My First Punjabi Wedding (in photos)

 

Living in India, I saw a lot of sights (and smelled a lot of smells) that will stay with me forever. Now back in Canada, I’m often asked, “So, how was India?” I can only shake my head in retrospective awe. India is impossible to summarize. I believe this is why there are so many travel memoirs written about the country; you need at least 300 pages to even begin to explain. But when people ask if anything stands out, I immediately have an answer: my first Punjabi wedding.

Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos

You’ve probably heard about the colour and pop of Indian weddings. In contrast to the white dresses and formality of western nuptials, Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos. Punjabi weddings certainly hold true to this form and, some may say, go even further. My fiancé Jaimal being half Punjabi himself, I have had to study these traditions in preparation for our own wedding celebration!

In February, Jaimal and I were invited to a wedding in rural Punjab by a new friend of ours Jassi. Her bud Baldev was getting married in the village where he grew up and, in true Indian fashion, everybody was invited. The photo essay above details the three days of the 10 day event (!) that we attended in the small village of Sukkar Chak, 12 km from the border of Pakistan. While each hour of our visit produced a story unique and worth telling, these photos summarize the wondrous experience. Click on the images for snippets of what we were part of that weekend.

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Why I Cut My Hair

 

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“Your hair is your beauty.”

 

“Why?”

She asked, fingers in my curls.

“Why would you cut it?”

It had been a decade. Ten years.

“Your hair is your beauty,” my gramma said, seeing my long curls for the first time.

For ten years, I wore my hair well past my shoulders. I dragged many a comb through it, grunting at the knotted sections, and mouthing “fuck,” at the familiar sound of plastic snapping.

For ten years, I stacked the compliments (long hair oooh, long hair aaah) atop one another, proof that any beauty I possessed was root-deep.

For ten years, I gawked at women with short hair—friends, lovers, family, strangers. The perfectly shaped mini ringlets, glazed with oil, burnt gold, or holding true to their rooted colour, spinning forth from the scalp like a preened locus.

Yes, it was more than just hair.

Being biracial with the palest of skin, my big hair was an ode to my mother’s blackness. Being bisexual, my long hair was a wall thick and dense, built to keep out crazed homophobes.

Then, I had an excuse.

A short film.

A spoken word short film.

The short film goes something like this… there are 3 women carrying a legacy of suffering: a housewife, a jazz singer, and a narrator. This woman—in her various forms—loses it. She can’t stand the generational pain latched to her skin like a leech.

The Artist is crippled by the marriage between $$ and Art. The Housewife in her genes, the one that really wanted to run the world (and could have) is bitter as hell. The Narrator has jeweled eyes and she wears her purpose around her neck, in a fearless gold loop.

The purpose is a demand for change, for the kind of Art that lives to inspire not enrich, for the kind of world that beckons the ghouls of slavery to obliterate the hatred that remains.

As these interweaving stories are told in rhyming lines, under an entrancing piano loop, I cut my hair off as a symbol, a gesture, a ridding of displaced ancestral meaning—in favor of the narrator’s meaning, her owned truths.

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…her owned truths

That’s what happens in the short film. That’s why I cut my hair, or so I said.

But what happened to me? Why did I do it really?

I was bare. Cold neck. A chrysalis of insides. My whole face felt different, looked different. And, I wanted shorter still. I wanted the pixie cut, shaved neat and clean, and close to my head.

And, I knew something new.

Something I couldn’t have known, when pulling my head back from brush smacks for  fidgeting, while my mum wrangled my hair into tidy braids and smooth buns.

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Nothing I could see in the mirror would ever be my beauty. 

I knew then, staring at my steady lips and dark eyes that nothing had changed. That my hair was never my beauty. Nothing I could see in the mirror would ever be my beauty.

I was never my hair.

With a bob of swirls coated in coconut oil and a freckled frown, I looked closer still, at the weariness in my eyes, at the wobble in my smile.

I was never my hair.

So why did I feel like I’d lost a finger, a limb, some whole and attached piece of me?

I had lost something, you see. I’d lost a decade of hiding. A decade of questioning. A decade of linking cultural heritage to something transient, impermanent, fallible.

A flash of scissors and the tufts of hair left behind had brought back a lifetime.

I relived the pixie cut my mother gave me as punishment. I relived the dragging of an iron over my hair to flatten my coarse, unresponsive mane. I relived the ooohs and aaahs and the ‘Is that your real hair?’ and ‘Can I touch it?’ I relived the bonding – oh, the bonding, with too many women to count (especially the If She Dreams team), over products that worked and didn’t, over the dreaded humidity, how to bottle the ocean air and how to quench my ever-thirsty curls.

The memories livened my face. My fingers felt the new short ends, just below my ear, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d go shorter yet.

“Why? Why would you cut it?”

“Why not?” I thought to myself.

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I Choose Happiness

 

“What’s it like to be a lawyer?” That’s a question I asked myself and a question I am now asked as a lawyer time and time again. When I was accepted to law school I did what I do with most of the deep questions I have in life – I turned to Google. “Should I go to law school?”

The first result was entitled, “why law school is the worst decision you’ll make” – Ha! I read through it. The negatives included graduating with enormous debt, a lack of job opportunities and intense work hours. And like any bold-faced 23-year-old I thought, “pffffft – I can do anything I put my mind to.” I wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve this coveted title. I also wanted to help people at a higher-level than I could as a front-line worker in the non-profit sector. So, I accepted the golden ticket and off I went.

I had some cool experiences in school but for the most part it was a lot of work and stress. That’s not necessarily such a bad thing since work and stress are integral to chasing any worthwhile goal. I had the opportunity to compete in several moots including the Jessup International Law Moot Competition and the International Criminal Court Trial Competition. Travelling to places like New York and the Netherlands to represent my school and country was thrilling to say the least and created memories that I look back on fondly.

After I articled I started my own practice. Starting a practice at a young age has been very challenging and rewarding. It is something many of my peers are interested in and seems to be the route young lawyers are choosing more often. I plan to provide seminars on this and other topics to support law students and new calls (stay tuned!).

So to answer my initial question, being a lawyer is a very subjective experience because it depends on who you are as a person. Some realities remain the same: you graduate with enormous debt, there are fewer job opportunities and hire-backs and the work hours are intense. Google was right. So, for those reasons being a new lawyer is very challenging.

The thing about actually practicing law is that you can help people solve their problems. However, you learn on the job since law school DOES NOT teach you how to practice as a lawyer. This is why senior lawyers say the first few years of practice are the most challenging because you are learning how to deliver services to clients, how to address the court, how to file applications and actions, etc.

When you begin practicing, you are also finishing the licensing process and law school, which leaves you a little more exhausted, knowledgeable, humble and risk-averse. Why? Because you spend three years studying case law with people who seem and may be a lot smarter than you. Case law, in part, is about punishing the poor buggar who wasn’t reasonable enough to prevent the incident that led to the car accident, or the death, or the unfinished contract, etc.

For example, if you produce a bottle of ginger beer and a worm somehow makes its way into the bottle and into your customer’s mouth, you’re probably getting sued. Decision? You’re likely paying damages to the plaintiff. Other ginger beer producers then hear about your punishment and think, “whoa – we are setting up policies that make it near impossible for worms to get into the bottles.” These decisions lead to better standards that punish negligent people/companies and make our society just a bit more harmonious.

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Winning First Runner-Up at the Hague at the International Criminal Court Trial Competition (2013)
So, as a law student, you spend three years studying the worst-case scenario. Your knack to spot trouble before it occurs is so acute that you can’t turn it off. Selling something to a friend? Don’t make any guarantees. Supplying something to a business? Make good on every precise condition and warranty in the contract. Thinking of starting a business? Here is a list of all the things that could go wrong.

While being familiar with risk is useful, it inadvertently makes you a bit more cynical about the world. That was tough for me to deal with when I began practicing. By nature, I’m an optimistic, risk-taking person and I am starting to see that while practicing law is a wonderful opportunity, I am currently not completely fulfilled by my work.

I had a heart-to-heart with a senior lawyer and I told this person, “3 years of law school, the bar exam and articling are exhausting enough – but to realize at the end of it all that you start from the bottom when you begin practicing law and have to overcome yet another learning curve with the added stress of debt and long work hours – that’s a tough pill to swallow.” The lawyer agreed, informing me that it takes about 10 years to build up enough experience to be really good at what you do. In 10 years I’ll be almost 40 and there’s a lot more I want to do with my life before then.

As a result, I am currently going through an internal conflict. My legal/rational brain tells me “Make more money!! You need to buy a house!! You need to have kids!! You need to build your practice!! How could you think of taking a risk on anything other than the stable growth of your practice?!” My heart tells me, “So you’re a lawyer now – but you’re only young once, baby – try acting, singing and dancing, explore comedy, start another cool business with your spicy man. Take more risks!”

This #SummerSixteen I am focused on following my heart through youtube videos, stand-up comedy, acting, and more. While I continue to practice law, I’m going to see where these artsy endeavors take me. Maybe I’ll get it out of my system and continue on the path of being an awesome lawyer or maybe they’ll change my trajectory completely. All I know is that while I am committed to excellent service for my clients, I am also committed to my happiness.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to be a lawyer, know that the path to become one is rocky and take some time to talk to or shadow different lawyers whose shoes you want to be in in a few years. If you really want to pursue this career, you’ll do it no matter what anyone says.

If you’re a lawyer and are not happy with your work or are considering starting again in a new field, do it. Don’t sit at your desk and work the rest of your life away. My friend Jean says, “you owe it to the world to share your talent.” She’s right. Live your best life, even if that means risking it all.

I am grateful to have made it this far and have the ability to help people solve their legal problems. I’ve proven to myself that I have what it takes to be a great lawyer and have worked with people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit, with entrepreneurs starting their own businesses, and other inspiring clients. But I’m young and life is short so I’m going to have some fun.

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Converting Doubt into Fuel

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'” – Maya Angelou

Shortly after being called to the bar I had a conversation that sounded like this:

  • “So what do you do?” I’m asked by an acquaintance
  • “Oh I work in the legal industry”
  • They look at me as if they’re waiting for the rest of the answer… because clearly that was only half the answer to the question.
  • My friend chimes in, in a very matter of fact tone she says “she’s a lawyer”
  • Then feeling the need to affirm my friend’ s statement, I say “Yes, I’m a lawyer”

Why did I do that? Why did I somewhat unknowingly attempt to shy away from what it is that I do? Why was it that in that moment I felt the need to deflect, and detract from what I worked hard to accomplish? A lot of long hours and hard work went into me being able to say “Yes, I’m a lawyer”.

As a newly minted lawyer I suppose I still had doubts about professing myself to be one. It was almost like saying it too loud or too proud would create the expectation that I would have the knowledge base of a lawyer 25 years post call [to the bar]. Maybe I felt that if there was a legal question I couldn’t answer, I’d be a poser.

I had similar thoughts during undergrad. And at the same time that I had my doubts, there was always this air of over-confidence, sometimes even downright smugness, that seeped through the pores of some of my classmates. Yes, a lot of the men carried that air (some stunk of it), but so did a lot of the women.

“Do I even “fit” in this programme?”

Frankly, I confuse myself, because even in those moments where I had my doubts, nobody could tell me I wasn’t capable of doing the work and nobody could deter me from prying all that I could from that learning environment. I was going to do it and do it well.

At some point in law school the concept of the “impostor syndrome” came up in class. And I remember thinking to myself – I can relate. I’m not going to recount the scientific or psychological bases and implications of impostor syndrome. But for those who don’t know, I think of it as that feeling of being out of place regardless of your success – the questioning of how you arrived at any given point in school or your career.

Whilst I consider myself to be a confident woman (insert finger snaps), there are moments when I have my doubts, when I question my abilities and my success.

The doubts that prevent me from acting, the ones that stall growth, while not always easy, those are the doubts that I know I can’t keep around – those have got to go. I think we all have different strategies for figuring out how to get rid of those doubts, whether through turning to a network of family and friends or seeking the advice of those we admire and respect. There are different things that work for each of us.

But how can we make our doubts something else?

This is something I’m working on myself.

For one, I definitely subscribe to the “fake it til you make it mentality”. I also subscribe to the “say yes I can help and then figure it out later” mentality. I believe in forcing myself through situations where (in my head at least) uncertainty looms. Sometimes I say yes before I have a moment to think too deeply about what I’ve committed myself to. Once I say yes I’m less likely to withdraw, and more likely to charge forward. In those moments of doubt, I’m more likely to come up with and justify a “no” response, when I take longer to make a decision. Once I commit – that’s usually it. It’s a big part of the reason I rarely ever return clothes.

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I also oddly embrace the presence of some doubt in my life. I think in some respects when these doubts are converted into action steps for improving and bettering ourselves, they keep us in check. Perfection is an illusive concept. There is always room to be better. That’s something to be embraced, not condemned. If we wait for things to be “perfect”, or for the timing to be “perfect”– to me it seems we’d never move forward with anything.

Fear and doubt are real factors in our lives – maybe sometimes it hurts us more to be on a quest to ignore them. Maybe our focus should instead be on progressing, moving forward and challenging ourselves to address that fear and that doubt. There’s a sort of peace that comes with saying to myself: “I’m not sure, I have my doubts, but the fear of not knowing/doing/acting is even worse”.

positive-954797_1920Don’t let your doubts inhibit you. Like Maya Angelou, you keep writing, fighting, singing, lawyer-ing, starting your new business, studying, teaching, drawing, styling, or whatever it is that you do. Use that fear and doubt as fuel for growth and a means to avoid complacency. Turn something that on it’s surface level isn’t good, and make it work for you.

Hey, I may be an impostor, but the goal is to be so good at it, I’ll even convince myself.

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