Back to Basics

I’ve tried this before, albeit unsuccessfully. However, I’ll try again. As they say in life, if you fall down, you get up and try again.

A recent realization crept up on me: I have to get personal in my blog for it to be matter…to me. In the past, I’ve scribbled down my thoughts at random and made it all personally impersonal. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that personal experiences make for the best reading. Big thanks to Humblethepoet and his magical book “Unlearn: 101 Simple Truths For A Better Life.” It’s not a self-help book, but rather a book of 101 wonderful tidbits that speak truth on every level.

Even though I’ve decided to all of a sudden become “personal” in this blog and tell you all my experiences, I’m finding it very hard to say anything about my personal life. I can tell you a brief history, but that’s quite dull. I can jump right in, and you can learn about me along the way…actually I like that idea. We’ll do that then.

Today’s a typical Sunday in the Patel household, NFL games on every TV, a general laziness in the air, and my daughter’s cooing and gurgling laughter filling the air as she amuses herself in her floor activity center. Well, until she gets fed up anyways. As usual, whilst there is calm and serenity lulling everyone to a warm and comfortable day of leisure, my mind is in motion:What do I make for dinner? Well, what’s in the fridge? Shoot I need to get groceries again. Do I have time to read? Have I brushed my teeth yet? Of course, it’s the laundry that needs doing. blah blah blah. It’s an exhausting place my mind. At least on the outside, I’ve got this cool as a cucumber demeanor. You’d never know the roadrunner was doing laps in my head by looking at me. It’s part of being a mum I’ve learned.

What I mean to say is that, two and a half years ago when my husband and I got married, we pretty much did what we wanted when we wanted. We never were the crazy, stay out all night, party party party, sort, but we did do things as we pleased. There was some planning involved, but generally we were flexible. Now that we’re parents, everything is different. Well duh. My day is planned out the night before, and I would be a mess without the routine I’ve created for myself, my daughter, and my family. When I was younger, I scoffed at routines and the simplicity of family life. I wanted adventure, romance, and all the things young people who mistake themselves for pirates want. Now, I don’t know what I would do without my routines and bedtimes.

Being a mum is so much more than I ever thought possible. Obviously when you’re in charge of another life there is a lot that goes into it, but macaroni and cheese it’s more than even that. To be honest though, I wouldn’t change one milisecond of it. Well, my little one is quite annoyed of her toys and frankly, I’d like a good cuddle as well…so until next time.

Homosexuality: The Holy Grail of Indian Taboo

Here is my most recent article for BrownGirl Magazine! Tell me what you think!

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“Indian people are not gay,” a relative retorted in the heat of a continuous and fruitless debate at my house. I stood baffled with my jaw hanging wide open allowing rogue bugs to explore my molars whilst trying to force my brain to understand the sentence that was spoken to me. Belatedly catching on to the actual meaning of the sentence, I tried in vain to wrap my head around that statement.  The most stunning part however, was not the sentence itself, but the utter conviction with which it was said. Pure contempt and disgust dripped from every single letter in that sentence, boggling my mind and deeply saddening my heart.


We are a people that, through sheer willpower and determination, rid our country of the British and have since then excelled in the world; we have completely dominated in the field of technology, we are continuously discovering new breakthroughs in science, the clothing, music, cuisine, and mystifying beauty of all that is India has the world gaping at our treasures. We have advanced to the point of envy in all aspects except the most important: social.  The crux of the Indian community lies in the societal rules and norms.  Ours is a tight-lipped culture, refusing to acknowledge anything that takes away from the perfect order of garam masala chais, stellar academic standards, and arranged marriages.  In a society that has trouble accepting love marriages over arranged ones, and would banish a family member without a second glance if they ever dared to get involved in an interracial relationship, homosexuality is the holy grail of taboo in the Indian culture.


I have been blessed to know a woman that is the very embodiment of everything that we promote at BrownGirl Magazine. Ashka Parikh is smart, hip, and one of the most beautiful people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  I was fortunate enough to learn her story, and the results were eye-opening and inspiring.  She is Indian, and she is gay, and never have I met someone who was more proud of being both.  Without further ado, I give you my very own Brown Girl, Ashka Parikh.

When did you first realize you were gay? What thoughts crossed your mind?


“I was in elementary school, in 5th grade, and I felt attracted to my neighbor who lived across the street when we were riding the bus home.  I was scared because I felt that it was unnatural because I would see all my friends having crushes on boys and I didn’t.”


Did this knowledge change your behavior at school?


“Yeah, it did change because people can be judgmental.  I pretended to like boys even though I felt it was wrong, but at the same time I wanted to protect my friendships.  I was very uptight because I didn’t my friends to get any ideas that I liked girls. I did however do the stereotypical ‘lesbian things’ like play soccer with the guys and play basketball without ever coming out.”


When did you come out to your friends? How did they react?
“I was already having a fling with a teammate, who was coincidentally my first kiss, but I met a girl that I really started to like. I began to pursue her, and she became my first girlfriend my junior year of high school.  I told one friend one time, and I lost that friend; it hurt because I thought she was my closest friend at the time.  I started to think that would be how all of my friends would react, so I kept it to myself for a while. Eventually I grew stronger, and I told a few more friends. They didn’t believe me. I powered through, and told the rest, and was met with ‘I already knews’.  After a while, I stopped caring what people thought because our community has a tendency to gossip.  I know a lot of Indian lesbians that seek advice on how to come out to their families because of the difficult nature of the topic. Bottom line is that you don’t need people that react negatively when hearing the word ‘gay/lesbian’.”


How long did you wait before coming out to your parents? How did they react?
“I was 20 years old, and it was my sophomore year at university. I was dating a girl, and one morning my mom came into my room to wake me up for a wedding we had to go to, and she walked in on me and my girlfriend cuddling.  She waited two weeks before approaching me about it, but I was so scared that I broke up with my girlfriend and started dating guys to put them at ease.  I was absolutely miserable.  I finally decided to stop dating guys, and began to date a girl I really liked because I had finally realized that this was my life. Why should I risk being miserable for the rest of my life, when I could have the love and respect of my parents by just talking to them about it? I made a lot of gay friends at university, and I finally felt comfortable in my own skin because I was surrounded by people who understood.  That’s when my parents knew, even though they were in major denial.  1 ½  years ago, I started to date my current girlfriend, that’s when my mom sat down with me and apologized for not being supportive and said that they were okay with my being gay.  They just wanted me to be happy. So the actual conversation about me coming out to my parents happened at the age of 24.  I had told my brother when I was 19 years old, he just laughed at me and said, ‘Instead of a jijaji, I’ll have a bhabi.’”


What was the worst moment for you in this process? What was the best?
“I’ve always had a big group of friends, and the worst moments were when I would go out and some of my friends would look at me funny.  They stopped talking to me without saying why; they didn’t even have the courage to tell me why, even though we both knew it was because I’m gay. Dr. Seuss says, ‘Be who you are and say what you want because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.’  It is something that I live by now because it has proven to be true.  The best moment was when I talked to my mom.  Just knowing that she approached me showed a lot of courage and strength on her part.  It showed me why I was raised to be who I am.”


Do you feel your relationship with your family and friends has changed? If so, how?


“As you grow older, you realize that you have to be a little selfish; I stopped caring about the friends that judged me and hated my choices.  I kept the friends who were unconditional in their love for me.  My family changed in the sense that we became stronger; we have an honest and open relationship.  If someone tries to say something about me to my parents, they always interject with, ‘We’re proud of our daughter.’ My brother has always been there for me also, and has been a constant stream of support.”


Do you feel your sexual orientation affects your ability to be active in both your religion and your culture? Why?


“India is the 1st country in the entire world that not only legalized same sex marriage, but embraced it.  The Bhagvad Gita says that two people that love each other can be married; It is non-gender specific.  Because women have  been oppressed in Indian society for so long, they are afraid to step up and voice their opinions.  Hating on homosexuality is not a cultural or religious battle, it is a social one.  Indian society is ruled by a social disease of ‘what will they say’,  and this spills over despite age and location.  1st generation Indians are more likely to be against homosexuality, not because of what they were taught, but because they were taught never to question beliefs.  2nd generation Indians on the other hand, tend to be more tolerant and accepting because they have been exposed to different lifestyles and question their surroundings.  I am Indian and I am gay.  Being one does not mean I cannot be the other as well.”


What advice would you give other Indians that are struggling with similar challenges of coming out and accepting themselves?
“First of all, sit and talk to a sibling and gauge their reaction.  Then sit back and think about how strong you are. Can you face the criticism?  Can you walk by without flinching when people gawk and call you names under their breath?  Then talk to your family.  Finally, become a brick wall because it is your life.  It’s about you.  Why would you worry about what other people think?  If they don’t support you now, they never will. You have to be strong. Trust yourself and be strong.  Believe in yourself and continue on your path,  because you’re not a dummy.  It is better to sacrifice your social calendar than it is to sacrifice your life.”


Living in a time and age where acceptance is supposed to be embedded into our very DNA, we still struggle with society’s demands of what is normal and what is not; what is acceptable and what is not.  No one is normal, and it is okay to be different.  Most of us feel we need to follow the ‘master plan’ created for us even before conception, but there is no such thing.  Ashka’s struggle proves that it is okay to live outside the miniscule box that is normalcy; you shouldn’t feel remorse or guilt for who you love.  Kavita from Born Confused says it best, “In the East you love who you marry, and in the West you marry who you love, but maybe you just love who you love.”

Marriageable Ages & Suitable Boys. Pfft.

This morning, while on my way to work, I was singing my heart out to my beloved Jay Sean. I love his music *swoons* and him. Of course. I’m a girl. Anyways, his music has always had a central theme around love and I’m a firm believer in love and all its wonders and pains. (Just read previous posts, I speculate over this love thing a lot). When I got into work, I checked out http://browngirlmagazine.com/ to see if any new articles had been published. Lo and behold, I came across an article by Roshni Mulchandani ( http://browngirlmagazine.com/2010/12/how-to-dodge-settling/) which addressed something that myself, and probably every other South Asian girl past the age of 21, is dealing with. Marriage.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of life! I’m supposed to be getting into shenanigans, (oh I do love that word) dancing the night away with my drunk girlfriends, making impromptu road trips, going sky diving on a beautiful sunny day, etc. Not sitting in a room with my parents hovering over me asking me why I do not have any marriage prospects yet. I’m only 22 years old for crying out loud!

In the Indian culture though, 22 is getting up there in years. A girl is of  ‘marriageable age‘ from the age of 20-25ish (25 is really pushing it though). In this allotted time, we’re supposed to find, meet, date, and have decided who we want to marry. Not only that, but parents have a set of criterion the boy we haven’t found yet must have. He’s got to be from a good family, have a good education, have a good job, etc. Finding a boy in the Indian culture is like setting up interviews for the coveted job of husband. I see why those things are important, especially for my parents, because they’ll be giving their daughter to someone else to take care of, but those aren’t the only important things. I think it’s important for two people  to connect, have things in common, and want to be with each other. My parents and I have gotten into countless arguments over this; they think one can learn these things about a person after marriage, and I’m of the opinion: Why? Why must I marry between the ages of 20-25ish? Why does the man I pick have to fit a neatly ordered checklist? In short, why must I settle? Why can’t I fall head over heels, get butterflies in my stomach, and feel like the luckiest girl in the world because I’ve met the man that I always dreamed of but never thought I’d be blessed enough to have?  Pfffft I say to these archaic ideas of ‘marriageable ages‘ and ‘suitable boys‘.

When I marry, it will be because I’m passionately in love with the other person. He’ll be my better half, the sane when I’m crazy, my best friend who won’t hesitate to tell me when I’m being completely ridiculous, he’ll put up with my quirky habits, We’ll laugh until our stomachs hurt, We’ll be each other’s rock, He’ll inspire me to be a better person, and though he may not share my love for ‘Anglan’, he’ll know my heart belongs only to him. In short, he’ll be my soul mate.

So again I say, pffft to ‘marriageable ages’ and ‘suitable boys’.

Burgers & Chai

I recently joined the staff at Brown Girl Magazine as a writer, and I’ve decided I’m going to start posting my articles on my blog as well. Below is my most recent article.


I can still remember the feeling of embarrassment and contempt I felt at my culture when my 5th grade teacher refused to take any of the food I made because she thought I had a disease that afflicted my hands. That “disease” was my henna. Growing up in the suburbs meant to conform to the cookie cutter mold; being different was not a good thing. My henna, my mum’s Indian clothes at Open Houses, and the smell of spices permeating from my house were all frowned upon. I did not care though. I wanted to fit in so badly, so badly that I would happily give up anything. What was the price for my spot in the assembly line you ask? My culture.


As a child, I wanted so desperately to be a part of 90’s American culture. I pretended to know all the words to the latest Backstreet Boys and NSYNC songs. I got dressed up and fumbled my way through awkward middle school dances. I ate sloppy Joes and made sure to make a mess of my face and shirt. I entered talent shows and did renditions of Britney Spears “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” I harassed my parents for the latest fad: Giga Pets, Doc Martens, Pogs, etc. I did everything I could think of so my friends would think I was one of them. While I was hard at work on my self-transformation, I completely neglected my Indian culture. I shunned Bollywood. I scoffed at kids who came to school in Indian clothes. I made fun of girls with henna on their hands even though, secretly, I envied the beauty and color of it. I argued incessantly with my mum about why we were eating Gujarati food every day. Was it too much to ask for to have a pizza or some other typical “American” meal? My mum and I got into countless debates and arguments about my lack of enthusiasm for the Indian culture. She didn’t understand why I was trying so hard to hide a piece of myself, and I didn’t understand why she was sabotaging my quest to be a REAL American.


When I visited India a few years ago, I saw the overwhelming display of culture surrounding me, and I was utterly consumed by it. Temples made from pure white marble, chiseled by hand, and with more love and devotion than I could imagine were everywhere. Food stalls emitting heavenly smells of freshly fried Jalebi sent my nostrils into frenzy. Motorcycles, cars, rickshaws, and bicycles navigating roads filled with cows, goats, dogs, cats, and chickens left me awestruck. Bollywood songs blasting from small radios inside sari shops that offered the loveliest outfits in the most vibrant hues imaginable were on every corner. The vibrant colors, the beautiful textures, the scrumptious smells, and the never-ending love I saw made me stop in my tracks. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I spent half of my life trying hard to be something I thought I wanted to be, and in one breathtaking moment everything I thought I believed in was thrown out the window. What had I been doing? Thinking back to that moment, I have no idea why I ever thought adopting a culture was better than trying to understand the one I was a part of.


Living in one culture does not mean that we have to give up our other culture. The trick is to find a good balance. As a South Asian female living in America, I’ve struggled to assimilate my whole life. Instead, I should have been learning to be comfortable in my own skin. Life is not about fitting into a neat little box. It’s about gaining wisdom and strength from experience. At the ripe age of twenty-two, I think I have finally begun to understand that a balance between my American culture and my Indian culture is possible. Like a patchwork quilt, each aspect is unique and wonderful on its own; but only when it has been sewn seamlessly together can a beautiful and inspiring picture be made.