BRANDED

POST SEVEN

As much as we hate to admit it, we live in a world of stereotype. There’s no need for me to even open my mouth, for someone to throw me into a pool of stereotypes. Stereotypes have played a crucial part in both taking me away from my biculturalism, and me owning my differences and “otherness”.

 

I’ve been branded as a brown skinned girl who couldn’t possibly have been born in Australia. I’ve been branded as a girl whose parents had to work odd ended jobs to make ends meet, and of course, my dad was the proud owner of a 7-11. I’ve been branded as a twisted joke because I’m a vegetarian who was forced into this lifestyle by her religion. I’ve been branded as an unclean freak because my skin is “shit coloured” and I eat with my hands.

 

All these assumptions, these stereotypes, are untrue.

 

I am the Australian born daughter of Indian immigrants. But that shouldn’t brand me as anything.

 

Growing up, there was always this seemingly childish innocence that accompanied questions like: Why do you eat with your hands? That’s gross. Adults would brush it off as curiousity, of course. But to be in a position where you’re challenged about the things you’ve grown up with, isn’t a walk in the park.

 

There were always giggles and snickers accompanying questions about why we wear colourful stickers on our foreheads. Why our clothing is so embellished and embroidered. Why our food stank so much. Why we were all curry-munching, sheltered kids who had sergeants for parents.

 

I detested these stereotypes. I still do.

 

I remember asking my mum to stop giving me indian food. To not put coconut oil in my hair. She never stopped me from anything. My parents are liberal. They always have been. They trust me and know I won’t make stupid decisions.

 

It hurt so much growing up, knowing that I couldn’t truly express and value myself. I was crowned Display A when we looked at India during our social sciences classes. It was with some sort of perverse satisfaction that people would ask questions that they knew would be disrespectful to any other culture.

 

Part of growing up with two cultures has been growing a thick skin to the bullshit, as horrible as that sounds. I have trained myself to be immune to the snide remarks about my brownness. In fact, today, I own my brownness as a traditional Indian-Australian would.

 

I want to remind the world that bindis aren’t a fashion statement endorsed by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Vanessa Hudgens. You are not allowed to shit on my culture and then flip when an overhyped socialite wears them to a music festival, claiming how ethnic and boho you are.

 

The deities you giggled at and imitated out of sheer disrespect aren’t signs of your awareness when they are emblazoned on shirts from every known international clothing company.

 

You mocked my use of coconut oil in 2006, yet here we are in 2017, when you come up to me and rave about how good it is. Calling me a stinky curry muncher for my use of coconut oil will never go away, just because you make the discovery 11 years too late about the benefits of oil for the skin.

 

It’s been a tough journey, but I own my brownness.

 

I’ve come to realise that my culture and heritage will always be used incorrectly. That’s an unsettling thought. But I need to accept, move forward, and remind everyone that culture needs to be respected and valued. Not made into a celebrity endorsed commodity.

 

To end this post, I want to disregard all of the stereotypes I was typecast as.

 

I was born here in Sydney. I’ve lived here all my life. I have the most wonderful parents, who did sacrifice a lot, but who have established themselves as prime members of our society. They worked hard and worked their way to where they are today, instilling in me the same values, motivation and drive. I am a vegetarian out of choice. I’m intolerant to meat and eggs so I don’t consume either. It isn’t a forced decision because of religion. Religion has nothing to do with any of my decisions. I love my tanned skin. I love how olive and warm my skin it. How it’s so healthy and luckily immune to lines and the onset of wrinkles at an early age. I love my food. I love the simplicity and the complexity of Indian food. How comforting it is. And you know what makes it even more comforting and delicious? The fact that I can break a piece of roti with my fingers, wrap it around a piece of tamarind pumpkin and really use all of my senses when I consume my food. It makes the experience so much better.

xx Simran

 

 

 

the comfort edition:

Truth be told, this was made up on the spot. It tasted pretty damn good, but then again, because it wasn’t made with the creation of a recipe in mind, measurements won’t be exact.

 

 
It’s nearly Winter here in Sydney. It gets dark at 5. The sun only rises at 7. And there’s nothing I want more than comfort. On nights like this, most gravitate to the the online food ordering services that are in abundance. I gravitated towards two fridges, the pantry and spice cabinet.

 
Tonight, I drew on inspiration from one of my all time favourite dishes – the Moroccan Tagine, and created my own variation of it. I wouldn’t call my creation a vegetarian take on tagine, simply because I chose not to let my broth absorb completely. I wanted a distinction between liquid and vegetable, while still maintaining that rich, earthy flavour.

 
I served my dish with lemon and tumeric infused rice, a generous helping of fresh mint from the garden, fresh coriander, and lemon.

 

 

This dish was made with the thought of a busy working woman who still likes to eat healthy in mind. I’ve covered the essential foodgroups I eat as a vegetarian, and the best part is, that extras can be stored for other meals or to take to work/uni the next day.

 
As with the dishes I create, I like to invent on the spot. I’ve written with as much detail as I used when I was preparing my meal. The result was a tangy “tagine” whose vegetables were tender but held the chilli, subtle aroma of bay leaves, and the oomph of onion and garlic. The broth was light but flavourful. The tomato, onion and garlic came together to create a tempest in my mouth. They juxtaposed the sweet fleshiness of the raisins, that had almost disintegrated. The broth was tangy and held dimension. Paired with the vegetables and fresh herbs, it was a delight in my mouth.

 
Alongside the rice, the meal was light on the palette but still comforting and fulfilling.
This is an ideal sunday night meal, as extras will go a long way for Mondays at work. One pot meals have always been one of my favourites to make. I know that my meals for the next day are sorted. I can eat this dish with rice, cous cous, roti or bread. I’m gaining all my foodgroups and I’m eating the rainbow.

 
This dish can also be served with fresh Greek yoghurt, toasted walnuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. For a vegan alternative, soak the raisins in coconut milk. Coconut always works with root vegetables and will provide an additional layer of flavour in your broth.

 
The vegetables are also interchangeable. I made this dish with whatever was in the fridges. That I think is the best part. I didn’t need to do anything extra, and for a busy lifestyle, this option is perfect.

 

 

 



The “tagine” – for recipe’s sake

The base:

  • Two large truss tomatoes, finely diced
  • Two large red onions, finely diced
  • two cloves of garlic75 grams Iranian raisins, soaked in half a cup of buttermilk, 1 teaspoon of red chilli flakes and grated ginger. This should soak for approximately half an hour before you begin cooking.
  • 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1.5 teaspoons of red chilli flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or a stock cube

The substance:

  • Half a large cauliflower, chopped into bite sized florets
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into bite sized cubes (about half an inch)
  • 2 large carrots, cut into bite sized cubes (about half an inch)
  • 1 can of chickpeas (I like to rinse and soak mine for half an hour in warm water, just to remove any excess brine and salt)
  • a decent handful of snow peas, cut into thin pieces (I honestly did not measure how many snow peas I used. If you don’t have snow peas, use any other bean)

The rice:

  • 1 cup of basmati rice, rinsed and pre-soaked
  • the skin of half a lemon
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • half a teaspoon of tumeric

Making the “tagine”

  1. Soak your raisins in buttermilk, the chilli flakes and ginger and set aside
  2. Cut your vegetables and steam the cauliflower, carrots and sweet potato. This helps not only cook the vegetables thoroughly, but makes them more tender and open to absorbing the flavours of the broth.
  3. In a deepset steel pot, heat half a teaspoon of olive oil, and once the oil is hot, add your spices, except the bay leaves. Stir in the garlic, diced tomato and onion, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, continuously stirring.
  4. Add in your yoghurt soaked raisins and bay leaves. Cover and leave for 10 minutes on a low heat.
  5. Add in your steamed vegetables, beans and chickpeas.
  6. Add 750ml of water and your stock. Cover and let cook for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Once the cauliflower has almost disintegrated and the carrots and potatoes are tender but juicy, the “tagine is ready”.
  8. Top with freshly chopped coriander and mint, generously squeeze lemon on top, and serve.

The rice:

  1. In a large pot or rice cooker, add your rice, the amount of water you require depending on the vessel you’re using to boil your rice, lemon juice, lemon skins and tumeric.
  2. Once the rice is cooked, remove the skins and run under cold water for 10 seconds to ensure the rice is fluffy, light and the grains are separate.


xx Simran 

Once upon a story of teenage love 

The heart is a funny thing. It opens us up to new emotions. To foreign experiences, and to situations we never think we’d have to deal with. My heart has taught me a lot. It’s taught me about my values. My attitudes. My character. Being guided by the heart has served to teach some of the greatest personal lessons.

I was 15 when I fell in love for the first time. I sound like such a grandma, but nearly 4 years from that commemorative and daunting self confession, I’ve come a long way, and a lot has changed.

I fell in love with a boy. We’d been friends for a while. And he was the first guy I became close to, who wasn’t family or someone who was akin to an older brother I never had. It was every bit as special and as unique as I thought it would be. Some describe falling for someone like fireworks being set off. For me, it was like the warmth of a blanket had settled over me, and the pleasant comfort of a steaming cup of coffee was slowly mellowing me from within. It was slow and soft and comforting.

At 15, I was painfully naive. And also wore rose tinted glasses. It was with almost childlike innocence that I realised I liked him more than as a friend. But of course, out of fear of screwing up the precious friendship we had fostered, I kept my longing quiet and played the role of the dutiful friend.

We became closer. Talked more and more. He was one of the few guys who knew me for who I truly was: a little shy and self conscious, wildly passionate, fiercely loyal and driven as hell. He saw various sides to me as well. From the confident outspoken young woman, to the young teenager who sometimes needed a little protection from the world around her.

He made me happy. Seeing messages from him when I’d wake up first thing in the morning never ceased to cause a zoo’s stampede in my stomach – as cliché as it is. It’s like he knew what to say to keep me wanting more. We’d talk. We’d flirt. We’d laugh. We’d have serious conversations as well. It was mystical and magical and at 16, I was falling fast and didn’t know how to stop my feelings.

At 17, I experienced my first heartbreak. It had taken me two years to quell my anxiety about screwing up one of the best things in my life. I decided that as a confident, independent young 17 year old, I didn’t need to wait for a man to ask me out. I could do it myself. Months of flirting, cute messages and enough phone confiscations during my classes at school had proven that my feelings weren’t one sided.

But as all dramatic moments do, I received my heart, shattered into fragments, on the day of one of the most important exams in my short 17 years. I cried at a public train station and passed it off as allergies when my concerned friends found me pathetically sniffling and wiping away traces of tears. And slowly it turned to anger. I screwed up my exam and returned home in a fit of rage. Because how dare he.

Consolation from my best friends quelled the storm of emotions, and I vowed to draw back from him. In my hurt and anger and confusion, I did spiral into an endless chain of: why am I not good enough, why did he flirt and play coy if he didn’t want me, and I’m nobody’s bitch.

At 17 years and 4 months, with a heart that was confused, I tried to navigate through what I was feeling and find solace in knowing he didn’t want me, and that was ok because I’m nobody’s second serving.

The flirting continued, the messages to cover for him from his parents kept coming, and foolishly, I decided to listen to my heart and try keep the friendship alive by being there for him.

And looking back on that, I was such an idiot for doing so.

At 17 and a half, I lost contact with the guy I first fell in love with.

At 18, I tried to rekindle the friendship.

At 18 and 7 months, I completely cleared him from my life. Social media, phone, text. Photos, songs, screenshots, memories.

All thrown away. All buried in the realisation that there was no point in holding onto something toxic.

Now, 4 days out from turning 19, I’ve found peace with myself. I’ve come full circle to realise how much emotional stress I put myself through for someone who didn’t even deserve a single hi from me.

Is it sad to see the way in which a first love dissolved? Of course. Do i regret anything? To an extent I do. But I learnt so much about myself in that chaotic teenage journey. The tears and frustration and long conversations with my best friends taught me so much. I look back on that period in my life in contemplation now. It’s a source of amusement with my friends who knew. We look back on how fickle it all was. How innocent. But how educational it was as well. This journey serves as the perfect entertainment for those days when reflection on how you’ve changed is so important.

First loves always stay with you. But for me, he’s in the metaphorical attic gathering dust. A faint recollection of how much I’ve grown as an individual. How much I’ve come to play into the belief that I am a strong independent and confident young woman, who really doesn’t need a man. 4 days out from 19, and I’ve got my life working out for me. I’m at a place where I don’t need anyone else. I’m busy and committed to vying for success and happiness from every possible angle. I do want a relationship and a future with someone, but I’m no one’s second choice. I’m no one’s backup plan. And I sure as hell am no one’s bitch. 

xx Simran

 

S K I N

P O S T  S I X:

“Your skin looks unclean. You’re so unclean Simran”

Those words will forever be burnt in my mind. They are the product of losing my childish innocence to the hands of a girl I thought was my friend.

She may have been playing around, but the comparison of my skin colour to that of waste, faeces and mud became so common. It was the typical angle that bullies would come at when they taunted me. I thought little of it, because I did have a great circle of friends. I played it off as bullying that occurs because children are children, and it’s no different to teasing someone who has a mark on their skin, or who is overweight.

I came to realise, years later, that it was the systemic teachings by parents, siblings and society that bred these horrendous thoughts, and made children of colour, like myself, disassociate from their heritage.

Comments stick with us, whether we like it or not. In the backs of our minds, we always have a little tape of our biggest insecurities. For the longest period of time, mine was my skin. Girls struggled with their weight, the size of their boobs, how pert their asses were. I struggled with how brown my skin is.

I spent a lot of my childhood constructing a shield around myself, to mask out negativity and convince myself that it was ok. That the comments were alright. They were little steps in making myself more Australian.

I think I almost started believing that if I was outspoken, loud, active and involved, my skin would automatically lighten. If I could convince myself and society that I was “Australian”, my skin would change and I would no longer stand out.

Obviously, it didn’t.

At the age of 10, I think I was akin to a chameleon. Masking my true colours from those who didn’t want to see it. I actively sought to weed out the indian from my life. I asked my mum to stop making me parathas for lunch, and instead give me sandwiches, or let me buy the only vegetarian option from our school canteen. I tried to give up my mother tongue – an action that I still, to this day, regret ever venturing upon. I prided myself on how non-Indian I thought I was becoming.

I played sport out in the sun. I wore shorts and singlets and played with boys. I was outspoken and loud, unapologetic and enthusiastic.

I’m still all of those things today. I’ve just had a change in attitude and mindset.

When I was 12, and I started high school, I quickly realised I was again in the minority in my grade. I was one of six Indians in a group of 150 girls. However, I remember, very clearly, being told by one of the first girls I befriended, that my skin colour was so nice and tan, and that I was lucky I was naturally bronzed and olive.

In that moment, I think I was thrust into a very different pair of glasses, because it was one of the first nice things I had heard about my skin colour from someone who wasn’t family.

I found myself in an environment where cultural diversity was celebrated. My friends and peers were genuinely interested in my culture, identity and heritage. there was great pride with knowing you did come from “somewhere else”. But I was so far away from my heritage. I was so removed from what I used to love as a child, that I didn’t know how to come back. I didn’t watch Indian movies, my Hindi had become so limited, and I stopped dancing as much because I took on different sports and activities.

I was lost between wanting to accept my skin and who I truly am, and not being able to.

In a learning environment where cultural difference was prided upon, I felt like I was losing grip on mine. By trying to mark my identity as a simple, linear path, I had lost the understanding that our identities, our bicultural identities are so complex, diverse and multi-faceted, that there is no one equation to creating our identities.

So then what brought me back?

I think it was self acceptance and the creation of a safe environment where difference was a matter of pride. I was surrounded by students who wore their differing heritages as badges of honour. It was a matter of pride to be able to fluidly move between two cultures when they felt like it. To be able to effectively communicate not only in English, but in their mother tongues as well. To relish traditional, home-cooked food. To be able to dance and sing their cultural songs.

I started immersing myself in the bits of Indian culture I knew I would always enjoy. Weddings, dance, fashion and food. I gained more interest in understanding why my mum would add certain spices to our food when she was cooking. I learnt how to cook by watching mum and just listening to the stories she would tell me about the dishes she was preparing, and how she used to enjoy them as a child herself.

I asked my parents to take both my sister and I to different parts of India every time we visited, so I could immerse myself in the different elements that make up the whole of the subcontinent. We travelled to the west, to the south. We lived like locals. Hiked to holy grounds and I learnt about my heritage. I learnt about the rich history that I come from. And I was mindblown.

I started respecting my mother tongue.

And all around me, there was an air of acceptance, that difference was and is ok. When you’re different, you’re interesting.

For so long, I had struggled with the notion of difference. I wasn’t Indian enough to be a true Indian owing to my lack of submissiveness, my inability to be a proper young lady and my terrible Hindi. But I wasn’t Australian enough in my lack of courage, my vegetarianism and my dark skin.

What I needed to realise is that the term “Australian” has no one true meaning by default. My parents immigrated to Australia because they knew the quality of life here would be better. There was no restriction on who or what made an Australian. In fact, the term Australian encapsulates the different voices, accents, beliefs and values that we all bring to the forefront and truly accept about ourselves.

To be Australian is to strongly believe in yourself and be true to yourself, regardless of the colour of your skin.

It takes time to accept. To this day, I face bigots on the street who tell me to go back to my own country because of my dark skin. And the irrational fears do sometimes creep up. But then I remember that I have so much going on for myself, knowing that by day, I am a young, confident Australian, and by night, I am a young confident Australian-Indian, dancing and singing, eating my favourite dishes, and immersing herself in two cultures that made me who I am.

xx Simran

eighteen

21 days out from turning 19, but I have a lot to write about. So let’s jump in.

18. 18 has been one of the most fulfilling years of my life. From starting university, working my first legitimate job, becoming a volunteer and mentor, ticking off milestones in my personal growth plan and feeling like I’ve established myself on this planet; to just being true to myself, I really do believe I’ve come a long way.

 

There’s only one positive affirmation you need to ensure you truly believe in:

I’m where I want to be. I’m working. I’m studying. I’m a proud volunteer and mentor. I’m on a continuous journey, seeking new ways to learn and expand my knowledge. Day by day, I’m conquering, whether it’s with one step or fifty.

This affirmation means so much to me on those days where I feel useless.

 

Surround yourself with the authenticity you practice in your own daily routine:

On a personal level, I decided to come clean to myself, analyse, evaluate and move on. 18 was rough in that my anxiety sky rocketed and it’s become a more prevalent part of my life. However, it also allowed me to understand exactly how I need to combat it. From talking to someone, crying, removing myself from negative situations and sweating it out; learning to grasp my anxiety has made me a better person. Not only that, viewing my anxiety as a building block needing to be conquered, rather than as a block hindering my future successes has made me a more realistic person.

Over the course of 18, I took the plunge and cleansed myself of the toxicity in my life. Past relationships. The bullies. The hurt. The friendships that just stopped. All those tethers led to nothing but a sore neck because they were truly choking me. They brought back emotions and memories that I didn’t want plaguing my life. I don’t need that sort of negativity in my life.

I think what really pushed me to take these steps is a change in mindset.

I value and have always valued having a close circle of friends who I know will always be there for me. I didn’t need a thousand friends on facebook. Because that’s just a statistic. Now, I can affirm that every single person on my friends list is someone I have communicated with more than once.

I have the most supportive circle of friends I could ask for. A group of girls and guys from all walks of life and different areas of the world who will be there for me like I’ll be there for them. And that’s all I want. And need. I have the people in my life who add value to it. Who make life worth living. Who I would go to the ends of the universe for. That’s all I need.

 

To not show is sometimes the best option to conquering obstacles:

I think I became a lot more mature over the course of 18. I’ve always been mature. Situations in life have sped my maturing process up a bit. I’ve always been told I’m mature beyond my years. But I think over 18, I developed the emotional maturity that I saw myself lacking when I was younger. There have been situations in life that are out of my control. And when I was younger, I would lash out because of them. But now, I take these situations and turn them into opportunities to find new avenues for growth and development.

It sounds so cryptic, and maybe one day in the future, I will write a post explaining everything. But I know I’m not ready right now. There’s a huge part of what makes me that is open to so much pity, judgement and questioning, and I don’t know whether I’m ready to show that side of me or not.

 

Embody the attitude you want others to think with when they think of you:

Bitching can be good for the soul. But by dwelling on negative emotions, what good am I doing to myself? How am I improving myself if I too am hurting those who hurt me?

Over 18, I made a conscious decision to rid myself of things that make me talk or think badly of someone or something. After reflecting on my highschool experience, I realised just how much individuals ruin themselves by bitching about others. By talking badly about someone. By judging and causing grief. I’m no saint, but I did take conscious steps to make sure I wasn’t settling to that level of crassness. People have hurt me. People have wronged me. People have used me. But that doesn’t mean I settle to their level and hurt them back. Instead, I chose to clear the air by simply moving on and not looking back. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s made me a much happier person.

 

Find experiences that challenge your comfort zones and show you new perspectives

18 was full of experiences. From going to South Africa and having my mind blown, to returning to Melbourne for a weekend getaway; two concerts and numerous cultural programs; Bollywood dance raves on a boat, the color run, and of course, the timeless and precious moments spent with friends doing everything and anything. In each adventure and experience I undertook, whether it was travelling or simply finding a new route home; I knew I would take something profound from it. I set myself up with the task of branching out and swimming into the deep end.

 

Self expression is the one thing no one can ever take away from you:

This goes hand in hand with confidence. I think 18 taught me a lot about my personality and how I view myself. I learnt the difference between being self demeaning and self critical and made conscious decisions to change that. By settling into my skin, whether it be through the clothes, jewellery and makeup I wore; or by reconnecting with my heritage, I learnt just how valuable self expression is.

 

Even the smallest of kind words goes the longest way:

Isn’t it nice when someone compliments you on the train or bus? Why not reciprocate. If you like someone’s shoes or ensemble, tell them. Thank your bus drivers, your uber drivers, your waiters and your baristas. You’ll feel great. They’ll feel great.

I’m proud of where I stand. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. Academically. Professionally. Socially. And that’s all I need.

xx Simran