Red Lipstick

They said I was too young to wear red lipstick, and to stick to my dolls and lipglosses, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said red lipstick was for married women, and young girls should stay in soft pinks, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said married women didn’t have time for makeup and should focus on their homes, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said red lipstick was for a bride and I should not try to outstage her, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said that red lipsticks were for young women, and I should wear more mature colours, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said that red lipstick would look better on my daughter, so I did not wear red lipstick.

They said that I was too old for lipstick, and I should act my age.
I laughed at them and wore my lipsticks, pillar-box reds, rich scarlets, deep crimsons, blazing rubies, vibrant burgundies.

I bring life to my face with creamy sticks of red, embracing my feminine wiles, my brazen girlhood, and I will not be ashamed.

– Harlequin, 2017.

I wrote this poem with much deliberation, after reading a comment on my social media that someone made, which I thought was interesting. – the girl stated she had been told not to wear brightly coloured lipsticks because only married women should wear this. It brought to mind a few memories I have of being a teenager, and being told not to wear red lipstick by an Aunt who was a family friend, because red lipstick is for married women and not single young girls. I thought it was interesting that a specific colour had been relegated to relationship status, as if it would almost be vulgar to wear a bright colour, and even bring attention to myself. I’m familiar with this concept, the idea that you should not bring attention to yourself, not wear something inappropriate, as well as the many connotations which come with things like red lipstick.

Red lipstick, apparently, means that you are an attention-seeker. Loud. Inappropriate. Not religious. Not a ‘nice girl’. I like to think that these attitudes have changed a little over time – I’ve seen many girls see red lipstick as a staple in their makeup bag, and less something which is saved for their wedding day.

Nevertheless, I’ll admit, it did take me a few years to wear red lipstick – I think I was in my early twenties when I braved it, and then wondered why it had taken me so long. Even my husband, who is wonderfully open-minded and has never told me what to wear or what not wear, told me that if I lived in Pakistan I would probably have thought twice about wearing it. Coming from a fairly traditional, culturally-infused upbringing, my husband’s interaction with red lipsticks was limited to being something associated with married women, worn by women for their husbands, and rarely worn outside the house. Pink lips are so much more acceptable, softer, feminine and less sexual.

My own point of view is that while  I understand the intended view behind it – a woman’s image and her beauty is meant to be protected, and drawing attention to it can bring issues – it’s unfair to simplify things as if a women’s ‘honour’ and image is all that she is, and that she is ruled by them. I guess a lot of this stems from the whole South Asian culture of a woman’s image, the idea of honour, and how this can get mixed up with traditional values which now feel outdated to us.

I recently read a story told by a blogger that I admire, who told a story about when she visited Pakistan – she was told off by her mother for smiling at a man in a supermarket, and told that she should at strange men. She may consider it to be  friendly, but they may construe it to mean something else.
I could certainly understand her resentment – and what I dislike is that the onus seems to be on the women to limit herself, and hide herself. Whatever happened to the male gaze? Why not break apart the idea that the responsibility lies with the women and how she must take care in how she looks, who she looks at, and how her actions are responsible for her situation?

So I guess when it comes to red lipsticks, I resent the fact that there is a lingering mentality that to wear red lipstick is to be brazen, overly-confident and ‘modern’ – and it’s even worse to me especially, that a lot of the comments I have received, and other girls get, are from older women in our society. I believe there is so much more to women that shouldn’t be reduced to how much make-up they wear, that  being confident isn’t a negative thing, and that perhaps things like red lipstick shouldn’t be treated like a dirty thing.

Below, a picture of all the red lipstick I own.

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Unexpected Elephants and Moustache’d Inspectors

On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant.

And thus starts a novel which takes Inspector Chopra on a journey which no one could have expected at all. Full of murder, conspiracy, domestic dramas in the complex they live in and a cute little elephant, this novel has it all. This novel was recommended to me by a friend who thought I would like it, and I’m glad she did – it reminded me of a lot of things in different way which made me enjoy the story all the more. There’s scenes of the manly hero, Inspector Chopra chasing the ‘baddies’ through meandering roads and hiding in warehouses a la Bollywood style (albeit the 60s and 70s action movies kind). There’s conspiracies, corruption and secrets, with the weak poor classes against the corrupt rich. And at the heart of it all is the focus of traditional values and the importance of honesty.

The story also reminds me a little of another detective series, Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which has the similarities of infusion of local culture, wonderfully drawn characters and quirky, gentle humour. The story follows the retirement of Inspector Chopra in the richly-described Mumbai, following two mysterious cases; firstly the inheritance of a baby elephant left to him by a loved uncle for reasons unknown, and secondly the drowning of a young man whose death is suspicious, yet keeps being brushed under the carpet. With this, Inspector Chopra’s retirement suddenly feels too peaceful and boring, and the hero is led to investigate on his own, leading him to more serious issues like the corruption of the upper-classes, the activism of lower classes for more rights, into the dark Underworld and slums.

The story is quirky and whimsical enough that there are a few sweet, silly lines which keep the story entertaining, although there are also more serious issues which are given their space, which balance the story well. This isn’t a serious, thriller-type crime novel, but it is a story which draws you into the busy, colourful world of Mumbai and see it through the eyes of a native. This is something which feels a little more old-fashioned, quietly showing us the story yet charming, the characters are very likeable, such as the sub-plot of the Inspector’s marriage with his feisty wife Poppy (and her mother!), and the impact of the baby elephant on all of their lives.

I really enjoyed this novel, if only because I loved the story is brought together, the two mysteries running alongside each other, with the colourful voice of Mumbai, street-life and the gentle humour which gives this story the whimsical touch. There are some who have said that this story isn’t credible, or even very original, but I think that it’s hard to depict the characters and city-life of India the way this story has, and it has been quite well done. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series on my book reader, and I’ll wait to see if the baby elephant is still in the next novel!

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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Bridging the Gap

It used to be the case that there was a conflict, a ‘us v them’ relationship with our parents and us – they, the first generation who settled here in the 70s and 80s, and us, the second generation who were British-born and Asian who had to balance religion and culture with being in the West. I know of course that everyone’s experiences are different, and as a child of first-generation immigrant parents, I have certainly had my own experiences and conflicts with my parents. I do find it interesting that my elder sisters’ and brother’s experiences in the 90s slightly differs from mine – they were the earlier, ‘first’ generation who forged the way, while we followed behind. I also have a lot of friends who are in fact third-generation children, whose experiences are certainly very different although not without their own struggles.

These days it feels like the balance has shifted – our parents have mellowed out and are trying to be more understanding. I won’t say the days of emotional blackmail, culture clashing and Asian dramas (wedding traditions, anyone?) are over but this has definitely changed and evolved over the last decade or so. I think that a lot of the first-generation parents are beginning to understand that they cannot just force their children to follow a route that they think if right for them, especially as we are becoming more independent, more integrated and as we settle into our marriages, careers and parenthoods.201503141663531835

As these second-generations (and even some third-generations!) are beginning to or already have become parents themselves, I think a lot of them understand better the struggles that come with being a Muslim parent, especially when you have your own culture, British culture, religion and your own personal values to add to the mix. Ironically, I feel like there is beginning to be a gap between these parents and their children, who are definitely becoming part of the emerging middle-class Muslims, whose parents are determined to make the most of their education, lifestyle and social opportunities.

As someone who isn’t a parent yet, I was a little hesitant about adding my piece to this. But then I realised that my view, while it may not be the same as everyone’s, is still a voice to add to the conversation about the generation gap. I’ve been thinking about this for a while for several reasons – partly because a lot of friends and sisters of mine who are parents, have noted that bringing up their own children is a huge difference compared to their own upbringing, which has naturally brought to mind my own values and plans for bringing up children, as well as my own relationship with my parents.

I come across it every now and then – in my nieces and nephews, in my friend’s and sister’s children, and even when I meet young girls, younger bloggers and even younger people in my job who have a different mind-set to the ones we had as we had at their age. Those kids are fully immersed in society, with less identity conflicts about whether they’re from the West or the East, confident in their religion rather than being hindered by culture, with the knowledge that they have every right to education and a career. In contrast, it feels a little like my generation precariously fumbled our way through into jobs we weren’t sure of, studying as far as we could afford – I myself have always wanted to do a Masters and Doctorate, but couldn’t afford to after I finished university and went straight into work.

It brings me to mind a book I read when I was younger by one of my favourite authors – one of the things the young hero in the tale bemoans is the fact that all the adults he comes across constantly expect him to be grateful, that he is should know how lucky he is, but instead feels like the emotion is being forced on him. I think of this because sometimes when I speak to the younger generation in my family, or when I speak to younger girls who complain about the banes of their lives, I try to explain to them that they don’t realise how lucky they are, that it could be worse, and that we older generations did in fact have it worse. Unfortunately, most of them don’t seem very impressed when I tell them that and usually retort that actually, they have it worse because they have XYZ problems that we never did.

And you know what? They’re right, in a way. They do have problems that we never did – I’m constantly thankful that social media, makeup, designer brands and technology weren’t a big thing when I was a teenager the way it is now, the constant influence and distractions it would have had on my education, my social life and definitely my self-image, which means I would be a different person with Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope at 13. There’s so many things that children these days, and young adults too, have to learn which we didn’t. My generation raves over Panda Pops, 5p ice-poles and 1p pick-n-mix sweets, Friends on Channel 4 on Friday nights, brown lipstick (with the dark brown lip liner outline) and family holidays ‘back home’. Meanwhile the newer generation have smartphones, iPads, Adventure Time, holidays in Dubai and Morrocco, global warning awareness, and River Island handbags and sushi for lunch. It’s easy to call them spoiled, and it is the case that they may have more opportunities, but they also have just as many challenges which are easier to ignore by us.

Just as our parents needled us about being grateful for opportunities (studying further in school, having a job, buying a new pair of shoes), it seems like the younger generation sometimes get the same thing from us. While my parents drilled into us the importance of marriage, good jobs and keeping good relations with our relatives both in Britain and back home, the younger generations have their own issues too – balancing friends and social lives with building careers, education, social media issues, even spending on luxuries. That’s not to say we didn’t do the same thing, looking back, it feels like everything was less overwhelming and busy – to sound like an old fogey, things just seemed simpler back then.

I‘ve also noticed a big difference when we had to deal with, and when the younger generations have had to deal with and differentiate between following religion and culture. My siblings and I were lucky enough to have parents who didn’t force too much culture down our throats, or follow traditions which didn’t align with our religion. A lot of the silly things that come with culture I was pretty unaware of until I got older, because my father emphasised the importance of religion with us, and my mother never forced us to do anything we didn’t want to do because she always wanted her children to be happy. This meant that while we have the still had pressure on us to study until a certain age, marry ‘suitable’ people and follow certain social guidelines (eg. curfew and going out), we still didn’t have it as bad as a lot of others that we know.

I think because of this, the British-Asian parents of today have recognised the importance of having awareness and choices in their children’s lives – such as choosing a partner, jobs, and following religion without all the hindrances of culture. We know the right things to do to help our children and push them, and we also get to choose the good parts about culture – knowing our roots and traditions without letting these dictate our lives. The younger generation now are able to understand current affairs, be more involved with their society and communities, and look towards bigger things even if their parents couldn’t.

I don’t think there is a real right or wrong way to deal with the conflicts with our parents – as I have gotten older I have appreciated more the things my own parents have taught me, and really am grateful. I was fairly lucky because I was pretty sheltered as a child, so I didn’t have a lot of the problems that some of my friends had, although I will admit, I did resent feeling that I also missed out on things, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure it’s pretty universal that parents always want for their children what they never had, our parents wanted success, happy marriages and financial stability for us where it was a struggle for them, and we want happy lives, careers and identities for our own children. I don’t mean to belittle the struggle our parents had – they came to Britain as youngsters themselves and struggled to maintain their culture, faith and way of living, and they constantly worried that their children would lose their roots. Meanwhile, although the later generations have less of guilt about being Westernised, there’s still that worry that they may be too influenced by things which their parents disagree with – whether it’s being a One Direction fan or being okay with belly button piercings.

I guess we can only do what we can, which is our very best. Most of the friends, sisters and brothers I know are excellent role models, and although they may find it difficult sometimes, they are able to encourage their children without pushing them, praise them and give them the knowledge and confidence to go out and do their best.
I only hope that I can do as well as that : )

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Journal Your Ramadan – Day #8: H is for Husband

I feel like I should do this post about my husband, because hes been making at least half of our meals these last few days. It’s the first Ramadan with my husband after marriage, and surprisingly it’s been an interesting one because it’s made us want to be more adventurous with our food! We’ve opted out of fried food this year, and have both decided to try more healthy food which is a lot better to have after long hours of fasting.

This is something my husband thew together a couple of days ago –  lots of onions, tomatoes, chillis, peppers and various seasonings sautéed together with chicken pieces for a chicken dish with a juicy sauce.

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Watching the magic happen (excuse the poor quality of my camera!)

Mixin’ it up in the sauce pan (which we then left with lid on for about half an hour).

dinner (3)

Result – tender chicken and steamed veg which we poured over plain rice. We could have left it cooking a little longer for a drier sauce but decided to keep it quite juicy so that it would mix with the rice well.

dinner (4)

 

This was a really filling, yummy dish and didn’t take long at all (the rice only took us about 15 mins to cook) and it reminded us both of a dish we’d had and loved in Turkey called testi kebab, which is more slow-cooked by has a similar idea of cooking meat with veg.

So, credits to the husband for this one (and I’m hoping he reads this and gets all happy and makes me more!)

Our Eid-al-Adha – Flowery dresses, twirling babies and rainbow balloons

We celebrated Eid-al-Adha this weekend, which was a special Eid for me as it was the first one for me after marriage, and meant that I could spend time with the family and also with my husband. We were invited to dinner at my eldest sister’s house, and also for lunch at my mum’s house the next day, so we had a busy dance card!

One of the best things about celebrating Eid is that it’s always a fun day, the family gets together from all over London (and Luton!) and there’s always good food. I love the spirit in the air as well, the younger children are excited about presents, sweets and new clothes, and the bigger kids (i.e. us) are excited about dressing up, good food and seeing all the babies!

Below is just some of the decor from my sister‘s house, which she always makes an effort to put up every year for Eid – I love the fairy lights and the rainbow balloons!

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The highlight of the day as usual was the beautifully cooked food, from both my mum and my sister (my husband left both houses rubbing his stomach and eyeing up more helpings he couldn’t fit into his stomach!) My mum makes it a rule to always have a feast for Eid every year, and she didn’t disappoint this year either – there was plenty of variety and plenty of curries, starters and sweet dishes!

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And of course, for Eid isn’t complete without some beautiful dresses, which I was spoiled with this year, as my mother-in-law sent me a beautiful set of outfits and my mum bought me a new outfit for Eid. My sisters and sister-in-law looked amazing on the day with their new outfits, and the nieces even more adorable in their party dresses which they spend the day twirling around in (I won’t bother mentioning the dress code of men of the family cos…frankly, we don’t look at what they wear) Here’s a look at some of the beautiful outfits we wore on Eid:

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My husband and I ended Eid day with dinner at his best friend’s house, followed by a sneaky late-night movie at the local cinema (which was actually very good!) The whole day was a warm, low-key gathering which was perfect for us, easy to relax followed by a vain session of taking photos in various angles!
I hope you all had a wonderful Eid and weekend, and if you don’t celebrate Eid then I hope you still see the beauty I do in Eid – not only an opportunity to spend time with friends, family and have good food, but also a chance to reflect on the year to come and to remember how lucky we are.

Weekend Pretty…A Rainbow Wardrobe

It’s not often I get to have a tidy, pretty wardrobe, and moving into a new house means that I get to re-organise everything I have! I’ve ended up letting the girly-girl interior decorator in my take over my wardrobe this week, and organised all of my dressy Asian outfits into rainbow order. I’m not completely done yet, but here’s an idea of how it’s looking – lots of greens and blue and no yellows!

Yellow sunflower print dress, maybe?

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My Local Lane: Street of High Fashion

I thought I’d try a writing challenge this week, which is about ‘blogging your block‘, that is, about the area we all in live in. I don’t often spend a lot of time wandering around my neighbourhood, especially because I tend to rush home from work, or jump on buses and trains all the way home.

Every now and the20140402_201545n I’ll stop to dawdle in the local shops, particularly the ones which display and sell beautiful Pakistani and Indian style outfits – beautifully draped saris, elegant maxi dresses, blingy abayahs and lovely embroidered shirts which come down to your ankles.

I’ll admit it, I’ve always been a bit of a diva when it comes to clothes. I like having a wardrobe of beautiful things, and I especially love my ‘desi’ wardrobe, that is, my clothes which are more on the Asian-influenced. And I also reluctantly will admit that I probably have too many clothes (somewhere in the world, a Bollywood star is crying and doesn’t know why).

Nevertheless, the Lane that I live near is chock-full of Asian shops with Indian and Pakistani style outfits which are always worth an ogle (and perhaps stepping into the shop for a moment or two doesn’t always hurt either!)

And there’s the flashes of jewellery displayed carelessly all over the display cabinets, draped along luxurious velvet and self-printed silk, beautiful gold-plated rings, jewelled necklaces and stone-embedded purses.

These days, there’s a veritable land of fashion shops lining almost every other doorway, all with  beautiful clothes, blingy jewellery and pretty scarves which all have their own styles and influences. It’s lovely looking through the window glass at the beautiful things (although these days, the more beautiful they are, the less I can afford them) and seeing the vibrant colours.

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I suppose it’s important to me because when I was a child, these shops weren’t there, and the fashions and styles were completely different. When I was a child, my mum used to take myself and my sisters to the local fabric shops to buy several yards of cloth to stitch herself on her sewing machine (which she still has!) and we’d always have the same generic style of stitched kameez (or shirt) with a salwar pyjama (the bottom, pants). Mind you, we still loved it, it was an adventure going to see all the rolls of fabrics lining the shelves while my mum dreamed up our outfits.

These days there are styles which I never imagined wearing – I’ve always worn traditional Pakistani clothes, and I’m always  trying new styles and cuts – but there’s always something else new to look at. I was 22 when I wore my first sari, which was to a close friend’s wedding, and I went for something simple and vibrant (in purple!) These days, there’s every style of sari imaginable, various colours, cuts, embroidery and influences – be it Indian, Pakistani, Bengali or even Western-influenced. When I walk along my local lane of fashion, I’m always getting inspiration, and not just for my wardrobe (although that bulging thing will always keep growing) – it’s a place of art, of beauty, of culture and when you’re fed up of shopping…of food food : )

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Pretty pretty things.

Growing up in the ’90s: A British-Pakistani looks back

Signs that you grew up in the 90s to Asian/Desi parents, or, 12 cheap ways to save your household costs

I am often reminded of the various facets of myself which has roots in various places; I am a British-Pakistani Muslim woman, waist-deep in Western culture and society, the other half of me in Middle Eastern and Pakistani idioms. Like many of my peers. I have followed various influences through high school colleges and university, and found myself in the nine-to-five workplace. I’ve watched the popular American television series, the dry-wit British stand-up shows, the silly YouTube videos gone viral and the thought-provoking Islamic lectures and Ted Talks. Not to mention all the Lollywood and Bollywood films you can think of, which certainly added a spice to my cultural awareness.
I’ve spoken about my family briefly before, and certainly think that growing up in the 90s had its own charm, and also was its own nightmare. One of the reasons we can relate so much to the classic 90s tv series awesomeness that was Goodness Gracious Me was that they were able to capture so well everything that makes us British-Asians – being cheesy, sarcastic, admiring our roots while recognising how embarrassing we (and our parents!) are. This post was long overdue in the list of things which I’m sure many of you will recognise in your own family’s upbringing (although please note I’m not trying to write anything offensive, and if anything I should be the most offended that most of these things happened to me in my poor, defenceless childhood)

Not us, but there’s parts I can relate to.

1. Cover everything with plastic – the carpet, the sofa, the remote control, half of the furniture in the house (it took us a couple of years to convince my parents to take the sheeting off our new dining table set) and even our mobile phone screens – remember that? We were one of millions of forward-thinking families to ‘protect’ and cover the hallways with plastic runners (all of which are pretty much identical in every house). Years later, when we finally convinced our parents to remove the plastic, the carpet underneath looked as brand new as the day we bought it, and the ones that were exposed looked like something had died and decayed on it. But the thing is, it was a normal thing to do in the nineties, because every other house down the road did exactly the same thing. Another thing our mums did? Cover the cooker over top with foil so that any food that spilled would get caught in the foil, which you could just pick up and throw away. My mum stopped doing that about 10 years ago when she got fed up of the foil getting caught on fire, and also because  I think she didn’t see the point in covering (wasting!) in foil when you’d still have to clean the cooker because some piece of food wriggled underneath. Something my mum still does is line all of the cupboards and drawers with old wallpaper or sheets, but that’s probably good practise (and not so funny either,  I suppose). My mum even used to lovely sew pretty sofa covers (which we could have tried to pass off as boho and eclectic throws, but it blatantly wasn’t), with frills and all, to cover the sofas. I’m not sure what we were trying to do, whether we wanted to preserve the sofas and carpets for the next ten years, especially as we don’t have any of the same furniture of carpet now. The first thing we did when we bought a new television a couple of years back was, yep, rip off the plastic before my mum even opened her mouth to stop us.

Remember those beautiful studs? Mmmm smell that plasticky freshness

2. Buying new things was a big event in our house, and even bigger was  then showing them to family and friends so that they would go out and buy the same thing if they liked it. I remember my aunt coming to our house and seeing our red and cream patterned sofas, then buying the same ones for her own house (which were there for years). It is with great relief that I can say none of the original furniture from my childhood remains in the house (except possibly my parent’s my dad’s old bookshelf which has gotten away with being in the hallway, and which no one moves because it’s a good place to surreptitiously put unwanted plastic bags and extra creams that mysteriously appear). Similarly, we’d all be involved in a trip to go buy something like a vacuum for the house, my dad would expertly examine it for flaws (and then never be the one to use it), while we all sat bored and begging to go to the toys aisle.
We weren’t a well-off family and didn’t often have new things – one thing we all remember is hand-me-downs from older siblings (I didn’t have it as bad because I was the youngest, but one of my sisters remembers having hand-me-downs from my brother which was less pretty!) My parents were very thrifty and careful with what they had, and it’s a trait we’ve all manage to inherit – it also meant having an array of junk in our house because things were on sale/free/being given away. These days internet shopping is a great revelation in my house (and not just because I buy a lot of junk, my dad is the worst) – it’s a big jumble sale out there and it’s easy to go crazy. Except for my mum, who still buys everything in cash and almost always finds a bargain in any store.

3. Who says you can’t fit eight people in a five-person car? You’re just not squeezing people inside hard enough. Coming from a family where I was the youngest of five, I spent most of my childhood squashed/half-couched in the feet area of the back seats (back then I was the skinniest and the smallest, which meant I got the least space). Oddly enough, although we should have spent half our journeys terrified of the police stopping us over for overcrowding a vehicle, we never worried about it, and it never happened to us. Booster seats for toddlers and seat-belts? Pah. Our car wasn’t that glamorous either, we had an ugly white Nissan when I was a child , which then got upgraded to an ugly red Nissan a few years later – although both of which still weren’t as embarrassing as the yellow three-wheeler down the road.

car-load-funny-taxi-pakistan

4. Reading books are full of nonsense and put silly ideas in your head. My sisters and I are all avid readers, and have been since we learned our alphabet as little toddlers. I remember holding my sister’s (sometimes my Dad’s) hand and being led to the local library which was minutes up the road as a child, and being in awe at the sheer number of books lining the shelves, getting greedy over how many we could take home. My parents, on the other hand, hated it. They hated the fact that we’d go glazed-eyed and deaf once we got stuck in a book (they had to shout at us up the stairs a good few times to get our attention), the fact that we wouldn’t stop reading for hours, or the fact that our books took up piles of space next to our beds. I remember being engrossed in books which I refused to put down even when eating, ignoring the television to put a book next to my play and accidentally drip a bit of food into the pages, which would drive my parents nuts. Even now our rooms (in all of our respective houses!) still fill up with books and crowd the bookshelves (which our parents keep threatening to dump in a landfill every so often, but we know they’re just empty threats).

I’m pretty sure Roald Dahl must have based Matilda on a Pakistani family. Minus the witchcraft and car-swindling parents.

5. PG films didn’t apply to us. As long as there wasn’t any inappropriate scenes about K-I-S-S-I-N-G, we became pretty desensitized to violent films, because our parents didn’t see them as unsuitable. Mind you, the kissing thing became pretty old, we could be watching a scene from an innocent, joyful Christmas family movie, and as soon as any kissy scenes came on, the channel got changed, and we’d lose control over the remote.* Gory killing scenes in Predator were okay though, cos that was just men running around with knives. There’s been many a film that we didn’t see the ending of because of this problem.

Predator – just a film about getting exercise and fresh air in the jungle. With guns.

6. Yes, our parents were those ones who said if you didn’t get A grades, you might as well not have bothered. Admittedly, we were lucky enough to be that family which were high achievers at school and who made our cousins’ lives (unintentionally) miserable because their parents were always smacking them on the head asking them why they couldn’t get our grades. Also funnily enough, when I got my GCSE grade, the majority of which were A grades, my dad pointed out that I only got a B in Maths, which was a bit of a let-down – yet a day later a few of my uncles congratulated me saying my dad had praised my grades. My dad wanted one of us to be a mathematician (because it was his favourite subject) and my mum would have preferred it if one of us did something respectable like become a doctor or lawyer. Seeing as no one in the family has yet to reach these lofty statuses yet, I’m still waiting for them to transfer their attentions on the grandkids.

funny-desi-doctor-meme

7. Clothes and fashion in the 90s wasn’t as glamorous as they are for us today, and we didn’t have it all thought out. My sister and I are 18 months apart, which meant that as kids, we got dressed exactly the same. We looked nothing the same as kids (and even less so as adults), but this didn’t stop my mum from dressing us up exactly the same, and for relatives to ask if we were twins. Another cost-saving fashion method we had was to buy a roll of fabric and for all the girls in the family to have the same outfit stitches (which we’d have to wear at the same time) – hence our aversion as adults to wear anything pink, frilly, netted or similar to anything any other sister is wearing. And my brother wasn’t spared either, we have many photographs of him growing up displaying his stylish shell-suits with his curtain hair styles.

Can you see that look of scepticism in my face? My sisters (behind) had the same frilly dresses as me in yellow, which were our mum put on us for special occasions.
Can you see that look of scepticism in my face? My sisters (behind) had the same frilly dresses as me in yellow, which were our mum put on us for special occasions.

8. Bollywood films were a staple when we were going up, as much as Power Rangers, Blue Peter and the Indiana Jones films were. Every week, my mum would send one of us to the corner video shop to pick up the latest pirated Bollywood video tape and watch huddled together in the living room (they were a lot more family friendly than they are now, no kissing scenes here). My dad hated us watching Bollywood films, so we would watch it whenever he went out with (blatant, over-acted) ‘stealth’, – whenever we’d hear the sound of his key in the door and him stepping into the house, we would be scrambling around to switch the VCR off and pretend to be staring at the news/carpet/empty bowl when he came in.

Die Hard had nuthin’ on this guy.

9. Weddings in the 90s were a world away from the grand affair they are now. Weddings in the 90s were purely about eating food, wearing puffy dresses and tinsel, and lots of cramped seating. And don’t get me started on the cringe-worthy wedding videos and their ‘special’ effects (one of my uncle’s wedding videos features the cameraman’s hand holding up a piece of glass to make a kaleidoscopic effect in the lens. It worked, too). Compared to the bridezillas of today who take a microscopic look at wedding dresses, cakes, flowers, seating arrangements and a hundred other things, wedding back in the day involved booking a hall and food, turning up, watching at least one fight and leaving as soon as you ate. The poor bride was usually miserable and spent the whole time with her head down, and the groom was usually an obscure figure on the stage. The best thing I remember about those days was running around with the other kids and picking up loose change on the floor (and feeling really rich!)

10. Family portraits were another disaster in our household, and not just because of the fashion faux pas – I don’t think we have a single family picture which has everyone with a straight face (one of us were usually sniggering or hiding behind someone else). My sisters remember my mum telling them not to smile too much (and keep their teeth inside their mouths) because it didn’t look respectable in pictures – which is a far cry from the fake smiles and poses we all have today (I’m pretty sure we could submit a lot of ours to this website). A lot of our pictures from an early age look quite serious and sombre, usually because we were sitting on sofas in the front room which we weren’t usually meant to go in, which is ironic because I don’t think any of us were particularly miserable children. These days we’re all about arty-farty pictures and looking our best in pictures (okay that’s probably just me, but still), and the grandkids in my family have grown up with camera phones in front of their faces.

Me and my sister’s hijabi selfie

11. Food in our house was another affair which hasn’t changed. I watched Russell Peters at one of his stand-up shows once, and he correctly talked about how our mums only ever cooked whatever our dads wanted, no matter whether we wanted it or not. This was the same in our house – I can remember countless number of times that my mum made my dad’s favourite food (usually lentils) while we all moaned about wanting chicken and chips. We also didn’t eat out or have much junk food as kids (which is probably a good thing in hindsight) – I think I was about 13 when I had my first McDonald fish burger. Whenever we wanted junk food, my mum would make us home-made fish and chips (peeled and chopped potatoes, of course!) on Sundays, or otherwise make us home-made kebabs to put in burger buns. Over time we discovered halal chicken burger shops, and I remember making weekly trips with one of my sisters after saving up all of our 5ps and 10ps to buy burgers from the local shops (with all of our change in our hands, who needs purses?)

12. Storing and hoarding is a trait that probably all Asian (and other ethnicities) family have – we can’t bear to throw anything away. We have a cellar full of junk from our childhood which we are constantly trying to clear and then end up filling up again. Granted, we’re a lot more neater at storing our junk than those weird shows you see on tv (and we uses to think that the number of books we had were bad, until we drove past a house once which had newspapers and books lining the hallway in stacks until it reached the front door). Part of the problem is we hate to chuck something that we’d paid for, especially because we think we’ll need it again (we won’t). My dad even built a shed (which we’ve named the cow-shed) to ‘store’ our extra tools and things, and which is our latest dumping ground (plus it’s a haven for spiders so everyone’s too scared to go in there).

Another habit we all have is storing and stockpiling enough food and toilet paper to fuel a small country, even though my mother goes shopping every week to buy more of these. We always say that if there’s ever a siege, at least we won’t starve or need toilet paper.

All in all, there were plenty of embarassing moments (this is just the tip of the ice-berg, really!) but there were also lots of perks. Things were simpler then, video games were easier to play (have you tried to play one now? jeez.), cartoon shows were better, we weren’t obssessed with mobiles and the internet, and being an Asian nerd wasn’t always a bad thing if it meant you got A grades at school instead of beats (I rememeber a boy in my class on results day who didn’t go home for two days because he was too scared to tell his parents his grade, when he finally came home they told him they’d been waiting for him to come and show his results).

I’m sure there’s a part two of this coming soon, but in the mean-time, I’m off to browse 90s films to make fun out of (starting with this one, one of the funniest re-caps I’ve read!)

*Ownership of the remote control is a serious thing in our house (I have no idea if this is a thing in other people’s house, although I suspect it is) ‘Having’ the remote is taken pretty seriously, and whoever has it is a lucky devil because they can hold on it and control what everyone else watches. The only exception to this is my dad who has the power to take the remote and change it to Geo channel or BBC news at any and all times, no matter how much we might complain.

The Unspoken Rules of All Soap Operas

I don’t watch as much soap operas and those day-time tv series as much as I used to, mainly because they frown on watching television at my workplace (it doesn’t look good to have iPlayer running in the background of my reports, managers tend to frown on that), and also because after years and years of watching Eastenders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Neighbours, I got sick of watching the same storylines being disguised and recycled with each generation.

How many times will Den die? Will Kat cheat again? More importantly, will she be wearing leopard-print while doing it? And how on earth do people like Tony from Hollyoaks and Ian from Eastenders convince so many women to marry them?

It got me to thinking about how a lot of TV’s soaps follow some unscripted rules which seem to be unchanging over the years – even if they’re disguised to reflect current issues. In the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of controversy over story-lines like homosexuality and teenage pregnancy, these day the storylines will be about immigration, transgender issues, terrorism or just about Cornish pasties – but the results are the same, possibly because the soaps follow the same ‘rules’.

I expounded on some of my theories about soaps to a friend of mine and she urged me to share my theories so I can enlighten you all with them. Admittedly, her exact words were “write a post about it, it sounds funny”, but I’ll take that as a positive too. Read on follow soap-cynics, and tell me if you agree.

Rule #1: There is no such thing as a happy relationship or marriage.

No matter how long the ‘romance’ has been dragged out, and the suspense built up, when a couple finally ends up together or gets married, it will never last. I have yet to see a marriage which has lasted on any soap. Even those married couples who have supposedly been married for 50 years suddenly end up having problems with each other.

It is inevitable that there will be three possible outcomes in any relationship:
1. One of them cheats (which probably means nothing because the other one is likely to be cheating as well)
2. One of them dies (which forever immortalises them and makes them the perfect partner)
3.They just give up their relationship because it gets boring/one of them has to leave the country for obscure reasons/one of them turns gay (i.e. their relationship got boring and producers wanted to spice it up)

The best relationships have been the ones where one half of the couple is dead (probably because they’re too dead to argue or cheat) – in which case, the living half will remember the relationship with unrealistic fondness. Strangely enough, this doesn’t stop characters from having an impaired memory – the amount of times Pauline Fowler talked about her beloved (and belated) ‘Arfur’, despite the fact that he was a cheater and she was a husband-beater. Sounds like him being dead suddenly redeemed him.

Married and separated so many times, we lost count.

Rule #2: Everyone must visit the pub.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a drinker, every soap has a thriving pub which is at the centre of all business, drama and gossip, which means it’s a place that everyone eventually ends up being in the episode. Teetotal and/or ex-alcoholic? Why not go to the pub and surround your lemonade with some drinkers? Muslim and don’t drink? Down to the pub with you. Underage or with young children? Why not have a rest at the pub, there’s plenty of people to keep an eye on your children while you have a quick pint. Best of all, no one will ask you why you are at the pub at 11.00am, plus a possible pub lunch and a quick pint after your dinner too.

Some would argue that the pub is a great equalizer – the rich, poor, working class, middle class and people of all colours and ages congregate to the pub cos they all want a drink at the end of the day (or want to witness the latest debacle about to take place). But I’ll just say that the Queen Vic and Rover are too over-populated to be realistic, especially when you know most people would prefer to be at home in front of the telly (I wonder if there is a soap that the characters watch in Eastenders, something called The Market maybe).

Rule #3: Ian is always going to be a git.

I just don’t like him. ‘Nuff said.

isn

Rule #4: There should only be one taboo topic at any one time.

Every season in soap-world will have a new scandal going on, whether it’s affairs, crime-doings or someone ‘aving a go in the market. In order not to confuse us simple viewers, there’s only ever major story arc at a time, so that we can keep our bums on the edge of the seats without being distracted by other storylines. The downside of this is that a story can drag on for months until we stop caring. But it also means that you can watch a story about an affair in January, go on holiday for a couple of months, come back in April and the affair’s still going on. When it comes to ‘taboo’ topics which become major storylines like teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, immigration or similar issues, I can’t help but think that they’re dumbed down and simplified so that we are beaten over the head with the overall message.

Rule #5: There is always a loophole for characters to come back, regardless or how they leave.

Death is not a preventive factor because there’s always an explanation , even if it’s not a realistic one. We may have seen someone get shot/stabbed/go on the run for twenty years, but it still means that there’s a small lee-way for them to come back. Yes, you, Dirty Den, we’re looking at you. What do you think this is, the Resurrection?

so-you-fakes-your-own-death_o_216908

Rule #6: There is always a villain that we love to hate in every soap

It’s practically a requirement. In Eastender it’s Ian (for me), but there’s plenty of real ‘baddie’ characters to spice things up a bit. And there’s different strands of baddies too, whether it’s the gangster type;, the smarmy type who everyone hates; and, worst of all baddies, the ones who pretend to be good but have serial killer eyes and end up going cuckoo crazy before they get carted off in a wheely bin to a local asylum (which they’ll probably escape from). Think Annie from Sunset Beach, maybe.

Rule #7: The token ethnic person is never accurate.

I have a personal gripe about this because every time there has been an Asian, particularly a Pakistani character in a soap, they’ve never sounded or behaved like anyone I know. The Masoods are a classic example of unrealistic storylines which have either been lifted straight from a Bollywood serial or just made up by non-Asian people who think that Pakistani families are like this. Coronation Street was just as bad, although the only thing they got right was that the Indian family owned the corner shop. As for Emmerdale, well, I have yet to see any Asian people out in the fields.

Put some more of these in Coronation Street.
Rule #8: Time is irrelevant in soap operas and doesn’t run at the same speed as real life.

Don’t try to make it make sense of it, it’ll only give you a headache. A character may find out she is pregnant in May and then be ready to give birth just two months later, pay no attention to that, it’s just producers speeding up time for us. Similarly, a baby will grow into a toddler and suddenly get replaced into a teenage character in a couple of years (I may be exaggerating here, but still). And if it’s highly convenient that Christmas day in Soap World is on the same day as real life, well that’s just clever timing.

soap

Rule #9: Every character has potential to have a huge (translation: stupid) secret

This ‘secret’ will cover a storyline that will drag on for weeks until we stop caring and the producers are forced to do a ‘big reveal’ so they can try to save the storyline and make us all interested again. Usually the secret is something like having a criminal past or that they’re really someone’s secret mum, or that they were the one who stole Dot’s sandwich. Admittedly, there have a been a few interesting storylines in the past, like the secret serial killers, the complicated affairs and the random storylines which make no sense but which still are fascinating. At the core of soap operas, the moments we all hang on for are the ‘Big Reveal’ parts, the moment everyone finds out something that we knew all along – even if it’s a boring secret.

Rule #10: I can’t think of any more rules so here’s a picture of a cute turtle.

Look how cute it is.

That’s all I could think of folks, I know some of these are silly and some of you might not agree with these, but a lot of these are silly and down to the fact that I watch a lot of rubbish TV which doesn’t always make sense, so I may have done some over thinking here!

Next up, clichés and rules about Bollywood films (and Indian TV serials) – expect some silliness!