The Baggage We Never Unpack

*Disclaimer: To preserve the confidentiality of the people described, all the examples are composites. In each case, all names and identifying characteristics are fictitious. Therefore all names, incidents, and identification with actual persons (living or deceased) is not intended or should be inferred.

There is a misconception that trauma only affects survivors of war, domestic and sexual violence, and natural disasters. More damaging is the misconception that trauma is only real if you talk about it — if you admit to it. The truth is that trauma isn’t that exclusive. It can affect anyone regardless of his or her experience, age, race or gender. Trauma has many faces, and there’s no singular manifestation of its effects either. Trauma can induce depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, or relationship problems.

Often our emotional baggage is a vestige of the past that accumulates through the ups-and-downs of life. Many of us can recall being made to feel ashamed, unlovable or unworthy at some point. It is unfortunate, but regardless of where our past hurts or the scars originate from, taking steps to heal is possible at any time.

South Asians can be particularly vulnerable to trauma because, despite our extensive social structures, our customs of secrecy and shame perpetuate the feeling that we are alone.

Outwardly strong and resilient, we often suffer in silence from secret wounds like mental health conditions and deep-rooted emotional pain we neglect to acknowledge. This lack of transparency isn’t without damaging effects. Generation after generation, ignoring our issues has left the South Asian community all the more vulnerable to its adverse health outcomes.

Learned Behaviors and a Vicious Cycle

A prevalent theme I’ve seen amongst South Asians is being raised by parents who practiced “tough love.” We all know the archetype of this South Asian parent: seemingly cold, distant, emotionless, at times even authoritarian in their approach.

Tough love embraces the idea that people can be whipped into shape — and sometimes that may be true.

The issue is that tough love isn’t always healthy or the most effective. This parenting style can be used to justify harsh and abusive disciplinary approaches by assuming that pain encourages emotional growth and maturation, but the price of these results can be long-lasting resentment and anger in or both parties.

Especially for first-generation South Asians trying to strike a balance between their immigrant roots and their Western upbringings, tough love can cause issues. It’s not uncommon to hear the older generation criticizing millennials for being “too sensitive, too emotional, and too coddled,” when, in reality, what we’re actually asking for is respect and understanding.

I once worked with a South Asian male client born whose Bengali immigrant parents had taught him early on to suppress his emotions and hide his problems to “save face.” Despite having a strong South Asian network of friends, the client told me he didn’t share what he was going through for fear of being burdensome. Of course, this only compounded into feelings of isolation too.

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When raised in a household in which both feeling and expressing strong emotions are discouraged and deemed shameful, people often resort to bottling up their feelings instead. Without a healthy release valve, however, this type of coping mechanism can create feelings of constant emptiness. For some, it can even lead to self-destructive behaviors, unstable relationships, explosive anger, and substance dependence to soothe unmet emotional needs.

Eventually, this client and I worked on developing positive coping strategies for his anger, depression and anxiety by exploring his emotional traumas and his feelings of rejection. The key was recognizing that external validation from his careers, successes, finances or relationships would not promote true healing. To achieve emotional wellness, he needed to practice developing self-compassion and accepting that his parents were not hateful people at their cores. In time, he learned that by recognizing his parents’ imperfections and remembering that they were proud of him (even if they didn’t have the emotional capacity to express that to him regularly), he could acknowledge his emotional trauma and truly begin to move past it.

The Cost of Doubt, Shame and Isolation

In Western culture, shame often arises when a person believes that he or she hasn’t achieved personal expectations of the self. In South Asian culture, this shame is more commonly connected with not living up to the community’s expectations and codes of conduct. This personal shame is very prevalent among South Asians, and it often functions to build group harmony. The mere acknowledgment of an individual’s imperfections is almost a violation of cultural norms because it sends the implicit message to others that you’re weak or burdensome, and that you’ve have disappointed the entire community by being so.

This sense of shame fuels the fear of being ostracized. Rather than suffer through that, we instead blend in. We ignore the pain. We don’t disrupt the norm.

I worked with another client, a South Asian woman, who shared painful memories of being sexually assaulted by members of her extended family. This young woman recalled traumatic accounts of hiding in closets and under covers, trembling in fear as she tried to evade her abusive cousins. While the abuse occurred over a couple of years, the assaults left a lasting impact, shaping her ability to trust the world.

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For years, this woman was unable to tell her parents what was happening to her. When she finally gathered the courage to open up to them, they didn’t believe her. The people whom she had naturally turned to for care and protection didn’t believe her and, instead, rejected her story altogether. So she learned to shut down and to ignore what she felt. Managing her emotions all by herself gave rise to another set of problems: dissociation, despair, a constant sense of panic, and relationships marked by disconnection.

The most recurring theme was the shame. This woman felt ashamed about being an abuse victim, often telling me that people would see her as “broken” and leave before getting to know her. In reality, her shame and inability to trust created a disconnection in her relationships, causing them to be strained and to break in time. As such, she perpetually experienced new trauma and feelings of rejection, isolation and dismissal. This, in turn, created more guilt and shame, which only continued the vicious cycle.

Although what had happened to this woman couldn’t be undone, we worked together to help her learn to deal with her trauma. She first did this by expressing to her parents that she needed their love, support, tenderness, and compassion. Although she was met with skepticism and dismissal at first, her parents eventually came around. It took time, but she was able to deal with the imprints of the trauma on her mind, body and soul.

Being the Change We Want to See

It’s no secret that the emotional baggage we carry can leave lasting imprints of the traumas we’ve endured. How it impacts us, what it feels like, how it rears its ugly head — this is as variable as our experiences.

These scars can be the feelings of anxiety and depression that prevent us from truly living. Or sometimes the imprints haunt us in the form of flashbacks that induce a constant feeling of self-loathing. Or the impacts can take on the form of disconnecting from the world around us, clouding our minds and closing us off from being vulnerable to those we love.

As South Asians, we’re sometimes afraid of seeking mental health services because we believe that getting help for emotional distress will bring ridicule to us, our family and our community.

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Letting go of baggage can be scary, but it is in fact empowering. When we unpack the weight, it allows us to redefine who we are and improve our capabilities. We need to remember that we all have a story and that our past experiences are not a definition of our future outcomes.

I hope that we’ll all encourage our friends, family members, and loved ones to seek the help that they need while loving and supporting them through that process of unpacking that baggage we never unpack.

By Steven Jacob

Steven Jacob hopes to help others gain insight by starting a dialogue on the issues that affect millennials. His writing … Read more ›

Pyar is Pyar: A Celebration of Queer Brown Love

An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.

The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.

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Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.


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Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.

“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”

“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.

Jain and Mehta are leading a legal effort to bring marriage equality to India, taking them to the country’s Supreme Court. The couple was denied recognition of their marriage in 2020, despite the country’s Foreign Marriage Act that allows the marriage of Indian citizens abroad to be recognized.

“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”

“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”

“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.

Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.

Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.

Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.

“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”

Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need. 

[Read Related: Allies to Advocates: Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies Empower Transformation]

“Your coming out in support of us is the pivotal shift that we need to change attitudes in our community,” she said.

Among the South Asian queer leaders and allies in attendance were actors Kal Penn and Sarita Choudhury, activist Alok Vaid-Menon, and the legendary DJ Rekha.

To learn more about Desi Rainbow, visit their website

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tedesco-Barker

By Stephen Jiwanmall

Born in Philadelphia, Stephen has family roots in India and Pakistan. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his husband and … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

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Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

[Read Related: How Love Matures as you Grow]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

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What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

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What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

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What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.


Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.


I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›