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. 

Playful Indian: “You’re the chutney to my samosa”

samosacard-chillipaneercard

The Playful Indian www.theplayfulindian.com

“You’re the chutney to my samosa” and “you’re the chilli to my paneer” are some of the straplines you can find on Playful Indian’s range of greetings cards. These simple, everyday references to Desi culture and life are what make this range of products so appealing, in my opinion. Playful Indian founder Dina Mistry says:

“I felt there has always been a lack of fun Asian cards on the market. I wanted to create cards that would make people smile and laugh, as well as bring Asian cards and gifts up-to-date.”

I love that Playful Indian fills a gap in the market for British Asians. It reflects changing UK consumer demographics and there should be more choices for different ethnic groups. Whilst existing Bollywood themed cards are great in offering a little more choice than is currently available on the UK high street, they have got limited appeal.

Playful Indian brings something fresh into this arena; as well as a bit of everyday Desi humour that is lacking from this market- you know, little references that are almost like insider jokes. For example, it would’ve really made me smile to receive a card that said “Congratulations on your little laddoo” when my daughter was born!

The range covers all the main card- giving occasions; as well as a few Hindu and Sikh religious festivals. There are no cards for Muslim religious festivals; I hope she adds this for the sake of diversity. The Christmas cards are a little disappointing in that, although they are beautifully designed, they aren’t specifically Desi themed- which could put off Asian Christians.

Her most appealing product line is the humorous Hungry Indian range. These are digitally hand-drawn cards that focus on that basic Indian cultural reference point: food! The Hungry Indian line is fun and simple with a young appeal. This is definitely Dina’s strongest line and I would love to see it on the high street-I really think it has mainstream appeal.

all-cards

The Playful Indian www.theplayfulindian.com

Elsewhere there are also plenty of Indian-art inspired cards, as well as the use of the iconic Bollywood font. I particularly love that there are one or two cards in the range that depict brown skinned people- where else do we see this on the high street?

The ordering facility is easy and straightforward. Delivery (to the buyer not the receiver of the card) costs the same as Royal Mail first class; which I think is reasonable given that the cards themselves are priced at around £2.25. It would be great to see a personalisation function where you can add your own message and have it sent straight to the recipient (think Funky Pigeon et al).

I do think that ethnic cards in general, Playful Indian included, run the risk of slightly objectifying Desi culture. It’s important that manufacturers don’t rely on a handful of jokes, phrases and nuances within the Asian culture and keep churning these out – this will only serve to perpetuate negative stereotypes. What’s more, once you’ve bought one or two of these cards for friends and family, there’ll be nothing to get you to return to the range- unless new humour and designs are added.

But this is not to detract from what Playful Indian brings to the market. Dina’s offering is a step in the right direction in terms of British Asian consumer product representation. And with her entrepreneurial vision (“in 2012 I approached the Prince’s Trust for funding. I’m still only a small company but my customer base is fast growing and now includes America, Australia and India- how cool is that!”)  she’s definitely one to watch- I look forward to seeing further growth and innovation from Playful Indian.

Got to www.theplayfulindian.com for the full range of cards and gifts, and check out www.facebook.com/ThePlayfulIndian, @Playful_Indian

This is a personal blog, written and edited by me. 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.