India Calling: East Meets West

I’m so excited to share with you the journey of my calling in life which has seen me grow in my own way, outside of how I was raised and where I was born; this loving feeling pulls me so positively towards an entirely different way of life to all that I ever knew and understood.

I hope that in sharing my story of following my life calling that I might motivate and inspire you to listen to your soul and walk the path that is most meaningful to you as an individual regardless of skin colour, religion or where in the world you were born; what is truly meant to be will always find its way.

(L) As A Child I Was Raised In A Strict Catholic Home (R) As An Adult I Identify As Buddhist

As you can see from my childhood photo, my strict Catholic upbringing focused upon religion and respect which led to me always being covered from top to toe in conservative clothing and attending a Catholic school. I was an incredibly shy and polite child and enthusiastically did only as I was told, always trying my best to please others and fit into the life that I was born into in the beautiful English countryside.

By the age of five it became apparent that I was very different to my family and that’s when change began to happen for me. It started with me refusing to eat meat by the time that I started pre-school, when everybody around me loved meat and dairy and nobody in our family had ever been vegetarian. I would cry, shake and feel sick at the sight of meat and begged to have vegetables instead. What is now celebrated as veganism wasn’t as well known nor understood in the late eighties and early nineties and so it was a great struggle for me for doctors and family to accept my dietary requirements.

A handful of years later my mother began a beautiful friendship with an Indian lady at her work and she would often come to visit us at home, bringing with her homemade curries for my parents from secret family recipes passed down throughout the generations. Much to everyones surprise, not only did I love her lentil and chickpea based dishes, but I also enjoyed the heat of chillies and mixed spice when the majority of children would refuse to even have pepper on their meals because it was too hot.

(L) I Have Been Plant-Based From The Age Of 5yrs (R) I Qualified As A Yoga Teacher In 2021

By the age of nine I had learned how to cook many Indian based dishes from scratch and would cook feasts for my whole family under the watchful eye of my parents from curries and daal to handmade onion bhajis, pakoras, samosas, naan breads and roti. As other children snacked on crisps and chocolate bars I enjoyed Bombay mix, fuli gathia, khatta meetha and dal muth which felt incredibly comforting and reassuring to me.

I began practicing yoga at the age of 17yrs when my doctor suggested I try it as a way to lower my blood pressure from the stresses of studying as a student. The first time that I walked into a yoga class to the sound of Indian music, incense and candles my entire body flooded with such love, light and belonging, it felt as though I was coming home. A part of me somehow recognised absolutely everything about something that I had never even experienced before. I felt such an innate sense of belonging which I lacked in my British Catholic upbringing.

Attending a family friend’s Indian wedding in my early twenties I was kindly invited to wear a saree but felt that having white skin, blonde hair, blue eyes and tattoos could potentially be disrespectful and so I chose to go in a summer dress but have regretted my decision ever since. To me, attending a traditional Indian ceremony was a taste of what called so strongly to me, yet I felt anchored by the culture that I was born into and concerned by the potentially negative opinions and judgements of others.

(L) Yoga & Meditation Are A Huge Part Of My Life (R) I Enjoy An Indian Inspired Plant-Based Diet

The media is awash with ignorant, small-minded and unkind thoughts surrounding Blackfishing which is a term used when a white person tries to make themselves look black using tanning products, makeup, different hairstyles and portraying a racially ambiguous image. Celebrities including Iggy Azalea, Rita Ora, Kylie Jenner and Jesy Nelson have been accused, and received a lot of hate, for Blackfishing or appropriating black culture by leading people to believe that they are black or biracial in appearance in an effort to be trendy and fashion-forward.

With blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin and tattoos I don’t believe that anybody would presume nor confuse me for pretending to be of Indian descent, yet equally I understand that my life choices and Western fashion may be seen as undesirable in Eastern culture and I wouldn’t ever want to cause offence.

In my mid-twenties however, I was deep in conversation with a work colleague when they asked me how long I had been Buddhist for and it stopped me instantly in my tracks. I had only ever thought of myself as Catholic, as it was how I had been raised, yet I knew that I didn’t identify with it nor feel a strong sense of love and connection towards it, as if a vital part of the puzzle was missing to feel complete.

(L) At The Age Of 24yrs Pregnant With My Second Child (R) At The Age Of 26yrs Practising Yoga With My Son

At that moment I realised that all of the senses, feelings, actions and beliefs that I already lived by were indeed in line with Buddhism and shared with millions of other people who all feel the exact same way as me, I’d just never given it a name before nor put a label on my lifestyle that was so incredibly different to what I was born into and how I was raised.

Buddhism is one of the worlds largest religions which originated around 2,500yrs ago in India, understanding that life is one of suffering and therefore meditation, spiritual and physical labour along with good behaviour are ways to achieve enlightenment by eliminating all greed, hatred and ignorance.

When I qualified as a yoga and meditation teacher in 2021 I could never have expected the influx of messages from followers across the world that I received requesting I wear a saree to honour my love of Indian culture. Each time that I would question if such an act would be offensive or unacceptable for a Western woman, I was reassured that my sharing of the food, yoga and meditations that I perform on a daily basis is indeed a compliment in celebration of Indian culture and something to be encouraged.

(L) Me In 2022 With My 14yr Old Daughter & 10yr Old Son (R) I Teach Yoga, Meditation, Self-Love & Acceptance

I fill my days with love, light and positivity for all that I do and all who I come across. After having my two children yoga, veganism, Buddism and self-love became such an undeniably prominent part of my life and I actively celebrate optimum health, body-positivity and self-acceptance, frequently discussing the importance of living your life as the individual that we were all born to be.

I spent three decades trying to fit into a life where I simply didn’t belong; I followed a religion simply because previous generations of my family had and lived a busy, stressed-out and materialistic life because of Western culture when every part of my being craved peace, calm, nature and the teachings of Buddhism.

Many people are sadly trapped and contained by the boxes, stereotypes and labels that are used to define and divide us in society. Whether it’s sexuality, religion, politics, gender or something else, when the soul seeks its truest form no amount of papering over the cracks or patching up your differences will ever be enough. In order to find peace and inner-happiness I believe that we must freely live as our true selves. This change is possible at any age and stage of life, you must simply listen to your soul and walk the path that it is guiding you upon.

The Beautiful LaLit Hotel In London Was Our Venue For The ‘India Calling’ Shoot

I’m the only member of my family who lives so differently to previous and present generations in our Western world. I believe it was my souls guidance when I was organically drawn to intense flavour, veganism and spice at a young age when British people are rather comically renowned for eating very plain, non-spicy meat dishes.

My soul also showed me where I belonged when I walked into my first yoga class and continues to celebrate and reward me with love, light and positivity each and every time something comes along within my day that aligns with where I am supposed to be; it feels exciting, familiar, safe and almost magnetic to me to be drawn to such things when everything else in life is neither here nor there for such fuss. Like playing a game of “hot or cold” where you shout “hot” when a child moves towards an object that you want them to find and “cold” if they go in the wrong direction; I wholeheartedly understand that I am being guided towards my calling in life and I’m open and willing to receive it.

When the opportunity therefore arose with a wonderful team of creatives to bring this visual transformation to life by wearing a saree for the very first time I felt confident that my heart was in the right place. Seema Anand is such an inspiration to me and I feel uplifted and reassured by her kindness, openness and honest approach to inclusivity which is something that I also share in my daily life.

With photographer Steve Hewes, makeup artist Jana Jurakova and the assistance of Ameesha Raizada and Shardooli Mann this vision for ‘India Calling’ was created at the beautiful boutique hotel The LaLit in London.

(L-R) The Team: Steve Hewes, Jana Jurakova, Ameesha Raizada, Shardooli Mann, Seema Anand, Tracy Kiss

We decided to wear traditional Indian dress to show the beauty and power of a life calling that leads us so strongly to where we belong beyond that of skin colour or location of birth. This photoshoot is a fruitfully positive fusion of two cultures, English and Indian, with East meeting West. The pictures capture the beauty of two contrasts to show such priceless humanity, inclusivity, acceptance and unconditional love for all.

A striking journey of transformation and the recognition of a powerful calling in life, I hope that by connecting visual contrasts whilst digging deeper into the story of this union we may explain, celebrate and show each individual for who they truly are so that they may tell of their own calling and encourage others to live a true and fulfilling authentic life.

When asking the team what culture means to them, Photographer Steve Hewes says: “For me, culture at its best represents shared behaviours and artforms which are appreciated and practised by a group of people – something that brings people together, but ideally also something they are proud to share with strangers.”

He continues: “I mentioned groups of people brought together – and when they are, they will feel that they belong and be their true selves.  But to my mind there is also a danger here, as humans often feel most comfortable when they belong within groups at the exclusion of others.  Sorry to get a bit political, but in recent years with Trump, Johnson and Putin, we’ve seen how a sinister growth of nationalism has led to creation of barriers and even warfare.  Me – I’d rather be one of Paul Weller’s ‘Internationalists’.”

Concluding: “Our shoot was the epitome of what multi-culturalism should be about – the openness and curiosity of sharing of cultures. With my work capturing the colourful imagery complete, it was captivating to listen at first hand the discussion between Seema and Tracy being captured on video for sharing more widely.”

Ameesha Raizada, MA Journalism student at University of the Arts London and Social Media Manager for Seema Anand says of culture: “Culture encapsulates the roots I carry with me, the very means of my existence and values. As for belonging, now I think it’s not so much about a physical place or material tidbits as it is about the bond you have with loved ones, that creates a sense of home and belongingness, no matter where you are in the world.”

I had the most uplifting and thought-provoking conversation with the very beautiful Karma Sutra Expert, Mythologist and Storyteller Seema Anand following our ‘India Calling’ photoshoot which I’d love to share with you in its entirety here in our Youtube video.

My favourite parts from our conversation are Seema’s thoughts on women’s narratives as she believes that “the stories that we tell define us, they identify us. If you tell stories of what you expect a good woman to be, that’s what you’ve created as the identity of a good woman. You set identity through the stories that we tell. I found over a period of time that we never told stories of a woman’s right to her own body, it was always somebody else’s property. I went after the stories that we silence and went looking for those. That led me to the body of work that I started to explore.” Seema has been in her field of work for around nineteen years now and continues to break down taboos and challenge narratives.

I found it fascinating to consider how despite the difference in where we were both born and how we were raised, we are both women who celebrate the love and acceptance of ourselves and our bodies. We take ownership of our identity and are therefore able to love and be loved, just as we all should regardless of our East and West divide and that is something so beautiful about cultural diversity, we can achieve just a fragrant mix of experiences and understanding.

Criticism and offence are something that I consider on a daily basis, as I did so for this project, because I wouldn’t want to cause offence or make people feel uncomfortable for being drawn towards a culture that is different from that of my birth. When asking Seema how she handles criticism from others for her life choices she very poignantly answers “It doesn’t matter what you talk about on social media, you will face criticism. If I was to go out one day and say the sky is blue I’d get told off for that. I do face a certain amount of criticism but the upside is it’s maybe 5% or 3% of the people who write in, the others give you so much love that it makes it worth doing.”

Seema’s words allow me to reflect upon quality over quantity in life, as we needn’t surround ourselves with fake friends or those with ulterior motives without holding our best wishes at heart in order to feel popular or validated; instead we should always be our true, full and honest self so that our relationships may be build on firm foundations, last a lifetime and fuel us with unconditional love.

When speaking of the parts of us that we silence and repress in order to fit in with society Seema continues “If you’ve been brought up to believe that it’s bad, just think how it plays with your mind because you feel it and you tell yourself off – “I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m wrong.” We’ve messed up peoples minds and lives to an extent that we cannot even begin to imagine just by denying them something that is so natural.”

To me, Indian culture feels so natural, yet on paper I tick a box that identifies me as a White, British, Catholic female – labels which all carry with them their own stereotype and unrealistic expectations because of where in the world I have been born. Why should my birthplace or colour of my skin dictate my heart, mind and soul? And why should I feel pressurised by society to fit into these social norms when the very thing that brings me the greatest sense of peace, happiness and belonging in life comes from a part of the world and a religion that I was never taught about, nor had prior knowledge of, until it gradually trickled into my life and suddenly felt like home?

How am I able to sit beside this incredibly magnificent and knowledgable woman and find so much in common, share so many similar beliefs and yet come from such different worlds? I asked Seema if she felt a calling in life to step out of the norm of society to pursue her work and life choices to which she replied “Definitely, for me it has always been about the stories, about what motivates us to act a certain way. I believe that the words that we use define our actions. It was a case of stepping out to say what are these stories and why have they been silenced? As you discover them you discover more about yourself, you understand yourself and become almost a calmer and better person because you’re putting to rest all of those demons that have bothered you for years.”

We mused over the thought that most people may not see outside of the life that they have always known, from what they are told by previous generations, society and taboos that keep them in their place yet unknowingly miss out on what is right for them as individuals. When speaking about stepping outside of limits and boundaries Seema suggests “You understand yourself, why you think a certain way and feel a certain way because we all do feel a particular way about so many things. We either close it down because it’s not the right thing or you tell yourself off for feeling like that or you think that you’re the only one who’s feeling like that. Then you rebel because you think “nobody else feels like that, it’s clearly just me” if we could just realise that we all feel that way we’d also come together to support eachother.”

Concluding the interview I asked if Seema has any advice for somebody who struggles to be their self and feel their self to which she replied “Most of our problems are here in our head because we’ve blocked off those channels of our brain and we won’t let ourselves think about certain things. The next time that your mind goes in a certain direction let it, don’t stop yourself, it’s only inside your own mind. Let it think and see where it takes you because you have no idea where it’s taking you. That’s the first way to understand yourself.”

These words resonate with me so deeply as I wouldn’t be on the path of enlightenment that I am today if I’d shut off my thoughts and remained within the limits and expectations of the society that I was born into. I wouldn’t have felt the peace, love and happiness that I cherish in life and wouldn’t have met such beautifully vibrant and wonderful minds from like-minded individuals.

I hope that in sharing this interview, in opening up my own journey of following my calling which has drawn me towards Indian culture, that I might motivate and inspire you to listen to your soul and follow your own life calling despite what others around you may or may not be doing. Life is such an incredible journey of growth and discovery, we simply have to water the seed of creation and allow it to flourish.

I would love to hear your thoughts about culture and life callings; please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

You can contact the team directly here:
Makeup Artist Jana Jurakova
Photographer Steve Hewes
Karma Sutra Expert, Mythologist & Storyteller Seema Anand
Shardooli Mann
Journalist Ameesha Raizada
Venue LaLit London Hotel

                  

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Tracy Kiss

Social influencer, Bodybuilder, Mother, Vegan
London, UK

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • I think your amazing and I’m inspired by your work. I was born a white English Christian in North East UK but after having my 1st child at 16 I moved to London and in 1998 my journey began to convert to Islam and I had three more children to a Bangladeshi man. Who is now my best friend and we have now 6 granddaughters. All my kids are 19 to 30 now but I am a spiritual person . In London I mixed with many converted Muslim ladies. I wore sari and salwar kamiz (dress and trouser) and lenga (skirt and long top) I speak Bengali fluent and worked as a midwife in London for over 10 years in the Bengali community of East London . I loved and embrace the Islamic culture but in 2004 at City University I met a Jewish girl who became a best friend and another Muslim girl who I found out was not a Sunni Muslim like me but a Shiat Muslim from this knowledge of the difference in 2 types of Muslim and looking back at my upbringing in Christian or church of England , then embracing a few of the kosher Jewish tradition s I became quite mulit faith . My childrens father is Muslim however not practicing as they should by praying 5 times a day. I saw many part conformists and everyone introducng new ideas I believe in magic and I’m an angelic reiki master teacher now as well this is frowned upon in Islam. I think all schools she multi faith to the extent of having a multi faith prayer room and faith groups etc ..today churches are hardly visited near me as a child we had assembly and I was a brownie and girl guide the songs of the Bible I can reciet now word for word as the brain absorbed so much in youth preschool.
    Today the world portrays much violence around Islam but is a beautiful loving region and the Bangladesh community are very welcoming to white ladies as I was when working as a midwife .

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