Brown vs Brown

In 2013, my journalist/writer cousin, Shadi, wrote a story titled Brown is not an Ethnicity. For the story, she posed to me the questions: Do you consider yourself brown? Do people call you brown? How do you feel when they do? If you’re not brown then what are you?

Below was my response.

I will just tell you some of my own personal experience.

I generally don’t like being called brown. I don’t like being called anything, except maybe Torontonian or Canadian. I prefer Torontonian over anything else, because I don’t generally relate much to other places in Canada outside Toronto — except possibly Vancouver.

When I was travelling over the summer, people would of course often ask me where I’m from. My answer was always “Toronto” or “Canada”. In Europe, that was usually sufficient. In Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, they wouldn’t even ask — everyone assumed I was Indian or Pakistani. (Merchants would yell “hindi!” to get my attention, as if that were my name.) When I told them I was Canadian, the response was always, almost word for word, “no no no, originally.” People were unable to fathom the possibility that I was from Canada, even after I told them. If I obliged and told them my parents are Iranian, that came with its own preconceptions: I’m muslim, I hate America and Israel, I know that 9/11 was a conspiracy to invade Iraq. I am none of these things. People can say otherwise, but you really are treated differently because of “where you’re from”, even if you’re not from there!

A few years ago, I was dating an “Indian” girl. I use quotes because I would describe her as a cultural mix between Torontonian, Indian and international (she grew up mostly in Libya before coming to Canada, but in one of those isolated oil compounds for foreign workers and their families). Anyway, our relationship was rocky from the start because I wasn’t Indian and she could never marry a non-Indian. Nonetheless, we fell deeply in love. For a time it seemed like there could be an exception for us, but that didn’t happen and we eventually broke up. She was engaged 3 months later. That sucked, and ever since, I especially don’t like it when people call me brown. It’s terrible, I know, but I can’t help it. I’m actually surprised by my own reaction because while we were together, we used to talk about how similar Iranian and Indian cultures are (there are so many similarities), and we’d find words that are the same/similar in Farsi and Hindi. It was actually a lot of fun and brought us closer together.

Just YESTERDAY, I was chatting with an Indian friend. I was telling her that the last 3 girls I’ve dated weren’t allowed to marry me for “cultural reasons” (in order: north Indian, Tamil, Sikh) and that that is why we broke up in each case. She said Indian culture is crazy like that and “you should know that, you’re brown.” Sigh. I honestly don’t understand how I would know that. I don’t understand what it means to be brown. I don’t understand anything.

A simple project [Later post from 2012]

Hello future employers, coworkers, friends, girlfriends and wife.

Welcome to the ever-evolving experiment I started in 2005.

I am past-Sina, the ancestor of future-Sina, whom you most likely call Sina. We are merely strangers, separated by space and time, but if you are reading this then I must assume that you are interested in future-Sina for one reason or another. I must then tell you that you should take everything you read here with a light heart, for it was all created in a simpler time when the internet was free, winters were cold, and the world was not ruled by robot overlords.

As humans we like to think that we rarely change, that we are the same person we were when we were younger. This is not true, for you nor for me. It can be embarrassing to read our old letters and school work, recall our old habits and beliefs, or even just look at our old pictures and videos. Like nails on a chalkboard. We were naive when we were young, we tell ourselves. And we were!

The purpose of any blog is to share, including sharing with one’s future self, and a consequence of sharing is that a record book is automatically created. This is intentional — it’s why Facebook now has a ‘timeline’, and it’s why I’ve continued to maintain this blog over the years. No matter how vague, it takes courage to maintain such a strict, easily-searchable public record book. But I believe that the existence of such a record book is, in the end, very valuable. Of course I can remove content at any time in the future — and sometimes I do! — but this has been posted publicly on the internet for a reason.

If you want to, read and enjoy! Just don’t take anything you see here too seriously — it is rarely serious.

If you cannot handle it, it is best you close your browser now.

Greetings from Washington, DC

I have spent the past 10 days in DC for conferences and playtime. Jehan tagged along too.

· DC is an imperial city. Large, dominating architecture. Roads lined with marble curbs. A better name for it would have been “New Rome.”

· DC is also a holy city — coincidentally, like old Rome. It is the centre for America’s true religion: the constitution.

· Relatedly — and I’ve said this before when travelling through southern Europe — we in the West are all Romans. Though the empire fell, the Roman civilization never did. Pay attention and you will see it everywhere, but it is palpable in DC.

· Since arriving, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being watched — all the time. There are police, of all varieties, everywhere you go. Now think about the ones you can’t see. Now think about the cameras.

· And you think twice about what you say in public — even jokingly. It’s like the entire city is an airport. It sucks.

· Segregation, segregation, segration. It lives.

· There are a lot of homeless in DC — in epidemic proportions. And I can’t figure out why.

· People say that Americans have no culture, especially food culture. But that’s silly. You will find magnificent southern fare in DC.

· DC’s best quality? Free, amazing art galleries. Oh, and Shophouse.

[Photo thanks to Jehan’s super-amazing shenanigans]


In 2015, I…

· Formulated a theory of high-end disruption.
· Became a transportation economist.
· Celebrated the summer solstice, all night.
· Got engaged.
· Almost got married.
· Lost my Shisha.
· Gained one partner and two roommates.
· Celebrated the winter solstice.
· Continued hard work for the future.
· Which is why I neglected this blog — in its 10th anniversary, no less.

My mantra for 2015 was “You’ve got to be willing to crash and burn.”
My mantra for 2016 will be “Be less polite.”

Sugars [Later post from 2008]

An interesting story….

When I was, say,  7 years old, my friend/classmate Jonathan had a Batman costume for Halloween which he wore to school to show off (by the way, I used to looovvvvvvvee Batman). Oh how beautiful that costume was. I wanted one for myself!!

I told my mom and dad about it and, since Halloween was still 2 days away, they instructed me to ask Jonathan where his parents bought his costume. So the next day (October 30th), I asked him where he got the costume. “Sugar” he said. “Huh?” I said. “Sugar!” I was very confused — that’s an odd name for a costume store, I thought to myself.

But anyway, I told my mom and dad that the place to get the best Halloween costume ever was at “Sugar”. Unfortunately, no one (including my parents) had ever heard of a store called “Sugar”.

So what do you do when the internet doesn’t exist yet and so you can’t Google the store you’re looking for….? You drive around looking for it! Which is what we did….for 2 hours.

Alas we never found it. I always assumed 7-year old Jonathan didn’t know what he was talking about.

Why is this important? It’s not. But in 50 years when my memory isn’t that great I’ll be able to come back and read this story and remember something about my childhood.

Oh yeah, and I saw the store on Avenue Road while driving home from work the other day. It really was called Sugars.

True story.