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.

Some Reflections On Friendships

I had a couple of interesting chats last week with different friend groups. The main topic, was regarding the longevity of friendships and how over time people just disappear. Involved in their own world and then moving from chatting constantly to weekly, to monthly and then essentially never. They say that’ll meet up and then, when asked to make plans, disappear on short notice: you know, flakers.

Richard said something that we all need to hear time from time: “Sometimes you got let things die.” There is no need to keep in touch with everyone in life, that the effort is not always going to bring in reward and not everyone is going to be there until end.

Well, if you do not know me, I rank my friends. I have a list that is updated every month or so, it’s just a top 100 list.

The reason I decided to talk about friends, was due to going to a funeral. Not just a random funeral, but one of my best friends father died.

Now, I’m no funeral expert, but the speech given by one of the friends was fantastic. It wasn’t a sugar coating, nor was a rip into the man. It was honest and reminded you about the fragility of life; but also how few people you can truly rely on. The friends that stay with you throughout your life are rare and people you need to hold on to.

In this regard, I feel very lucky. My friends are across the globe, I have someone to chat to in most time-zones and catch up with, no matter what time of year. I have my friends that I haven’t spoken to in years, but I’m sure that if I saw them on the street; it would be as though nothing had change and we would pick up wherever we left off. I have my close friends, who I rely on my emotional support on every issues. Finally I have my best friends, the ones that regard as family.

Now how do I know whose who? Well, if you do not know me, I rank my friends. I have a list that is updated every month or so, it’s just a top 100 list. Now I know that this may sound weird to you, but I’ve been doing this since I was around 9 years old. Let’s be honest, we all have list of close friends. However, I guess that most people don’t have actual list like I do. People go up and down the list, some jump right to the top, some never drop below a certain number. It doesn’t matter, as long as you want to talk to them. I have decided over the last few weeks to start making new friends, which I luckily have never struggled to do so. Why? I have my best friends and they’re not going anywhere soon [on the list]. Essentially, some people will come and go; but we gain lessons from people. The more people you know, the more you can learn from their success and mistakes. Plus, I feel as though I lack friends from my own Gujarati community. It’s always good to know people who have similar experiences to talk to… well… let’s say: have similar cultural issues to complain about! Plus, they’ll understand certain things straight away.

“Sometimes you got let things die.”

Richard Osho

How do you make new friends? The simplest answer, is be interesting. What does that actually mean? No-one, that includes you, likes to chat to a person who is boring. You want to make friends, you need to go out into the world and do something. Start playing online games that require cooperation, head into pub and start talking, join a book club…whatever. You’ve got to go and do something that you enjoy, just with other people. Enjoying yourself should be the number priority, because we all want to chat to the person with a massive smile on their face: even the biggest twats.

Now, the new friends I’ve made, will they be by my death bed in the future? I don’t know. I’m sure that my best friends will be there, potentially a family and my close family. Don’t need anything else. However, we don’t progress with just focusing on needs, it’s our desires that push us to do more. I wanted more Gujarati friends, so what did I do? I joined a society and next week I’ll be submitting a dish into the cooking competition. Have I already made some friends? Yes. Will I make more? Of course, because I want more friends.

The One Who Wrote Destiny, by Nikesh Shukla

A book review, which lead to thoughts about representation in the media.

Having representation in the media. When most people think of such a topic, they think of having a TV personality, I would even say that online stars (be it, YouTube, Instagram, Podcasts) is an important part of being viewed as accepted. What never occurred to me, was the fact that I have not read a book until last night about having a Gujarati person as the lead character, even more specifically to be from an East African background. I have never been a great activist of having representation in the media, not that I am against it; it has never seemed to be part of the world I really care about. For me, I have always been able to see people like myself in the cinema, with Bollywood films, or television in South Africa with the classic show of Eastern Mosaic and Carte Blanche with Devi Sankaree-Govender doing some of the main reporting; heck even BBC World has loads of Asians, with Michelle Hussain & Yalda Hakim being some prime examples. I’ve always felt that I could find representation in the media. Then again, I have never found a Gujarati person in the media to latch onto as a role model; or anyone that comes to my mind right now.  

So how did this book impact me? I was entertained, made to laugh and in tears by the end. Laughter from the pure moments of joy and happiness and tears to the heartful realisation that I can see myself in the characters; that I recognise my own grandmothers. How my grandfather talks about his past. To me, this was scary; that generational divide that exists between those of us who have left India.

What is the point of having people to look up to, if none of them are like you; with their different life paths and opportunities. What control does anyone have, on where life is going to take us? What does this have to with the book I’m reviewing? Apparently at least.

For starters I’m now listening to “John Jaani Janarden”, from the classic film Naseeb, on repeat. Let’s just that I haven’t listened to classic Bollywood music in ages, at least on my own accord. Only because this book reminded that this song exists. Sometimes, it’s nice to go back to your roots (and yes that’s a reference to the song that my father loves to listen to).

The book itself is about an Indian origin family, from East Africa in the United Kingdom. Our main story is about Neha, who has contracted the same cancer that killed her mother, Nisha. We start in Keighley which is over 300km away from London; where Mukesh is sent by his friend Sailesh to spend some time before they both end up in London. This is where Mukesh meets and falls in love with Nisha; and we learn that is repeated by Mukesh to his children throughout their lives.

The story jumps in time, back and forth; starting with Mukesh and moving to Neha, then to Rakesh (Neha’s brother) and finally to Nisha’s mother (aka Ba). While the story fills the picture of this family’s situation [I’m trying to keep this a spoiler free review, everything said so far is from the blurb]. We learn about the circumstances that have shaped the way they are meant to be perceived by those around them, in the family and of course internally; where they are struggling with what they have become and what they will make of themselves.

It is a story about the weakness and fragility of being human. Nikesh’s male characters are shown to be weak and frail; which is the opposite to the trope of the Indian masala movie staple. The women are strong and brave, but still flawed in their own way. It’s refreshing to see this in characters that are meant to sound and look like myself; I do hope that more books, heck media, that show this sort of side to characters from India (or Indian origin). The book also mixes in mysticisms of Hinduism in here, which I loved. Normally, I see characters that are all super into Hinduism or totally no part of the character. Rarely in English, do you see the religion portrayed in a positive context or one that represents what is more prevalent in India; or at least in my experience in India. That prevalent nature that religion evolves and that while there are negatives, we can choose to bring the positive aspects forward. Essentially, it’s not a simply good or bad thing.

Through the lenses of the first person and even exploring a character purely through the second person; we not only see ourselves, but how a judgement of others effects the way they act. The novel is absorbing not just because the story itself is part of this strange family trying to figure out whether one can know the future. Are things pre-determine? It brings in the nuance, that is maybe different for a person of colour or an immigrant coming into the UK. Maybe our choices are just a façade. That is the crux of this book. It’s not a depressing book, even it made me cry and yearn to return to Africa. It’s real and reminded me of what being human is about. Being in love, opening yourself and allowing to hope for the best. That’s all we got, in this life at least.

Who are we to question the one who wrote destiny? Well it’s quite easy; first decide if you are in charge of your own destiny. Then worry about the writing.