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Transit.

It was All Hallow’s Eve in 2016 and I sat upon a slightly damp seat on the District Line, with the intention of changing at Bank so I could make my way to my old house in the South of London. It was like any other night, plus the shimmering creativity of many young Londoners preparing for the night ahead. I walked past young men sprayed in glitter, and queers with blood dripping from their eyes. The underground was alive tonight and I settled down to be entertained for 23 minutes. Halloween brings a time where the capes drop down, and many embrace their shadow selves in the form of costume. It’s a drag show, a pantomime, and it’s unabashed. I feel comfortable in what I am wearing because I like to dress up a lot, too. Everyday I am at least 2 characters.

However, this particular All Hallow’s Eve introduced a jarring realisation within me as my theatre ticket was revoked and I was once again shoved onto centre stage. Almost every other Halloween I would indulge in the cartoonish sinful delights of dressing up as our darkest fears we have locked away for 364 days. Like a skeleton who dances and jokes, going home with a vampire who’s a pro at drinking a jaeger bomb, not to suckle on blood of any sort.

That day, I had sat there wearing the clothes I was told to wear. Bemused, nodding in a semi-approval to one woman’s artfully constructed scar sitting next to a man with grey eyes and a top hat, I began to unpack my own costume bag. Out would come hair bands, a head wrap, a loose satin scarf, and a thick double breasted jacket which would fall below my knees. I have become the master of concealment and turning virtually any bag into a Tardis whilst a poker face had inexplicably painted on.

As I lifted my arms high to twist my hair into a bun, Dracula would ogle and the sight of a half naked femme dressing themselves within the vacuum of interpersonal transportation.

As I slid the bandana down my forehead a drunk werewolf would snigger at the show, the punchline: that’s a Muslim. How absurd, someone applying a headscarf on a train on their thickly padded head. I wondered, is every day Halloween for me in which I’d clamber into a new outfit for the next party, the next prayer meeting, the next family gathering, the next date. 5 years ago I wouldn’t hesitate to slip out of my baggy trousers to reveal a skirt and bare legs underneath. Now, if possible, I stick to my de-robing to ironically public bathrooms. Perhaps, the underground is my natural dressing room and the audience pay a £1.85 minimum fee to get through the doors. Call it in-flight entertainment.

Distant cousins would look upon me with fascinated disdain, like a drama. A man would look to me inquisitively, is he excited? That’s the beauty of art, I suppose. The audience complete me.

This is a constant transition within transit. And whatever I am transforming into, I am mid performance. Sometimes there’s only one other sitting across from me as I partake in this high femme, consumptive drag. Other times I have the most diverse audience, the commuters of London. The stereotypical, neurotic, and shy rat-racers with an urge to look at something different from the hair growth adverts. I go down the steps into the tube wearing baggy, nondescript clothes with my tight fitting and non-normative outfit underneath as my make up clinks in my bag and jewellery tinkles away. I think I look like a shit-show before I settle down and get my dressing table ready on my lap. I wear anything to conceal what’s underneath before revealing it to complete strangers. I feel more of an intimate connection with them than with the most tender lovers. This is not to say that Purdah for me is “ugly,” the mosque where weddings and meeting are held is a 10-minute walk from me. I can do that particular performance in my closet, my bedroom. It’s when I move through London, through people, and different experiences, the only way I can ensure my outfit is correct is when I do it in a tunnel under the city. I submerge into the unknown, and then I rise, elated, as my true self. Well, in that moment anyway.

I rush to undress in front of thousands of strangers everyday and defiantly stare them down as my autonomy overpowers their disbelief that the veil could ever come off. I have always heard that fashion and clothing expresses the wearers identity, but what does our fashion and our expression say about the identity of others?

This isn’t a rejection of Desi fashion or Islamic dress. It adds another layer of its cultural influence on fashion. I can look just as fly at the local mosque as I do in a club in East London, regardless of my unstable dressing room. Sometimes it’s important to see the vulnerability back stage, along with the pain and energy to be naked in front of thousands of strangers who consume bodies on a daily basis.

When in Mumbai…

I didn’t want to leave the country at all, but if I had to I was adamant that I visited my father’s home town, Mumbai. I was warned that I wouldn’t be able to stay in the slums with remaining family members due to lack of space, terrible hygiene standards etcetera; I agreed to stay in a hostel close by with “trusted” owners. Being fifteen years old I didn’t seek verification – after leaving that place I will ALWAYS seek verification.

It was a dodgy place, sure, like most places. I sensed the usual unease creeping up my spine as I walked down the side alleys, kicking dirt off my feet with each step, tripping into a dingy reception I was greeted by a bored looking old man,

“How long,”

My “uncle” (I don’t even know if he was related to me by blood) sorted out my stay, which was to be for two solid weeks. Money was exchanged and a key was given to me. A fortnight there was the silver lining, the remainder of my time in India would be spent travelling and shopping with closer and more esteemed relatives, I only had to endure fourteen days. Creeping up the half broken stairs I tried to ignore the stench of B.O, the marks on the walls, and weird stains on the floor; I finally made it to my room. It was a nice room, clean enough, a lizard creeping up the wall – I called him Larry and we became friends. When I heard the noises at night I just stared at Larry and had my eyes follow him around the walls, trying to keep up with his darting, so I could ignore what was blatantly going on out there.

It was 6pm, so I would go to sleep in three hours and wake up bright and early to take a walk around town. I opened my magazines I collected from various shops and read about the “delights of India,” where young virginal women would spin around green fields in their red dresses and white skin; then I looked outside and was greeted with the sight of pollution. I didn’t need to look anymore, I could smell everything. Sometimes a waft of jalebi drifted up my nose, but most of the time it was the stench of animals and unwashed people in terrible cars that encased me during the days. The nights smelt totally different.  

I wanted to get a coke before I went to bed; I couldn’t be bothered to drink hot water so I wanted a coke. On my way back up from the vending machine with the glass bottle in my hand I was confronted by a tiny little girl, she looked about eight or nine. She stood outside her door and watched me go past, so I watched her right back. Her face was filthy, she had a bindi settled above her thick eyebrows and dark brown eyes, wearing cheap glass bangles and a sparkly dress that revealed her midriff. She kept watching me until I went to my room and closed the door behind me. My heart was beating kinda fast because I could sense something was off, but I just sat on my bed with my coke and watched Larry sleep (he was probably sleeping, I don’t know, he just didn’t move at night) until I started hearing strange noises around me.

I enjoy looking back at this experience now I’m older, I can make sense of more things, back then when I was fifteen everything was distorted and fragmented. At first I heard the chinking of bells, then I heard the steady creaking of a cheap bed, then I heard falsetto groans omitting from rooms around me.

Ohmygod everyone’s having sex and I’m in a shitty room in Mumbai watching a fucking lizard pretend sleep.

It’s my first night, I just dealt with it. It was probably everyone’s lucky day and people just coincidentally got laid at the same time as others, whatever.

Turns out I was living in a really tacky brothel, not one of those “cool” ones you imagine to be part of the red light district, with people smoking and drinking and women of every species beckoning you in. You want a Nepalese woman? Go there. You want a Western looking woman? Right here, my friend! How about a traditional, plump, Desi woman? Those are one of the cheapest ones, didn’t you know?

No, it was nothing like that. It was a “hostel” with poor women looking to make a cheap rupee. I can’t tell you how many women there were, and I can’t even give you the name of the place.

I’m lying, there was some variety. Sometimes when I was sick of staring at Larry I stepped outside onto the roof to throw stones at people and duck my head. I’d sit there in the sweltering heat with a coke, chewing on some paan, and I’d think about what I could do to avoid that place at night. It was too dangerous for me to wander about after dark in this place, and I didn’t know how much more I could take listening to the fake gratification these girls gave married men. I decided to just suck it up and buy some alcohol to help me sleep. My English accent helped me in this respect, it made it easier to buy booze as a little girl – maybe that’s where the substance abuse started for me.

I’d walk to my room with liquor in my pocket and I’d notice things every evening I had done so. There were little girls chained to their rooms wearing provocative clothing in order to beckon potential customers. Their faces were so filthy. The one I remember the most, apart from the girl I saw on my first night, was a tiny girl with light brown hair and milky white eyes; I think she was blind.

I’d see these girls every evening, and then I’d see Larry who’d be waiting for me on the wall opposite my bed after a busy day of… um, I don’t know, being a lizard or something. I’d sit on my bed drinking as I heard slaps, moans, cursing – I ensured I was passed out before I heard the crying that took place afterwards.

After two weeks I got into a rickshaw with an aunt and went to a close family friend’s house where I spent most of the remainder of my time in India. To this day I’m dumbstruck that anybody would put a young person in a brothel out of cheapness, but that didn’t overshadow my pain I felt for the workers there.

I wonder how Larry’s doing from time to time. 

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A Pakistani Parlour

Most people who have known me for a while would raise an eyebrow or both at the notion of my work in fashion and beauty overseas. It sounds really glamorous, so I say “oh yeah, you know, I’ve just been, ah, working the fashion and beauty scene in Lahore,” to sound impressive when in actuality I was waxing old ladies and fixing broken beds overweight brides to be had broken.

I lie; I’m working two extremes, here. I had it pretty good in comparison to the other girls; I was in the secret bridal rooms blending lavish colours on lips and eyelids, and I could take a break whenever I wanted. Whenever fingers snapped at me I would for some reason be conversing in English because “my daughter is flying to New York to study economics,” or something. Because I was from London I was held in high regard, I was special. What really tickles me is I think about how most people here in England like mocking foreign accents, the majority of them seem to think it’s a thing of comedy; but when I was in Lahore I always got “oh the way you speak in Urdu is absolutely hilarious!” they enjoyed a mash up of a British and Pakistani accent, they didn’t mock me for it.

As I have previously said, the Westernisation had always disconcerted me in that traditional values were being neglected. NOT in a “things are becoming too modern,” because hell, look at me; but in a way that makes it evident that “the right way is the white way.” A facial in Pakistan comes with bleaching the skin to lighten it up nicely and whitely. Models on screen were flaunting saris and bindis but their faces were ivory and porcelain with rosy lips and light brown hair. The amount of women who would come in lamenting their daughters dark skin, moaning “who would marry her now?” before, obviously, turning to me and asking if I was married or looking because they had a son who had just graduated and is just about to become a doctor. I wasn’t looking.

It’s pretty evident that the women who stepped on these marble tiles under the spot lights were incredibly rich, and the contrast between wealth and poverty were separated by the entrance to the salon. In the space of a second my sandal would step up from the excruciatingly hot sand, my ears would no longer here the motorcycles or the crying or the beeps or the shouting, my nose wouldn’t smell the sweat, the burning, the chickens, or the horse shit; my sandal would be off and my foot would be cooling down on the marble floors, my nose would smell the fragrances cosmetics and fruity lotions, my ears would be hearing a Bollywood song or something by Britney Spears. But that’s only after I manage to push the iron door shut and bolt it before we unlocked it for opening.

It does sound like a pretty standard beauty salon, sure, it had leaking water in the hallway to the foyer, Madame and her mother could poke their heads from their bedroom and look directly down at what we were doing. The products weren’t even that great; but the standard of the salon would be the same standard as, say, Taylor Taylor, in London. (well the pricing is almost the same, Pakistan being more expensive.)

It struck me how passionate the women were about keeping themselves “presentable,” “youthful,” and “beautiful,” even as they wrapped burqas around themselves before stepping out and into a rickshaw, back to the kids. It astounded me how, as poor as they were, they would still, without fail, make an appearance every fortnight. But it touched me, being taken in as their daughter, being taught things that I have taken with me ever since, (and not just how to give a mean neck massage) and that’s appreciating what I have. I loved how together everyone was, even if two customers didn’t know each other, they would bond and become friends, there was a real sense of community there, and I loved that. 

Until I stepped out onto the sand for the fourteenth time. 

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An Introduction to Living in Pakistan.

At the age of fifteen I had left the country for six months to spend three months in Lahore and three months in Mumbai. My mother sent me there for disciplinary reasons (I think I bunked a maths lesson or something) and I came back and well, look at me now, right?

So I left as a quiet and self-assured straight girl, pretty unassuming; but I came back just… different. Like, I got a haircut and got chubby and awesome. It’s funny because whilst I was being suffocated in a plethora of hugs and I love you’s, not a single person actually asked, “so how was being away for half a year?” which, looking back, seems like a pretty arsey thing but I just dealt with it. Growing up and meeting new people, I find myself at a loss for words when I’m confronted with the questions, “wait, what? You were doing a beauty course in Lahore? What?” I’m just dumbfounded; I honestly don’t know what to say.

“Um, yeah, I’m just not used to people giving a shit.”

“Um, yeah, I’m just not really that great at articulating myself so I’m just gonna go and cry over my blog about it.”

Replace “cry” with “scoff ice cream after a Breaking Bad marathon and then mull” and you got my Saturday night. “Shiri you should write about this in your blog.” “Um, okay.” And then three weeks later I’m sat here like I don’t even know, man.

So I’ll start with Pakistan, I guess. I went to Lahore and lived with my mother’s sister, her dad, and two kids. It was bizarre from the get go, not because I’ve never been there before or anything but because I was with only my mum, and I was kinda, forced, to go. I had lost my dad five years prior and my body was going through that painfully awkward phase called puberty, ugh. Just this huge wave of shit, actual fucking shit just flew up my nose. I was blown back by the powerful stench of shit.

Welcome to your motherland, bitch.

I settled into my mother’s sister’s home. Khala – the sister of my mother. Nana Jaan – the father of my mother.

The houses are a bit of an acquired taste, in the center, where there is no roof, is the basic living area. We chill on the bamboo beds, prepare the food for lavish dinners to be prepared on a single measly stove, lounge under the wooden ladder leading to the flat roof, bask in the sunshine and talk loudly to the neighbours over the clothes line fence. I scramble up the ladder with a book to loll on the other bamboo beds on the roof and watch the kites fly all around the sky, adding a reddish tinge to my paper. My cousin would come out of his isolated room on the roof and show me my new bedroom, perfect, a pleasant solidarity.

So we sit on the floor, crushing garlic and I’m teaching the young children to read English. I’m counting the days until I go back to London, I’m really not having a good time, I’m having a moody time, in fact. The first two days there was just everyone settling me into my new home, playing Ludo until the sun goes down at ridiculous o clock, running around the back streets to pick up chocolates and crisps, and visiting distant family members in the area. I can’t drink the water, it has to be boiled.

This is until my mum wakes me up and tells me I have to go to work. I do the obligatory wookie roar to wake myself up and find out I’m going to be a beauty therapist for three months with one of my cousins. Now, this particular cousin is a bottle of crazy. Like, I shit you not, man; she’s like five foot, 15 stone, a mop of hair, and a personality bigger than Russia. I still can’t get over her and I haven’t seen her in like five years, she-was-mental. I’m getting emotional just thinking about how crazy she is. She’d be bigging me up to her family, and then she’d turn around and give me a straight up bitch slap to my face because “I’m so cute.” I hear she got married and that fell through around a year ago… ahem.

So I’d insist on wearing the full burqa, I see how the men ogle and glare at the women around here and my fifteen year old self was far too fragile to deal with the leers. I’d wrap myself up in black cotton, the only part of me you could see if you looked close enough was my eyes; you’d be lucky to even see them, they were always looking at the ground. We’d leave the house, lock the massive gate at the entrance and walk. Walk over the bridge, past the food vendors and donkeys, past the darzaan (male clothes makers) where I saw men spending hours and hours applying sequins to the saris and lehengas. Walk down the high street, past cake shops where the fresh cream cakes would make my mouth water to this day and have my senses tingling, and past the rickshaws where a larger lady was adamant she could squeeze in with her three children, over dried up rivers and beggar children, molested children, disabled children, past paedophiles and preachers and then we’d come to an abrupt halt.

We’d cautiously open the large gate in front of us and shut it quickly behind and wince at the dull metallic clunk shutting of the sounds of traffic and children. Walking through the damp corridor, with its dripping pipes and lack of lighting, the beaded curtain would be thrust aside, I’d step in and warmth would hit me.

It was a cooling warmth (huh?) and the smell of bleach and cosmetics would waft into my nose, the bright lights struck my cheeks and I felt slightly normal for once. It’s a sad thing, “I felt slightly normal because this place was slightly westernised,” I mean, am I western or am I South Asian? It’s all down to self-identification, I guess. The Madame would take me on as her personal project, she wanted to build me up and use my London-ism(?) as a way to bring glamour to the salon. Everywhere I looked there was an element of Hollywood and white beauty with a few bindis thrown in, so having a girl from an English country full of prosperity would be good business.

So woman would rush inside and dramatically disrobe to show curvy figures and thick hair, fantastic eyes and suggestive smiles and saunter into the massage room. I had the honour of joining Madame in the bridal room and watch her paint the faces of nervous young women whilst next door you heard the moans of the older ones as their pressure points were hit with the just the right amount of touch.

I can’t possibly condense my experiences into one blog so take this as a detailed introduction. You’ll be hearing about my living in the mountains, the brothers, runways, and motor biking accidents.

Until then!

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I’ve rediscovered my childhood.

I have a weight on my shoulders, it comes with age, I think (I’m not even twenty, ugh.) Everywhere I look there’s a flaw, within myself, within the way we interact with each other and I know it’s a cruddy outlook to have on life in general. So, one day, a fortnight ago, I was looking for a remote control and was advised to check out a neglected cupboard in an empty room. I did, and I spent the next four hours engrossed in old photo albums.

What is common knowledge yet still somehow forgotten in our family is that my father was a photography enthusiast, he would never be without his camera thus, thankfully, I have many memories from my childhood. Seriously, like, really cool retro photos which hipsters would drool at the prospect of having legitimate cool baby photos like this:

Image

Check out the shades, brah!

Image

I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but it seems like I am an infant, therefore unable to drive.

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This isn’t cool, dad, you’re letting me run amok with some poor OAP’s walking stick. .__.

And my life without him in South London, I can’t tell you. There’s no one here to take photos but the joyful moments seem to have evaporated, only to be contained in these special photographs. This blog is basically just me sharing these special moments with you, and I’m typing this with a small smile on my face because for the first time in quite a while I feel at one with myself. I have the standard childhood photos and then some, I had a father who loved me more than I can possibly imagine. Looking at my family now, it almost pains me to see that we were so content and wholesome at one point.

Don't mess with our styyyyyyyyyyyyle.

Don’t mess with our styyyyyyyyyyyyle.

This is how much my father took his hobby seriously.

prolific man.

prolific man.

And these are only the photos and some videos and cassettes. He’s made more. I never really questioned why my father was such a fanatic, the only thing I could tell my friends is “oh, he never really left the camera, and I was a right little daddies girl!” blushing with pride, I’d listen to the stories distant family members would tell me as I heard how much my father loved me, how fair my skin was, how I was the apple of his eye. Being the youngest child and only girl, with three older brothers at least twelve years older than me, I had that one thing over them (and that’s nothing to complain about.)

Retro

Retro

How suave!

How suave!

I found pictures of my parents wedding! Look at how damn cool they are.

wedding1 wedding2

My dad moved here when he was fairly young and started a job as a black cab driver, when he eventually started driving for the BBC. So he’d come home and tell wicked stories about how he was driving the flamboyant John Ingham and even David Jason. He was pretty inspirational, always had a joke or an interesting anecdote to tell.

cab

Yeah let’s just reinforce stereotypes…

It’s hard to believe such a jaunty bloke was living in India/Pakistan not too long ago. So when I was very young I visited with him, back to his old house, and to wander around Lahore. I don’t remember much, apart from the blurred visions of chickens running wild… it’s tough living, there. Lavish meals were made with barely any equipment and yet it was so fun, running wild, the earthy roads and um, liberation. 

Ch'yeah liberation!

Ch’yeah liberation!

pakistan1

The kitchen.

The kitchen.

Pakistan - India

Pakistan – India

A fortnight ago, as I was scouring each and every single folder of photographs (I had no energy to crack open cassettes and tapes) I stumbled upon something incredibly personal and sentimental. After I was done with this particular folder I didn’t know how to handle this beautiful discovery. Now I know I can just blog about it. 😉

entry1 entry2

My father created a folder for me. Painstakingly captioned it, I remember he converted the bathroom into a dark room to develop these photographs a few days a week, I sat on the toilet precariously as he explained to a perplexed six year old how he did everything, peering through an empty lens at me as I giggled and shrieked. I don’t really know how it feels to have someone so devoted to you, I reject those who try, but I swell with admiration whenever I think about him. My dashing, funny, incredible dad. I guess I don’t want his hard work to be forgotten when his children die, as well, so it’s best left in an online diary, never really deleted from anything until the world ends.

Colonisation is a fact, and it was pretty horrible, but just knowing that it affected my father in such a way really hits close to home. His life changed because of it and it shook his foundation for the rest of his time here; it made him want to keep a record for every aspect of his life as long as he could. I even found this.

diary ]

He actually documented as many of my movements as he could’ve done for my first year alive. Here are a few of my favourite quotes…

“Shirin poked her brothers eye and it bled because he wasn’t responding to her tugging on his shirt.” 

“Shirin said “shut up” for the first time.”

“Shirin tried to climb up the stairs but always falls back on the second step.

I was adorable, shut up.

I don’t mean to waffle on sentimentally. It’s funny, when I think about how laid back life was back then and how stern and cruddy it is now it makes me think of the Islamic revolution that took place in Iran. Only, the revolution was a move to a different area of suburban London and it was just closer to a mosque… Let me be as dramatic as I want, dammit!

I had a pretty sweet childhood with awesome people around me, and that’s more than I could ever ask for.

Why....

Why….

Me, looking pleased as ever.

Me, looking pleased as ever.

Adorable villain in cheesy cop movie's got her hands up!

Adorable villain in cheesy cop movie’s got her hands up!

I don't get the obsession with putting me in things..

I don’t get the obsession with putting me in things..

kid5

Goodnight!

Goodnight!

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A Pakistani walks into a bar…

After a tedious sermon at a mosque somewhere in London, cursing the drinking and homosexuality the western nations have obviously embraced, the Pakistani hasn’t got enough time to go home and get dressed. She has a late lunch date with a friend and has some issues to clear up with her, so she goes straight into the city wearing traditional South Asian clothing. On the bus, so far so good, nobody has passed a comment on the Pakistani’s appearance; it’s hard to find a girl wearing odd clothes and speaking perfect English on the phone. One middle aged woman complimented the vibrant colours imprinted on the fabric, which was gratefully received. It was a hot day so the Pakistani took off her coat and scarf that she had religiously worn inside the mosque but there was no one here to judge her, she though, so it would be alright. Off the bus and onto the underground she had never felt more relieved that she wasn’t wearing her headscarf, half the people in the carriage might’ve died of heart failure upon seeing a Muslim on the tube.

The Pakistani had been to so many of these sermons that it was replaced with white noise in her mind, much like a mother can blank out the irritating cries of children in a café after having four herself. She thought nothing of it, nothing of the statement “homosexuality will be the downfall of our nation, now we have welcomed it wholeheartedly into our government.” Aside from the economy, violence, rape, and murder of British citizens, being gay is most certainly the reason for the third world war… Off the train she stood outside the station, enjoying a cigarette, checking the time. She was early. She wandered off into the bar, sending a text;

Babe, I’m actually early, sorry for the miscalculation. I’ll see you in ten, meet me at the bar, top floor. X

Ordering a drink, sitting at a table with the view of the city, the Pakistani thinks about her father. At the mosque she is a Pakistani; to her friends, she’s seen as more of an Indian, she’ll settle with being a Pakistani right now. Normally impatient, the sermon was still ringing in her mind, stinging her face like a tight slap passed across it. All of her efforts for her family were thrown back in her face and now she’s sitting in a bar, drinking, waiting for a girl she’d previously been involved with. A major cluster fuck western intellectuals would drool over the prospect of debating. The Pakistani just wanted a drink and a chat.

She scoped out her friend amidst the slowly growing crowd, thirsty for release after a hard day of work earning money in the city on a Friday evening. Suddenly the Pakistani grew conscious about her attire. Her friends loved her in it, her friend in question preferred her in it, but she herself felt odd, misplaced, out of order; defected, almost, as if her attire was a silky “FUCK UP” label branded across her body. She finished off her drink and stood up with a glossy smile over her face to receive her friend. Both pairs of arms outstretched, both faces with smiles, the brown one subtly swerving in the other direction of the white ones lips because god forbid two girls were to kiss in public. The Pakistani’s friend looked bewildered at the rejection for a moment, but shook her face into politeness again, how-are-you’s and this-one-time-I-was-so-drunk’s were exchanged and laughed about. Drinks were flowing; money was no object, the crowd getting larger around the intimate table for two. The sun was setting over London and the bar was getting warmer, the Pakistani placed a hand over her friends and the got closer with the alcohol. The conversation was broken with an unwelcome remark of “interracial lesbian porn, nice one. Get that paki in a hijab.” She was was a bit confused, because I thought lesbian pornography was pornography containing two lesbians, not two girls who were holding hands over a table sharing gentle conversation. Either way the Pakistani’s friend bowed her head, her cheeks flushed. The Pakistani didn’t know how to handle the cat calls and wolf whistles entirely well so she stupidly went off outside to have a cigarette, leaving her friend there, alone.

Smoking outside, her head spinning slightly, the Pakistani was approached by a fellow smoker, as the smoke hovering above their heads had joined them together, and introductions were prompted which took the form of “your dress is really nice, you don’t see much of that in the city.”

“Why thank you, my mother made it for me…”

The elderly gentleman was wearing an expensive suit and looked well-travelled, like he’d seen and heard it all before, easing the Pakistani into comfort, allowing her to talk about her family and life in other countries. But before they knew it, the cigarettes had ended and she was walking back up to her friend, instilled with confidence to have a good night. She’d missed the last step and jumped onto the second floor, and bounced towards her table which was surrounded with yuppies in their mid-twenties, talking to her friend. As she drew closer she heard what they were saying, “come on, get it down you, we were nice enough to buy you a drink… it’s not like you don’t like getting a bit naughty, it’s obvious, we can get your Indian friend involved, happy days!”

“Actually, I’m Pakistani, and I’d appreciate it if you leave us alone, we’re in the middle of something.” There was a tremble in the Pakistani’s voice as her dress became moist with a nervous sweat. Whoever told you brown people can’t blush is a damned liar.

“Whatever you’re in the middle of, my man would sure like to squeeze in between,” the classy and original joke had caused howls of laughter and knee slapping from the group. The Pakistani’s friend got up and tugged on her friends arm, muttering, “Let’s just go,” and they both walked out of the bar, defeated, followed by a chorus of more wolf whistles and cat calls.

Outside, the night air cooled both of their faces down and they wrapped coats around themselves. The Pakistani felt shit for leaving her friend alone, girls aren’t meant to be left alone in bars, that’s how they get sexually harassed; Pakistanis aren’t meant to go to bars, that’s how ignorance is conceived. Anything queer has to be left in the bedroom, that’s how fetishizing and homophobia comes about, because we’re so damned selfish we can’t keep those things to ourselves and we have to flaunt them in everyone’s faces. The Pakistani thought she’d make it up to her friend,

“We could go to another pub? There’s one down the road which seems quite nice.” Met with refusal, the Pakistani couldn’t blame her friend, the same thing would only happen again. If only she’d spent half an hour going home and pulling some jeans on, this wouldn’t have happened, feck’s sake. “Just come back to mine?” Met with another rejection, again, not that the Pakistani would blame her friend for never wanting to see her again; so they had an awkward hug goodbye and went their separate ways, the occasional like on Facebook not really cutting it for communication for some reason. She doesn’t smoke that much anymore, anyway.

A Pakistani walks into a bar, and would like a Desperados, please and thank you. 

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Were you born an Indian in a past life? (cultural appropriation)

After my heavy weekend of Eid and Holi I sat at home, lounging around, putting food on my face with the hopes that it will clear up my blemishes, when I decide to take a trip up to London with a friend of mine and do a spot of shopping after a spa morning and afternoon tea. Successfully buying two dresses (aw yeah) and stepping into the more, um, middle class shops I noticed something that slightly aggravated me.

I’ve mentioned a certain thing called cultural appropriation to you, but I think I’ll take a blog out and delve deeper into it and why it’s a little bit evil. If I was you, I wouldn’t partake in it not only because it offends a lot more people than it’s worth, but also because I’ll leave it looking like a bit of a knob.

Stepping into Monsoon and browsing the sale section (was £170, now £100) I noticed their fashion trends in and around the store. And then around the high street, take a look at their fittingly titled “Indian Summer Collection:”

monsoon1 monsoon2 monsoon3

Here we have beautiful henna designs from the corners of Asia, spanning from Nepal to Sri Lanka, with their vibrant colours really setting off the summer mood for all to see. It just seems to me, however, that my friend and I are the only ones in the store who know a little bit about this fashion in a more traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, fashion is eclectic, we all love fashion with its forward thinking and diversity; but it does bother me when the two middle aged, middle class women are speaking ill of, well, look.

“The little girl was in her summer dress wearing tights for heaven’s sake. She said her mother made her wear them because of their religion. Islam.

“Ridiculous.”

And so on and so forth. Funnily enough the same situation happened to me when I was in primary school, being a devout little Muslim girl at the age of seven I was confused as to why I was forced to eat the ham on my plate, or why I was berated for wearing tights with a summer dress, or even why I was told to “scrub my hands harder” in order to rid them of the stained henna my mother had so painstakingly applied onto me a few nights before for Eid. Yeah, I stood there having a flash back like Don Draper remembering his childhood or the war.

I’ve linked the Wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation in past blogs, and it’s very likely no one’s ever looked at it so I’ll just do a simple definition which is easy to understand for all. There’s been a hot topic of “#WhiteGirlsWearingBindis” on Twitter, so I’ll use the bindi situation to describe it.

So according to Wikipedia (I can’t even do a TL;DR, I’m sorry, it’s 2am and I’m wrecked.) The Bindi is a cultural aesthetic to Hindu’s and South Asian women and men (women have more decorative ones and men mostly have the simple red dot) if you’ve read the link, then you it’s safe to assume we understand that if it isn’t a completely sacred thing Hindu’s use, then it is a cultural tradition brides wear. [We] then see [white] people wearing bindi’s in England, weird, right? Speaking to some young girls who are wearing a bindi, it shocked me a bit to hear that they didn’t even know it is something that originated from Asia, they just wore it to be “quirky” *shudder.* To me, unfortunately, it’s just people trending on my culture where they see fit for their amusement, and it comes off as quite patronising and ignorant.

In Layman’s terms, all I can see is the white dominant culture appropriating certain aspects of a minority’s culture. White settlers and colonisers imposed their cultural values onto others. So, what is “standard” or “normal” is pretty much default white culture. In India, Bollywood is drawing upon many western influences for the glamour and to be at one with the “norm.” Therefore, it’s almost impossible to appropriate white culture because it is about an imbalance of power.

There have been responses such as “Indian people wear jeans, why is it okay for you to wear jeans and it’s not okay for us to wear a bindi?” Because for one, jeans were created by a Jewish immigrant in America and for another, it’s not really a sacred token of British culture, which is incredibly pastiche.

So here comes the tricky bit, and along with come the loopholes and possibly valid arguments. This blog is attempting to deconstruct cultural appropriation, not to shame any one or group, but too look at it from an outsider’s stance and see where the line is, if there is a line. I will continue using the bindi as an example.

Bindi’s were once seen as something incredibly sacred in traditional India. But, as Westernisation became increasingly common (come on, Katrina Kaif?) the root value of the bindi became less sacred, and it became a fashion statement just as it has become a fashion statement here. Of course, Indian people can do what they want with the bindi for it is theirs as Indian people, sure; but what about fashion in all of its electiveness? Living in a pastiche culture within the United Kingdom, celebrated for its diversity, it’s difficult to not find beauty within other cultures. Film Study students study Bollywood, therefore studying their culture, Sociology students, Anthropologists, the list goes on. Everywhere we look, there are cultural influences thrown in from across the oceans, it’s hard pushed to find anything fundamentally British anymore. Don’t even mention tea. Don’t you dare. The point is, perhaps taking things away from certain cultures may be a means to maintain our status as a progressive country, to gather ideas and values which could make us stronger and have a thriving relationship with others.

Alright, so we’ve accepted that we’re influenced by a lot of things. Indian food, Japanese fashion, German decorum, African tribal piercingsbut does that make it okay? Let’s look at the issue of colonisation that many countries were subject to. We cannot accept that, in such a short space of time, all is forgotten and all the wounds have been healed when with regards to colonisation. Arguments for or against it is not what this is about; we can all agree that people were hurt. Is it then “okay” for the dominant culture which wounded us so to then rub salt in it and patronisingly pick apart values for their amusement and luxury? Sacredness might be dead, but it’s still integrated within ones culture, who knows.

So, someone tell me. Is there a line? I can’t even begin to think where the line starts, does is start when an EDL member protests my existence and then goes home to feast on an Indian curry, or does it begin when a white girl is twerking for weed, speaking in a Jamaican accent. (source: Reddit /r/cringepics) it’s alright for a white woman to come to one of our weddings and be adorned in a silky sari, with my cousin applying henna on her hands so she feels part of the community, but it’s not alright for it to be a trend. I face racism and prejudice daily, and it is incredibly frustrating to see this happening before my very eyes and no one is around to bat an eyelid on my fuming behalf, but, maybe, it’s not so bad? Or is it, I feel as though there are so many rules and regulations that I lose myself in what’s alright and what is not alright. Cultural thievery, much?

Shall we take a look at some more examples in pop culture?  You may be able to relate to this.

The talented singer, Grimes, wore a bindi. Here’s how people felt about it (be warned – tumblr shit storm) and here’s her apology. Props to her for recognising what she had done looked really bad and that she had offended people.  Is a white person wearing a bindi the modern day “blacking yourself up?”  Is it just a case of people being ignorant, not knowing or understand what the root of it all means. This reminds me of people wearing very baggy trousers, hung low so others can see their boxers/underwear; the original meaning of that was male prison inmates used this as a code to tell other inmates they were up for being anally penetrated. So it may just be a case of looking stupid…

Grimes had apologised, all is well. I feel I’ve been very balanced up to this point but I’d like to bring your attention to Lady Gaga. Oh Lady GaGa, never will I tire of your fashion, your creativity, your green lipsticks, never will I- oh? What’s this? You-you’re wearing a Burqa. With nothing underneath… I see. (pics of burqa)

ladygaga2 ladygaga3

What Lady GaGa has done is she has created a song called “Burqa,” now “Aura.” Here are some of the lyrics:

“I’m not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice
My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face
You watch, you fancy me cause there’s always one man to love
But in the bedroom the size of them’s more than enough

Do you wanna see me naked, lover?
Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?
Do you wanna touch me, cosmic lover?
Do you wanna be the peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura
Behind the aura, behind the aura, behind the aura?

Enigma popstar is fun, she wears burqa for fashion.”

I hope that most people reading this understands that a burqa is a veil used to protect a (commonly) Muslim woman’s modesty, in order to protect her from the “sexual predator” within men (my mother’s words, not mine, haha.) Unlike the bindi, burqa’s are straight up religious, they’re not a cultural thing, they’re religious. So it’s safe to say that if anything I’ve spoken about is sacred, it’s a burqa. An atheist speaking, but with a strong Muslim mother, (who, by the way, wears a burqa so much better than Lady GaGa I wouldn’t blame you if you assumed I was just pissed off that GaGa’s a millionaire and not my mum) the sexualising of the burqa makes me uncomfortable. Because it’s a religious icon, I can confidently say that people live their lives in accordance to their religion, they take pride in their burqa; to then have someone use it as a fashion statement is incredibly hurtful and belittling, no? You tell me, is it an overreaction? Not only is she shitting on the purpose of a burqa, there are hints of a message attempting to liberate women who do, “I am not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice.”

I have mentioned the “bullshit white superiority complex feeding me lies that you’re liberating me,” and this is what I mean. We have a white woman here, successful, iconic, speaking out for women who (on the whole) probably don’t know she exists, and who Lady GaGa probably doesn’t care about. I’m wrong, I shouldn’t assume things, but you know what I mean. If she wanted to make the burqa fashionable and known, she’s done it. Take a look at this. If she wanted to completely devalue the concept of it and turn it into a pointless fashion icon, she’s done it. I think this hurts me very much because of my mother, I see her in her attempts at modesty in a country where, wherever she looks there is sexualisation of everything; I see her in her burqa, fixing the car, cooking a meal, husbandless, and it just makes my heart ache to see her values being crushed by a lazy pop star.

For me, cultural appropriation is everywhere, it is! It’s hard for anyone to not see elements of diversity in this country and many others. There does seem to be a line, and that line is to be wary of devaluing a minority cultures tradition and/or sacredness, it’s a question of respect, I think. And in all honesty, people who aren’t aware of this tend to come across as looking like idiots. But but but! People who wear kimonos aren’t really targeted, or the yin and yang signs hung around their neck? I wonder why that is, it might be because those things have been merged into fashion and popular culture that we just don’t notice it anymore. Is this a question of time consuming these arguments, and regurgitating a jaded trend? I don’t know man; I shudder to think about it.

Have you seen “Human Traffic?” It’s a great film, and when I first saw it years ago one lines really stuck to me. The protagonist was taking the mick out of these pseudo-spiritual youngsters who think that “being black is a state of mind, man.” Since then I’ve heard of people claiming to have “been born an Indian in a past life.” I think it’s a bit of an ignorant thing to say, as if the speaker in question feels they are able to relate to every single thing the ethnic group have been and can possibly go through. Being black is a state of mind; is it not the colour of skin which carries a rich history of pain and beauty? So if someone was to identify as a black individual they would have to have this “state of mind” I hear white folks speak so much about, and if they don’t have it, then what? I ask too many questions to no one in particular.

For someone who loves pop culture, I’m torn, seriously. This may just be a case of blurred lines. (Crappy song, but how postmodern?!)

Thanks for reading this. Hopefully I haven’t confused you with my garbled thoughts. I’d love to hear your take on it if you wouldn’t mind.

Here are a few blogs and posts I have found on Tumblr expressing their own individual views, this may give you a deeper insight into how this affects us, or if it affects us at all.

http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com/

http://hikikomoriganglife.tumblr.com/post/11308336529/day-three-of-wearing-a-supposedly-racist

http://youarenotdesi.tumblr.com/

http://batoriova.tumblr.com/post/8185781596/my-culture-is-not-a-trend-is-fucking-stupid

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Meta Third Culture Porn: an introduction.

Porn:

Pornography is the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction; it was actually a word in ancient Greek that signified art and literature depicting the life of prostitutes, but the word has evolved. We had the pornography of death, of sex, of violence, and it has metamorphosed into the fetishizing (for me) of basic human experience, so I’ll fetishize my own within this blog, for you.

I’m typing this in a box room in South London, currently fasting as it’s the Islamic month of Ramadan, and fuming for my own reasons. I don’t fast because I want to, and it’s not even because I have to; I do it to keep the peace for other people and allow a raging war to happen inside of myself. Sometimes, you might find me at a bar with my friends, other times, I may be studying in my room on campus – and that’s fair enough, it’s the normal life of any student, sex, drugs, the carefree hedonistic life we are granted three years of, it’s alright. However, half of my life is living within Eurocentric norms, never being completely accepted so I accepted my unacceptance a long time ago; the other half I’m living within an alien and orientalised culture integrated within a culture imposed upon them long ago. My pseudo-Indo-Pakistani heritage was lugged along across oceans to settle down comfortably in London, *fanfuckingtastic* London, the city where celebrities are moulded, there’s a job going on every street, the diversity and multiculturalism mars the blatant and violent racism my parents and young brothers had to suffer just so my generation could be comfortable and embodied in a state of cultural appropriation and the dehumanising and/or fetishizing of our values and skin colour. I’m at a bar having a drink with friends on a Friday evening, then by Friday night I’m in traditional Pakistani clothing, cradling various babies and setting the dinner table for a family of 8 with heavy curries, yogurts, and china plates, my mind lingering on the heavy events of the previous night. The next morning, I might go to the mosque, undergoing various security checks in case I am carrying a bomb to sit down and listen to a homophobic sermon. I’ll probably go to the ethnic shops after that to pick up some food for my mother, only to find the sign on their door saying “NO ******* ALLOWED” so I’d turn around, dejected, and leave. Sunday night, I’d be at the bar with my friends again, rinse, and repeat.

You hear about this a lot, us Third Culture Kids, our identities torn by different expectations everywhere, the politics and the tragedy of it all, you’ve heard it all before, and I’m certain your sympathies are with us. But what if I were to deconstruct it a little more for you, what if I were to actually individualise and break myself away from this pathetic stigma imposed upon us by god knows who, would it be more entertaining for you? It’s certainly a topic of interest with my friends and people I meet.

You have the “Bend it like Beckham” image in your mind, the lovable and comical family who want nothing but good things to happen for their daughter, restricting her access to men and revealing clothes. No? So my family must be extremists who stamp on my neck whenever I want to wear jeans! Obviously, and here is where the deconstruction comes in, I’ll try to simplify it as much as I can.

India / Pakistani conflicts = a child (me) = bad.

Indo-Pakistani child living in a predominantly white and racist country, having to interpolate = bad.

Indo-Pakistani child happens to be a girl living in a predominantly sexist and racist world = bad.

Indo-Pakistani girl happens to be part of a Muslim family (and is an atheist) in a country rife with Islamophobia = bad.

Hey, why do you label it as a bad thing? What’s your problem? You. You’re my damn problem.

Indo-Pakistani Muslim girl turned irreligious pansexual is part of a sect of Islam (which she will not mention) that is targeted and attacked in Pakistan and even here by “fellow Muslims.” That’s a story for another time. I doubt you’d find it anywhere else, the media is not concerned about my slaughtered family members and their neighbours, or their banishment from Mecca.

It’s funny how wherever I turn, I’m doing something wrong. You sleep with men? You whore! You sleep with women? You degenerate! You consume drugs? You’re a drunk? You must have an imbalance in there somewhere; cover your breasts, shroud your face, why are you shrouding your face, you have lovely breasts, flaunt them. Don’t go to university, why are you doing that course, why don’t you sleep with me, you should be cooking and cleaning right now, you should be studying right now, you’re pretty for an Asian girl, you’re Muslim family are oppressing you! The sect of Islam you’re brought up in is led by the Devil himself! The Western ideals are devouring you and turning you into a product for the pleasure of men, oh the oppression! Don’t worry, we’ll save you. I’ve never met a Pakistani atheist, how queer, you’re a paradox. So do you like, have to chew gum before you go home so your mum doesn’t smell the cigarettes on your breath? A young girl, fatherless, how I pity her mother! Heh, I wouldn’t expect that from someone like you: everything is a fucking commentary, and it really doesn’t need to be.

So whilst I balance the beauty of this culture my family carried to me beating in my chest, I’m battling the oppression I face within that culture, and the culture of the country I’m living in. Everywhere I look, even within my family, the mosque, my lovers, the educational system, jobs, sex, entertainment, the arts, there’s just fucking oppression everywhere, man. This is just the introduction, I’ll be bitching and moaning about this all in my next blogs (yay – I hear the internet sigh.) But why can’t I bitch and moan? I’m tired! I’m seriously sick and tired of being judged by things that are out of my control, and it happens far too much. It needs to change, I won’t go into that “we’re all the same underneath, guys!” and “why can’t we just get along?” Because it’s that kind of BS that pisses me off even more, if that’s what you think, then do something about it. Don’t impose your bullshit white superiority complex and straddle me with it feeding me those lies that you’re liberating me. This is me finally being able to articulate myself and understanding that I’m not alone in this, whether that’s comforting or tragic, you decide.

This blog is about my life and my identities, the balancing and rejecting of. The stories I will take you through might not necessarily be about my life living in a brothel in Mumbai or being a masseuse in Lahore, it might not necessarily be about the hilarious situation a poor boy found himself in when he hid in my closet from my mother, it might not be about the judgement of our family from and Islamic or British stance; Hell, it might just be about an outfit I think I look really cute in or a movie I think is really good or outstandingly shit. For me, the point of this blog is about individualising who I am and detaching myself from the stereotype, so it might not be your run of the mill, pissed off brown woman bitching about the White Man. It’s just about me, making myself heard.

Thank you for reading, see you soon.

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