Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

If you’re ambitious in your personal and professional life this novel is for you

I came across a book recently that I would not have picked up myself. Rasia: The Dance of Desire by Koral Dasgupta is a novel that seemingly depicts a love triangle between a man and two women. It may sound like a book on fidelity but there is more to it than meets the eye.

Set within the backdrop of Bharatanatyam, Rasia: The Dance of Desire is about a man whose ambitions overrule his life and all relationships. Raj Shekhar Subramanian is ruthless and calculating. Nothing is to come between him and success in his chosen field. He isn’t a bad person who uses people. This just means that everything Shekhar does is about Bharatanatyam, his dance academy, and ultimately his goals.

He has a wife whom he loves, but the author makes it very clear from the onset that Shekhar married Manasi only for her dancing abilities. He is quoted saying that: “She was first my student, then a partner in my vision, a pleasant habit soon after; a lover only lately.”

A little background on Manasi: she is the daughter of a well-respected Pandit. Shekhar saw her perform the danuchi dance of Durga Pooja and knew that she was the woman he wanted to marry.

So now that we know where the second player of the game stands, let’s introduce the third: Vatsala Pandit. A trained ballet dancer, this girl is obsessed with Shekhar. So much so that she moves mountains just to have him perform and ultimately open a dance studio in New York.

If you want my honest opinion, I enjoyed reading the Rasia: The Dance of Desire. The first quarter of the novel was interesting, albeit slightly confusing, as there are two more characters who help tell the story: Brian Herrett, a journalist keen on becoming Shekhar’s biographer, and ‘The Voice’ aka Manasi’s deceased father who Shekhar occasionally talks to in his quiet moments. But once you get the hang of the ever-changing narrator and the occasional jumping of timelines, it becomes a fun read as you begin sketching the character in your head.

The next portion of the book, I must admit, was a bit of a struggle to get through. This is mostly because of Manasi and her never ending train of thought. That and the work she had undertaken. What I do admire about this part is how the author managed to weave the intricacies of Indian Mythology and Bharatanatyam with the lives of our protagonists. While I am interested in Indian Mythology, I am not an enthusiast. But you don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the wisdom and strength the literature foretells. This part also helps us get to know more about our players, especially the dark sides of their personalities.

The book gains momentum as we get to spend more time with Vatsala Pandit. She is a breath of fresh air after coming to terms with Manasi’s submissiveness and Shekhar’s inability to loosen the reigns.

Vatsala Pandit is obsessive, dedicated and hard working. She gets what she wants, and she wants Raj Shekhar Subramanian. Vatsala knows he is married but she is determined to break down his walls and become his dance partner. She wants to not share just share his life but also become indispensable in fulfilling his dreams.

This book is less about a love triangle and more about finding one’s true self. All three protagonists encounter realizations of their own incapability, shortcomings and ultimately, their strengths.

The most interesting character development in the story is that of Manasi’s. We begin by being introduced to a woman who seems to be a complete push over. Her entire existence is devoted to Shekhar with no wants or ambitions of her own. In other words, a complete door mat – for lack of better word. It is only when you progress through the story line that you start to gain respect for Manasi and come to know the real strength of her character. She knows what Vatsala is up to and she is not one to back down from a fight. But, at the same time, she would willingly concede than tarnish her dignity.

But finally, what impressed me most about this book was different layers of each protagonist. Author Koral Dasgupta has done a brilliant job of stripping the characters until we (and they themselves) come face to face with their true selves. Linked with her superb knowledge of Indian Mythology, comes out a great piece of work. The book can be interpreted from various point of views. Which, I believe, portrays the true skill of the writer.

A book has two bare bone functions; to educate or to entertain. A great book does booth. In my meagre opinion, Rasia: The Dance of Desire does both.

Get the book on our very own The Tempest Bookshop supporting local bookstores!

Gender & Identity Life

I thought that reclaiming my Indian roots would be easy, but this made it harder than I expected

I like to say that I didn’t grow up Indian.

Not that it makes me happy, but it’s the easiest way to explain the person I am today. So many people ask me why I speak the way I do, why I don’t dress in Indian clothes or watch Bollywood movies. It can be embarrassing to explain that, well, I grew up in a predominantly white culture.

[bctt tweet=”It can be embarrassing to explain that I grew up in a predominantly white way.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I went to a white school, my family was one of the very few Indian families in a largely white neighborhood, and I only had white friends.

And I won’t lie, that made it difficult to connect with Indian culture.

My parents tried as much as they could to surround my sisters and me with our culture. Of course, my mother cooked the most amazing Indian food for us almost every single day. She also took us to family events where we would wear traditional Indian clothing and listen to Indian music. I was even enrolled in Bollywood dance classes for a while, though those didn’t last very long.

But as much as they did for us, I never felt like I was truly Indian. In fact, I got into the habit of denying it whenever anything related to Indian heritage came up.

[bctt tweet=”I never felt like I was truly Indian, to the point where I would flat-out deny it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In part, the distance I kept from my culture is because of apartheid. Despite what many believe, the kind of racism that existed during apartheid still exists today in South Africa. The state segregation of Indian people from white people made it so that we always felt inferior.

Many people in our community still believe this, and that filters down into the way we speak, eat, dress, act, and even raise our children.

For a long time, I believed that I was inferior to my white friends, so forming meaningful relationships with them was difficult. Beyond that, I was treated differently from everyone else; the token Indian girl.

[bctt tweet=”I believed that I was inferior to my white friends.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When I grew up and entered university, I met incredible mentors who taught me to think of myself differently. I began to understand my life in relation to whiteness, and realized that what I was going through was called the “colonization of the mind.”

I first heard about this while reading Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White MasksThe easiest way to explain it is that colonialism affects the way we understand ourselves as people of color. The result is that I, for example, do not want to associate myself with any kind of Indian culture because I view it as inferior to white culture. This means that I will do whatever I can to act white.

I remember times when I even pretended like I couldn’t handle spicy food.

I mean, really, who was I kidding?

[bctt tweet=”I remember times when I even pretended like I couldn’t handle spicy food.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Learning about the colonization of the mind made me realize what I lacked: a deliberately formed connection to Indian culture.

So I decided to embark on a journey of rediscovery. I would learn where my family comes from, engage more with Indian pop culture, and even start taking Hindi lessons at the temple in my area.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, it’s been a while and I’ve learned a few things. Firstly, it’s much easier to say you’re going to retrace your ancestry than actually doing it. The truth is that it takes time and a family that has at least some inkling of their ancestry. But my family was so poor when they came to South Africa through indentured labor that keeping those connections to the so-called “motherland” wasn’t a priority.

Secondly, I just never felt a connection to Indian pop culture. I tried to watch Bollywood movies and listen to some famous songs, but felt mortified when I couldn’t enjoy them as much as I wanted to. The most I’ve been able to keep up with is sharing relatable clips from Buzzfeed India’s Facebook page.

And as for the Hindi lessons? Well, we’ll leave that for another day.

What I didn’t realize at the beginning of this well-intentioned journey was that it would be emotionally draining. I honestly expected to come out on the other side an Indian culture know-it-all, but instead, I came out feeling even more disconnected than before.

What I had to realize is that maybe I’m not going to like Bollywood movies. Maybe I’m not going to get all the jokes and bond with other Indian people over them. Maybe I’m going to eat a plate of spaghetti bolognese for dinner tonight and fucking love it.

But that doesn’t make me any less Indian. Instead, it just makes me my own version of Indian: Ariana.

Just me.