"Learn about your culture first, learn why you are special, like what makes you special? Try to embrace all the differences" – Ramisha Adil
Despite coming from parents who came from two different countries with a rather controversial history, Ramisha Adil did not take that as something to be looked down upon, instead she took it as an amazing collision of worlds, embracing her mixed identity. The young Indian-Pakistani who was raised in Saudi Arabia, loves biryani and can speak fluent English, Hindi and Urdu give us a glimpse into life through the lens of a mixed person as she recounts her stories of growing up with different cultures.
Unsurprisingly, people are often fascinated by her ‘controversial’ existence due to the love-hate relationship between her parents’ countries. And that goes for us interviewers as well when we first found out about her uniquely mixed race. And as we interview her, we uncover just how amazing Ramisha and her family is, the sort of struggle she has been through as the by-product of this love-hate relationship, and how she embraced the difference in culture from both of her parents to become who she is today.
Where did you attend high school and can you share what high school life was like for you?
I attended my high school in Saudi Arabia. I went to an international Indian school where the majority was Indian so I was more exposed to Indians. I majored in science stream, so that was Biology, Chemistry, Physics and English. I went through an Indian education system, CBSE, and graduated through that.
Did you have any trouble fitting in?
Not really. Growing up, I always got exposure to both cultures and both the Indian and Pakistani culture are quite similar honestly. But there are still things that are different and since I was born and raised in Saudi, so there was a third culture for me as well. So my upbringing was like a mixture of cultures, which resulted in a different mindset and perspective on things compared to others. For example, when I’m in a gathering with Indian people, I’m too Pakistani for them and when I’m with the Pakistani people, I’m too Indian for them. I don’t know how they find out, but they can just tell from the way that I speak. Honestly, I don’t find it to be very different but when people meet me, they just somehow know that I’m definitely not from one country.
What’s it like growing up in a mixed culture?
It’s amazing. Growing up, I used to question why I was mixed. I found it annoying whenever people asked me, “Oh, where are you from?” because it would cause me to think - “I don’t know where I am from, I’m mixed.”
And then having to explain to them my whole history of where I’m from, where my mom is from and whenever I tell people that I’m half Indian and half Pakistani, they would be shocked because of the love-hate relationship between the countries. So people would always say, “Oh, your existence is very controversial” and as a kid, I never understood why. But right now, honestly, I think that’s what makes me special. I’m really really proud of my mix and I’m very happy that I’m the product of this love-hate relationship because I can be an example for the countries. So, that’s great.
So what do you usually say when someone asks you where you’re from?
Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I usually say Saudi Arabia. Because this makes more sense, since I was born, raised, and I am living here. But if they ask me, “Are you an Arab?”, then I would explain that I’m mixed.
Do you feel like people understand you or your ways or doing things?
It really depends on the situation. There are a few situations when people don’t understand my way of doing things, they get surprised or intrigued by what I’m doing or how I do certain things. Because of the mix of cultures, I tend to mix my cultures when doing things. For example, in cooking, if I’m cooking something Pakistani, you would find an Indian taste in there, as well as a little bit of Arabic spice in it. Because of the way I grew up, my taste palette is also different. Like Indians and Pakistanis, they’re known to have spicy food but I can’t handle spicy food at all, so that’s my Arab side showing because I grew up eating the food here, which is not that spicy.
Have you faced any stereotypes? If so, what are they?
Yes, I did. I think that's very common for every person with mixed lives. So as an Indian, people expected me to be very good in my studies and good at math. But the fact is I'm very bad at math. I mean, I wouldn't say I'm very bad like yeah, like if there is a math question and you want me to solve it in like five minutes, I can't do that, I'm more of like a science person. So people really expected me to be very smart and then being a Pakistani, people expected me to always have an amazing wardrobe.
In general, have you had any negative experience from discrimination in Malaysia? If yes, What was it and how did you overcome that?
I wouldn't call it negative, I don't really get a lot of negative things, but it’s very rare. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) because I was always surrounded with people who are super supportive, and were very intrigued in a good way.
But there were one or two instances in the past where this student in my class found out I was a mix and asked me - she said, "Your mom is a Pakistani, then why don't you go and live there? Like, why are you going to Indian school?”
And I felt like, “What do you mean by that?”
I don't know if she was joking or being mean but that kind of hurt me, and I questioned myself, like, I'm not a complete Indian neither am I a complete Pakistani. What if I go to India and people say, “Oh, go to Pakistan” and vice versa. So that's something that kind of made me scared, but gradually that went behind and I was all okay.
Like people nowadays, they're very supportive and they're really happy and excited to see a mix like that and yeah, they're really happy that my story, my parents they brought two countries together and I'm like the product of this happiness or peace between the countries. So that's great.
How does your extended family or relatives see you as a mixed child?
Initially, when I was born, everybody loved me and everybody still loves me because I was one of the first first daughters to be born on my dad's side. So my grandfather was especially very happy because he had a lot of grandsons. And he was waiting for a granddaughter, and then I was finally born. So I was like, I grew up with a lot of brothers. So I was like, very pampered, and especially because I was mixed. Everybody was like, I don't know, obviously, I don't remember. But my mom told me the first time I went to India, everybody was there to come and have a look at me. They wanted to know like, how would an Indian-Pakistani look like? And then when they saw me, they were like, “Oh, it's just like any other kid.” (laughs) I don't know what they expected. But yeah, I was just like any other baby. So definitely, I was very pampered and super loved as a child. I have a lot of brothers - extended family and cousin brothers. I have more cousin brothers than cousins sisters. Like, I can literally count my cousin sisters, but cousin brothers, cannot.
Can you share with us if there is any specific tradition practiced within your family that you think it is unique since you grew up within two cultures (or maybe more)?
Yeah because I was born in Saudi Arabia so one like tradition, it's very common in Saudi Arabia, Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of fasting so Ramadan is like super festive, the vibes here are immaculate. If you guys have not visited a Middle Eastern country during Ramadan I would suggest you guys to definitely travel that time because you can find the beauty of Islam, you can find what our religion actually meant and not how its portrayed in the media.
Everyone is super friendly and super nice and even though they are fasting they will remember to, you know give you the perfect hospitality and they will give you food, they won't make you fast or anything.
So what happens in my house is that we have a mixed Iftar, like when we open our fast, our food dishes, they include a Saudi dish like an Arab dish and an Indian dish and a Pakistani dish like those three are always on the table, it's a mix. You can't find any discrimination on the table like there you can find Arab dishes you're gonna find Indian dishes, you're gonna find Pakistani dishes and I don't think that's like common in India and Pakistan because you know every country has a different manner of celebrating different festivals.
We are more towards like the Arab style, we pray and then we open fast with the dates and water. For Eid, So in Saudi Arabia you go early morning to a mosque and you pray and then you meet everyone and then exchange gifts and dress up, that’s the teaching of the prophet, so everybody does that.
Can you share how growing up in a mixed culture helped you in shaping your life?
Definitely helped me a lot, like growing up I didn't notice it. But right now when I'm going to university, meeting different people, I can see that and people can see that.
I had a childhood where I communicated a lot. And I grew up in a joint family. So, even though I was living in Saudi Arabia, I was living in a joint family so I think that played a very important and very uhm yeah, it played a really big role in shaping my character because now I, I kind of like, as I said, I'm very adaptive. Now I think that's one of my strength and one of my other strength is teamwork because I can actually be in a team very well, I can lead a team very well, like I won't have clashes with people because I know how to like, you know, communicate with them and how to handle like, clashes and stuff. So I think that's something that played a very good role. And then I grew up seeing the positives of all the cultures, my family, they're amazing, all like, all kudos to them for giving me an amazing upbringing. So I had - I learned good things from each culture. And yeah, I think that's amazing.
Who is your closest Malaysian friend or acquaintance here? Can you tell us about them and how did you meet?
It definitely plays a very big role, because I tend to be kind of indecisive at times. But yeah, I do consider my cultural practices and everything when I'm choosing a certain option or thing, for example, even coming to Malaysia for education. At the very beginning, I had no idea that I was gonna come to Malaysia, like I never thought about it. I was also like, I also got admitted into a different uni in a different country. So when I came across Malaysia, that I came across through scrolling Instagram, fun fact, I found Taylor’s University on Instagram. So I came across, I found the diverse culture and food obviously. And like, I thought about how familiar it is to me, I thought to myself that it would be great if I could go to a country where there are a lot of different cultures, and a lot of different people all living together and then super friendly and the food is amazing.
So that came across in my mind, and that is something because I can't live without eating food, which is similar to me like my palate, like, it gets hard for me to adjust to a completely new style of food. So I think Malaysia is good, obviously it is very diverse. You can find all sorts of food there. So that's one thing that played an important role and I chose Malaysia.
What country is “home” to you currently and why?
Without any doubt, Saudi Arabia. I was born here and let me tell you, Saudi Arabia is a super peaceful country, and I feel very safe. I've been to a lot of different countries, but I don't think I have been to a country where I felt this safe.
Even if it's like 2 am, after midnight, you can walk alone without having to fear anyone, like coming or harassing you. it's that safe, especially for women in Saudi Arabia, they're considered as queens.
No men will, like try to harass you or you know, be rude to you, they'll be very polite to you, and they will make sure that whatever you want, you're going to get it, they're going to assist you in a very friendly manner. So that is something that I didn't really find in other countries.
Do you picture yourself settling in a specific country? If yes, why?
So far.. No. It's still like a mystery to me. Yes, I do want to settle in a country. If possible, maybe Saudi Arabia, obviously because it means so much to me, and I absolutely love this country. But I'm not sure, like, I don't know what the future holds and where I'm going to go, what I'm going to do so, like any other kid I’m confused about my future, and I don't know what, what, what's going to happen. So I'm the one who just goes with the flow, I would say. So wherever my fate is gonna take me, I'm gonna go.
How do you think we can embrace ourselves better knowing we are different?
Learn about your culture first, learn why you are special, like what makes you special? Try to embrace all the differences. Especially the language. There are people, even in my community, who are prioritizing English more than the native language, their mother tongue. The kids growing up, they just speak English, I have a few cousins who were born and brought up in the UK, obviously so they speak English, but they don't really know how to speak their mother tongue. That kind of hurts, you should be able to speak your own language that's like the bare minimum.
But I think that's a very important step to knowing your culture like you can communicate well with your own community. If there is any problem that arises or if you want to share or relate to anything, I think language is the best thing you can come across and that's one of the big reasons I love learning languages. Like you can just communicate and get connected with anyone.
I feel you should definitely, even to the future generation, the new parents, they should kind of ‘insight’ their children with their culture and the tradition so that it is alive. As coming more towards the modern era. It's kind of like disappearing slowly. I feel like it's important for them to give knowledge about the cultures.
What are your vision and hopes for the rest of the world in regards to mixed culture?
The people, they are getting better and more open about that stuff. Such topics, they're more open to seeing mixed kids, but there are still a few areas, still a few countries or places, communities where they find mixed culture very absurd. They're like, No, you should marry within your own community because of the custom, like everything else. So I feel they should try to open their minds more and see the positive sides. See how amazing and how beautiful the mix of cultures can be and how well the children will be, like the product of that mix culture can bloom well, I feel like the world would be a very much better place if everybody starts embracing one another no matter what different cultures, traditions, and religion they're from. I don't think that there should be any boundaries or certain nationalities that divide love.
What are your vision and hopes for Malaysia and fellow Malaysians in regards to mixed culture?
It’s been only a month since I came to Malaysia so I can't really say much. So far, I was welcomed with a lot of love and support. Thanks to all the love and warm welcome, I did not feel homesick at all. I have seen and met a few mixed cultured students myself and it feels great to see the diversity. I think that Malaysia is already a very diverse country with a lot of different cultures? There's still a little racism left. I feel, I hope that racism or the discrimination based on the religion or caste, I feel that it should be, it's high time that it's over now, Like it’s 2022, we have got other major problems to solve than fighting amongst ourselves. I hope that everything gets better and people start loving each other more and accepting every difference. I want us, the new generation, to learn about our cultures- where we came from, embrace it wholeheartedly and pass it on to the next. Share cultures, get to know and understand each other and embrace one another - at the end it’s all about embracing and respecting each other. I believe and follow this quote- “Do good and the good will Happen to you”. Be nice. Try to understand others and look at situations from a wider perspective than just judging. Being judgmental will lead you to nothing.
Can you share some positive messages / advice for people who are confused or don't know how to embrace their own differences?
As I said, try to learn your cultures, like try to learn all your mixes, if you are not familiar with your mixes, go talk to your grandma, I think she is going to be the best person to reach out to learn the culture, the traditions, go to your mom, go to your parents and talk to them. Often in our generation, they tend to keep a distance from our parents, but our parents and our grandparents, they definitely have a lot of different stories to tell to us, a lot of different stories and advice.
I think that's very important, like the communication factor. Go meet people, explore more, try to explore yourself, like, Who are you? Try to find that answer and I think you'll eventually end up embracing your differences and loving yourself.
Despite the usual issues that come with being a mixed person, one of our interviewers, Akmal, has also identified with it. Ramisha always has a positive outlook, believing that more people will eventually come to accept mixed cultures in the future. She believes that in order to reach more of that acceptance, we must first learn about our own culture. As Malaysians, we should learn to accept and embrace the differences between our various blends of unique ethnicities, just as Ramisha does with hers. Interviewing Ramisha has taught us that nothing is impossible to achieve. As long as there’s love, empathy, and understanding about our cultural differences, Malaysians can also one day be wholeheartedly united. By learning about the many Malaysian cultures, we believe that every Malaysian will be able to open up and identify with the mixed cultures of others and understand their ways and rojak-ness (uniqueness).
__ Interviewed by: Lee Jasen and Mohamed Akmal Ali Bin Jahaber Ali, supported by Faye Lim Written by: Lee Jasen