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Happy Mother’s Day!

“As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”
―Kristin Hannah, Summer Island

We Are London

I have written before on my thoughts on the senselessness of violence against innocent citizens, and it’s pretty upsetting that nothing seems to have changed since then – the horrible attacks on people in London has led to an emotional couple of days – anger, worry, heartbreak and fear. I really hate that as soon as something like this happens, so many of my friends, family and I all brace for the inevitable backlash against Muslims, the same fear that we will be grouped with this tragic violence and that we tarred with same the same brush that puts us with something that we don’t believe in.

So this is me, saying this is not my faith. We have said this before and we’ll say it again. Islam doesn’t work like this and we don’t believe or condone any form of terror attacks like this. We are with London, and will remain strong, united and unafraid. London is our home. This is the city where I have had the honour to meet the most diverse and vibrant people from all walks of life and communities, and have found that unity is always better despite coming from different backgrounds.

So I say it is  now, more than every that it’s the time to stand up and speak out against the hate, ignorance and violence perpetuated by some groups, and that to isolate ourselves is not the answer. It is only this which will get us through bad times and remain strong – standing together as friends, a people and as a beautiful nation.

My prayers are with all those who have lost their loved ones: may Allah (SWT) give them the strength to bear what he has tested them with, shower them with his mercy and let their hearts find peace. May Allah (SWT) bring peace and safety to us all.

“…if any one killed a soul, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…” – The Holy Quran (Chapter Five, Verse 32).

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King

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Lazy Sundays

I’ve had a pretty busy week this week, so I’m finally settled in this Sunday and multi-tasking with some yummy home-made chocolate cake, blogging catch-up and getting on with that (digital) stack of books I’ve been waiting to read.

I’m hoping to do a few book reviews for this week, so watch this space! In the meantime, here’s my view today : )

Happy weekendings, all x

Hubby and I have been reminiscing over the beautiful things we saw in Istanbul (a sign that we need a new holiday), and it made me think that there’s so much of the countries and cities I have been to which have so many hidden, beautiful parts. There’s a lot of iconic landmarks like the Haga Sofia and Blue Mosque, the Basicilica Cisterns and Topkapi Palace which are of course, a must-visit. But there’s hundreds of other things you can find when you take yourself off the beaten tourist track. One of my favourite memories is walking through winding alleys, past blocks of flats with clothes-lines stretched across the street above us, and bridges and stairs until we found some beautiful rainbow stairs. It was the fact that along the way we saw a lot of beautiful places, which felt so much more real than the tourist spots – grafitti supporting Palestine, the ordinary public on their way to the markets, street-sellers selling cheap handbag replicas and lots of beautiful flowers, buildings and decor.

So here are my top 9 favourite, most colourful photos, each with an accompanying colourful memory. There’s a story behind each photo so make sure you hover over each square to read it!

 

Mother Tongue

We are
wildflowers
with roots
still growing
in our
motherland.
-Women of Colour
by Mehrin Poetry

 

As I grow  older, the importance of my mother tongue comes more clearly into focus – although at times it feels like I have a lot to learn yet. As someone who was born and grew up in England, I have always considered English as my ‘mother tongue’ simultaneously and alongside with Punjabi, which is were I feel my roots also are. During my childhood and my teen years, I spent so much time exploring the wonders of English, the literature, and studying the words that I felt a little like I lost some of the the words of Punjabi. I have always had a passion for English, whether it was the literature, or just the pure study of words, and it’s a little embarrassing to me now that Punjabi doesn’t always come as naturally as English does.

It puts me to mind a poem I studied as a teen – Search for My Tongue by Sujata Bhatt – which I didn’t fully understand at the time, but which makes so much more sense to me now. The poem symbolises the author’s fear of losing her cultural identity and her ‘mother tongue’, and of the idea that assimilating in a ‘foreign’ country comes at the cost of losing your roots. While I can understand the fear, I think it is a little different for me as well as I didn’t emigrate to the country like the author did, but was born here.

Growing up, I was one of the only Asian girls in my school and often felt a little left out – being among mostly white children made me feel like I had to strive more to fit in, from dress, tastes, clothes and culture, and I remember at the time that I divorced myself from my culture a little – my home life and my school life were always kept separately. Don’t get me wrong – I still had chicken curries at home cooked by my mum, still spoke in half-English-half-Punjabi to my parents and relatives, and made the most of Eid celebrations and glitzy salwar kameezes sewn by my mum. But I have always felt that the culture I was educated in did not understand Pakistani culture or language in a way that I could embrace it.

One of my earliest memories is my mum taking me to nursery on my half day, holding my hand and slowly teaching me words in English – colours, numbers and letters as we swung our hands and stopped at Sainsbury’s for our weekly shopping. My dad taught us Urdu as best as he could alongside our Quran lessons after school – although I’ll admit I wasn’t very interested in learning at all (and couldn’t wait til we could run off and watch TV!) It’s always felt a little ironic to me that these days I meet so many immigrants who are slowly learning English, while I am on the other side of the coin and trying to learn Urdu and Punjabi a little better.

As I entered my late teens, my school environment changed – suddenly there was an influx of Indian, Bengali and Pakistani students at the school who had transferred in, while a lot of the white students in my class left, preferring to stop their classes and go into work. I felt incredibly out of place – here were Asian kids who were comfortable in their skins, knew in jokes in Urdu and made it normal to talk about the things we had at home. Fast-forwarding into university this was even more the case – I found myself surrounded by mostly Asians, and would sometimes self-deprecatingly describe myself as the ‘coconut’ – looks brown on the outside but white on the inside. While my friends were into British-Asian music, Bollywood and Indian restaurants, I was a self-described goth; into soft rock music, heavy black eyeliner and desserts at The Cheesecake Factory.

Over the next few years, my friends, my family and my husband have all played a part in making me comfortable with my words – I can be English and Pakistani and speak both languages without one being more important than the other. I’ve learned a lot more Urdu over the years – mostly from Bollywood films, online websites, and even an Urdu course I went to once (it was terrible, we spend six classes going over the same basic phrases because everyone kept forgetting the previous lessons). These days, whenever I need to know a word, or the meaning of a word, I’ll ask my sister or mum, and my husband is a walking dictionary for this too. I also get a lot more practice – I work with a lot of clients whose first language isn’t English and often have to translate – we all acknowledge my Urdu and Punjabi are terrible but passable, and I’m a lot less embarassed than I used to be.

This isn’t a sad story – as much as I wish my Urdu and Punjabi were more fluent than it is now, I feel like I’ll get there. I have found my own way to embrace my roots, language and culture, and I’m happy with that. I know that I’m not the only one with this issue – I’ve come across a lot of British Asians who can barely understand their parent’s language, and don’t speak a word of it, preferring to stick to English. I can also see this in second-and-third generation parents when speaking to their children in English. When I think of myself, I would love to teach my future children my mother tongue. Urdu is a beautiful language and it is my husband’s language, but Punjabi is where I feel my home and my roots are, so would always want to pass this on too. Having said that, I don’t think there is anything wrong in being fluent in, and choose to speak in English. I grew up devouring books, studying English (and blogging in English), and I think it really is an amazing language with so much depth.

My advice to others who are struggling with re-learning their mother tongue is don’t give up, and don’t feel embarrassed. When I first started learning Urdu properly, I was told by a lot of people that I was terrible at it, and that I was barely understandable. I used to feel embarassed and immediately stop trying to speak it in front of them, and feel a little unsure of myself. These days I laugh and agree with them, but I don’t stop learning. Language, culture and words will always evolve over time (which is why ‘fleek’ is now an acceptable world, when a few years ago it was a non-existent one), and there are so many opportunities to learn with the internet, media and courses.

Who knows, maybe I’ll learn to speak French properly next?

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My friends and I managed to get a table at the constantly-booked Dalloway’s Terrace restaurant, which took us about a month to get, but was worth it for the visual experience and the ambience. The restaurant is known for it’s pretty decor and looks lovely at night – which was the first thing my friends and I noticed as soon as we got to the restaurant.

The decor which was up was mainly lights and lanterns, painted pine-cones and white trees and rushes, which made for a very intimate feel to the restaurant. The seating is centred around the trees and the lights and it feels pretty surreal to sit in the middle of it because it feels a little like being in a fairy-like enchanted woods (without the cold, there were heaters everywhere!)

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The food itself is a little limited in terms of halal, but we were re-assured that the chicken in this restaurant is halal. There is a mix of cuisine, with mainly English and a dash of Meditarranean and Asian. We all opted for some fondues and also chose a meal each as well – I picked a miso cod on a bed of quinoa, with spinach leaves in cream (and we also got chips for everyone to share, becuase why not!)

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My friends also picked a mix of food – one went for a mixed sea-grill, another went for bruschetta, while my other friend was in the mood for dessert and went for fruit-tarts and a hot chocolate! The food was presented quite nicely, and I personally liked the dish I picked – it was tender, juicy and had a good mix of sweet and savoury. I think our favourite thing was the fondues though – we ordered a cheese one with fruit, and another white chocolate fondue with strawberry which really completed the night (not to mention fighting over and stealing each other’s fruit from the fondue pot!)

The bright lights have been taken down from Dalloway’s Terrace now (which will be back at the end of the year at Christmas time) but it’s still worth a visit when the restaurant re-opens in May with their springy green decor. I really enjoyed myself at this restaurant and would love to try afternoon tea in the summer at this place – I’m sure it will be just as fun an experience!

Have you been to this restaurant? What dish did you like best?

I went on a e-book downloading spree a few days ago, and have been spending my free time trying to catch up on that long list of books waiting to be read! I’ve noticed that a few of the books I’ve read or reviewed recently have not been new one, so I’m aiming to review books that have released in 2017.

I’m still catching up, so bear with me – this is an interesting book about a con-man who may or may not get his comeuppance – I’ve only just started it but it looks promising!

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I love living in east London, because of all the colourful corners and walls I always come across. I’m a huge fan of street art (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) and can never go past any without stopping to have a good stare.

This is some artwork by Mr Cenz, a London-based street-artist, whose work I found in Plaistow, east London. They were both slightly hidden away and I managed to see both going past by accident (I saw one while was on a bus and came back later after remembering where it was!)

Apparently this one is called ‘The Wish’, and it’s a beautiful dreamy piece which covers the bottom length of a whole building block (took me a while to get the whole piece in one phoyo!). I love the whirls and contouring in this, as well as the black, grey and white tones on top of the colourful, magical background.

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Not far from the above piece is this more sultry looking portrait, a beautiful mix of blues, greens and purples on the side of a shop wall. Again, there’s a beautiful mix of shapes on top of colours, with a very dreamy look to the whole piece that I love.

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I’ll be keeping an eye out for more pieces around east London, especially some from this artist!

You can also check the artist out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Etsy pages.

Why I Am A Faceless Blogger

Some of you may read my other blog, which is a fashion/beauty blog about all things to do with Pakistani and Indian fashion trends, modest fashion, makeup and random ramblings (and some of you probably found this blog via that one!) I have been blogging for about six or seven years now, and have noticed that as my priorities and interests have changed, my posts and articles have accordingly adapted over time as well.

One of the things I have had some conflicts with as a fashion blogger (or is it influencer now? I’m still undecided about that word) is the fact that I don’t show my face, whether it’s for outfit posts, or pictures from weddings, events or makeup swatches.  My concerns are this – as I’ve been writing for some time and I have been getting more public interest in the couple of years because of my clothes, wedding posts and experiences which I have blogged about, I have had more exposure which means more opportunities to work with new brands. However I feel that a lot of the bigger bloggers I follow or who have successful businesses, have become successful because they themselves are the brand – they are recognisable, easy to relate to and trust, and because of this they are able to fit into a market who are comfortable with them.

Initially I never used to show my face in blog posts (I used to just cut my head off my pictures before I posted) for several reasons: firstly, I liked the anonymity, you can get away with a LOT more when people don’t know you. Secondly, I never showed my face for kind-of religious reasons – I don’t blog because I’m fishing for compliments or want someone to say I’m good-looking (that’s what Facebook and my husband are for), but because I want to show how fashion can be modest, stylish and wearable. The whole point of my fashion blog is about what I wear, and what I have in my wardrobe, rather than what I look like. I wear a hijab and the concept of it also includes having some modesty both in behavior and physical appearance, so why not incorporate that in my blog? Thirdly, I was also a little self-conscious because a lot of my personal friends and colleagues don’t know I blog – call it silly but I find it easier to write if I’m less self-conscious about who is reading it!

I have thought about it for a while, because as much as I’d like to protect my anonymity and modesty, there are still some pros which you can’t argue with. I am a bit of a risk-taker at times, and I can see the appeal in the idea of myself and my identity as a brand. It’s not that I’m shy, or that my identity is a big secret (even though I do fight crime at night sometimes), and really, it’s not even about whether I have a problem showing my face. But I have often found that a lot of blog readers and followers feel more connected to Instagrammers and bloggers that they can recognise, especially when there’s a lot of personal issues being shared. A big part of blogging is being transparent not just about who sponsors your posts or whom you collaborate with but also who you are. The most successful blogs are the ones where the bloggers are open about sharing opinions and parts of their lives.

The real issue is that if I decided to show what I look like, the pictures are out there, and it’s hard to go back. In today’s digital age, pictures can be shared faster than WhatsApp rumours, and I like the fact that right now, I have control over my images and my identity.

There’s also the fact that a lot of girls (and guys) can be pretty awful to bloggers, you have to pretty emotionally strong to be able to not let negative comments affect you, ruin your day or even influence your behavior. I’ve been lucky enough not to get many negative comments, but it can still be pretty tempting to lose your way by trying to please your audience or maintain popularity. The other issue is that I am in a place in my life where I am pretty confident in myself, my self-image and my place in life – and I can imagine that the struggle to maintain a ‘pretty face’ for a blog, or the psychological impact it could have.

You could even say that the issue isn’t showing my face exactly, since even if I did, I’d still dress modestly and would still wear hijab. Another thing I have always considered is the idea of ‘nazar’ (or the ‘evil eye’ which might intentionally or unintentionally come from envy), which is something I do believe in, which could arise once I lose that anonymity.

There are, fortunately a few ‘big’ bloggers who I do follow, that have managed to remain faceless, and quite successfully so. One blogger I’ve always been a fan of has complained in the past that it’s amazing how some people just don’t get that they want to remain ‘faceless bloggers’. She described a fashion event just last week (which I also attended) where a few of her followers took pictures of her when she was walking around, even when she went to the restroom; when she confronted them to ask them to delete the pictures, they told her she should expect this kind of thing to happen and shouldn’t have become a blogger if she didn’t want pictures taken of her. While I can understand that if you’re successful and on the fashion scene, you can’t really stop other people for taking your pics and posting them on social media or magazines – I also think there should be a line drawn for respecting privacy.

In the past my ‘facelessness’ has affected me in that one or two fashion brands who wanted to promote their brands have wanted to work with me, and in the end I have turned them down because they did not want to crop my face out. At the time it was a little upsetting, as it made me feel that I had ruined my prospects a little if I wanted to work with future companies, and also I had noticed difference in the way that bloggers who did choose to work with those company treated me. However, in the long run, I don’t regret my decision – I like the fact that I kept control over the content and photos of me, and if a company isn’t able to respect that, then perhaps they are not for me.

There have been times when I have debated for some time about showing my face, especially as I never have done in the past with my blogs. I spoke to a few friends about it, my sisters and even on blogger forums, and in the end I decided not to because I don’t want my posts and articles to be about how I look, as much as what I’m wearing, what I am doing and even who I am. In the long run, I’m pretty happy with my decision because although I’m not shy or have a secret identity (apart from the night-time crime-fighting stuff), I like having control over my privacy, and I think it also keeps me pretty humble.

The way I think of it, as Islamic as I try to be and however I try to live my life as modestly and well as possible, I will always, always love fashion and makeup, which I think I’ll always be channeling through my blogs and social media. This isn’t a bad thing, and I love that I can work with new ideas and different companies, and as I am a pretty visual person and will always want pictures to be a part of my posts, I think I can do this without compromising my values. I understand  that readers might identify with me more if they know what I look like and can visualise me, I think that I will be able to engage better when I show who I am in a more relatable level (like this post, for example!)

Some people have suggested using body doubles or models – this would work for a company but not for something personal like my own blog – when I go on holidays and days out, do I take a body double with me? I think not. In all honestly, this is something which has bothered me less and less over the years, as I have seen a lot of fellow bloggers follow the lead in ‘faceless blogging’ (like my elder two sisters here and here!) – influencing without making it about the way we look or how beautiful we are. I’m also at a pretty good comfort level right now, and am enjoying the things I do blog about, the events I go to and the pictures I post of myself. At the end of it, it’s not because I’m paranoid about how gorgeous I am or not, it’s the concept of hijab for me, and the principles that come with it.

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Winter Lights at Canary Wharf

Lasts week my sister and I managed to catch the Winter Lights Exhibition at Canary Wharf, which is a follow-up from the amazing Lumiere London light festival last year. It was a cold night but we persevered and followed our trusty map to get to as many light installations as possible – and were not disappointed!

The exhibition was on for a week, and like the ones before, it was pretty busy while we were walking around, but there was also a lovely vibe in the air – lots of people enjoying art, London and beautiful lights.

The first one which caught our eyes immediately was this egg-shaped installation, which was in front of the station as soon as we stepped out, with changing colours, musical lights and lots of people exploring the inside of the egg.

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We saw most of the installations (out of 30 I think we only missed two!) and managed to get a good look at most of them (and also take three hundred photos!). I loved the different ideas from all of these, from moving art to stationary, lights, pictures and words which all looked pretty beautiful.

Alongside the egg-shaped installation (called the Ovo), we also found lots of angel wings in the park nearby, which were very popular. I loved this idea, it let the public interact, take pictures and wander around exploring.

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We then walked onto West Ferry (which took us a while!) and got to these beautiful neon-lines wound around trees with fairy-lights. There was something very surreal about this part, which felt a little like a dream-world and was really fun to walk around. The interesting thing was, although these look like glowing strips, these were just ordinary coloured tape lit up with lights in the right places. We also went on a little further to see a Garden of Blooms – coloured baubles which changed colours and tinkled soft music, which looked like beautiful flowers.

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Next we went onto the more commercial and busier side of the area to Canada Water / Cabot Square, which had more buildings and offices. My favourite about this place was the Water & Light installation, which dropped quickly enough to form words (you can see in the video below). We also went into a few office buildings and saw spinning ‘Poemdums and Koans) which were cylinders and cones in various colours and sizes, some with words which caught your eye.

We then moved on to the Cross Rail which was the busiest part of the Winter Lights exhibitions, although it was spread out on three floors with lots of outside exhibitions that were lit up in the night. These are my favourite pieces, colourful rainbows, columns which mirrored your movements, flowers that lit up, recycled bottles used with lights, and a really fun musical and light show on the water controlled by people’s movements.

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There were quite a few very innovative ideas, which were really interesting as these were things we hadn’t seen before. I managed to get a clip of a very popular exhibition which was lightwaves affected by brainwaves, and the idea of thoughts, focus and brain activity. I also liked another exhibit which were mirrors that said one thing but changed into another word when you looked at the reflection, as well as a ‘body scanning’ exhibit which scanned the person standing in front and posting a quick ‘imprint’ image on the screen in front.

We finally finished by wandering around and enjoying the lights (and even popped into Zara at one point) on our way back to Canary Wharf station, so that we had come to a full circle, where we found this poem lit up in the park.

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We also managed to find lots of light benches (which we spent lots of time sitting on and posing on!) in front of a colourful lit-up ice-skating rink, which looked very surreal. I’m pretty terrible at skating, so didn’t want to risk damaging myself but having a go on the ice rink!

All in all, it was a really fun evening (although still pretty cold!) and we found a lot of things to see which we loved. I love that light shows are becoming more popular in London, and that a lot of people like myself and my sister enjoy wandering around and exploring the city. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of these over summer, and have already seen a few which look interesting!

Did you go to this event? Which light installation did you like best?