Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

I used to be the strange girl that carried Shakespeare plays in my book-bag, amongst school children that were baffled by my reading choices. I still am that same girl, but it doesn’t seem so strange anymore.

The first time I was introduced to Shakespeare, I was around 9 years old and was rummaging through the school books of my teenage siblings when I discovered two of his plays; Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. I was starstruck by the beauty of his words, and it was a fascination I couldn’t really put into words at the time. This, and watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet repeatedly on VCR cemented my love for Shakespeare as a child.

From that point onwards, it felt like Shakespeare followed me wherever I went. We briefly explored ‘Twelfth Night’ in English lessons at primary school, studied ‘Macbeth’ in English Literature and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Drama at secondary school. I then went on to study English Literature at A-Level, with ‘The Tempest’ being central to my final year. Neither did History go amiss, with Shakespeare drawing me towards my interest in the Elizabethan Age.

Outside of education, I played Lady Macbeth in a theatre production of ‘Macbeth’ for the Shakespeare Schools Festival. An event so memorable, I look back with nostalgia and can clearly remember it to this day.

I can honestly say that I wholeheartedly enjoyed (to the annoyance of my friends) each and every Shakespeare related experience.

Be it academic or not – the work of the Bard is very dear to my heart.

And if you don’t believe how much of a role Shakespeare has played in my life, try translating the text below ‘Indian Charlotte’ from Punjabi to English.

Here’s to a brilliant playwright, that ignited my literary spark. I may have left behind a passion for theatre and literature, but when I am one day a successful journalist, I will remember that it all started with a flick through a Shakespeare play.

How I Learned To Cook Indian Food With Love and Not Resentment

Do you believe that patriarchy begins at home? You’re right, it does and it is the bane of every South Asian girl’s existence. If you have watched the iconic coming of age movie Bend It Like Beckham, you may recall a certain scene where Mrs Bhamra asks her daughter Jess, ‘What family would want a daughter-in-law kicking football all day but can’t make round chapattis?’

Of the many things that are unreasonably expected of young girls at home, housework is a common complaint. We are expected to learn how to cook and clean the moment we reach our early teens; touted as the ultimate test of becoming a woman! The cliche tied to these expectations (what will your in-laws say?) is centred on the expectation that girls must be groomed to become good wives and daughter-in-laws, and a failure to do so is a stain on South Asian parenting. On the account of daughters, an unwillingness to become a domestic goddess means that you will be deemed as entitled and an embarrassment to parents.

These expectations are not created out of the blue. For many young women who grew up in the South Asian continent, marriage was (and in many areas still is) the only aspiration parents shared for their daughters. These parents feared that their newly-married daughters would be returned to them for failing to carry out the ‘basic responsibilities’ of being a daughter in law/housewife. This was an irrational fear trenched in misogyny, but still seems to be imposed by immigrant parents bringing up their daughters in Western countries. When young girls at home are pressured to learn how to cook and clean, it rarely comes from a place of teaching girls how to be independent, but rather to fulfil unequal gender expectations.

How can we teach young women to connect with their South Asian roots, if we only ever give them reasons to resent their cultures?

This was one of my issues growing up in an Indian household.

When I was a teenager, being exposed to gender expectations truly blinded my appreciation for Indian food. The pressure of cooking to meet the expectations of my mother, made it seem like a chore rather than a learning experience. Not actively being encouraged to cook but also being reprimanded for not doing so or ‘helping out’ took the enjoyment right out of cooking Indian food, and pushed me towards learning to cook dishes from other cuisines.

To the surprise of my family, I enjoyed cooking and experimenting with food from different cultures. I used to love cooking homemade Chinese food, making an array of stir-fried dishes with inspiration from watching Ken Holmes and Ching He Huang. I loved the versatility of Chinese cuisine – a concept also familiar to Indian cuisine. Indian and Chinese cuisines are similar in that they pride themselves on taste, appearance and smell – using an array of spices/herbs to create delectable dishes. You may ask, why didn’t I recognise this sooner, when Indian cooking was so close to home? I guess that I conflated Indian cooking with cultural expectations, and lost sight of its value in bringing me closer to my Indian identity.

The epiphany came when I moved away from home to study at university. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder – and I felt this especially true when it came to missing homemade food! The experience of living in a different city, in a new environment and with new people, made me yearn for home cooked Indian food. So what did I do? Spent hours YouTubing/reading recipes from Indian cooking queens Romy Gill, Chetna Makan and Aarti Sequeira! With a natural flair for cooking and having these new found recipes and those of my mother’s at my disposal, my attempt to re-learn Indian cooking was both satisfying and successful.

Sometimes, you can find comfort in reminiscing about what seems familiar to you, and I found this comfort cooking away Indian food in my little flat. Falling in love with Indian food, made me fall in love with my Indian identity again. Cooking really does transcend time and through this love, I bind myself to the stories of my ancestors, reminding myself of them with every colourful masala powder I use.

Now I find cooking Indian food to be a natural and therapeutic experience that teaches me new things about myself with every meal I make.

The secret to my new-found love for cooking Indian food? Cooking to the beat of my own drum. Learning to cook at your own pace, is the best gift you could ever give to yourself.

Even the tears shed from cutting onions, have (almost) begun to feel worth it.

A Singh Is Born (1699)

There are many turning points in history – and Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s creation of the Khalsa was one of them. The creation of the Khalsa, was Guruji’s open challenge to the political and social tyranny that divided society at the time. His binding together of the practices of Degh (charity), Tegh (sword) and Fateh (victory) proved to be the perfect antidote to fighting injustices in society.

And so, the Khalsa was born. A group of men (and later women) that would take an oath to serve and protect humanity, and a Sikh community that would strive to do the same. The Khalsa, both iniated Sikhs and the wider Sikh community that are prized in every corner of the world, are a testament to the boldness of Guru Ji, the warmth of Mata Sahib Kaur and the courage of the Panj Pyare.

The poem below is just a snippet of that historical moment in 1699.

Happy Vaisakhi 2020!

Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

@indiancharlotte

#StayAtHome : The Heartbreaking Reality For Some South Asian Women

It seems impossible to imagine life after COVID-19 — but it will eventually come, and hopefully sooner rather later.

At present, the world is struggling to grapple with the physical challenges brought on by the spread of the virus and most countries are advising their citizens to #StayAtHome. Over the past few weeks, there has been much use of the term ‘self-isolation’, with many attempts to encourage people to make use of their time at home.

Some are complaining about the ways in which self-isolation is infringing upon their freedom. Some are touting self-isolation as an extended vacation from school or work, the chance to practice a new hobby or cultivate a creative spark. Some are just trying to navigate themselves through these chaotic events.

For many women across the globe, the pandemic has brought along with it a number of metaphysical challenges — leaving many women grappling with their mental health. Life in many South Asian households is already wrought with a number of complex issues, which will make this period of time particularly difficult for South Asian women being forced to stay at home.

Self-isolation, will therefore not be a universal experience.

Abuse behind closed doors

Whilst advice to ‘work from home’ has been a welcome relief for many, this may prove to be difficult for many South Asian women. Many South Asian men are still the primary household wage earners, with many women being homemakers and stay at home mothers. For women in abusive relationships, restrictions on movement will mean that they are at a higher risk of physical/emotional abuse for lengthier periods of time. This includes married women who are employed and/or have unemployed husbands, since their chance to escape abuse by spending time in public spaces or accessing support outside the home has been severely restricted. There has been a reported rise in domestic violence cases since lockdowns were globally enforced, with many women having to suffer in silence whilst being exposed to increased abuse.

This will also inevitably traumatise the children of abused mothers — who will be forced to witness abuse more frequently, since many schools, colleges and universities have shut.

South Asian women who have previously struggled to seek support because of communication barriers, cultural differences and family pressures, will find it even more difficult to ask for help outside the home.

Toxic parenting

A shared experience of many young South Asian women, is growing up in strict, rigid households. For some women, these experiences are traumatic and continue to effect their daily lives. For this reason, many of these women live double lives; enduring toxic parenting indoors and escaping from it when outside of the home. Having toxic parents watch over everything you do is never easy, and no doubt young South Asian women will feel increasingly suffocated at home. Young women and girls in similar situations will find it harder to escape from the emotional manipulation used by their parents and other family members.

Temporary Togetherness

Many people feel that their lives have been interrupted as a consequence of social distancing. Women who are often dealing with loneliness will now have the company of their husbands and/or children, now that they are working/studying from home. South Asian women that do not have independence and rely on the company of their families, may welcome the increased interaction with loved ones.

Women that were usually alone for most of their time, may now feel temporarily secure in the company of others. This is not limited to the home, as the use of social media is proving to be an invaluable tool to connect with others — which means that many women used to feelings of loneliness, are becoming used to, and even comforted by this shared experience of self isolation.

This is all nice for now, but there are several questions that need to be asked.

Where will this leave women who normally feel lonely, once these restrictions are lifted and we return to our work or school? Will this support be as visible and tangible then to women who are usually left feeling isolated because of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety?

Will there be more accessible support networks for women that are stuck in abusive relationships or in toxic families, that don’t rely on women having to physically reach out of their homes for help?

I know these questions are difficult to stomach, but we need to find more ways to support women isolating at home.

Although a return to normality doesn’t appear to be in sight, we must acknowledge that for many South Asian women — and women of colour — feelings of isolation, loneliness and a lack of freedom are their normality.

Let’s not forget that now and let’s not forget that when we return to our normality.

If you are experiencing any kind of abuse at home or struggling with mental health, please know that you are not alone. Do not be discouraged to ask for help.

This article has been reproduced for ‘Women’s Republic’, a news platform created by and created for women across the world. You can check the article out here and other brilliant stories.

Labour may turn the clocks back with Starmer the Charmer

Amongst many things this year, the Labour party’s leadership contest has suffered badly as a consequence of Britain’s war with COVID 19. It began following a calamitous general election defeat, and will end in similar fashion. There will be no ‘special conference’ to announce the result, instead a ‘scaled back event’ with half the pomp.

According to polls, it is likely that Keir Starmer, will win the contest that comes to a close on Saturday 4th April. This win will have less to do with his campaign — and will have more to do with history repeating itself. Let me talk you through a recipe for electoral success.

Every few years, British political parties are accused of leaning far too much on either side of the political spectrum, and become prone to reinventing themselves. When Tony Blair ended more than a decade of Conservative government in 1997, he did so thanks to his reinvention of the Labour party’s image. ‘New Labour’ was Blair’s attempt at revolutionising the party and learning from the success of Thatcherism.

David Cameron too, ended over a decade of Labour government in 2010, by reinventing the image of his party. In fact, Cameron mentions how he embraced the view that he was the ‘Heir to Blair’ in his memoir ‘For the Record’, in which he recalls learning valuable lessons from Blair when becoming Conservative leader.

Both Blair and Cameron were tasked with the responsibility of transforming the electoral fate of their parties, and both succeeded.

Starmer does remind me of Blair and Cameron, much to his chagrin. He has the potential to ‘earn’ his likability, just as they did when becoming leader of their prospective parties.

In recent years, Labour has reached its tipping point with the electorate. Many feel that Jeremy Corbyn has ruined the party’s reputation as a serious electoral contender. Though Labour has drastically lost its support across the country including its traditional voters, I am not here to point fingers at Corbyn, or critique his five years as leader. Corbyn has led from the heart, and his tenure as leader has been characterised by his sheer passion to support ordinary, working people. Sometimes ‘successful’ politics are not always simultaneous with earnest politics, and Corbyn will thereafter be aligned with the latter.

It is however, the time for Labour’ to reinvent themselves as a political party. Tomorrow, Starmer may have the chance to do so. If he is to become Labour’s ‘21st century Blair‘ or alternative to Cameron, there are a few things he will need to do.

Reimagine

Since 2015, the main criticism of Labour has been that they’ve veered too far left of the political spectrum and in doing so have destroyed the party’s electoral potential.

Clearly, Starmer will need to drastically change the party’s image. Labour’s politics need to be re-imagined, without overtly leaning to one side of the political spectrum. Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge back in February, Starmer expressed his apathy for declaring his left/right loyalty, stating he did not need to ‘hug Corbyn or Blair to make a decision‘.

There has been some trepidation about whether ‘Labour could die if a new leader shifts the party to the centre‘, but there is enough evidence to disprove these qualms. Shortly before Cameron became leader of the Conservative party in 2005, he described himself as a ‘modern, compassionate Conservative‘, a ‘liberal Conservative’ and ‘not a deeply ideological person‘.

We know that this worked for Cameron, and a reimagining of Labour may work for Starmer.

Reconsolidate

Labour and the Conservatives have been leading British politics since the mid twentieth century, but recently Labour has been ridiculed for its inability to hold ground electorally. Whilst the party has consistently held the Conservative party to account for the past few years, this has not reflected well. The Conservative government have become increasingly strident in their ridicule of the opposition, believing that Labour are no longer a political threat. This is the problem.

How do we know when the opposition is ripe to take over government? When the party in charge, feels threatened by them.

Currently, Labour have struggled to evoke this. This was a key marker for Blair and Cameron, when they led their opposition to electoral success. This will be one of Starmer’s biggest challenges, should he become leader.

Reconcile

No doubt, Labour has lost the trust of its voters. This was reflected in the December 2019 general election, where many Labour heartlands were lost to the Conservatives. Whilst youth activism has soared in the party (56% of voters in 2019 aged between 18-24), Labour has lost touch with their traditional voters. Starmer will be responsible for reconciling voters; winning back traditional voters without disillusioning young people, who have aligned themselves with Labour thanks to Corbyn.

Why Starmer?

Labour supporters are desperate for the party to head in a different direction. The other standing leadership candidates, Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy have also held strong campaigns, but have been criticised as still too left wing to turn around the party’s electoral performance.

Starmer has the potential to return Labour to its former glory as a serious electoral contender. I will not yet say return to power — because that has its own challenges. Once leader, Starmer will enter another contest to prove that he can contend with Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who at the time of writing, is very popular with the electorate.

Starmer will win this leadership contest.

Thereafter, he will have to prove that he is a transformative force for Labour – a potential prime minister and not just a party leader.

Happy Women’s Day 2020 : Women Who Were Silenced

Although I don’t always regularly write on this platform, I would hate to see this day pass by without a mention.

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s an occasion that is used to both celebrate women, champion the fight for equality and highlight the political, social, cultural and economic discrimination faced by women. I didn’t do anything particularly different today, apart from reading the stories of incredible women that have fought hard for their happiness – be it personal or professional.

I also found the perfect opportunity to watch Chhapaak, a biographical drama starring Deepika Padukone, based on the story of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal. It was a must-watch. Padukone’s representation of Laxmi was raw, real and empowering, despite the tragedy it was documenting.

It’s heartbreaking to see how the lives of women are deemed to be of so little value, and in several cases are forced to be at the mercy of toxic men. The film shows the reality of how many women are forced to live in constant fear of the consequences of male ego, but it also offers hope. As Laxmi said during her trial, “he changed my face, but that doesn’t mean he changed my mind.”

Tragedies such as acid attacks and attempted killings hit close to home for a lot of South Asian women.

An aunty of mine, was burnt by her in-laws years before I was born. She physically survived the attempt by her in-laws to get rid of her, but her mental health severely took the hit. Growing up, I remember being told to not stare at her. I didn’t ever understand the scars on her face or why I was told not to look at her.

Years later, I look back in hindsight, trying to salvage the memory of a woman that was ignored, rejected and relegated to a corner in the room. I try to imagine the pain she must have felt when children looked at her face with curiosity and the coldness that emanated from visitors.

I want to remind myself and other women, that the men who take it upon themselves to ruin or even end the lives of women are not always born this way. Sometimes, it starts at home. Sometimes, it starts when boys are taught that women are easily replaceable, a commodity that can be exchanged when she doesn’t fulfill their expectations. Or worse, punished.

I want to end this article on a positive note. When women put their heads together, there isn’t a single thing they can’t achieve. History has proven this time and time again, and it will continue to in the future. In my daily struggles, big or small, I will remember the forced sacrifices of women like Laxmi, my aunt and the thousands of unknown women that live in silence.

The poem below is dedicated to the women who for whatever reason are/were unable to share their stories.

I will carry your untold words till the very end.

Surviving your 20s: a constant battle

So, you’ve recently graduated. You have finally achieved what seemed impossible a few months ago and have in your possession a very expensive piece of paper. What’s next?

When I graduated in January last year, I had thought the worst part was over. As a working-class British Indian, and the first woman in my family to attend university, you can imagine that studying at a prestigious institution was an uphill battle.

I didn’t know then, that an emotionally fulfilling graduation would be followed by months of job rejection, financial anxiety and pangs of regret.

The issue with a lot of top universities is that their drive to attract working-class applicants to fulfil quotas, withers once they have offered places. A lot of the time, working-class undergraduates feel out of their element, constantly feel like they have to keep up with the intellectual capacity of their peers and are unable to voice their concerns for fear of being judged as weak or not academically committed. These pressures, combined with the pressure of having to prove to family and friends that you made the right decision to study at said university, even if it is expensive/too far can be detrimental to your mental health.

Suddenly post-graduation, the description above now seems very appealing. Sure, your mental health declined but at least your life had direction and when people asked what you were doing with your career you could have easily answered with “still studying”. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling for the past year and I know I am not alone. The illusory independence we experience during university is cruelly snatched away from us the moment we graduate, and it can feel like a struggle to get back on your feet again. Only time will tell if it gets easier, but for the moment I am here to tell you about five ways you CAN survive the unknown.

1. Martin Lewis

Okay, I put my hands up. When I was a child, seeing Martin Lewis talk about finance was the most boring thing to ever have to watch on British TV. Now, a totally different story! Unfortunately, it is not mandatory in secondary schools to discuss how money works in the real world. This means that many of us have to discover the joy of overdrafts, credit scores and bank loans all by ourselves! I’m tired of having a panic attack every time I hear finance jargon, and if you feel the same, Martin Lewis is an absolute go-to. His money saving tips are life-saving, especially his website http://www.moneysavingexpert.com has the answer to every finance related question you can possibly ask.

His TV appearances are no longer met with sighs of boredom but sighs of relief!

2. Stoicism

Often, the most popular advice given to us is to be positive about everything. This is a nice sentiment, but it can be defeatist as it obstructs from addressing the issues that bother us. Stoicism saved my life. I discovered the philosophy at a low point in my life and its lessons have not been forgotten. Stoicism is often misinterpreted as ‘indifference’ but has more to do with self-endurance. It teaches you the power to withstand ‘pain and hardship’ to focus on what you CAN control and ACCEPT what you cannot. There are tonnes of more valuable principles to gain from reading about it, but overall it is a very useful strategy for those approaching their mid-20s and are constantly having to deal with the pressures of personal or professional disappointment.

3. Self-care

This probably won’t be the first time you’ve heard of this term. Regardless of its cultural value on social media, the art of ‘self-care’ has become a key characteristic of a modern society becoming increasingly honest about mental health. It is reported that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, making it likely that ourselves and those around us are struggling to deal with our mental health. This makes the self-care movement more relevant and necessary than ever. Taking care of yourself can mean doing a number of things. From having a conversation with a friend/family member/therapist, to treating yourself to a fancy meal or purchasing something off your wish list without feeling guilty, to just kicking back and doing whatever makes you feel happy. Ultimately, the biggest act of self-care would be to love yourself, as cliche as it sounds…

4. Detachment*

It’s important to spend time with our loved ones and to support our friends and family through their hardships. HOWEVER, please do not make the mistake of forgetting about your priorities in an attempt to help others. I am not by any means, advising you to turn your heart into stone and go full Night King. You will only be of help to others when you are in a happy and content state of mind. It is a struggle to keep yourself motivated through your 20s and to keep chasing dreams that seem unattainable, so try not to get too attached to the whims of others. Yes, you can still have a perfectly good relationship with friends and family without becoming attached to their grievances. As harsh as it sounds, keeping negativity at bay is key to maintaining a healthy mental balance. If this means practising detachment from people and their problems, then so be it.

*a key tenet of Stoicism

5. Living in the moment

There are some things in life we will always find bittersweet —social media is one of them! It can be a great tool for networking, communicating and sharing experiences, but it is festering with young professionals bending over backwards to become socially relevant. From Twitter bios, Instagram posts, LinkedIn profiles, social media is the personification of how vicious the ‘race to the top’ can be. Don’t buy into it. I’m sure said person is hitting milestone after milestone career-wise, but that doesn’t mean you have to doubt your capabilities or feel as if you’re lightyears behind. It’s okay to switch off sometimes and focus on the now, instead of pressurising yourself to work faster to catch up with others. Or worse, feeling so dejected from reading about how well others are doing and subsequently feeling like a failure. Stop counting the years ahead and focus on what you can do now. You’ll get there when you’ve figured out the balance, I can assure you.

And the final piece of advice? Do not give up, however tough the battle.

The chaotic period in which we call our 20s can get better and will get better. The Theddff