My first poetry animation, based on my first published poem back in October 2014: ‘Blood Roots’.
The biggest, strongest hug to a few folk who have supported me in this project, and in other ways which money and words could never buy.
My first poetry animation, based on my first published poem back in October 2014: ‘Blood Roots’.
The biggest, strongest hug to a few folk who have supported me in this project, and in other ways which money and words could never buy.
I write a lot. Some of it is time sensitive and most of it is probably never going to be published, because it is so British-Indian-Muslim-working-class-Lancashire-lass - ish.
Here's one such:
Historic, they said.
On both counts.
Wrapped in tartan for one year, the one with the vote
to split or to stay
but all I could see was Gandhi
dancing the highland fling.
Two years later, the dhoti was wrapped
the prayer beads, now the mayoral chains
the Jinnah Cap, just tilted to the soft left
and all of us singing
God Save the Queen.
- Sofia Amina.
*Dhoti - a loose piece of clothing wrapped around the
lower half of the body, was worn by some men from
South Asia, e.g Mahatma Gandhi is mostly pictured
wearing a dhoti.
*Jinnah Cap - A hat named after the founder of Pakistan,
Mohamad Ali Jinnah.
*2016 - The vote for the mayor of London, won by
Sadiq Khan, of Pakistani heritage.
I would like to make something clear.
This is very important to me.
Last week was the third or fourth time someone asked me about my interest in poultry. This is now worrying me because how many people in this word think that I am into such beings? I look back and think of the confused looks I’ve received whenever I’ve mentioned what I’m into. Maybe it’s because I speak quiet softly, but still…
…I ain’t into chickens.
I’m into Poetry.
(Cartoon courtesy of @ bit.ly/1Qw8OZH)
I was supposed to write a post about Lord Macaulay a few weeks after starting this blog but another blog idea always seemed more urgent. Then I wanted to write something about Dr Shashi Tharoor’s speech at Oxford and I never found the time to write it. Last month a much loved ex-president of India, Dr Kalam, passed away. I had heard of this president but I didn’t realise how much he was revered and loved. After a bit of internet reading, I realised that he was loved for having loved, being proud and working hard for his country. I realised his philosophy was the perfect ending for what I wanted to say about MaCaulay and Tharoor and now it was going to be a post I wanted to research and write.
Lord Macaulay (1800-1959) held the position of Secretary of War and Paymaster-General during his life and is also infamous (infamous on the internet that is) for minutes he gave to Parliament, 2nd February 1835. Within the first few months of arriving in Mumbai, I was shown excerpt of these minutes (above photo).
How the colonial power operated, their hideous abuse of power has always made me angry and it was wasn’t any different when I read the above.
My father, who was born before the partition, taught me much about the British Raj, including how mercilessly we were taxed and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. However, he also talked about how if the British had not conquered then we would have been conquered by another country because we were fragmented and militarily weak.
Going back to this excerpt, I did a little internet research and realised there were some anomalies. In 1835, Macaulay was out of the country and in India itself and the language apparently doesn’t fit in to the period it was supposed to be written in.
Me being me, my curiosity took me for a little ride and a few minutes later, I was looking through the historical Hansard records but couldn’t find anything (Hansard is a record of what was and is said in the British parliament). Searching through the Parliament website, the FAQ confirmed Macaulay was not in the UK, but in India at the time and if he did give the speech it was probably to the Supreme Council in India (http://bit.ly/1W9LPFE).
If the extract is a lie, such lies are not needed. There are many other reasons to be angry at how the colonial powers operated. This is orated perfectly by Dr Shaashi Tharoor in his speech at Oxford here (http://bit.ly/1KefWVR), the main point being the economic toll:
“India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on it shores was 23%. By the time the British left it was down to below 4%. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.”
The conclusion was even if Britain can pay £100 a month but just apologise, then it would be more than enough.
His speech was an internet sensation because it was factual but also with a brilliant performance. Reading the reaction to this was a lot more interesting though.
A reaction/opinion piece in The Times of India by Aakar Patel, illustrates the other side of the coin and also made me think of my father when he told me about India being militarily weak, with each state warring with each other, ‘Mother India was weeping and wounded when she went into the arms of Victoria.’ (http://bit.ly/1gfBeZA)
Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam then…
The outpour of grief and love for this ex-president did not match his presidential career. I could not understand for a while why he was so loved. What was the greatest thing he did in his career? Yes, he was The Missile Man but I heard people talk more about his love and reverence for his country and his work ethic. A quote from him which I adore: ‘In a democracy, the well-being, individuality and happiness of every citizen is important for the overall prosperity, peace and happiness of the nation.’
He was also not the kind of man who held on to the abuse suffered by his ancestors. This I respect for personal reasons.
One of the fundamental truths of life is a simple one. It is up to the victim to learn from the abuse suffered, do their best to not give into their instinct and abuse other victims. The abused becomes the abuser because they think they have an entitlement to it or they think it is the only way to survive. And I’m not only referring to the severe abuse suffered but the everyday snippets of abuse given and taken.
So is this extract by Macaulay, full of nostalgia, idealism and anger, important or necessary when we have figures like Dr Kalam, who look to the future rather then dwell in the anger of the past? Moving forward is the key. The decisions we make and the actions we take today and tomorrow will sow seeds for societies growth tomorrow.
And with all of this in the pot, I want to add a different kind of spice to it. Throughout the years, my friends and colleagues, through conversations about The Raj, have apologised to me for what their ancestors did to my country. I was never sure how to respond to this except to smile, and it left me feeling uncomfortable because did that mean I should apologise for my ancestors abuse,even though I had nothing to do with it? Therefore, is that solely the responsibility of the state rather than the individual? I normally respond by saying I will pass the apology on to my father. It’s a piece of history of my forefathers and foremothers that I have only heard of and not experienced the counter-effect of in India. I have in the UK, but that’s for a different blog piece.
Couple of post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while but life and stuff seems to just take over.
The blog ideas have now become as annoying as poetry ideas. They need and want to be written. Demanding attention, throwing tantrums by spoiling my train of thought.
This post is not about a specific location (Edinburgh or Mumbai) but about a habit that poets need to get into. It is a lecture. A telling off. More telling myself off then anybody else. And there is another message to this piece too: always read your emails.
The lecture is about the habit a poet must have regardless of the weight a poet/poetess may feel, and by weight I mean the dread and hopelessness of sending work out into the world.
Write everyday, even if you only write for 10 min. A coupe of years ago I made that commitment to myself and I have seen the rewards of it. Now it has become such a habit that if I don’t do it I feel slightly ‘off’.
For the first few months my writing was awful. Cheesy and clichéd and I despise clichés. Then it started improving. I started finding a voice. MY voice.
The next point is going to be a little controversial. Maybe.
Do not read other works of literature. Do not attend any creative feedback meetings. I think I found my own voice by secluding myself, but I also made sure that I gave myself a time limit to then take my work out to writing groups and meetings. This voice, my poetry, was once described as Alice in Wonderland reading philosophy and now I personally think it is a little too childish sometimes. Too much of Alice and not enough of the philosophy.
Then submit. Submit. Submit.
It feels heavy when I do it because of the reality of the poetry publishing world.
I do honesty hate these days though. I have to spend hours trying to convince and bribe myself to sit me down on a chair. The bribe usually consist of food at my favourite restaurant, my favourite dessert or time to think/ponder/daydream.
Last piece of advice. Even if you are moving countries, please read your emails properly. I nearly missed out on my pieces being published in a journal in the USA because I didn’t read an email properly. Thankfully the folk at Mandala Journal, USA printed my words anyway.
Fantastic folk by the way. I wanted to buy a copy of their journal and they sent me a few copies so I will be finding them a home in Mumbai and Edinburgh.
The curious thing is they accepted and published a poem that I didn’t think anybody would ever accept. It was full of me. Indian and English and with references that nobody else would understand unless they were British born Indians. And they loved it. Shit. I nearly didn’t send it to them.
Another visit to Dongri last night to see the relatives but this time it was for iftari (breaking fast for ramzan) and to see the markets near Masjid Bundur and take a walk down Mohammed Ali Road. Supposed to be quite something for shopping and food during ramzan.
Dongri feels like old Mumbai. Traditional, historical, deeply rooted in culture and tradition and modernised in it’s way, by it’s own choosing. I do love this area – explored it with my dad when he was here in February and he knows it like the back of his hand.
Except this time the crowds and the noise from the traffic was too overwhelming. I was warned about this but me being me thought I would give it a try anyway. I lasted approximately 20 minutes. The crowds I think I could have handled, but together with the noise – no way. Definitely too much for me and next time I’ll go a bit earlier in ramzan rather than two days before Eid.
I had a good time at the relatives, ate some gorgeous food, got a tiffin of homemade biryani and came home standing by the doorway of the train to Andehri. Seeing Mumbai at night like this is almost perfect.
I’ve changed my name.
Just because it felt right.
Also, my writings/mumblings is going to be about reflections as well as observations, and those reflections are mostly going to be based on my time in Edinburgh. Therefore a name change to ‘Edinburgh to Mumbai’ for my blog felt right.
However, lets begin with the rains in Lancashire, UK where I was born and bred. Famous for many things including the regular downpour from the heavens above. Walking in the rain, the smell of the earth being freshly soaked, were perfect moments for me.
I have not had the same kind of love for the rains in the other towns and cities I have lived in. I guess this has lots to do with nostalgia.
It was a blessed relief when the rains first began here in Mumbai. The temperature did reach 32°C and when the rains came I just stood on my balcony and enjoyed the moment. Over the next few days I saw how Mumbaikers handled the rains and I guess the key is the temperature and not being scared to get wet.
Children do carry on playing cricket and football. Complete downpour and none of the children would run indoors, scared of getting wet. They wold just carry on playing. The wardrobe is another curiosity for me.
When the cold hits the UK the winter wardrobe comes out. In Edinburgh especially, it seems mountain trekking gear is a must, though the weather in Edinburgh doesn’t warrant that kind of gear. The North wind can be quite fierce at times, especially if it’s raining too but it usually passes soon enough. In Mumbai though, most of the people, eventually including myself, wore sandals with an umbrella to hand, even with heavy downpour, lots of deep puddles to jump over or wade through.
It’s not that warm in Mumbai so wellingtons (referred to as gumboots here) are very possible without feeling muggy and sticky, but I’ve only seen one person wearing a pair. Even I haven’t bought a pair yet, though the variety of gumboots available, with their colours, patterns and heels is quite amazing.
When I’m in Edinburgh next and it’s raining, I’m going to go out in a pair sandals with an umbrella in hand. Doesn’t matter if its raining or not.
(Photograph for this post – taken by Euro Fever, posted on Flikr @ http://bit.ly/1H6uR6v )
More specifically, lets talk about colour.
Walking with a friend in central Mumbai, 32°C and it feels like my skin is fizzing and bubbling from the heat. She is dressed in jeans, a full sleeve top, canvas pumps and a long scarf, which covers everything except her eyes, but it’s not tied in the usual ‘hijab’ manner. I casually asked if she was covering her face because of the traffic and pollution. Her reply shocked me.
It’s because of the sun. She did not want to darken her bone brown shade of skin.
How we perceive ourselves and how we let other peoples perception of us affect our own self-image is both amusing and frightening. I’ve been a victim to allowing other peoples prejudices affect me, but not so much that I need to cover myself head to toe to avoid darkening my skin in 32°C heat.
Is it a simple matter of realising we can accept or deny other people’s ideas of who is the beauty and who is the beast? Which box we are shoved into and which box we choose to dance in? Do we even have a choice if the imposition of what is beautiful has been super-imposed on us for several years? The idea of what is beautiful has been present for centuries, but to what extent did it affect people during that time? Before advertising, how mad were we when it came to beautifying ourselves?
The idea of what is beautiful can sometimes have too much power over an individual.
I lived in Liverpool for a few years and had a fair few friends who were normally a cloud pink-ish shade and would visit the tanning salon three times a week to then eventually come out a bone brown shade. My British-South Asian friends of various shades of skin from cameo brown to friar brown, also visited the tanning salon before a big occasions in order to ‘even’ out their skin tone. I’ve read this recommendation as a beauty regime in many Asian newspapers and glossy magazines over and over again.
I was aware of ‘skin-lightening’ creams and lotions as I had seen the adverts on the Asian television networks and the products in the Asian shops in the UK. I never thought it would affect an individual so much for them to cover their entire body except for their eyes.
Then I began to look more clearly. There were a lot more women covered in this manner, some even with evening/opera gloves which are sold as ‘skin-protection’ gloves. Why did I find this idea of someone covered from head to toe in 32°C heat, more shocking then a person religiously visiting a tanning salon three time a week? These women most probably used skin lightening creams too which harms the skin but so do tanning beds. It was just not a ‘normal’ thing for me to see.
Then I noticed the billboards advertising ‘fairness’ creams for men. I guess there is no sexism in this particular market.
What about the historical and present day influence of the British Raj? Could this idea of ‘white’ being the ultimate staple of beauty still be present if there had been no British rule in India? Probably.
I wanted to be darker. A browner shade as a child. Rustic brown kind of shade.
Going through a few rough patches I understand now beauty is mostly about confidence. When I use to read such ideas in magazines, I use to think it sounded like an old cliché and how it was airy-fairy nonsense. Some of my rough patches is the same nonsense of me allowing someone to define me, but on the opposing side. I wanted to look more ‘Indian’, more like a ‘paki’. I remember as a child a lunch lady asking me if my father was called Albert and me looking at her thinking how odd she was that she didn’t realise my parents were from India. A few more cruel comments from others made me realise that I didn’t look ‘Indian’ enough.
I did not know what to say to my friends remark. Hindsight being a bitch I wish I would have said, but we all bleed red don’t we?’ or ‘we are a bit of a nutty species.’ Trying to keep the skin as white as possible on one continent, and maintaining a strict regime of darkening the skin on the other side. Instead I said something uninteresting and thought to talk about it more at a later date when we knew each other better.
(Photograph for this post – taken by 16:9 Clue @ http://bit.ly/1BqzHZy)
Not in the way that you think.
A veteran blogger once described her relationship with her blog. Her personal space which gave her a sense of release and a sense of community. I think I am beginning to understand.
With my personal space, I wanted to skip back in time and re-tell my time here in Mumbai. Except I’ve already done this on Facebook. So, I’ve decided to select some of them and melt the others into a few post.
So, here is the first one
Another friend was shocked that I was planning to stay longer in Mumbai on my own…
…her horror I think stems basically from fearmongering:
I heard too many stories about why I would hate Edinburgh before I moved there, the weather being one of them.
I Loved Edinburgh.
My intention to stay in Mumbai for a few weeks provoked pure fear from some people and the scariest stories were from Indian expats themselves who are living in Edinburgh.
I love Mumbai.
Granted I am a bit more cautious. The way the city ticks is so very different to what I’m use to and it’s taken me a while to adjust to it.
However, contrary to the fear which was being sold to me, my lifestyle, my clothes, my independence (I travel on my own, prefer rickshaws and trains than taxi), in general hasn’t changed much from Edinburgh, though my wardrobe has a lot more colour than the usual black and beige.
Every country and every city has its own culture and character.
Loving this one so far.
(Photograph for this post – taken April 28 2015)
Mumbai at the eyeball level is how my blog has been described so far.
I like it.
The first eyeball level experience is a cliché but one I have to talk about.
I don’t usually catch a taxi unless I have to because to me it feels like I am trapped in a tin on wheels, with 33°C heat pounding away. It’s a rickshaw or the train for me and the trains I adore. I usually receive an odd look from most Mumbaikers when I say this – many of them have never used the trains, either because of their car or because of it’s reputation.
It’s all about ventilation. Yes, the suspension is something else altogether and sometimes, depending on the speed, it can feel like I am on a rollercoaster. Regardless, with the heat in Mumbai, it is the best mode of transport on the road. Their is the veil element of the rickshaw too. Sitting in the passenger seat, the side of the rickshaw can act like a veil, I can see Mumbai but Mumbai needs to tilt her head a little to see me.
I know I am treated differently when I get on the women’s only carriage because I stand out like a foreigner (or ‘feh-run’, as the Mumbaikers like to say). There is this perception of women who use the trains of Mumbai. They have to have an aggressive attitude in order to survive the journey, and I am not talking about surviving because of other men on the platform or in adjacent carriages. It is because of the other women, apparently.
During rush hour, Mumbai carriages are typically packed to the point where some passengers have their hands holding on to the closest rod, their feet (mostly) in the carriage and their entire body hanging outside of the carriage. Maybe this ‘space’ issue leads to the element of aggression these women have a reputation for. However, I have only seen this aggression against each other once and both of the women arguing looked more exhausted from their day of work rather than aiming to have a fight for space/territorial reasons. From my experience, the women on the carriage have mostly been kind and helpful to me and to each other.
Going back to my first Mumbai at eyeball level clichéd experience…
I was travelling to meet a friend and I was a little late. The sun was setting and the streets were unfamiliar and busy with mums, kids, couples and lots of traffic. I was in south Mumbai and therefore had no choice but to hail a taxi. The taxi-driver, middle-aged, wavy hair, in a white kurta, with a bright red tilak (a mark, usually worn on the forehead, done with power or paste), gently nodded his head as I told him my destination. I got in the taxi and I could instantly feel the beads of sweat beginning to roll down my back.
I complimented him on the music and so he turned the volume up by turning the dial. It was an old Bollywood song, black-and-white era, with Nargis in the film, a famous actress from the 1940’s whose birthday was being celebrated that day.
The sun was setting as the taxi drove me to my destination and I rolled the window down and listened to an old favourite Bollywood song whilst watching this city change from day to night.
I did not like taxi. I may have changed my mind now.
I’ve started a blog…my blood is pumping a little.
My thoughts are racing about what I can and can’t do and what I can and can’t write about. Mainly though, my thoughts are racing backwards in time and remembering everything scribbled over the past two years and all the ideas that were discarded as potential poems that may have a life elsewhere.
Regardless, here and now is jumping up and down with it’s electric blue gumboots and it’s best to give it a bit of attention before I get stuck talking endlessly with hindsight. (Wellies to the UK folk and I’ve got gumboots on my mind because the monsoon season will be here in a few days and I’ve yet to buy a pair.)
Why the blog name ‘Mumbai, Mumbai, Mumbai’?
For two reasons. It’s has been the tittle of my post on Facebook and Instagram when I have posted anything to do with Mumbai. My intention is to explore and write about this city most folk abroad (and even some Mumbaikers) don’t know about. The other reason is the fearmongering I heard from friends about Mumbai.
I am also a wordsmith by default and mainly in poetry. Expect lots of poetry-ness stuff here too and lots of tiny paragraphs.
(Photograph for this post – taken March 2015, near Sufra Restaurant on Carter Road)
I posted the following on Facebook 20 March 2015. Thought it appropriate as my first blog post.
This was difficult to write and I’ve never written such a long post before….
I had set myself a few goals in November 2013 and some of them I thought were a bit unrealistic, but decided on them anyway because they were mostly to do with my gut instincts than logic:
Be in a city I want to live in. Write everyday (even if it’s complete nonsense). Learn how to read/perform without stuttering, mumbling and generally looking awkward on stage. Get a few poems accepted online and then try to have something in print.
Edinburgh and Mumbai are the two cities I have always wanted to live in. Edinburgh exceeded my expectations and Mumbai is utterly adorable. It was a struggle at first but now I do (mostly) wake up at 5.30am-ish to write for at least 30 min and I have managed to read/perform adequately on stage. I have had poems published online since 2013 and one of my poems was accepted a few weeks ago by New Voices Press, Scotland, for their anthology.
It took me a few minutes and then I realised. I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
In 2013 I was still quite shy and awkward in public, did not have the confidence to speak up in groups and did not think much of my poems. That ‘me’ still comes back every now and then.
I have been feeling a little numb, grateful and overwhelmed. A little angry too because I could have done this such a long time ago.
I guess in a month or two I’ll set myself some new personal and writing goals
(Photograph for this post – taken April 24 2015, Carter Road)