*The following is an extended, pre-release article that will be published in South Asian Generation Next magazine. This publication is available all across the GTA.
As a journalist, I’m often asked about the best part of my job. Without sounding unprofessional or crass, I’d have to say it’s the fact that I’m often invited to events filled with beautiful South Asian women that I can subtly hit on under the guise of an “interview.” I’m pretty good. Usually they’re all over me like a monsoon of Aunties at an all Doctor rishta.
Me: So, what’s your favourite design?
The Model: I would have to say it’s the yellow shirt with ‘funny desi chick’ written across the front.
Me: That’s great. Also, what’s your number? It’s for the article.
The Model: Right… well, why don’t you tell “the article” that I have a boyfriend.
Me: The article is totally fine with that. In fact, the article likes a challenge.
The Model: Well, I think the article sounds like a douche. Also, my boyfriend is a muay thai kick boxer, and he loves to edit “articles” that piss me off.
Me: The article understands and withdraws his comments.
Still got it— like blue on Vishnu.
Every year Brown Man Clothing Co., the South Asian themed t-shirt company, holds a modelling contest attracting literally hundreds of applicants. This year the finalists were whittled down to: seventeen elegant, stunning women, nine handsome, dashing men, and also me.
While Brown Man Clothing Co. prides itself on having its finger on the pulse of young Desis, this was the least authentic South Asian event I have ever attended: everyone was on time, the staff was extremely professional, and no one, apart from me, was creepily checking out the models (How you doin’ Vinita. Holla girl!).
Arriving at their Mississauga studio, I was politely greeted, offered light refreshments, and asked for my t-shirt size. I went into the changing room, and slipped on the selected, medium, brown graphic tee. The shirt itself was a basic, fitted crew-neck manufactured by American Apparel with a sketch of a yellow auto rickshaw in the centre, and the words, “Pimp My Ride,” printed underneath. I strolled out and was directed to head down a short hallway and turn right for hair and makeup. Thus far the atmosphere was subdued and tame. However, the spacious hair and make-up room provided a stark contrast; this is definitely where the party was at. The room was filled with models being carefully styled and polished by experts from Adaa Artistry Inc. and the Fiorio BeautyAcademy.
The encompassing space was so full of activity my presence was barley noticed. Sat in the waiting area, I picked up a magazine and pretended to flip through the pages while quietly observing. The models selected for the shoot varied widely in terms of body type. Similar to those of American Apparel, these models, while attractive, also retained an element of authenticity and realness. However, unlike the models of American Apparel, both hair and make-up artists were able to construct some unique aesthetic designs and original looks.
I never did get a chance to experience what it was like getting my hair and make-up done. My hairdo is pretty minimalist, and to quote make-up artist Sana Mushtaq, I didn’t need any make-up because I had, “all the innate beauty of a dusky, sun drenched Mediterranean princess.” To be fair, she didn’t actually use those words— it was more of a look in her eyes. What she actually said was, “Do you have the time?” Still, I felt we had a moment.
Faisal Tahseen, the owner of Brown Man Clothing Co., entered the model prep room looking simultaneously excited and busy. However, he still managed to recognize me instantly despite the fact that we had never met in person. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Faisal. Being raised in a Pakistani home, I implicitly learned to have a mild distrust of Pakistanis who were (a) Business men (b) Politicians, or (c) Played for the Pakistani National cricket team. Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule, or as Pakistanis call him, “Imran Khan.” I decided then and there that maybe Faisal Tahseen was an exception too.
Led by Faisal, together we entered a third less cluttered room which resembled a large empty garage or loading station. Several models, including the women of the Samsara dance group, looked thoroughly at home posing together against black and white back-drops in vibrant, vivid attire. Easily visible from this room was the outdoor portion of the studio where models posed against props which included: an ice-cream van owned by Faisal’s childhood friend Bradley, a car that resembled a powder blue 1964 Buick Skylark, as well as other outdoor urban and industrial materials and backdrops.
All models were asked to try on 3 pieces which meant I had time in between shoots to see how other models were getting along. For some, this was obviously a totally new experience which reflected itself in stiffness or a slightly confused, embarrassed look when a photographer would say something like, “just have fun with it.” Soni Dhingra, who recently graced the cover of Punjab’s “Musclejeet Monthly,” summarized the sentiment felt by most models, “it’s really all about having fun and enjoying yourself.” I should point out that Soni is the half-man, half-continent lifting me over his head.
Eventually, I was able to interview Brown Man owner Faisal Tahseen on one of his rare oxygen breaks. To ensure we had more privacy, Faisal suggested that we conduct the interview inside the on-set ice-cream truck. I enthusiastically agreed, and entered the treat-filled van with the older gentleman I had only just met.
Faisal, born in Karachi; Pakistan, was raised in a then predominantly white Scarborough by parents he describes as, “just the opposite of strict.” Although he struck me as an unadulterated businessman, Faisal explains that Brown Man Clothing Co. was an outlet through which he could express his creative side; in actual fact, the sentiment behind the clothing line runs much deeper. Faisal was raised in an environment largely devoid of any South Asian contact. This did lend itself, naturally, to encounters of racism, but more so to a deprivation of cultural heritage. More than a way of interacting with the South Asian community, Brown Man was a way to “understand and know the South Asian community,” Faisal explains. In a similar vein, Faisal describes Brown Man Clothing Co. in overarching terms beyond that of marketing, sales and design; “Brown Man isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about everyone in the South Asian community. It’s about that Auntie on the street, it’s about that girl over there, it’s about you.”
The modeling may have ended, but the contest continues at www.brownmanclothing.com where you, YES YOU, can vote on which model you think did it best. The site is filled with picture after picture of attractive Desis who would never talk to you in real life let alone bestow upon you the gift of eye contact. You know what I mean? They’re like the kind of people you would stalk on Facebook. You see a profile picture and you think, “Well, hello there.” Then, before you know it, you’ve gone through several vacation birthday, and club albums, and only manage to stop after catching a glimpse of yourself reflected in the screen of your monitor. You’re sobered by the shame as your mind quantum leaps to a future where your only romantic relations are cats that you’ve given bollwoodeque names like CATrina CATf and AshMEOWriya. So just be “normal” and visit the site.
So, just avoid the shame and self-hate because the Brown Man Clothing Co. models want your attention.
“Wallah” (pronunciation: wah-luh; meaning: I promise by God) is an Arabic expression a person uses to make a promise or express their credibility. It’s basically analogous to the English expression “I swear to God” except it’s said in Arabic which means Muslims take it more seriously— sorta. If you have Somali friends you may have heard a variant of the phrase, “wallahi.” (Pronunciation: wah-law-he). This is often followed by the word, “bro,” and is said after every sentence. In fact, it’s sometimes wallahi, used so often wallahi, that wallahi it’s wallahi like wallahi the only wallahi word wallahi you hear in a wallahi sen—wallahi—tence wallahi, wallahi, wallahi, wallahi, wallahi, wallahi, wallahi, wallahi, wallahi.
Here is an example of how the phrase might be used today.
Person A: Wallahi bro. Sherlock Holmes is the greatest fictional detective of all time. Wallahi, Professor Moriarty has met his match. Wallahi.
Person B: Bro. Wallahi. Sherlock Holmes is no match for the often bumbling but ultimately efficient tactics of Inspector Gadget. Wallahi, Dr. Claw is a far better criminal than Professor Moriarty. No one is going to dare break a wa—LAW—hi when Gadgets around. Wallahi.
Person A: Wallahi, I see what you did there. lol. Wallahi, I just lol’d. Wallahi.
Friendship my Facebook and do the same for Twitter. (links in PINK)
According to a highly respected Islamic information website known as “Vi-kah ‘Aahp Hediah,” the phrase, “As-salamu alaikum” (pronounced: aw-saw-lam-aw-lay-come; meaning: May the peace and mercy of Allah be with you) is a very common greeting exchanged between Muslims. Although the greeting is intelligible to Muslims globally, there are small, idiosyncratic cultural differences. For example, in Pakistan, again, according to Vi-kah ‘Aahp Hediah, while exchanging the greeting you must shake right hands and maybe hug but ONLY if you’re of the same gender. We don’t want males hugging females because that could lead to eye contact. And, we all know where eye contact leads: hand holding. Then, before you know it, your child is a methadone addicted crack-prostitute turning tricks on MLK blvd for a bottle of hooch and some loose change. The shame— oh the shame.
In contrast to the Pakistani version of the greeting, Arabians may shaikh hands while alternately lightly kissing each other on the cheeks. This often leads to great awkwardness when Arabs meet Pakistanis. “Two kisses on the first salam? I’m sorry, but I’m just not that kind of Muslm.”
An “As-salamu alaikum,” said by the greeter is usually acknowledged by the person being greeted with a, “Wa alaikum assalaam” (pronounced: wah-lay-koom-aw-saw-lam meaning: and upon you be peace). Aside from having cultural variations of which we’ve touched upon, there are also differences in the formality of the greeting. Extended forms are considered more formal, while shorter forms are considered less formal. Many times this comes down to who you’re addressing, or how you want others to perceive you.
“Salam”This is like the, “sup” of the Islamic. Some would disagree. Thank god thy’re not the ones writing this blog.
“Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah” (Meaning: May the peace and mercy of Allah be with you).
The person who said this is no joke. They take their salaaming seriously— especially if they’re pronouncing each syllable slowly with a forced(or farced) “Arab” flavour.
“Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh”(meaning: May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you)
Don’t panic! But you have just been given the grand slam of all salams. If this salam were a detective it would be Sherlock Holmes. If it were a basketball team it would be the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. If it were a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic, it would be Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī.
The mega salam:
The mega salam is one of my own creation. It lasts for a full minute and largely consists of random Arabic tourist phrases to make it sound like you’re really in touch with Islam. Make sure to use it one people who DO NOT speak Arabic.
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh bikam hādhā, ayn al-ḥammām, nād ash-shariṭah, Ana bekhair, shokran, imshy ala tool, thumma ‘arrij yaminan, ḥawwāmtī mumtil’ah bi’anqalaysūn
Translation: May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you… How much is this, where is the toilet, call the police, I’m fine thanks, straight then turn left, my hovercraft is full of eels.
Do NOT under any circumstances attempt to use the mega salam in an airport. You will be tackled to the ground and your shoes will be confiscated, questioned, beaten and then SHOT!
Friendship my Facebook and do the same for Twitter.
Only days after deporting 3 men for being “too handsome,” Saudi Arabian religious police have deported yet another man who was, to quote the Police Captain Ali Bin Oopsalam-dhunkh, “in possession of a very adorable and infectious smile.”
However, this was not the mans only offence. Bin Oopsalam-dhunkh continues, “He was also in possession of rugged good looks, deep penetrating olive green eyes that seem to say ‘come hither’, and a subtle yet playful Mona Lisa smile that cheekily whispers, ‘try and tame me.’” Religious police insist that the man in question could be a threat to women, and totally not men, who may lose control at the sight of him.
For the time being the man has been taken into police custody where the captain insists upon conducting a thorough inspection of his, “flawless well toned, marble— almost Herculean torso.” When asked if the man would receive a punishment, an official for the religious police suggested that it was quite likely the offender would be, “Shirtless, under the immense heat of the desert sun. Sweat dripping down his smooth, well sculpted back as he smashed rocks. Occasionally he would wipe his brow and pour icy cold water across his broad chest… the water would drip down his six-pack abs causing them to tighten further… ” The official representing the religious police continued, “You know, or something like that. Whatever. I don’t even care.”
As we’ve already established, Muslims say a lot of scary things: mainly anything in foreign language when they’re dressed in foreign clothes… or when they’re dressed in normal clothes… or when they’re smiling. Essentially, if a Muslim isn’t speaking in clear, perfect english, with a neutral facial expression, naked, under an x-ray machine, surrounded by several armed guards, what they’re saying can and should be construed as a threat.
Allahu Akbar (pronounced: Aww-Law-Who-Uk-Bur) is literally a term that means, “God is greater or the greatest” although usually it’s translated as, “God is great.” This Islamic Arabic expression is used in a variety on contexts including: as an informal prayer, to celebrate a victory, and to express determination.
Aside from being Arabic, which is frankly scary enough, this phrase is frightening because of the context and persons it has been associated with. When “Allahu Akbar” is shouted on a television screen, it’s usually by a man, who has formally rejected sanity, covered in what I hope is just mud, holding a burning anything (flags, toasters, tickle-me-elmos), shouting like someone just poured sand in the Vaseline. You could associate anything with this guy and make it unpopular. If tomorrow he became the spokesperson for the WWF (Word Wildlife Foundation) we would all, within a week, be eating panda tortellini garnished with Bengal tiger penis, served in the shell of the Galápagos tortoise.
The other negative context, “Allahu Akbar” has been associated with are Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who frankly make me so sad and sick my tears want to throw up. They usually use the phrase when they’ve done something horrible, when they’re doing something horrible, or when they’re about to do something horrible. They have, or maybe they’re in the process of, making “Allahu Akbar” the verbal Hitler’s moustache of the twenty first century.
In terms of the broader perspective, phrases and fashion are the lesser, trivial causalities of mass murders and murderers. Still, it’s sad. But, I think we should always remember that Islamic Charlie Chaplins exist, and that fashion, phrases and tooth brush moustaches are neutral things that are given context. And context— well context changes.