Cheese and Wine Whine (Review)

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I was reading a thread about favorite home traditions of people who have married into Indian culture. Very fast the posts turned into nostalgia about various types of food. I wanted to expand on my thoughts about this, plus I have never ventured into the world of food and drink blogging so here goes….

I’m English and I love cheese. Indians have no idea how to do cheese. Sorry, but it is true. And selling imported cheddar and parmesan in Hypercity or Nature’s Basket for some ridiculous extortionate price is not the solution and paneer doesn’t bloody count! Cheese is important as is red wine. I am currently drinking indian red wine which is genuinely nice – if the Indians can learn red wine surely cheese will follow? We can only live in hope….

Now please forgive me and correct me if I am wrong here, but Indian wine used to taste like a mix of vinegar and piss. Now however, they have totally hit the nail on the head and are producing some damn fine wines! Below are a few of my favorites, all for under 1000 rupees (because let’s face it I am not as rich or as classy as I would like to be!) Any Indian wine makers out there please feel free to send me some expensive wine (for free) to review….

Sula Madera

This is my trusted favorite wine. At a reasonably priced (read cheap) 290 rs a bottle you can’t go wrong (unless you are thinking Blue Nun) with something that is this drinkable. I can’t say I agree with their advised serving temperature of ‘slightly chilled 14-16 degrees.’ Come on! Red wine should NOT be served cold! Yes we live in a hot country but seriously! It’s fruity but not sweet. Best drank after children’s tantrums and arguments with rickshaw drivers. Goes nicely with heavy oily high calorie tikka masala (mutton or paneer) and pizza.

Choco Vino

According to the label this wine is ‘to be enjoyed anytime during the day’ which basically legitimizes my daytime drinking if I so wish. The marketing is clearly praying on 30 something women like myself who love chocolate and wine and the idea of a combination of the two is too hard to resist. It doesn’t really fast anything like chocolate but it is rather nice and has a good body (unlike mine if I drink too much or indeed eat too much chocolate! Note to self!) I found another review which begs to differ on the chocolate taste front and is also rather funny, which you can read here. (I stole the photo from here – sorry!)

Sula Dia

Red wine that is COLD and FIZZY! AND CHEAP!!! Sounds minging? Actually it’s not – it’s delicious! The dryness counters the sweetness and it’s more like a sparkling rose more than a red. It has a rather classy Art Deco label design so you can feel classy drinking it, even out of a coffee mug. I think I have found India’s answer to Prosecco and I am a happy lady!

Fratelli Classic Shiraz

Sounds Italian, actually Indian, actually easily as good as the Italian it wants to be. Rich and ruby red and smooth on the palate. Had this in a restaurant in Lonavala so bit more pricey than the rest of the wines reviewed. Looking at their own description which describes it as having ‘hints of leather’ and suggesting it goes well with ‘Thai beef stir fry,’ I’m not sure they have thought their marketing strategy through well for an Indian audience.

Sula Samara

Bought this because they had run out of Madera in the weird local wine shop that only men seem to go to. It’s cheaper and actually maybe nicer! Maybe I just really craved wine this evening but this is totally hitting the spot. It’s a bit weak at 11% but as it is cheaper you can buy two bottles guilt free and therefore drink more. Best drunk while watching sci-fi serials on netflix while your man is away and you miss him a bit. I’m sure it would go well with chocolate but sadly there is none and no one to send to the shops (small violin playing in the background while I eat Indian ‘cream cheese’ on toast)….

I would give you some reviews of Indian cheeses, but let’s face it (and again please correct me if I am wrong) but there is no bloody point!

Please do share with me you suggestions and recommendations for Indian domestic wine and cheese…..

 

Posted in Cheese, Culture, england, Ex Pat, expat, Food, Humor, Humour, India, Review, Tradition, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Mumbai (un)Public Transport part 3

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my Sunny Scootoni as modeled by a random man

I’ve written previously about my experiences on the Mumbai public transport system. Now I would like to share with you my newfound love, my daily joy in sunny yellow, my savior from traffic jams, chore rickshaw drivers and being pretty much beaten up getting on and off local trains – introducing Sunny Scootoni – my sexy, Italian and rather stylish scooter.

She’s daring, a fast woman in bike form with matching retro yellow helmet. She doesn’t care how loud you beep your horn or if you are on a noisy massive Enfield because you can just eat her goddamn dust at 5mph stuck in a queue of two-wheelers on the side of the highway. No you are not jumping ahead in front of this lady – where are your manners? What happened to chivalry?!

I know she is a little dangerous and my mother does not entirely approve of her but I love her and I hope we will never part. I look forward to waking up to her each morning and coming home from work on her each evening. All the family love riding on her.

I’ve ridden scooters before when I stayed in Goa but always been a little terrified of the Mumbai infamous crazy traffic. Most ex-pats I know have cars with drivers to ferry them safely through the chaos (nothing wrong with this – living the dream!) Not having the option of this luxury coupled with depressing journeys in OLA cabs watching the two wheelers zip around me stationary in the traffic jam there was nothing for it but to take a deep breath and ride on regardless! My journey time has halved and I’ve not only become accustomed to but adept at weaving my way through the gridlock.

For others brave or crazy enough to drive/ride in this city here are the unofficial rules of the Indian roads:

  1. Lane discipline is not really a concept and undertaking is totally OK.
  2. Mirrors are also not really a concept. I saw a lady the other day who had chosen to gaffer tape carrier bags over hers because it was raining or because she was a lunatic, I’m not entirely sure. Instead of relying on your fellow drivers to see you in their mirrors, it is customary to beep the shit out of your horn when overtaking and take responsibility for your own life by making it’s presence heard.
  3. Many places in town have no horn beeping signs. These are largely ignored.
  4. Horn beeping is not considered rude or something done in anger as it is in many other places in the world. However it is often rude and done in anger. It is also really annoying if you live anywhere near a road until your brain creates a natural filter to ignore it.
  5. Right of way is who pulls out first in front of the other, unless you are a bus.
  6. At busy times traffic cops will direct traffic at various junctions. They are largely ignored just as traffic lights are.
  7. Helmets must be worn by law but only if you are the driver – your wife, sister, four children and goat that are also traveling on your bike need not wear one.
  8. Paise gets you everywhere in matters involving traffic cops.
  9. Pot holes, pot holes everywhere. And cows. And pedestrians with death wishes.
  10. The existence of the pavement is another thing that is not really a concept, certainly not as an area for walking on anyway. Setting up a shop selling pani puri, corn specialist treatment, place to tie up your goat/cow, or housing four generations of a family under a single piece of tarpaulin on the other hand….
  11. Men dressed as women clapping at traffic lights is a common sight, as are people selling all sorts of plastic crap and hot nuts, people with no legs on skateboards and small skinny children with big pleading eyes. They all want your money and they all break my heart when I see them.
Posted in Bikes, Bombay, Culture, Driving, expat, India, Mumbai, Public Transport, Traffic, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sick as a Street Dog

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In times of late I have not been well at all. Having suffered (and survived!) in the past from the infamous Indian ‘Delhi belly’ I have developed, quite proudly, guts of steel. During my last stint living in India I got sick once- not a bad record for two years! I definitely found myself suffering basically never from the seasonal colds and flu viruses that the UK is plagued with. I found the extra sunshine and healthy diet (due to abundance of cheap fruit and veg) and addition of health giving spices was eliminating the experience of being bed-ridden from my life.

This time around however the story has been very different. It started with a stomach infection or sorts. My partner took me to the doctors. I relayed my symptoms to him and he immediately thrust two pills into my hand. ‘Take these now.’ he commanded. My refusal to take the random medicine and daring to question what it was and what it was for dented his ego somewhat. ‘Doctors are like gods here,’ explained my partner, ‘this guy is respected all around the area and people queue to see him because he is the best.’ I begged to disagree as the doctor had promptly prescribed me some random medicine, which upon looking up was not only completely unrelated to my ailment but I was also allergic to!

One week later I was still sick and sought the help of a gastroenterologist. He went on to prescribe no less than five different types of medicine, some of which made me feel high as a kite but totally did cure me… Until I got some other horrific tonsillitis/flu/fever/sinus infection. Thanks antibiotics, my immune system has totally gone to pot! A week after recovering from that delight I once again have tonsils the size of laddoos.

India, for all its culture of Ayurveda and holistic health seems to very happy to put blind faith in allopathic doctors. There seems to be a culture of taking antibiotics for everything and anything and rushing to the doctor at the appearance of the smallest sniffle. However, maybe it’s a wise thing to seek medical help with the threat of Dengue and Malaria ever lurking (I’m half convinced maybe I had mild Dengue). However, I do worry that the knowledge we now have about the overuse of antibiotics and the development of antibiotic resistant ‘super-bugs’ has not quite filtered down to the Indian GP or indeed the common man.

My Indian family are totally caring and wonderful when it comes to looking after each other (and me!) when they are ill. I’m perhaps not as big a fan of seeing doctors and taking medicine as them but I know they have the best of intentions to help and looking after one’s health is considered very important in our family. I hope maybe I have learnt a little from them to take care of my health as a priority as well as some good home remedies. As always I hope I can give something back to them with a few of my home remedies.

Below are some useful links for home remedies to keep at bay the necessity to take antibiotics, as well as some articles on why we need to curb their use, in India especially ASAP. I’ve also put a link to a good site & project about Dengue prevention.

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/open-magazine/how-india-became-the-antibiotics-capital-of-the-world-and-wasted/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/Overuse-of-antibiotics-harming-Indias-fight-against-TB-Lancet/articleshow/53858713.cms

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/

http://www.ayurvedichomeremedies.net

http://easyayurveda.com/ayurvedic-home-remedies-2/

https://www.breakdengue.org/toolkits/dont-get-dengue/

 

Posted in Alternative medicine, Antibiotics overuse, Culture, Dengue, Ex Pat, expat, Health, Illness, India, Mumbai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gods That Ate Everything

29c4d9e09843f487bd1edd10e8e94ef0The last week or two in Mumbai we have seen a lot of celebrations (and a lot of chaos!) in the streets. Ganesh Chaturthi has filled the streets with processions of drummers and dancers as bappas were paraded towards their final destinations to be immersed in water. Eid has filled the streets with proud men with plump goats on strings decorated with tinsel.

The whole affair is driving my partner crazy. He is a firm believer that religion should be celebrated in private, kept off the streets and out of people’s faces. He feels that the whole show and pomp put on by the competing revelers is dissolving the meaning behind the festivals, rendering them a pointless, noisy menace.

Me on the other hand, I love a good street party. I love the colour, music, atmosphere and community spirit. I think it is important to keep cultures and traditions alive plus I always welcome the prompt to explore the deeper meanings and lessons to be learnt from these traditions.

However, several weeks in, suffering from a fever bed bound, the cacophony of the endless festivities outside was too much even for me. Poor Ganesh with his large elephant ears must have himself been half deafened.

A particular highlight of Ganpati celebration is the troops of drummers that are accompanied by a keyboard player. The keyboard is often amplified through tinny-screechy sounding tannoy speakers strapped to the top of a rickshaw or car. You can be certain that whatever they keyboard player is playing (seemingly random notes that occasionally bear some resemblance to popular Bollywood songs from the 1970s) will have absolutely no correlation with the accompanying drummers. The dancing public seem to be blissfully unaware/ indifferent to this dissonance and continue to whirl around, let off crackers and shout ‘Morya!’ with great enthusiasm. My head felt like it was going to explode.

“So now you understand?” says my better half, “the whole affair is about show-off; who has the biggest Bappa covered in the most glitter, spent the most money, hired the biggest troop of drummers, put up a mobile soundsystem. Last year there were many complaints because the DJs were playing trashy songs like ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ and ‘Gangnam Style.’ What has that got to do with religion? And with Eid – it is about coming on the road and showing off who has the fattest goat. It used to be that the meat was given to the poor but that rarely happens anymore. They just shit everywhere and cause a nuisance all for ego not god. Why can’t people keep religion in their own homes?”

While, despite my headache I did not entirely agree with him, our conversation got me thinking about a story I had read our daughter about Ganesh and Kubera. Here is my retelling of it in my own words:

Kubera was the god of wealth and he was a massive show-off. He loved to put on the most lavish parties to prove his status as the richest (and therefore most important) god around. He had the finest wines, the most gourmet food and the most opulent décor. All that was lacking to complete the perfection was the caliber of the guests.

Kubera knew what he had to do – he had to persuade Shiva and Parvati, the heads of all the gods to be his guests. He would spend so much money on them that everyone in the whole world would admire him!

Off he went to Kailash with golden invitations and a heart full of pride at his genius idea. Shiva and Parvati were busy however, and in their place sent their son Ganesh, assuring Kubera that he would be a most fitting guest for the occasion.

Undeterred, Kubera pulled out all the stops and showered his guest with compliments and expensive canapes.

“I want the main course!” Demanded Ganesh.

Kubera presented an enormous spread on a mile long banquet table. Ganesh gobbled it up in ten seconds flat. “More!” the god demanded, “I’m still hungry! I will tell my parents what a stingy miser you are not feeding me enough!”

Kubera was starting to get worried. Ganesh had eaten all the food in the palace so he sent his men out to get all the food in the city and the surrounding villages. The village people cried as Kubera’s men took away their food. “What will we feed our children?” They cried.

ganesha_and_kuberaWhen all the food in all the land was presented at the palace once more Ganesh swallowed it all, without even chewing. “Still hungry!” shouted Ganesh, his belly filling half the hall.

“But Ganesh!” pleaded Kubera, “I have no food left!”

“You miser! You peasant! I thought you were rich!” Exclaimed Ganesh before starting to eat up all the guards and servants and anyone else who crossed his path. “Next Kubera I am going to eat you!” Shouted Ganesh.

Kubera ran away in fright. Outside he saw the starving people. “Oh great rich king!” they pleaded, “help us as you are so wealthy and generous!”

Kubera ran faster, he could not bear to admit he had nothing and was now as poor as them. There was only one place left to go – back to Kailash to ask for help.

When Shiva and Parvati saw Kubera’s panicked face they laughed. “How silly you are,” said Parvati kindly, “you made the mistake of thinking that people will respect and admire you more if you show off your wealth. Us enlightened gods know the truth however, if you want to impress and honor us then it does not matter how big or small your offering is – what matters is that it is done with humility and love. We have no use for these offerings of food and material riches so afterwards they should be given to the people who need them. Only then will we be satisfied.”

Kubera knew then what he had to do. He went back to Ganesh and knelt before him.

“Oh lord Ganesh! I have nothing left to offer you to demonstrate my wealth. I found these few grains of rice on the kitchen floor. It is not much but I offer them now to you to show my respect for you. They are merely a token. What I really offer to you is my heart and myself as your humble servant and my thanks for all that is good. I offer my prayers that everyone else can be rich in happiness and never go hungry.”

Ganesh smiled and took the rice. “Now I am full. In fact I am too full!” And with that Ganesh opened his mouth and out came all the people, all their food and everything Kubera had fed Ganesh. Kubera was so grateful he used to food to put on a feast for all the poorest citizens of his kingdom and made sure that in the future if he ever held a party that everyone was invited, regardless of how rich or poor they were!

The End

I think this story teaches a valuable lesson. With my partner being a Hindu we celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi at home for three days. On the third day we took all the sweets and fruits we had offered down along with our Bappa and distributed the food to all the fotorcreated-1children who live on our road. When I say live on our road I literally mean on our road – in small shacks built from tarpaulin or just on the pavement. Our daughter handed out the sweets and played with the children and finally understood why the sweets that had tempted her for days were not for her. Then we took our Bappa and immersed him in the purpose built pool at the end of the street where he could biodegrade and not cause any pollution. We bought him from a street-side craftsman as opposed to from a mall or supermarket and next year, inspired by a story I read last year we want to make a Bappa out of chocolate, immerse in milk and make chocolate milkshake for all the kids.

My Muslim friend at work told me how he would go home for Eid the following week and his family would take their goat to a special community place where after sacrifice, one third of the meat would be donated for the poor and needy with the remaining two thirds going to family and friends. He also mentioned how each year his family gives alms as part of a Muslim festival.

We have a duty as both individuals and the community to celebrate festivals, both religious and secular for the right reasons and in a responsible way for the environment and our neighbors. The solution is not banning public displays of religion, much as it would please my partner, but to look at the lessons those religions are trying to teach us and do our best to understand and abide by them.

Wishing you all a (slightly belated) happy Ganesh Chaturthi and Eid. !

 

 

 

Posted in Culture, Eid, expat, Festivals, Ganesh, Ganpati Chaturthi, Hindu, Hinduism, India, Mumbai, Muslim, Religion, Religious festivals, Rituals, spirituality, Stories, Tradition | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Culture Clash: Boobies!

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This incident, rather ironically happened to me during World Breastfeeding Week, so wishing all the mamas out there doing it, trying to do it and supporting those that can’t a belated happy World Breastfeeding Week! Find out more in the link below:

http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org

The reason it is ironic for me is I had a debate (read argument) with my partner over a photo on social media of me breastfeeding. Now I’m British and he is Indian – I am totally happy to respect and adapt to his culture in regards to most things and take care to quiet my angry inner feminist to keep the peace in our family and wider immediate society (to a point whilst not-so-secretly fighting for social change obviously). However, this is something I feel rather strongly about and we have had to agree to disagree, both of us walking away with rather hurt feelings.

I won’t publish the offending picture here but what is shows is me in a hospital gown, moments after my daughter was born with the biggest smile on my face, gorgeous little newborn clasped to my breast and the tiniest bit of booby showing. This is the first picture taken of us together after she entered the world and it was taken by my dear friend Jo who was my birthing partner. It means a great deal to me and I should imagine her also.

Social media can be a minefield for intercultural and long distance relationships. It is certainly not the first time it has caused problems in my relationship. When my relationship became serious and inevitably I became cyber friends with my partner’s friends and family, I removed any pictures that might be deemed a bit ‘too sexy’ for an Indian audience. I was fine with this – I didn’t want to be giving any aunties a heart attack!

However in the UK I have been an activist for the right of women to breastfeed in public, to remove the stigma and sexualisation of it. I feel there should be no shame, no requirement to cover up, no embarrassment. I don’t feel it should be kept ‘private’ any more than feeding a baby with a bottle or adults eating their lunch.

I have been assured that I am fighting a losing battle if I ever imagined this ‘lactivist’ movement will ever take root in India, that I should not push my foreign views on a country and society that is not my own, that covering up is not ‘a big deal’ etc etc. When in India I do indeed cover up to breastfeed and respect the culture here and quite frankly, I don’t want the attention. Yet I still feel I am betraying my own beliefs.

Here are just a few of the things I have been told regarding public, uncovered breastfeeding in India:

 ‘You wouldn’t walk down the street naked! Why is it ok to get naked just because you have a baby?’

‘It should be done in private!’ (what like in a public toilet? Yuk!)

‘It is something only labour class women do.’

‘Aren’t you ashamed that men might see your boobs?’

‘You should cover up so men don’t feel uncomfortable.’

‘It is unhealthy for the baby, they could get sick because of germs in the air.’

‘Most women breastfeed in India and they all cover so why is it such a big deal? it’s not like anyone is stopping them from breastfeeding?’

So I’m putting it out there to my Indian family, friends and readers (and anyone else in the world for that matter) that maybe the problem is not with the act or the photograph but with the attitude towards women and their breasts.

Breastfeeding is for everyone regardless of class. Breastfeeding is not about sex. Women don’t do it to tease men and be sexy. It is about a baby eating. It is not sexual. If you find breastfeeding sexual then you have some serious issues! And if you were eating would you want your face to be covered up by a stuffy sweaty bit of cloth? Bottles feeding vs breastfeeding is cleaner and builds the immune system of the baby – this is a scientific fact. Breastfeeding is not a ‘dirty’ bodily function like going for a shit so why suggest women to do it in private in the same place where you shit?

Being told to do it in private means shame.

Covering by force means shame.

Objectification of women means shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the women of India burn their dupattas and should all refuse to cover. I’m not under any impression that things will change here anytime fast and I know it is not my place to tell anyone what to do or what not to do. In the same way I support women who choose to wear a hijab or the famed burkini I support women who choose to cover. The point is it should be a choice and women should not be judged whatever their preference.

Anyway I will leave this all on a lighter note, with a very funny spoof film from India offering a solution to women who find tharki men constantly staring at their breasts. Enjoy!

Posted in blog, Bombay, Breastfeeding, Censorship, Culture, Desi, Ex Pat, expat, Feminism, Feminist, Health, India, intercultural relationships, motherhood, Mumbai, Tharki, Tradition, women empowerment, Women's rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Healing Tree Network – our brand new initiative

Reblogging this to spread the word on behalf of the fantastic Mythri Speaks blog….

All of us know at least one woman suffering from menstrual pain or menstrual disorders. So much so, that we have come to think of it as normal. Some of us know those who suffer from the side-effect…

Source: Healing Tree Network – our brand new initiative

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Brexit, Visas and Immigration Ranting!

hand-holding-brexit-sign-eu-referendumThis post has been brewing for a while ,then today I read about my friend’s experience with ignorant racism getting on a bus today in London and I could take no more! RANT WARNING…..

So my beautiful, intelligent and talented young friend of Indian origin and her equally beautiful and talented mother were getting on a bus. My friend’s mother got on but before her daughter could get on the driver slammed the door shut in her face:

“When I knocked on the door, she opened the door and abused me calling me a c*nt and an immigrant who doesn’t know London bus rules and said if I get on the bus she won’t start the bus. Then I said I won’t leave the bus and she can call the police, she then came up violently to me and started hurling abuses again and asked every passenger to leave. Then she went up to the next bus and asked the driver to not take me and my mum on board. Then she left with her bus too.”

This is totally shocking! People like that bus driver should not be allowed to represent our beloved multicultural London and work on our public services. My friend and her mum are the sweetest people! The mother, a classical singer, travels to the UK often to perform her beautiful music and my friend, her daughter, after studying in the UK is already a successful (taxpaying) businesswoman and about to open a classy restaurant (not to mention an awesome cook!). She is a Londoner as much as me!

As a recent ex-Londoner and now an immigrant myself in Mumbai (well in a week or so when my visa arrives fingers crossed!) I love that city and feel it is home as much as I feel London, a city I lived in but didn’t grow up in is also my home. Home is where you work, love and live; where you are part of society and contribute to society- for a great many people on this planet home is not where you were born and our planet and its global society is a more diverse, rich, educated and evolved place for the greater movement and mixing of people and their respective cultures!  

She asked the question if Brexit could be to blame for such a public display of racism. Sadly I feel she is correct to a degree. Brexit has caused a huge rise in racism (and xenophobia) which was always there brewing under the surface. Now the media coverage and right wing campaigning surrounding Brexit has given confidence to idiots- like that bus driver. We must not stand for it!

While I voted ‘IN’ I acknowledge that there are numerous left wing arguments for the UK to have voted ‘OUT’. One of the reasons I voted ‘IN’ was because I foresaw this whole fiasco – immigration being used as a scapegoat for the economic and social problems of the UK. It can’t even be called a conspiracy as it is plain for most to see. These issues outweighed the arguments to vote ‘OUT’. Unity amongst nations beyond Europe is more important to me than trade, money etc and extends beyond Europe to a global sentiment. We are all human beings and that above all else beyond race, money, religion, gender, age etc.

Thankfully the racists are actually a minority – they come to our attention more because of their bizarre actions, like religious terrorists. You don’t see people running up the road shouting “welcome to London! We love Polish supermarkets and Indian restaurants and bagel shops and reggae music and all of the wonderful culture we can call ‘British’ but has come to our shores from overseas. I see multiculturalism as an important part of ‘Britishness’ and part of our identity as Brits – something to be proud of!

Screw the media and all that it pushes and represents – screw the selfish interests of the few, the privileged and the ignorant. Screw the way only negative news is pushed and anything positive is ignored unless it involves sport or puppies or celebrities!

Back to my own personal experience, I recently had a visa denied for my partner to come to the UK to visit. I was shocked as were my parents when the UK embassy denied my partner the right to come to the UK. He was coming to meet my parents pre our marriage (due to health problems it is challenging for them to travel and he has never visited my home country), based on the fact that ‘as he was Indian (!) he was likely to stay in the UK and work illegally’. I was even more shocked when my friend’s husband was denied a visa for  exactly the same reasons when he was invited to attend the birth of his first-born son. He was a mechanical engineer, married to a Brit with a stable, well paid job and home in India. He clearly has no need to stay in UK and wash pots in a restaurant kitchen for an illegal existence!

Institutional racism and xenophobia exists within the British government. How can we hope for a peaceful future when this is the case? Yet we must hope and educate our children as they are our future.

Posted in blog, brexit, Culture, england, equality, Ex Pat, expat, immigration, immigration law, India, Intolerance, London, migrant, migrants, Politics, racism, refugee, refugee crisis, Terrorism, uk immigration, visas, xenophobia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Last Vat Savirti in London

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Today is Savitri Pooja in India. I wrote about this tradition last year (see link below where you can read the story of Savitri and my interpretation of it).

https://anenglishwomaninmumbai.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/vat-savitri-vrat-london-style/

While it is a festival that some view as oppressive to women, like Karva Chauth I choose to celebrate as I love the idea of a festival that celebrates the power of the love of women and divine feminine energy. I think every culture can identify with this and it is great to have a day dedicated to it!

This is my second celebration away from my man but I am very happy as it will be our last apart. After my partner’s application to visit my family in the UK was rejected we made the decision to join him in India and move back there. The past few months have been agonising – not only as we are separated by distance but working out how we can make the move happen. I spent months looking for a job, consulting immigration lawyers and accountants, looking at schools for my daughter and places to live, all whilst battling with the winter blues and living alone as a hard-working single mum in a freezing cold London. It took its toll on my career, relationship and health and was one of the hardest experiences I’ve been through in my life. However, I’m happy to say that all the hard work and tough decisions have paid off. I found a job, I have sold my boat, given away my car and packed my life into boxes. Soon I will say my farewells to my friends and family here in the UK. It is time to move onto the next adventure and I couldn’t be more overjoyed!

Today I am full of love and thanks. I feel strong and at peace. While this may not be my last Vat Savitri Vrat in London – who knows what the future holds for my family? I hope it will be my last alone. Many people ask me if I am not scared about all the things that come with settling and starting a new life in another country. These things don’t really phase me, but starting a new life and family with this person that means so much to me did terrify me. What if it doesn’t work? What if I am not good enough? What if it is the wrong decision? The wrong person? Will my daughter be happy? Will my partner be happy?

Today I am ready to face these questions and challenges. I know the strength of my love for my partner and my daughter will see me and my family through – with this power I can overcome all obstacles and look forward to a bright future full of even more love.

 

Posted in Culture, Durga, Feminism, Feminist, Goddess, good news, happy news, Hindu, Hinduism, immigration, India, intercultural relationships, long distance relationships, Love, motherhood, Mumbai, Religion, Romance, spirituality, Tradition, Vat Savitri, visas, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cultural Appropriation – My Two-pennies Worth!

 

52a922b0-a8d9-0133-b344-0e438b3b98d1.pngA lot has been written on this subject recently, both in the world of fellow intercultural-relationship bloggers and in the mainstream media. The whole debate has on more than a few occasions ruffled my feathers. There seems to be an increasing number of condescending and negative anti-cultural appropriation articles out there (amongst some quite valid ones) so I thought I would do my bit to re-dress the balance and put my point of view out there. As usual there is a comprehensive list of links to other articles and blogs at the end.

So, cultural appropriation, what is it? Dictionary definition says:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.”

So why is it such a touchy subject? Wikipedia says:

“Cultural appropriation is seen by some as controversial, notably when elements of a minority culture are used by members of the cultural majority; this is seen as wrongfully oppressing the minority culture or stripping it of its group identity and intellectual property rights… According to authors in the field, cultural (mis)appropriation differs from acculturation or assimilation in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of the dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context.”

Well thanks for clearing that up Wikipedia. I could carry on in a very academic discourse now about the “exotic” and the “other” and how neither of them are particularly wholesome terms when you are at the receiving end. I will state from the very beginning that I do not support cultural (mis)appropriation when it is done with bad intent and despite not being the biggest fan of stringent political correctness, when it is done in an uneducated and disrespectful way that causes offence or hardship to the culture in question. However, this article is not an essay – I want to share with you my thoughts on why it is not always a bad thing – or at least that certain acts need to be re-termed as per wikipedia above suggests.

So why am I in such a tizz about it all? Well there have sprung up actual hate groups – internet trolls who set out to harass and humiliate the ever growing number of white women in relationships with Indian men (I’m sure there are equivalents for other nationalities/races also but I’m going to talk about the one relevant to me). I find this bizarre and shocking. I’ve also read a great deal of articles also with subjects covering everything from white people shouldn’t be allowed to practice yoga or wear bindis to horrified reactions to various pop star’s costume/ dance move / music video locations choices. A lot of these are a little over zealous in their condemnation of the act.

I like to think that we have moved on somewhat from the hate and prejudice of the colonial and apartheid eras and that the world is slowly embracing this concept of a ‘global village’ where we are all in it together and equal. OK so we are not quite ready for world peace just yet and intolerance is rife but on the whole, we are living in increasingly progressive times. Due to the internet and wider accessibility of air travel, cultures are mixing now more than ever with more bridges being built than burnt. I am ever the optimist.

More and more as we occupy the same geographical spaces, we are naturally mixing our cultures together – our music, art, fashion, marriage, religion. It’s a natural and I would argue healthy process. It is certainly an unavoidable one – so why are some people so determined to fight against it? Minority cultures are not being lost – if anything they are spreading and receiving new acceptance, recognition and appreciation and without some degree of cultural appropriation this would not be possible.

In this day and age it is so important that we learn about and try to understand each other’s cultures – ignorance breeds fear and contempt and therefore oppression. When the unknown becomes known it is less threatening. Popular culture and imagery is a very effective way of spreading ideas and concepts – even though often they may be in a very base and stereotypical form. Children learn through role play and make believe – why can’t we allow a degree of that in adulthood and in popular culture and accept the innocence of it? If we look at the bigger picture and the greater good, global society as a whole is making an effort to understand each other. In this organic process there is bound to be a few misguided (mis)appropriations and reactions to them, but this is all part of the natural process of communicating and understanding each other better. A constructive critique is a much more positive way to approach public acts of cultural (mis)appropriation as well as a degree of tolerance and maybe a few ‘ten points for effort’ pats on the back where it has been done, perhaps badly, but with the best of intentions.

Anyway moving back to how this affects me personally, when you are in an intercultural relationship you are in love first and foremost. You don’t consider that you are white and your culture is ‘dominant’ over your partner’s Indian culture – it doesn’t even enter your brain. If you happen to live in India you feel very much the opposite on occasion as this is what is going on in your daily life – you are the foreigner and the minority. You consider that this is the person you love and both of your culture’s are of equal importance. You participate in each other’s cultures. You respect each other’s families by adopting each other’s customs. You learn each other’s languages. You celebrate each other’s festivals. You are a unit – two into one – and when you raise a child together it becomes even more so as that child has a right to know both cultures.

When I hear of these hate groups protesting at a white woman having a Hindu or Sikh wedding ceremony or wearing a saree or bindi and accusing her of appropriation I think this is hugely unfair. It’s not appropriation – it is the unifying of cultures and done in a very respectful way. Then you see the counter arguments “well you Desi girls wear Western clothes – why is that OK but me in a saree not?” Then you see the argument back “well your culture is dominant and mine is not so that is OK!” I find the whole thing totally ridiculous and pointless. Firstly, why should I made to feel guilty that I happen to be born white and perceived to have more advantages to those born brown or black or whatever – what good will that do for the situation? I’m over the colonial hangover and couldn’t care less what colour someone is and will go out of my way to stand up against discrimination and injustice. How should something out of my control like my genetics equate to not being allowed to wear an item of clothing? Reality check ladies! It just does not matter. It’s a piece of cloth. Inside our clothes and skin we are all the same.  Everyone, no matter what colour they are needs to get over what colour they are and only then can we have true equality and resign discrimination to the vaults of history where it belongs.

We have to move with the times and fashion, art, music all now use elements of different cultures together because they are aesthetically beautiful and now accessible to all in the modern age. I wear Indian clothes sometimes because I think they are beautiful, for the same reasons I love the cut of Chinese dresses – so elegant, and I adore the colourful fabric of my Moroccan skirt. Me and my Indian partner both love DJ Shadow’s ‘Bombay The Hard Way’ album – the Bollywood samples sound great with hip-hop beats and electro sounds. I have some stunning artwork from Thailand hanging on my wall. Many would argue that this is appropriation – but is any of it negative or disrespectful or destructive in any way?

To suggest that only Black people should be allowed to listen to Black music as it is ‘theirs’ or only born Hindus should be allowed to pray to Ganesh and practice yoga because it is ‘theirs’ or no artist should be allowed to explore working using an ancient technique from tribal South America because it is ‘theirs’- is an unhealthy attitude to take. None of these acts are done with the motive of oppression nor do they result in it. To restrict the freedom to be able to explore, experience first-hand and participate in each other’s cultures will only encourage division and intolerance. If we can get out of the mind set of viewing White, Western culture as dominant and consider everyone to be equal and start treating each other as such – resigning the past to the past and moving on together towards an ideal future, then maybe we can manifest a better reality- one where we have a vibrant and diverse global culture.

 

Further Reading

Just a note – I’m not endorsing any of the views here – just giving some different opinions and resources.

https://onecuppachaiblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/am-i-guilty-of-cultural-appropriation/

A Personal Reflection on Being Multicultural

Who is Allowed to Wear a Bindi?

Talking About Cultural Appropriation in Fashion

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cultural+appropriation

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/cultural-appropriation/

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/05/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-stop-talking-about-it/370826/

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/10/the-dos-and-donts-of-cultural-appropriation/411292/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/21/to-the-new-culture-cops-everything-is-appropriation/

http://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/introduction/misappropriation

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/

Beyonce as a Bollywood Star Is Not Cultural Appropriation

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/these-are-the-scariest-examples-of-cultural-appropriation-in-this-years-halloween-costumes-a6715376.html

 

 

 

 

Posted in cultural appropriation, Culture, Desi, Ex Pat, expat, Hinduism, India, intercultural relationships, Intolerance, racism, Religion, spirituality, Tradition | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

A New Kidney for Filu – Reunited! an update

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Regular readers of my blog will know of my campaign to help my friend Filu get a new kidney. If you haven’t heard about it you can read more here:

https://anenglishwomaninmumbai.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/a-new-kidney-for-my-friend-in-india/

https://anenglishwomaninmumbai.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/a-new-kidney-for-my-friend-in-india-happy-update/

Towards the end of last year Filu finally found a matching donor after many years of waiting and painful dialysis and had her operation. I went to visit her at the end of last year to see how she is getting on and give her the remainder of the funds raised.

I opted against my original idea of the biggest bunch of flowers ever as she is under strict instructions from the doctor- everything has to be sterile and Filu has to wear a mask and limit her interactions with the outside world for several months to avoid infection while her body heals. Luckily she has her mother (pictured far left) taking care of her along with her beautiful daughter.

The following week after my visit Filu had another small operation and may have several more follow ups post surgery. She is on a huge cocktail of different pills and will have to take medicine for the rest of her life so her body doesn’t reject her kidney. However she was full of positive spirit and determination as always and we were very happy to be reunited (and our daughters also!) She told me how strange and wonderful it feels to experience her new kidney beginning to work and how she thanks God (she is Catholic) for giving her a new chance in life. I am once again in awe of her courage and humility and thankful to all the people who helped her.

I am keeping my campaign running and will continue to help as much as I can to raise funds to pay for her medication, especially in these months where she is unable to work doing her job teaching children. I am also seeking details for any charities and NGOs who may be able to help with the long term costs of her medication. Please take a look at my Fundrazr campaign and if you are unable to donate you can always help by sharing on social media or reblogging. Thanks!

https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/8xxs3/ab/d3vZef

 

Posted in friends, fundrazr, good news, happy news, Health, India, medical aid, Mumbai, organ donor, organ transplant, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment