At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
Fatimah (@asgharthegrouch) is a talented writer whose work includes poetry ("If They Come For Us"), a web series ("Brown Girls"), and her newly released short film, "Got Game?". She's also an avid reader, and enjoys swimming and hanging out with her friends. Read on to learn about Fatimah's relationship with her South Asian identity, process for writing her book of poetry, and her love for South Asian fashion.
On Her South Asian Heritage & Writing Influence:
What's your background?
I am Pakistani and Kashmiri.
I love writing, reading, swimming and hanging out with my friends.
What's your background?
Being South Asian plays a huge role in my life - like any other identity trait, it's a lens that informs all that I do. It influences the way people treat me, the cultural norms in which I've grown up in, and how I move and navigate the world. I've definitely had a lot of challenges understanding my South Asian-ness growing up. Not seeing many media examples of people who looked like me was hard because it felt like an erasure/layer of invisibility that I had to navigate through. And also not having our history taught in schools or being readily available was difficult because it was hard to know where I came from or the historical contexts that surrounded South Asian people.
I think there were times I felt embarrassed or unsure of what it meant to be South Asian because I didn't know where I fit, what that meant, like it was a question I would never fully have the answer to. But I think that's the thing: no one is ever going to fully know what it means to be South Asian; it's such a deeply unique and personal thing for each of us, even if there are shared threads and histories and connections that unites that term. Being South Asian is vast, and it's a thing I will probably spend my lifetime trying to understand.
The poetry in your book, "If They Come For Us", grapples a lot with being - what it means to be South Asian, Muslim, American, and Queer, all at the same time. Having reflected on the meaning of identity and being, how do you view yourself today?
Again, I think I'm going to be spending my entire life trying to understand who I am and what it means to occupy the various identities that I'll be. I think I'm less and less interested in defining my identities for other people and labeling what I am, and more and more interested in living in myself authentically, embracing all the parts of who I am even if they seem contradictory or undefinable. I think trying to fit into labels has actually been a thing that has deeply hurt and impacted me, and shedding some of the need to always be understood has been tremendously helpful in gaining confidence.
Can you tell us more about the process of putting together "If They Come For Us"?
The process of writing a book or creating any art is so deeply personal and specific to the writer. I had been writing poems for a while without knowing that I was working towards a book, and then there was a moment where I was like... wait, I think these are collectively building towards something. Inspiration comes from all different places - observing the world around me, thinking about my family, living, feeling.
There were a lot of topics that were hard to touch on. Partition was particularly difficult, but it felt like the central heartbeat of the book to me. I was so afraid of getting it 'wrong', doing a disservice to my people and culture, and then I realized that I couldn't take the enormity of that on. I wasn't writing a historical text, I was writing poetry, and leaning into that gave me freedom to explore the topics and themes that were coming out. But also, gender: to me, writing is such a deeply personal place where things that I've been tossing around in my mind and body come out. And so it was vulnerable for me to include poems like "Other Body" and "Boy", but very important.
In addition to your poetry, you've explored other mediums as a writer, such as co-creating the webseries "Brown Girls', and directing the short film 'Got Game?'. What advice can you share to people about venturing into new mediums (e.g., films, poetry, podcasts, etc.) without previous experience?
I think you just have to try. If something is calling to you as an artist, it's important to explore it. I think I get hung up a lot on not feeling like I know enough - like I don't think I know enough about poetry, or any art form. But it's important to suspend that voice and just try and know that with every project you learn more, you start to build up the language, and that's really valuable.
What do you love most about South Asian fashion?
I love the colors, textures, patterns and silhouettes. There's so much to enjoy. I feel really blessed to be South Asian, and to come from such a culturally rich place, both historically and currently. There's so much to draw from - so many inspirations!
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?
Quarantine fashion is interesting since we can't really leave our houses. But it's been important to me to get dressed up even when I work from home, to honor the ritual of it because it helps make me feel good. I love dresses that are easy to put on but also make me feel sexy. So right now, I have this dress that has a low back and straps, and is pink at the bottom and moves to a gradient of a light teal. It's so flowy, sexy and beautiful, and it makes me feel good. I've been wearing it a lot in quarantine :)
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
I love gin!
What are you currently watching?
I'm actually not currently watching anything right now! I'm in between movies and TV shows, thinking about what's next.
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
I'm reading 'Pleasure Activism', by Adrienne Maree Brown, and it's really wonderful.
Morning person or night owl?
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?