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Who I Am Toady…

Posted on 29 December 2016 by admin

VITHYA 

Everyone has ups and downs, but even that statement is not widely accepted in our community.

When I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 14 and I came and told my parents, their response was that the doctor was an idiot and didn’t know what he was talking about.

Of course I believed my parents and never bothered talking about it again, nor did I even try and explore it further.

Almost a decade later, I was bitter, miserable, unhappy, and just sad all the time. It was like there was never a light at the end of the tunnel for me.

In my mid twenties, it got worse. Life just got harder with the pressure of graduating, finding a job, finding a husband, settling down, having a family. My way of coping with negative situations only got worse, and I went through a few personal problems on top of that.

That is when the thoughts came into my head. Wanting to end my life. For years I kept feeling that way, but never found the courage to actually follow through with it.

The one time I did cut my wrist and ended up in hospital, was when I was aware of how bad things really got. That was also the day, my parents understood what I was going through and they just had no idea where to begin.

I was a 23 year old woman, who did not want to live anymore, and I was surrounded by people who had no idea of how to help me.

I spent the next 5 years in and out of hospital, different psychotherapists, different types of anti depressants, several more suicide attempts, and a nervous breakdown. I lost my job, most of my family and friends disliked me because I pushed them all away, and I was not capable of being in a relationship.

Do you know what I did? I went to the London College of Fashion and enrolled to do a hair and make up diploma.

In the midst of all of that, I wanted to do make up! The one thing I enjoyed since I was a young girl. So I decided to just follow that passion. The only passion. The only thing I felt I was good at. You all know the story of how hard it was to even convince my parents to not pursue a career in science, since I graduated with a Biology and Psychology degree, so you can imagine what sort of stress that also added to my endless list of issues. They simply had no respect for my career choice.

My job is hard, it is very stressful, you work under a lot of pressure. It is not just doing make up on people, but you are running a business. You also have to be patient and tolerant. Qualities I did not possess. I was so focused and driven to pursue my career in this, that I knew I had to figure out how I can learn to cope in negative situations, and not feel like jumping in front of a train at any given opportunity.

The first thing I did was go to my GP and talk. He suggested the right kind of anti depressant for me, and I started off with a low dosage. Most people get so scared of anti depressants, and if you do google it, there are tonnes of pros and cons to taking them. There are also so many different types of anti depressants. You just have to figure out which one works for you.

I am not a doctor, so I cannot describe what it does and how it works scientifically, but all I needed to know was that it numbed the pain, the bad thoughts, the constant negative feelings. Equally I did not feel anything positive either. You feel nothing. I needed to feel nothing. Isn’t feeling nothing better than feeling sad all the time?

Once the medication kicked in, I started seeing a psychotherapist. I know the waiting list to see a therapist is very long, but if you can afford it, just go online and find a local one. Most countries have a listing. The NHS site in the UK has a very descriptive list of therapists; their expertise and experience. You can pick and choose depending on what the nature of your problem is.

I tried several therapists until I found a lady who was just the right type of therapist for me. She taught me coping strategies. How to cope in a negative situation.

I find that with most therapists they get you to talk about your past too much. I understand that finding the source, the root of the problem is key to eliminating the symptoms, but not everyone can handle bringing up the repressed memories of one’s childhood. Everyone suffers from different types of problems.

My mum used to always say “What problems could you possibly have? We have done everything for you, you have a roof over your head, food, warmth, luxury, we buy you everything, why would you be sad?” Of course she was right. But I came from a generation where we didn’t talk about what happened in our childhood. We were wise enough at such a young age, not to burden our parents with things we knew they would never understand. More than that, we didn’t want to tell them things that would potentially hurt them. We tried to protect them by suffering ourselves. Imagine that responsibility being a child?And then what do you think happens 20 years later? We blame our parents for not having been there for us, for not having protected us, for not having saved us from that big black hole inside our head.

But it is not their fault. They never knew, and they were never exposed to the things we have been exposed to in the past two to three decades.

Once I was able to cope better with everyday things in life, I focused more on my career. I was motivated to build something that distracted me from all the bad things in my life. Some of my friends who have suffered from depression, all found something that made them appreciate life. For some it was having a baby, for some it was gym, and for some it was changing their career.

For me it was my career, IS my career. I put my life and soul into it, and worked hard to be where I am. I am still very critical of myself and still feel I have a very long way to go to perfect my skills, but it is enough to keep me going. Enough to make me feel content and happy.

I know I have a big social media presence, and I come across like the happiest person on earth, who has it all; that magical walk in closet, the million Zara items, that costly chia seed lifestyle, and those damn expensive Starbucks cappuccinos every week. But I want to inspire people, not show off to them. I want someone to see the benefits in the things I do. And also help someone, anyone, see the brighter side of life. Even if it’s through my famous chia seed dessert. I know the Starbucks is not inspirational in any way, but the coconut milk substitute is beneficial to your health! There you go! Anyway joke aside.

I want to make a difference. I have not had it easy, and nothing was given to me on a plate. I worked very hard, and suffered painfully, to be where I am today, and to be who I am today.

I hope people can see that through my social media posts.

When I got divorced, my parents thought I was going to try and harm myself again. They were like hawks in my house; constantly watching me, analysing me, and trying to talk to me. It really helped that they understood what I was going through. They understood that this could trigger my depression. As I now strongly believe that depression is a mental disease, and it never really goes away, it lingers, and just waits to attack. I did suffer a nervous breakdown. I did feel suicidal, and I was seeing a therapist again. But after only a few months, did I realise that I did not want to go down that path again. I did not want to take medication nor sit on a couch and talk about my ex husband. Instead I joined the gym, hired a personal trainer, saw a nutritionist, and focused on my inside. I just wanted to love myself. Figure out what I needed, and what would make all this go away. And it did go away. That cloud hanging over my head during the divorce went away. And it was all because I did that. I made it go away, by wanting to live. Wanting to be happy. Desperate to have another shot in life again. Believing that someone will love me, and that I will have a happily ever after.

We all deserve it. But how one achieves that is in no one’s hand but your own. You have full reign, full control of how you want your life to be.

Getting professional help is the first step. And once you understand what is going on in that head of yours, you should be able to explain this to your loved ones, because we all need the support of our family and friends.

When you are depressed you do feel alone and you shut yourself off, but even if it’s just the one person you can talk to, only one, it’s enough. It is better to have one person who you can trust, than a million negative people who are waiting to see you drown.

People love a gossip, and people are nosy, and you think they care, but all they want is entertainment. When you type my name into google, one of the most searched words associated with my company name is the word divorce. Do you know how many people still want to know what happened? Why I got divorced after only a four-month marriage? I never gave in. I have never shared my story on social media in the past 2 years. Firstly, it is no one’s business, secondly, it has nothing to do with my career, and thirdly it is not beneficial to anybody else.

All I want people to know is HOW I got through this, and HOW I overcame such a painful time. Because I know that divorce in our community, is another subject that is brushed under the carpet.

The stigma of divorce, depression, and all the other terms that are taboo in the Asian community, need to be addressed. How else are we supposed to set an example to the younger generation if we are encouraging them not to face these big problems?

I received a message last night from a girl who was feeling suicidal, and after reading my article, she snapped out of it, and thanked me for motivating her to go seek the necessary help.

I was so heartbroken reading that.

But then I was so happy I opened up about something so personal to me, because it made that difference to one person at least. And I can say that it was definitely the first time I have saved someone’s live!

Let us all save more!!!

I am grateful for all the comments, private messages, emails, and even text messages from previous clients, for sharing your stories, for supporting me sharing mine, and for wanting to help people who have also suffered or still suffer from this illness.

I was having a few bad days, which is ok, and I received a request from Women’s Planet to write an inspiring story for them. So I did. Timing, I tell you! Never did I imagine though, that I would get such a response. It really overwhelmed me and threw me off. I had never planned to ever talk about my depression, but reading all those private messages last night, made me realise that people were expecting me to share my story of how I overcame it. So I did. And I really hope this explains just a notion of who I am today!

I might not be able to make someone’s problems go away, but I can surely beautify them just for that one special day, and make them feel like they are worth everything. That is the power of my job, and I find it most rewarding. It is my way of giving back to the world, because we all deserve to feel and be happy.

I hope my blog was useful, and whether you yourself are suffering from depression, or know someone who does, then please take the necessary steps to seek/provide help.

Thank you.

Images courtesy of MY Photograph

http://tamilculture.com/who-i-am-today/

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Relearning My Grandmother’s Language Taught Me Where My Roots Lie

Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin

Hamza Khan

“Talk to Nani Maa.”

Growing up as an English-speaking son of Indian immigrant parents, I dreaded those four words. Each weekend, my mother would hand me the phone to speak with my grandmother in Mumbai. And each time, I’d try to escape with an excuse.

When speaking to relatives back home, my mother spoke louder than she actually needed to (perhaps she believed that her voice wouldn’t carry across the ocean otherwise). This always caught me off guard, because I couldn’t accurately gauge how far away she was and how much time I needed to run to the bathroom and hide.

The sound of her approaching footsteps would send me into a panic. Beaming with excitement over connecting her son with her mother, she’d hand me the phone and mid-gesture say, “Talk to Nani Maa.” And thus would begin an excruciating five to 10 minute call with my grandmother in which I’d shut the door to my room and speak in hushed tones in case my mom was outside, gleefully listening in on our awkward exchange. Mustering every phrase I knew in “Hinglish” (a messy combination of Hindi and English), I’d routinely ask this specific set of questions:

“How are you?”

“How is your health?

“How is the weather?”

“Did you watch any new movies?”

“Should I give the phone back to mom?”

That’s the grandmother I knew from my childhood; a disembodied voice from a land far, far away. Someone I couldn’t form a decent relationship with due to our language barrier. She only spoke Hindi, and I only spoke English. And we both somewhat understood each other.

Unfortunately through repetition of this weekly ritual, thoughts of meeting my grandmother in real life brought up feelings of dread, embarrassment and guilt. Dread over being far outside of my comfort zone; embarrassment of having others judge my poor Hindi; guilt over not making enough of an effort to be a present grandson.

The grandmother of my adulthood is very different; she is a complete person, pieced together from longer and nuanced stories shared over dinner tables, through live commentary while watching Bollywood films, through genuine moments of human connection and through fading photos like this one:

When she flew in from Mumbai for my brother’s engagement last year, she looked more sickly and feeble than I’d ever seen before — more grey hairs, more wrinkles and a more noticeable limp. While nobody in my family dared acknowledge it out loud, we all knew this was possibly the last time we’d ever see her. And while my dread and fear of meeting her were long gone, I was still wrought with guilt over not bonding enough. And so I made it a priority to simply be in her presence and makes as many new memories as I could.

While I anticipated that we’d sit in silence for most of our time together, I was surprised by what actually transpired. In her twilight years, perhaps confronted by her own mortality and a reciprocal eagerness to forge a deeper connection with me, my grandmother was more talkative than usual. I mean, really talkative. To the point where my younger sister and cousins threw elderly respect (or just plain old etiquette) out the window and retreated into their respective digital devices.

Meanwhile, I sat there transfixed. I listened to Nani Maa’s stories. And I listened, and listened, and listened. And what I learned was nothing short of incredible.

Najma Mohammad, my Nani Maa, is around 70 years old. She is a seemingly ordinary woman who has led an extraordinary life. She’s had courtside seats to the tumultuous evolution of the country my parents used to call home: India. The breadth of historic events that Nani Maa experienced first-hand is staggering. Here’s a small snapshot:

  1. Partition
  2. Prohibition
  3. Freedom from British rule
  4. Three wars with Pakistan
  5. Presidential assassinations
  6. Rise of Mumbai’s underworld
  7. Race riots
  8. India’s nuclear proliferation
  9. India’s billionth citizen
  10. Mumbai terrorist attacks

She travelled around the world, was alive during Gandhi’s assassination, experienced the hysteria of The Beatles’ visit to India, saw broadcasts of Neil Armstrong walking the surface of the moon and recently used Snapchat filters. All within the same lifetime.

She told me amazing stories of going from riches to rags in the wake of her husband’s passing. She told me stories of police shootouts happening on her block, with police officers even stopping by her house to take water breaks before rushing back outside to resume their raids. She told me stories of having to discipline her sons for rubbing shoulders with neighbourhood boys that were part of street gangs (which would later evolve into the arms of India’s underworld regime). She told me stories of Hindu vs. Muslim sectarian violence in the wake of catastrophes like the tearing down of Babri Masjid, as well as the 1993 Bombay bombings.

The history of Mumbai is so incredibly rich, and the history of India is even more so. And hearing it told through the vantage point of an uneducated, tough-as-nails single mother was more more vivid than any photograph, book or movie I’d experienced. Her narrative was raw and human, held together by intertwining threads of grit and faith.

That summer, it hit me that her incredible stories would possibly die with her. That grim prospect gave me a sense of urgency to capture her stories when she’d come around for my brother’s wedding a few months ago, and to go deeper than merely a recollection of events. I wanted to know more about her specific context and her specific experiences in relation to these events. I wanted to ask, for each of her stories:

“Who else was there?”

“What do you think caused this?”

“When in the timeline of historic events did this occur?”

“Where exactly were you when this took place?”

“Why do you think it happened?”

“How did you feel before/during/after this?”

And as expected, these questions allowed me look below the surface-level conversations I’d previously held with her:

I learned that my grandmother was devastated by the death of her husband, and clueless as to how to raise six young children on her own. She sold every last one of her belongings to provide for them, including her wedding jewellery.

She was terrified by the police shootouts, but eventually came to befriend a prominent figure in the Mumbai police force. She counts it among her life’s biggest accomplishments that she guided her children to become strong, independent, hard-working citizens. She can recall the horror of bomb sirens during the wars with Pakistan, as well as the panic around trying to acquire baby food during states of emergency.

While she was here this past summer, we watched a few Bollywood movies with the subtitles off. And it reminded me that while I understand Hindi perfectly, I still struggle to speak it.

I spent half of my childhood in New York and the other half in Toronto. My family and the community around me always spoke a combination of English, Hindi, and Urdu (a very similar dialect to Hindi). Through osmosis, I was able to pick up the languages. But I could never speak it beyond a smattering of common phrases.

Knowing I’d meet my grandmother again this summer lit a fire in me to relearn conversational Hindi to not only better capture her stories, but to allow for a rekindling of our relationship. And I’m glad I did, because it allowed me to have one of the most human moments I’ve ever experienced, a heart-to-heart that changed the way I see myself…

Following a storytelling session, Nani Maa and I stood outside her guest bedroom. She looked at me with watery eyes. She began by acknowledging that her health was fading, and that she was saddened by the idea that this might be the last time we’d see each other. Seeing this rugged woman tremble and break down caused me to well up. With tears streaming down her face, she uttered these words to me:

“Mummy ka khayal rakhna, beta. Woh bohut hi strong hai.”

Which translates from Hindi to:

“Please take care of your mom, son. She’s a very tough woman.”

Her forlorn request whisked me through my memories as far back as they could go, illuminating nearly three decades of interactions with my mother. Having freshly listened my grandmother’s life stories, it gave my mother an entirely new dimension: the daughter of my grandmother.

It put into context that she was only a young girl when her own father died. Being raised by Nani Maa left an indelible imprint on who she is as a person today: a kind, selfless, tough-as-nails, tenacious woman. Someone built to withstand the vicissitudes of an immigrant experience during the ’80s and ’90s.

She lived through economic downturns, overt racism and strenuous demands on her mind, body and spirit. She tried to make it in America, and for some time lived alone with two children while my father tried to find new employment opportunities in Canada. Her early adult life and social life were uprooted in the pursuit of giving my sister and I a better life (a sacrifice we can never adequately repay). And she outlasted all of it. Because that’s what my grandmother taught her to do: persist. Just like my grandmother’s hut-dwelling mother, who lived through dire poverty, neglect and abuse.

I always thought I modelled my resilience after my father, but I was wrong. Most of it actually comes from my mother (and by extension my grandmother and my great grandmother). Tens of thousands of stressful experiences and interactions compounded to form the woman that raised me.

Today, I also see why grit is the defining characteristic of not just my mother, but all of her siblings as well. It’s not simply a reaction to being immigrants , it’s a latent skill set — a mindset, rather — forged in the crucible of an ever-changing and volatile country, that was simply activated by the stressors of changing circumstances.

Through my grandmother I’ve been better able to understand my mother and the values she imparted unto me. I am my mother’s son. I am my grandmother’s grandson. I am my great-grandmother’s great-grandson. And if I have children of my own someday, they’ll hopefully understand why I turned out the way that I did.

Working in marketing, I know that stories are the fundamental unit of human understanding — they are our connection to the past, our guide to the present, and our map to the future. Learning my grandmother’s life stories helped me to reconnect with my own Indian-American and Indian-Canadian identity in a way that Bollywood movies never could.

If you’re the first-generation child of immigrant parents, you owe it to yourself to learn the language of your grandparents. Spend some time with them and ask them about their life. Where were they born? Where did they live? What did they do for fun? What schools did they go to? Who was their first love? What was their first job? When did they feel hopeless? When were they most full of life? Get them to share the details of their most memorable days. And more.

Go deeper than the mere sequence of events you might’ve never ventured beneath because of language barriers. It could just be the key to unlocking dimensions of who you are. And if history is cyclical, perhaps who you might become.

Hamza Khan is an award-winning marketer & entrepreneur. Co-Founder of Splash Effect, a digital marketing agency with a focus on the education sector.

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Lessons from my magnificent ammi

Posted on 15 June 2016 by admin

By RAVEENA AULAKH

Among the dozens of earrings I own is a pair of small gold hoops. They are dull-looking, slightly twisted and the clasp doesn’t quite shut for one. They are old, from the 1930s. They are always in a tiny red satin bag that sits in a corner of my closet.

I rarely wear them because I am terrified of losing them.

They were my grandma’s, the only thing of hers I now own.

My grandma died two years ago and I lost the person I loved the most in the world.

Her name was Harbhajan but few people knew that. Everyone called her ammi, which means mother in Urdu, a language spoken in Pakistan and parts of India.

Ammi was 19, married to my grandfather for three years, when India was partitioned in 1947. As riots raged, towns were burned down and thousands killed within days, the two fled their hometown of Lahore in Pakistan with nothing but the clothes on their back.

They eventually settled down in Chandigarh, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, and ammi had five kids over 12 years; my mother was her eldest.

I was her first grandchild. Ammi was there when I was born — small, wrinkly and two months premature. She was there when I was named and she was there, hovering, when the doctor gave permission to take me home.

But she wasn’t there a few weeks later when someone dropped me and I broke my left elbow. Within hours, ammi brought me back from my parents’ home and I never returned except for an occasional visit.

I was 6 weeks old and became her sixth child.

Ammi was thin, barely five feet tall, slightly bent and always walked with her left hand on her waist. She had been young once — there are photographs to prove it — but as far as I can remember, her face was a crisscross of wrinkles that got deeper and silver hair that got thinner every year.

As a child, I would pester her over dinner every night until she told me the story about how she got married to my grandfather and then discovered he had 13 siblings, all of whom lived in the same house.

It took away the shock of being married to a man she had never met, she often said.

Only on rare occasions would she talk about her life in Pakistan. But when she did, she never complained, never lamented the things she had left behind.

She counted her blessings for making it to the other side of the border with her small family.

One story she frequently told was from the India-Pakistan war of 1971.

My grandfather, who was in the Indian military, was posted in Ferozepur, a town on the border of India and Pakistan. Ammi was home with three of her younger kids when shelling started. She didn’t panic. She started throwing clothes in a suitcase. But when a shell landed in the backyard, she dumped the suitcase, grabbed the kids and walked until she reached the train station, a half-hour walk away.

Ammi and I were good friends. She gave me the silent treatment if I’d been bad, slapped me hard if I’d been really bad. But she was always the buffer between my grandfather and me, whom I had a great but tumultuous relationship with.

(He still lives in the house I grew up in, in Chandigarh, and turned 90 in November.)

She taught me to cook, to sew, even knit but rarely made me do any chores. Her philosophy was simple: “Life can throw surprises. Be prepared.”

The best part about being raised by grandparents is that they’ve become wiser with age and have learned lessons with their kids.

When I first cut my waist-long hair to shoulder length at 15, ammi shed some tears but took it in stride and even saved me from my grandfather’s wrath.

(We are Sikhs, it’s against our religion to cut hair.)

Years later, my youngest aunt still says she would have been in real trouble if she’d done that.

My grandparents were strict with their four daughters — there were curfews; sleepovers, makeup and skirts were out of the question; and certainly no boyfriends.

Sleepovers, makeup and skirts were a big no-no for me too but I defied curfew persistently and ammi always covered for me. And when I told her my boyfriend had proposed and I had said yes, she wept.

More than anything else, she taught me to love unconditionally, live honestly and do what feels right — not what is right. Because, as she said, “In the end, you have to live with yourself.”

It is what I do.

Six years ago when I moved to London, Ont., to go back to school, she was sad but approved. Three weeks later, she had a heart-attack and I thought it was the end. She pulled through but was never the same again.

A cardiac arrest killed her in October 2009.

It was a Friday and she’d just had dinner. As she tried to rise from the chair, she fell down and was dead within moments.

Grief is the loneliest place in the world. It’s harsh and it’s unforgiving.

I cope with it because through my sorrow, I hear her voice that says:, “Life is here, life is now, live it well.” (If she were alive, I bet she would also wag her finger and say, “Stop whining.”)

When I miss her more than usual, I wear the gold hoops.

At the end of last month, Star reporter Raveena Aulakh passed away. This was one of her most memorable pieces.

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Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Posted on 16 October 2013 by admin

When it was announced that Alice Munro had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, phone calls and e-mails from friends started streaming in. Some people were tearful. I suspect that these little explosions of joy are happening all over the world among Munro’s fans; I also suspect that this level of emotional response (more akin to receiving family news, like the birth of a child) doesn’t happen every year when the winner of the Nobel is declared.

Munro is one of those writers who, no matter how popular her books are, is ourwriter. This may have to do with the frank intimacy of her tone, which is stripped of ornament and fuss, yet also, in its plainness, contains huge amounts of terrible, sublime, and contradictory feeling. It may have to do with the fact that she writes mostly about women who want to escape some kind of confinement, who are hungry for experience above all else, and who attain it at a dear price, so that we can read about it. They are elegant, wry, determined women. They are also subversives, and because they allow us into their lives, we’re dusted with their secret glamor.

It’s often said of Munro that her stories are so packed with emotion and incident that they are like novels—generations playing out their compulsions and longings across a few pages. Writers study her work with devotion, trying to figure out how so much can happen in so little space. With Munro, it’s easy to pick out examples of miraculous economy: there are many, many stories and most of them are perfect. Look how she evokes a marriage in “Miles City, Montana.”

I wished I could get my feelings about Andrew to come together into a serviceable and dependable feeling. I had even tried writing two lists, one of things I liked about him, one of things I disliked—in the cauldron of intimate life, things I loved and things I hated—as if I hoped by this to prove something, to come to a conclusion one way or the other. But I gave it up when I saw that all it proved was what I already knew—that I had violent contradictions. Sometimes the very sound of his footsteps seemed to me tyrannical, the set of his mouth smug and mean, his hard, straight body a barrier interposed—quite consciously, even dutifully, and with a nasty pleasure in its masculine authority—between me and whatever joy or lightness I could get in life. Then, with not much warning, he became my good friend and most essential companion. I felt the sweetness of his light bones and serious ideas, the vulnerability of his love, which I imagined to be purer and more straightforward than my own. I could be greatly moved by an inflexibility, a harsh propriety, that at other times I scorned. I would think how humble he was, really, taking on such a ready-made role of husband, father, breadwinner, and how I myself in comparison was really a secret monster of egotism. Not so secret, either—not from him.

At the bottom of our fights, we served up what we thought were the ugliest truths. “I know there is something basically selfish and basically untrustworthy about you,” Andrew once said. “I’ve always known it. I also know that that is why I fell in love with you.”

“Yes,” I said, feeling sorrowful but complacent.

“I know that I’d be better off without you.”

“Yes. You would.”

“You’d be happier without me.”

“Yes.”

And finally—finally—wracked and purged, we clasped hands and laughed, laughed at those two benighted people, ourselves. Their grudges, their grievances, their self-justification. We leapfrogged over them. We declared them liars. We would have wine with dinner, or decide to give a party.

I haven’t seen Andrew for years, don’t know if he is still thin, has gone completely gray, insists on lettuce, tells the truth, or is hearty and disappointed.

There’s self-knowledge and self-deception, the heat of argument and the coolness of time passing, sorrow and sarcasm, devastation and worldly indifference, all in half a page.

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The Politics of Sex and Money: Reflections on the Kama Sutra

Posted on 16 October 2013 by admin

By Nadia Chowdhury

Toronto

Aha!

So, this article is on one of my favorite topics. Sexual pleasure, satisfaction and economic necessity. What a fantastic way to start your day, eh? With an article on sex and money.

Clearly, this is my favourite topic.

Indeed, money and sex go well together.

Kind of like blood and stone. Or fire and water. Oh, or sex and pistols.

Which could be very violent. And orgasmic.

Unless one ends up dead from a gunshot wound to either the testicles or the vagina. Whoever the shooter may be.

This does not sound very pleasant, does it?

No, it does not.

Well, anyway.

Back to my bhodro writing.

Know what bhodro is?

Bengali word for “polite”.

To reiterate and start again.

In South Asian culture, the management of sex and sexual growth moves along certain bylines of conduct. After our sarees, cholis, ghaghras, shalwar kameezes, lahengas, kurtas, sherwanis, paghs, tupis, burqas, pajamas, dupattas and so forth, are we to be told that we are supposed to pretend like sexuality in us does not exist despite wearing such colorful and sexy outfits?

Puh-lease.

We know that we not only look sexy, but had our cultures been a bit bolder, every man and woman at every South Asian wedding would be humping each other. We look so hot. And we are so hot.

Yes. I am not ashamed to admit it.

We South Asians are sexual. Perhaps it would do us good if we accepted it.

It was in South Asia that we got the Kama Sutra and sure, it’s a great piece of literature-cum-erotica, but an interesting note of observation regarding the Kama Sutra is that the majority of texts and prose contained within the piece of literature relates to men and women enjoying sex in well-lit, well-decorated rooms with curtains, beds covered in fine linen and gracious palaces, gardens and hallways.

Now that could only mean the sex got more comfortable, but on the other hand I find it interesting to observe that the majority of texts on the Kama Sutra portray a certain class background, with the well-lit, well-decorated rooms, the curtains, beds covered in fine linens and of course, the gracious palaces, gardens and hallways.

What could this mean?

Those having sex in the Kama Sutra are rich. And wealthy. And if I was alive back then, I would have been one the mistress of one of those well-hung men.

Oh well. Opportunities will always come again.

But what is the other message?

That only the rich and the wealthy could make sex-and sexuality-an identity issue, since everything else-livelihood, upkeep and economic maintenance-is already covered.

 For the poor, survival itself is precarious.

Where is the time to think about sex if there is no food on your table, no money to pay your medical bills and none for education?

When your tin house is about to be blown away in the next tornado? Or swept away in the ongoing floods?

An interesting observation, don’t you think?

Western narratives group sex and sexuality as primarily an issue of liberty and freedom. As a South Asian, having lived in South Asia and seen the abject poverty people live in and survive against, including incidents in which property and money is stolen from people either because of greed or malice, to see the sun tomorrow is considered a blessing. When one’s survival itself is dependent on a commodity which is no longer present, how can anything else be considered more important? When one knows that a depleted bank account is no longer enough to ensure survival, where does one go?

Where do people go then?

In other words, to write a book on sex would require slaves and/or servants to come every day into the writer’s room, deliver tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner, wash his or her clothes, and be a rich badass. To write in the first place would require knowledge of a common, well-used language and to know it properly would require access to a good educational institution, which would be connected to your family’s caste, religion, color, and/or marital status.

In other words, the rich only get richer. While the poor get poorer. Sex or no sex.

What does that mean again?

Where in hell will I have the time to think about SEX if I know that I will be DEAD in a few days? Due to a lack of food, money and care?

Exactly.

Sex at the end of the day, is only enjoyable if you are doing it in an A/C room. Sigh.

To conclude, I have decided that maybe I will not have sex until I get a mansion for myself or at least an affordable apartment. Or when I buy the latest version of the Kama Sutra off the internet. Second-hand.

Damn. Life is hard.

Shit.

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May The Sun Be Ever In Your Favour

Posted on 25 September 2013 by admin

Yumna Baqai

Toronto

“Ma’am what kind of drink would you prefer?” asked the flight attendant of the California bound flight, interrupting my thoughts about the delicate composition of the Subway foot long I had bought for Iftar. “Nothing,” I replied politely, “I am fasting.”

Before leaving for my vacation, I consulted with the local imam who advised not to fast while travelling if it exceeds my regular fasting hours. I used my wonderful math skills to conclude that during flight the Iftar will be 3 hours earlier than usual, hence I chose to fast.

 It was a lovely day, but after going through the customs and tough scanning at the security, I was exhausted, hungry and cared the least about the day’s beauty. I just wanted it to end. Trust me, you would wish the same if it were the fifteenth’s time you have apologized to your neighbour for the kind of grumbling coming out of your stomach. It really sounded like I had swallowed a live Velociraptor!

 Anyways, after an hour or two into the flight, I saw the sun drawing close to the horizon. “YES!” exclaimed the desperate voice in my head, “Food time! ….I mean, Alhamdulilah! The fast went well. It’s almost time for Iftar.” It was finally the moment I had been waiting for. My tongue braced for a delicious impact while my stomach skipped with excitement, preparing to digest the mouth-watering Tuna sub. I took out the exotic foot long that I have been hijab-over-heals about for the past few hours. Maintaining the visual contact with the sun, I recite my pre-Iftar supplications alongside counting down the final minutes. Upon my request, the flight attendant poured for me, a glass of water. With a water-filled Styrofoam glass in one hand and the sub in another, I continued staring at the sun knowing that at any moment the red across the horizon would appear announcing the Iftar. What happened next transformed this well-behaved Hijabi into a furious and barbaric Hulkjabi.

The sun that was almost setting seemed to have time warped back a couple of hours. It was afternoon all over again!! The sun had repositioned itself to the point it was at during the time of take-off from Toronto. Shocked, confused, disappointed, angry are all the words that fail to describe the exact intensity of the emotion I felt. What in the Merlin’s beard was that?! Did the sun trick me? — It can’t! So what was it? After a while, the major flaw in my genius calculation hits, “Dagnabbit, Yumna!” I yelled inside my head “Time zones!” Yes, time zones! Something I clearly skipped during the calculations. Moving from Toronto towards California, the time zones change and the day becomes younger. “Stupid fire ball!” lashing out at the innocent sun, I slammed the shade shut and fell asleep.

“Ma’am what kind of drink would you prefer?” the flight attendant shook me awake during the second round of refreshments. I slid open the shade. The sun hasn’t seemed to have moved a bit! “Fasting,” I groaned irritably. Turned and fell asleep again.

About three hours later, half an hour away from the destination, the sun finally sets. The fast lasted more than 23 hours leaving me enervated. No longer caring about the deliciousness of the sub, I devoured the entire sandwich within seconds. My neighbour was clearly not impressed by the barbaric behaviour, but hey! He shouldn’t be talking… he ate chips, cookies, sandwiches and much more throughout the journey. Of course, I apologized for my ruthless behaviour later. He understood. All is well that ends well.

Anyways, this was the most energy depleting journey. However, I learned several lessons like: Never let Yumna calculate anything important as it can be disastrous and ALWAYS take time zones into account. Remember, if you’re travelling westwards, the day lengthens, while on the contrary, travelling eastwards makes it shorter. Apart from aforesaid lessons, I also got a true essence of hunger provoking thoughts about starvation across the globe. This experience was painful but definitely made me grateful, encouraging charity.

I chose to share my story with you as each year its during Summer when Ramadan begins and it will remain so for the next few years. Summer is the high time when people travel. These mistakes are surprisingly very common— something that serves to lift my self-esteem. Hoping this article helps you plan better. Cheers! Finally, to everyone planning to take a trip during the next Ramadan:

Happy travelling! May the sun be ever in your favour!

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Musings On The Written Word

Posted on 18 September 2013 by admin

By Nadia Chowdhury

Toronto

Who does not adore classics? Everyone does.

Okay, let me be honest. I never liked classics. Yes, I might like them now, but reading them in grade school was not easy. Especially when you were on a deadline and you knew that text was on your term papers, which would determine your life because those term papers would carry a grade to be reported on your report card. Which would come back to your parents and then……well, you know the rest of the story.

But you know something? Reading literature was-and still is-a great way to learn about the world. And in the age of super-fast technology, opening a print book could be….a really nice hobby. Having had friends who will gawk if I told them I don’t own an Ipod and feel embarrassed rather that I lament Indigo closing the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, Ontario, I feel that yes, times have changed.

Nevertheless, it is fun sometimes for me to go and open a moth-eaten book in a public library and smell the smell. Yes, books have a smell of their own and they can be zesty. Yes zesty, for that is how books smell. Like potato chips. Yes, I know what you are thinking-this person really loves books!

Yes, I do and with that kept in mind let me begin by saying that books have been-and will always be-important. Some assume with the advent of visual and virtual technology, reading will decrease-no, print media will decrease. And to a certain extent, this is true.

Indeed, when I visit local bookstores, all I see on the shelves are fading book titles with tomes printed a decade ago gathering dust and dirt. While market sales are a topic worth considering for a separate article altogether, it is interesting for me to see how the majority of these books are not only classics but in some cases, pretty priceless ones too. Even as we live in an era and age of uber-fast, digital technology, it might be true for others to see the monetary value of holding on to books and what economic reasons would warrant holding on to books, you ask? Why Amazon and Ebay and the self-sell tab on both. Great way to bring in extra money.

Although my experiences regarding this field of work (that is, business and education) have been both desolatory and desultory, for various reasons. One reason being that people these days do not want to buy books no more and like many of the people I know would rather spend it on the latest Ipad. Not exactly a bad thing depending on your taste but if your ability to string two words together is lower than your ability to drive a car and murder pedestrians because you are on that Ipod, then baby, you just proved my point. Bok deprivation kills.

No Nadia, how can you say that? Surely you are over-reacting a bit, huh? Maybe I am, but what if I am? I am going to be reactionary if people do not know how to string two words together and that apparently, was what books were good for. And it was not just grammar. Books were also good for taking trips unknown into various different places through the simple flipping of pages and that was-and still is-pretty damn remarkable.

Do people attain that form of wonder with their gadgets and devices these days? That would have to be a separate piece of research and indeed, magic is everywhere, learning is everywhere. Learning with discipline, focus and wonder is also something very relevant. In today’s times, is that possible? Unaccustomed to 21st-century gadgetry, I will never know but in other news, it still good to see kids these days use their gadgets for stuff other than going to a friend’s house and/or accessing social media. How useful that will be, is something only time will tell. And yes, I do critique social media including its different facets, aspects, ratios and measure of usefulness; do you want me to start on it, do you want me to start on it? No? Good. Don’t get me started on it. It will take me till next week to finish. Instead, be a good little reader and wait for my next article.

In conclusion, it was a good experience to rant on books and technology and how the tides have changed for the better or worse. In any case, it’s time for me to go and catch up on 50 Shades of Grey. Have you heard of the book? Its a very educational piece of work. Go check it out, okay? HappyReading!

 

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People thought I couldn’t write a novel, but I proved them wrong Maha Hussain, 15-year-old author of “Faded”

Posted on 17 November 2010 by admin

“I stopped mid-sentence, my mouth hanging wide open. Leaning against the wall behind Cairo, a boy had suddenly appeared. He seemed a few inches taller than me, but I couldn’t tell for sure because he was blurred. I could only barely make out the features on his face, but his toothy smile clearly stood out, despite the rest of him being, well, faded. He almost looked like an old photograph. I blinked once, trying to figure out if he was really there, and the boy started to wave. I blinked a second time and something about him seemed very familiar. Then I finally blinked a third time and he was gone.”

This is an excerpt from a book called “Faded.” “Faded” is written by fifteen-year-old Maha Hussain. She is a grade 10 student in the Region of Halton.

When she was authoring the book, many adults did not take her seriously, thinking that a 15-year-old cannot accomplish writing a 238-page novel, “but I’ve proven them all wrong and it’s all cool” Maha said talking to Generation Next. She started writing “Faded” at the age of 12.

One day Maha was sitting down with a friend when she came up with the idea of writing a novel. The story line runs on saving the world. Even though ‘Hope’ – the lead character of the novel – and her imaginary friend had a lot of bad blood among them, “they were able to work together to save the world,” Maha tells us. The story is somewhat reflective of global conflicts of our world.

Writing, however, is not on Maha’s mind for her future career. She loves Sciences and wants to be a doctor. “You’ve to be kinda realistic. Sometimes my [written] work might not sell at all..you have to do something that you love and make enough money to survive,” she says pragmatically..that’s why I am also thinking about being a doctor.”

Talking about issues of high school students, Maha said “a lot of people in my generation don’t take school seriously enough..and we need to take care of the environment..if we don’t try to save our planet today, we won’t have a planet to live in tomorrow.”

During the course of putting together the novel, Maha had full support from her parents. “Sometimes I thought my parents were even more excited than I was.”

Maha has noticed that South Asian parents are engaged with school in meetings and so on if one parent is not working. “If both parents are working, then I guess they don’t have enough time to be engaged with school boards,” she added.

Maha is member of the Student Council at her high school. She is also member of Free the Children, and a group called Ontario Students Against the Impaired Driving.

And her message to all of Generation Next’s readers is “Please read my book. I’ll really appreciate it,” Maha Hussain said laughing.

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I, You or ‘Us’

Posted on 28 July 2010 by .

I hung up the phone, embarrassed, shocked, puzzled and without answers. My husband looked up at me, putting down his book on the dining table. I sat down quietly on the couch, still wiping my dry hands on the apron. He got up, sat at my feet and held my hands to stop me from rubbing them against the thick cloth. I looked him in the eyes, “Do you think we made a mistake?”

He had been hearing my conversation with my daughter’s high school teacher. He looked at me clueless, “I thought you would have the answers, you grew up here.”

“Grew up here?” I thought to myself. I was still split up between the so-called east and the modern west. High school from South Asia and then University and job here in Toronto. I was happy. Satisfied, sometimes. Busy in the daylight, confused, puzzled and uncertain in the darks of the night.  I would ask myself, “What more do you want?” I have my liberties, no more excuses to advocate my so-called feminism, a loving, understanding husband, a daughter, a son and a free mind to think. Why after twenty years of dwelling in those ideas was I questioning them again? Hadn’t I made the choice to settle in Canada? To call it Home? To build my nest here? Why was I questioning all my decisions today? Just after one phone call? Hadn’t I been a great mother, better than mine? Hadn’t I helped my kids settle down here better, to integrate, to feel it’s their own? Hadn’t I taught them the right lessons about racism and multiculturalism? Or had I gone too far in teaching them the art of questioning?

I sighed aloud, rested my head at the back of the couch and closed my eyes. I wanted some time to think.

My husband got up and started laying down the food on the table while I sat there torturing myself with my own confused thoughts. After fifteen minutes, we were sitting at our dining table, eating together like one happy North American family.

“Your teacher called today.” I addressed my 17-years old daughter.

She looked confused. “I haven’t done anything that would require my parents and teacher to meet and discuss it like a problem that needs a solution”

“Well, sweetheart, sometimes we do things that we are not aware of. Paid any attention to your body language lately?” I asked her calmly.

“Mom, you know I am a good kid. I wouldn’t offend anyone, even with my body language.” She replied with agitation.

“No dear, you haven’t offended anyone. But why aren’t you hanging out with Rebecca and Daniel? Have you had a fight with your friends?” I asked gently.

“No, why would I have a fight with them. They are nice girls. Asian and White.” She rolled her eyes while passing this as a sarcastic remark.

“Watch yourself young lady. I can sense a bit of racism there.” My husband rebuked her gently.

“What racism Dad? Do you really think this so-called multiculturalism you guys advocate works in real life?” She sounded angry and frustrated.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. One of my nightmares was coming to life. My 17-year-old was speaking of ideas I was still uncertain about. I couldn’t distinguish whether it was she, or was it me who had fed her all those abstract ideas she shouldn’t have worried about. Still, I knew I had to have a rational conversation with her.

“What’s so wrong with multiculturalism? Should someone’s skin color decide their friends?” I knew I would lose this battle with her. I had always lost this with myself as well. How could I make my daughter believe in multiculturalism when I didn’t know myself? It was going to be hard to have this conversation.

“Well, for starters, you are mixing racism with multiculturalism. I am not racist. I don’t think anyone should be. But, it’s not the color of the skin that I am talking about. It’s the conflict of cultures, conflict of languages, morals, ethics, lifestyles. And hence, the choice of friends.” She gave her premises and conclusion, all in one sentence.

“What is at conflict in your life? You girls share the same school talk, same conversations about movies, T.V and what not. Same giggly remarks about boys. What’s at conflict?” I provoked her. I wanted to know more.

“Mom, this is putting me in a bad position. I am brown. Look at me if you need reassurance but brown kids at my school don’t consider me brown. I don’t laugh at their racist jokes, I can’t. But I can’t hang out with my Asian friends either, they speak Mandarin more than English and the only casual conversation we have is about anime. Too impersonal. My Arab friends are too religious for my taste, or even yours. And girls at my age are more into finding boyfriends than friends, so I am not even going to argue for other races. I don’t know, I am confused. I don’t see how people see multiculturalism working so well. I think it’s a crippled society, walking on the support of idealist ideas that we feed everyone everyday, on radio, in classrooms, in political talks. But none of it works.” She took a gulp of water.

“So what’s your point? Or rather your decision?” I didn’t want to give her more material to think, to be confused. I wanted a pragmatic daughter, not an idealist like myself.

“I think I am going to hang out with Ravi and Maha. We get along well. We can speak the same language, can talk about same things at home, can share problems and be understood automatically rather than me explaining why a certain thing can be a problem. You know, it’s easy.” She confidently gave her verdict.

“What about Rebecca and Daniel?” I asked her gently.

“We are good friends. I will hang out with them too but I don’t think we can be very close any more. We differ in more ways than I thought we would back in Middle school. Being kids we shared more than we do as teenagers. Maybe our morals conflict. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong, we are just different.”

“Does being different mean you guys can’t be close friends.”

“Maybe.” She replied sheepishly.

“How so?” My husband inquired.

“I think it’s very natural. We divide into groups according to race, culture, religion, what not. We want an identity. We want to know who we are. Where we come from. What our ideas and ideals are. And when we don’t agree, we no longer have a same goal, or same reasons to stick around and support each other. I don’t know how Mom’s we-are-all-human argument works for her. It doesn’t for me. I like identities, and I like saying it with actions that ‘Yes! This is me.” As Canadians, we all say we are one. But think about it, we just share a passport, and a somewhat similar lifestyle, a government and taxation system. But that is how the system works; its unity on the surface only. We differ and we are different in more ways than I can point out. And I think we are going to be this way unless we have universal morals, universal beliefs and universal ways to live lives.”

“ Well, yes we are different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with each other. If Rebecca breaks up with her boy friend, you would understand her the same way Daniel would. Human emotions and ways to live life aren’t that different if you look deeply. Humans are same in more ways than we give each other credit for.” I still knew that somewhere somehow I believed that multiculturalism could work.

“As I said, I don’t know how your we-are-all-human-argument works for you. Mom multiculturalism works the same way the idea of ‘no wars’ work. It’s just an idea, doesn’t happen in real life. If Rebecca told me she broke up with her boy friend, I wouldn’t understand her concept of dating at this age to begin with. I won’t understand why they aren’t married after 8 years of dating, if it goes that long, or even her uncertainty when she would ask me ‘would he propose?’ You see we use same words but we mean different things. Dating for browns is different than dating in other cultures. It’s a cultural thing that has decided how we live our life. And don’t tell me your culture is wrong, if it were, you wouldn’t have taught me that just like you taught me racism is wrong.” She started sliding her chair back, an indication that she was done. I didn’t stop her either.

***

“Hurry up kids, we are getting late for the picnic!” I shouted to get my family in the car.

We arrived at the park a few minutes late to enjoy the summer sun and grilled chicken.

Our children ran for the grounds with their badminton gear while I grabbed my husband’s hand and went for a walk. It was a beautiful summer day. Everything was perfect except the wild thought running through my head. I looked around to escape the conversation I had had with my daughter but all in vain.

The park was full of people, of every race and culture, but sadly enough they gave me every reason to think that they came from different races and cultures. Small groups of similar looking people, hanging around each other, laughing, playing, enjoying their own world, oblivious to the existence of others; different races, different cultures, same place yet unspoken, unidentified boundaries, erecting walls among us, dividing us all. Our multiculturalism ended there.

Maybe it’s just another idea.

Author: Saniya Zahid

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99-Year old South Asian Athlete

Posted on 28 July 2010 by .

At 99 years of age, Fauja Singh is one of the oldest Marathon runners in the world. He has run in over 10 marathons, and has broken 12 UK, European, Commonwealth, and World Records. He had set the British senior records for the 400 meters, 800m, 1 mile, and 3000m. You’re probably thinking, “Hey Billal, I could do that”, well you got a lot of nerve punk! Not only did he break these records, he did it all in one afternoon over the span of 94 minutes.

A bright eyed baby faced Fauja Singh began his running career at the tender age of 81. He soon redeveloped a flare for running and became well noticed when in 2003, he set the marathon world record for the 90-year-old+ category, completing the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 5 hours and 40 minutes. Eventually Fauja was asked to appear with David Beckham in the Adidias “Impossible is Nothing” campaign to which Fauja commented, “Who is this David Beckham?” Personally it would have been even funnier if when Fauja met David Beckham he handed him the keys to a Toyota Camry and said, “When you’re parking it, try not to get it scratched, and no joy rides!” Adidas eventually named a shoe-range in Fauja’s honour, while Beckham went onto model underwear. OH! I get it, suddenly a 99 year old Punjabi man from Jalandhar isn’t good enough to model CK underwear; YOU RACISTS!

When asked how he manages to stay in such great shape, Fauja answered, “a daily eight-mile walk and run, no smoking or drinking, plenty of smiling, and lashings of ginger curry.” Fauja also muttered something about the lungs of a Cheetah and radioactivity, but no one was really listening. As you probably already guessed, Fauja gives every penny that he raises from running to charity. Essentially, he gives more away than Lindsay Lohan after 2 Bacardi Breezers. Against popular belief, the number “10999” on Fauja Singh’s shirt is not the year he was born; this is an obvious fallacy as it does not end with letters “BC”. In reality the “10999” is the number of people Fauja Singh has Punjabi-kicked out cold for making fun of his age. So the next time you see Fauja he’s probably going to be wearing the number 11000, while I’ll be wearing a full body. Please don’t hurt me sir. I have a young sister who is very sick…you can go after her instead.

Fauja has also run as one of the torch-bearers for the Athens Olympics in 2004, and has personally been invited by former Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf to run in the Lahore Marathon. Ironically, the last thing Musharraf can ever do is “run” in Pakistan. When asked how he felt about all the attention he was getting, Fauja replied, “It makes me happy. Elderly people are like little children, they like attention.” Now if that didn’t bring a smile to your face, than its fair to say you’re probably a bastard. Finally, when asked when he would stop running, Fauja Singh replied, “When I die”.

Now I’m pretty sure Fauja Singh is never going to read this article. But, if he does, I would just like to say that on behalf of the entire South Asian community, thank you for showing us that it’s never too late to find and do something that you love, and thank you for inspiring us to carry on even in the face of adversity.

Author: Billal Sarwar



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