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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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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.

Image

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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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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