According to the unspoken rules that defined our upbringings, our story should have ended there. The moment we discovered our difference—about an hour into our first date—we were supposed to chug the last of our coffee, politely shake hands because a hug would be too intimate and say, “it was nice to meet you.”
But I was drawn to his way of speaking and his laid-back nature. He was the kind of person who could wear sweatpants and a hoodie on a first date and get away with it. And maybe he felt attracted to me, too. So we let our identities as “Pakistani” and “Indian” blow away like fall leaves, while we slipped into an easy conversation about basketball, living in Houston, and our friends. We went on this way for three hours, his fingers wrapped around a mug of black coffee as he spoke, taking his time with each word. Me, rambling quickly with big hand gestures.
When it came time to go our separate ways, we exchanged a quick side-hug and said a casual see you later like we were old buddies. I texted my friend that evening saying, “I really wanted to give him a huge bear-hug.” But I restrained myself and tried to act as cool as him.
Within a few weeks, we were close friends—textingnon-stop, having deep conversations about happiness and philosophy, pushing that nebulous line between friendship and romance.
But that line was not one we’d cross easily. It was drawn 72 years ago when the British ended their colonial rule over India and partitioned the subcontinent into two nations, divided by religion. One of the most violent mass migrations in human history ensued. Millions lost their lives in a mutual genocide between Hindus and Muslims, and millions more were displaced from their homes.
To him and me, Partition seemed like ancient history. But we knew its legacy lived on.
One evening, we went to a Houston Rockets game together. Standing outside the arena, he told me he’d mentioned to his mom that he was going to a basketball game with a girl. His mom asked if the girl was Muslim. He had said no.
I knew then our separation was inevitable. An impassable line lay between our matching copper-skin tones and dark brown eyes. But at that moment, I only wanted to be with him. So I pulled him into the basketball arena and engrossed him in NBA trivia before he could say anything more.
The next time we met, there were things we needed to say to each other. Things we needed to work out. We were sitting in the gym parking lot, sweaty after completing a yoga class together, and I could feel a heavy conversation looming. I was hoping that if I lingered in his car long enough, he’d lean over and kiss me, and we could forget about reality.
Instead, he looked straight ahead, wanting to say something but not sure how to say it. He was frustrated and drained by the situation, and I needed to acknowledge it too. Both of us were living at home with our parents and felt compelled to hide our whereabouts in order to meet. He was irritated that his parents’ outdated mindset had a strong pull on him. I, too, heard my parents’ voices in my head, telling me to back out.
“Don’t make life more difficult,” my mom would say. “There’s just too much history there,” she’d add, trying to justify the archaic animosity between Hindus and Muslims.
I understood her urge to justify it. She, like my father, is the child of Indians who lived through Partition. I’ve grown up hearing both of their parents make discriminatory comments about Pakistan and Muslims. The underlying racism in my grandparents’ attitudes made me cringe, but for my parents, those comments were tossed around the dinner table, implanting a prejudice in their entire generation. Those biases would not be easy to erase.
As I sat silently in his car, I heard my mom’s voice ringing in my ears, urging me to forget him. Minutes passed this way but finally, we reasoned that we were just friends anyway and there was no harm in that, was there? Who knows what will happen, so why create unnecessary stress?
But a few days later, we couldn’t say we were just friends. We’d gone to see Mean Girls in the park. It was dark outside when the movie ended. We walked to the street corner together and when it made sense for us to each turn a different way, I started up a conversation, just to be with him a little longer.
When there was finally nothing left to say, he looked me in the eye and then at my mouth. I leaned in and our lips lightly touched how they’re supposed to. My hands slid around his neck, and his arms pulled me in close.
We had the difficult talk the next time we met. Neither of us agreed with our parents’ views but we both needed our families and feared losing their support. So, after a long kiss, we thought it would be our last, we said goodbye.
Only a week passed before we re-entered each other’s lives. The Snapchat he sent me of his breakfast one Wednesday morning was enough to spark a longer text exchange. We enjoyed the back and forth banter and talking again. Even through a screen, it brought back the longing. I gave in to my emotions and said, Why not?
I was still getting to know this boldness in myself. By nature, I’m a rule-follower. My mom often reminds me that, as a child, I would ask for her permission to fall asleep in the backseat while she was driving. I’m the person who had a near panic attack when I thought I might have cheated on an assignment (I hadn’t).
I worked hard through school, not for the love of learning but because I was trained to do so. I followed the worn path, keeping my eyes on the next gold star, no distractions. And It seemed to work: I’d landed at a top college and ultimately a corporate job my family could brag about to their friends.
But eventually, I started to unravel. I was in my first semester at Harvard Law School, a place I ended up in because, apparently, it would lead me to even greater things. During my first few weeks there, I struggled with debilitating anxiety. Anxiety so painful I requested a leave of absence and moved back home with my parents.
When I finally reemerged as a real human a few weeks later, I felt a new freedom to do whatever I wanted. I grew bold, deferring law school another year and taking up a job as a writer. I questioned everything to get to the core of myself.
When he came along, I was ready. I wouldn’t let an irrational cultural bias drive my decision about whom to have a relationship with.
But he was more restrained, unsure whether this was a battle worth fighting. And though I may sound gutsy, I, too, was scared. Leaving law school was one thing. Choosing a love I was trained to see as forbidden was another.
We finally decided to keep seeing each other temporarily. He was moving across the country soon anyway so just until then, we said. No games. My friend warned this was dangerous territory. Ripping off the Band-Aid is better, she said. I disagreed. I know myself. I won’t get attached. In my mind, knowing the relationship had an end date would keep my emotions in check.
But we were soon in the back of his car, parked on the top floor of the empty movie theater parking lot, whispering those three words into each other’s ears. On our days off, he’d come with me and my dog Pearl to the dog park. I noticed Pearl took to him quickly, the same way I did. She barks at everyone else, but with him, she sits right under his legs and lets him pet her head.
My friend was right. That last goodbye and the days after did hurt but hurt is all right, I’ve realized. I think it means we did something right. We let go of the future and what it may or may not hold, and we gave in to the present. We put aside the weight of other people’s expectations, and we played by our own rules.
Thousands of miles lie between us now, and neither of us dares predict the future. We cut off our communication because, with us, there’s no moderation. It’s an all or nothing endeavor, and neither of us was ready to put in our all.
I like to root for our relationship, pondering that maybe one day we’ll land in the same place again, and maybe then, we’ll be older and stronger and ready to dive in. We’ll boldly challenge our parents, bridging the cultural divide by example.
But I know our paths may never cross, and we may simply be fond memories in each other’s pasts. Maybe one of us will fall for someone else. Or maybe we’ll meet again and discover our relationship worked only because we both saw it as time-constrained. I do not know.
For now, I think back to our memories together, his arm around me, eyes dazzling and easy smiles, and I remind myself of what is possible when we dare to cross the line.
Tina Singh, formerly known as Mombossof3 online, understands how to make her presence known in the parenting space. Seven years ago, she set out to create and share content related to motherhood, and there’s been no looking back since. Singh has mastered the idea of evolving with the times and the needs of her audience while staying true to her number one role in life — mom!
As she navigated her personal and professional life through the lens of a parent, she came across a void that just wasn’t being filled. So, in typical Singh style, this mom of three put her entrepreneurial hat on and got down to creating a solution for Sikh kids who struggled to find a helmet that fits over their patkas (a small cloth head covering).
The problem was personal — all three of Singh’s sons wear patkas and just couldn’t find the right helmet for their safety — and so the solution had to be homegrown. Enter, the Bold Helmets.
Singh gave Brown Girl Magazine an exclusive interview in which she talked about the Bold Helmets, the change in her journey since she’s become a public figure, and what it was like to innovate her very first product!
Here’s how it went:
Let’s start from the beginning. How did this idea come to mind?
This idea has been in my head for many, many years — over five years. I had issues with my kids and having helmets fit them after they turned age four or five.
I worked as an Occupational Therapist, in the head injury space, so I was always the one saying, ‘Okay kids, you’re gonna have to tie your hair in the back, do braids, or something in order to put on a helmet properly because I’m not gonna let you go down these bike ramps without a helmet!’ That’s just not okay for me.
So I talked to my husband and said, ‘there’s gotta be another way this works.’ So we did all the things that parents in situations like these do — they hollow out the helmets, some people go as far as cutting holes at the top of the helmet — you do what works. But I had in my mind an idea of what I think the helmet should look like based on what a patka looks like, and what my kids look like. I then found an engineer to draw it out for me to bring [my idea] to a place where I can actually take it somewhere and say, ‘Okay, how do I make this?’
But, yes, it started mainly with my kids and facing that struggle myself.
You mention that this idea had been brewing in your mind for over five years. How long did it take you to actually bring it to life?
To this point, it’s been about two and a half to three years. I let it sit in my mind for a while. Winters come here in Canada and then we forget about it again until we have to go skiing, and then there’s another problem, right?! I did let it lay dormant for a bit for sure, but once I made the commitment to do it, I made up my mind to see it all the way through.
You recently pivoted and changed the name of the product to the Bold Helmets. Can you talk me through how you came up with the new name?
Bold Helmets became the name because they’re designed to be bold, to be different and who you are. I also think that the way the helmet is made, even though it’s made with Sikh kids in mind, there are other applications to it. I do think that taking the Bold Helmets approach embodies its [the product’s] uniqueness and really focuses on being bold and who you are.
And the Bold Helmet is multi-sport, correct?
This helmet is certified for bicycles, kick scooters, skateboards, and inline skating. It is not a ski helmet. So every helmet you use for a different sport has a different safety certification or testing that it has to go through. So, this helmet is called ‘multi-sport’ because it covers those four sports but I wouldn’t take this helmet and use it for skiing. I’d have to make sure that this helmet, or a helmet like this, gets certified for various other standards for other sports.
Makes sense! I want to change the course of the conversation here a bit and talk more about how you pivoted from Mombossof3 to innovating your very first product. How was that experience?
So what I did throughout this journey was that I went from marketing myself as ‘mombossof3’ to ‘Tina Singh’ because I was sharing more of my life’s journey as my kids were getting older and in an effort to respect my children’s space as well, and letting them decide how much — or how little — they want to be involved with what I was doing online. And part of that was about the journey of what I was doing next, and the transition came naturally to me.
I think right now, truthfully, I’m struggling in the space where I kind of have a shift in audience and so my usual, everyday self that I share on social seems like it doesn’t work. I feel like I need to find a new balance; I will always be true to who I am, and I will never present myself as something that I’m not. But, just finding a space for me to continue creating content while also taking on this new endeavor with Bold Helmets, is important right now.
Aside from this struggle of finding that new balance, what is that one challenge that really sticks out to you from this journey?
I think my biggest challenge being an entrepreneur is finding that balance between my responsibilities as a parent, which is my number one role in my life and there’s no one that can take that role for me — my husband and I are the only parents — and passions outside of that.
Do you think it helped that you were creating a helmet for Sikh children so it allowed you to pursue your passion but also work with your kids in some capacity since they inspired the whole idea?
I never thought of it that way, but yes actually, it did! So all my entrepreneurial projects have involved my kids. Even now they were involved in picking the colors, all the sample tests we did they tried the helmets on! They’re probably sick of it since they’re constantly trying on helmets, but I get their opinion on them. Even as we pivoted with the name, we involved them and got their feedback on it also. So, they were involved in very large parts of this project.
And my husband is also a huge part of this project. He’s been heavily involved in this process, too!
You have a huge online presence, and I know that you’re probably not new to trolling and bullying that comes with being on social media. More recently, Bold Helmets was subject to a lot of backlashes. Is there something that you took away from this recent experience? Was it different this time around?
The extent to which things got was different this time around and that’s not something I have faced in the past. But I have been in the online space for about seven years now, and I’m accustomed to it. I think what I learned this time around is that sometimes silence and reflection is the best thing you can do. Sometimes reflecting and not being defensive on feedback that you get — and this may be something that comes with age as well as experience — is best.
But, I’m happy with the pivots we made, the feedback we’ve gotten, and the way we’re moving forward.
You mentioned that this isn’t your first entrepreneurial venture. But each experience teaches you something different. What did you learn while working on Bold Helmets?
I learned to be okay with taking things slow. I’ve never been that person; I’ve always jumped the gun on lots of things. It’s understanding that it’s ok to slow down and recognize that things have to just run their course.
And while the interview wraps up there, there is more to come with Singh on her journey! Catch Lifestyle Editor Sandeep on Instagram LIVE this Saturday, January 28, at 10 a.m. EST, as she has a more in-depth conversation with Singh on Bold Helmets and more!
In the meantime, Bold Helmets are available for pre-order now, and as a small token of appreciation, Canadian pre-orders will get $10 off their purchase until the end of January 2023!
November 18, 2023November 20, 2023 5min readBy Pooja Mehta
Trigger warning: this article contains material related to suicide and mental illness. Discretion is advised. If these topics cause emotional, mental, or physical distress, please call your National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
The only time I wanted to die was to follow in the footsteps of Raj.
Suicide and I, we were not strangers at that point. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with anxiety with auditory hallucinations. Meaning, when I would have panic attacks, I would hear voices in my head, screaming strangers telling me that: nobody loved me, I was a burden on everyone in my life, the world would be better off without me. Most of the time I was able to stay rooted in my reality, where the demons in my head couldn’t overshadow the sunlight through the window, the blanket wrapped around me, the knowledge that they weren’t real.
There were three times where the voices enveloped me, echoing louder and louder until I had to follow through just to make it stop.
But those times, they wanted me gone. I didn’t want to go. On each of those three mornings, I woke up severely dehydrated, covered in vomit, and surrounded by pill bottles. And each of those three mornings are some of the best mornings of my life. Because I was alive. Because my story wasn’t over. Because I had the chance to drag my pitiful body to the shower and wash off the night before and live to see what today could bring. I never wanted to die. Suicide and I were not strangers, but we were not friends. I knew it, I recognized it in the room, but I had no desire to strike up a conversation. I worked hard to make sure I had tools and strategies to hold my own should it sidle up to me. And that worked, for a while.
Then, baby brother, my only sibling, the best person I have met to this day took his own life. 15 minutes before I went up to his room to get him for dinner, I saw him. That moment lives in my head like laps on a stopwatch. Twenty minutes since he sent his last text message. Ninety minutes of CPR. Eight days into the COVID-19 lockdown. Two weeks shy of this 20th birthday. Four weeks since I got my Mental Health First Aid certification, where I learned the signs of suicide, signs that didn’t show in the days leading up to losing Raj. Eight months into me transitioning from his older sister to his friend. And 3 years, 5 months, and 12 days since suicide and I had looked each other in the face.
I had heard about suicide contagion, how one person ending their life has been known to prompt others in the same network to do the same. I had always heard it talked about as something that happened because that was the first time people were introduced to suicide, the first time it even occurred to them as an option. But suicide and I, we had a history. I knew its company, and I was so certain that I could keep it at a distance, the way I had for so long.
I was wrong. I was learning firsthand another reason for suicide contagion–the pain. The confusion of how he could have done this. The guilt that I couldn’t save him. The loneliness of becoming an only child at 25. The shame of being the girl who now became triggered by tv shows and cried at parties. The blow to the soul of losing my brother and the continuing punches each time someone who I thought was forever revealed themselves to be fair weather. All of those emotions constantly pierced me like white hot arrows, and in the moments where it felt like I was blistering from the pain, I found myself wishing I could just be gone.
Suicide kept flitting around me, and the tools that I had to keep it from embracing me felt less effective–indeed, I found myself wondering if we could be friends. In my harder moments, suicide grabbed the seat next to me and filled my ear with promises of peace, stillness, a refuge in the storm. If I ran into its arms, I could finally stop feeling the all-consuming pain. I don’t know what would be waiting for me on the other side, but surely it couldn’t be worse than this…right?
It’s funny though, the same pain that made me want to run full force to suicide was also the one thing that kept me from doing so. Because suicide was a safe haven–but it was also a one-way ticket. For every part of my head that was desperate to end my pain, there was a part of my heart that knew doing so would just pass that pain to the people who loved me. The only permanence in life is death, and experiencing the aftermath of losing Raj solidified for me how I could never be the reason other people went through that.
I couldn’t die. Suicide and I were not strangers, and we could not be friends. Even though I now found myself looking at the empty seat next to me, wondering where it was, I knew I had to cut it off. I had to work hard to make sure I knew how to hold my own and keep my distance.
The moment I saw my brother dead lives in my head like laps on a stopwatch. It took 1 year, 3 months, and 13 days for me to decide that suicide and I could not be friends, and start developing the new tools, tactics, and strategies to keep it that way. But suicide fought to stay in my life. When I got emails from therapists saying they couldn’t take me as a patient, suicide read over my shoulder. When I drove to and from grief groups where the reason I was there made me a pariah, suicide kept me company in the passenger seat. When I lived on meal replacement shakes because the antidepressants I was on completely suppressed my appetite, suicide scoped out options at CVS with me. When I found myself again searching for another path because the mental health care system presented yet another barrier, suicide reminded me of its empty promises.
Over time I noticed suicide became a more subtle companion. When I stood by my childhood friend on her wedding day, suicide stayed back at the hotel. When I started a job that fulfilled me, suicide only appeared in the small gaps between meetings. When I got to spend time with the kiddos who call me Pooja Maasi (Aunt Pooja), suicide was forgotten among games of peek-a-boo and re-reads of the very hungry caterpillar. In the countless moments of long talks and takeout sushi and zoo visits and fun lattes and the little things that show me who my team is, suicide moved further and further out of focus, sometimes disappearing all together.
The only time I wanted to die was to follow in the footsteps of Raj. Since then, I have fought hard, pushing myself past what I thought I was capable of, to learn how to live again. Suicide still shows up every once in a while, walking past my window, sitting in the crowd when I give a speech, crossing my mind in those quiet moments before falling asleep. As long as I feel the pain of Raj’s absence, suicide will be present in my life. But it will stay on the perimeter, far away from the lights I have sparked in my life.
Suicide and I are not strangers. But through grit and through grace, we will never be friends.
From singing and acting to drawing immaculate figurines, Saheli Khan, 11, has made her debut in the North American Broadway tour as young Anna in Disney’s musical “Frozen.” As a first-generation Indo Caribbean, with roots in India and Pakistan, she continues to pave the way for young people with similar backgrounds.
Khan has always enjoyed entertaining those around her and she continues to have the motivation to pursue her passions. In school, she always sought to lead her class in songs and she was encouraged by her parents and teachers to enroll in music and acting classes, even at a young age. These ventures fueled her passions even more.
Continue reading to learn more about her journey!
What do you like about acting the most?
I like to portray different characters. Specifically, I like playing characters who have strong personalities and those who portray a sense of bravery, especially during problematic occurrences.
As a first generation Indo Caribbean actress, how do you feel about your journey as a young Disney princess? Do you feel that you are paving the way for other Caribbean and South Asians who want to pursue similar paths?
Diversity has always been important to me, but in today’s society, I feel that most people would like to be accepted and encouraged. As a Disney Princess, I am simply helping to broaden the field for all young people to see that skin color should not matter.
What do you like about your character, Anna? Is there anything that you may dislike?
Young Anna is a ball of sunshine! She is happy, funny, and a delight to be around. Despite having a troubled childhood, she grows up to be just as joyous, but she is also courageous as she goes on a journey to find her sister. I love everything about young Anna and she truly embodies who I am as a person.
Who is your inspiration and why?
My parents are my inspiration. My mom is beautiful, loving, and she works hard without ever giving up. No matter the task, she finds a solution and keeps on going with a smile on her face. She always tells me, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown.” And my dad is my best friend. He’s insanely funny, caring and knows all the best places to eat! My parents are exactly how I want to be when I grow up.
If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?
I would love to be Annie on Broadway or play the lead in a series or movie.
What is the one last thing that you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?
There are many things I do before I step on stage. I do fun and silly things quietly with my “Frozen” sister, Mackenzie Mercer, and play with my Anna pigtails for good luck.
What are your other passions?
I love to sing, act, and spend time with my younger cousin, Ayla. I also love to draw and color since it makes me feel relaxed. I was told I have a great ability to draw and make figurines ever since I was a child. And I love exploring new cities and eating at great restaurants with my family.
What advice do you have for young people who are just starting their careers, specifically within the field of musical theater?
To have a positive mindset, practice diligently, and enjoy every moment within the journey. I have learned that there may be some occurrences that may not take place the way that you want them to, but there’s always an opportunity to learn from them.
Aside from your career, how do you balance your schoolwork and acting?
I attend school virtually, which is essential when I am on tour. Each day I have scheduled school hours that allow me to focus and complete all school assignments. Once that is done, I have most of the day to work on extracurricular activities, go on outings, and hang out with my friends. Though performing takes a large chunk out of my day, it helps that I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work.
What types of roles do you see yourself playing?
I love to play humorous characters such as young Anna from “Frozen.” I truly enjoyed this role as it captures who I truly am.
Khan’s debut marks the start of a budding career. With her array of talents and future goals, we are bound to see more of the young actress in the future and more representation of Indo Caribbeans in mainstream media. If you would like to purchase tickets for Disney’s “Frozen,” click here.