Speak Up

The list of reasons I love being Bangladeshi never ends. I can’t get enough of the delicious cha my abbu makes for me, the vibrant sea of shari’s gliding around at family weddings and the feeling when my maa helps place a tikli symmetrically in the center of my forehead. As much as I take pride in my rich culture, I am also willing to hold it accountable. The summer of 2020 awakened a beast in many of us. We felt hurt and angry at the treatment of Black people in America. And after that rage was expressed in the streets protesting, on social media and in honest discussions with friends, we were left to look at ourselves. To truly enact change, we must address the implicit and explicit biases harbored as individuals and as a community. Those conversations start with our families.

As a child, I learned about the harsh treatment my parents faced being Deshi and living in the states in the ’90s. They’d have to lug their clothes in trash bags to the laundromat from their apartment and passing drivers would yell that they were “dirty Iraqis.” No one deserves such vicious treatment. Yet my maa and abbu immigrated here from Bangladesh, not Iraq; they received hate from assumptions born out of ignorance, labeled as something they’re not because of how they look. The Islamophobia only worsened after 2001 with my Muslim family members receiving so much disdain from people not willing to accept that extremism doesn’t define an entire religious group. I figured since Deshi folks from my parent’s generation knew what it felt like to receive hostile attitudes, they wouldn’t give the same to any other community. But that turned out to be far more complex.

Once I visited a family friend’s house because their son, Raffi*, had been in a pretty bad accident. One of Raffi’s friends, who flew in from out of town to visit him, was walking up as my maa and I arrived. More guests stopped by and eventually we sat together to eat dinner while Raffi rested in the other room with his friend. As we were eating and chatting one of the uncles stated how thoughtful it was for Raffi’s friend to fly in. An auntie chimed in with “Yes, he’s one of the good Kalo boys. He’s such a good student too” I nearly choked on my torkari. Yet another auntie squealed, “That’s so rare, you know they’re naturally more aggressive.” My jaw dropped! This particular auntie was a doctor!! No wonder Black folks are terrified of not being taken seriously and receiving proper care from health care professionals.  It makes me feel ashamed that my Deshi community would perpetuate this kind of harmful stereotype. I don’t care how many times I hear these dangerous assumptions – it’s always blood boiling, if not surprising. First, they praise Raffi’s friend for his kindness, then they dare to criticize “his people.” I’ll be honest, that was one of the times I fell silent. I didn’t say something when I should have. I don’t feel good about sharing this, but I know I’m human and it takes time to find your voice. I use that moment as an everyday reminder to speak up now.

It is very upsetting, but these are sentiments I’ve heard more than a few times. They’ve bought into the stereotypes that Black people are loud, unruly, misbehaving. Nothing like us. As a teenager, I got the impression that I shouldn’t date a Black person. It felt like there was a ladder of hierarchy and they were perpetually at the bottom. The model minority myth pits “us” against “them.” White supremacy pits minority groups against one another to keep the system in place. When in reality it should be all of us against white supremacy. Solidarity among all minority groups has the power to topple the notion that marginalized communities must compare themselves to each other to be the “best.” It is disastrous when the South Asian community harbors anti-Black ideologies.

I am a light-skinned Bangladeshi but have freckles on my nose and cheeks which I adore. Sadly I’ve noticed that admiration begins and ends with me. For example, every time I’ve had makeup done for a cousin’s wedding the makeup artists ferociously insist on covering up “all these marks on your face!” Of course, I never let them, but would things be different if I was darker-skinned? As a tween who visited Dhaka regularly, I saw ads for skin lightening creams everywhere. I remember finally asking my maa if I could try one. She gave me a swift and decisive “NO.” But if she didn’t look out for me, would I want to cover my natural face? It’s easy to believe skin tone determines your worth when people constantly comment and attempt to decrease your melanin value. The colorism doled out within South Asian communities is so casual, as if someone’s noting rainy weather. Comments like you’re getting too dark, she’s fairer than you, they would be so pretty if they weren’t so dark circulate readily. I’ve often wondered how much of it stems from self-hatred instilled over generations. Generations before us were taught to praise paleness. “Bleach your skin”, “dark is undesirable”, “dark skin is worth less than pale skin.” In this kind of climate, it’s important to love ourselves and stop the cycle.

As a teen I found myself speaking up more, even if I couldn’t express precisely why I felt the need to do so. Once I was in the car with my maa and she was complaining about a man she encountered at work. He was Black and she used the derogatory word, “Kahli”, with a tone denoting contempt. I took a gulp of air and firmly said “You’re being racist, don’t say things like that.” She shot back with, “I’m not! How can I be racist?” In the next moments, I genuinely thought I would get kicked out of the car. But miraculously, I was allowed to stay and I began ruminating on that last phrase. It can be especially difficult to tackle the topic of bigotry knowing our families have had no walk in the park living in this country. To this day people are insidiously rude to my maa’s face and tell her to go “back to where she came from.” My abbu has randomly been denied permits and had to jump through hoops just to build a deck in our backyard. It is rough for any immigrant here. I started to understand that a large part of our community thinks they’re immune from displaying racist behavior because others discriminate against them. Of course, that’s not how it works. 

Millennial and Gen-Z Deshis are quick to raise their voices against anti-Black hate. While it counts for something to make a post or call out a friend, the mindset starts at home. No one has a chance to break through to the hearts and minds of your family like you do. Until we confront those who are closest to us we continue to be a part of the problem. I’m sharing these personal stories because I acknowledge it’s not easy to talk to family. Each member has to put in the work and take time to create new habits. Unlearning deeply rooted colorism and racism isn’t a linear path. Even if it’s scary I’m always really glad when I speak up. People can change at any stage in life. My family has grown over the years thanks to a lot of tough, uncomfortable conversations. They’re still questioning and self-educating, and so am I.  

Calling out colorism, Islamophobia, nationalism, caste discrimination and classism is beneficial for South Asians as well as other marginalized groups. Racism won’t end overnight, but it’s absolutely unacceptable to let it perpetuate. We need to do our part to become true allies not only to Black folks but also to the AAPI, Indigenous, Latinx, MENASA communities and more. Our vibrant South Asian cultures are not defined by their worst faults. We can make that a reality by loving our skin for what it is, standing up to the people we love the most, unlearning biases and remembering we are not alone in this fight.

* Names have been changed

“Where are you from?”

By Poyani Bavishi

I spun around in the grocery store last Sunday, holding 2 boxes of granola bars I was deliberating between. The voice belonged to an older Caucasian male I had never seen before. I double checked that no one else was in the aisle, confirming that he was indeed talking to me.

“I’m from Jersey,” I replied cautiously. 

He laughed in response before pausing and leaning in. “No. I mean where are you really from?” 

I internally rolled my eyes and gave him a weak smile from under my mask. “Born and raised here luckily,” I responded. “Take care now.” I left before he had a chance to say anything else. 

As I walked away, I caught myself feeling a little grateful. At least he didn’t tell me to go back to my country, I thought as I checked out. That was what was said to me the last time something of this nature had happened, yelled out of a car window on my run around the park. 

After all, this type of thing had been happening my whole life. I have been on the receiving end of countless tales from friend’s family members about their one Indian coworker or brother-in-law, unsolicited recipe reviews about chicken tikka masala (despite the fact I am vegetarian), and commentary on the intelligence of the one Indian kid in whatever math class they had taken in college. Teachers and employers have often shrugged off the pronunciation of my name, saying things like “You’re killing me here!” or “I’m not even going to try to remember that one.” As if those three syllables were inherently burdensome, inherently insignificant.

Truthfully, I had always viewed these encounters as harmless. I would laugh with my other friends of diverse backgrounds about it, and we would share the last time a similar event had happened to us. There, with others, it felt silly to think any further about it. After all, it happened to basically all of us- it must have been normal, right? 

The issue with these incidents, of course, is that they open the door to much more. Using monolithic identities to frame the way in which individuals view others has been the origin of many of our deepest humanitarian traumas. Subtleties build brick by brick to form mentalities of “otherization,” until we have formed in our minds an unidentifiable being completely unlike ourselves. Seemingly harmless preformed notions give way to concrete biases at a flick of a switch, and institutional rules and policies are never far behind. This is how marginalization seeds its ugly roots, and how we have arrived to where we are at today. 

Over the past several months, I have watched in horror along with the nation as the uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans surged substantially. On March 16, 2021 eight people were killed at a massage parlor in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women. In an era where national hate crimes decreased by 6 percent, hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 150%, fueled by phrases like “the Chinese virus,” and “Kung flu.” 

Recently, I rewatched Hasan Minhaj’s piece on “The American Dream Tax,” a term he coined to describe the immigrant experience in America. He tells the story of his family receiving death threats in the aftermath of 9/11, one of which was followed by individuals smashing in the windows of their family Camry. While Minhaj immediately attempted to find his perpetrators, overwhelmed with anger, his father calmly swept up the glass shards off the road. When Minhaj asked why he was not furious, his father simply replied, “These things happen, and these things will continue to happen. That’s the price we pay for being here.” 

Through this anecdote, Minhaj perfectly embodies a generational shift of perspectives. So often, immigrants are taught to believe that it is “worth it” to endure degrees of otherization, rudeness, and hate in pursuit of a better life for their families to come. They are convinced that looking the other way is inherent to existing, that identity is a luxury that cannot always be afforded. Children of this generation, however, have been born with what Minhaj terms the “audacity of equality;” we read the words of our constitution, of the decades of reform, and we believe that it applies to us, bestowed upon us just by our citizenship. 

When I see hate crimes against Asian Americans nationwide, I feel the weight of our combined story on my shoulders. I picture all of us as children, watching our parents get up and hustle in pursuit of the lifetime they were told would be full of opportunities for their loved ones. I picture the collective sacrifice of stories woven from just those I have had the privilege to hear- careers sacrificed, families estranged, lifestyles and joys repeatedly turned down in pursuit of the dream. To think of these stories amplified to millions of individuals across this country is a weight that I cannot even bear to hold, to wrap my head and my heart around. 

With a heavy heart, I can only resolve to fight for my Asian brothers and sisters and generations to come. I implore all of us to take up space- to treat whatever institution, town, city, and country you are in as if it is your absolute birth right to be there- because it is. Dare others to treat your identity for what it is- unique and beautiful, stitched intricately for each individual through their bundles of life experiences. Dare to be different, but most importantly- dare to be yourself. 

An Entrepreneur’s Journey

Yvon Chouinard. Jen Rubio. Brian Chesky. Amazing founders who have built industry changing businesses. But how? Most stories we hear about them highlight the struggles later on in these founder’s journeys, once they had achieved millions in sales or once they were several years into their journey. We rarely hear about the early days. How did they come up with their ideas? What was the first step they took to start? Did they ever doubt themselves? What kept them going through the hardships?

As someone who launched her business, MOR Collections, less than six months ago, I wish I had these early day stories to refer to. So, I decided to document mine. Regardless of where this business takes me, I hope these stories help future entrepreneurs feel a sense of comfort that the good days, the bad days, the exciting days, and the frustrating days – it’s all normal. It’s all a part of the journey. 

Upon getting my undergraduate business degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I ended up in a career that most do when they lack direction, consulting. I learned a lot, but after four years, I was waking up unmotivated and bored. Something had to change and to do some soul searching, I ended up at business school. Coming from a family of business owners, the world of entrepreneurship always fascinated me and it’s what I focused on during my two years of graduate school. I dabbled in venture capital, participated in an accelerator program trying to launch a food business, and ended up joining a mid-sized startup post-graduation. But my dream, I had realized, was to start my own business as my father had. I just hadn’t found a problem that I felt compelled to solve. That is, till the end of wedding season 2019. 

In 2019, I attended about eight weddings and at every one, women would complain about the same two things. One, finding modern Desi clothing is so difficult. Two, it’s ridiculous how we spend so much money on outfits we only wear once or twice. I resonated with both issues but kept thinking, why? These clothes are beautiful and they’re a big part of our South Asian heritage. There had to be a way to make modern versions of these clothes more accessible and usable beyond just a few times. There had to be a better way to incorporate this part of our culture into our everyday lives.

With this thought, MOR was born. From October 2019 to July the following year, I was working on my business idea on the evenings and weekends while working my “real job” during the day. During these months, I was trying to figure out everything from manufacturing, to building a website, to the legal side of starting a business. Then there came a point where I was waking up more excited to work on MOR than I was at my day job. It took a month speaking to mentors and making endless pros and cons lists, but on July 31, 2020, I quit my day job to pursue MOR full time. Fast forward to October 20, I launched MOR Collections for the world to see.  

The journey has been incredible so far, and while I absolutely want this business to be successful, only time will tell if that happens. We’ve all heard the saying, life is about the journey, not the destination. Instead of obsessing, over the destination, I hope to use this platform as a way of reflecting, cherishing, and sharing with you my entrepreneurship journey 

Till next time, 

Mayuri Baheti

Bio: Mayuri is the founder and CEO of MOR Collections and currently resides in downtown Chicago. When she’s not working, you can find her trying to whip up something in the kitchen, attempting to learn the next TikTok dance trend, or listening to a podcast while at the gym!

Business Website: http://www.morcollections.com

Business Instagram: @mor.collections

Personal Instagram: @mayuri.baheti

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mayuribaheti/

Email: mayuri.baheti@morcollections.com

Caged:

Tamica Govender 

8-year-old Tamica would have described her life as a fairy-tale. My home was a castle, my family was part of the monarchy and I had everything I needed to be a happy child. As I grew older, I started to notice more things- patterns, behavior and harsh realities.

The directions that your parents give you, as a young child, shapes your view of life. As a young brown girl, my directions were very clear (and unforgettable, might I add). A good daughter was one that did well at school, was always well-mannered and always respected her elders (no matter the situation). Perfection is a requirement, no ifs or buts- you will do what is required. 

I never questioned the system and I never thought to- what was being shown to me made sense, at the time. I suppose that I knew on some level, this would cause destruction, and how could it not? Questioning a system that has ruled for many generations is bound to create waves. Many people still practice the limited system. I knew that I would face this battle as the underdog, which wasn’t something that I could face at the time.  “Don’t fix what isn’t broken, Tamica”, I would tell myself, but the system was so broken that I could not even see her cracks. So, being the good Indian child that I was, I followed the system and ignored the cracks. I did this until the system was exposed in sunlight and the reflections from the cracks hurt my eyes. 

Starting university, exposed me to many different things. Being away from home, and from the comfort that I was acquainted with, woke me up from the deepest sleep. It was as if the fog had lifted, and all I saw was the ugly truth. The world that I had lived in was not as magical as I thought, and my home was far from a castle. 

Stepping out of my home meant stepping into racism, xenophobia, sexualism and a general sense of hate. I was challenged. Not only as a woman, but as an Indian woman. All of these years, the picture of Tamica wasn’t even painted by me, but rather by the expectations of me. I was forced to find my real identity- the identity that was exposed to so much pain from the world around us. 

Stepping into my home meant stepping into unachievable expectations, harsh criticism and “tough love”. Looking back, I can’t say that I blame my parents for how they raised me, the system is broken. Our parents were raised the same way, but they never dared question it. This system is one that is running through our very bloods, and it seems that our generation is the only one who knows the content of their blood. 

Being a brown girl means feeling alone in society, but also in my own home. We are caged, but once the door is opened, we will soar high. The things that we have seen, the pain that we have felt and the battles that we have fought means that we aren’t only princesses, but warriors. 

Representation vs. Reputation

Priya Kiran

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. 

The Dreaded Seven Letter Word

Aditi Kumar

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.

Shingara

By Neelam Pahal

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).

My Search for Meaning

By Deepak Seshadri 

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…

passion.

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.

-DS

Life in Retrograde

By Chitra Jagannathan

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.