I'm going to say something rather revolutionary: it's an amazing thing to be a British-Asian, and in addition to be a British-Asian woman. This may be rather a different song to the one that some others are singing, but for me it carries the music of two oceans, two cultures, two worlds - clashing and colliding! I'm not saying it's easy, simple or uncomplicated, but I am saying it's a potent place to be.
When you're trying to find your footing within the shifting sands of opposing forces - that's the time when you have to see most clearly and work out what's most important and valuable. It's a wild and wonderful opportunity.
Growing up as a British-Asian woman, meant having to negotiate two different worlds, social beliefs and expectations, while trying to process the normal stuff of maturing from child to teenager to adult. There were painful times when all I wanted was to fit in, when I wished my skin was white and my name was Susan, Mary or Daisy. And there were times when I over-compensated and pushed my Asian-ness to the fore, indulging in bouts of cultural superiority. For years, I believed it was a choice between one or the other. As I fear, many young people believe today. There is a quiet (sometimes not so quiet) battle of civilisations going on, morality and religion being at the heart of it. Women of course get trampled on both sides.
The truth is always somewhere in the middle and exists by itself. As a British-Asian I finally came to a point where I understood that both societies contained the good, the bad and the ugly. Tradition, custom and culture are accumulations of ideas, and aren't immutable or unchangeable. Nothing has to be accepted without question and everything is open to examination. As a British-Asian I realized I was in the glorious position of being able to take the best from both the worlds I lived in, and thereby define myself. A wild and wonderful idea which I would gift to every woman.
I've done my best to gift it to my daughters: to only pass on all that's good from both cultures, and reject all that's bad. I've seen there's no need to pass on oppressive traditions, no need to pass on customs that are like handcuffs, no need to pass on ideas that limit and diminish their lives, cause hardship and heartache.
It seems to me that much of the anguish in life and injustice in society, is tied up with the position of women. Women are part of society and if women are suffering then society is suffering. No woman is an island unto herself. Women are half the world, half the intelligence, half the ethics, and half the magic. I've also come to see that a great deal of life is governed by fear: fear of blame, fear of social codes, fear of failure etc., If we weren't so governed by fear, then we could be free to aim for happiness and prosperity for all.
In the arts, women are still less successful than men, and British-Asian women are at a particular disadvantage. Suffocating under the stereotype. Asian-women's writing is dismissed as only dealing with 'Asian-women's problems', migration, and of course, the perennial favourite, arranged marriages. We're not seen as intellectuals or philosophers, as writers who explore, create and challenge. No matter how imaginative, well-plotted, and far-ranging a work may be, if the critics view itself is veiled by the 'Asian-Woman' stereotype, there's not going to be much chance of critical engagement.
As a woman artist, a writer, I know, that if I enjoy intellectual and artistic freedom now, it's because I've worked for it, have sacrificed for it and taken risks for it. Nothing comes without a cost. My experience is that a woman has to be very aware of the complexities within which she lives, the conflicting forces and contradictions which pull her this way and that. Being a British-Asian woman, at the clash of cultures, has also taught me there's a wild wonderfulness to be taken from it.
The Coral Strand by Ravinder Randhawa is published by Matador.
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