One of my earliest memories of racism was when I was 9 years old. It's a memory that's always going to be with me, but for all the right reasons (you'll find out why soon). It was during a time when I started noticing that I wasn't like most of my friends or the people around me even. I was darker. I studied Urdu, instead of Chinese, Malay or Tamil. I didn't eat pork, but people were quick to assume that it was beef I didn't eat. But mostly it was because the colour of my skin was not as light as everyone else's. Other children were noticing it too, and a day wouldn't go by where I wouldn't hear about it.
This particular incident happened in my primary school, during those twilight moments between periods where one teacher left and we waited for the next to enter. It was a classroom of 45 third graders with 3 minutes of unsupervised freedom. Some might call it chaos. Me and Deepika, the only other Indian* girl in my class, happened to be sitting next to each other. We were minding our respective kid-businesses, when this Chinese** boy comes up to our tables...
"Eeeeeeeeeeeeee. So smelly! Smelly Indians!"
Being the non-confrontational person that I am, I look back down and ignore him.
"So dirty, never take shower! Go home!"
I shoot up a quick glance and return to ignoring him, feeling annoyed and scared at the same time. I hadn't done anything to him, why was he here bothering me?
"So black! You are black shit!!! Chao da!***"
I feel a surge of anger rushing up to my head, on the verge of yelling something dumb like "go away". But before I have a chance to react, I hear Deepika's high pitched, Hermione Granger-esque know-it-all voice - tinged with fury. She was coming for blood.
"Excuse me? Are you blind? My hair, this, this is black. Look at me. Look at my skin. This is not black."
At this point already I was internally screaming and clapping for my homegirl. You tell him! Dish out those facts! But then it gets better, and the following words have ever since been engrained in my soul.
"My skin is the colour of gold. I am golden."
My jaw may have dropped. I didn't know it then, but I was like literally shook. That's what empowerment felt like. I had never in my 9 years of existence heard anyone refer to me or my skin as something so beautiful, so valuable, so universal. It was the first of many revelations to come. It was a declaration of self-love. What a profound thing for a child to say. I often wonder who instilled her with this sense of confidence. They would have been so proud of this moment. Even when I think about it now, it's still so pleasantly surprising to me. It was life-altering. My world turned upside down and I was seeing things from a new perspective - one that didn't involve me constantly wishing I was like everyone else.
Verbal abuse and taunting is an unpleasant experience for anyone to go through, especially children, and I wish I could tell you that this was my only experience of it. Incidents like these turned out to be far more common than people would like to acknowledge it to be. It gets swept below the rug under the guise of "just being kids". But when we grow up, it masks casual racism as socially acceptable behaviour. Thanks to Deepika though, I learnt an important lesson from the onset about self worth and not taking crap from haters. I can confidently say it was after this day that I stopped being ashamed of a lot of my differences. I started opening up about things that I would usually try to hide.
Like the fact that I didn't know any Western music. At that age, I only knew and listened to Bollywood songs, because that and BBC News were the only things that played in my parents car.
Like the fact that I ate with my hands at home. It was much more efficient than clumsily struggling with a fork and spoon, constantly switching them between my hands - I could never remember which hand was meant to be used for which utensil.
Like the fact that I loved to wear shalwar kameez, but I rarely would in Singapore. I'd be so afraid that I was going to be made fun of, that I only wore them on Eid, Diwali or at weddings. This year I wore one while attending the Mulberry show at London Fashion Week. What a long way I've come.
This post barely scratches the surface of all the important and varying race issues (and all it's intersectionalities) that still need to be discussed, but for now it's a celebration of those golden words and the significance it's had in shaping who I am today. May we all have such empowering experiences. Stay golden.
Artwork by me.
Wearing: shalwar kameez from Amir Adnan, Junaid Jamshed and my tailor in Karachi.
* In Singapore if you're any kind of South Asian, you're simply labelled as Indian.
** The racial majority of Singapore. Equivalent to white people in a Western country. Yes, Chinese privilege is a real thing, guys.
*** Chao da = Burnt
It's the city that keeps on giving, unconditionally. Gems to be discovered and enjoyed are scattered generously throughout every street. And speaking of streets, Barcelona is the dream city for people who, like myself, enjoy exploring on foot. The neat, grid-like plan of the city means that with a dash of patience, you could effectively get to most of your destinations.
Till date, I've never heard anyone say that they didn't enjoy their time in Barcelona, or that they ever felt bored. There's so much to do and see, whether you're an explorer, a culture vulture, a foodie, a sports fan (Força Barça!), a shopaholic or a beach bum. Personally, I'm a little bit of everything. Despite visiting twice already, there's still enough reason for me to visit a third time (fingers crossed).
Places to visit and things to do...
Antoni Gaudí's architecture - if you can, you should check all of them out. The ones on the top of my list are La Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, Parc Güell and Palau Güell. Gaudí's eccentric eye and uncontainable imagination have resulted in some of the most beautiful architecture I've ever seen.
Parc De La Ciutadella - perfect for a picnic, especially in the warmer months. It's always bustling with life, making it a great spot to people watch. At one end you're greeted by the majestic Arc De Triomf, and at the other, the Barcelona Zoo.
Neighbourhoods to explore - Las Ramblas is a long stretch of one of the most crowded promenades and is teeming with tourists. Here you'll find everything from markets and art to souvenirs and street food. Do remain alert, because where there are lots of tourists, there are lots of people trying to trick or scam them. I almost had my phone swiped from me here. Another favourite neighbourhood is the Barri Gòtic, also known as the Gothic Quarter. The cobblestoned streets make you feel as though you've stepped back in time, only exaggerated by the many gothic cathedrals. Do make your way to the Basílica Santa Maria del Mar, where you have the opportunity to take a tour on the rooftop and experience a 360º view of the city.
Camp Nou - if you're a football fan, you definitely have to venture to this magnificent stadium and even possibly catch a game.
Castell de Montjuïc - situated at the top of Parc de Montjuïc at 173m above sea level, this fortress today stands as an emblem of Barcelona's struggles through history. It's a magnificent space with a matching view. You can get there by taxi or a bus and then cablecar. For the more daring, you could take a mini hike.
Eat like there's no tomorrow - Barcelona is like Singapore when it comes to food. Meaning that it's almost impossible to find a bad restaurant. Walk into any cafe or tapas bar at any time of day and I'm pretty certain you will not be let down. Two standout places for me were Cervesería Catalana and Pitarra.
Pla de Palau fountain - this might not be on everybody's list, but it was definitely a place that I personally wanted to visit. This is the fountain in which Shakira jumped into for her music video for Loca. You probably know by now that I'm a huge fan of Shakira so I wanted to check this place out firsthand.
Another thing about Barcelona that I wasn't very aware of before visiting the first time was the fact that a surprisingly large number of people spoke only in Catalan. So much for 7 years of learning Spanish. So to end this post I've put together a little list of phrases that I wish someone had given me before I landed in Barcelona. I hope they come in handy!
- Please - Sisplau/Si us plau. (sees-PLOW/see oos PLOW)
- Thank you - Gràcies/Mercès. (GRAH-syuhs/muhr-SEHS)
- I can't speak Catalan well - No parlo bé el català. (noh PAHR-loo BEH uhl kuh-tuH-LAH)
- With soy milk - Amb llet de soja (ahm JHET de SO-jha)
- I don't eat pork. No menjo porc. (noh MEHN-zhoh pohrk)
- The check, please - El compte, si us plau. (ehl KOHMP-teh, see oos plow)
- How much is this? - Quant costa això? (KWAHNT kohs-ta ai-SOH?)
- I love you - T'estimo (tuH-stee-moh)
On my first visit to Granada, I proudly proclaimed that "the city definitely warrants a second visit". A year later while touring Spain, I proved myself right. As often happens after you discover something great, when you experience it again and again, it seems to lose it's charm - it's never as good as the first time. An experiential desensitisation, if you will. However, it's definitely not so with Granada. Other than the 40 degree temperature difference from my previous visit, everything else was the same. The same ease of life lingered in the air, seducing you with every breath. The same levels of awe for what has remained from it's explosive history, juxtaposed with the repose of modernity.
When you're under the Andalusian sun, surrounded by so many gems waiting to be discovered, with Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, there is almost nothing that could make you feel any sort of tension. It's as if life itself in Granada is rose-tinted. I think it's now safe to say that it's one of my favourite cities to travel to and I look forward to these future visits. In the meantime, here are some snapshots from my brief return to a most magical place.
Wearing: Mango - Shirt // Acne Studios - Trousers // Gloria Ortiz - Hat // Bershka - Sneakers