South Asian Heritage Month: Stories To Tell

For South Asian Heritage Month this year, the Library hosted a Living Book event as well as a book display, information slides, picture display, and a fairytale display. To finish off the month, we asked individuals from the South Asian community to tell us their unique stories about their journey to get to where they are today and what it means to be someone from a South Asian background.  

Amrit Lall is a Producer for BBC Asian Network, read her story below:  

  • What does South Asian Heritage Month mean to you? 

I think this month is about highlighting the rich and diverse stories South Asia has to offer. It’s about shining a light on Asian culture for non-Asian people to be exposed to it. Though I feel it shouldn’t be tokenistic, it should be more than seeing stereotypical gestures and really allowing South-Asian people the opportunity to be themselves and share their stories. 

  • What is your current job title and what is the most interesting/fun part of your role? 

I’m a producer for BBC Asian Network. I work in radio and the best part of my job is telling stories every day! Working at Asian Network, I basically live and breathe South Asian Heritage Month all day every day. I get to celebrate great music, interview people, and create fun entertaining radio. Every day is different and it’s a blessing that I get to call this work. 

  • Where does your family come from and how it was for you growing up? What are some ways in which your culture has shaped your life as an adult? 

My family are Punjabi, but my Mum was born in Uganda and my Dad grew up in Kenya so that influenced me through food, language, and through socialising with other family and friends. My parents were passionate about their own childhood stories and would always share stories about what it was like for them. We used random Swahili words in our everyday language for household items (like kisu for knife, bhoga for sabji, sufuria for pots and pans) and felt connected to them. My Dad loved cooking outdoors, particularly BBQing which is a Kenyan thing called karoga. It’s always been such a fun social thing to host and attend karoga-style gatherings with friends and family. 

  • Tell us about your school years. Did you enjoy them? What were your favourite subjects? What did you excel at? 

Looking back, I loved school! My parents would encourage me and my sister to take pride in studying and doing well at school. It was important to get good grades and learn different skills. I was always good at creative subjects like art, graphics, literature.  

  • Did you encounter any inspirational teachers or a family member that helped you to become who you are today? What was special about them? 

Mrs Thornalley was my English teacher who really pushed me at school to reach my full potential with my passion for English. She was so enthusiastic and even planned to take me to an Oxford University open day! 

  • What subject did you choose to study at university? What was the best thing about it (people/place/teaching/other)? Does it connect to what you do now, and if not, do you regret your choice? Would you do anything differently? 

I chose to read English Language and Literature at university. It was the one subject I loved at school, and I felt academic and creative doing it. At the time, I thought I might want to eventually become a teacher with this knowledge, but I always dreamed of being involved in either fashion or the media. I had never picked journalism, but wonder where I’d be if I had as that is the area of work I’m in now.  

  • Is your current employment a first-ever job, and if not, what other jobs had an impact on your career and the person you are today?  

It’s my first paid job that I did in this field. After leaving university, I worked in the Fashion & Home department for Avon HQ and quit working for a kitchen company after 2 weeks. My heart was in the media and I interned at several publications before being hired by the BBC on a trainee scheme. 9 years later, I’m still here! 

  • Did you have any significant milestones in your career and if yes, what were they and why?  

Making music documentaries in Mumbai, Pakistan, and Canada. It’s been amazing seeing where my work has taken me – even to Abu Dhabi covering a major film event!  

  • Did/do you have a mentor or a hero, what was/is special about them?  

I have had many. Working with people you grew up watching and seeing on TV, magazines etc., is very surreal. Especially if they’re Asian like me. For example, I looked up to broadcasters like Bobby Friction and Anita Rani, and now being in the same spaces as individuals like this makes me feel so grateful.  

  • What motivates you? How do you overcome obstacles and difficulties? 

Making my parents proud motivates me, but also to younger and future generations so they can see opportunities are endless. You should never stop dreaming! 

  • What was the biggest challenge you’ve overcome? 

Working antisocial hours. This job is around the clock. Radio/entertainment doesn’t stop. Plus working with difficult teams or being in a role you might not enjoy, but seeing where it can take you on your journey.  

  • What do you consider the biggest challenge in your profession or personal life now?  

When my Dad became ill, it was a big life change for me and my family. It affected the way I worked, time I had to take out from my work life and miss out on things because of my responsibilities. Then when my Dad died, my life changed so much more – I was newly married, moved to a new city, and so far from anything familiar to me. Work was the only constant thing that remained in my life and I poured all my energy into that. 

  • If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change about your career/life? 

I’d do more presenting than I do producing. However, I’d also want to see people of colour, in particular South Asian presenters, in mainstream shows, events, and programmes. 

  • What brings you joy and why? 

Capturing moments through pictures brings me joy. I love looking back at memories! 

  • What is your most treasured possession and why?  

My house. My Dad helped me put it together, gave me design ideas, and planted the flowers and herbs outside. It reminds me of him and how much he did for his children.  

  • What is your favourite fairy tale/book/movie/podcast and why? 

Fairytale – Cinderella, because so much of it is relatable to an Indian woman, who dreams of a happy ending! 

Book – Bali & Sukh – it was one of the first British Asian books I read and it opened up a whole new world for me. Growing up, I loved Jaqueline Wilson and Harry Potter, too – they fed my imagination.  

Movie – Crazy Rich Asians – I can watch it over and over again and never get bored. I think it’s my comfort film and it’s so relatable to South Asian culture too! 

Podcast – Brown Girls Do It Too – I love how open, honest, and funny Poppy and Rubina are. Plus, I helped work on the pilot for the first episode! 

  • What do you consider is/are your biggest achievement/s? Which one are you the proudest of? 

My biggest achievement is presenting on a national BBC radio station. I had the opportunity to cover a couple of shows on BBC Asian Network and that felt like my ‘I made it’ moment! 

  • What are your hopes for the future? 

I’d love to see myself using my experience and skills to help people perhaps in a consultancy way or mentoring programme.  

  • Amidst life in the busy and fast-paced world of today, how do you (and your family) stay connected to your heritage? Is it through music, art, stories, food, literature, small and big traditions? 

I think my faith is important. It reminds me to be humble and stay grounded. Music is a huge part of my culture (and job) and it was one of the first ways I felt connected to my culture. I grew up in a very white town, where the only way I accessed my culture was through my family. So music, movies, and books were a way that I felt close to my culture. It feels like a dream to work somewhere now that celebrates this every day!  

  • Would you describe your path from university to your present career as a happy accident or a carefully planned trajectory?  

My career path was loosely planned, as it was always a dream to work in the media, but I can honestly say I had no idea how to get here. Accidents happen, but I believe everything happens for a reason. My career was unlocked through exploring lots of avenues, being at the right time in the right place, and keeping an open mind. I think it’s important to understand what you want and look at how to achieve that, but remind yourself that if one door closes, another one will open! You can achieve anything you want to, if you put your mind and heart to it! 

Jaswinder Neta is the Learning Development team Coordinator from the Library.

  • What does South Asian Heritage Month mean to you? 

It means a time to celebrate my heritage and be proud of what we as a community have achieved. It’s also a time for people from all backgrounds to come together and see the similarities in our cultures and history.  

  • What is your current job title and what is the most interesting/fun part of your role? 

I am the Learning Development Coordinator and I have been at Surrey for the past 4 years. My favourite part is developing and organising personal and professional development events, programmes, and workshops. I enjoy creating opportunities for students to achieve the best they can and opening up opportunities to all students. I remember being a student and I was nervous about starting something new; however, I am working with my team to create opportunities where students feel comfortable and confident.  

  • What subject did you choose to study at university? What was the best thing about it (people/place/teaching/other)? Does it connect to what you do now, and if not, do you regret your choice? Would you do anything differently? 

I did Psychology at University. It was something I never thought I would do as I was quite an artistic person, so my plan was always graphics or something similar. I found it difficult, which is common for anything new you try, but I really wanted to progress. I think the difficulty was that I didn’t feel like I ‘fit in’ with the majority of the students. I also moved halfway through my degree to another university and really struggled with my confidence. There were only two brown people in my whole year. I still went on to do a Masters, where I was the only person of colour in my whole cohort. I focused my dissertation on South Asian women and alcohol abuse as there was not much out there at the time. I really enjoyed this and after a few years of moving from one job to the next, I decided to train as a Health Coach. My end goal was always to do a PhD in Psychology, but I enjoyed helping people directly and seeing how far they have come. Coming from a background where support has always been seen as taboo, I wanted to change that. I then started working at Surrey in Learning Development and I helped with various personal development programmes, as well as developing my skills in various areas. I got comfortable here and enjoyed working with students. However, there was still that passion for Psychology and so I will soon start my new position as a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner.  

My experience has taught me that you can never predict your future career path. For some people it may be straight –forward; however, you never know what obstacles can come up in your life. For me, getting to experience many different fields of work actually led me to my trainee position.  

  • What do you consider is/are your biggest achievement/s? Which one are you the proudest of? 

I have a few achievements! I think the first one is being the first in my family to go to university and the first to have a Masters degree.  

The other would be starting my own business: my first one was a Vegan bakery and my second was Health Coaching.  

And I think the most recent would be being able to break out of my comfort zone and actually achieve my career goal and train as a PWP.  

  • What are your hopes for the future? 

Continue to help people from a South Asian background, break the stigma of mental health, and progress in my PWP role.