Khan is one of five members of the group of filmmakers whose previous films, such as “Fighter’s Canvas,” have been showcased in a number of film festivals, including the International Film Festival of South Asia in Toronto.
“The Lost Empire” is a cinematic documentary illustrating a period of time in India around 1800 A.D., specifically in the region of Punjab, that has been tossed aside like a page torn from a history book. We discussed Khan’s journey—from moving around as a child to encouraging South Asians to branch out into more unconventional fields—all of which led him to Diaspora Creative and their latest project. We also spoke about the importance of recreating this time in history, and what “The Lost Empire” means to the South Asian community.
We are more alike than we are unalike
Born in Seattle, Washington, Khan has lived his life on both sides of the border between the United States and Canada, as well as spending a year living in Pakistan when he was 13 years old. All in all, he’s been in and out of 12 different schools. This gave him a valuable opportunity to meet various types of people from all walks of faith. He recalls his journey as one that has been focused on interfaith and inclusivity. Though there were often times where he felt like an outsider on both sides, he recalls:
I started to feel like no matter where you go, you’ll never truly fit in. Because over here (in the west) it’s like, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ And on the other side, it was, ‘You’re not from here.’
This feeling of division, along with having open conversations with people from different backgrounds, guided Khan to the belief that what people have in common overshadows their differences. In January 2018, he met a group of creative people who shared this message of inclusivity and who wanted to spread it to the South Asian community. This lead to the formation of Diaspora Creative, where Khan acts as manager and producer of their current project, “The Lost Empire.”
Breaking the mold
We also spoke about Khan’s time running for City Council in Vancouver last year. At 24 years old, he would have been Vancouver’s youngest-ever city councilor. Though it was daunting, it was important for him to create a ripple in a (South Asian) society that expects people to become only doctors, lawyers or engineers, hoping to spread inspiration to others who wish to break the mold.
We’re not used to being in these spaces. The last time that a South Asian person was elected to council in Vancouver was in 1972. So the fact that there’s such a big South Asian community there, but no one’s been elected since then, shows me that not only is our community still very divided, but we don’t really engage in this process.
Khan shared the importance of branching out in spaces such as politics and in creative areas like filmmaking. He agrees that not only is it important to follow your passions, but it’s also important for the South Asian community to have representation in different fields. When we aren’t working together, then we can’t truly lift ourselves up. Conformity keeps us at a standstill, as does division. We discussed how important it was to take advantage of the opportunities that our parents worked so hard to provide, whether they come in the form of politics, arts, math, or the sciences. Khan added:
We have to ask ourselves: how can we use our privilege now to move the bar forward?
Although Khan’s political journey has come to an end, for now, he continues to follow his passions with Creative Diaspora.
“The Lost Empire”
Last January, Creative Diaspora traveled to India for 40 days to film a part of their upcoming documentary. They’re currently working on raising funds to finish filming in Pakistan. I asked Khan to explain the meaning behind the title, “The Lost Empire.” He spoke about a side of history that is often overlooked when discussing the politics of India and Pakistan. Most of us South Asians who grew up in the West know the problems our countries face today, but we don’t often learn or talk about a more unified period of time.
“The Lost Empire” focuses on Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign over Punjab from 1799 A.D. to 1839 A.D., where he led a more secular society.
There were Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians in his ministry. I’m not saying he was a perfect king by any means, but it was a time when our empire was united. It was a time when Punjab was whole, and Lahore was the center of all of that. Most people don’t talk about that empire and how it was secular.
Though it was a more secular society, Maharaja Singh didn’t reject religion. He was a deeply religious man who didn’t attach his religion to his politics. He believed in his people having religious freedom and in working together regardless of their religious background. It was a time before the British completely took over so Punjab was still united. However, once Maharaja Singh died and his son was taken away, the British took power. Their plan was to divide the people and conquer the land, and they succeeded in doing both.
We ended up getting to a boiling point—the partition—which was one of the greatest massacres and mass migrations in human history.
When I asked Khan about the importance of recreating this part of history, he explained that the message Creative wants to spread is very clear. We hear about the separation, but not of the time before then. We talk about how we are now separated, but not how we once weren’t. If there was once a time when we fought less and worked together, it is possible to live in peace now, as well. Khan shares his hopeful message for unity.
It’s important for us to show that there was a period in time where people of different religions were working in unison. It’s to show that it is possible for our communities to come together. There has been a lot of bloodshed, hatred, and fearmongering, but there was once a unified land. We are so divided. But divided, we can only do so much until we hit a ceiling. Only when we come together can we actually accomplish much greater things. It’s getting our community to realize we have to stop being so racists towards our own. It’s about building bridges.
Diaspora Creative is hoping to release “The Lost Empire” by next year, though a release date has not been confirmed. The company has started a fundraiser to aid them in finishing the film. With financial support, they plan to travel to London for further research, including visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, where many artifacts from the Sikh Empire are held, and Pakistan to shoot the rest of the film.
If you would like to donate to “The Lost Empire,” check out the film’s GoFundMe page. You can also watch the trailer below.
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For the Singh family, Chandan Fashion has always been bigger than simply a bridal showroom. Located in the heart of Gerrard Street, a bustling Little India in Toronto, the bright blue and pink building can be spotted from a distance. Over the years, Chandan has garnered attention from customers from all over North America, even as far as California and Virginia.
For Chandan and Roop, who work alongside “Mom and Dad,” Chandan Fashion is a family business and a way to showcase the beauty of South Asian culture while playing a helping hand in allowing every bride and groom to feel special on their big day. Chandan is their legacy and one they hope to be able to showcase the beauty and intricacies of throwing that “big Indian wedding” on their new CBC show, “BollyWed.”
“BollyWed” follows this tight-knit family through the joys and difficulties of running a multigenerational business. Throughout the variety of clients, discussions of new generation business practices versus old generation, many lehengas, and plenty of laughs, this is one whirlwind journey through the marriage industry.
Brown Girl had the opportunity to interview Chandan and Roop Singh, who were incredibly down-to-earth and a joy to speak to. Here is the interview down below!
What was the inspiration for opening Chandan?
Chandan: My mom and dad started the vision back in 1984 — they started the business. I have a store in India that was started by my grandfather which my father worked in as well, so it is kind of multi-generational of being within this industry of clothing and fashion. My father had a dream of starting what his father did in India, in Canada. While visiting friends in Toronto, my father knew that the Gerrard Indian Bazaar was the right place for them to start, it was the largest Indian market in the Northern America area. He rented a space for two years a couple of doors down from where Chandan originated and then in 1986 we had the opportunity to purchase the corner unit and grow it from one floor to two, to now a four-floor showroom.
Roop: And it should be noted that 1986 is also the year that Chandan was born, hence the name of the store. Chandan Fashion.
Many cities have their own versions of Little India. What was it like growing up/operating in Gerrard Street East? What do you think makes Gerrard Street unique?
Roop: It is funny you say that because even now when we have people traveling to Toronto, checking out Gerrard Street is on their itinerary. So we get a lot of clientele that are visiting from out of town whether it be visiting for the day or weekend. Some of them will sometimes get a hotel nearby for about a week and do their entire wedding family shopping with us.
Chandan has literally grown up in Gerrard Street, but I grew up in Toronto as well. I spent a good chunk of my own childhood in Little India on Gerrard Street. Growing up in the 90s, it was the only Indian bazaar in the greater Toronto area, so anyone who wanted to meet members of their community, have really good South Asian food, shop for upcoming events, or celebrate Diwali or Holi, this is where [they’d] go. This is where my mom would take me on the weekends and I remember popping into Chandan Fashion when my mom needed an outfit. In that way, our childhoods are connected over Little India and I feel like a lot of first-generation kids will sympathize with me, when we wanted to feel a little bit at home, that is where we would go.
How did you get the “BollyWed” opportunity on CBC? What is it like working with your family? What roles do you all play in the business? How do we get to see this in the show?
Roop: It has been quite a journey. It wasn’t necessarily such a drastic transition because already the family was very close-knit in the sense that they are working day in and day out. We do our social media together and our buying together, go to fashion shows. So naturally things we were already doing as a family were just translated to the TV. That is what I love the most about the show, it is just an authentic following of what we do on a daily basis as a family and as a business. It has been a great experience and something that we are super grateful for. It was actually seven years in the making and I’ll let Chandan tell you how “BollyWed” came to be.
Chandan: It started out in 2014. I was at a wedding show and I was approached by the executive producer, Prajeeth and we shot a shizzle. He had an idea of a wedding show with a family narrative and I had been watching ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ extensively. I knew that there was this really interesting market and this fascination with South Asian outfits and bridalwear given that it was so colorful and the beadwork was so ornate. There was a lot more interesting subject matter, especially if we tie that into a seven-day-long wedding and you tie that into multiple events and families. That is more prevalent in South Asian culture: what the mother-in-law thinks, what the mother thinks. But five to six years went by and we got 22 rejections over that period by almost every network imaginable. I was always excited that we were getting rejected because I knew that eventually, we would get a yes. Eventually at the end of 2021, around the end of the COVID era, the production company reached out asking if we were still interested in the show. I said it was never a question of ‘if,’ it was a question of ‘when.’ From the get-go, I knew that this show would be picked up, I knew it would be a success. In March 2022 we got greenlit. We had this amazing journey of seven months of continuous filming. It has been an amazing journey to be able to represent South Asians on television in a way that has not been done before. I like lighthearted programming and I am glad that we were able to influence the show because of our lives and make it a lighthearted family show that people can watch. But we still get to have important discussions.
Roop: I love that Chandan mentioned this. We get to showcase a lot of pivotal subjects in today’s society. For example, we made sure that inclusivity was showcased across all 10 episodes and that is something that I give credit to our directors and producers, they did a wonderful job showcasing how inclusive not just us as a business, but as a brand and as a family we are. These are values that have been instilled in us, that when somebody crosses your threshold and comes into your store, it doesn’t matter what their background is, their color, or their orientation, that is irrelevant. It is something that we don’t factor in, we just consider that this is the patron, the client. There is no judgment — not in our store, not in our family. And I love that we were able to share that on a big screen for everyone to see. That was one reason why it was so important to do this, but the other reason has a lot to do with Chandan and his childhood.
Chandan: So for me, I was born and raised in Toronto. I went to a very small school where I was the only South Asian for a long time in that school. I was the only Punjabi kid, the only kid with a turban, and eventually the only one with a beard, so I noticeably stood out compared to all my peers. My father with his best intentions sent me to a really small school, a private school, that he could not afford to pay for. Where at times the check would bounce every month, but he had a very strong belief that if he provided me a quality education [so] I would keep something really dear to him —keeping the belief in religion — I wouldn’t cut my hair, I wouldn’t cut my beard, I wouldn’t conform to society. He wanted to give me the best chance to succeed as is, [but] the unfortunate truth was I was bullied, I was picked on. I wouldn’t tell him, but people would grab my jurra, my turban, and my hair. And as a kid I would just let it go because you do not want to go home and tattle to your parents, but also because I knew how sensitive of a topic it was to my dad. And I think that my experience would have been different if people didn’t ask me every month, ‘How long is your hair? What do you keep under that?’ All these questions made me feel really uncomfortable, but the other kids also asked because they had never seen anyone like me. If I had grown up with a show like this, I would not have felt so alone, such a strong desire to belong. This is one of the reasons I really believed in the show, I really wanted to have representation. Even if there is just one other kid who watches this show and grows up in a suburb where there aren’t many South Asian kids; if he is able to turn the TV on and see my dad with such a thick accent — English isn’t his first language — but he still owns it so confidently. Or they see a guy like me with a turban and a beard and see that frankly he still has such a hot wife.
Roop: But beyond that, this gentleman with a turban and thick accent, they are such normal people. They love takeout, they like to play tennis, and they could be your neighbor. Other than their outward appearance, they are very much like you, very similar.
Your support in styling Priyanka for their drag performance was inspiring and refreshing to see. How do you change your styles/designs to foster inclusivity?
Roop: I think that goes back to what I was saying about how Mom and Dad have fostered this universal approach to our clientele. We do not look beyond their needs. I think it is also important to note that some people had thought that we had Priyanka come onto the show to make it more interesting, but their relationship with the store spans over the past five to seven years.
Chandan: Twenty years. Priyanka and their family have been shopping at the store for the past 20 years since they were kids. When Priyanka started exploring the world of drag, they came and said they needed a costume that they would be designing. It also wasn’t even any of my peers or me that made that connection with Priyanka, it was actually my dad, the older generation. He said, ‘Don’t worry beta.’ He actually corrected himself and said, ‘Beti, we will be there for you.’ And he got them a really nice sari and lehenga which they converted into a costume that won the first season.
Roop: And Priyanka put their own spin on it and created something amazing. Only because we were the designers of those pieces could we tell that that is a piece from our lehenga. They did such a fabulous job with it.
Chandan: I think we sometimes think of the older generation, like our parents, as being more conservative, but I think that it is a one-sided narrative. Not all of the older generation is as conservative as we think. And my dad just took it as a paying customer is a paying customer. It doesn’t matter what their orientation or beliefs are, and that just naturally unfolded into the story that we are sharing. He did not treat it as a big deal.
For our readers currently planning their weddings, do you have any pieces of advice on how to balance all the heavy details of wedding planning without losing sight of why they are doing it for?
Roop: One thing for the bride and groom is not to lose sight of themselves in all of this. I’ve been there and done that. You plan this extravagant seven-day affair, you have all these people flying out to your wedding, and you feel this really heavy responsibility to make sure that all these guests are taking time out of their lives to celebrate your union. And like myself — and I am guilty of this, which is why I want to tell my fellow brides — [you] tend to make it less about [yourself] and more about everyone else who is attending. And yes, of course, everyone is important and I owe them respect for joining us. But remember what you want in the heart of heart, if you want a small wedding, go for a small wedding. If you want a big wedding, go for a big wedding. If you want the seven-tiered cake, go for it, if you just want cupcakes, go for that. At the end of the day don’t forget what makes you happy. Don’t lose sight of it, just be authentic to yourself.
Chandan: Oftentimes in the wedding industry, people are really looked down upon. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, you are spending so much for this wedding!’ Or, ‘You are obsessing over these details!’ If it is important to you, it is okay. I would not let judgment get in the way of doing what you want whether it be a small intimate 20-person wedding or a having a 1000-person wedding. This is your moment. The biggest thing I hear is, ‘Oh, it is only for an hour.’ But, if you have a photographer, nothing is for an hour. It is for a lifetime. Those moments last a lifetime. If it is something that you hold near and dear to you, you will cherish it. I wish people would stay true to themselves.
Roop: Yeah, agreed. Be mindful of what sparks joy in you and let that be your compass. The most important piece of advice though: At every function please request that your caterer create a to-go container of the meal at the event for you and your partner to enjoy after because often, and it is so sad to hear this, the bride and groom will eat last at their own event or not at all. And you spend all these months planning [an] extravagant menu and then you don’t even get to eat your own wedding cake. Hah! That happened to us!
Do you have any future plans that you feel excited about sharing with Chandan?
Chandan: Yeah! I would say concrete plans are in the pipeline. In the first episode of ‘BollyWed’ [you] see that we come to the realization that there is just not enough space and we would love to expand into another space.
Roop: And this is where you get a lot of the new generation, old generation beliefs. Because mom and dad believe that the family should stay very close-knit and together to run the one location. And Chandan has the belief that [the] true success of a business is when it is scalable, and has multiple locations nationally, globally even. In Episode 10 you get a conclusion, but we will let the readers watch it for themselves!
You can now watch the inaugural season of CBC’s “BollyWed” on CBC TV every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST or stream it for free on CBC Gem! And that’s not all from the Chandan Fashion team! They’ll soon be featured in an Instagram LIVE chat with Brown Girl Magazine, so stay tuned!
September 14, 2023September 14, 2023 3min readBy Marium Abid
Pairs are made in heaven, and who better than the “Made in Heaven” expert crew to bring them together? Gracing our screen after three years, Zoya Akhtar’s brainchild “Made in Heaven” returned to Prime Video on Aug. 10 with seven episodes.
Set six months after the first season, Tara and Karan (played bySobhita Dhulipala andArjun Mathur) return with their original crew to plan magnificent weddings.
Although grand weddings are at the forefront of the show, there are multiple subplots to keep you hooked — maybe even shed a tear or two. The crux of the storyline is still Tara and Karan’s lives as we see them on a rollercoaster of emotions trying to manage their erratic personal lives.
Keeping true to its spell-binding depiction of weddings, love and relationships, every episode explores a challenge that is deep-rooted in South Asian norms and behaviors. With Kabir Batra’s (played byShashank Arora) voiceover — who’s also the photographer and videographer for the Made in Heaven company — this season makes us question whether the core of a marriage is love or flamboyance.
The season-opening leaves you mesmerized and wanting to fall in love; the extravagant set and a glamorous display of high fashion are true inspirations for whenever there’s a wedding in the family. The artistic works Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta, Tarun Tahiliani, and many more, steal the show; their trendsetting designs are a sight for sore eyes.
While this season brings forth many new faces as supporting characters, such as Dia Mirza and Sanjay Kapur, we also have some new members joining the original crew of “Made in Heaven.”
Mona Singh enters as Bulbul, wife of Jauhari (played by Vijay Raaz). She is introduced as a domineering auditor but as the show progresses, we witness the many layers of her character unravel; including that of a strong matriarch. One of the most compelling aspects of the show is her fight to save her son — who gets involved in a case of school harassment — and her and Jauhari’s approach and sensitivity toward the situation.
With her outstanding acting, Singh breathes life into the character. She exudes the panache of a businesswoman while perfectly depicting the complexities of a strong woman with a violent past — the mystery of which we learn as we move toward the end of the show.
Bulbul, however, is not the only new character on the show. Played byTrinetra Haldar Gummaraju, Meher is a trans woman in search of love and companionship. With Meher’s character, the makers have brilliantly opened the doors for more inclusive stories to come to the fore.
While each episode is a different story tackling some of the greatest shortcomings of our society, the lives of Tara and Karan remain at the center of it all; their characters evolving with every new challenge that is thrown at them. We see Tara “drop” from her previous known status of being a Khanna to just being Tara. Her story is one of identity, ownership and self-discovery; Karan’s, on the other had, is that of grief as we see him grapple with finding acceptance and drug abuse. Their struggles add substance to their characters navigating the privileged world; gravely reminding us of all that’s flawed.
It might feel a bit preachy and overwhelming at times, especially when two issues are being addressed in one episode. But in the end, it all makes sense…thanks to the extraordinary acting, marvelous direction, opulent sets and impeccable styling. “Made in Heaven” season 2 has to be your next binge-watch.
Over the past few weeks we’ve all seen Mindy Kaling shoulder the blame for misrepresenting the South Asian diaspora in her work. I want to expose us to the flip side. She’s not “Indian enough” for some in our communities and “not American enough” for mainstream television and media. But I don’t know a single South Asian living abroad who doesn’t feel this dissonance. We’re a generation born to parents who strived to stay connected to their homeland but knew they had to assimilate to survive. Many of us got lost in the mix. I definitely did. And from the looks of it, Kaling did too.
I feel like I’ve oscillated between these two extremes all my life. I’ve had moments of code-switching — performing as a white version of myself, melting into the groups around me. And moments of being a “coconut” (or an “oreo” depending on where you come from) — suddenly donning an accent as if Hindi was my first language. It wasn’t conscious. It also wasn’t fully unconscious.
It wasn’t until I watched Netflix’s“Never Have I Ever” as a 35-year-old mother of two that I realized what teenage Ambika was up against. Still wearing tank tops in secret, while girls my age had moved on to the midriff-baring trend of the early 2000s. Not thinking it was okay to explore my sexuality. Not seeing that sometimes I knew what was better for me than my parents did. Not understanding that it was okay to expand my romantic interests beyond the few Indian boys I knew. And then I rewatched “The Mindy Project” while on maternity leave with my second kid. And I ate it up.
I rewound dialogue as Dr. Lahiri got engaged, left a man who lost his drive, fell in love with the unexpectedly handsome curmudgeon, got pregnant, learned to mother, and found a new version of herself. She addressed her pregnant body insecurities on-screen (in “What to Expect When You’re Expanding — brilliant!). She grappled with her ambitions in the face of motherhood. She owned who she was when most of us were taught not to. She dated outside of her race. Her audacity and levity gave me so much oomph at a time when I needed it the most.
Art comes from lived experience. And when individuals reflect their life back to the masses through art, it’s a tenuous balance. Comedians in particular have to toe a fine line between hyperbole and reality, having the paradoxical job of speaking the truth (the dark truth, often), and simultaneously making people laugh.
Even though I didn’t speak Spanish — my parents don’t speak Spanish — early in my career when I would portray my parents in a bit, they would have an accent. They would speak in broken English. Any time I would talk about my mom, it was like, ‘ay, mija.’ My mom doesn’t call me ‘mija.’ My mom will leave me a voice message and be like, ‘hey, girl!’ She talks like me. You know what I mean?
This is the inherent paradox that exists in Velma as well. Kaling, as she often does, takes her own experiences as a young Indian girl growing up against the backdrop of white America, and amplifies them. And now, Kaling is a grown, Indian woman whose career is evolving against the backdrop of an America, too.
Critics across different racial groups frequently talk about “the representation trap.” Even if a minority group is represented in a piece of art, literature, film, or television, the manifestation of that group is still filtered through the white gaze. In Ismail Muhammed’s New York Times piece “Can Black Literature Escape the Representation Trap,” he says:
Our current problem isn’t an insufficient amount of Black representation in literature but a surfeit of it. And in many cases that means simply another marketing opportunity, a way to sell familiar images of Blackness to as broad an audience as possible.
The debate about whether minority artists properly represent their cohort is marred with capitalism and white supremacy. When so many industries are gate-kept by the typical, euro-centric, generationally rich man, is there really any way to be wholly true to our experience?
Let’s not forget that many of us (or maybe all of us?) came up in a society that devalues women, and horrifically devalues people of color. Let’s not forget that the majority of executives across every field still don’t look like us (if by chance you’ve forgotten, read this piece byRuchika Tulshyan). Let’s not forget that when people are introduced to something foreign and unknown to them, their default is to reject it (again, if you’ve forgotten, read about “the mere exposure effect” and racism).
I’m unsure how Kaling has inherited the immense responsibility of representing all of the South Asian American diaspora? And is then being criticized for her representation of it. Third-generation South Asians are very different from second-generation, who are very different from first-generation. Our identities and how we fit into American culture, mainstream media, and business, are still forming as we speak. We are not a monolith.
And plenty of men have done exactly what Kaling is being criticized for, without anywhere near the same level of criticism. All men I (hopefully, we) love.
Riz Ahmed has taken on roles in which his race isn’t the central focus. Hasan Minaj doesn’t get criticized when he uses stereotypical accents to represent South Asians or for using politics as a launch pad for his content. We don’t hate on Kumail Nanjiani when he suddenly gets a six-pack, even though he also once played a nerd. I loved when Aziz Ansari went to Italy to make pasta and didn’t make it Indian.
Why are we tearing down one of the only women in America who is working to showcase South Asian culture and people? Because she uses humor and caricature? Because she’s not putting herself in the mindset of the type of Indian person who has learned to thrive at the intersection of their upbringing and their environment? Newsflash: that person doesn’t exist!
It’s not on Kaling to represent every dimension of this diaspora. She’s done her job.
I’m a proud, second-generation, Indian American woman, married to an Indian American man, with two Indian American children. I was nerdy just like Kaling. I had arm hair just like Devi. I pined after white boys in my teen years just like Bela from the HBO Max’s “Sex Lives of College Girls,” too. And Kaling is an absolute inspiration to me.
I see a South Asian woman who chose to have children on her own. Whose career, post-children, skyrocketed. Who committed herself and her craft to tackle the most deep-rooted stigmas of South Asian culture — mental health, sex, and interracial relationships — while still honoring the way it manifested in her life.
It’s now our job to get out into the world and dimensionalize our cohort. Show the world what us supposed “ABCDs” have grown up and done; who we’ve become and what we’ve accomplished.
It’s what I’m trying to do. It’s what I’m trying to fight for when I’m told things like “maybe tone down the diversity angle in your writing, we don’t want publishers to think they’re just buying a diversity book.”
We still exist in a house of cards. Why are we kicking the building blocks of our own home?
I’ll leave you with this quote from Kaling herself:
People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you’re succeeding. People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them. But when you’re winning, it makes them feel like they’re losing or, worse yet, that maybe they should’ve tried to do something too, but now it’s too late. And since they didn’t, they want to stop you. You can’t let them.
I hope this woman never gets discouraged. We need her in more ways than one.