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
By mid-December, it's not very often that we get to see London drenched in beautiful sunlight. In fact, most days I can barely see a few hundred feet ahead of me with all the fog. So when the sun does come out, I rejoice. When it shines, I shine too. There's something about a sunny morning that makes want to jump out of bed and get going. It makes me feel optimistic. It gives me hope. And let me tell you... Optimism is a very hard thing to find right now. I don't know if it's because I've become more proactive in learning about the world or because the world really has gotten so bad in the last twelve months. I'm hoping it's the former and that ignorance has let me live so blissfully thus far.
If you've kept up with current affairs, you'll know that this year has been a devastating one, to say the least. From Brexit, the US presidential election and the onslaught of bigotry it's brought about, to all that is happening to innocent people around the world. Beyond the comforts of our four walls, the world is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. I will not get into the details of it, because to adequately tackle such a topic is simply beyond me. What I will tell you is this - be aware and be positive. Learning about the injustices around the world is difficult for me, because it makes me feel so helpless... However, I've learnt that all change begins with the smallest of intentions. As individuals, spreading positivity is the least we can do. Be kind, be understanding, be loving - but neither does that mean you should sit down quietly and take it when you witness something you cannot and should not tolerate. Raise your voice, get angry. You will find other like-minded individuals and you will be heard. In the dark, we ourselves must shine and be the light,
Shot at Notting Hill, London.
Photo assistance - Andrea Cheong
Wearing: Zara - Embroidered jacket // Uniqlo - Turtleneck HeatTech // C/MEO Collective - Jeans // Alexander McQueen - Patent leather skull slippers // Chanel - Wallet on chain
A couple of weeks ago, Trish and I decided to explore South Kensington, in search of this insta-legendary wall of scarlet leaves. Needless to say, it was a success. Kynance Mews is by far one of the most photo-worthy spots in London, at least on a gloomy autumn day. That's what I love about this city, you never know where you're going to run into a delightful little corner.
On another note, lately I've been questioning the lengths I go to for my blog posts. Why am I doing what I'm doing? Yes, on one hand I want to share my experiences and journeys, but so does everybody else. That's what social media is for. I started to think back to what inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I remember when I would spend most of my time online admiring the most wondrous blogs, like Gary Pepper Girl and Missing Avenue. The photos created and the stories shared, they filled me with wonder and excitement. Five minutes on either of those blogs and I felt so inspired to not only go out and explore, but to create. And that's when I realised that I wanted to make others feel the same way that I felt. So I hope that I'm on the right path, that I've instilled some form of inspiration in at least one of you. But if not, tomorrow is a new day to try again and better myself.
Very often something as simple as a sound or sight can fire up long-forgotten childhood memories, sending me into the past to relive that moment.
Take the clack of a trotting horse. As soon as I hear it, my very first memory flashes before my eyes, as vividly as a movie. Everywhere I look, I see white. Snow, I presume. Snow on the roads, snow on the trees, snow on the mountains. Even the sky is white. I am moving forward, with an icy breeze in my face. My attention is devoted to the blur of dark figures that I pass by, but I soon realise that I'm in fact sitting on a horse. A white horse. Eventually I tire out and slowly place my head against the back of his neck, burying my stubby fingers into his mane, tightening my grip. And then my memory too fades out into white. My mother, skeptically, tells me I couldn't possibly remember this since it happened when I was only a year old, on a trip to Murree. Perhaps she's right, with infantile amnesia and all.
The sound of crows cawing immediately makes me break out into a sweat. I'm transported back to the balmy month of June, at some undistinguishable age, lying on the floor of my grandmother's home in Karachi. The air is still. I take slow, deep breaths. The marble floor does its best to fight off the heat that's gripping my body as I stare through a netted window at the dust covered leaves of a black plum tree, the crows fooling around beyond the tree, and the black kites soaring like kings even further away in the heavens. I close my eyes and all I hear is the soft whirr of a neighbour's electrical generator, periodically interrupted by the commotion of these crows.
And as such, I have many triggers and memories hidden away, which every now and then take me back to Pakistan. My favourite though, is a particularly milky shade of pink that stirs up sensations of bliss - the colour of Kashmiri chai sipped on rainy winters, the colour of dusty sunsets spent on rooftops.
The reason why I bring up this topic of memories in Pakistan is because over this past summer, I spent six weeks in Karachi. It's the longest time I've spent there in a single stretch. No matter what people say or what you're made to believe through sensationalised news stories, it is a painfully beautiful country, full of gems, full to the brim with untapped potential. Pakistan is a country close to my heart and if you were following me on social media, you'll know that I had an immensely fulfilling time there.
I did have my doubts though. I was a little hesitant and resistant towards the idea of being there for so long, but by the end, I felt the same hesitance and resistance as I was boarding my flight back. The first few days there I felt like I had lost my direction in life, after being separated from the comfort and security of my regular routine. Living alone in London for two years has changed me in some ways (mostly for the better, I'd like to think), but spending time with family I grew up with reminded me of an age of pristine innocence. Every now and again I would recall things that I used to do in my younger days, unostentatious and uninhibited. It really was a time of self-rediscovery and I remembered the many things that really make me who I am today. I guess in order to find your way sometimes you do need to get a little lost first.
Refreshed, I hope to get back onto my creative journey with a stronger direction, filled with more purposeful intention. For some time now, my presence on the blog has been less than optimal. I've been questioning a lot of the things that I do, which lead me to scrapping drafts left, right and centre. Mediocracy is something that I often speak about and never want present in my work. But at the same time, I'm also letting go of the idea of perfection - nothing is truly perfect. If you do something, simply do it with all your heart and to the best of your capabilities and knowledge. If mistakes are made, take it as a learning opportunity and grow.
I wait for the cool breeze; it cuts the thick, humid afternoons into pieces - like a fragmenting river through fertile banks, like a piece of honeycomb as it hits the floor. Another summer day, speckled with pink dust and the calls of crows, goes by.
Yesterday I turned 23. It's the one time a year when I reflect on how much my life has changed over the course of 12 months. Every year I think to myself, wow it can't get crazier than that... But guess what? It does. With every increment of my age, I learn new lessons from life. Important lessons that will stay with me for a long time.
I'm older, but not wiser - in fact, my foolishness grows with each passing day. Being an adult doesn't necessarily mean that you have your life sorted out. Growing up should be a liberating experience. It means to be able to accept the things you cannot change, and live with positivity and gratitude. It means to learn whose opinion matters and whose doesn't. It means to break free from conformities and compromises. It means to be bold enough to live on your own terms and never apologise for it.
Thank you to every single one of you who has taken a moment of your precious time for this underserving fool. Your presence, physical and digital, were the best presents I could ask for. Your hugs, phone calls, comments, Instagram posts, text messages, tweets, video calls, Facebook posts and snapchats have filled my soul with so much joy and I am ever so grateful from the bottom of my heart.