And now it’s time to introduce my wonderful, beautiful, I-would-die-without-them classmates. Introducing Tasneem Motala, aka Coolest Person Alive.

Canada is full of warm and suspiciously friendly people; suspicious because you never know why they are being so kind to you. When Tasneem Motala invited me to spend Christmas with her family at St Catharine’s (same neighborhood as Niagara Falls), I had no time to be suspicious, only ecstatic. Generosity, my friend, must never be questioned. Tasneem is one of the finest graphic designers, obsessed with Manga and her Twitter feed, and full of killer, out-of-the-box business ideas (such as making soap bars that look like cheesecakes).

Q1. As an Indian-Muslim growing up in a white Canadian neighborhood, did you ever feel like a misfit?
Definitely. Being one of the very few brown girls in a mostly white community was strange. It meant being asked if I knew “Indian,” to which I’d reply “no, my parents never taught me,” and then being faced with a chorus of “awww that sucks,” as if the only reason I existed as someone not-white was to teach my classmates to swear words in Hindi. It meant a lot of other things too, like friends complaining that my food restrictions prevented them from going to certain restaurants, and making me feel guilty about it because how dare I not eat bacon.

Imagine feeling guilty for your lifestyle and the rules by which you lead your life by your own choice to follow a specific religion. It’s a headache navigating that kind of territory with people who didn’t know anything about my culture or religion. They unwittingly put me in the position of ambassador for my religion because in most cases I was the first Muslim they’d ever met. I met a lot of people who wanted to debate (read: fight) me about my religion, but I learned to tune it out during university. It definitely made me feel like a bit of an outcast.

But I also feel like the “misfit” part of me was more, if anything, because of my interests and the company I kept while growing up. I was a huge and an embarrassing nerd, so even if I wasn’t Indian, I definitely would have been a misfit.

Q2. How does it make you feel when you see people from Muslim backgrounds changing their names to fit in and be accepted without any prejudice?
Sad, mostly. I don’t like the idea of changing my name (although I’ll be honest, having an online handle and a writing pseudonym makes me feel a little hypocritical saying that aha). But specifically changing my name to sound more white is definitely something I’ve thought about. After all, having a strange, culturally-steeped name is annoying when no one bothers to take the time out to pronounce it correctly. It made me fall back onto a nickname like many others tend to do.

Changing your name outright is different. To me, it means you’ve found something that bothers you enough about your identity (whether out of fear of prejudice or otherwise) that you felt the need to mask it. And, without getting too political here, I definitely see why people would pursue something like that in this post-9/11 age.

Q3. What is it about graphic design that you are so passionate about (and what projects are you currently working on)?
Graphic design is frustrating as fuck. Honestly, I’m not sure why I like it so much because it’s a headache trying to get everything to fall into place in an aesthetically pleasing way. But I think the challenge of that is what makes it so much fun. I love making things look pretty, or cool, or whatever the project calls for aesthetically, and when it all finally falls into place the way I want it to, it’s so satisfying.

Right now I’m working on two main projects: KROS Magazine and Phecda Soaps. The first is a literary magazine for creatives of color, where I want to publish fictional and artistic works by people of color. The second is a soap company where I’m going to make and sell soap, and everything from the packaging to the soap itself is completely designed with love by me!

Q4. What would you want people to remember you by long after you are gone?
This feels weird to say only because I haven’t gotten any of my writing published yet aside from some online stuff and whatever is in my portfolio, but I’d like to be remembered for my stories. They’re what takes up my thoughts when I’m on the bus or laying in bed or cooking dinner. They’re also the reason I stay up late at night in a dark room with a bright computer screen. Writing is something I’ve done since I could print my name in awkward strokes, and that’s what’s kept me alive. It provides an outlet for me for many different things, and it’s something I know for a fact that I can do well.

Q5. Is it a challenge to live up to the expectations of your parents, who are both so successful, ambitious and driven?
Yes. I think it’s frustrating because my family has slowly gained more and more success through each generation. My grandparents moved from India to England and had my parents, who moved to Canada. I’m the first girl in my direct line that’s gotten a university education. I’m the oldest cousin in my generation. My parents own a pharmacy as of 2009. My mom, despite not being educated past high school, is a determined entrepreneur with business projects she is constantly working on and succeeding with. Honestly, yeah, I do feel like I’m not living up to the whole “more success through each generation” thing. It’s even harder too when my parents have given me the freedom to be educated and choose for myself what I want to do. I keep feeling like maybe I’ve made a wrong decision somewhere, and maybe I’ll end up as a ‘starving artist’ stereotype.

My parent’s expectations are for me to be successful, but we define that concept differently. They want financial stability, and while I want that too, I also define success by happiness rather than the bulk of my wallet. I’m trying to blur the distinction between those two things because I don’t think money and happiness are mutually exclusive.
Honestly, I don’t really handle the pressure of expectations at all. I used to crumble at other’s expectations. Nowadays, I try to live up to my own expectations instead, but sometimes even my own can be a bit too high and I falter quite easily. I think that’s why having friends is so important. They meet you where you are and help you stand up again when you need it.

Author: AD

Born and raised in India, Anisha Dhiman moved to Toronto to study Publishing and then Lifestyle Media at Centennial College. Writer, social media strategist and content creator, Anisha is the founder of Five Question Series, where she profiles people… you guessed it, by asking five questions. In her free time, she enjoys reading and trolling people with puppy GIFs and memes. Her only phobia? Losing her sight, but staring at the screen all day long doesn’t help much.

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February 2, 2017

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