The Chindian Diaries – Part II

Kevin Bathman's Parents
Parents of Kevin Bathman, Shirley Choong (left) and Bathman Mahalingam (right).

Lian Low, Peril’s Prose Editor interviews Kevin Bathman, creator of The Chindian Diaries

Peril: The Chindian Diaries began as a very personal project – you share very intimate details and photographs of your family.  You are telling us your family story via photographs, and this reminds me of William Yang’s method of visual storytelling, except that yours is in a web format.  Have you any wishes of seeing a performance outcome from this project?

Kevin Bathman: In fact, the Chindian Diaries project was born after I attended a storytelling workshop with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah. I have mentioned to them that it was due to their influence and input in the workshop, most of the storytellers have delved into their own histories and ancestries and created projects of their own.

This December, I am taking this project to StoryLab 2013, a 6-day laboratory presented by Griffin Theatre Company, in association with Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre to explore cross-cultural and cross-platform performance-making. So watch this space!

Peril: How have you curated your family album to share to the public? 

KB: I absolutely love the 60s and 70’s era and with my family photos, I look for photos that tell a story or captured a moment in time. There was an innocence and care-free feeling about photos of yesteryears.

If I find them interesting, I’m sure others would too. Items of cultural relevance is also something I look for in photos.

Peril: Has it been hard sharing your stories so publicly? 

KB: It took me a while to get used to it. I’ve always been a very private person – sharing intimate details of my family life was not something I had originally intended to do. Upon reflecting on my own identity crises and cultural confusion when I was younger, I decided to embrace my mixed heritage and tell the world about it – by telling it, I hope that it may help another young person who may be confused about their identity. I chose to paint the hardship as well the beautiful parts of belonging to the Chindian culture. I think people resonate with the brutal honesty depicted in the stories and the photos.

Peril: What has been the highlight of The Chindian Diaries? Any negative experiences?

KB: Finding other Chindians like myself. I used to think I was ‘all-so-unique’ but by golly, I found people who grew up with the same experiences! Not feeling like I belonged in the Chinese or Indian culture, the project gave me a sense of belonging – that to me, has been the highlight of the project. New friendships were formed and a deeper understanding into the cultural narratives of the Chindian culture.

Personally, I haven’t experienced any negativity from doing the project. However, one of the Chindian interviewee I had written a story for, wrote to me to tell me that one of her friends had said to her, “Why are you airing all your dirty laundry in public? You should think twice before sharing all your personal story.”

She felt like she was doing something wrong with sharing these stories, and perhaps shaming her family. I was upset that someone had written to tell her that! I said to my Chindian interviewee that she should be proud for having the courage to tell her deeply moving story to the world.

Peril: How have you found other Chindians who are also willing to share their stories?  

KB: Yes, I have interviewed over 20 of them and as each story takes time to write, it can be a long process. Occasionally I get some who only want to share their photos and that is fine too.

Here are some feedback and comments that I had received on the page:

“I truly miss everything which existed from that era. The warmth, simplicity and the ability of not being too conscious when posing for pictures, are quite rare nowadays.’’ – Raji Shunmu

“I loved looking at these pictures. They are joyous, playful, tender and evocative. And sometimes very stylish! Cant get enough of the large shades, svelte sarees, cool hairdo’s, bell-bottoms and pleated pants.” – Sandeep Ray

So grateful for this project and love seeing pictures and reading people’s stories! My husband (parents from Hong Kong) and I (parents from Chennai) were married 5 years ago and have two little Chindians of our own. I’m so happy to have this page to show my girls that there are other little girls and boys out there just like them! Thank you!” – Divya Balachandar Wong

“Love how two cultures can blend so beautifully. It felt like one huge celebration. I wish much blessings and love to the couple and their families.’’

Jacqueline Tegjeu

“This is such a lovely page. It’s almost like stepping into a magical kingdom with so many real life stories to read and delight in! – Pamela Ruthless Teh Dass

Peril: What are your future plans for the project?

KB: I’d love to promote this unique culture to the Western world and eventually collate enough material to write a short story about it, or do a performance piece from it.

Kevin Bathman

Author: Kevin Bathman

Kevin Bathman is an independent curator, graphic designer and cultural activist who is passionate about advancing social change through creativity. He believes that the arts are an untapped avenue for catalysing change and creating long-term social transformation. As a 2018 Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, his creative and academic areas of interest encompass the social, political and cultural landscape of Malaysia and Southeast Asia. With an Indian/Chinese ancestry, Kevin has been researching the history, connections and cross-cultural stories between the Chinese and Indian culture for his project, The Chindian Diaries.

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