Okay, I get it – Indian people love weddings, dancing, eating, etc., but does that really mean at someone’s wedding all the aunties need to be on the lookout for who’s next? Honestly, they’re probably better at scouting singles than professional scouts are at finding good athletes. Weddings are great and all, but really, what does “it’s your turn next” even mean when it comes to getting married?
Why is it still a thing that once an Indian girl reaches 22-23 years of age the word marriage has to be included in just about any conversation? I’m currently 26 and super, super thankful that I have been blessed with parents that don’t constantly torture me to think about getting married and “finding someone.” I do, though, have distant relatives, family friends, etc. who absolutely love bringing up the topic. Along with this, so many of my Indian friends have said they’re constantly dealing with the pressure of finding someone – pressure brought on my family members and other aunties. For all this, I just have one question…
WHY? Why does it matter so much at what age someone gets married? It’s unacceptable when someone gets married too young and it’s unacceptable when someone gets married too old. So basically there is this small amount of time when Indian people deem it to be an “acceptable age.” Come on!
After college, I started working right away, then went on to graduate school for two years, and now I’m starting to work in my new field. In between all this, I had no desire, not even a tiny inkling, to think about getting married. Still, even when you tell an Indian aunty that you’re busy doing all this, one of the first questions is,
But, beta, what about getting married?
Reallllllly? I just told you how busy I was being awesome, but I’m not awesome enough because I’m single, right?
I know Indian parents care deeply about getting their kids “settled” and making sure they have a great life planned ahead, but putting pressure on your kids to get married isn’t going to help the process. I feel like more and more people are holding off on marriage until they “find themselves” and feel emotionally ready, and these are definitely not things our parents’ generation thought of. Most of the times, they were thrown into marriage and expected to swim (and the majority of them do really well). So I do understand, but that doesn’t make the situation any more fun.
I love my culture and I love all the Indian aunties out there, but statements like “you’re next” or “it’s your turn” have got to go.
Monica Bhatia recently graduated with her masters in social work and is living in the suburbs of Chicago. She will be working as a school social worker and is extremely excited to begin her new career. Before going into social work, she was a high school Spanish teacher for four years. She has always had a passion for working with kids and helping create a better future for them. Some of her hobbies include traveling, reading, playing with dogs, and trying as many different foods as she can.
This story was published as a collaboration between Brown Girl Magazine and Reckon, a national news organization that covers the people powering change, the challenges shaping our time, and what it means for all of us.
This is a special year for Ramadan. For the first time in three years my mosque will fill to capacity, giving my community a chance to rebuild lost connections and overcome heartache. It reminds me of a simple truth: healing comes not when you expect it but when you need it.
For Muslims, Ramadan symbolizes the time of the year in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran. Since Islam follows a calendar based on the monthly cycles of the moon, the start of the holy month of Ramadan is determined when a crescent moon is sighted in Saudi Arabia.
The Quran is said to have been received throughout the life of the prophet Muhammad, and Ramadan marks the days it took for him to receive its first verses. When Muhammad received this revelation, it is said that he isolated himself in a cave to reflect and devoted himself to endless worship. In the same way that Muhammad secluded himself to focus on gratitude and prayer, Muslims around the world use the time to distance themselves from daily distractions and focus on spiritual growth through a month of fasting.
Siyam in community
The Arabic word for fasting is siyam which translates to ‘be at rest.’ Abstaining from eating and drinking allows us to take the rest our body and soul so deeply crave and ground ourselves and one another in a physical, mental and spiritual reset.
When I was a child, Ramadan symbolized the one time it was normal to spend your entire weekend in the Mosque. It was my first experience of a sleepover, with pajamas hidden under my abaya and Pakistani kurtas. Beyond the gender divide of the prayer halls, children would take naps on parents laps as the community prayed throughout the night. The Mosque was a beautiful gathering space open to anyone who needed a meal, whether or not they were fasting.
During the pandemic, Ramadan was different. Endless nights in the Mosque filled with prayer and community were scaled down to Zoom hangouts. Programs that were once filled with intimate in-person conversations on the floor of the Mosque, were now faceless squares on a screen, their names barely visible.
The Jummah or Friday prayers that were once so packed with people that the crowd spilled out onto the surrounding grass and sidewalks were conducted in parked cars. The mosque decorated the parking lot for drive-through visitors for the Eid Namaz, and community members waved from a distance to others with the same time slot.
I still remember when a friend’s mother died of COVID-19. What would have been a Janaza or funeral that surrounded the grieving family with community and prayer, turned into a Zoom call. Watching the tears of my friend’s family during the burial services, unable to visit her home and read the Quran together was heartbreaking.
Even before the pandemic, the world was not always a safe place for me and my community. From my family and I being yelled at to “go back to our country” when we were on vacation, to the looks my mother received when she wore her hijab in public, I understood even as a young child the ways in which Muslims were perceived as outsiders in our own country.
In many ways the pandemic compounded the islamophobia that my community began experiencing at heightened levels after 9/11. During Trump’s time in office, the Muslim community—which in the US mostly consists of people who identify as Asian and Black—faced heightened racism and incidents of violence, in part due to misinformation about the coronavirus. In the racial justice uprisings of 2020, Black Muslims—which make up more than 20% of all Muslims in the US—were not only targeted for their race but their religious background. Mosques across the country were vandalized, and continue to experience increased threats to this day.
Ramadan as a space to heal
These last few years made me realize how badly I craved the sanctuary of my Mosque, and to physically return to a space where I felt safe. I feel relieved and at peace to return back to nights where I am surrounded by familiar faces praying together side by side and breaking our fast without any fear of judgment.
The onscreen representation of South Asians has never been great in Hollywood. In fact, I learned not to look for it in my favorite rom-coms, superhero series, and family dramas. In my TV-watching experience, though, comedy has been a different story. I love sitcoms and have watched nearly every popular sitcom from the early and late aughts. When I turned to these comfort shows, I never felt unrepresented. Some of the most iconic sitcom characters in recent decades are South Asian: Kelly Kapoor in “The Office,” Tom Haverford from “Parks and Recreation,” Cece Parekh in “New Girl,” Tahani Al-Jamil in “The Good Place,” and in the past year, Sid from “How I Met Your Father.” For most brown viewers, like me, this felt more than satisfactory. Any representation felt like good representation, and as an audience, we weren’t in a position to critique networks, producers, or writers on how we appeared on screen. It was, and still is, a celebration to appear at all.
The portrayal of South Asians in sitcoms is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opened doors for South Asians that were unavailable through other creative endeavors. Comedy as a genre is weird, and smart, but relatable. It has given our community a far-reaching platform to unite and connect with people of all cultures. As a minority group, exposure — especially in an industry held together by connections and clout — is integral for our collective success. South Asians have seen more success with comedy than any other genre because making people laugh is the most palatable way to present our similarities and differences. We can tailor our political statements, social frustrations, and marginalized experiences into fun, raunchy, non-threatening, and insightful content. Comedy is versatile enough to capture our most unique and marketable traits, and sitcoms, situational comedy, is an extension of this in the form of 24-minute episodes.
While a handful of sitcoms employed South Asian talent, our inclusion has rarely been well-intentioned. As of its last season in 2019, “The Big Bang Theory” has won 10 Emmys and made history as the longest-running, live-action sitcom. It is unclear whether these accomplishments occurred despite the poor representation of South Asians or for those very reasons. Raj Koothrappali, played by Kunal Nayyar, is the only person of color among the show’s eight cast members. Raj’s character was built around various stereotypes, extending beyond the standard nerd archetype. Raj was coded as the most socially inept, emasculated, and undesirable character in a group of awkward, geeky men. He is often put down, humiliated, and misunderstood. This type of representation, especially in a sitcom that ended just four years ago, is regressive and tiring. Characters like Raj really aren’t representations at all. He isn’t meant to be. Raj was characterized for the enjoyment of non-South Asian viewers. His “fresh-off-the-boat” attempts at assimilation are the jokes. His cultural traditions coupled with his Western ambitions are supposed to make Western audiences laugh. When Raj is the butt of a joke, the “ultimate loser” in a group of three other losers, nobody is laughing with him. They are laughing at him.
“Aliens in America,” another 2007s sitcom, lasted just one season on The CW for good reason. This sitcom featured a white American family in Wisconsin that decided to host an international student to help their son make friends in his high school. The family is dismayed when Raja, the exchange student, isn’t from a European country but from Pakistan. Here begins 18 episodes of overt racism, xenophobia, and religious and cultural intolerance posed for laughs. It’s a frustrating watch, and unfortunately, its gross premise can be explained by the lack of South Asian writers and directors credited. Representation on screen is only tasteful and compelling when there are South Asians behind the scenes sharing input, expertise, and experiences. Mindy Kaling’s work is evidence of what it can look like when South Asians have the resources and support to shape their own narratives. While her South Asian characters may fall under a similar archetype, their stories are expansive and authentic.
Sitcoms have both enforced and subverted South Asian stereotypes. Much of the work South Asian creatives have done to separate our identities from racist characterizations was simultaneously perpetuated by the entertainment industry. On the same screen as Raj and Raja, we watched Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford and Jameela Jamil as Tahani Al-Jamil. These two characters diverged from the former in that their culture and “brownness” were seldom mentioned. They seemed to exist almost separately from their ethnicity and carried visible confidence and self-assurance, pulling laughs with their eccentrics and quirkiness.
Hannah Simone’s Cece Parekh and Sid, played by Suraj Sharma in the “How I Met Your Mother” spin-off, “How I Met Your Father,” are both refreshingly original. Sid is a South Asian bartender from New York, and his ethnicity is neither ignored nor a point of mockery. Cece is a high school dropout turned professional model, continually recognized throughout the show for her confidence, savviness, and beauty. Their personalities not only subvert the nerdy, meek, and undesirable traits typically associated with brown characters but also inspire much of the witty and sharp dialogue among their respective ensemble casts. A government official from a modest Midwest town, a model in Los Angeles, a British philanthropist, and a New York bartender will never fully capture our individual experiences. Yet, their stories represent small yet significant aspects of our lives. These characters, born between 2007 and 2021, are indicative of the evolution of South Asian characters from prior caricatures. Our inherent identities, communities, and fundamental beliefs are not and should no longer be the joke.
Comedy, specifically sitcoms, has been a gateway for South Asians to enter the entertainment industry. While representation has been lacking in other genres of television, sitcoms continue to be home to notable South Asian talent. Brown characters in the past were depicted with varying degrees of accuracy and integrity, but our prolonged presence on network television has slowly led to main billing on genres outside of a comedic scope. Netflix productions and Marvel films are among the big-budget projects entertaining the idea that South Asians can be superheroes, love interests, and so much more. While Hollywood’s motivations to feature South Asian characters may have initially derived from a place of ridicule, South Asian creatives made comic relief characters their own. Sitcoms have matured into a genre where we can take ownership of our stories, evoking the raw, hilarious, and painful moments that make us the fully-fleshed people we are on and off the screen.
Sustainable development practices can be utilized as a model for addressing gender inequities worldwide. Empowering women with the resources to gain opportunities, learn skills and collaborate in a safe and welcoming environment is crucial to women’s growth and development as individuals.
After witnessing the first-hand effects of gender-based violence growing up in Guyana, Menakshi Babulall founded the Canadian nonprofit A Different View Project (ADVP) to promote and implement sustainable development methods across Guyanese communities. Vaksana, which means “nourishing/refreshing” in Sanskrit, is a branch of ADVP exclusively aimed at developing Guyana’s first eco-friendly women’s retreat center. The retreat will offer wellness activities, training services, regenerative farming and community outreach programs.
Babulall was inspired by Guyana’s rich rugged beauty as a child. Her dual passion for preserving the environment and aiding underserved communities contributed to her studying International Development at Toronto’s York University before launching a public service career. This eventually led her focus back to Guyana. Babulall talks to BG about her journey as the founder of ADVP, the progress of Vaksana and her perspective on sustainable and ethical charity work.
How and when did you create ADVP?
“ADVP was founded in 2016 with the vision of empowering communities and fostering sustainable development. The idea stemmed from my desire to create an organization that could address pressing social and environmental issues through innovative and collaborative approaches. One thing that fills me with immense pride is ADVP’s unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, including those from the diaspora, to create impactful projects that make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also providing them with an opportunity to connect with their homeland.”
ADVP has worked on projects within Guyana’s fertile Pomeroon-Supenaam region, a vast expanse of hills and villages that dot the Essequibo Coast. Past projectsinclude building a centralized outdoor recreation space for families and facilitating peer tutoring groups for children affected by COVID-related school closures. They also engage with the children of Queenstown Village through storytelling and interactive activities to nurture their passion for the environment. Overall, the focus of ADVP’s projects is geared toward education and sustainability while developing meaningful and positive relationships with the local community.
Babulall’s remigration to Guyana during the pandemic to oversee Vaksana was a humbling experience. Living in rural Guyana allowed her to witness the benefits that wellness and eco-tourism can bring to a community, but also highlighted entrenched socio-economic struggles. It heightened her senses of resilience, adaptability and empathy; all key facets she believed essential to an effective leader. She soon realized the importance of cementing Vaksana as a catalyst for positive change in the region, particularly as a safe haven for women and gender non-conforming individuals who may face discrimination.
“The idea of Vaksana was born out of extensive research and a deep-rooted passion for creating a transformative space that combines wellness, eco-tourism and community development. The journey began with a vision to create a place where individuals could experience holistic well-being, connect with nature and promote sustainable living.
Vaksana’s foundation is built on three essential elements: tourism, community outreach and regenerative farming/agriculture. These elements were thoughtfully chosen to ensure a holistic approach to personal growth, community empowerment and environmental stewardship. By integrating these pillars, Vaksana becomes a powerful force for positive impact, both within the retreat center and the wider community.”
Vaksana is an ode to Babulall’s Indian heritage that was originally displaced and irrevocably transformed upon arrival to the Caribbean. Like its namesake, individuals have the opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate themselves. Future plans for Vaksana include a kitchen/restaurant alongside sustainable farming, a workshop/training facility and a multipurpose room offering wellness classes such as meditation and yoga in consultation with a behavioral psychologist and holistic therapist. Collaborations with local businesses and partnership with the University of Guyana ensures that Guyanese citizens are actively involved in every aspect of the project, providing employment opportunities and allowing them to take on leadership roles.
What is the current progress of Vaksana, and where do you hope to see the project in one year?
“As of now, Vaksana is in an exciting phase of planning and development. We have made significant strides in securing the land and are eagerly awaiting the approval of the lease for our carefully chosen site. Our dedicated team is diligently working on the architectural design and construction plans to bring our vision to life.
In one year, we envision Vaksana having completed its initial construction phase, with the retreat center standing proudly amidst the natural beauty of Guyana. We anticipate being fully prepared to open our doors and welcome our first guests to experience the transformative journey that Vaksana offers.”
Babulall believes in transparency regarding the difficulties faced with running a non-governmental organization. She has overcome several obstacles such as limited resources and bureaucratic hurdles by seeking collaborations, leveraging available resources and engaging in open dialogue with members of the community.
When asked about the misconceptions of running an NGO, she replied, “Many NGOs actually strive for financial independence by implementing income-generating initiatives and fostering partnerships that create long-term sustainability. Another misconception is that NGOs are not as efficient or effective as for-profit organizations. In reality, NGOs often have lower administrative costs and are driven by a strong sense of purpose and commitment.”
She also disagreed with the belief that NGOs only focus on aid/handouts and says, “Many NGOs prioritize community-driven development approaches, working with local stakeholders to identify their needs/strengths and supporting capacity-building initiatives that enable communities to thrive independently.”
By debunking these perceptions, NGOs such as ADVP can continue to attract like-minded individuals to participate in the diverse work they undertake to address social challenges and advance a more equitable future.
How would you suggest those get involved in ethical public sector/charity work?
“I would recommend starting by identifying your passions and areas of interest. Research and connect with organizations that align with your values and goals. Volunteer your time, skills or resources to make a tangible impact. Stay informed about social and environmental issues and advocate for positive change. Collaboration and learning from others in the field are also crucial for personal and professional growth.”
What is your ultimate goal and future plans for ADVP and Vaksana?
“My ultimate goal is to continue building ADVP as a leading organization in sustainable community development, promoting social and environmental justice. With Vaksana, we aim to establish a renowned wellness and eco-retreat center that serves as a model for sustainable tourism, community empowerment and holistic well-being. We envision expanding our impact, fostering collaborations and creating positive change at both local and global levels.”
Guyana’s raw and authentic lifestyle has left a profound impact on Babullal as an individual and a leader. While embarking on the Vaksana project has not been without roadblocks, she is grateful to have gained the strength to confront difficult realities head-on in hopes of creating a safe place for individuals to learn and flourish. She has found contentment in the beauty of Guyana’s lush surroundings and hopes that others find its premise rejuvenating and inspirational.
To learn more about ADVP visit their website here or follow them on Instagram.
To donate to the Vaksana project, visit their GoFundMe page.
Featured Image: Menakshi Babulall | Photo Courtesy of Menakshi Babulall