand up. She also has a clothing line. (Go Lilly!)

 

Parle Patel

UK born Parle Patel started his YouTube channel Planet Parle just two years ago. In that time he has amassed a 30,000 strong following, thanks to his satirical take on Gujarati life (“I’m An Indian Gujarati, we like garba and eat dhokra”) In fact his niche, he claims, is being the only young Asian vlogging about Gujarati life. Parle appeared at Southbank’s Alchemy festival this year.

 

AK aka Amazing

Amandeep Kang’s “Life in a Brown Fam” gets around 1 million views per video. Another Canadian, AK parodies South Asian family life. In his videos, he plays The Kid, which he claims was himself growing up. And there are the recognisable Indian family members, in particular The Auntie That Everyone Knows.

 

A Response to Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg on Bloomberg last month

Last month, Facebook Chief Operating Officer and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg spoke out against sexism and misogyny in the workplace. Responding to a sexism lawsuit against a fellow female Silicon Valley senior exec, she said:

 “What’s happening is we have systematic stereotypes of women, and systematic biases of women.

 “For men, likeability and success is correlated. As they get more successful, more powerful, they’re better liked. For women, success and likability are negatively correlated. As a woman gets more successful, more powerful – she is less liked.”

It’s great to have women at the top of some of the biggest companies in the world like Facebook and Yahoo. And it’s even better when they speak out about gender discrimination in the workplace.

But what about the discrimination that women of colour face; and those of us who are discriminated against because of culture and cultural stereotypes?

Not taken seriously

Female entrepreneurial group Asian Women MEAN Business (AWMB) found that a massive 74% of British Asian women felt their culture held them back from starting a business, while 44% had experienced race discrimination at work. Last year I hosted Twitter chat on behalf AWMB discussing British Asian women’s experiences in the workplace. A lot of the comments echoed that research.

This week I’m making a guest appearance at Asian Women MEAN Business. To read the rest of the article, click here.

Join the Twitter chat every Wednesday at 7pm GMT. Just use the hashtag #asianwomenmeanbiz

What I’ve learnt about love…

love is

….after ten years of marriage.

Love doesn’t always buy me expensive or extravagant gifts

Love doesn’t whisk me away to far-flung destinations

Love isn’t as spontaneous anymore

 

Love always brings me a cup of tea in the morning while I’m having my shower

Love always arrives on time when I need picking up from the station

Love is the one person who believes in my crazy ideas- and doesn’t call them crazy

Love babysits for me when I need a night out with the girls

Love gets excited about starting a new box set together!

Love knows how I like my toast buttered (right to the edges)

 

The excitement of fluttery, flirtatious love gives away to solid, enduring, fulfilling love that enables you both to do life together in the trenches. When cancer comes knocking, when redundancy happens, when life is so shitty that you just want to go back to bed and sleep until it’s better.

Because that love is the most thrilling, and it lasts forever.