Sharing things

Transcript for 1.5 Srishti and Abrisham

Transcript for Sharing things episode 1.5 Srishti and Abrisham.

Amalie: You're listening to Sharing things, a new University of Edinburgh podcast from the Alumni Relations team about the University community, which we want to get to know a little better.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: Hi, I'm Amalie, I'm a fourth-year student and I'm the host of this podcast. In Sharing things I talk to alumni, staff and students about their stories. Guests have all been asked to bring an object as a starting point for discussion and the object can be anything important or significant. It can represent an event, person, decision, experience or it can just remind them of something. Let's see where this takes us.

Amalie: In this episode you will meet Srishti Chaudhary and Abrisham Ahmadzadeh. Abrisham is a Classical Studies student entering her fourth year. She's working on the launch of ‘Dangerous Women’, a book consisting of 50 pieces all answering the question, “What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?” She likes camping and singing.

Srishti is a writer and studied Creative Writing at the University. Her first fiction novel ‘Once Upon A Curfew’ was released in April 2019 and she likes books, writing, and watching trees.

We talk about writing, creativity, dangerous women, bucket lists and more.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: Welcome Abrisham and Srishti to Sharing things, how are you today?

Srishti: Very good.

Abrisham: Thank you, yeah, very impressed.

Amalie: Yeah I like that. So what have you brought to the studio today and why?

Srishti:  I brought a coat that I bought for the first time in Edinburgh. I think it was one of the first things that I bought here because you know India, I'm from there, and it's a tropical country so I never needed to buy a coat because I live in Delhi. It's cold in the winter but you still don't need a coat that much. This is one of the first things that I bought and it's special to me because it was like the start of something and I think the weather determines a place, in how you react to the place, a lot, and it was exciting for me and I'm still using this coat and it just signifies to me the start of something new and it was. It was a great time for me here and I feel that this coat is special because it reminds me of the first days that I was here and I was a little bit lost and this was something that I started with.

Abrisham: You're basically living in that coat from then on I guess [background laughter]. I brought my notebook, I have one of these bad boys a year. Obviously it can't be seen but it's a big leather book. I mean, I hope it's not real leather...

Amalie: It's got a bunch of stickers on it!

Abrisham: Yeah, it's covered and it's covered in stickers from my past year, from places I've been to. I've just been on a year abroad so this has been with me everywhere and it has literally everything I've ever done in it for the past year kind of scrapbooked in but also just like my basic to-do lists like ‘get up and brush your teeth’ is written on most pages. Apparently that's what I forget.

[Background laughter]

Abrisham: But yeah it's got everything in it.

Srishti: That’s super cool.

Abrisham: But yeah it's got everything in it. Like when I get them out I feel a bit like I can read back through my own life which is really fun.

Amalie: So what do you feel like it means to you?

Abrisham: It stands as like a reflective thing. I always make things like this thinking, “When I'm an adult I'll look back at how cool my life was and be so jealous,” but I'm also just like it's quite a nice reassuring thing to do, I think, to be able to just put something in the book, feels like I've done something and it's also just a really nice thing to have.

There's one page in here, I don't know if I'd be able to find it… But, it's just one page, I kept the whole thing blank, and I wrote 'it's getting colder'. And I was living in Sweden for the year so it really was getting colder and then when it started getting warmer again I looked back and was like, “Oh, it's no longer getting colder” and I always think that’s quite nice but I can't find it right now.

Amalie: It's such a cool book because it has stickers, it has tickets in it - it has everything.

Abrisham: Yeah I like to go for maps of the places I've been to so the first day of any holiday mostly is spent running around different tourist centres trying to find their most basic illustrated map. And then it's just kind of on top of that, just my mind ramblings. It's a nice thing to carry about and be able to show people I guess. You know like, “How's your year been?” “Well read my book.”


Srishti: I find it easier to just write about my things because I'm a writer so I just write blog posts and stuff so I find it easier to go back and read those than collect the tickets and then scrapbook them. But it's very cool, I appreciate it.

Abrisham: See now you know everything about me but then again if I read your blog posts I feel like I'd get a similar insight I guess.

Srishti: I hope so otherwise I wouldn't be a very good writer.

[Background laughter]

Abrisham: Do you write, do you blog regularly?

Srishti: Ever since blogs came around, I think I was just 14 or 15, I used to blog a lot and that really helped me find a way to express what I was saying and I was a big blogger on, I don't know, BlogSpot and WordPress and stuff, but I feel that was more like a journal, like every day stuff that I would write, but ever since I grew up more I started to write more fiction, which is what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I think I started to write a little less bloggy stuff. I mean now that I look back on it or if I read it it's like super whiny and super lame, “Why did the boy not look back at me” and some stupid stuff but yeah, I write more like fictional stuff now and I write regularly in the sense that I am always working. So I finished my first book but now I'm working on my second one and I feel that it doesn't give me enough space to also write about my day or, like, what I'm going to do.

Amalie: Do you write fiction in your journal?

Abrisham: Hmm, not so much fiction, maybe it's not necessarily in the journal, but I went through a poetry phase this year. It was a bit vogue, I had some friends who were really into poetry and I'd go along to their open mic nights and watch it and it was really amazing and they had such beautiful things to say that I kind of picked up on it and I don't know if you've been to any poetry open mic nights but they kind of stand up and like, “I couldn't sleep one night so I just thought, oh I'll just write a poem” and then it's like this perfectly well versed beautiful piece of, I don't know, literature.

So I had this one night where I couldn't sleep and I was like, oh this is what they all do when they can't sleep, and it's not often that I can't sleep, I really like sleeping, and I was lying there, like, “This sucks, what should I do?” and then realised everyone else would be writing a poem so decided to write a poem but I did that on my phone notes pages I know some people who have researched into people's notes. I think notes pages can be quite exposing more so than a journal.

Amalie: So exposing.

Abrisham: Something you don't necessarily want people getting hold of.

Amalie: What inspired you in the middle of the night that one time?

Abrisham: It all got a bit weird and cheesy, a little bit lame. I mean it was very bad poetry but I think the idea of like you said taking something out of yourself, like I kind of wrote about some random stuff I think, I don't know, like I wrote about a romantic sunset - hello and welcome to my mind. [Background laughter]

Abrisham: But like the idea of processing something into words I think I can kind of after that experience relate to a little bit but I can't say that I'm anywhere near an author like you are.

Srishti: I mean it's the only thing I know how to do, so I better do it. I like to write. I always wanted to write ever since I read good books, so I wanted to create good books and JK Rowling was a huge inspiration for me as for everyone.

Abrisham: Is that why you're in Edinburgh?

Srishti: Yeah, it was a little bit influential for me but before I started my masters I was a writer who never really wrote because I always thought that I would write something one day but I never really got down to it because it takes a lot of time but once I started my masters here, which was in creative writing, I had a routine and I would write every day and since then I've been writing a lot.

Amalie: Where do you get inspiration from?

Srishti: Everywhere for sure but I would like to be a much better observer than I am now because I think that's your food for writing. I do keep a database of all the dialogues or the nice lines that I hear or nice jokes so maybe I'm stealing your jokes.

[Background laughter]

Abrisham: But that's your notes pages – other peoples’ conversations.

Srishti: That's my notes pages for sure. I mean I make a list of these things and when I'm writing something and if I'm out of inspiration I just take one of the jokes and somehow make it fit in the scene. Also I feel that reading good books is very inspiring for you to write something. I think that's the case with all creative arts, I mean, of course, you have to consume a lot of good art to create something yourself. Do you also play some music, or?

Abrisham: I was that kid that tried and failed at everything [laughter]. I probably didn't even fail, like everyone had such good intentions for me to be great and I just was like, “Nah violin's lame, the flute's not cool enough, the guitar's too heavy”. I kind of reached the end of my schooling, I was at high school, and I was like, “Oh crap I should've put more time into this, there's been so many great resources and I've not done anything”. I sing, a lot, in the shower, out of the shower - I'm a professional shower singer, but no like nothing else has really been honed in.

But I know you mean, those kind of creative influences kind of come together. I mean you can be listening to a song and be like, “Wow I want to paint” or “Wow I'm going to write a story", I think it definitely, like that kind of inspiration, can come from other people's creativity as well.

Srishti: It's true but you still study the classics and you are working on a publishing project.

Abrisham: Yeah I think I like to keep a creative outlook on everything. I think everything should be looked at through a journal.

I mean I'm also a very big Harry Potter fan.

Srishti: Awwww.

For a long part of my life I haven't been able to sleep without having Stephen Fry read me Harry Potter before I go to sleep.

[Background laughter]

Abrisham: I can't shake it, I'm addicted, but I think that kind of love for stories has always been a part of my life, which means everything you say gets me so excited because I don't think I can write stories but I have such a passion for it through classics and I guess through working on this book - it's a series of short stories but also just like interpretations as 50 pieces answering the same question and kind of seeing how different people narrate that story.

Amalie: What is the question?

Abrisham: “What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?”

Amalie: Oooh.

Abrisham: So this book is being crowd funded in the autumn of 2019 so we are raising the money to release this anthology. It stems from the original ‘Dangerous Women Project’ which was put on by the University, specifically by the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities between International Women's Day 2016 and International Women's Day 2017, and they incredibly did 365 posts. They were essentially blog posts for every day for a year answering the question “What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?” which has kind of become the question of my life, I can't escape it now.

Amalie: What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?

Abrisham: Ok, well, if you want to know that you have to pledge for my book. Find us on Unbound.

Srishti: But for you what's the best definition that you find for yourself if you have to answer this question?

Abrisham: Well it's interesting because the authors of the book, I mean they're fantastic, there's 52 amazing self-identifying women in the book who have been like “Hey man, I'm a dangerous woman, like it's all about me” or like this woman in history who's been completely ignored deserves to be given credit as dangerous. So that the idea of ‘danger’ stems from a couple of lowbrow articles put out by the Daily Mail in around 2016 referring to first Shami Chakrabarti, former head of Liberty, and then Nicola Sturgeon as 'the most dangerous women in Britain', like inverted commas. Or like the 'most dangerous wee women in politics'.

I don't know, they throw the term around quite a bit about these quite powerful women. Women with like great status and ability to do stuff and challenge people and with the power to make a difference are being brandished as ‘dangerous’ as if like they're a threat in some way. So I guess my answer to that would be to be dangerous you should always be a threat, you should always be challenging an 18th century white male diplomat I think to be dangerous, you should always be doing something that wouldn't have been acceptable one hundred years ago.

Amalie: I like that. What do you feel like it means to you, to be a dangerous woman or how would you answer that question?

Srishti: I feel that in India the very existence of being a woman and doing what you think is right in your mind is being a dangerous woman because, of course, there are still a lot of traditional roles that are imposed on women and I feel like there's less space for self-determination. So I do feel that the very existence of doing what you think that you want to do for yourself is being dangerous because in that way you challenge so many roles that are put on you or so many institutions that try to bring you down and I feel that it's very different in the context of the east and the West but I feel that it's so much more challenging to be a woman there but I feel that it's so much more also inspiring for me to see how women every day fight against a lot of issues and still are able to do so much. Yeah, I love the term ‘dangerous women’.

Abrisham: You've got to reclaim it, that's what it's all about.

Srishti: Yeah!

Abrisham: I mean, kind of all I can think in that is that you've been a writer now in India but also in Edinburgh, where there is a lot of space for female writers in the UK at the moment. The first thing that came to my mind was Sally Rooney writing amazing books.

They are amazing [agreement]. And everyone is reading them and they're making such cutting statements whilst being quite easy to read, but is that a different job when you're back in India, to be a female writer, I guess?

Srishti: To be a female writer… For sure it's different because there's not lots of funding, I think we have just one creative writing programme in the country and just one university which focuses entirely on creative writing but traditionally I feel that in India literature is dominated by women. Publishing is dominated by women because you know these are like more known as more ‘soft’ professions, so it's more appropriate for women, but I feel very lucky because I've had great women mentors, icons that I could look up to all of my time.

I was working in the publishing house last year and both my bosses were women, the entire office was I think female, and I had great teachers, all of whom were women, and I feel very lucky because I also studied in a girls' college and I realise how affirmative spaces for women how much they help and how they can bring forward women's revolution fight.

Abrisham: Yes. Get on the fight.

Srishti: And yeah I would say it's different because I mean you can do a PhD and you can be paid to write and to study writing but I think there, I think writing generally is more like stealing hours in which you can do it. It's not considered a profession, it doesn't pay amazingly unless you're super famous on your first book, but I think things are changing and I'm positive because I think the Indian publishing industry is growing a lot and I think people say all the time that people don't read anymore, but it's not true, I think industry as such is growing a lot and the Indian economy is growing and people are spending money on things that they wouldn't have otherwise. There are lots of adaptations of books because of all the OTT platforms, Netflix, Amazon Prime and they're buying content and there's lots of creative stuff happening.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: So what makes you guys feel like present in the moment, because you both talk about writing and putting your experiences down on paper and stuff but is that related to like a feeling 'present-ness'?

Abrisham: I mean maybe you'd know this more as a writer but I think when you're creating something, I probably do more drawing and observing that way rather than observing through literature, but I think you're having to sit still and focus on yourself and how you're feeling and what you're projecting is quite like a therapeutic way of stopping and reflecting on the moment and being present in yourself.

Srishti: Yeah I mean when I arrived here in Edinburgh a week ago I didn't have a notepad with me and then because I had so many things going on in my mind and I had these thoughts that I needed to write down, so I went to Tesco and I bought a notepad because I couldn't, you know, deal with it, I had to write some stuff down. But it does make you feel more present in the moment but it also makes you feel the past, like recollect what you had in your mind and also, I don't know, plan for what's coming next but I feel that writing it down does kind of make it more permanent and or make it seem more like it's happening, it's there.

Abrisham: That to-do list that once it's written down it is real.

Srishti: Yeah that's right.

Abrisham: Do you ever finish your to-do list?

Srishti: Not entirely because I mean, I'm ambitious, I write too much.

Abrisham: Put things like in five years I will have done this on the to-do list and then you just can never take it off.

Srishti: Your to-do list is that long term, really?

Abrisham: No, not always.

Srishti: Five years?

Abrisham: I mean I was just looking at a to-do list in the notebook, they're pretty weird. There are literally things like “cut toenails” [laughter] or “remember to text this person” and that's often a part of my processing in the moment - it's like just writing down everything I want to get done and I think that's what you mean by being ambitious of like you have things you'd like to get done in an ideal world if your day was completely clear and you could just text all your friends.

Amalie: Do you have a bucket list?

Abrisham: Oh my first ever journal I wrote when I was 16, I'd just finished my GCSE exams at school in north London and we had the longest summer holiday you ever get in the UK once you finish those exams. The first time in your life you've got more than six weeks and I was like, “Wow there's so much I want to do”. I wrote this massive bucket list, and I wonder, I'd like to look back at it, because I did a lot of it that summer.

Amalie: Do you remember anything you did?

Abrisham: I mean a lot of it was like sixteen year old fantasy like “go skinny dipping” and like “eat ice cream on the Eiffel Tower”. Loads of those of like really romantic ideas of what a sixteen-year-old's summer should be like and obviously I just didn't do very much that was that exciting. But definitely a lot of nice things I did do like go and spend a day in the park painting or I don't know there was probably something like “write poetry”.

Amalie: So wholesome.

Abrisham: Yeah it was quite wholesome also some of it quite not-wholesome and I think I probably did better at the not-wholesome stuff but I quite liked it but it's not something I've continued with. I don't know, have you ever had a bucket list?

Srishti: I do have a bucket list but it keeps changing as I go on but the biggest thing on my bucket list is to learn another language because I feel I would love to be that person who can speak many languages and then use it creatively because every language has a different structure that if I translate it in my writing in English, it will give it a unique edge. But I didn't do it yet and yeah I would love to live in a place where English is not the main language so I can learn another one.

Abrisham: Do you mostly write in English then?

Srishti: Yes, yes because we are educated in English since a very young age so I do write in English mostly. I mean our conversational language is also Hindi, my first language is Hindi, but I feel that we lose a lot of it because we're educated in English. Now that I look back I want to reclaim my language and read literature in Hindi and start to write more in Hindi because a lot of the language is lost because you don't use it enough or English is more of an aspirational language, it's easy to find jobs, everything to do with it is better with English…colonisation.

Abrisham: Exactly! [Background laughter] Big boss came in and said, “You guys must speak like this now”.

Srishti: Exactly.

Abrisham: So do you speak in English with your family?

Srishti: No, not with my family, with my family I speak in Hindi but I think English is our social language so when I meet someone my age at first we'd probably use English but also because the language that I speak is Hindi and although it's spoken by a majority of people in India there are 24 official languages in India that everyone speaks different, so English is easier that way because mostly everyone knows English and it's a neutral language, it's not my language or your language, so I feel that our language didn't get enough developed as well because people just stop using it as much so there are like all the new age words that probably we don't have or we have but no one will use it so you don't know what's the word for, say, computer or WhatsApp or Facebook.

Amalie: Do you know any languages or any other languages than English?

Abrisham: No, around you two I feel really small, I only speak English.

Srishti: But Swedish, you lived in Sweden for a year.

Abrisham: I lived in Sweden for a year and I can say, “Jag är inte svenska” – I don’t speak Swedish, I'm not Swedish.

[Background laughter]

Amalie: Yeah, yeah, you're not Swedish.

Abrisham: Jag pratar inte svenska - I’m don’t speak Swedish. Language is not my strong suit. I mean I know you say you don't write in Hindi do you think there's other Indian influences in your writing?

Srishti: For sure. I think, I don't think I can write about Europe. I feel more connected to India and I feel that there's so much more to write about and I always say, “Ah Europe, the vanilla continent”. [Background laughter]

Abrisham: We’ll take it. We’ll take it.

Srishti: But yeah it's all about India and that's why I chose not to stay back because I know that I write about India and Indian culture and all my influences are Indian, so of course I would look to publish it there at first and then maybe see if it works, if it can also work in other countries but it's still funny because although we write in English I use a lot of Hindi words in the middle because it makes it feel more authentic and more connected for people who would read it. It's hard sometimes to capture an experience in English because it would be so typically Indian for me that maybe the language cannot capture it well enough as the language there could. But that is one of the struggles that all people who were colonised at some point face because they all have this other language that has been imposed for years and then they're probably like stuck in the middle like, “Oh I'm good at this but I should be good at this and now I don't know where to go”.

Abrisham: All my family are from Iran, I mean I was born and grew up in London, I've been in the UK my whole life but I kind of, I see what you mean, it's really upsetting to me that I don't speak Farsi. I go to Iran and can't communicate with people and I love it there, I love my culture, I mean it has its faults of course, but the idea that that kind of ‘English Englishness’ prevails and we've got it with ‘Dangerous Women’, hopefully. I mean I can't say we're perfect but we've tried to get representation from all around the world and from all different types of voices, all ages, class, backgrounds, ethnicities and it's been amazing to read through that and see kind of the different perspectives. I guess, as we were saying the idea of, we've got the one question and then how different women from around the world respond to it. Seeing how they tap into their culture's way of responding to being a woman. There's text from South America, from India, from Bangladesh… We've got a lot of a lot of stuff in there and I think that's been the most exciting part for me is just to read it and hear these perspectives and like give agency to all these people who are like, yeah, bringing power to women.

Srishti: Yeah and what is the answer you hear from Iran or from India women?

Abrisham: Women in Iran, I love them. They’re the sisterhood man, the Iranian sisterhood. I mean it's not something I can necessarily comment on without bias. I'm sure it's a bigger topic than just what we're talking about now but I do think there's a lot of power in, kind of, behind the scenes and of course Iran is a country that is affected so heavily by the media representation, I'm sure you have it when you read articles about India written in England, you're like, “What are you talking about? That's not real. We're not all impoverished”. I think books like this need representation from these kind of cultures. We haven't got an Iranian author but the original project does have some Iranian women writing for it.

One of my favourite pieces, I hope the author doesn't mind me speaking about it, but it's about a widow losing the agency of colour because as soon as her other half had passed away she was forced only wear black for the rest of her life. I'm not sure this is something that happens in India?

Srishti: I think white not black.

Abrisham: Ok, white, okay. But talking about how she used to love to wear red and being flamboyant and colourful and how her life then just becomes colourless. I don't know hearing these things like that's a cultural thing that marks someone who's lost their husband or their wife, like reading about that through the means of a story that's what I'm into it for. Kind of hearing people stories that also educate you in culture.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: I'm going to ask the last question now. If you can associate your object with one word what would it be?

Srishti: I think it would be cold [laughter] because I mean when I came here I was like, “Why is it so cold, it's still September?” and because I had never lived in a cold temperature yet. Of course I got used to it and it's really no as cold as people made it out to be.

Yeah it would be definitely cold because the minute that I got out of my flight, the first time that I came here, a cold blast of wind just hit my face. There were all these flight attendants who walked out with me and they were like, “Eh Scotland, I love this country - always great weather” and I was just like, “Is this what I have to do for one year?” But I mean of course the next day it was sunny.

Of course it's annoying when you go out and there's all this wind but I feel that the cold drives you inside but brings you closer. You’re having more dinners together, you're meeting people, you're cooking together and it's not - when it's the summer it's like everyone is outside and spread about -but when it's cold you're cosying up inside.

But yeah, I've always said this that I feel that the cold drives you inside but brings you closer to each other.

Abrisham: That's so lovely, thinking about all my nice memories of Edinburgh winter.

I'd say in my journal, I actually call it a 'journal' [French accent] because I like to be pretentious about it. I think it probably would mean ‘adventure’. Because, I mean, it's got stickers of places I've been to. Just here there’s the Georgian flag. It has a Norwegian flag on it somewhere.

Amalie: Oh yeah, I love that.

Abrisham: It doesn't actually have a Swedish one but I do my weekly plans so it has everything I've done in it and that to me is exciting, it's all the fun things I had- planning out a week and I need that structure to get excited about Monday mornings. Yeah, adventure.

Amalie: Yeah, I feel inspired to start a journal now.

Srishti: Same.

Abrisham: Fill it with stories.

Amalie: I know, yeah, poetry, maybe blog posts…

Abrisham: Yes!

Amalie: Thank you for being on Sharing things. I hope you had a good time.

Abrisham: Thanks for having us, thank you.


Amalie: Ok, great, that's it!

[Sharing things theme music]

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