She

From her Kings are born. From woman, woman is born, without woman, there would be no one at all.

With long flowing dark hair, regal eyes and nut brown skin, She rose from the earth and the scent of jasmine lingered in the air from where She had been. From Her fingers sprung saplings, a strange, golden light emitted from Her palms and from Her feet grew long, dark, tightly knotted vines.

Plump and soft with bountiful breasts or tall and slender with a flash of anger in Her eyes, She came in many names, shapes and forms. Leaves, thorns, berries delicately adorned Her hair as She trod on soil, foliage, fire, clay, mud or rock.

She made the land fertile, brought light where there had only been darkness, hope where despair existed and water gushed where only ash had lain before. The desert bloomed and the scars of many disappeared as they began to thrive.

“Never leave us,” people pleaded when they saw Her. “We cannot imagine our world without you.”

To this She would gently smile and reply, “I am everywhere and always among you. How could I ever leave?”

The people breathed a sigh of relief and rejoiced: their world had become brighter, more beautiful and meaningful than before. They made oaths and took solemn vows that they would defend, cherish and protect the ones who gave life. They were convinced that nothing, or no one, could destroy their happiness.

***

It began gradually with a chill. It had accompanied a group of merchants after they had returned from six months of trading goods. They had come back with a strange glaze in their eyes and an air of malice hovered around their lips.

They looked upon the softness of their world  with disgust and the piety of its people with disdain. Everywhere they looked they saw a way of life that was backwards, hindered progress and left them open to being attacked.

Their brows furrowed with mirth and  tightened with repulsion at the adoration She received. White-hot anger surged through their veins and turned their hearts into molten rock, their eyes blazed with fury and any shred of compassion that they had dried up.

They had found the source of their fury, but knew that they couldn’t achieve their hearts’ selfish desires by themselves.

Their poison eventually seeped into the land, hearts and minds of the people as they turned on each other and slaughtered those who gave life.

The scent of jasmine no longer floated in the air. Instead it became so heavy and thick that it clung to people’s chests and burned their skin. Where water once ebbed and flowed, stood skeletal stems, dead foliage and deep grooves now slashed their way through the once lush riverbed.

It didn’t take long for Her to see what had happened to a land and a group of people She had fervently loved, nourished and protected. They came for Her with fire, weapons and blind fury.

It was Her fault. She was responsible for their plight. She had betrayed them and had to pay with Her blood. They vowed to destroy Her for causing them this pain and they didn’t care how long it would take. They vowed to forget that She ever existed and burned every single effigy that they had of Her.

She ran from the mobs. She ran from the fire. She ran from the earth that had given Her life. She ran from the light that had guided them. She ripped the saplings from her fingers, the vines that gripped her ankles and cast them aside. She ran headfirst into the darkness and  vowed to never return.

 

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Brown Melancholia

Yesterday, saw Mental Health Awareness Month (16-22 May 2016) kick off in the UK with charities, individuals and organisations holding events to talk about mental health.

When it comes to discussing mental health, there is a collective reluctance for South Asians (both in the Diaspora and the motherland) to have those important conversations with people who live with a mental health illness or those who live with family members suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other illnesses.

It’s a bizarre dichotonomy; on one hand we don’t talk about mental health problems enough yet we don’t even realise the impact it has on people who live with relatives who suffer from a mental health illness.

My father has depression, and has lived with it for many years, so much so that I don’t remember a time when my dad didn’t have depression. I love my dad – he’s been a mother and a father to me due to personal circumstances– and it’s so difficult to see someone I love so much live with a mental health illness that takes over their life.

If I were to describe how it feels, I’d say that it goes like this: my dad, depression and me. In that order. And it’s not his fault that he has bad days and doesn’t feel like he can face the world. I know that my dad is not his depression.

I’ve grown up hearing relatives say that my father ‘is mad’ or they give him a wide berth because they don’t know how to talk to him, they think that he’s an unstable, volatile freak of nature so they end up saying something offensive or backward.

That used to really get to me, but now, I know it’s because that’s all they ever knew about mental health problems and that they’re merely a product bred by the silence we choose to maintain.

With so many resources and tech at our fingertips, we can’t keep relying on the old ‘log kya kahenge

This silence which has permeated generations, and still continues to, is what frightens and angers me. As a collective Diaspora, we are so concerned with what other people will think (“log kya kahenge?”) that we would rather choose silence over losing face in order to save a loved one.

 

You have no idea how much I hate those three words: log kya kahenge and the untold suffering, melancholy, helplnessness and pain it inflicts upon so many people of South Asian descent.

When it comes to topics, any topic, we all know that silence is complicit yet so many South Asians will choose to stay silent, make ignorant comments or shift uncomfortably in their seats if someone talks about depression, suicide or counselling.

We’ve ended up turning another thing into a stigma because we refuse to let go off our ego, pride and arrogance, which may give us short term social prestige, but it makes our lives a misery.

This in turn makes it very difficult for us to assess how widespread this issue is, given that there already is very little data to help doctors and mental health experts on how to approach South Asians who suffer from mental health problems.

Today, there is not a single valid excuse, for Diasporic Asians to make ignorant statements about mental health given that 1 in 4 people will suffer from/experience a mental health illness at some point in their lifetime.

In the same way that so many of us choose silence over awareness, we can also make the choice to educate ourselves about mental health illlnesses, support those living with one and choose unity over living in our respective ivory towers.

 

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We’re Just Friends

This week’s blog begins with a sigh. And an accompaniment of me rolling my eyes as I find myself blogging on a topic, which is seemingly banal, yet one which remains to be annoyingly timely.

Friends. Friendship. Or for those who check the ‘other messages’ tab on Facebook “fraandship” (you can see where I’m going with this).

For those not in the know, a number of young women (usually of South Asian descent in the Diaspora) often receive unsolicited messages from gentleman in the motherland asking to commence a friendship with us. Naturally we are not amused and reject such advances – because they’re not after friendship. Trust me. And hundreds of other South Asian girls and women that this happens to.

It got me thinking about the dynamics of friendships that exist between men and women in the South Asian Diaspora (and motherland). A part of me feels like this isn’t a topic to really be blogging on; after all we’re in the 21st century and being friends with members of the opposite sex really shouldn’t be an issue. But it somehow always ends up being one.

I’m part of the British Asian brigade who grew up with stern immigrant parents warning me off having male friends – and other things which would have made me look cool – when I was at school. Looking back on it, I understand the rationale behind it all, though I don’t fully agree with it.

It seems to be embedded in many communities and pockets of the quilt that makes up South Asia and its many cultures. I remember seeing this in most areas of life: from being at the temple, social events, family occasions and general outings.

Why must a bond between a man and a woman solely be based on carnal desire?

It’s as though we are on autopilot: men into one half of the room and women into the other. From a religious angle, I completely understand and respect why men and women are expected to sit separately, even if some religions place an emphasis on gender equality. But from a social angle, I don’t understand this, but if you do please feel free to enlighten me!

Naturally, this is a time-old question which people (regardless of ethnic background) sit and deliberate for hours, but this way of thinking harms the dynamics between men and women.

To me, and many others who are first or second-generation, the idea of men and women sitting separately in a non-religious social setting feels old-fashioned. Granted not every single South Asian family, across the Diaspora, does this but I believe that many of the attitudes that we all currently hold towards men and women stem from this.

The fact that men and women are made to sit separately (not even in a conscious manner which shows how ingrained this is) immediately infers that the two are not to be trusted when sat in the same room.

There is this notion that men and women simply cannot be friends without something sexual going on between them. This then leads onto the shaming of men who have lots of female friends, and women, who have lots of male friends.

An example that I have experienced was when I was visiting family in East Africa. A statement that I carelessly said, got misconstrued by my cousin and resulted in my extended family questioning my morals and upbringing.

When you take this pre-conceived idea, and place it against the backdrop of a mish-mash of South Asian ideals (which are currently in limbo between being backward and progressive) it doesn’t bode well.

I would say that route around this ‘issue,’ would be to educate our children and teach them that platonic relationships can exist between men and women. But I have to stop and ask myself this: ‘Can people really be bothered to change an age-old idea that victimises everyone and stigmatises those who go against it?’

Got a view? Join in the conversation on Twitter: @c_syal