September 3, 2019September 11, 2019 4min readBy Ann Ittoop
Happy Onam! If you’re not familiar with what Onam is, it is a yearly harvest festival in Kerala that’s celebrated by Hindus, but those of all religious backgrounds recognize it. The celebration date is based on the Malayalam calendar and is celebrated in the month of Chingam which ends up being around August or September each year.
The 10-day long festival has a few different stories behind it. Growing up, I learned that Onam is celebrated to remember the mythical King Mahabali. He was a beloved king in Kerala, but some gods were not happy with him so they called on Vishnu to help defeat Mahabali. Vishnu refused because Mahabali was a devotee of Vishnu. Instead, Vishnu decided to test Mahabali while he declared a yajna where he’d offer anyone any wish.
Vishnu appeared to Mahabali in the form of a dwarf named Vamana. Mahabali asked what Vamana wanted and he said, “all I seek is three small steps of land.” This seemed like nothing, however, Vamana grew into a giant! He took two steps and covered all of Mahabali’s beloved land. Concerned for his people, Mahabali stopped Vishnu before his third step and requested that he place his foot on his head for the last step. In return, he asked Vishnu to allow him to visit once every year so he could be with the people he previously ruled.
So, every year, we celebrate Onam for 10 whole days. People are dressed in white and gold attire and many different events proceed. It kicks off with parades, boat races, pookkalam (flower carpets), pulikali (tiger dance – not real tigers, just people painted as them), and everyone’s favorite part, the last day sadhya feast!
Onam Sadhya is the epitome of the harvest festival. It’s a completely vegetarian feast that’s all served on a banana leaf. There are typically 9-10 courses served even though more than 30-40 sadhya dishes can be made. A variety of native vegetables like yams, pumpkin, lentils, and more are used. It’s a beautiful mix of sweet, sour, salty, and more all on one plate – err, leaf.
This Pineapple Pachadi recipe is one of my favorites. Beetroot Pachadi is the more common one on the leaf, but the combination of tangy pineapple with ginger, coconut, and a few other spices is so worth trying! Enjoy this with matta rice, a little mango pickle, and pappadam, and you’re set!
In a deep skillet on medium-high heat, cook the pineapple along with the ginger, water, and salt. Cook until the pineapple becomes soft.
Make the paste.
While the pineapple cooks you can make the paste. In a small blender, add all the paste ingredients and grind together until it’s all evenly combined. Set aside.
Keep cooking the pineapple.
Add the coconut paste to the pineapples. Cook on medium heat until everything combines and boils together (2-3 minutes). I like to lightly mash some of pineapple, too. Remove from heat and let slightly cool.
While the pineapple cools, whip your yogurt so it is very smooth and creamy. Stir the yogurt and jaggery into the pineapples and mix until everything is combined.
In a small saute pan on medium-high heat, add in the coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, add in the mustard seeds and cover the pan. As soon as you hear the mustard seeds pop, add the remaining tempering ingredients and saute for another minute or until the shallots become golden brown. Be careful to not let the fenugreek brown too much or it will taste bitter.
Pour this seasoning over the pineapples, mix, and done!
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!
“A weight’s been lifted off my shoulder,” said Shania Bhopa, a graduate student at McMaster University, who took control of the narrative and timeline of her life by freezing her eggs at the age of 25. As a P.h.D candidate in the Global Health Program, her goal is to destigmatize egg freezing among as many young women as possible. Although she was nervous to post the first Tiktok about freezing her eggs, Bhopa knew that her goal was to raise awareness about female fertility using her background in health research at McMaster, and her own experiences. That video went viral with 1.6 million views.
“Knowing the likelihood, especially with my career goals, [that] I can have a happy, healthy baby potentially closer to 35, is very refreshing.”
In the South Asian community, reproductive health and family planning can be sensitive topics. Bhopa wanted to utilize her platform to challenge these traditional opinions about reproductive health. And it’s why Bhopa continues to shine a light on the importance of starting these conversations and destigmatizing egg freezing, primarily within the South Asian community.
So what is the purpose of egg freezing? According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, close to one-quarter of Canadians, aged 15 to 49, changed their fertility plans because of the pandemic.
Egg freezing — which helps to preserve fertility for a later stage in life — continues to serve as a way to give individuals leeway to live life intentionally, without conforming to societal pressures. This is an important consideration, as research shows that by age 35 the chances of conception decline to 66% and continue to decrease as individuals age. What egg freezing provides is a feeling of freedom and liberation for people with a uterus, so that their decisions are not influenced by when they should have children.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into understanding the stigmas that exist, the importance of having these conversations, and the insight gained as individuals like Bhopa take fertility into their own hands:
The journey through fertility
“My purpose of going through fertility treatments at 25 is to buy myself time, to get closer to my purpose in my professional life, so that hopefully one day I can be super intentional with my time as a mom when I’m ready.”
According to Dr. Togas Tulandi, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal, medication is given to stimulate the ovaries so they produce eggs. The eggs are then removed for freezing and storage. Needless to say, the treatment can be costly. The initial egg freezing procedures typically range from $5,000 to $10,000, while the ongoing storage expenses amount to approximately $300 to $500 per year. Despite the financial commitment, freezing eggs is a valuable investment.
Bhopa documented her 11-day egg freezing journey through a TikTok series on social media. She shared the ups and downs throughout the two-week duration, addressing public queries and comments including those on how this was accepted, given her South Asian background.
Societal expectations, cultural norms, and traditional beliefs often contribute to the apprehension and lack of open dialogue regarding fertility. Breaking through these barriers is essential to empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health care and reproductive journeys.
“My biggest reasons for doing this are both reproductive health and family planning. These are sensitive topics, especially in the South Asian community,” said Bhopa.
They are particularly “sensitive” because in South Asian households, conversations around women’s health, periods, fertility, and related topics, seldom occur openly. Bhopa’s story serves as an example of the power of embracing one’s fertility journey and the liberation it can bring.
Given that Bhopa is a woman in her mid-20s, she sees egg freezing as a way to help her future self. She is calling it a birthday gift for her 25th year. Most of all, she expresses,
“It’s like, you graduate…and then you’re supposed to get married and have kids. But I think it’s important to take control of our own narrative; we don’t need to feel this pressure to have kids when we’re not ready.”
“Why at the young age of 25? What was your parent’s reaction? How was this accepted?” These were just some of the questions that circulated Bhopa’s social media page as she brought awareness to fertility planning.
In order to understand the beneficial impacts that freezing eggs can have on the course of one’s life, we need to first create spaces for people within the South Asian community, and beyond, to feel as though they can prompt these conversations without the resulting stigmas.
All South Asian women should be able to make informed decisions surrounding their fertility journey; whether that is through understanding the options that exist, the associated costs, the procedure, the support that’s available or anything else. To achieve this, we must break down the discomfort within our households surrounding fertility conversations by challenging ourselves to make historically uncomfortable conversations comfortable.
Affinity groups are popular in many American high schools and colleges for students who share a common identity to create a community. Students can celebrate, talk with people who relate to certain issues, and advocate for causes important to them. Intersections of identity like race, gender, ethnicity, culture, sexuality and more, are what affinity groups can be created around. While affinity groups are often celebrated, they are not always supported by academic institutions. There are quite a few instances of affinity groups being banned in high schools, in the US, on the basis that they further divide students by race or ethnicity, limit free speech, and put kids in “boxes.”
However, this is rarely the case as affinity groups are seldom pushed on any students and are usually required to be open to all, even if one doesn’t share the identity the group is centered around. Affinity groups not only offer a community, but also increase awareness about a certain culture and create representation in a school for students who may not always feel seen. They also allow for students to be intellectually pushed as they navigate leadership, collaboration, activism, and how to have respectful discourse.
How can you become an active member of an existing affinity group?
Joining an affinity group can often be daunting, especially as a kid who is new or has been too nervous to join in years past. However, this space should be welcoming and excited for participation! You may start by attending a meeting, an event they are hosting, or being active in any outreach the group is doing.
If you want to become a more active member or leader in an affinity group, planning activities and events are crucial to a successful group. Here are some ideas:
Celebrating holidays is the easiest way to help bond an affinity group and allow others outside of the group to join the fun! For example, Holi is a fun and exciting holiday that many South Asians celebrate. It’s a pretty easy set-up and a fan-favorite of non-South Asians too! Just make sure you are inclusive with the holidays you celebrate (such as celebrating both Hindu and Muslim festivities if you have a South Asian affinity group) and also take some time to educate others on the meaning behind what is being celebrated.
Another simple idea is to connect over movies, TV, and music! For example, showing classic Bollywood and Tollywood films can be a great way for kids to bond over nostalgia and immerse themselves in a culture through media.
Food is the best way to get people to come to anything as well as a super fun way to showcase a culture. Potluck events are fun and exciting, and will probably garner a big turn out at any school! Collaboration can also elevate the range of food you have such as a Pan-Asian or any other regionally-themed potluck. Trust me, your line might be out the door, so this can be a good fundraising opportunity too!
Speakers are a great way for a more serious event that students can learn and obtain opportunities from, especially during notable dates like the AAPI, Pride, or Black History month. Speakers can talk about how their identity has impacted their career, explain how they’re fighting for representation or equality, teach students a cultural instrument or dance, give advice to students, and so much more! Creating student or teacher panels are also another easier set-up that can be incredibly impactful and help your school understand what needs to be done so students and staff feel more heard.
Though not all affinity groups have dance or performance groups affiliated with them, some do and can showcase their talent! Additionally, putting on productions that feature talent from the school as a whole but relate to a certain identity can also be incredibly interesting and another avenue for collaboration. Examples could be a production dedicated to all cultural dance styles, martial arts, drag shows, etc!
Fundraising is usually quite important for affinity groups. Students can conduct ‘bake sales’ of cultural foods or drinks, sell decor or merchandise, or assist in deliveries of food from a local business. Being creative with fundraising can really help boost profit and allow for so much more fun.
Outreach is important
Whether you’re starting your club up again in the fall, need a boost in membership, or want people to come to your event, outreach is key. Some affinity groups have designated members for outreach, but regardless, it’s important to do as much as you can.
Of course one of the best ways to reach other young students is through social media. Having an Instagram or Facebook page for your club can help get the word out about upcoming events or meetings, and members can repost on personal accounts for further outreach. Posting before and after events, and always remembering to take pictures, can definitely boost engagement and involvement with your affinity group. (P.S. it’s always good to have some Canva skills in this case.)
Speaking of Canva, flyers around the school are another great way to get word out. Though it feels like everything is digital nowadays, students wander hallways endlessly every day! Seeing a well-designed, clear, and informative flyer about an upcoming event a few times daily can definitely increase odds of participation.
Making sure teachers and other administrators are aware of an upcoming event or holiday can also be super helpful! Spreading awareness about an upcoming cultural holiday or an upcoming event during a morning announcement or on official online forums administered by staff can be a great way to make sure that people know.
Of course, conflicts are bound to happen in affinity groups but it’s important to be prepared.
At times it’s possible that your affinity group leaders aren’t taking on the responsibility they should, which can lead to less representation in your school, decrease membership, or simply lead to inactivity. If you see this happening, try and step up. Do your best to get your affinity group involved again in the school and actively plan things. This can be done by collaborating with other groups so there is more shared responsibility, talking to an administrator about your concerns, or taking charge of planning an event. Whatever it is, get active and try to find a small way in which your affinity group can involve itself in the school community at large.
Sometimes affinity groups can get a bit competitive or try to step on each other’s toes during the planning of a collaborative initiative. This can be especially difficult if both groups share a larger identity and struggle to make space for each other. Of course, talking to an administrator may be the only way to resolve larger conflicts but make sure you’re being respectful of other’s time and are clear about delegating tasks during planning stages. At the end of the day, both groups share similar goals, so be assertive if you’re feeling the collaboration is not going smoothly and be clear about what you need.
Decreased membership can be a result of multiple reasons. It’s important to identify that cause so you can rectify it. Common reasons may be inconsistent meetings, lack of actual events and activities, uninvolved leaders, toxic group environment, non-inclusivity, genuine scheduling conflict with other clubs and student activities, or lack of new students/freshman involvement. Each of these reasons have their own, unique solution but it’s important to do the work and identify the problem. Don’t be afraid to ask someone why they stopped showing up and consequently shift meeting times, increase outreach initiatives, change leadership, or do whatever else is necessary to rectify some of the problems that’s affecting membership. Quarterly or semesterly check-ins through surveys or in-person talks is a great way to check in with existing members about their experience in the group and take any measures necessary to prevent further reductions in participation.
Inclusivity for affinity groups can mean a lot of things, like being open to all as well as acknowledging other identities within the umbrella identity as a whole. For example, a regional affinity group like a South Asian one needs to acknowledge the culture of different countries, languages, and religions it represents. Though you may not be able to do things like host events for every single holiday, maybe post on social media about a few more. If you are celebrating a certain holiday, include the way it’s said in multiple languages. In addition, make sure you’re being respectful and use your space to educate as well as celebrate. If you’re inviting people to celebrate a holiday, make sure you explain what it means. If you’re offering food, talk about where the food originates from. These things can make a huge difference in how people feel represented.
Affinity groups are important to foster a school environment where students feel heard, represented, and a sense of belonging. Taking the steps to be active in one can truly make a difference, and it’s imperative to support and uplift others as we continue to create more spaces so that everyone gets a seat at the table — even in high school.