Community Ties

Joining YLS, making friends, a cooking competition and what the future holds

For the uninitiated, YLS stands for Young Lohana Society which is the youth wing of the LCNL (Lohana Community of North London). Now, Lohana is the caste (or Varna if you want to be more classical) that I am born into. Now, this is a bit of a moral quagmire, because today the caste system is part of a system of oppression; even if it is banned and illegal in India. Caste discrimination does not end in India. I have seen it in the UK and in the US; it’s never official, but it definitely exists. So, with the issues of caste that are present, why would I join a society that still discriminates (becoming officially members, not going out and campaigning against others etc) due to caste? First, I don’t have that many Indian friends in the UK, let alone those from the Gujarati community. Secondly, I have not made that many friends over the last year, which is a major failure in my mind. Third, my father was the social secretary (back in the YLA) back in the day and he is still touch with some of the friends he made back in the day.

Caste discrimination does not end in India. I have seen it in the UK and in the US

The first YLS event I attended was drinks around Faringdon and I arrived on time, which meant that I was one of seven people who followed the time on the poster. That was fine, because I was able to socialise longer and get chatting to as many people as possible; before it got absolutely packed. Apparently there were a 150 people at the event and I got to speak to over 50 people. It was a great night and I left early around 1am because I was heading to Southampton for the cricket in the morning (India vs Afghanistan). Did I make any friends at the event? Well no, because no one would (well it’s pretty much impossible to be friends with someone straight away. You can get along really well, but friends is something else). I made loads of acquaintances though, where two (Nekhil and Bhavs) are turning into friend, though there’s hope for a couple more… Just need to increase interaction time with others.

Now, since I did enjoy myself, I decided to go to the next event which was a domestic cricket match. Now, I don’t like cricket; I love it. However, I don’t really give a damn about domestic cricket, let alone a T20 cricket in England which is a part of a tournament that I don’t care about. Put this way, I’m barely someone who barely cares about the Ranjiv Trophy, but I still love the IPL. I went to the match straight from work and got caught in the rain. With the rain and lightning delay, sat down with Bhavs and chatted away with the game in the background. Shared some snacks that I brought over (apparently I was well prepared) and made sure that I had my thepla! Seriously, who goes to cricket without Gujarati snacks? Well apart from everyone else there! Sharing is caring and I got some decent ribbings about the fact that everything had come from India; the khakra went down really well though, as well as the mini thepla.

The oval pre-match and pre-rain…

Seriously, who goes to cricket without Gujarati snacks?

Thepla is a bare minimum!

The last event was the picnic, which was on Sunday. Due to the weather (there’s a pattern with this in England), there was a last minute change of location, but that didn’t really matter to me. We went to a community hall which had a couple of fields which we could use and had a day of fun (from an egg race to a rounders game). Now there was a “bake-off” which I decided to enter, mainly because I wanted to show off my cooking skills and I wanted to learn a new dish. The rules were simple, vegetarian and picnic food. I decided to enter handvo (ondhwa for some) and make a green chutney to go with it. Now, I was actually quite happy that I didn’t know anyone too well at this event; I got to speak to new people, catch up with people whose name already escape me again and towards the end of the day catch up with my Kaka (well one of the seemly hundreds of them. Also yes, I have a couple of Kaka’s that aren’t that much older than myself; with a few younger than myself to boot). I regret not getting any further plans with people from the event, but I’m sure that with a bit of help I can get in touch with some of the people again.

Quick recipe:

Rice flour, chickpea flour and lentil flour mixed together. (100ish grams of each)

Add sour yoghurt (500ml), turmeric powder (1/2 tsp) and chilli powder (1 tsp); plus a dash of oil. Mix . Leave overnight to ferment (or at least 6-8 hours).

Then finely chop dudhi, carrot, courgette and cabbage. Mix together [batter]

Then fry chopped garlic, ginger and onions (more than you think) with mustard seeds, with some coriander powder [vaga]

Pour batter in an oven tray (cupcake holder) which has been oiled. Then pour in the batter, then pour vaga on top.

Place in a preheated oven 180C and cook for 1 hour.

Leave to cool and you’re good to go. Or stuff your mouth and burn it. Both are acceptable.

Now, I won’t be attending the event due to work, but there’s still garba coming up in a few weeks (Navarati is at the end of September, though I’ve already agreed to head to several mandhirs already!), plus I’m sure that I’ll be helping out at one of the sewa events. I should be more active in the charity life and feel that actually volunteering is better than just giving some cash (which I still do). Thus, I might write about that soon.

The chopping board that I won, with a green chutney an award winning green chutney

I still haven’t really dealt with issue of caste. Nor have I mentioned how this relates to creating friendship or what the future holds.

Caste issues

So, what to say about a society that is based on caste. It’s weird, slightly backwards and out of touch. You can’t become an official voting member, unless you are born into the caste or marry a member of the caste. However, that’s just if you take everything at face value. The time I spent at events, no one really mentions caste issues (though that could be an issue for another blog post), rather I met some wonderful people, no jackasses or anyone who I might be unhappy to bump into the streets and grab a cup of chai to catch up with. Some who happen to be Lohana and others who just know someone who is in the caste and society; be it a friend who is a commity member, or someone who wanted to meet up with people of a similar age and background. It’s more samaj than caste, on first glance. Is it a perfect split? No, but then you have to remember that the society is for the community to stay close: know what weddings are going on, who died and when the funeral will take place, religious events and general socials. We don’t have to always bowl alone [a Putman reference to my political science nerds] and if we believe that not having a society is the best way to continue our shared history, then I’m sure that the society will cease. Do I imagined that it will be here in a hundred years? Probably will be, just unrecognisable to us now. You may have noticed that I’ve been mixing them/we/I when referring to the society/community/caste and that’s because I’m still trying to figure out, in my own head, how I should feel. My ancestors have definitely benefitted from the system, which has given me a wonderful life, there is no argument against that. The social justice warrior within me wants to tear the whole thing down, the conservative within wants to protect it for future generations and the social animal part of me enjoys that there is a group of people who I can open up to and they will get everything I say to them (okay most things, seriously still can’t believe that no brought chakri to the cricket…I digress).

It’s weird, slightly backwards and out of touch… that’s just if you take everything at face value

If you only observe from the outside. Like most things, it’s far more nuanced.

Creating friends

Now, I don’t think you make friends instantly. Not unless you happen to be around someone constantly. It’s a bit of slog to be honest. And it’s not always worth it, even if there’s always a lesson to be learnt. That’s why I want to meet more people, so I can learn from their failures. I think that I would call Nekhil and Bhavs friends, but we’ve got 6+ years before we become life long friends (takes seven years of resistance before you give up and just accept that someone is part of your life forever, if I remember correctly). I started playing badminton (though playing with Swaminarayans might be a bit of concern) and even tennis, though I’ve been absent for the last week and next (off to Switzerland, see next blog); I owe this all to Nekhil and Bhavs, for having the bollocks to invite me and I’ve fallen in love with sports all over again (I’m even looking for a touch rugby group to play with because I enjoy running around so much! Let me know if you need an extra player). Back to Nekhil and Bhavs; those two even went out for night in town with me and a couple of mates, though these golden oldies were a several hours behind in the drinks! We had a great time and I even dragged them to my favourite dive bar (if you know, you know). We’ve definitely got a thing going here, but I’m sure that it will last for a good while more.

The future

Now, wwith YLS, I’m sure that I’ll be at more events and there will be more friends to be made. I actually believe that someone from the society will read this and reach out to try and become friends with me! As I said before, everyone want an interesting friend & I’m damn interesting [💁🏾‍♂️] . With the new friends, we just have to wait. Dhire dhire (slowly, slowly). How about old friendships? Like anything, they need TLC (touch, love and care; for the Bird who never knows any acronyms). I don’t buy that you need to wait for someone to reach out to you, because it’s too passive. That doesn’t mean chase everyone, but for those who you really care for and you believe care for you (though if another friend says that they don’t, take a step back and reexamine your relationship), then go make an effort to see them, speak to them and share the love. In practice, it’s hard especially when we have so many people in our lives, so I suggest that you create a list (which is no surprise. See prior poetry) of those who matter. For me, I’m going to Switzerland next week to do exactly this. One of my brothers from another mother, Allen Yuwei Tang may be leaving Europe for the foreseeable future in the next couple of months. So, I have to go see him and give him a hug. Spend some time away from everything else and we’ll just be. You know, when you are with a close friend, calm and relaxed. Well maybe not calm! Planning on conquering my fear of heights, by running of the side of cliff (aka paragliding) and lots of hiking.

I have to go see him and give him a hug

On seeing AT

That’s what to expect in next week’s blog, an update with some views and thoughts on how to deal with the loss of friendship or whatever [supposedly] profound idea that comes to me in the mountains.

India Part 1

Back to Mumbai

So, on my flight, the thought that I was about to travel to India without my family for the first time was just exciting. I honestly didn’t have a day by day plan. All I knew, that I wanted to see my Masi’s in Mumbai, that I was staying with my Kusum Masi while in Mumbai and that I would sort everything out in the first couple of days. After going through arrivals, I met Kusum and Bella Masi, which was amazing! I was expecting to grab my own cab at the airport, but via the miracle of onboard WIFI, I got a message that Bella Masi was coming to pick me up. It was great to see both of my Masis straight away!

…via the miracle of onboard WIFI

The next day was simple, the first thing I did was run to Pali Hill and drop off the clothes to the tailor/designer that I had brought over for my Mother and Sister (which also took up more than 50% of bag). I also tried to get a sim card was turned away for not having my passport on me (I had a copy). So, I had to come up with an alternative way of getting one.

[Jai] Shree Krishna Silk Mills

The next day was going to the market with Masi and sorting out a sim and picking up some groceries. Now this Adhaar card, which the Supreme Court [of India] has pointed out not being necessary to prove address, is required in India. The amount of time saved with having this card, from the limited experience I had, is that Adhaar is a necessary part of living in India. For now. Returning to my life, got a sim card and I have to say we are all getting ripped off in the rest of the world! I paid $3 for 1.5Gb of data per day. That’s right per day! What we pay elsewhere is just a scam. Once the network is set-up then it’s all about bandwidth. We really need a Jio like company in Europe for example. I don’t buy the argument about costs to current firms. Telefonica, Orange and Vodaphone are multi-billion-dollar firms. We are just getting rinsed. I think that is my rant over for now.

So later that day I was back at Masi’s (I should say that if I say Masi without saying who it is, it’s Kusum Masi) and looking up flights and trains to Gujrat and back. I was shocked how hard it was to get a ticket from Ahmedabad back to Mumbai on the train. So, I ended up booking a flight to Porbandar and flight from Ahmedabad back to Bombay. How I was to get from one side of the state. That’s 340km (ish), let alone the actual road distance, quality or you know, actual transport. Either way, I called my Piyush Kaka and just told him that I was coming the next week and to tell my family in Ahmedabad, who I never met or spoken to, to expect me afterwards! I mean, what’s the point of having family, if you can’t randomly meet them and live in their homes for a couple of days?

Next day I just spent with Masi, sorting out the rest of my time in Mumbai, as I was originally planning to meet up with another Masi, but she was fasting and told me to come another day. Not too bad, got to spend more time in Santa Cruz.

…what’s the point of having family if you can’t randomly meet them and live in their homes for a couple of days?

Now the following day I will have to mark as one the most important days of my trip! Masi had organised a chaperone to get me to South Bombay, which was one of my Mamas who I had never met before. So off we went. I was going to spend some time with Babul Mama and family, which included my cousin Sonia and G, plus their two children Raaisha and Vivan . Now I met Vivan a few years ago when I last went to the States, but Raaisha was not there. I had spoken to on Facetime before and she basically just laughed at my name. Well, let me just say that girl is a cheeky monkey! An example was her taking a piece of cardboard paper and tearing it, only after saying it was Vivan’s old ticket to a theme park! I miss her and her brother quite a bit! The other thing I miss is the street food around them! The Sev Puri is to die for! And the Wada Pav! I’m drooling! Now, normally I avoided street food in India, but as I had a long trip Sonia said this; “Hanik, if you get ill, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? You will spend three days in bed. That’s the same as relaxing on holiday! Live a little!” So, I did and thank goodness that I listened, as this just opened a whole new world to me!

The following day, I was back in South Bombay. This time visiting couple of my Mamis, with Masi (yeah, it’s slightly confusing). I wanted to catch up with my Gita Mami and Kishore Mama and see when they were coming to visit me, either in London or South Africa. Being elderly, they responded with the only acceptable answer; whenever I was going to get married, wherever it may be, they will be coming. I mean, what do you respond with? No, I have no intention of getting married so come along? Why not the engagement? Whatever I answered, the question would then turn to my love life. And just like in real life, this blog is not the space to talk about (well at least for now). I was told that my Nana, used to go to Haj Ali for juice in the evenings, which meant that I had to dragged Masi to Haj Ali. I got some scrumptious pomegranate juice and Masi decided to go for an orange & clementine juice mix. It was more expensive than our Uber home, but it was worth it!

Candid shot of Masi drinking her juice

The next day Masi took me to the Elco Market. Now I went to the Elco Market in 2004 when I was 10 years old. I have not forgotten the taste of the first pani-puri I had there, I can happily report back that taste is just as magical! That first pani-puri was time machine. I was transported 14 years into the past! If you are going to Mumbai for a day, this where I would send you! Alright, time to move on. Next on the agenda was watching a Hindi film, unfortunately we (Masi and I) went to see Zero. Out of ten? Giving zero stars would be too kind. Don’t see it, even for the effects. It only makes SRK even more punchable. A feat that I did not even think would be possible but trust me it is!

The next day I was planning on catching up with Sanchi. Now I do not know what this girl was thinking, but she thought we should meet at 4pm for coffee and then head for dinner after around 8pm. So, I ha booked to go to Yautcha. Yautcha for those out of the loop is a fine dining restaurant which is known for its dumplings. Sanchi and I meet at a café just off Linking Road and grabbed some coffee (well I grabbed a breakfast smoothie) and had a catch up on what was going on in the last few months in our lives. During the conversation I heard the words that should never be uttered by an Indian. She had never been to a wedding! Nor does she have an outfit for the wedding she’s going to in the next couple of weeks! Thank goodness we were on Linking Road. I grabbed her and dragged her to a fabric shop! Sanchi, since you are reading this, don’t talk about the price when you are looking! There’s no need, but trust me, it was a good fun trip! As we headed to Yautcha for dinner, we past Anita Dongri; so, guess where we headed… Now I must say that men’s section was disappointing. Nothing in fashion! I try my luck and call our mutual friend Roshika and she picked up! It was a nice little reunion, but I had to say Roshika was a bit savage when saying certain clothes were ugly, on loud speaker for the whole shop to hear! She wasn’t wrong, but still. Moving on to Yautcha. What a meal! Just plate after plate of great food but being in Mumbai fabulous vegetarian options! I don’t want to complain about the vegan/vegetarian tax again, but it’s so refreshing not having to pay a premium for good vegetarian food at a high-end restaurant. The dumplings were on point and I’m glad that we didn’t focus on the “mains”. Dessert was great, and we even got a cocktail. The meal was expensive for India, but in comparison to the London version, it was a pittance.

What happens next? I head off to Gujrat, which I’ll recall next blog. Hope the pictures are interesting enough, do send some feedback!

Entry 47

What am I up to these days?

So, a few of have passed since I had gotten my results back for the GDL course and I have stayed pretty silent on my life since. Well at least those who are not in the loop. I’ve currently been helping out at my sister’s salon (Duck & Dry at Old Spitalfields Market; and no this is not a paid piece content). Well, it’s a blow-dry bar and it’s honestly a weird experience. For those less initiated with myself, working at blow-dry bar is not exactly what I would call my natural calling. Nor would I say that I love the job. Is it a terrible thing? No, of course not. It’s just…that I’m not using any of skills that I’ve learned at University (well any of them) and essentially all I use are things taught to me at school and at home. It’s the service industry of course, so the etiquette classes from school are the most helpful, beyond the primary school level of being able to write coherent sentences. On the flip side, I’ve been rejected from jobs that state that they just want GCSE’s, but two years of work experience saying that I’m under qualified. It is as though the skit from Kanye’s School Spirit is an apt description of what shall be me in the future.

Otherwise, been making a lot of food over the last few days from kala chana to lasagne. Also my jeans have become religious; so I’ll be spending some money in the next few days.