Poetry.  Not Poultry. 

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)



How to Look Backwards

Excerpt of quote from Lord Macaulay's address to the British Parliment, 2nd February 1835

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. 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 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.

An 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 the apology 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 experienced this in the UK, but that’s for a different blog piece.




32°C heat. Let’s talk about race.

ceramic pots with different coloured dyes, from black to brown to dark grey.

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)



© Sofia Amina