Where did the question “log kya kahenge?” come from? The question which has destroyed dreams and ignited insecurity. The question South Asian parents often ask as a tool to direct their children into the “right” direction. Well let’s break the question down – “log kya kahenge?” or “what will people say?” Who are these “people” our parents are always worried about? They could honestly be anyone, but when you really think about it, you know that these “people” are the aunties and uncles watching your every move. Why? Maybe it’s because they truly care about your future, or maybe it’s to compare your success to their own child’s success. This question has been around for generations – and whatever the intention of the interest is, each family does sit down and talk about people they know. That’s a fact. As humans we are always interested in other humans, who they are, what they’re doing, how they got to where they are, some more than others. It becomes toxic when judgements and unhealthy comparisons are intertwined in the opinions people have of others. So a year ago when Bravo released a trailer showcasing Indian American families in their new reality TV Series Family Karma, I could only imagine the aunties and uncles of the community around those families saying “log kya kahenge?”.
My family LOVES reality TV, specifically reality TV on Bravo. It’s something we grew up on. Getting to spend an hour pretending we’re part of the rich and famous cliques around the country (The Real Housewives franchise), or getting to imagine that we’re the ones touring the multi-million dollar homes in LA or NY (Million Dollar Listing) was all just pure fun! That’s the beauty of reality TV, sometimes it’s a nice escape from the reality we live in, especially during the pandemic. When Family Karma was announced there were – understandably – mixed signals from the South Asian American community. Some were ecstatic about finally seeing themselves represented on screen in the reality TV universe, while others were worried that the South Asian community would be represented in an unfair and stereotypical manner. Both of these reactions stemmed from the lack of representation of South Asians in the media industry. Even in my own family group chat we were cautiously excited, constantly making predictions about the cast and crew.
March rolled around, quarantine was just beginning, and Family Karma premiered. As expected, some people loved it, some people hated it, but no one can deny this was an incredible step for South Asian representation. My sisters and I had to remind ourselves that these families were not our family. Yes, they represented us in a general aspect, but this is only the beginning of representation. As South Asia narratives become more popular in western media, more people will be able to share their own individual story. The cast of Family Karma are merely telling theirs.
Reflecting on the premiere now, a whole year later, it dawned on me how brave those cast members were. I know what you’re thinking – “Reality TV stars? Brave?” I know how that sounds; however, think about the culture we come from. Think about every aunty or uncle who has asked you way too many personal questions at a function. Think about every time your parents have said “log kya kahenge?” These families looked at the question “log kya kahenge” in the face and said “let them talk”. The families in this show opened up their homes and lives for judgement not only from pure strangers, but also from the members of their own community. It’s reality TV, people will make their own opinions about this cast with the minimal knowledge they have about their life, strife, and struggles. Sure, these families have boundaries, and probably won’t broach certain topics on screen; but for the sake of representation they let the cameras come in and document their livelihood for the world to see. That right there is so special and so brave.
There will always be people who talk – it’s up to you to decide if you care about what they say.
Divorce (Talak). A seven letter word that holds so much taboo and stigma in the Indian society. You see the word dramatized in Indian serials. It’s a heavy word to throw around. It’s the word I tiptoe around, never being able to utter the words: My parents are divorced.
Most Indian couples would choose to stay in an unhappy marriage rather than be divorced. I talk to my mom and Chachi about how it is normalized to stay in a marriage regardless of any bad circumstances in Indian culture. Even if the husband is abusive. Even if he cheats. Even if the woman is not happy in the marriage. With this mentality, marriage becomes a jail sentence. One that neither party can back out of even with all the resources in society. My Chachi says Indian women have the patience that my generation of Indian-American girls lacks. Is it more of a lack of patience or is it a realization of our self-worth?
To be honest, I knew since I was old enough that my parents are not in it for the long haul. They both want different things in life, are completely different people and do not openly communicate with each other. I knew both of them were staying in their unhappy marriage for me and “my good”. My mom says that her and my dad would try to argue behind closed doors, so I would be shielded from that reality. That only lasted so long.
The night before my parents got a divorce, I was sleeping in my mom’s bed. The night is blurry in my head. My mom told me that she was ready to get a divorce from my dad and it seemed like she was asking for my permission to go through with this. With the close friendship I have with my mom, I told her I would support her decision and was relieved that at least one of them finally had the courage to do it. I still cried that night because I did not know how their divorce would actually affect me. Would I have to start keeping two sets of clothes? Do I keep two separate laptops like the girl in my middle school? Would my house turn into specifying “my mom’s house” and “my dad’s house?” Would I be blamed for not trying hard enough to keep my parents together? How do I bring it up to my friends with their seemingly perfect nuclear families? How would my grandparents on both sides react to this news? However, my biggest question was: how would the Indian society deal with this news? Log kya kahenge.
My parents consciously made the decision to stay in the same house until I left for college. They didn’t want to disrupt my last two years of high school, which were my most pivotal ones in their eyes. I never really shared how I felt about the divorce with my parents and most of my family members because what would they understand? They have their parents together in the same house. Even if they do not have a perfect relationship. I stayed the fun-loving, carefree girl I was and just tried to ignore this facet of my life. What would changing my personality do in this situation? However, it became an emotional trigger for me.
Anytime I attended a party with my mother, I was always asked, “Where is your dad?” My dad rarely attended any family function, so quite frankly I always thought this was a dumb question to ask. I would make up an excuse that he was busy or that he was too exhausted to come. I would come home and lament to my mother that I was always asked this and she would tell me to ignore it. After the divorce became more real, I would want to scream in the person’s face to not ask me that question and that my parents are separated. But I would control my rage and continue the facade I had from the beginning.
I shadowed a doctor who was close to both my mother and father. When we were alone, she told me to tell my parents to not get a divorce because it would affect MY chances of getting married. I told her that I prioritize their individual happiness and if they are happy apart, I am not going to force them to be together. I was fuming the rest of the day. I told my dad some time later and he said to ignore it. My mom had the same response. However, that small conversation has stuck with me today.
If someone had a problem with MY parents’ divorce, I would not marry them because they do not have the emotional maturity to understand that divorce is not a taboo. My parents’ divorce does not dictate my life or my life choices. No one should ask a child to keep their parents together when the parents are not happy together. That is being selfish.
When I went to college, both my parents moved me in. My parents were getting along, which freaked me out. I was in a sort of fantasy land of my parents being together. I took one of my new college friends out to eat with my parents and she couldn’t tell that they were separated. I felt like I could pretend in college that they were together because they still shared a roof at that point. Until it was my freshman year winter break and my mom found a house. My mom’s house. I became irrationally irritated and did not know how to channel my emotions. I would have to differentiate between my parents’ houses. When I helped my mom move in that winter break, I was so frustrated and channeled it at her. It brought up the feelings I had the first night she told me of the divorce. I confessed that I felt this way to her, despite knowing it would hurt her. She tried to make me feel better that I would get two houses in their wills and not just one. As if that would somehow make me feel better about the situation and I was that materialistic.
For my college summer and winter breaks, despite my parents’ refusal, I would just live out of a suitcase. Transporting it back and forth between their houses. My parents had no guidebook either on how divorce works for a child, so they went along with it. I was not ready to think of one house as my own and I still struggle with this today. I had no custody agreement, so I would make my own schedule. Weekdays at Dad’s and Weekends at Mom’s. It sounds fine in theory, but it would never work out this way. I always feel guilty if I spend more time at either place. It would be so much easier with a custody agreement.
During college, the divorce was still an adjustment. While my friends could call just one parent and have that parent relay the message to their partner, I would call both my parents separately and have almost the same conversations with them about my day. I would still feel apprehensive sharing that my parents are the D word, so I would opt to use thinly veiled statements like my mom’s house or dad’s house. To me, it was a sort of coming out and I was not comfortable with it, even as open as I am. My primary friend group consists of people with the nuclear unit. When I talk about my frustrations about their divorce with my friends, they do their best to comfort me and understand. However, no one can truly relate to the struggles of being a child of divorced parents without being one themselves.
I still do not think I will ever be able to truly come to terms with having divorced parents. I accept it as a part of my life, but it will always raise this icky feeling within me. I largely attribute this to the lack of acceptance of divorce in Indian society.
I hate the way that my mom’s parents and dad’s mom, although came to terms with the divorce, still do not approve of it and want them to make their marital relationship work. I know that if my mom attends a function without the ring on her finger, she is likely judged the hardest without having a spouse by her side. If my mom was widowed, she would not have the same judgement inflicted upon her. My dad faces less of these societal stigmas because he is the male. The blame of why the marriage did not work is largely placed on my mother when they are both equally to “blame.”
However, I’m proud of my mom (and dad) for getting a divorce. They taught me that I do not need to stay in a relationship that is not healthy and does not elicit happiness. My mom and dad kept beating a dead horse for many years. It taught me the importance of being independent. My mother would not be able to leave this marriage if she did not have a steady income of her own. It taught me to ignore what society says and do what is best for me. At the end of the day, my parents are living their lives happily and separately. They are able to communicate when necessary to co-parent for me. Their love and support for me did not falter once through the divorce process and after it and that is all I could ask for.
After reading this article, I hope you are able to unlearn the unconscious biases you may have against divorcees and divorcee’s kids. Recognize that divorce is a two-way street in most situations and both parties are equally liable. You do not know what happens behind closed doors, so do not act as if you do. If a marriage is unhealthy and toxic, forcing them to stay together is not conducive for the child’s/children’s mental health and wellbeing.
If you are a child of divorced parents, I want you to know that your feelings about their divorce are valid. Try to separate your parents’ divorce from your individual relationships and your views of both sides. Always be honest with your parents about your feelings and do not harbor your negative feelings within you. Lastly, you are not alone. Reach out to your support circles. Look for online communities.
My dad, Shingara, is a huge inspiration for me. He’s always been the one that lights up a room, the one that’s making other people laugh. He isn’t perfect by any means, but paying attention to him has really taught me a lot about myself. I’m like him in almost every way – we look identical, share similar perspectives on the world and about life. We have the same sense of humor, and the same bad habits. There are many things about him that I often find frustrating, and at times stressful, but accepting these parts of him has given me a deeper understanding of his heart.
Growing up, I’ve experienced his quirks and quandaries, so much so that they’re embedded into the lens I view life through. I thought it’d be fun to share them ☺ let’s start with just SOME of his worries:
“My hands fall asleep.” -> “Am I gonna die?”
“My side is paining me.” -> “Am I gonna die?”
“If you keep your cell phone in your back pocket you’ll get constipated.”
“You can find yourself a husband because I don’t want to be responsible if the relationship doesn’t end up working out.”
“I hope they make it through elementary school.” “I hope they make it through high school.” “I hope they make it through college.” “I hope they make it through university.” “I hope they get their Master’s”. “I hope they find a good partner.” “I hope they’ll be financially secure.” “I hope they’ll have a family”. “I will teach their kids all the wrong things so they give them a hard time”.
“I know I’m ugly”. “Dad, you tell me how beautiful I am all the time. I look just like you. If you’re ugly, that means you’re saying I’m ugly.” Dad: *stops calling himself ugly* ☺
My dad’s values can be a little mixed up at times, but all in all they’re adorable, peculiar, and wholesome. Here’s a little snapshot of some of the things that he’s taught me:
Flying $100 motorized helicopter inside and then cutting a finger on the blade while grabbing it when it almost runs into the T.V.
Driving 10+ km/h hour under the speed limit to limit the use of brakes.
Not using Kleenex tissues 🡪 they’re for the guests. Use toilet paper instead
“Always help those less fortunate.”
“When possible wipe nose/mouth on sleeves to save toilet paper.”
“Paper towel is only for emergencies.”
“Do NOT under any circumstances bring the car up the driveway after it has snowed.”
Me at 19: “I’m sorry I didn’t give you a talk after your period started. We should’ve thrown a party and celebrated that for you.”
“Never betray or try to cheat someone.”
“I refuse to waste money on buying underwear, it’s not a necessity.”
“Always take care of your feets. I LOVE my feets! I rub oil on them every night, and I tell them how much I love them.”
“Always check the oil in the engine. The oil is the blood of the car!”
My dad: “Paying for extended medical/dental insurance is too expensive.” Also my dad: “I spent $683 on a root canal today.”
“Every time you cry, you’re wasting the world’s most expensive water.”
If I want to start an argument, bringing up tattoos is the way to do it. “Why would you ever get a tattoo? If you love something that much, it should be stamped on your heart. I will never get a tattoo. People who do that are crazy.”
If I want to get out of an argument, I’ll say, “Dad wow, your biceps are looking so good.” This will prompt him to start flexing and checking himself out.
I am very thankful for my dad. He has this way about him, a way that’s very emotional and connected with people and life in all forms. He also knows how to make the light of situations, and despite sharing his views on crying, he’s an emotional person who wants to see people happy. It took a long road for him to grow into the version of himself that he is now, and I know my brother, my mom, and I have pushed him to get here. I accept him in all who, what, and how he is (though I do wish he wore underwear LOL).
When you all last heard from me, I spoke to you about a respite. In other words, a moment of rest or relief. I did so with the intention of providing a space for healing and growth. Now, I sit here a slightly different version of the person I was just a couple of months ago. So, instead of providing you all with a respite, I come here humbly seeking one of my own. Writing has always been something I can lean on when times get tough. It reached out and pulled me in when it seemed like no one else would, which is why it gives me so much comfort. While a blank Microsoft word document provides fear to most, it gave me a space that I could call my own. It is still unbelievable to think that now, people are out there actually reading what I have to say. Like I mentioned before, this article is a bit of an admission to my recent struggles, but also (hopefully) a reflection aimed at acceptance and growth. Truth be told, there have been no caveats or shimmering silver linings of hope on the horizon throughout these last couple of months. The rigors of graduate school have held steady, negative self-talk has crept in, and imposter syndrome has reared its ugly head. There have been days where I found myself looking out the window with sunken eyes, sapped of the one quality that has held me together thus far…
When I think about it, I feel this dichotomy of disappointment and awe. Disappointment because of its seeming transformation into an interview buzzword, but still a sense of awe because of its profound impact on my life. I firmly believe that passion is the single most important quality that any one person can have. It scooped me up and held me, turned a malleable and innocently naïve soul into the still somewhat naïve, but infinitely more driven and curious person that I am today. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “productivity porn” articles that promises a bounty of wealth and success if you wake up at 5 am every day. What I will tell you though, is that somewhere along the way of this winding and ever-changing journey of life, I fell madly in love with finding meaning in the mundane. Feeling joy at the tiniest of instances that I used to pass by without much notice. The sumptuous caramel color of coffee as it flows from one silver tumbler to another, and the tiny bubbles filled with flavor that rise to the top, all popping asynchronously. Or watching a leaf sway to and fro as it glides throughout the air, unsure of its destination but certain that it will eventually find its way. One of my favorite things to do, and it might seem weird, is to share a smile with people that I walk past throughout the day. Not in a creepy sort of way, but more in a “spread some kindness in a world filled with too much pain and hate” kind of way. There have been several times when people look right past me, and rightfully so, but there are those moments when I catch someone smile back at me, but not before being caught totally off guard. I’d like to think that, in that split second moment, I helped someone feel acknowledged and seen. Maybe that’s my ego talking, and I have some introspection to do after typing this up, but just maybe I wonder if I made an impact. If my admittedly childlike desire and belief to do everything was able to reach out and allow someone the same space that I once sought. A space that accepts struggle, but also encourages one to think, feel, and eventually do the impossible. Where dreams cease to exist as such, but instead as possible realities. I hope I can get to living this way again, because writing this has made me realize that I need that ridiculously unbridled sense of passion and wonderment. So, thank you reader for helping me understand that and for listening to me without judgement. And if you have been feeling anything like I have recently, I invite you to join me on this path of rediscovery. Hopefully together, we can try to capture the tiny, amazing moments that color this otherwise seemingly monochromatic thing that we call life.
I was really depressed when I started getting tarot readings. Initially, I started doing them as therapy because for some reason every counselor in Boston either did not take my insurance or didn’t have an opening until the middle of July. It was March and I was seriously struggling. I had never really bought this stuff before. I had known that my parents consulted an astrologist before my sister’s engagement and that a lot of words like auspiciousness and planets being aligned fed into how the wedding proceeded – but I always thought that was some weirdly superstitious thing that somehow fell into tradition. But the first reading I had… was addictive. Hand to God, I told this reader nothing about myself, only just my name. But the things he started telling me? It was like the reader knew exactly what I was thinking about and verbalized how I had been feeling about experiences in my life without me even realizing that that’s how I’d been feeling. It was like a drug. He would tell me about interactions I would have with other people, career opportunities that were coming my way, gave me advice on how to handle specific situations in order to manipulate them in my favor. And each time, everything he said would come true.
So I started doing them all the time. I was hooked. It felt like I had gained some kind of direction with my life. I loved the idea of being able to learn about my life. Where would I be in 10 years? What would happen with these people in my life? What will my career look like? It gave me a sense of security, like I wouldn’t have to live with an uncertain future. So I kept going back. I spent more money than I should have trying to get information about things that I didn’t need to be knowing. But it fed some kind of instant gratification that took away my anxiety for the future and my anxiety at the present. Yet when some of what was “predicted” for me didn’t turn out, I would fall deeper into the pit of confusion, hopelessness, and insecurity that landed me in the tarot reading hole to begin with. I had to take a break but I didn’t feel like what I was doing was all that damaging. After all, Vedic and Islamic astrological studies have existed for centuries. Isn’t this a part of the culture? A part of relearning spirituality?
My mom told me later that she had visited an astrologer in India. She sat there for over seven hours as he sifted through piles and piles of bamboo trying to find her chart, with only her full name to guide him. He went through the charts of over 300 Sudha’s, each of which had their whole life story mapped out on stalks of bamboo. It was taking so long that my mother started to get really fed up with the whole experience, thinking she was being scammed until finally, he pulled the right stalk. He began rattling off her full name, where and when she was born, the names of her parents and siblings, the names of her children, the status of her marriage, what her career was looking like and what her children’s careers would be. She sat there dumbfounded listening to a man who she had never met before reading off her life thus far on a leaf.
However, she reminded me multiple times to not get sucked down a path of consulting astrology every time I was faced with a problem. “It’s nice to know why you might be the way that you are but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t solve anything.” she had said.
I don’t know. Maybe I just enjoy being overly self-aware. The whole concept was fascinating to me. It took me months to really comprehend that astrology can really guide you and the path that you choose to follow in life but that it’s not a science (even though it really could be considering how the planets affect our environment and the ocean, etc) which means that none of it is set in stone. There are endless possibilities at the start of each day, but we all have free will to determine how that day will turn out.
But falling into tarot readings was actually one of the best things I could do for my mental and physical health. It took a good year for me to heal from what I was going through and detach from tarot and astrology as a counseling source, to something that had a more guiding presence in my life. I really reconnected with meditation which was something that I used to do all the time during my years at Balavihar. Calm the mind, learn how to breathe deeply, and most importantly to take a few minutes out of the day to focus on yourself and your body. Daily affirmations became another great aspect that I adopted. It’s all about clearing your body of draining thoughts so that you are receptive to positive energies and open to receive opportunities that you’ve been wishing for.
Tarot readings opened up a world of opportunities for me. For one thing it was a fun thing to do. But it also really helped me reconnect with my spirituality and helped me learn a lot about my own identity. I’ve learned so much about interpersonal relationships and how to navigate them without judgement but also how to keep myself grounded and not anxious about what lies ahead of me.
I’m not sure about everyone else, but Zoom is not the only platform that has soared in terms of popularity among all generations of the family. I would argue that the reach of WhatsApp is more powerful than ever right now. Well, maybe only in my family.
A little background. My family is massive. I don’t mean that in the hyperbolic sense either. My grandfather has six brothers and one sister, each with their own children and their children with their own children. Basically, we have four generations almost all living in southern California, which is remarkable in my mind. The ability of my family to have remained in the same region to the point where my friends are my cousins has been nothing short of a miracle and a blessing.
When you are a kid though, you don’t question those kinds of things. Rather, you are inquisitive about personal worldly discoveries like the depth of the ocean and why the sky is blue. It is only when you grow and momentarily sit in silence at a grandparent’s home or more heartbreakingly, sit in silence on the screen of a virtual prayer for a late family member that your genuine and innocent child-like curiosity resurfaces.
“Dad, who is the lady in the top right box?” “How did she know dada?”
“Ma, what was your favorite memory with ba?”
It’s all too often a scenario in which I am unfamiliar with some of the participants who had love for the individual just as I did, or even more, during a Zoom bhajan, prayer. Following one bhajan, that child-like sweet inquisition manifested as a state of panic and sadness. How much did I really know about Generation’s One and Two? The better question to ask myself was: why do you know so little about every generation before you?
Ashamed at my egocentric perspective on family and mainly the fact that I had taken for granted my friends literally being blood and born directly into my life, I devised a plan to learn my dada’s childhood, his journey to the United States, and everything after being as they were the more recent roots of my existence. Pandemic willing, I visited and still continue to visit when safe to inquire about everything I didn’t know and even what I thought I knew. He always replies with so much excitement consistent throughout all of his incredibly thorough responses. Responses that become stories never failing to exclude even the tiniest detail. Even in this smaller act of the larger interview (stay tuned), I was able to learn about my dada as a man and father and even learned the origin of my mother’s storytelling quirks.
Yet, I still was not satisfied. Yes, the plan was solid, and the interview questions were coming along, but even the stories he told me off-script now only left me with more questions about his brothers and sister, their lives, and all their grandparents and every generation before that in which the oral history remained alive. Here is where WhatsApp comes in. Don’t worry, I did not forget about it or accidentally include that in the introduction. All those years of public American education would never allow it.
A couple weeks ago, my masi created an “All Generations Family” WhatsApp group with about one hundred participants. This of course does not include youth without a cellphone and the elderly using cellphones vicariously through their children and grandchildren. So, we are missing some people in the virtual participant count, but everyone is included I assure you. This group was nothing out of the ordinary with expected announcements, article-sharing, and home remedies for all illnesses. That was until my mama, an avid photographer and videographer, chose to share a black-and-white and sometimes colored photograph of the day from his archives. I’ll be honest, I am often clueless about the subjects in the photographs, but that never diminishes their beauty. Each snapshot is essentially a tailored interview question being answered in the WhatsApp group by those same individuals in the photographs. You cannot get a better primary source or more raw account of events.
Personally, it is one of the best things to come from this move and dependence on technology, as each day bridges gaps in my knowledge of my roots and lessens the blank stares of confusion in a mind-race overtaking my gaze during those Zoom calls or during my dada’s narratives. Though I am slightly yet lightheartedly bitter for not thinking of it myself, these daily photographs revitalized the union and closeness of my family. It catalyzed the return of that same intimacy I took for granted and only realized was inherent in my soul when the pandemic stripped us of any interaction, as even a verbal greeting would create permanent loss.
Albeit this is no profound thought on my end, I am eager to share this new ritual of my family. You may not have the scale of hearts and souls we have, but the stories of your roots are no less valuable in understanding yourself and should not risk being lost in time. I figure if everyone is always taking photographs anyway, let’s look at them more often, beginning with the firsts in the history of you.
Q&A: What’s it like being a South Asian Kenyan? Kenya is the country I call home. It’s where I was born and brought up like thousands of other South Asians. However, there are several myths that surround what the country is like and in order to combat them, I asked my non-Kenyan friends/followers on my various social media accounts to send any questions or assumptions they have of people living here. Additionally, I also got my Kenyan friends/followers to send in any interesting questions that they have been asked in the past. I picked ten questions from all the responses I got and here are the answers:
1) Where is Kenya?
Unfortunately, a lot of people have no clue as to where to place the country on a world map. This is often the case for a lot of countries on the African continent. Kenya is located in East Africa and borders the nations of Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and additionally has a coastline along the Indian Ocean. It lies on the equator and has a pleasant tropical climate with its capital city being Nairobi.
2) Are there a lot of South Asians in Kenya? If so why?
In 2019 the South Asian population in Kenya consisted of 90,527, with most of them being located in Nairobi. Even though the number is not that high, you probably cannot go through a street in Nairobi without seeing a South-Asian person.
This does not mean that there aren’t people in other towns and cities in the country – who don’t identify as South Asian Kenyans. In fact, as part of a controversial decision, the Kenyan president in 2017 recognised the community’s contribution to the country by declaring it as the 44th tribe within the country.
(This is an overly simplified version of how we came to settle in the country – If you are interested, I would recommend looking it up further)
The migration of South Asians to the country can be traced as far back as the late 1800s, with many having settled along the coastal region of the country due to trade. However, a huge influx of migration was prompted by the British empire, which at the time had colonised both the regions of East Africa and South Asia.
The empire brought many South-Asian people to work for them at different levels. After Kenya gained its independence in 1963, a few people moved back to India (where the majority of the South-Asian population hailed from) or moved to the UK, but many decided to stay in Kenya as they began calling the country home and it was all they knew.
Those that did move away barely did at their own accord, as despite wanting to stay on, they were forced out of the country due to the first president’s make Africa for Africans policy. It is at this point that the Indian government turned away many that wanted to go there, and so did the British despite originally recognising their role in putting that population there in the first place. However, as generations passed, those that were fortunate enough to stay on created rather comfortable lives for themselves.
In fact, my family happens to fall under this category. Although they migrated because of reasons related to trade they have now been residing here for four generations now. Throughout living here, we have seen many other South-Asians migrate into the country for various reasons and this has led to an increase in our population here.
3) How do you know Swahili?
This was asked to someone that I went to high school with, to which she replied, “I’m a fifth-generation Kenyan”.
I can assure you that many others have been asked the same question too. It would be a bit worrying if people in our shoes didn’t know one of the national languages of the country they called home. In fact, there are so many people who aren’t aware that there is a language called Swahili. Kenya has two national languages, one being English and the other Swahili.
Swahili is a language that is spoken by people all over East Africa and those that live in other parts of the word that have some sort of connection to the region.
In fact, I have met people who have been born and brought up in the UK but still know a few Swahili words due to their parents/ grandparents having lived in East-Africa before migrating to the UK.
Another language question that I get bothered by is – “how is your English so good?”. Well, that’s all because of a little thing called British colonisation, leading to most of the population being able to speak the language fluently with a few people having a basic grasp of it.
4) How do you do the British curriculum/school system in Kenya?
Kenya has many international schools. Most of these schools follow the British curriculum, whilst others follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) and a few also follow the American system. Ultimately it depends on what you think is the most suited for your career/ university plans.
Although Kenya does have its own national education system, most people of South Asian descent go to an international school.
5) Have you developed a new style of cooking because of the cultures?
To an extent yes, but also no. South Asian cuisine is of course different to Kenyan food. For one thing, Kenyans aren’t as keen on spicy food as those of South-Asian descent. However make no mistake – we love Kenyan cuisine and there are some South-Asian foods that have become Kenyan staples.
An example of such is the savoury snack Bombay mix which is also commonly known as Chevdo/chevda. I can guarantee you that once you have eaten some that is made in Kenya, there is no going back!
I could go on writing about what makes the Kenyan cuisine so great, but that would involve a lot of explaining so here is an article all about popular foods in Kenya.
Interestingly enough you will find the list includes samosas, bhajias (also known by most South-Asians as Bhajis), Chapatis and even masala chai.
6) Do you have electricity and Is it less developed than (insert country here)?
This is a question that annoys anyone who is from Kenya because the stereotypes associated with the countries from the African continent are frankly just ridiculous.
We live in actual buildings and houses as opposed to the huts shown by the western media, we do have electricity too (in fact all houses with more than three rooms are powered by solar panels), we have Wi-Fi, we have phones, we have cars, we have roads, we have malls, we have cinemas etc. You name it and the country has it.
So anytime you meet someone from Kenya, South-Asian or not, never ask them such a question. We do find it offensive.
Western countries are hardly compared in their development, yet many think that it is okay for African countries to be compared in such a way.
Just like every other country in the world, Kenya has it’s good and bad, unfortunately, it’s always the bad that is shown in western media.
Another popular belief is that we are a war-torn country. This is definitely not the case. Just like countries in the west, we have fallen victim to a few terror attacks. The hypocrisy of some western countries is that as soon as something of this sort occurs in Kenya, they issue travel bans. However, when similar incidents occur in the west there is no such thing.
All things considered, I know so many people who have visited the country from abroad and been shocked by the development, diversity and beauty of the country.
7) Do you live with lions?
Unfortunately, our life does not involve walking into the street and seeing a lion roaming around freely. The lions along with all the other wild animals are in the national parks.
One thing I love about Kenya is the access we have to the amazing wildlife. In fact, Nairobi is the only capital city to have a national park within it.
Kenyan safaris are well known by everyone in the world, although many think that the whole of the country is a game reserve where wild animals roam free.
When in reality, you have to go out of your way to go to different parts of the country to access some of the best safari parks such as the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo etc…
I would really recommend looking these national parks up, you will not be disappointed.
Source: Wikimedia commons
Although all this information may feel like a lot, I hope you found it interesting.
Also make no mistake just because we live in Kenya does not mean that we have forgotten our South-Asian roots, in fact, we have found a way to embrace both cultures just like other South-Asians living as part of a diaspora community.
Overall, I know that I, just like many other South-Asians, am proud to call this country home.
bio: Sonaili is currently pursuing journalism in the UK and is an avid writer who loves exploring topics related to arts, lifestyle, culture and representation. Her journalistic aspirations also involve investigative reporting but outside of this she also enjoys indulging in poetry, acting and dancing. Instagram: @sonaili_ , @sonailiwrites twitter: @sonaili_ @sonaili_v
I am scared.
There…I said it.
Not to the earth or to the space or even the stars,
But to myself.
To the one who felt it the most.
What about, I asked?
I am scared I won’t make it to where I want to be,
To whom I want to be,
Or to what I dream to be.
So, I asked myself,
Is that all necessary?
And I answered,
Otherwise for what else would I be.
So, what now?
About Medihah Merchant
Hi!!! I am a 3rd year Human Rights and Social Justice major in Carleton University. I am a sleeping enthusiast who spares time for anime and visual arts, and am a true believer in “When in doubt, nap it out”.
In the northern Indian state of Punjab, it is common to add butter to lentil dishes -and in this recipe, I indulge in this tradition.When whole red lentils are skinned and split, they reveal an orange lentil, called dhuli masoor dal in Hindi. Orange lentils make one of my favorite lentil dishes since they cook quickly, and have a nice rich taste to them with the finishing touch of butter! Enjoy dhuli masoor dal with Indian flatbreads such as chapati, spooned over basmati rice, or simply by itself as a ‘soup’ in a bowl!
Punjabi Orange Lentil Stew (Dal)
Serves 3 to 4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Refrigerator Life: 2 days
Freezer Life: 1 month
Reheating Method: Place the refrigerated or defrosted dal in a microwave, cover and stir periodically. Or, place dal in a saucepan over medium-low heat and stir periodically. If the reheated dal seems too thick, you may add a bit of water to it.
½ cup (80 g) dried orange lentils (dhuli masoor daal)
2¼ cups (565 ml) water
1 small fully ripe tomato, such as plum (Roma), cut in half
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
½ small onion, diced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 handful fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) (about ¼ cup/10 g packed leaves), rinsed and chopped
1. Place the lentils in a small bowl. Rinse the lentils three times by repeatedly filling the bowl with cold water and carefully draining off the water. It is okay if the water is a bit frothy.
2. Place the lentils, water, tomato, turmeric, red pepper, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. It is okay if the water gets frothy.
3. Stir and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and lightly mash the tomato.
4. Reduce the heat to low and partially cover the saucepan. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the lentils are completely soft. Stir occasionally and continue to mash the tomato. It should not look like the lentils are floating individually in the water. Instead, They should come together with the water when fully cooked and should be similar to a thick soup with an even consistency. Turn off the heat.
5. To temper the spices, pour the oil into a small skillet and place over medium heat. When the oil is heated, add the cumin seeds and onion. Stir to combine. Sauté for about 6 minutes or until the onion is browned. Stir frequently.
6. Add the tempered spices and butter to the lentils. Stir to combine until the butter is melted. Enjoy now or let cool to room temperature and refrigerate or freeze for later! Just before serving, sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves on top.
Recipe courtesy of Shubhra Ramineni from her Indian cookbook,
“Entice with Spice – Easy and Quick Indian Recipes for Beginners”
Shubhra Ramineni is a cookbook author and culinary instructor. Shubhra grew up in Houston, TX enjoying healthy, traditional Indian food and she learned to cook from her mother, an excellent home cook and a professional dietitian. Determined to eat well despite her busy schedule as a chemical engineer with an MBA, Shubhra set out to adapt traditional Indian recipes for the lifestyles of today’s professionals and busy moms like her, creating dozens of delicious, easy-to-prepare Indian recipes with both English and metric measurements in her award- winning cookbooks, Entice with Spice, Easy and Quick Indian Recipes for Beginners, and Healthy Indian Vegetarian Cooking (both available on Amazon). Her no-fuss cooking methods and time-saving tips will remove any intimidation of cooking Indian food.