Real Life

Dr Who and Ancestral Stories


The last time I watched Dr Who my friend Fiona screamed and hid behind our orange fake leather sofa when the daleks appeared on screen. I was about 10 years old. It must’ve been traumatic for her to be sandwiched between faux leather, daleks, floral embossed wallpaper and a floral carpet.

When Series 11 aired last year I had no idea that it had been filmed in Sheffield. Though I did know that we finally got a female Dr Who! Messages from friends started flying in…Dr Who’s been filmed in Sheffield…there’s an episode about Rosa Parks…and an episode about the partition between India and Pakistan. The energy was sizzling. I didn’t quite believe any of them until I watched it myself last night.

I was thrilled to discover a thoroughly Northern Dr Who with Northern characters who speak Northern and maybe looked like me…25 years ago! I jumped straight to the Rosa Parks episode and found myself in tears by the end. I could feel my critic at work, 'are they going to get this right?’ and yes, I feel they did with writer, Malorie Blackman at the helm, it was poignant, powerful and centred Rosa, not holding back on the realities of being young, brown or black, in the UK.

Watching the ‘Demons of the Punjab’ episode awoke my ancestral DNA. Like Yaz’s Nani, my father had left post-partition India in 1954 to seek a different life in the UK, eventually settling in Sheffield in 1959. He too loved Sheffield, it was his home. Much of his heart and soul remained in the Punjab but he always said if he died in India he wanted his body bringing back to Sheffield for cremation. And then his ashes returned to the River Sutlej in the Punjab. Ok Dad, bit demanding like! Forever the international traveller.

Like Nani, my father rarely talked of the Partition. Few elders do. It was HORRIFIC. He was born in Indian Punjab in a village that was home to Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, living mostly in peace. Until Partition. My father occasionaly dropped hints of what he had witnessed to me and out of respect I shall not repeat them. He would’ve been a teenager, maybe 14 or 15 years old. I’ve often wondered whether the experience of partition made him run away to the Indian Army at 16 years old, pretending that he was 18 years old to get in? Or whether that’s why he left Punjab, to get away from the memories? I’ll never know, so many questions un-asked. It was always my intention to gather more history from my father, to record or film him but you know how it goes, other less important things happen, I didn’t prioritise HIM and then BAM! He had his stroke and I missed a moment and missed a history.

Dr Who and Ancestral Stories

This episode of Dr Who shows us that even though we may collect our elders stories there are still the hidden stories, the secret stories that will never be shared but instead passed on through our DNA by our ancestors, lingering like quiet whispers in our blood or in broken watches. Stories we KNOW and maybe unconsciously live but unable to articulate. I don’t begrudge the secrets, it is absolutely the right of our elders to keep them. I even began wondering if my Mother had been married before, or had loved someone else, a muslim man even? My Mother doesn’t talk about her past at all. I know little of her pre-Sheffield life. I wonder about this too but then, it really is none of my business. I have to accept the quiet whispers inside and her right to not tell.

More tears flowed after this episode and I flipped back from 1947 to 2018 to watch episode 1, which was mostly filmed in Sheffield. My cells bounced when I saw Yaz dealing with a parking dispute on a steep Sheffield street. She was stood right outside my Dad’s old house. Somehow, the BBC had chosen that very house to film outside of. My Dad was always quietly mystical. Maybe it’s not such a surprise after all! He would’ve loved that Dr Who, a sci-fantasy programme, was filmed outside his house.

Now I’m wondering, maybe my Dad actually arrived in 1959 Sheffield by tardis?

* Photographs of Dr Who and Tardis sourced via Google Images.

To Write is to Risk: a medicinal poem

For the rebels and the misfits...

I'm taking a dose of my own poetic medicine this morning. Reminding myself that traversing the hinterlands of transition can feel like sea swimming alone on a moonless night, heart beating fast wondering if my toes are going to be nibbled by baby sharks or whether I'll emerge wearing a jellyfish on my head.  Everywhere is a shade of darkness and I'm scared of swimming too far out. Except I already have. 

I often use poem prompts to jump start my creative writing process especially if I'm feeling rattled or unsettled, trying to work stuff out.  You know that claggy stuff that hides in the folds and creases of our insides? It's a bit gooey and contains all sorts of wonderful and weird ingredients. 

Inspired by the introductory manifesto in Belonging by  Toko-pa Turner, I used her first line "For the rebels and the misfits..." (and a few other little words too) as a seed for my own piece, to work out what on earth I'm doing all this 'stuff' for, how it feels and to give myself a hint of moonlight at the end.  

For the rebels and the misfits, the outsiders and un-belongers. 

For the rootless, the uprooted, the refugees, the scar clan tribe and the orphans.

For the cast-outs, the gobby ones, the dare-to-expose mavericks, the silenced ones.

For the weirdos, the misunderstood ones, the ones-who-missed-out and the can't do the 9-5'ers.

For the ponderers, the empaths, the quiet ones and the shy ones. 

For the wild imaginers, the naked sea swimmers, the midnight storytellers and the fire-side poets.

May you open up to the raw power of your voice and let it sink ink on to paper, throw songs to the moon and weave wonder in to your night dreams.

Let the thirsty page drink up your voice and may it be your pen medicine. A lyrical balm. Taken when needed. 

May you risk mistakes, risk being unlikeable, dare to grow beyond who you've been expected to be. Words have that quiet way of shaking up your insides. And unsettling those around you.

If you dare to share your quirks and cracks and hopes and dreams, though they may shock and tease,  may they reach those who recognise the uttering of a feral wordster. A fellow tinker. And let it be their medicine too. 

May you see that when you live your own poetry, the disapprovers, the naysayers and the unbelievers will move to the side whilst you continue to stride and gather your family-ar kin.

It will take time to move from one land to another, to be a refugee from your old life. You may be shunned and invisible-ised, demonised and misunderstood. The loneliness will sear you. Suddenly, you'll find yourself one step past that middle space, one step too far forward to step backwards. This is wobble space,  'oh fuck space', the no going back space. 

May you hold on tight to this liminality. This is a 90 degrees wash cycle and it might take some time before the drum stops spinning. Hold on to the one thing you know - your raw voice is tilling a new land upon which you will plant new seeds in to rich soil, fertilised with all you have ever known and all that you have ever risked and the nutrients of long-buried nocturnal wishes. 

Eventually you will rise up. Supported. Rooted. Wildly alive. 

© Dal Kular

These words are still a bit fresh to my eyes and soul. The medicine needs some time to take effect. But the first dose feels like the washer has just stopped spinning and I'm finishing off my cuppa before I unload it, shaking out the tangled fabrics one by one. 

Encouragement: if any part of my poem resonates with you, grab your daring pen and create your own words! Forget form or precision - just write. Mix up metaphors - I have. It doesn't even have to make sense. Just write.  Feel free to use any of my lines as a starting point or wherever you want.  If you'd love to share, I'd love to hear! Feel free to share below, email me in secret or tag me on instagram.

(kindness: if you decide to share a piece of work inspired by my poem please link back to this blog post and also credit Toko-pa Turner as the originating inspiration 🙏🏾)

Disobedient language and physical pain.

Translating Pain.
Pain is not caramel cashmere draped softly over my shoulders.
— Dal Kular

Pain is a 3am alarm shrieking in my urethra, slamming me awake. 

Pain can be hard to understand and even harder to express in words, for those witnessing loved ones in pain and for those experiencing pain. The only time in my life I saw my Dad cry was during one his many stays in hospital following his stroke. As my sister and I arrived one morning, unstoppable tears flowed down his face, Dad trembling, highly distressed, he was unable to talk through the sobs. He's been like that all morning, the man in the bed next to him said. It was emotionally unbearable to see my Dad in so much distress. After quizzing the disinterested nurse, we discovered  they had forgotten to give my Dad his painkillers. The daily cocktail that meant Dad could live pain-free in his body and have some quality of life. I cannot even begin to imagine the level of pain my Dad was experiencing. He was a tough man, ex-Indian army.

But that morning (or who knows how long) scarred him. Traumatised him. And there were no words for it. Except his eyes spoke this pain experience for a long time after. 

Disobedient pain...

I've always had some kind of pain or the other, whether in my wrists, or knees, or migraines. And just lived with it, around it, and got on with it. But last summer I discovered pain on a whole different level - vulval pain due to lichen sclerosis. A new dis-order to add to my long list of ailments! For three months this pain was disobedient. Unruly. Cruel. I couldn't understand it. And it squatted firmly between my legs.  The only way I could describe it was like toothache in my vulva - the kind of toothache you get when you need urgent root canal work. I hated the name of the disorder too - lichen sclerosis. It felt claggy and icky.

Finding the words to describe the deep truth of physical pain is challenging.  The conventional narrative of physical pain is clinical, medicalised and often separated to a particular body part. This narrative reduces, invisible-ises and de-normalises chronic pain sufferers. Chronic pain sufferers frequently report being marginalised, stigmatised and disbelieved because pain is... invisible. 

I was fortunate because my pain was believed by my GP and gynaecologist. But it was difficult to express my pain to friends and colleagues, most people are much happier talking about a headache than an aching fanny.  Pain becomes invisible-ised suffering. I even wondered if I was making it up? I explored this further by writing an essay for my masters exploring the philosophy of cunctipotence, gynaecological issues and creative writing. If pain is an hidden narrative, I discovered that narratives about vulval pain are at the bottom of that hidden pile.

God forbid us women talk about our vulvas.  That would be far too empowering. We must either wear huge knickers at all times or allow our vulvas to become a sexualised spectacle for male desire. 

Cunt pain - no thank you - keep it hidden, keep it shame. 


Translating Chronic Pain using flash illness writing...

Sara Wasson, a lecturer from Lancaster University is challenging the prevailing pain narrative through a project called 'Translating Chronic Pain'. Sara states that, "This invisibility is partly because chronic pain can be hard to turn in to story, thanks to it's jagged unpredictability, and it's resistance to clear causality and cure." Instead she proposes short-form or flash creative works of up to 150 words which expresses a moment or fragment of the pain experience, to help both the person experiencing pain to find a way to express themeself, and to raise awareness amongst health professionals, carers and the wider public. 

Sara invited us to use disobedient and non-compliant language at a recent workshop. To not hold back with our words but to really dig deep beneath our experience of pain. Pain is pain - it is not soft cashmere or a whispering breeze. If pain is disobedient then we need disobedient language to describe it. I love being disobedient so that resonated with me. 

Pain is a shrill jackhammer splattering me, maroon clotted lumps over crisp white cotton...
— Dal Kular

Creating flash writing felt cathartic and empowering. Picking a singular moment to focus on instead of trying to express the broadness of my experience in a longer prose piece felt doable. It enabled me to look through a microscopic lens and I was startled to see just how intense ONE moment felt. Unpicking the vast detail of this moment made me appreciate just why I was so overwhelmed by my pain experience last year - the multiple moments were just too big altogether, too whole, too consuming. Flash fiction feels like working with individual jigsaw pieces, each piece being a moment that I will slowly build in to a bigger story over time if I so choose. It's also helping me come to terms with my Dad's pain and how helpless I felt over those long 11 months. 


Re-languaging my diagnosis...

Sometimes we need to re-label our pains or illness, to claim a sense of ownership over our experience. To be disobedient instead of compliant. Language is powerful. Diagnostic labels can be useful to cluster a range of symptoms so we can get some understanding of our experience, causation and treatment options (or in some cases not). But these labels are also stigmatising, sometimes limiting a person to the sum of their diagnosis.  I hate my diagnostic label, it feels imprisoning, not empowering and too limited to medicalised treatments and a degenerative trajectory. It took a while to accept this 'new normal' in my life but I also understand the potential of the body to heal by taking a holistic approach towards the disorder. 

I mentioned to a friend that I have a 'cunt-disorder'* called lichen sclerosis.  She put it back to me, "do you have a cunt-disorder or a disorderly cunt?' Boom. Language again. I couldn't stop laughing, I have a disorderly cunt! A cunctipotent disorderly cunt, a rebellious and independent-spirited vulva. If it had a placard it would be waving it at some demonstration.  Immediately I felt empowered and felt like I could own my disobedient disorder on my terms, not on clinical terms. Therefore, my second novel will be "The Adventures of The Disorderly Cunt - a memoir of disobedience.' 

Move over 50 Shades of Nonsense. 

* Please note - I use the word cunt in it's etymological, mystical and empowering origins, as a place of female power and potency. This is a word I revere and respect. 

Read more on Cunctipotence philosophy by Jane Caputi 

Translating Chronic Pain is accepting submissions of short creative works that explores the experience of persistent physical pain. Go here for more information. 

A list of support for people experiencing persistent pain. 

If you have a disorderly cunt aka lichen sclerosis you can find out more here (a clinical viewpoint). I will be writing more about this soon in a thoroughly non-clinical way.