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The Culture Catchup Operation

Broad, this is really broad, I know so let’s start whittling it down.

So this year and this summer in particular to be honest I’ve felt more in touch with my culture more than ever before and it’s such a cool thing, something I’m so happy to have done. But it made me think why I was ever out of touch with it anyway? Because the thing is, my culture is all around me and makes up who I am, or at least it should. And I think moving away from the cocoon of home where it was a constant in my surrounding, to Exeter made me loose the feeling of it a bit. I mean it was and is still integral to who I am, but it wasn’t the same as being at home when mum had Indian films on or when she was doing the thup in the morning, I’d lost the daily interaction with it.

But this summer, being back at home, I get to smell the inscence from the thup every morning and our regular visits to Southall because of weddings we have coming up has exposed me to it all over again. And as much as I love uni and I love the culture of that there’s something about having such a strong, iconic and interesting personal culture which I’ve been celebrating more and more from doing more and more mendhi and wearing the payal (anklets) my grandma bought me from India when I was younger, and I love celebrating it in this way.

How can you have 2 cultures?

And it can be confusing, especially when you’re young to almost be faced with two cultures. Western, British culture and Indian culture. And I thank my parents for the balance they brought me up with and how hard that must have been. And the way I see it, when you share more than one culture, is this: There’s the culture that you have, it’s your heritage and it’s part of you and then there’s the culture(s) that you come into. Because as a second generation immigrant, I understand the thing of having respect for a culture that you’ve come into and you incorporate it whether you notice it or not, whether it’s having fish&chips or using the school system here.

But then how do you find the balance between that and not leaving behind your own culture?

I remember going to a school which was Christian and very traditionally English and proud how much difficulty there was in me wearing a Kara, for example. Whilst the school saw it as nothing more than jewellery, this piece of metal was one of the five articles of my religion and culture and a way to physically represent that, so what was I to do? The same with having mendhi on, teachers repeatedly had problems with it, but for us it was a celebration of our culture, meanwhile I was made to maypole dance for our open day entertainment, a great representation of British culture..

When I used to actually be cute

And it’s fair enough, to incorporate both cultures but I think even when I was growing up it was still almost looked down on to offer something different, culture wise. I mean I remember at school one time two teachers really made me feel bad for wearing a Kara and really made a point of it in front of my whole class about how dangerous it could potentially be because of its ‘sharp edges’. I was 7. And I still haven’t forgotten the patronising tone of their words. In what way does that make a child feel accepted or comfortable or in anyway encourages them to celebrate their culture. That could’ve been an opportunity to teach young, impressionable students about a culture and a whole world outside of their own and instead it was shunned away like a bad secret.

Having said this, I remember when I was around the same age and a form did an assembly on Diwali and it was one of the first times I had really felt a sense of belonging because they were talking about my culture. I’m not Hindu but we still celebrated the festival, my sister’s even named after the Princess in the tale of Diwali and it was a really great feeling. But by how excited I got, you can see this feeling was rare which tells you how lacking inclusivity and celebration of diversity was.

From whitewashing to playing catchup…

Even still, this was a real shame because from that point on growing up, to be absolutely frank, I did my best to be a ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside, white on the inside) From trying to straighten the Asian frizz (my hair was straight but still had a frizz) out of my hair to loosing complete touch with Indian cinema and music I just whitewashed myself (I use that word loosely). And I really regret it. I became a sheep. For me I was already finding it hard to fit in and by ignoring my culture I thought that would help me to finally have a place at school. But it didn’t make a difference at the time, whereas now, I’m playing catch up with what was once an integral part of me.

The culture side of me is finally catching up; learning more Punjabi and using them with my friends, cooking curry and showing them lenghas I bought. And I think the reason is because I finally left the bubble of school where I didn’t feel my culture was so ‘cool’ or accepted or important and I’ve moved to a place that actually is interested with people who seem to care about my culture, how cool, yes fckin cool it actually is (!!!) and how brilliant they find it. Having the opportunity to teach my friends about how we make curry, how my mum taught me and traditions that we follow has brought me back in touch and taught me to appreciate how lucky I am to have it.

Punjabi wife 101

But I do think things are changing, I do think England, despite what Brexit may indicate, is celebrating diversity and integration of culture more and more. From the annual City of Culture award and the exposure within schools, of culture. But there needs to be more of it. I want my children in the future to be cultured and I want them to be engaged, interested and respectful.

And I think that will happen, because I think that’s the same future my generation is beginning to build.


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