Storytime Sunday: My collection of White Barbies

White Barbie collection, writer Nida Chowdhry

I had like a dozen White Barbies shoved into this small Barbie suitcase closet. I was very proud of my Barbie collection. One birthday, I remember standing in a Costco aisle gazing at the gorgeous sets of new Barbie dresses. One was a yellow Belle costume. My mom bought it for me and I totally loved and cherished it.

I used to love setting up their worlds for hours on end, but I honestly had no idea what they should say or do. It’s like I had Barbie stage fright. I could construct the stage, but gave them no lines. My friends were thankfully great at that. I had two Barbie playing besties (they know who they are). We would hide in each other’s rooms for hours and hours on end putting together the floor plan for their existences.

I wasn’t allowed to have a Ken but one of them was. Honestly he didn’t contribute much to the game. In retrospect I would have had much more fun playing with Ken had I any deeper understanding of gender and social constructs. Ken could have been more than a boyfriend who kind of just sat there. Sorry for limiting you so much Ken.

At Target, the Barbies we’re in a very specific order. From the beginning of the aisle to the end, it went: White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, horses for Barbie, Barbie’s shoes, Barbie’s ride, and then Black Barbie.

I remember holding Black Barbie in my hands for what felt like a million years in my little kid mind. Thinking. I want this Barbie. But… something doesn’t feel right. It’s as though she’s less important. Or like, I might get in trouble for buying her.

I still get that feeling today when I’m toy shopping for kids in my life. Like, is it okay for me to get a non-White-skin-toned doll for a child? Will their parent think it’s because of my subconscious colorism if their child is brown? What about the “fair” toned kids? Is it ok for me to give them a doll that has brown skin? Sometimes I’ll notice that most or all their dolls are indeed White, and I feel trapped in that same toy aisle, perpetually considering race.

I don’t buy dolls anymore, but if I did I’d buy the Ibtihaj Barbie.

Storytime: The Case of Me vs. Ants

nida chowdhry, author, writer, pakistani, american, muslim, storytime, silly, stories, bugs, austin, new york, apartment living

Like a good broke oldest desi daughter who graduated during the 2009 recession is apt to do, I lived with my parents until I got married and subsequently moved in with my partner, which is how I found myself in Austin, Texas in 2012.

And in Austin, in that cute furnished one bedroom downtown apartment that cost $1100 a month to rent and where we had little to no income tax and I lived a short drive from Homeslice Pizza, the roaches found me. They didn’t find me at first. They waited. And they didn’t find me en masse. They sent these little huge scout soldier roaches wearing backpacks that would run across the room on a mission to find a better land for their friends. (I could hear them shouting commands.) They instead found screaming giants and a vacuum hose, and soon, very effective roach deterring pods ordered on amazon and carefully placed in under cabinet areas. And that was that.

Continue reading “Storytime: The Case of Me vs. Ants”

All The Q’s & A’s: Relationship Edition

Image/Art: Gemma Tickle Set Design

It’s hilarious – ha ha ha! – how curious and conflicted people can be over my relationship status and sexuality, especially in liberal art spaces like the comedy community. I mean, I get it. I’m already a confusing creature because I’m a woman. My brown skin makes me an incomprehensible exotic question mark. And I don’t openly discuss or social-media-document my relationship with my partner out of respect for my own ideas of privacy and individuality. So I really throw people off in their quest to make sense of me within their understanding.

But in order to satisfy curiosity and save myself future trouble, here are all the answers to all the questions I’ve been asked lately about my relationship status:

“What does your husband do?” Continue reading “All The Q’s & A’s: Relationship Edition”

I Understand Now

Kusho #1, Shinichi Maruyama. 2006.

What kind of mother leaves her kids? She asked. She and her siblings raised themselves and learned how to cook, clean, and be on their own. When she was in middle school, her mom brought them over to the States to live with her new family. Why did I have accept these new people as my family? But I understand now.

How did you come to understand why she did what she did? I asked, incredulous at the amount of compassion and growth that would take.

I’m a parent now, she said. She had a child as a teenager, and her child is now a teenager. She’s a single mother. And her son resents her.

Why do you work so much? Why aren’t you home when I come home from school? He speaks harshly and angrily.

You wouldn’t believe what kind of hold your kids have on you. I won’t let him make me feel bad. I tell him, ‘You don’t understand now, but you’ll understand one day.’

I don’t excuse what she did, but I understand now. 

Three Sikh Men

Photo: The Singh Project

Last Name Singh

I’m running late to class. It’s 3:20 p.m., right in the middle of the hour that cab drivers switch shifts. It feels impossible to get a cab at this hour. Just as I give up hope, a cab pulls toward me. The man inside asks where I’m headed and agrees to take me. I figure I’m on his way.

I get in and glance at his ID: last name Singh. Continue reading “Three Sikh Men”

Searching for CTM in East London

London’s Punjab Restaurant, established in 1946.

Finding Chicken Tikka Masala (CTM) that’s “just right” is a challenge.* In my unabashed opinion, there’s either amazing CTM, or cry-me-a-river disappointing CTM, which is better classified as ‘not CTM’.  I’ve had ‘not CTM’ at a lot of places, and CTM at a few.

I remember coming home from one of these few places and having a surprising exchange with my mom.

Mom: “How was dinner with your friends? What did you girls eat?”

Me: “It was great! We had chicken tikka masala with fresh naan.”

Mom: “Chicken tikka masala? What’s that?”

Continue reading “Searching for CTM in East London”