Prasanna Oommen, Laxmi Manuela & Anu Ambasna at INDERNET festival
Masala Podcast went international! I am honoured to have been able to host the first live episode of Masala Podcast Season 4, in Cologne, Germany as part of the INDERNET festival.
As part of this special live episode, I went to Germany to talk with three special guests: Prasanna Oommen, Laxmi Manuela and Anu Ambasna. Together, we sat down to discuss our unique experiences as South Asian womxn living all over Europe and what it means to be South Asian feminists today.
How have we been expected to present ourselves as women from South Asian culture? What does it mean to be expected to be an ‘obedient’ daughter and eventually wife?
Do we still feel like we’re just expected to be good wives, sisters and mothers & not really be anything else? Though things have been changing, we need more things to change.
By South Asian standards, all four of us are Bad Betis. We don’t comply with the rules set up by the patriarchy in our culture. We stand up for what we believe in and make our voices heard. Listen to this episode of Masala Podcast and hear us speak about why we are Bad Daughters.
Prasanna is a Bad Beti because she “did not become a doctor”, she moved in with her boyfriend before marriage, and she got married after her younger brother.
Laxmi is a Bad Beti because she has always followed her own path in life. She has been a rebel all her life. Now she’s an internationally renowned artist who expresses herself in murals and oil paintings with a specialisation in the female form, in all its real beauty.
Anu is a Bad Beti because she has tattoos, identifies as queer, and similarly to Prasanna and Laxmi, Anu did not conform to what was expected of her, she chose to follow and make her own path in the world. She became a DJ and travels the world to do her shows.
I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did recording it live.
Masala Podcast Live in Germany: Transcript
Sangeeta Pillai 0:00
I’m Sangeeta Pillai and this is the Masala Podcast, a Spotify original. This award-winning feminist podcast for and by South Asian women is all about cultural taboos, sex, sexuality, periods, mental health, menopause, nipple hair, shame, and many more taboos. Join me around my virtual kitchen table as I talk with some inspiring women from around the world, exploring what it means to be a South Asian feminist today. Masala podcast went international. I did a special live podcast in Cologne, Germany as part of the internet festival. It was incredible. Hearing the experiences of my three amazing guests, Prasanna Oommen , Laxmi Manuela, and Anu Ambasna, all doing incredible work in their own spaces. And living in Germany, Holland, and the UK, respectively.
We explored the common struggles that we all shared, we found that we were all fighting similar issues as South Asian feminists. It made me think that it didn’t matter where any of us had grown up, or where we lived now. We are all fighting similar battles within our culture and outside of it. My German audience was super supportive, cheering us on, laughing and joining in. Before you listen to this episode, however, I must say to you that this was recorded live in a large space that was quite lively. So the sound might be a little bit different from what you’re used to. But the energy of my Bad Betti guests, and supportive sisters was the same as always and it blew me away. I hope you enjoy this episode
Hello, I am delighted to host Masala podcast live in Germany in Cologne. It’s a beautiful city. I saw a little bit of it this morning, walking along the river. And it’s warm, and it’s got sunshine, which we don’t have a lot of in London. So we’re very happy to be here. Thank you all for turning up on this Saturday evening to listen to us. I know some of you listen to masala podcasts, and some of you don’t. So for those who don’t, it’s a podcast about taboos in South Asian culture. So if you are South Asian or know anyone who is South Asian, there’s a lot of shit we don’t talk about.
We don’t talk about sex. We don’t talk about periods. We don’t talk about mental health. We don’t talk about the menopause. We don’t talk about my favorite nipple hair. I think we should all be talking about natural hair. So the serious point behind the podcast is to get us as South Asian women and get us as people from this culture. To not feel so alone with all because we all suffer from this stuff. You know, we’ve been taught to hide our bodies, to not talk about our sexuality, to not express issues we might be having with our mental health. And what that does is makes us feel very small, very alone within the culture.
And also the other aspect is we’re taught that to be South Asian is to be only this. There’s only one way to be South Asian. You grow up, you work in a bank, you get married, you have a couple of kids, you look out for the house and that means you’re a South Asian woman and anybody else is not and that’s bullshit. So the point of the podcast is to get us all whatever our South Asian identity might be, to express the stuff we’re going through to feel less alone. So that’s Masala podcast, so welcome today.
Masala podcast is about two and a half years old. It started as the result of a competition. I did a podcasting workshop earlier and I talked about three years ago I was on Google typing what is a podcast? I talk about this a lot, because I want to tell people that podcasting is truly a Democratic platform, you don’t need to be connected, you don’t need to know anyone to start it. And I think that’s the beauty of it. So I started it about two and a half years ago. I’ve just wrapped up season four, each season is about 10 to 12 episodes, you’re welcome to go listen on Spotify, or Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. It’s been great. It’s been, you know, one, a couple of British Podcast Awards to last year, one the year before, we nominated for two more this year, I get written about in a lot of magazines, which is amazing.
And to me, it always surprises me. And I sort of say, think to myself, like that’s me, you know, have this moment sometimes because the other people that are nominated are usually celebrities who have big teams behind them. And, and there’s me with my little podcast, my kitchen table, my recorder. So it’s always amazing and wonderful that you know, to be in these faces. So I feel very, very grateful. And a lot of it has to do with you. With my audience who’s been kind of part of this journey. My audience who writes in and loves me and supports me and tells me oh my god, you know, that episode you did. We talked about this, and it really helped me. So that’s what keeps me going. So thank you very, very much for being you, give yourself a big round of applause.
So today, Masala podcast live in Cologne, we have three amazing guests, wonderful women, who are all doing incredible things who are making us all proud of South Asian women. To my extreme left is Laxmi Manuela, who is an artist, she’s from the Netherlands, she is all about taboo breaking work. She is an artist who does a lot of work around the female body of work right behind you, you can see that. And I love the fact that how much beauty there is in the folds of our skin, and our curves and our bodies. And in a society that’s all about teaching us to hate ourselves. If we don’t fit into a very narrow size eight blonde body. We’re taught to hate that body. And I think Laxmi shows us that anybody is beautiful, and our bodies are beautiful. So thank you for what you do. Big round of applause for Laxmi.
Second, we have Prasanna Oommen , who’s a presenter, a host and author, a comms consultant and an author. She does a lot of work around identity and fitting between the two identities. And I can’t wait for you to hear what she has to say today. Big round of applause for Prasanna Oommen.
And last but not least, Anu Ambasna, who is all about building worlds through art and music. And as an illustrator, she’s an artist, she’s a DJ, and she was telling me yesterday about her dream to create this magical graphic novel that encompasses all of that, and I know she’s going to make it happen. Give Anu a big round of applause, please.
So I talk a lot about Bad Betti. So this necklace that I’m wearing says Bad Betti now, to me, it’s like a telegraphic way to say a woman who doesn’t do what she’s told. It’s a telegraphic way to express the identity of a woman who refuses to follow the very strict binary code or what it is to be a South Asian woman. And I think we’re all on this panel. And a lot of you in the audience are very much people who’ve chosen not to follow that very specific, strict path. So a bad daughter, I tried to look it up in German, and I think I got it wrong. I was asking someone, so it’s Bouza TechTown. Is it? No, no. What was it? That’s what it is. I can’t pronounce it again. So that’s what it is in German. So let’s begin by each of you telling me a little bit about your kind of cultural heritage.
Laxmi Manuela 10:05
My name is Laxmi and I’m an artist from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I make paintings. My background is that my parents are from Surinam and my great grandparents are from India. And yeah, I use my own experiences of my culture. I tried to use that in my paintings. So I have to say that I try to transform my experiences into paintings, and I make oil paintings and also murals. So small, big sizes.
Sangeeta Pillai 10:40
Where did you grow up, Laxmi?
Laxmi Manuela 10:42
I grew up in the Netherlands in the north of the Netherlands. I was born and I have been living my whole life in Rotterdam.
Sangeeta Pillai 10:53
What’s your cultural heritage? Like? Where does your family come from?
Laxmi Manuela 10:56
My parents come from Surinam. Serena. So my mom is from the big city? No, yeah. My mom’s from the big city and my dad from the country. And my great grandparents, also from the countryside,
Sangeeta Pillai 11:15
Brilliant. Prasanna, we come to you.
Prasanna Oommen 11:17
Not to correct but to broaden what I do I actually refuse to work on identity. Because I don’t believe in that, there’s two cultures, German and Indian. So my cultural heritage is that my parents are from Kerala from South India. And I was born in this city. And yeah, when what do I do, I actually work on that, as we say, in German, the normality, the zips first and place card what we say so that it is normal that people like us, the short bodies, or curly or black hair and brown skin, work in fields which are dominated by white males. So this is my work. So I work in cultural policy, I’m setting things on the agenda, which also improves women’s lives and people of colour’s life. So it’s all about just living in a just more just world. And doing art, which is not uttered by others. I don’t know if you get it, but this is what I’m doing.
Sangeeta Pillai 12:35
Thank you. Anu.
Anu Ambasna 12:37
I’m Anu, I am an illustrator. And I kind of specialize in making comics. And I’m also a DJ and a radio host. And all my practices kind of inform each other and are an extension of me. So all of my work kind of acts as a diary of sorts. I am Punjabi, half Gujarati, but my parents were born in Tanzania, and then moved to London, both at a relatively young age. So I’m kind of in between, you know, of really feeling British, but not really feeling Indian. And a lot of my work actually explores that, with humour always injected through it.
Sangeeta Pillai 13:26
Thank you so much. Round of applause, I think. Could each of you tell me what makes you a bad daughter?
Laxmi Manuela 13:36
That’s a good one. I still feel like I’m a bad daughter. Yeah, it’s really funny because I’m now 36. And when I come home, I still feel like I’m not a good daughter or not a good sister even. And where it comes from. I think it started already, when I was younger my parents asked me to wear a dress, and I refused. I wanted to wear pants. Or they introduced me to a Hindu guy to get married with him. And I refused. I told them no, that’s not for me. But also things like being single for longer than 10 years, almost 14 years. And my parents were worried because I didn’t have a guy or a man in my life. So that was not good for them.
The other thing maybe for me is my aunt’s and my family gave me the feeling like you’re not good enough. You act like you’re very free. And that’s not the way you should suppose you’re supposed to act. And also making comparisons between me and my nieces that are more. How do you say that more in line with what they expect them to do? So for me that was almost a normal You, too, I almost accepted that that was like you were not fitting the norm. Yeah, right. And I almost believed them that that was the norm. But I decided I always just followed my path and just did what I wanted to do.
Sangeeta Pillai 15:17
And I think that’s the pain point that, you know, when, because the kind of idea of what is normal is so narrow, and so specific. If you do X, Y, and Z, then you are accepted, and you’re normal. And if you go anywhere, even a little bit outside of that, sorry, you don’t fit in anymore. And that’s really painful. And I don’t think people who didn’t grow up in that, understand how difficult that is. Because that then means having made a choice, I was talking to somebody earlier about this, they asked me a question that what made you choose, and I’m like, I didn’t have a choice. I had to be this person. But it doesn’t come without a price. The prices, you don’t feel connected to the prices, you might not feel Asian enough or whatever, enough or female enough. Yeah. So there is always a price to pay. Yeah. And I think my question then is, why should it be like that? You know, why must it be so binary? Either you fit in, and you do these 20? Things you’re told, or you’re out. Yeah. You don’t deserve the affection of your family. You don’t deserve the prestige. You don’t deserve the love? Why?
Laxmi Manuela 16:24
I think it’s the fear, you’re really afraid that you’re going to outgrow them or well be the shame of the family. You all may recognize it, but I think it’s fear. Yeah, yeah.
Sangeeta Pillai 16:41
I think it’s fair. And I think it’s a very tightly controlled ecosystem. Yeah. Because if anybody, if we all follow what we’re told, then the ecosystem carries on exactly the way it is. And it’s patriarchal, its benefits, the patriarchy doesn’t benefit women. And the minute anybody goes, you have to come down really hard on them, because if they stray, then this whole thing is going to collapse. It’s very balanced. And people have to keep it, you know, so I think that’s probably why it is. Yeah. Prasanna, let’s come to you, what makes you a bad daughter?
Prasanna Oommen 17:12
I didn’t become a doctor.
Sangeeta Pillai 17:15
There you go, it started right there.
Prasanna Oommen 17:18
No, I mean, it is, it’s really true. I think I’ve got a lot of support from my parents, but I got it. But still, it is difficult for South Asian parents to accept that children do something which they can’t describe in one sentence to their relatives. So I agree. And this thing with the fear, I also agree, but I’m ill, I turned 50. So I might be a little bit mild now. I think it is also, this whole post-colonial adaptation of our parents also influenced their upbringing. So they are also afraid of us entering white rooms, I mean, fields in which whites are dominant, and they want us to be in a safe place. So that’s why they say please study, you know, medicine, engineering, or business because they don’t think that the white world, which is also true, from their point of view, so this is one thing. And also, of course, if you live with your boyfriend, which, before you get married, it’s all good.
So all those little things, you know, or I married after my younger brother, I got married after him, which was not very good. Quotes, oh, my god, the little details. But I must say, what you really need to stay a bad daughter is a good supportive father, because the mother sometimes they are in the trap, the same trap so and my father never pressured, pressurize me to get married. So, what happened is that my boyfriend said he experienced in India how it was for my father to explain why his eldest daughter is not married. So he said, you know, we should get married. It’s just easier for him. You know, it’s like that. And that helps to be to stay
Sangeeta Pillai 19:17
Yeah, taught. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think this is the other thing that comes up often in our lives, and not just us on this panel, but you know, in your lives as well. There are so many points where you’re made to feel bad, you’re made to feel less than you’re made to feel somehow by your actions to choose your happiness. You’re bringing shame and dishonour and all of that on the family. And it’s so much pressure to put on us. You know, and it starts really young, like four or five you already know without anybody telling you what is right and what is wrong. You say this or you don’t say this, or you wear this or you don’t wear this. Anu your turn, what makes you a bad daughter?
Anu Ambasna 20:04
How long do you have an hour? It’s kind of endless. I mean, one of them is very obvious. I have a lot of tattoos, which is not something that goes down well in my family. Yeah, that was a big point of contention very early on.
Sangeeta Pillai 20:23
Even though tattoos come from Indian culture.
Anu Ambasna 20:27
Exactly. And then I guess similarly to the other two women here. I guess it was following my own path and not adhering to the box that a lot of us are culturally put in, in a very inherent way as well. So dropping out of university, like I said yesterday, not finishing something in my life, you know, what else? My career in general, being a DJ, being in nightlife spaces. Oh, my God. Unravelling a lot on my own as a brown woman. Like, yeah, the list is long.
Sangeeta Pillai 21:13
Voluntarily putting yourself in places of sin.
Anu Ambasna 21:16
Yes, exactly. Oh, and then another big one coming out as queer to my parents.
Sangeeta Pillai 21:20
Oh, my God. Yes. That’s a whole other podcast. Yeah. Thank you so much all of you for opening up. Why am I a bad betti, I mean, look at me. So that could be another episode, but we won’t do that today. Let’s now get our lovely audience into this. Put your hands up if you’re a Bad Betti.
So what we’re going to do now is have a little game right. Now this game I call the orgasm guessing game. Okay. Now, the purpose of this game is very simple, I will play you a couple of sounds. And I’m going to divide you into this part of the room. So that’s Section B. And this side of the room is Section A. So I’m going to play the sound and you have to guess whether the sound is an orgasm or something else and just shout out the answer. I’m going to go, Section A, Section B, and there might be a prize at the end of it. We’ll figure out what the price is right. Manoj? Could we have the first sound please? Oh, oh. Section A. Was that an orgasm? Or not an orgasm? No. I don’t think so. Well done. Section B. Was that an orgasm was not an orgasm. Yes. Coming back to another taboo. Like oh my god, we’ve always got to show that we’re having a lot of fun. Even when we’re not well done. Could we have sound 2 please. Section A was that an orgasm? Was she having an orgasm? That’s called premature orgasm. Could she be having an orgasm or just maybe trying her favorite cocktail? Be a very good cocktail. Could we have the third sound please?
An exaggerated sound of an orgasm rather than? Oh, it’s an acted-out orgasm like a performative orgasm. I like that. Like I need to really show. Beautiful. I think you should get the prize for that one. Could we have the next one, please? Yeah. Was that an orgasm? Or did she just find her keys? Keys. Excellent. I agree. Thank you, my dear audience, for participating. Give yourselves a big round of applause. So the point of this, it’s a fun game, and it kind of gets people laughing and all of that. But the kind of more serious point is that when we start to normalize things that we all experience, and we all want to experience, and we start to normalize sex and sexuality. It opens up a conversation And then it opens up issues within that as well. So if we are queer if we are asexual if we have issues around it, we can then talk about it.
But within the community when we do not discuss sex, and everything is just the door is shut. Before you can even go there. There is no space for us to express anything complex within that. I don’t know about you, but growing up like anytime there was a kissing scene on TV, my parents would go, what is all this trash? You’re watching? Yes, right? Yeah, immediately the channel will get changed. Or anytime I’d watch a lot of Western stuff. And they’ll be like, What is this here? What is this horrible thing and like we spoke about these dirty things you want.
So immediately, as a young woman, you’re like, Oh, my God, this is dirty. And that sense of shame that you embody, even before you understand what that is? Then as you grow older, how do you access your pleasure? Right? How then do you own your sexuality, you can’t. And then it becomes really complicated and really layered within that. And I think therefore, the kind of more serious point is that when we do stuff like this, when we talk about sex, when we talk about orgasms, when we laugh about it, it is normalized. So that’s my kind of point. Coming back to my lovely guests, Laxmi, may I come to you? You explore the naked female body a lot in all its beauty, and all its glory, and all its real. I love the foes of the flesh that you kind of think you demonstrate in your work. Why is this important to you?
Laxmi Manuela 26:37
Yeah. Well, there are many layers to this question. I think I make paintings, as I said before, to transform my experiences in my paintings. So there can be many teams, or experiences that I had, like, for instance, about taboo on menstruation or about sexuality. And I use those subjects in my paintings. So in a way, it’s a way to tell a story. I started in 2016, with paintings. And for no reason I started painting myself, I did a self-portrait. But I didn’t know why I did it. Just a gut feeling, you know, just the emotion I felt. And I did it for a few years. And when I look back, I’m like, oh, there’s a story behind it, you know, and that’s what I’m still doing. But now I have different subjects. For instance, now I’m painting about sexuality. I tried to portray a woman how she is without covering it with fake shit towards say, like, how a woman is, how she’s getting older, when she’s getting fed, or when she’s slim when she has stretch marks. I just love the realness of it. So that’s what I tried to show. And I also sometimes make paintings on myself to keep it more personal for myself. And I just think it’s important to open the conversation about that. And I have a lot of people’s reactions, positive and negative. That makes me think, but also let them think about why they’re asking those questions or wider and being negative about it. But most Yeah, I think reasonably a lot of women show me support of my paintings. Yeah, that’s nice. Yeah. So it’s a kind of a way of storytelling, but it’s also processing my own journey as being a woman. Yeah.
Sangeeta Pillai 28:50
I think it’s really difficult because I think what we were saying earlier, because as women we’re allowed such a narrow way to be female, right? You have to, you can only be a certain size, you can only look a certain way your skin has to be a particular way. And anybody that doesn’t fit in is made to feel really, really bad. And all these kinds of you open up a magazine or you turn on your TV, it’s very slim, Caucasian women. Yeah, all the time. Yeah. You know, we’re older women, definitely non shown women with dark skins like us. You don’t really see us anyway. So the idea of desirability is very much a slim size, a blonde, white woman, and anybody that’s outside of that is made to feel undesirable. And how sad is that?
Prasanna Oommen 29:40
Yeah, and you can never achieve it. You cannot achieve the height. You cannot achieve the body structure.
Sangeeta Pillai 29:51
Because genetically we have big hips. I mean, like that’s just how we are built. Right?
Laxmi Manuela 29:58
I think it’s also interesting to ask why is that a perfect picture? And for who? And why are we trying, for who are we trying to? Is it for men? Or is it because we insecure ourselves? Yes. Did it start when we were young? Or did it come when we get older? Because when we did we get aware of our bodies and this perfect image? Yes. And who created this perfect? Yes. And why are we keeping it?
Sangeeta Pillai 30:34
Yes, it was created by Western media, I think very much. And if you look back at our own heritage, look at the women we saw desirable Roquette like Raja Ravi Varma paintings or look at kind of our goddess is that beautiful and big, and you know, like curvaceous, all the temples, the Goddesses in the temples, they are not skinny size eight women, they like beautiful, buxom women. And that’s where we come from. And that was our concept of desirability, and that was the goddess. But we’ve kind of ended up living in the West.
But even if you go back to India, every time I go back to India, the actresses are skinny. Now see Bollywood in the 80s were big women, you know, not anymore. They’re very, very, very, very slim. So I think this kind of very heteronormative very Caucasian idea of desire is what we’re stuck with. And then we are made to feel inadequate. And then not just that advertisers will sell a shit to make us buy it in the hope that we are then becoming more desirable. Something we could never achieve, like what percentage said it’s this, this aspiration, and we can never get there. Because how do you know? Yeah, so that’s something I think that really interests me about your work, Laxmi. And I think I look at it each time and again, oh, my God, that’s so beautiful. It really is. Because we don’t see that. And it is beautiful. It’s beautiful in your art.
Laxmi Manuela 31:31
I’m really surprised about what you’re saying right now because when I started painting in 2016, I was not focused on the outside world. Yeah. So maybe for the last year, I started to go outside with my art. Yeah. And before that, I just was working in my space and not thinking about the reactions of the outside world. So that’s why I paint vaginas. For instance, I don’t think about reactions, I just make what I want to paint. And then when I came outside the reactions were like what you say like, why isn’t this done before? Or why are not many people talking about this? And I’m like, surprised and shocked sometimes. Yeah, also, but reactions.
Sangeeta Pillai 32:38
Yeah. Do you get any backlash? Any negative comments or feedback?
Laxmi Manuela 32:43
Well, not directly. I did a TV interview in the Netherlands on national television last year. And I noticed that no one from my own community reacted to me. Yeah, no positive. No negative. Yeah, just silenced me. And when I asked my aunt’s I’m like, did you start a TV item? They’re like, yeah, we saw it. Did you like it? My dad was the only person I was surprised that he just called me, and he was proud of me. But the rest of the family, even my mom, was embarrassed.
Sangeeta Pillai 33:27
I get the same thing. If I put a picture of myself drinking a coffee, I get 50 likes on Facebook. Yeah, if I put up a post about doing a Masala podcast, no one says anything. It’s quiet. It’s quiet. So that tells you a lot. Right. So I think that’s kind of probably common. Prasanna coming back to some of your work around non-identity, shall we say? What makes you do this? What in your experience makes you do this?
Prasanna Oommen 33:53
I think the German context is a very specific context because we are not Indians or people of color are still a minority. Yeah, this has to do with migration or movement. Yeah. And so there was a long time where we didn’t have any solidarity amongst the community. Yeah, I think, and I always looked, you know, towards England, and I thought, Okay, that’s great. Something is happening. And then suddenly, a discourse developed around structural racism, discrimination, all this. Yeah.
But the dialogue didn’t really develop, you know, it was a lot about accusing and reacting and you’re good or you’re not good. Yeah. And actually, we didn’t talk about biases which are within our own culture. Yeah. And within our, you know, parents’ cultures, which are there Yeah. And this bias is of course, like, in pictures are of course they have a very heavy postcolonial impact. Our parents raised us to be white. Yes, yeah, they wanted to whitewash us. But on the same hand, they didn’t want us to marry any white people. But yeah, it’s very, it’s really shades of grey and say, you know, and what I wanted to offer with a few other colleagues was an alternative to the very heated up debate. I wanted to offer people like me, who can, as I said, navigate through white rooms. That means I’m not a role model for anti-racism discourses and workshops. And I’m a role model because I want to be that with my colleagues. Not that anybody follows me, but that it’s possible to discuss politics, feminism issues without mentioning my heritage, but taking into account that I have, of course, a competence, which my white colleagues don’t have, you know, and this is something which you can only do if you can navigate if you can play their game. Yeah.
If you can’t play the game, you’re immediately you know, somewhere in a frame. I wanted to, how do you say, revert flips, the assimilation, which we were taught, I wanted to use it, and this is why I’m doing it.
Sangeeta Pillai 36:35
Wonderful. Thank you. Anu, coming to you, mental health is a huge taboo in our culture, we do not talk about it, we have really awful words to describe mental health, either your boggle or you know, like, that’s it. There’s no space for us to be depressed, there’s no space for us to be anxious to explore those nuances. Tell me a little bit about how that played out in your life within your family and cultural context.
Anu Ambasna 37:09
So yeah, I think mental health within my family, but yeah, within the culture is something that, like you said, is not spoken about, we are taught at a very young age, to just kind of push our feelings down and to show a particular face. And that’s showing face, whether that be in social spaces, whether that be in white spaces, whether that be in family spaces, you know, where you are all about keeping up appearances, you’re all about showing the success or wealth, the Yeah, just success on whatever level that is. And for me, at a very young age, I was taught how to put on a front. And I was taught that through the environment that I grew up in. And that was often an environment that didn’t leave me feeling very safe, didn’t leave me feeling very nurtured. And that front was something that I really, really had to work hard to break down. I had to learn a whole new language. And that language was talking about my feelings, being honest about how I was actually doing and I think that’s, you know, not only a cultural thing within the South Asian community, but that’s also something with British culture as well.
Sangeeta Pillai 38:36
We don’t discuss our feelings, we just get drunk in the pub.
Anu Ambasna 38:39
Exactly. And so yeah, there was a lot of unlearning, I had to do and a lot of hard work as well, a lot of intensive hard work to kind of work through depression, to work through anxiety to work through PTSD, trauma, all of that kind of shit. And now I’m in a place thankfully, where I’m able to talk about this, I’m able to state my needs towards my mental health, my one set boundaries. And that’s something that has come at a cost. And that cost is feeling detached from my family, feeling detached from my culture in a lot of ways, because it is not the norm to talk about those things. It’s not the norm to be so open, and also to just own it and say a big like, fuck you to anyone who doesn’t understand it or is not willing to understand that. Yeah, I just feel like within our culture, mental health is just not deemed to be a priority. The saving face of the printing on that front is of the utmost importance. Absolutely. And yeah, it’s just backwards.
Sangeeta Pillai 39:58
I think sometimes that maybe I’ve thought about this a lot. But perhaps it comes from either survival. So to survive, it was very important for us as a community to kind of focus on making money, you know, fitting in with the culture that we moved to. So mental health always felt like a luxury, like, Oh, if you’ve got the time and the space, you can be depressed. And it almost comes from that. And even now that we are not necessarily in survival mode, we might be second or third generation. We’re settled into wherever we are. We’ve got jobs, you know, we don’t somehow it’s still carried on.
Prasanna Oommen 40:33
Yeah, because it’s a transgender. exact issue late in the show. We know it from the shore. Yeah, exactly, exactly what’s happening. So true.
Anu Ambasna 40:42
But I also think it’s about like, going against the grain, you know, to speak about your mental health, yes. And to even acknowledge the fact that there might be an issue that is not normal. And we all know that doing something that’s outside of the box within our culture is sacrilege.
Sangeeta Pillai 41:01
Absolutely. And mental health is something that’s really dear to my heart. Like, I talk about it a lot on my social media on the podcast, like I like you suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD. And for the last three years, I have talked about it very openly. And it’s the thing I get a lot of people will say, Oh, my God, you know, that’s so brave of you. Right? Then I’ve got told like, you should think about God. Somebody once told me just think about Krishna, and your mental health issues will go away. I’m like, I don’t think Krishna is that concerned about my mental health? Like, he’s got bigger things to worry about.
Laxmi Manuela 41:40
He might make you laugh.
Sangeeta Pillai 41:41
I know exactly. But no, you know, but that’s kind of where we come from. It’s like, Oh, this isn’t nothing. And it’s just like, put it aside and talk about the real stuff, like, what job you’ve got, or what car you’ve bought, or how big your finances are. So it’s just I think, culturally, we’re just not allowed the space to talk about something that’s so critical. And people and the other thing that always strikes me is like, you know, all the Asian people will talk about, oh, my leg hurts, oh, my joint hurts Oh, my this, but nobody will ever say I am depressed, ever. So it’s almost like cold, like women, particularly older women who a lot of them are unhappy, or they might have issues, it’s easier to say something physical. So many Asian women, I don’t know if it’s the same in your kind of circles of mine, definitely. Half of maybe 70% of the older women I know have physical pains that they talk about. And I think a lot of it is a manifestation of a psychological pain that they’re not able to express. So it’s a real shame. But I think by having conversations like this, you know, people somebody might listen to a podcast or someone might listen to Anil talking about it on social media or whatever, there is opportunity, then.
Laxmi Manuela 42:53
I just wanted to say that I think we’re very blessed that we have the opportunity to meet each other and be connected on social media. Because I think in the generation of my parents, or my aunts, I recognize that this this problem is still happening in my family also, and would me still, but they just solved it with committing suicide. That’s such a normal thing in my family. If I tell it to strangers, they’re like, really shocked. To me. It’s almost normal that people end their lives. When I grew up, at a certain point, I felt like, oh, maybe that’s a way for me to get out of his life. And when I got older, I was like, okay, no, now I understand this. The system we are in and how sick it is? Yeah, yes. Yes. What you said you should get out and be like, you know, fuck you all. I’m going to choose myself.
Prasanna Oommen 43:55
Yeah. And I also think it’s very important that you are talking about it, because I did that yesterday for German TV here. And it was really like, they asked me before and, and I said, Okay, I can’t, I can’t hurt my business. I can’t see it wasn’t that bad, but within the pandemic, yeah, there was a lot of anxiety and there was too much of everything, too many expectations. And then I said, Okay, I’m doing it because I want to get rid of the taboo. We have to talk about systems where this is allowed and where we also have easy systems to access. Yes, you know, because these whole pain issues are always also a result of a long term. Depression.
And I know pretty many people even and I just met a very good friend, a male who said, you know, he didn’t say anything during the pandemic, but he said it afterwards and he said, You know, I was sick. And I didn’t tell anybody. Yes, I had very mental issues. And this is why I did that yesterday. And I think it’s so important that you share it, that we share when we feel that we are heading towards depression.
Sangeeta Pillai 45:19
Yes. And I think what that does when we own up and talk about our stuff, it takes away the shame. Because there is such shame attached to mental health in our culture. And somehow feel like we’re seen as weak, we’re told that if you talk about it, you will be seen as weak. And then other people will attack you. But actually, it’s the reverse. When you talk about it, five other people then feel able to talk about it, you know, and that’s the work. I think that absolutely is the work. And I’d love now to talk about if we were to change the world, if Bad Betti’s were to change the world, what would need to change for us to have a better world for that young lady there? For the next generation?
Laxmi Manuela 46:10
I think the first word that comes to mind is sisterhood. I feel like I really do. I really, really missed that when I was young. And now I found it. Now I find it at the age of 36. But when I hoped that I had a sister who talked to me, sat down with me and just said to me, everything’s going to be okay, yeah, I can help you through this. And you know, I’m going to support you. And you can do this and uplift me instead of giving me a bit of everything we talked about today. So recognize from feeling bad, feeling ashamed and not knowing that you have potential and future good enough for this world and that you’re okay.
Sangeeta Pillai 46:58
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Prasanna Oommen 47:00
Yeah, I would totally support this and agree, solidarity, real honest solidarity between women, especially in professional life. Yeah. I actually experienced it more in India than in Germany. Interesting. So, yeah, it depends which community you enter. I experienced solidarity between women, which I’ve never experienced. Yeah. And I think that’s very important also to do something which I really, it’s like, it’s really like, I’m driven by cliches, and you get rid of the cliches, yes.
A woman doesn’t have to be a good cook in the garden, or she can do math, and it seems very old fashioned to still talk about this. But seeing this too young. I think I hope you can just be free. Yes. As you don’t have to be a girl. Yes, you can. But you don’t have to.
Sangeeta Pillai 48:03
Yeah, the kind of girly girl that we’re brought up to be. Absolutely.
Prasanna Oommen 48:08
Yeah, these are the pictures, get rid of the pictures.
Sangeeta Pillai 48:11
Yes. Sounds good. I know.
Anu Ambasna 48:13
I just think we need to stop giving so much of a shit about what other people are doing. Like, we as a culture as a whole care way too much. We are way too involved in other people’s lives and other people’s paths.
Laxmi Manuela 48:27
And what the neighbours are going to say.
Anu Ambasna 48:31
I think we need to like as a whole culture, just have more acceptance of who people are, and whatever path they want to go down and just come at people with more openness. For like, all types of beings, whether that be through, you know, gender, or the career path you choose, or having a white partner or whatever it is, like we just all need to not give so much of a shit about the paths we take.
Sangeeta Pillai 49:02
And I think for me, it’s this is how we change things, how we change the world, having these conversations, creating a sisterhood, whether that’s virtual, whether that’s real, whether that’s in your city, whether that’s you’re going to Bangalore to find it, you know, whatever, these communities are finding each other voicing things like you’re talking about mental health, you’re talking about the body, you’re talking about identity. And these are the conversations, and it feels like one little conversation but at this at this up, add this up and it multiplies. And what that does is makes each of us feel less alone and whatever our personal struggle is.
I think the problem is when we’re like, okay, I feel like this must be just me. And it isn’t just me. It isn’t just you. It’s all of us. You know, we’re all products of this world of this culture of this dual identity that we’re constantly trying to buy then swim. So more of this I think in my view would change the world that brings me to the end. Is there anything you would like to add any of you? Is there anything else you wanted to say?
Laxmi Manuela 50:14
Well I think if people are interested in my work, if I can promote myself, yeah interested in my work they can look me up and on Instagram, Laxmi Manuela is my name.
Sangeeta Pillai 50:24
Prasanna where can people find you ? She’s really famous
Prasanna Oommen 50:32
Just with my name. There aren’t many presenters in this field with this background that’s why you can just Google my name.
Sangeeta Pillai 50:38
Anu Ambasna 50:39
You can find me on social media @noanunoparty
Sangeeta Pillai 50:47
Which is a brilliant name. And you can find Masala podcast on Spotify Apple, if you just Google Masala podcast, I’ll come up. And my platform is called Soul Sutras. So sutras.co.uk. If you go to the website, you can email me. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, all Soul Sutras. So that’s where I am. Come say hello to all of us and support us because that’s how we go forward in the world. And I wanted to say a massive thank you to all of you for turning up to Manoj for having us, for giving us the space and for manning all the moaning and groaning on the computer.
Thank you all for being here before I let you go. I want you to repeat a couple of things for me. So I’m going to say words and you repeated after me. Bad Betti’s rule. Thank you so much for being a wonderful audience.
I’m Sangeeta Pillai. Thank you for listening to the Masala Podcast, a Spotify original. Masala Podcast is part of my platform, Soul Sutras. What’s that all about? Soul Sutras is a network for South Asian women. A safe space to tell our story, to hear inspiring South Asian women challenging patriarchy, a space to be exactly the people we want to be and still feel like we belong in our culture, and our community. And ultimately, a space where we feel less alone. I’d love to hear from you.
So do get in touch via email at soulsutras.co.uk or go to my website, soulsutras.co.uk. I’m also on Twitter, and Instagram. Just look for Soul Sutras. Masala podcast was created and presented by me Sangeeta Pillai produced by Anushka Tate, opening music by Sonny Robertson.