Monday, June 23, 2014

Aspects of Culture

How much truth is there in the claim that the youth of today have no respect and love for culture? The culture they were raised in, the culture they live around, or the culture they are expected to know. Yes, nowadays, boundaries and borders are much easier to transcend due to the reach of social media and modern transport. These very vessels might make it easier for us to live in a sort of digital, personal culture, where each person operates on their own and their primary interaction with the world and people around them happen across laptop and smart phone screens. 

I have heard many people of Indian descent lament the fact that their children do not speak their 'native languages' as well as they should, or appreciate the food that they themselves grew up with. However, I think  we are making a mistake in confusing children who are rejecting culture with children who are at an age where most need to rebel in order to learn. 

We will always pick and choose which aspects of culture are maintained from generation to generation, just as people pick and choose which aspects of their religion they are comfortable with. For example, for some, cutting the hair on their heads is a grave mistake; but their beards and mustaches will be impeccably kept. Others think that loving certain kinds of people is wrong, but they'll eat things that their religion supposedly forbids. Similarly, there will be certain parts of culture that will always appeal to us more than others. 

For those who are worried that appreciation for culture is dying out, think again. As long as humans appreciate the importance of place, love, emotions and the things that make us feel and tie us together, culture will still be highly relevant in society. 

I speak from experience of course. As an Indian Kenyan, I've come to realise we have a culture of our own. We're multilingual. We appreciate (and claim) many different kinds of food. Art is important and revered. We dress up in certain ways for important occasions. Indian Kenyan-ness has such a richness to it that's hard to describe in words. And at the end of the day, we know that we have an identity that we can uniquely claim as our own. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

#YesAllWomen: My Turn

Normally, I don't tend to participate in huge social media movements that purport to change the world (think KONY). Many a time, people get caught up in sharing and liking and tweeting to such an extent that they forget what the movement or cause was actually about, if they ever even knew in the first place. However, #YesAllWomen is a rapidly growing movement that is raising awareness and telling stories of individuals too, and that's what I hope to do here. Does it literally mean 'all women'? No, not really. But are the stories applicable to most. Yes, definitely.

The other day, by which I mean two days ago, I had come back from NYC and was waiting at the train station for my aunt to come and pick me up. I was walking aimlessly, when a man came up to me. I've been approached by strangers before; to ask for directions, to tell me I dropped something, and many such similar situations. However, in this case, my instincts told me something was up because this man didn't seem to understand the concept of personal space. Also, he was rather unsteady on his feet, and took a while to formulate any sort of sentence. Turns out, he didn't speak much English, but did say something along the lines of 'you me'. Uhhh. Weird. I got on the phone and made some lingually unambiguous gesture toward it in the hopes that he would see that I was busy, and leave me alone, but no such luck.

Eventually, I went to stand with the railway cops, who told me the man was slightly drunk (unsteady on his feet. right. got it) and that they would keep an eye out. He eventually disappeared, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was broad daylight, there were plenty of people around and it wasn't really that much of a big deal, but creepers makes me uncomfortable enough.

Now, keep in mind that this guy was shorter and scrawnier than I am. I told myself that if need be (which it probably wouldn't have been) I could 'take him on'. Later on, however, I realised that this was probably completely untrue. Yes, I may have been physically strong enough to do it, but the thought of voluntarily causing someone harm doesn't appeal to me (no matter how much they may deserve it). Despite the fact that the man made me uncomfortable, I tried to deal with it in the most polite way I could; by avoiding direct confrontation.

Usually, I wear a ring on the ring finger of my left hand; not because I'm engaged, but because I'm genuinely fond of the ring and it's the only finger that it really fits on. Of course, it's come in handy in some situations, and I remember thinking to myself that if I had had the ring on, maybe he would have left me alone much sooner, thinking that I was engaged/married. And then I stopped. And thought. And thought again. Apparently it's true.... #YesAllWomen


Monday, June 2, 2014

Love, Loss and the Land Beyond

This weekend, our family lost its eldest member, Dr. Rip Daman Singh; my paternal grandfather. He was 89 and had been ill for about 2-3 months, so this was not entirely unexpected, but it still came as something of a shock. He lived at home with us in Nairobi, and had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Soon enough, the news spread far and wide, and his family members all over the globe were overwhelmed with calls, messages, and so much love and support. In these two days, I understood more than ever before how loved he was and just how many people looked up to him.

My grandfather was a doctor in Kenya during colonial times and after, and was in fact a British citizen. He travelled to quite a few places and made friends wherever he went. He was a 'tale twister' for Lions Club (quite an important distinction from 'tail twister' in a Lions' Club!) I remember whenever people came home to visit, he was always ready to laugh and share a joke or story or two from back in the day, and it always surprised me to see the wealth of experience that someone I lived with everyday had. 

Death is not an easy thing for humans to confront. In a society that has done as much as it can to make itself immortal, this final end is a harsh reminder of just how fleeting life can be. 

At this time more than ever, I wished that I could be home with my parents and the rest of the family, but also realised just how united the family was. Over three continents, this past weekend, we came together stronger than ever to celebrate the legacy of a wonderful man who is one of the reasons we are so united, and that none of us is ever truly alone. Today, he and my grandmother celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in the land beyond. They are together again after about 21 years, and those of us left here are all celebrating a life well lived with an abundance of love and laughter. Already, we've seen signs of him smiling down at us, and we know he'll be watching over us forevermore. 


"Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die."
- Mary Elizabeth Frye, 1932

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