Meet Hero Parent Ashik Jaffer-Ali who graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, going on to practice and then teach at Parsons School of Design in New York. In 2010, after the birth of her first daughter, she shifted gears, moving to India and setting up a design practice and running art camps for orphanages in the city she grew up in. Ashik, mom to 6 year old Zarin and 6 month old Tariq sat down to tell us how she has evolved as a mother and how she balances her creative pursuits while being a hands-on mom.
My life in Coimbatore, South India was like living in a bubble; it was very sheltered and uninspiring. For a 17-year-old Muslim girl to leave to the US for college was not the norm. Interestingly, during my first year at Rhode Island School of Design, I held on to my upbringing and my Islamic principles closer to me than ever before. It was the only thing that was familiar. It took me four years of college to slowly learn to discover myself.
Looking back, architecture was a choice mostly out of ignorance. Out of the career choices that I knew growing up, architecture definitely seemed most appealing. My degree in Architecture was fascinating. It has shaped me as a person allowing me to question and perceive things differently. In practice though, I felt that the purity of architecture is lost and I struggled to practice it during my 5 years of working at a firm in New York City. It was gratifying to teach architecture at Parson's School of Design, exposing students to different concepts within the field.
After 7 years of marriage and procrastination, we finally decided to have a child. It was an overwhelming experience to see the two lines for the first time in my pregnancy test! I thoroughly enjoyed my pregnancy, the attention, the glow, my hair, my skin, the kicks, reading up on what to expect, but at the same time detesting the all girls' baby shower and Lamaze classes.
Nothing compares to holding your baby for the first time. And I have realized over the years that parenting helps you evolve as a person. The many questions or things that seemed banal are brought to life with a child around you. I did struggle a bit with my new identity as a mother and what was expected of it.
Moving to DUMBO - a New York neighbourhood (that at the time attracted a lot of new parents), I was soon part of a mom's group that helped me ease into my new role. Brooklyn was an ideal place for babies and toddlers with playgrounds galore, baby friendly restaurants, fun classes and events for new mothers and their babies, and tons of cute baby shops to burn your cash at!
The decision to move back to Coimbatore, India in 2010 was an impulsive one . Both my husband and I wanted a break from big city life and a taste of our roots. We thought to ourselves that it would be easier to move with a toddler than a grade schooler. Also, we wanted to be closer to family and for Zarin to bond with her grandparents.
I was always been involved in art programs for Inner City kids over the course of my Architecture career. Here in India, the education system puts little to no emphasis on fine arts, more so in the smaller cities. To bridge this gap, I run art camps and screen printing workshops at a few orphanages and local schools in Coimbatore. The joy in seeing kids express themselves through art is so gratifying. To me, that it the truest form of expression.
Tariq is wearing a Zhob Onesie in Orange
I was more laid back with the birth of my second child – Tariq . Everything takes on a more slower and relaxed pace when you have tons of family support.
I have evolved as a parent over the years. Zarin is strong-willed and a mature child. I always respect her independence in taking decisions for herself. What has worked for me is to listen to her. I am still struggling to pass on softer skills such as gratitude and respect and is very much an ‘education in progress’.
I run Rock Paper Scissors - a multi disciplinary design studio along with another mommy friend, which has allowed me to be flexible with my time for my family as well as channel my creative energy.
Baby Hero is a wonderful initiative. I must admit that I am a sucker for anything that is started by ambitious women who think differently for the benefit of communities that they necessarily don't belong in. Baby Hero fits that description perfectly well.
Tariq lounging in a Zhob Onesie in Orange