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

 

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

An Interview with Gurinder Chada

Desi Rascals

Don’t miss the new series of Desi Rascals on Sky Living HD from Tuesday January 20th at 8pm.

When I first heard about Desi Rascals, I must admit I was mildly sceptical. I’ve spoken before about the limited, usually stereotyped media representation of British Asians and the disappointing lack of positive roles we have. And with this show, I was really expecting more of the same. What I wasn’t counting on, was that with award-winning director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice) behind it, Desi Rascals isn’t going to be anything like we’ve seen before. This non-scripted, reality TV show featuring British Asians, shot in real time is going to be ground-breaking for the Asian community.

I talked to Gurinder about what we can expect from the show, how it reflects the diversity in today’s British Asian community and some of it’s boundary pushing characters.

“I am supremely confident that it will fit the bill in terms of showcasing the diversity in the British Asian community,” Gurinder told me. “The characters we have gives it a very multi-dimensional view.

There’s a great mix within the cast: Gujaratis, Punjabis, Bangladeshis- amongst others. There’s different social stratas represented, from small business owners to one very wealthy family who own a chain of luxury hotels.

It’s multi-generational too, which is a really important element. Having the older generations in our show allows us to show how the pressures on that generation are as important as those of the younger people. Parents sometimes put pressure on their kids, but there’s also pressure on them because they want to do the best for their kids as well as upholding certain traditions and values, which is where the tension and drama really comes from.

Ultimately, a more three-dimensional portrayal of the British Asian community will come from the fact that it’s non-scripted drama, that allows for spontaneous and real exchanges between the characters- you couldn’t write drama like this! And what’s also great is that we are not limited to any one person’s vision of the Asian community. Desi Rascals shows you how English we are as well as how British Asian we are.”

“I think you can safely say you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this” Gurinder Chadha

Tell me a bit about the cast members?

“Well there’s Owais who is a property developer. He spent a lot of his youth trying to overcome a stutter. Then there’s Amita who runs her own business- she’s a beautician and is also a single mum. There are the boys Anj and Nurat- a uncle and nephew team who own their own gym.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Amita Patel from the cast of Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

One of my favourite characters on the show is Naman who is an openly gay Muslim. He’s extremely family orientated and very sweet, very warm; and very close to our single mother Amita. He’s not just a gay guy, he’s very much part of our world. I think his journey is going to be hard, as an ‘out’ gay guy.

And he has been very supported by everyone on the show, including Owais, who has said “as a fellow Muslim, I’m extremely proud of you.”

“It really is the people that are going to take this into different areas-the types of people that have come forward to be a part of the show are what’s really going to drive it- who knows where they will take it- and there will be lots of surprises! The main thing that you’re going to see is not what you’re going to be expecting. I think you can safely say that you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this.”

As the show features a beautician, a Bollywood dancer and a makeup artist I shared my concern with Gurinder that her portrayal of Desi women was limited to rather, shall we say, girly pursuits.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Expect to see some strong desi women in Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

“Well what do think?! With my name attached, what do you think?! Anything that I do is not going to be namby-pamby you can safely assume, when it comes to women!” 

I think we can safely assume that anything Gurinder puts her name to will not be ‘namby pamby’ as she put it. And that’s what makes her such an important British Asian figure and such a hugely influential person in her field. Her contribution to positively shaping how the world sees British Asians has been really important- think of how Bend It Like Beckham brought the richness of Asian family, community and tradition onto our screens 12 years ago.

I’ve no doubt that Desi Rascals will do the same for us, 10 or so years on. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to see this happen. In our current news climate, where sections of the Asian community take a constant battering, it’s really time we see something else of who our community are. And I’m hopeful Gurinder’s Desi Rascals will do this for us- and perhaps give us some really positive role models to boot.

‘Desi Rascals’ premieres on Tuesday 20 January at 8pm on Sky Living. Watch the trailer below

You might also like “Where do we look for positive British Asian role models?”

Think, plan, achieve!

business resolutions for 2015

Not getting anywhere with your new year’s resolutions? It’s not too late to set your goals for the coming year. Here are a few thoughts on approaching 2015.

Goals v’s resolutions

Keep it simple. Write down no more than three goals you’d like to achieve. And think big-however crazy or unobtainable they seem. Because it’s those crazy big dreams that really make you tick and working towards them is what will make you want to get out of bed everyday.  Then work out the steps you need to take in order to achieve them. Set a time frame to work towards. This could be something like achieving a certain number of steps by your birthday, for example. Visualisation helps. So if it’s paying off a debt by the end of the year, get a credit card bill and write “paid in full” across it in big red letters, and stick it somewhere that you’ll see it everyday. Make sure you review your progress on a regular basis.

Other people know stuff too

Take time to listen to people- you’d be surprised how much you can learn. Everyone has a story to tell and something that you can learn from, you just gotta take time to really ‘hear’ them. The problem is, that we all assume we already know what we need to. Never stop learning! Knowledge and learning is exciting and fun as it opens up new possibilities.  Never underestimate what other people can teach you and always assume that there’s more stuff you need to know.

Hope never fails

My best friend taught me this. Sometimes faith can fail us- your faith in other people, faith in yourself, faith that you’ll get the job done, get that bill paid off, shift the extra weight. But the hope that things can change, can be better, never fails. So if you’re starting this new year in a difficult place, hold onto the hope of better times. And when you start to think more positively you’ll have the motivation to make change happen.

Keep on being your awesome self

My biggest problem with the whole new- year, new- you- thing is that it assumes you were doing something wrong before. You weren’t. There’s nothing wrong with you and your life is ok!  Yes, new year is a chance for a do-over and it’s great to set your sights on achieving something new. But don’t let the pressure to reinvent yourself overshadow the great work you’ve done this year and how far you’ve come. So keep being yourself- trust me, you’re ok.

That’s it! Keep things simple in 2015 and focus on making it happen.

 

This post is dedicated to my three best friends- special ladies who have taught me so much over so many years. x

We have to stop should-ing on ourselves!

lifestyle balance

It’s that time of year when the diary is looking really full- and it’s not even December yet. Deadlines are looming, so are countless parties and social events. Then there are the nativity plays and carol concerts and Christmas school fairs which need time out of your work day. And that’s all before you’ve even thought about presents, shopping and looking your best. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is also the Most Stressful Time of the Year.

But actually, how different is that to the rest of the year? The festivities sort of step up the pace a bit more, but I’ve had periods over this year where I’ve literally had weeks of going from one thing to the next without any break or down time in between. I’ve juggled childcare and domestic life with meetings and deadlines and volunteering work and family commitments.

It’s the unwritten rule of modern life that we all need to pack in as much as we can in order to feel validated. It gives us a sense of purpose. We look at the woman next to us and think we need to maintain the same pace as her, or we simply feel we have to accept lots of responsibilities…because that’s just what you do.

Margaret Sentamu said: “women carry a disproportionate weight of responsibility in society” and how true that is.

Whether it’s the economic or social climate that we live in, we all feel that we ‘should’ have it all. A great career with a clear path of progression, a social media strategy with Brand Me all worked out, a great figure, a thriving relationship, a foot on the property ladder, an active social life, healthy active kids with their homework all done. All perfectly captured on Facebook and Instagram- on which you have hundreds of followers of course. We all know that none of that ever happens at the same time. None of the pieces of the jigsaw ever fit together that well. But somehow we think they should.

Feminism gave women more choices. No longer are we expected to fit into some patriarchal mould of womanhood. But all that choice has brought with it a lot of pressure to perform. We’ve bought into the lie that we can have it all- and should.

Ladies, we’ve got to stop should-ing on ourselves!

We blame society, the media, Instagram- anyone really, for that pressure, but really it comes from within.

work life balance

When my daughter started nursery at the age of three, I felt I ‘should’ fill the few hours while she was away. My other mum-friends all seemed to be going back to work and I felt I ‘should’ re-invest in my career too, and with that came the pressure to succeed. I spent my few spare hours researching writing and pitching stories. I’d be tired and irritable all the while as I never gave my body or my brain time to reload.

Arianna Huffington is someone who knows all too well the cost of not taking time to reload. In her book this year, Thrive, she talks about the breakdown she suffered seven years ago. She attributes this breakdown partly to not sleeping enough, carrying too much responsibility and too many burdens. I love two of her top tips for maintaining a healthy work- life balance: go to sleep half an hour earlier than you already do, and choose to off-load something everyday that isn’t working for you whether it’s emotional or professional. This coming from a tremendously successful woman who’s been there. She knows.

So here’s a radical thought: how about NOT having it all, take on fewer commitments and do them really really well. Work out what’s essential ‘to being you’- and select the top two priorities and give them your all. And above all, schedule in some down time once a week. It might just be blocking out 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to have a nap, or an hour to finish reading your book.

And if off-loading some of the burden just feels impossible at this point in your life then ponder this advice that I was given last week:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and before you know it, you’re doing the impossible.”

Is skin whitening any different to hair straightening?

Is skin whitening any different to hair straightening?

What would you say if I challenged you not to wear any make up to work tomorrow? Or to skip your next visit to the beauticians to get your eyebrows threaded? Would you be able to go completely au natural with your looks and be comfortable with it?

I’m guessing for the majority of women the answer would be no. For most of us, attending to beauty routines are as normal as changing clothes in the morning- you’d obviously not leave the house in your pyjamas so it makes sense that you’d put on makeup, style your hair, have your eyebrows threaded; whatever it might be for you and however simple or extensive your routine might be.

Personally I could probably skip wearing makeup for a day or too, but I couldn’t live without my hair dryer and various hair straightening products. I’ve been straightening my hair for more than 15 years. Over this time, I’ve probably spent hundreds of pounds investing in products and haircuts, and countless hours trying to get the frizz out of my hair. My straight, flattened hair is not my natural hair type believe me! On one very rare occasion that I did let my hair dry naturally- no products, no straightening, someone commented that it made me look ‘more ethnic’.

And that’s the thing isn’t it: I’ve spent all these years getting rid of that ‘ethnic look’ and conforming to a model of beauty that says straight, flat hair is the acceptable image of beauty. Even beach curls have to be silky smooth and styled, rather than the random mop of frizz/waves/curls that my natural hair type displays.

Researcher and policy advisor Debbie Weekes-Barnard identified a “hierarchy of beauty” that women of different ethnicities conform to:

“…..there (are) things at work societally which place all women, but certainly black women, on a hierarchy of beauty.

…..the hierarchy of beauty for black women is different from the hierarchy for white women. For white women, it’s about size and shape [thinness] but for black women it’s all of those things, but also the shape of one’s nose and lips, the texture of your hair and all those other things which are bound up within how ‘womanly’ or not you look.”

I’d love to say that that hierarchy doesn’t apply to me, and that I don’t conform to it. But as women we are constantly being judged by the way we look, and because of that we end up conforming to these frankly, Western standards of beauty.

We applaud Bollywood actresses like Aishwaraya Rai Buchchan and Frieda Pinto who have crossed over to mainstream appeal and appeared in Western films and ad campaigns, because we finally see a brown face in the media. But the fact is, they too have been modified to fit a Western mould of beauty before they could get there. Their appearances are very similar to any other white Western celebrity- only they’re a few shades darker.

Colourism in particular- judging others for how dark skinned they are, is ingrained in the Asian culture. We all know an auntiji or two who comments on how dark so and so is and how they will never get married because of it. In India it’s even said to affect your job prospects. Skin whitening and bleaching products are big business globally. Did you know there’s even a vaginal whitening product now available? Last July, Vaseline launched a Facebook app in India that enabled users to make their skin whiter in their profile pictures. The app was to promote their new range of skin-lightening creams for men.

Colourism is abhorrent. The fact that manufacturers promote their products by perpetuating the whole ‘fair is beautiful’ myth is just infuriating. But somewhere along the line, our culture bought into it, too. Whilst some argue that colourism is different to racism- racism being bound up with other factors such as ethnicity as well as skin colour, doesn’t make colourism any better or less damaging. And what’s more, users of skin-lightening products are judged for conforming to the ideal that fair is beautiful and they’re shamed for not accepting their God-given looks.

But then I’ve never accepted my frizzy, wavy hair. I conform to the model that says silky straight hair is beautiful. I also thread my eyebrows, bleach excess facial hair, shave my legs, wear foundation to even out my skin tone, a lightening concealer to eliminate dark circles under my eyes, blusher to contour my cheeks, mascara to thicken my lashes, lipstick to plump my lips…what else….? I do all of these things to alter my appearance and appear more womanly, ultimately trying to rank higher on that hierarchy of beauty. And yet I judge women who want to move themselves up this hierarchy simply because they were born with dark skin and resort to skin-whitening.

I couldn’t put it more simply than this: in 2010 Jamaican dancehall star Vybz Kartel came under fire after apparently lightening his skin. He defended his use of “cake soap”-a skin whitening product, saying:

“I feel comfortable with black people lightening their skin. It’s tantamount to white people getting a suntan. When black women stop straightening their hair and wearing wigs and weaves, when white women stop getting lip and butt injections and implants … then I’ll stop using the ‘cake soap’ and we’ll all live naturally ever after.”