I grew up on comic books, cartoons and films. My mind was immersed, heavily into fantastical worlds. Probably as a form of escapism because home life was…difficult and school was hard. I was awkward, I had a moustache, a hooked nose, glasses, I was the visual representation of those cartoon glasses.
I needed something to run away to. I found it first in comic books, tracing over Storm and Psylocke, learning more about how to create comic bodies through curves and circles. Later, I rejected the sexualised expectation of these hairless bodies, which had caused further insecurities.
I then found myself watching the stop motion animation music videos by the band Tool, which relied heavily on themes around disassociation and mental health. I felt inspired.
Just a note - When I talk about this to people, it always seems like I’m describing a fairly normal childhood: a lot young people suffer from mental health, insecurities, identity issues and a substantial emo phase. But one significant factor that I found myself struggling with most, was my Indian culture.
My family wanted me to have money, a family, a house and BMWs. Which meant they wanted their children to be successful in their academic studies, so that they would move on to become lawyers, doctors and so on. What I eventually came to realise is the only reason they don't feel any security in my insistence to go to art school, wasn’t because they’re an evil generation who don’t want me to be happy; it’s simply because there was no one in the industry that looked like me or them. They couldn’t look at films, TV, books etc (other than Bollywood) and see a successful person who looked like us.
We shouldn’t be in the arts, because it’s evident, we don’t succeed.
It was a hell of a moment when I announced I wanted to go to University and study animation or illustration. My parents were worried. They always wanted the best for me. It was a product of their social education - the impressions that were forced upon them since immigrating to England. They didn’t just think it was detrimental, they felt it was foolish.
So I went to art school – first college – where I came across a handful of people who were black or brown. I later went to a University of Arts and the handful turned into me, sadly counting on one hand.
I finished university, barely getting through on a pass, in fact, I was told to repeat a project, which I did the next year but was asked just to leave with a BA and no honours. ‘Just go, Sharan’, they said. ‘You did fine’.
I found myself in the world of booze and boys. I was so compelled to live my teenage years at university, I forgot to pay attention at classes. My childhood was defined by the ‘my parents aren’t white’ meme, which is based around white friends who say ‘why can’t you come over for a bit, we’re having a slumber party’, and I would have to make up an excuse, because saying ‘my mum thinks you’re all shameless and doesn’t trust any of you’ won’t go down well. So, my teenage years were lived when I left home to go university. I forgot why I was there to start with.
After university, I worked in various bars, I did some admin roles – I found myself working in payroll, which I always found funny, because I hated math. And it hated me too.
I changed careers so many times, moved to Manchester, moved back to London, worked so many jobs, all while watching my contemporaries do well. Some of my closest friends have climbed the creative ladder into great roles that they’re (fairly) happy in. (I say fairly, because there’s always some dick, isn’t there).
Anyway, I began to look into how and why this hasn’t happened for me. I’m not a failure because I knew I was a creative, interesting and curious person. My god, I was curious. I was sad to see my life stalling the way it was.
So I created something.
My magazine is grown from me being creative, inspired and destroyed, all in one. The physical product, when held, is like holding a child. I knew I could do it; I just didn’t let anyone else know. I didn’t feel like I could share my creativity, because I lacked confidence and had lived a life of conditioning.
When I started to say to myself ‘wow Sharan, you can do pretty much anything, fucking hell’, I started doing pretty much anything.
When I told myself, ‘Sharan, you look great’, I felt like I looked like a Queen. I carried myself like one and I ruled my mind like one.
The aspect of myself that I was scared would hold me back ended up being my saviour. As I delved back into my culture, I found more to talk about, more beauty to discover, more fantastical stories for young people. But these stories, these conversations, are so young people view creativity as an open invitation, not a closed door. This fantastical world is not somewhere to hide in; it’s somewhere where you will be celebrated.
I don’t let that define me anymore and if people want to know what I’m capable of, I let them know.
Cultural identity is ever changing and as the world changes so do we. If my children say they want to become writers, I know I can smile and say ‘you should’, because I can count successful people of colour in the creative industry on more than just one hand.