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Root Of The Matter

Root Of The Matter

July 09, 2010

Several years after the launch of his initial publication Root, I speak with Dal Chodha.

Dal Chodha, London based writer and editor works various fashion based projects. We first met when Dal was working on Root magazine, a publication which asked who we were as young British Asians. This cross-cultural question of identity has been posed and answered by many over the years. From second-generation writers such as Hanif Kureishi to the art work of The Singh Twins, we see that there is no real answer; as it's a subjective experience for all. Most people tend to embrace a dual cultural identity, and occasionally, with the likes of Meera Syal and Hardeep Kohli (to name a few) we see their personal experiences shared in the media. Clearly then, those in the arts (particularly literature) have found themselves a voice. They've done so because they've had a lot to say and have made career decisions providing them with a platform on which to be heard.

Several years after the launch of Root, I catch up with Dal to find out how things have changed. I want to know his thoughts on whether who we are now is any different. Are more people finding their voice, and if not, why not?

Most NRIs globally are lucky enough to live in societies where the notion of a dual identity doesn't really surface, that is, you could be a Christian Indian, and simply identify yourself as American for example. With this in mind, do you think people are still asking themselves who they are - or has this simply become a 20th Century thing?

I think that as we are the result of migration, we will always be asking ourselves that question and my feeling is that it’s vital to evolution. With Root I wanted to ask my peers who they thought they were aside from the assumptions people would make about second generation British Indians. As a society, we are open to so many different influences and exposed to so much that remaining faithful to one culture, religion, style or aesthetic takes hard work and determination and this I find fascinating.

Your work has brought you deep into the work of fashion, PR, literature and the arts: what interesting personalities and profiles have you come across? What have been the most exciting stories you've heard?

To be brutally honest the subjects that have interested me most are the most mundane. Seeing friends of mine go on to great success in a notoriously difficult industry such as fashion, interviewing journalist Tim Blanks at his home and also getting to talk to creative people about their everyday lives excites me most. Most of all, hearing my parents explain to elderly members of my family, what it is I actually do for a living is certainly interesting and encouraging. The arts are no longer a no-go area for NRIs.

As a part-time lecturer at UCA Epsom, you encounter the thoughts and experiences of a lot of young people aiming to break into various different creative worlds, does origin, background and identity play any part in this? The media tells us that ambition and talent is all that's required?

The media will tell you a lot of things and ironically as an editor, that’s my job too. Teaching is very rewarding as it provides a soundboard for so many ideas and notions I may have for my own projects but most importantly, it helps to contextualise my work. The next generation are digital natives and we have to react to that. Identity and background does make a huge difference but part of my job as a lecturer is to take people out of their comfort zones and expose them to things their backgrounds may not have encouraged.

What are the next steps for you and your writing?

I am working on freelance projects all of the time and most recently I wrote a piece for Vogue India, talking to Indian women based in London, which was captivating. The second issue of b Magazine, of which I am the Editor, has just been released so I am also busy with that. Going forward I want to carry on exposing creative people to a wider audience as regardless of culture or background, the arts is hugely relevant to us all.

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