We Need to Talk India

Mumbai Calling

Smog

India, well Mumbai really, is becoming my favourite place to see and spend time in. To those who have know me for a very long time, that is probably surprising. I would go to the ends of the Earth to watch the cricket team, but the actual country has always been more of a distant land than anything else. When I was 21, I had spent less than a month in India. Now, at nearly 26, I’ve spent nearly 4 months in the last four years. I’m even thinking of going for a weekend trip, prior to returning to the UK. Mainly for food, but it’s not as though Dubai has bad Indian food (including chaat). Mumbai in particular has got a magnet on me at the moment. It’s meant that I have not gone to my beloved home of Umhlanga, which is paradise on Earth.

The most pointless sign in Mumbai

When I arrived in Mumbai, it was late and against my own suggestion, my parents decided to get a cool cab (aka, a pre-booked with AC) instead of just getting an Uber on an Auto. We were staying in BKC which does have really nice high-end restaurants such as Yauatcha, however at 10:15pm I didn’t feel like going to top end restaurant and wanted something that was quick, light and frankly delicious. I wanted pani-puri which meant that we had to head over to Bandra and go to Elco Market as we know what we were getting and the service is fast. Cue being stuck in traffic, for what was meant to be a 45min round trip, and realising that we were not going to make it in time before Elco Market shuts (at 23:30)! So, pulled out my phone and trusted Google maps, what was open? Hakkasan! From Elco Market to Hakkasan and sitting next to a party of everyone wearing Gucci. It’s not something that would exist in most cities, but it does in India. Mum and I both got a cocktail, some dim sum and mock duck salad to welcome in the festive period. This story encompasses everything that I love about this city, nothing is impossible in India. It can be a pain to sort out, but it will happen. The sealink bridge is a testament to that idea.

What shocked me was the amount of smog that was in the city this time, compared to last time I visited. I blame my friend for not taking care of the city, but that is part of the downside to Mumbai. Development does have a cost and to negate the pollution takes regulation that no one is going to enforce. The city had changed quite a bit since I had arrived and I still felt at home. The hustle and bustle, with god only knows how much noise, is something that at this age I love. Don’t get me wrong an escape to the country side is nice and all but give me people with good vibes and I can stay up till my body truly gets to 0%. Versus relaxing all the time in the countryside.

This story encompasses everything that I love about this city, nothing is impossible in India.

The one thing I was unable to get good photos were the Christmas Lights of Bandra. That’s something I may write about more in the future, but the growing polarisation in Indian politics and how it felt as though religious minorities are becoming more active in showing themselves. The lights themselves are different form the ones in the UK. In the UK, they are large and over the top. In Bandra, it was more Bollywood. Trees had lights hanging off them over the roads, except all along the road. It was magical!

The only way to get around (apart from Uber)

Let’s just say that I ate a shit ton of street food while I was in Mumbai, which is slight understatement. There were only two possible outcomes of this idea of mine, putting on some weight over the trip by eating everything in sight or lose a ton of weight due to food poisoning. I did the only respectable thing and not care, ended not changing in weight and missing the great food as soon as I left. I’m just going to leave a montage here.

I do think of myself as Indian, just an NRI (Not Really Indian).

Goa

I was able to explore part of Goa next, which surprisingly was more expensive that Mumbai. Seriously 300 rupees for a 10-minute drive! Ended taking the bus instead for 10 rupees. You can take the man out of Gujarat, but you can’t take the Gujju out of the man! Now Panjim is not exactly what I would call a city, more a town. It would be like calling Chelmsford a city. I don’t care that both are, but there’s no way that either have a real city vibe to them. I say this as kid who grew up in a village surrounded by sugar cane, which has more hustle and bustle than these places.

What I did in Goa, apart from going to great restaurants (shout out to Black Sheep Bistro and Mum’s Kitchen), is learnt a surprising amount of history about the Portuguese rule in Goa. I spent a day with Dad going to the various forts nearby and apart from taking a ton of photos of Dad and posing for some myself. Though there was a great comedic moment that happened on this day. For some reason my father forgot that English is a lingua franca in India and after setting up a photo someone stood in front of the camera took out their phone and started to take a photo. My father turned to me and said: “What a dipshit! Is he blind?!?” Like a flash the guy turn around and I was crying with laughter thinking what dipshit my father can be!

Coloursim

Apart from galivanting around forts, I was on the beach getting a nice town to become dark and beautiful. I have talked about colourism on the blog before, but briefly there’s a real issue with people wanting to appear lighter. I’ve never understood the obsession. Personally, I want to have a tan and prefer to hang out with people who looks as though they aren’t afraid of the sun, which may seem counter intuitive to an anti-colourism claim. However, it’s true and secondly there is so little out there being for darker skin. Just remember to wear sunscreen, none of us are stronger than the sun. Back to the beach, the water was lovely. It was quite funny to see the life guard calling people back towards shore and I was there thinking that the water was so safe compared to Umhlanga. It was so calm, that I even just walked into the water in my shorts and carried my camera. Might have soaked my shorts a couple of times, but what’s the point of being on holiday if you’re going to act up tight: especially when I could buy a new pair for a couple of hundred rupees.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair for the Kotecha as the rest of the family were going early in the morning to catch their flights, while I was on the last flight out. We ended going to the south and seeing our friends (and former neighbours) for an afternoon at the beach, glass of champagne and getting our feet (and my shorts) wet while we watched the sun set. Not a bad way to see out the year.

The final day in Goa, was New Year’s Day. As I was alone, I ended up going around Goa. I spent time looking for baked goods, hired a private tour guide to see a Christian Relic, went to a spice farm where I got see an elephant lounging around, went to the beach and hired a photographer to take some photographs of myself and then got completely bored in the airport while I waited for my flight. Going back to the elephant. When I first saw the elephant, I saw it lying on its side I thought it was dead. Let a loud “oh shit” in front of some kids. Luckily, they were more interested in seeing an elephant, even if they referred to it a Dumbo when everyone knows that Nelly & Bazar are the far superior names to call elephants. I blame the parents…

Someone has the right idea

I like Goa, I just don’t imagine that I’ll go back anytime soon. It’s not a terrible place, just there was no…magnet for me. My heart doesn’t yearn to return.

Back to Mumbai

A pretty nice view. Now that fog has lifted

I headed back to Mumbai to spend some time with the friends from South Africa and to see some family. Let’s not forget about the enormous amount of street food.  I spent the last few days running around Mumbai. I’m not going to give a play-by-play of everything I did. However, I will talk about paan. Now paan traditionally was thought to be a digestion aid. The paan that you get outside of India (well Asia), is shit. Luckily, I was able to get magai (not Maggi noodles) in Mumbai, which is made from young and tender leaves. Dipped in in coconut and rose syrup. As my Mom said: “They’re like tequila shots. You don’t have one. You have one after the other!” As you may tell, I can from a party family. We didn’t go to the side of the street for the paan, instead we went to the racecourse at 11pm. At Gallops we were presented with an array of paan platters, tins to prepare all the flavours. It was unusual, but something that doesn’t seem out of place in Mumbai.

On the last day in Mumbai, I do what I always try and do by the end of the trip. Go for a facial treatment, haircut and massage. I did and left with glowing skin and a new trim. Then I headed to Santa Cruz market, where we (Mum and I) met a woman called Nisha (same name as Mum) and her sister’s name who escape me. The sister called out: “Oi, Nisha! What do you think of this?” in a thick British action. Mum and turned around looking bemused thinking who is this person? Quite funny that there were two Nisha’s in the shop. After a bit of chatting, we found out the other Nisha was from Kenya and now living in Saudi. Talk about being eerily similar to my own Mother.

I got onto the plane heading back to Dubai with a feeling as though my time in India has only really just begun. The country has something special. I do need to visit Bengal and head further south, but time is unfortunately short. This trip has cemented the idea that I will get my OCI when I decide to return to the UK. I do think of myself as Indian, just as an NRI (Not Really Indian). Obviously, my identity is a bit complicated, but someone else’s problem, not mine.

Finally got the pose correct

I don’t escape the winter, I embrace the summer

Hanik P Kotecha

Shu Thayu

Those Bollywood nights
Where memories old helped form the new
We both cut shapes on the floor
Walking out of the bar into the crisp autumn air

Across the river is the train home
We pause, not because we can’t turn back
Rather we fear what happens if we board
Do we turn our lives upside-down to chase the dream of us?

The reality reminds us of our fragility
The success could just lead to more baggage
Where it is not in our nature to be savage
To be civil we cut ties before they are woven

No betrayal to the other
Just ourselves
We deny ourselves the opportunity to fail
We imagine that our future may contain more pain

We go our separate ways
To shed a few tears
Knowing why
But still not how it happened

We get asked the same question when we get home:

Shu thayu? (What happened?)
Mari jaan kem atli dukhi che? (Why is my darling upset?)

Hun prem karava dari guuy chu (I’m scared to be in love)

Why I am Jealous of Brown Girls on Instagram

The rise of positive brown girls on social media is a phenomenon that I am not just in awe of, but as desi guy something that I envy. The global desi community in the past and present is a patriarchal society. As we slowly shift away from this misogynist way of life, the role of what it means to be a desi man is changing. However, role models for young desis are few and far between. I understand that there are big names like Hasan Minhaj or Riz Ahmed who are influencing the desi community in a positive sense, but it’s a top down approach. This is not the same as the brown girl’s movement of reclaiming our culture from previous generations, which is what the boys are completely lacking. To understand what the desi boys’ community needs to be, we first need to understand what the brown girl online movement is, why I think it’s commendable, my thoughts on the current role models, what I want the desi boys’ movement to be and how I’m trying to play a part in the process.

#browngirls

The brown girl movement online is simply a part of the fourth wave of feminism, with sections of third wave feminism (in a South Asian sense). Where brown women are standing for their rights & appropriating our culture for the better. You can go online and see the works of Simmi Patel with her page Paper Samosa or Maria Qamar’s hatecopy page (whose pop art features as my laptop’s background). There are several Facebook groups that my friends have made me aware of the solely exist to provide a support network for brown women in various cities across the world. Essentially this community is not only taking control on how they wished to be perceived but an actual community to help out in the “real” world. Just look at current Indian soaps or most films, to see that women still have a mountain to climb to be perceived as equals. A community to deal with the uncles and aunties of this world, is something that doesn’t exist in any sense for guys, outside a close few friends. This sense of control of the community’s own destiny, that being a brown boy I envy the most.

Role models

The two most famous male desi role models in/from the West would have to be Hasan Minhaj & Riz Ahmed. Hasan has his hit show Patriot Act talking about politics to doing AMAs (ask me anything) on Subtle Asian Traits. Riz Ahmed is an actor who was in Wired, Rogue One, Jason Bourne and Venom (though personally Four Lions is my favourite). Riz is also a musician and has spoken in the UK parliament about Islamophobia and the lack of portrayal of non-stereotype Muslims in the media.

The brown girl movement online is simply a part of the fourth wave of feminism

What I mean by Brown Girls on Instagram

Both guys have been breaking barriers for desi representation and helping to redefine what is it to be a desi guy. However, it’s not a community or a movement. It is an approach that relies on the few that breakout. Not a sense of togetherness or vulnerability that is controlled by us.

Our Cultural. Our Revolution.

Jameela Jamil is right, that the biggest failure is not to try. What should this online desi/brown boy community try and be, in this online world? My number one issue is that we need to be a feminist community. To the unengaged, this may seem counter intuitive for a male focused community. However, if we are to forge a future of equality then we have the same aims as the desi/brown girl gang. A movement that is progressive and wants us (this generation) to be in control. It is important to recognise that these are somethings that we all want for the future and thus we need to work together.

This sense of control of the community’s own destiny, that being a brown boy I envy the most

The second is a space for brown boys to start reclaiming our culture from the “men” in society. I suggest that guys start with the simple rebellion as being engaged when it comes to tidying up at family events. A place where I see aunties harassing girls to help clean up, but never seen an uncle do anything more than lifting a glass of whiskey. Nor do I see many guys my age helping or even making a real attempt to not become a spectator. It’s not right that our sisters are cleaning up and we just sit & chat. Yeah, it’s nice Now, I fight and argue that I should be allowed to help and just do it regardless of the protests. While this makes me the bau diyo child of the family, it really shouldn’t be that special (even if I am the bau diyo child of the family). Other things that can be done is wearing more traditional garments instead of shirts and jeans during festivals such as Eid/Diwali/Xmas. It’s not as though we can’t rock them at other events, I do try and wear Indo-Western to more functions, but I have no concern to go full Trudeau and wear it everywhere.

Thirdly, there is need to find an environment to talk to each other in a more open and loving environment. Not one that’s immune from criticism, but one where we can express ourselves knowing that the community is there to get to a better version of the past. One that’s more inclusive than before. Can a group of individual nobodies make this change if no major star can? Yes. Of we can. To be more than a flash in the pan, we will need a bunch of nobody’s talking to each other having this dialogue.

I have no concern to go full Trudeau

When it comes to wearing more traditional clothes

No point just talking.

Personally, I host a podcast with about being Brown in the West and through the show, I want people to know what it is meant to be a normal brown boy. No Instagram filters, or just highlight reels. The flawed human beings that we both were and continue to be, even as we strive to be better. We are bringing on guests to share more ideas and provide perspectives that we couldn’t imagine, because sometimes it’s better to have someone to empathise with instead of us just sympathise. This openness is what will drive the community forward. Where would this community be? I would love if people started using the blog to start having these conversations (there is a comment section after all). My blog is great for me, but honestly it doesn’t have the same reach as single hashtag on Instagram or Twitter. It probably needs to blow up on a social media site. Do I need to up my social media game then? Yes, but I’m still figuring how to do it, without sounding like a dick.

What I think will happen?

Personally, I don’t hold out that there will be an equivalent brown boys’ movement, at least in my age group. We haven’t been raised to challenge the world in the same way as our sisters. Instead we still have the same tropes and expectations that our fathers had been raised with, which will take more than a blog to overcome. Should we not bother then? Fuck no. Small movements will be needed to challenge what it is to be a brown boy in the future and if we want the future to better than we must raise the next generation differently. To be desi with pride no matter where they are from. Not one where there is no brown girl/boy movement in the future, the next generation will always try to better (whatever they think that is) than the previous. I just want a future where every brown kid is there own movement to change the world.