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Celebrating South Asian Heritage Month: Reflections and Experiences

Article written by Amina Begum, Riddhi Laijawala and Gargi Mandal - Assistant Editors of Inspire the Mind.

South Asian Heritage Month runs from July 18th to August 17th every year. It was first introduced in 2020 by the South Asian Heritage Trust, with the aim of commemorating and celebrating South Asian cultures, histories, and communities. This year’s theme is “Stories To Tell”, and is dedicated to celebrating the stories that contribute to the South Asian Community. In this article, we have stories from three Inspire the Mind writers and editors, on how they stay connected to their South Asian Heritage.

Connecting with others through language

My name is Amina, I am a British Muslim Bangladeshi living in London and a researcher at the Stress, Psychiatry, and Immunology (SPI) Lab. As part of South Asian Heritage Month, I wanted to highlight my experience on the beauty of language and communication.

Growing up, my parents always told me to speak my mother tongue Bengali and I am grateful that my parents were able to teach it to me. I never realised how important and valuable fluency in Bengali was, until I volunteered to help with the NHS vaccination program during the pandemic. I volunteered in a Bangladeshi-populated area at a GP in East London, where I had the opportunity to meet many different people from the Bangladeshi community, especially those who did not speak English. I was able to converse and explain the vaccination procedure in Bengali to them (which is what I would usually do in English for all my patients).

For me, being able to connect with a group of individuals in a way that they understood was a remarkable experience. This experience reflected the importance of ensuring that healthcare is more comprehensible and accessible for ethnic minorities via the power of language. Altogether, I am grateful that I can speak both English and Bengali in the UK, because it has helped me connect with others, especially within the healthcare settings.

Language is not only a way for me to share my roots but also allows me to provide a way to help others. I hope that this article can inspire us to speak our own languages in public, especially living in the UK, and in a multicultural city where many different languages are spoken.

The sharing of culture beyond borders

My name is Riddhi, and I was born and raised in India. As I moved from Mumbai to London a couple of years ago, I often found myself thinking about how I would continue to stay "in touch" with my South Asian Heritage. Now, as a researcher, writer, and assistant editor, I find myself reflecting on how I have done so.

I was extremely fortunate to have a diverse group of friends in my student accommodation building as an MSc student. Our accommodation would often organise events which were representative of diverse cultures around the world. My first Diwali (the festival of Light in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism) away from home is something I’m going to treasure for a long time to come, because it is one that I celebrated with friends not only from India, but also from Canada, Iran, Pakistan, and the UK. We danced to Bollywood music, ate gulab jamun, and had a night that none of us will forget. I am incredibly grateful to my friends for giving me the privilege of sharing a snippet of my culture and heritage with them.

When I think about another such instance, I remember a spontaneous evening in the midst of writing up my dissertation, when my close friends from Canada and I stopped by a store selling a childhood favourite snack, 'Kurkure'. My friends were intrigued by the names of the flavours, and I gave them an in-depth description of flavours, favourites, and other details (and that is a story for another time!). To my pleasant surprise, they thoroughly enjoyed it, and I felt like I had shared a piece of my childhood with them.

Finally, I fondly remember a more recent event at the British Association for Psychopharmacology’s Summer Meeting in Manchester a few weeks ago, where I danced with my fellow South Asian colleagues, researchers, and other academics from diverse backgrounds to a popular Punjabi Bhangra song and had the chance to celebrate my Indian heritage through music.

These specific instances are all but a fraction of the wonderful memories I’ve created while celebrating my South Asian Heritage in the UK, and I look forward to sharing it and integrating it further, not only in my personal life, but in my career as an academic as well.

The cumulative nature of culture

I am Gargi, a Research Assistant at King’s College London, and I am originally from India. I was born in Delhi, a large metropolitan city in the north of the country, but my family is from West Bengal. Contrary to what the name would suggest, this is an eastern Indian state, and was one of the first places where the East India Company was established, and I can draw a lot of parallels between how London was laid out to how Kolkata (the capital of West Bengal) was designed. Similar to the area where Buckingham Palace, Green Park, and Westminster Abbey are situated next to the River Thames, in Kolkata, the Parliamentary Buildings, Victoria Memorial Building, and Maidan (a large park) are all clustered together close to the Hooghly River. Additionally, Bengali culture is an amalgamation of the Nawabs or Mughals of Bengal, the Independence movement, and Buddhist/Bhutanese practices, amongst many others.

A view of the mansions that lined the north side of the Maidan, a painting by William Wood (1829) (Image source: Wikimedia)

For me, growing up was a blend of numerous cultures. In Delhi, I would converse in Hindi or English with my classmates and swing to the rhythm of Punjabi music. My after-school hours involved learning melodies composed by Bengali Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and watching films by Satyajit Ray during the weekends at home. I also moved to Dubai during my formative years, where I made friends who were from all around the world and learned more about Arab culture and traditions. Together, these experiences have truly influenced the kind of person I am today.

At present, my background has enabled me to feel at home in London, a multicultural melting pot. Here, I have been able to show my Irish partner snippets of my life growing up; from introducing him to fish curry in Brick Lane (where you’ll also find some signage in Bengali) to showing him Charulata by Satyajit Ray at BFI Southbank, as well as teaching him to speak some Bengali. It has also helped me better understand my partner’s Irish heritage as we share historical similarities of famines and revolutionary periods, and we continually learn from each other’s cultures. I have seen diverse communities come together as one whilst growing up, and to me, having South Asian Heritage means stretching my hand to people across the globe.

Celebrating my Indian Heritage means sharing with others, these are cupcakes prepared by my partner’s mother for a gathering (Image credit: Author)

To conclude, our cultural backgrounds have enabled us to connect to people on a different and more personal level, even in professional settings, and celebrating our heritage with others has been a way for us to remember our roots. South Asia is a geographical region that is made up of diverse countries, cultures, and traditions.

By celebrating South Asian Heritage Month, we have shared our stories, in an attempt to share with our readers a small part of our culture, and highlighted what it means to each of us. Whether it be through language, food, music, and film, each of us has had unique, and meaningful experiences of what it means to be a South Asian in the UK.


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