Tag Archives: York University

Mom Says I have to Date a Brown Man

 

Source: Lovecrusader.com

 

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 10th February 2011.

The day my mother found out I was dating K.B., she threw a fit, “But he’s white!” It did not matter that he was well-read, funny, had a great job with a well-known pharmaceutical company, was a true gentleman and had never once tried to get me into bed. And, when the relationship fell through, she said, “It could have never worked. He was white.” That is not why we broke-up, I reminded her. Sure, I remember getting stares while walking with him, holding hands, but I think that was mostly because he was 6”1 and I reign under 5”. 

In retrospect, it was not his colour my mom was referring to, but to his culture. She always insists that I marry someone from an Indian background so that I can connect with him on different levels. Sure, K.B. loved Bollywood movies. We even went for Om Shanti Om. However, while I remember enjoying the movie, he was busy speed-reading the subtitles. And later, he complained of a headache as a result of his speed-reading. 

Tasnuva Rabiyat, however, does not believe that a cultural difference is the problem. She firmly believes “[t]he biggest problem is where we grew up and how we grew up rather than cultural”. According to her, environmental conditioning differs from person to person, and regardless of race and background, if two people hail from the same environmental conditioning, they have a better chance of having a successful relationship. Born in Bangladesh and brought up in Canada, Tasnuva has been dating her American boyfriend, Justin, of a Polish-Italian descent for the past two years. For her, the “biggest problem” she might face with Justin is that of political differences, “It’s not [a] problem between chicken curry and fried chicken… It’s really a problem with the environmental differences…He comes from a very conservative political family [and] I come from a very liberal brown family.”

Justin and Tasnuva

For Reshma Dhrodia, on the other hand, it was a difference between belief systems (of the parents) that created initial hesitance on both sides. A former Phd student at York University and the current chair of the collective board at Toronto Rape Crisis Center, she has been dating her boyfriend, Tony, of  North Korean descent, for the last two and a half years. She smiles as she reminisces over how they met, “[We met] on Lavalife!” I squeal with surprise, “No way! Does that even work?!” She laughs and reveals, “I joined because I was trying to get over some guy… He was the first Lavalife date I went on.”

Tony and Reshma

And, obviously it worked for both of them. But what about the parents? Reshma smiles and continues, “My mom was a little hesitant and then she met him and really, really liked him. Tony was more nervous about telling his parents because they are… also very, very Christian.” Being a former Ismaili Muslim, and now an atheist, this was more of an issue for Tony’s parents rather than Reshma’s race. “It took him a while to reveal that he was dating me. Since then I have met his mom and [s]he still wants to me to accept Jesus… and she wants us to pump out kids. But I have told her to hold her horses on that!”

Both Reshma and Tasnuva admit that there has been an integration of some sort of the two cultures. Reshma reveals, “The biggest part of our cultures that we have each latched onto is food. I make curry on a regular basis. I have grown to really like Korean food. I have got recipes from his mom… I really enjoy spending time with his family and friends, who are primarily Korean… When I get invitations to weddings, they include him. We even went to Gerrard [street]… and got him a kurta”.

Tasnuva also mentions spending family holidays with Justin’s family, “I have gone over to his place and spent American Thanksgiving with them. I have never done that before and it was amazing. And [I have spent] Christmas and Easter [with them]”. I note a slight tinge of regret in her voice when she adds “and I want [Justin] to experience Eid and Ramadan… and Bengali culture”. She divulges the dilemma of being a South Asian woman, “Initially [my parents] had concerns just like any parent would. In fact, if I was dating anyone from my own culture… they would still have a problem because that’s how parents are [but] he did a great job in showing them respect… There is a problem with my parents. [They are like] ‘what do we call him when he comes over? I cannot call him your boyfriend’. I understand the kind of mindset they come from, and I will not change that. I will respect that.  He will be exposed to [my culture] when we get married or engaged”.

 What stood out of both relationships was that it was the eventual acceptance of both sets of parents that allows for these relationships to flourish. Tasnuva sounds grateful when she mentions that “[My parents] have had a love marriage. They basically accepted it on the fact that [Justin] is a good person. My dad is a super liberal person. I really got lucky with that.” Reshma also echoes similar sentiments, “No one really has blinked at [Tony and me] because of our relationship and I feel fortunate to have experienced our relationship that way. There was really no drama… A little bit of resistance on his side but I think both of our sets of parents are really supportive because they see that we love each other, support each other and are good for each other.” She laughs and adds, “[And a] couple of times we get told that we would make beautiful babies!”

So, mom, I know you want the best for me and want me to be happy, but if I happen to fall in love with a man from a different cultural background, all I have to say is, “But we would make beautiful babies!” Atleast you can take comfort in good-looking grandchildren, if nothing else.

Update: I wrote this article back in June 2010. Since then my parents have modified their attitude towards who I date or end up with. In fact, being with a brown guy is not as much as the issue as being with someone who can make their daughter happy.

Photographs of the couples: Copyrights belong to the individual owners.

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Clearing the Air on World AIDS Day

Posting an article I wrote last year on HIV/AIDS for World Aids Day. It was published by South Asian Generation Next on 2nd December 2009.

HIV/AIDS: Myths and Misconceptions

“How do you get AIDS?”

“What do you think?”

“Kissing?”

“No.”

“Hugging?”

“Wrong again!”

“Touching then?!”

“Not really…”

First of all, let’s get the facts right. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease, and HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) causes it.

So, what you “get” is the HIV virus. Think about it this way. H1N1 is the virus, while swine flu is the disease. Similarly, HIV is the virus, and AIDS is the disease.

Now for the misconceptions. HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through the following bodily fluids- blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal secretions. It cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears and urine. You don’t get the virus by breathing the same air. It’s not a cold! You don’t get it through hugging, kissing and touching. These are simple misconceptions that alienate those who need help the most.

A former York student (name withheld) revealed an incident that threatened to shake his existence about five years ago. He had to take the medical tests during his Canadian immigration process and he had been tested positive. He had been scared and nervous. He had wanted to kill himself. However, he confided in his family who persuaded him to take a retest. The result? He was negative.

This is not common, but not unlikely either. In June 2004, a young man in Faridkot, Punjab, India, was mistakenly tested positive for HIV. The result nearly destroyed his life. His engagement was broken off and he became an outcast from his social circle. Just like the former York student, he thought of committing suicide. However, before he could do anything rash, he was persuaded by his family to seek a second opinion. To his relief, he was tested negative. Just to be completely sure, he sought a third opinion. Same result.

Yet, what compelled these young men to take a second test? They had their family to give them mental support.

But what about those who are HIV positive or living with AIDS? How can they survive if they don’t receive the mental strength that only their loved ones can provide?

Of course, don’t just blame the family. There just isn’t enough awareness among people out there about the disease or the virus itself that can allow for understanding. For example, a South Asian woman who is viewed as the sacred center of her household; who does not indulge in promiscuous sex; how can she be susceptible to HIV?

Well, she could have contracted it through her husband. It’s a definite possibility. But she is the one who is questioned; not the husband. And, then, there is this huge misconception that HIV is contracted through promiscuous sex only, and those who have AIDS are being punished for their lack of morals.

Well, breaking news folks.

Sex is NOT the only way you can get HIV. It can be acquired through sharing un-sterilized needles (syringes, body piercing, tattoo instruments), blood transfusion (Since November 1985, ALL blood products have been tested for HIV in Canada. Therefore, the risk is low) and vertical transmission (an HIV positive mother can infect her child during pregnancy, birth or through breast milk).

Another misconception running rampant is that it’s a “gay disease”, and is a divine poetic justice for being gay.

Not only is it a stigma for a person of the queer community living with HIV, but it’s a double stigma because he/she is queer. What has led to this misinformation?

Media can be blamed to an extent. There have been movies made in the past that sent the wrong kind of messages to the public, confusing the real with fiction. It created a huge stigma among the South Asian community, especially since there are many individuals within our community who believe that HIV/AIDS does not exist. That it’s a non-South Asian gay disease.

First of all, there ARE South Asian queer people. And, there are South Asian queer people living with HIV/AIDS. And being queer is NOT a choice. Secondly, it can affect ANYONE. Straight or homosexual. ANYONE. And, thirdly, like I explained before, it is not a punishment from God, as would be the likely belief, but a lack of information that led to the lack of prevention in the first place. 

What has been done to create awareness? Well, for one there has been an increase in movies and books that help to promote AIDS awareness.

In 2007, Mira Nair’s Jaago campaign gave rise to four short films, and in 2008, Negar Akhavi compiled a book of essays (Aids Sutra: Untold stories from India) to help bring awareness among the public. But these attempts can only help up to a small extent. For example, the short films were screened at film festivals. Film festivals target critics and avid movie goers who can afford to pay for and watch movies. They are also available online, but if you don’t have any access to the Internet, then how do you get the information? Therefore, the populations belonging to lower social economic status have little or no access to information. And, as a result, suffer the most. They have to rely on outreach programs that help spread awareness.

Fortunately, we live in a country where most of us can afford to get this kind of information. There are plenty of organizations that promote HIV/AIDS awareness among the common people. Specifically for the South Asian community, there is ASAAP (Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention). They are a “community-based, non-profit, charitable organization committed to providing health promotion, support, education and advocacy in a non-discriminatory manner”. They also have multilingual services in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Urdu. They are highly confidential and have been providing counseling and other support to their clients since 1989. In addition, they have had many outreach programs in the past that help promotion HIV/AIDS awareness and education among the South Asian community.

When I was an ignorant happy-go-lucky shallow individual who didn’t care much about the world and only about good grades, latest gossip and latest fashion, I had some misconceptions of my own as well. I thought people with HIV/AIDS die early and that you can tell them apart from other people. But, that’s not true. They look just like you or me. And, with advancements in medical technology, it is possible to live for much longer with HIV nowadays. All my misconceptions were dispelled ever since I decided to volunteer for ASAAP. They have a wonderful knowledgeable staff and an amazing network of approximately thirty active volunteers who do their bit in creating awareness throughout the year. Their most recent event was held on 27th of November at three subway stations- Finch, St. George and Queen’s Park.

I was stationed at Queen’s Park with two other volunteers and we were assigned to sell lucky bamboos as a World Aids Day initiative. It was an enriching experience just interacting with the different kinds of people who passed by our little table. Most of them were supportive. Even if they didn’t want a bamboo, they wanted to donate. It was moving to see this kind of support from complete strangers.

And that makes me think, if complete strangers are willing to change their misconceptions and help support a great cause, then why not you? It is easy to ignore how deadly HIV can be and how easily it can be contracted. We can all act like camels with our faces in a sand hole hoping the storm will pass when it’s really raging all around us. All we need is to open our minds just a little so that we can help individuals come forward and identify themselves in order for us to help them and provide them with the information and support that they need. So that they don’t feel the need to hide behind aliases and find it easy to tell you their credentials and hobbies as simply as being able to say that they are HIV positive without experiencing the feeling of being caste aside or stigmatized. So that we can help prevent this “thing”. This deadly insidious thing that can strike any where, any time and ANY ONE.

It’s World AIDS Day today. I did my bit by writing this article. What are your plans?

Resources: www.asaap.ca, www.actoronto.org, www.hivstigma.com

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Revelation or Repetition?: Sugar Sammy at South Asia Stand-Up at York University

Posting an article that I wrote last year in November after my encounter with South Asian stand-up comic, Sugar Sammy. It was published by South Asian Generation Next on 26th November 2009.

Going to a stand up comedy show for my twenty fourth birthday, I was très excited. I have been to Yuk Yuk’s several times, and have even caught a show of The Second City. However, this was going to be different. It was a desi show. The headliner was Sugar Sammy, an Indo-Canadian from Montreal, whose face I had seen plastered all over York University for the past month. A good looking insolent visage challenging the viewer to come catch his show. Very cheeky and in your face.

sanch1

Organized by USAY (United South Asians at York), the show on 17th November was packed and nearly sold out. Expectations were high. I wasn’t surprised to see many women there, especially since famous gorgeous guys draw girls like flies to garbage, and in this case, it was very sexy comedian. Good looks and a sense of humour. You get the picture.

I was also waiting breathlessly for Sugar Sammy to appear. I had heard much praise from my sister who had caught bits of his act on YouTube. But since he was the headliner for the evening, his appearance was reserved for the last part of the show.

The show started later than its scheduled time, but the acts following up to Sugar Sammy more than made up for the delay. First to come was Dave Meherje, followed by Vidur Kapur and Massimo. All of them had their distinct style ands their shockingly funny acts added more to the anticipation of the upcoming headliner. 

Finally, it was time for THE Sugar Sammy, who arrived late and made the MC, Peter Kash, sweat a little since he ran out of his poorly timed jokes.

What a disappointment. Not the MC, but the headliner.

I expected more from this good looking “funny” guy whose claim to fame is his ability to reach out to audiences in four different languages- English, French, Punjabi and Hindi. Most of his jokes were to do with the audience. They might have been funny if we had been able to hear him properly. In his eagerness to pick on others, he kept putting the mike away from his face. His jokes- the few he cracked- were outdated and predictable. He seemed more of a Russell Peters rip off, even though he declares to draw inspiration from Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. The building up of expectation that the former comedians had worked at fizzled out little by little as my disappointment with Sugar Sammy set in. I was bored and kept looking at the watch. I found him gimmicky and just a good looking poster boy who was good at strutting on the stage and killing time.

But what went wrong? Surely, he was having a bad day. His past successes point at a comedian who is not only talented but in high demand all over the world. After all, he just won the 2009 COCA (Canadian Organization for College Activities) Award for Best Comedian AND has a huge fan following all over the world. So, what really went wrong? My guess: either he has let too much fame get to his head (like our very own Sonu Nigam) or he just tailors his show according to his audience. Perhaps, he felt York University didn’t deserve a good show. Or, maybe, the standards of taste have really gone down within the past year. What ever it is, that’s the last time I pay $10 to go watch Sugar Sammy.

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Caste as an Identity: Dalits Exist on the Edge of Humanity

“Why is my caste my only identity?” – Omprakash Valmiki, Joothan.

‘Dalit’ was not a word that belonged to my vocabulary. The word ‘untouchable’ hovered as a vague ghostly embodiment on the edges of my consciousness, but Dalit was an unknown foreign object that waited just out of reach. I had to only reach out and pluck it. Luckily, in the fall of 2005, Dr. Arun Mukherjee introduced me to Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan in her second year “Post Colonial South Asian Literature” class.

Dalit is a term that was readily adopted by the untouchable communities all over India. As a translator of Joothan from its original Hindi to its English form, Mukherjee writes in the introduction that “this was the first time that [the untouchables] had been able to name themselves, as a collectivity, rather than be named by others”.

Among these “other” names, one that most springs to mind is Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’. A loose term for ‘Children of God’, Gandhi allowed for further segregation of the Dalit community rather than an integration into the mainstream. Kind of ironic, if you think about it.  I wonder if he stopped to think of his foolish mistake. Even today, people from the higher castes (or, anti-Dalits, as Mukherjee puts it) use the term ‘Harijan’ to insult and taunt.

I remember Ma telling me about Gopal. When she was a little girl living in the city of Calcutta, almost half a century ago when proper disposal of excreta had not even come into existence. When you apparently shat into a huge earthen pot that was later emptied out by the sweeper, a designated untouchable. In my mother’s childhood days, Gopal was this sweeper.

The boy cleaning his basket and vessels, after he finished his work. India, 2007. Copyright Senthil Kumaran / Trikaya Photos.

The boy cleaning his basket and vessels, after he finished his work. India, 2007. Copyright Senthil Kumaran / Trikaya Photos.

He was known as a mathor, meaning a  guy who was responsible for cleaning people’s excreta (and who cleaned his?). He was literally an untouchable as everyone gave him a wide berth. Sure, he was invited to weddings, but he always had to sit far apart from the other wedding guests.

A recent article in Deccan Herald that sparked me to write this blog post pointed at a demeaning incident where as a way to protest injustice and to get their voices heard, members of the Dalit community were forced to smear human excreta on themselves. In the town of Savanur (in the Haveri distict of the Karnataka state in India), the Dalit community were evicted from their homes by Savanur Town Municipal Council (TMC). In a world where greed wins over humanity and commercialism rules in the face of poverty, the TMC decided that their land would be better off if used for a commercial complex rather than as the homes of the many poor Dalit workers who have been residing there for the past seventy years.

Dalits covered in human excreta at Savanur

These Dalit workers and their families belonging to the Bhangi community (which is also treated as the lowest among the Dalit community) were first given verbal directives by the TMC, which later accelerated to cutting off of water supply, dumping garbage in front of their houses, and insulting and threatening their women. Frustrated, these workers were forced to extreme measures that included a march to the TMC office on Tuesday July 20th, and pouring human excreta over themselves as a way to protest their continued humiliation.

Result? The TMC Executive Officer H.N. Bajakkanavar defended TMC and said that they had assured to provide houses under various housing schemes.  He also explained that the water supply was cut off because it was illegal. Irony again, as Dalit Sangharsha Samiti activists testify that there are other illegal water supplies in town that are still in existence.

As Valmiki writes in his book Joothan, “Because in their eyes, I am only an SC (schedule caste), the one who stands outside the door”. Thus, even though the Dalit community constitutes 16% of the Indian population, they are still left standing outside the door of humanity.

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The Proof is in the Proof-reading

The importance of being a good proof-reader is summed up in this Oscar Wilde quote: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back  again.”

Being a freelance writer for a community newspaper and a novelist “in progress”, I have often wondered about what makes a really good book or article. Is it the cover? The title? The topic? Or, the writer? In my belief and experience, these are small factors that play equally small roles in the success of the finished product. The main ingredient (as I have noticed time and again) is how well you proof-read the write-up.

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be the first one to review Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel, The Distance. The book had potential and the writing style screamed of individuality. But what prevented the book from becoming a masterpiece were the many grammatical and factual mistakes I came across. Similarly, there are many community newspapers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) but the quality of the papers is questionable. The reason? Again, lack of thorough proof-reading.

Having to write atleast 3-4 articles per week, I have an urge to take shortcuts. Shortcuts usually entail not paying attention to a comma, or exact quotes, or even facts. It’s an urge that goes back to my essay writing days at York University where a well-written essay with short-cuts would gain me a B or a B+. However, a well-written essay that had been proof-read atleast 2-3 times would entitle me to an A, always without fail. It is a deadly urge that can bring the demise of any aspiring or promising writer. I do believe I belong to the former category, while family and friends like to attribute my writing to the latter. The trick to avoid this urge is to promise oneself to always be a writer with integrity (the importance of which will be the topic for another blog post).

proof-reading

It usually takes me three hours to write a 600 words article because I spend two hours on proof-reading. However, do not mistake me for a writer sitting on her high-horse criticising other writers out there. I am just pointing out a flaw that I have noticed. And, if you spend as much time proof-reading as I do, you will know exactly what I mean.

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