We use cookies on South Asian Today and measure activity across the website, provide content from third parties. Please be aware that your experience may be disrupted until you accept cookies.

South Asian Magazine Logo

A piece of cake: colonialism, covid and beyond coping

“We cannot speak on our experiences with COVID without mentioning colonialism”

As someone who does not have a television, my news source has historically come as Amma’s incessant WhatsApp warnings, what old mate next door reckons is Fake News or not, and the incidental passing-by-convos with colleagues. After the occasional tip-off from either of the above, I’d do a quick Google of “kotha malli for detox effective”, or “Roosters NRL pay scandal”, or “Messina new flavours”.

So, it was with great shock that I heard of this virus, COVID, or “Krona” as Amma called it. 

At the time, we lived on the northern end of Parramatta City and joked about how it wasn’t just the Humans of Eastwood who were now wearing masks. Ironically, the first wearing of a mask for me was when bushfires ravaged the east coast and thick, angry, plumes of pyrolysed eucalypt and mountain homes spindelled their way under our doorways and settled deep in our lungs. As an asthmatic and someone with chronic upper respiratory illnesses, I was ill for months, relying heavily on masks, sealed-off windows, and various inhalers. 

Soon after, I worked with a team of fabulous humans to put on the we are the mainstream’s inaugural conference for First Nations, Gender Diverse and Women of Colour. It was here in this moment of hand-sanitising, clipboard-wielding, and community-building chaos, that I felt calm and safe. The day was rich, dynamic, and lively, filled with tears and laughter because so many of us just needed a place to feel seen, heard and validated in our experiences. After the adrenaline left my system and the exhaustion wore off, I felt an immense sense of pride, achievement and humility- this is what I wanted after all - this space, this community, this chosen family of complex, complicated, chaotic and calming humans. And we had created it. 

Although Coronavirus had been mentioned in the news, the question of “coping with COVID”, was not at the forefront of our minds as many of us were newly unpacking “coping with Colonialism” and being newly versed on the literature of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Aileen Morten-Robinson and other Black thinkers, and the language of decolonising. We were learning to embody both our grief and joy with a conscious collectivism our mothers had not had access to. 

We cannot speak exclusively on our experiences with COVID without mentioning colonialism - to do so would be erasing our experiences of coping and surviving the toxic ecosystem created by white heteropatriarchy. As a geography teacher, my students know that the criteria of a disrupted ecosystem at risk of collapse are  displacement, climate change, invasive species, overexploitation and pollution of the original habitat. For those of us who come from and/or live in colonised nation-states, with their greedily- and hurriedly-drawn-up borders, we have lived on the precipice of collapse our entire lives. Upward mobility can only take us so far but never completely shields us from the all-watching, all-knowing Colon-Eye.


South Asian Today is an independent media company committed to amplifying South Asian writers and artists. If you like our work, please become a member or buy us a coffee here. Your support enables us to keep our journalism open for all and publish South Asian writers. Please support us by becoming a member and helping us remain free of a paywall. It starts at just $5/month.

So, how did we cope before covid? How did our family units, communities and societies maintain and uphold movements of support? The truth is, I’m not sure that there ever have been authentic forms of support in communities that are marked with legacies of intergenerational trauma as a result of colonialism and casteism.

But lockdown certainly was a tester of this, no? For those of us in so-called Australia, some of us experienced up to 111 days in confinement, forced to eat, sleep, work, piss and shit in whatever it was we called home. It was here, in these moments of isolation, that we were forced to sit with and unpack our thoughts, hoping of course that the unravelling would not be too much of a disaster. In my case, as I unpacked it all and decided that no, I will not continue allowing vellai relatives, vellaiaakal, and people more broadly to treat me with the hostility and disrespect that often comes in this body of mine, I experienced a mild hiccup in my ~evolution~. 

During the early lockdown of 2020, when we’d moved further out west, our home sat on a border that intersected with the regular chopper sounds that came around public housing. Where I live, the streets are lined with utes and caravans of an older working-class community and our suburb backs onto an ageing middle-class estate. Older residents are slowly White-flighting their way up to the central coast for a piece of the ‘old days’ as keen young inner-westies buy in way overpriced. It was at this time that we met a Fijian family. Their home - windows hung with brightly coloured floral prints, fence lined with banana trees and dandelions poking through the pavers, sat directly next to our local park. The older sister, a prop for an NRLW team, was a softly-spoken and thoughtful twenty-something. My youngest child, a toddler whose undiagnosed health issues were causing a whole lot of angst for us at home, was drawn to her stillness and would often spend the afternoon climbing from playground equipment to her lap, to back, to weave through her impressively strong legs.

So it was without any surprise, on one of our morning meanders down to the park, on realising that she was not waiting for him at the park, this child whose language had not yet arrived and whose brain operated on its own time zone, decided that they would sit, wail and wait by her front gate until she did. The chaos invited a neighbour’s pair of English staffies out the front. Tails wagging excitedly, they ran onto the footpath at perfect eye level to our toddler. The confused owners, a beer-bellied father and his scurvied son, began an assault of words as though I was somehow responsible for their fenceless home and their leadless canines. 

Cross-species trauma is one of those things that sits dormant until it happens. Learning of the way dogs had been used in Black July by the police and the mob from whispers by my family, I yelled for my older two.

“Ride home. Don’t stop. Go.” I watched as they pumped their little legs over the hill and scooped up Toddler in one hand. 

“Get the fuck outta here!” the men yelled. Unprovoked. 

I couldn’t help myself.

“Is this how you speak to all kids?” I heard my voice shake; my bicep ache as I tried to manoeuvre both child and pram and avoid these dogs that had suddenly gone from being friendly and excited, to being just excited and terrifying.

“They’ll be dead, fucken Black kids, if you don’t move.”

After our run-in with whom my children soon dubbed the “Demon Dogs”, which in all fairness should have been renamed as Demon Colonisers (but, of course, doesn’t have the same ring to it), my physical and mental health went on a steady decline. Leaving the house was a struggle. Would Team Demon Dog be waiting at the top of the street to terrorise me again? 

And, of course, I thought of Cassius’ mother, Mechelle Turvey, and the way this sort of violence has been the everyday experience for Black mothers since the belligerent invasion and occupation of this continent. And then I thought of the First Nations women whose murders and disappearances go unaccounted and unreported.

I thought of my own mother. 

“Ah, we went through much worse, antha naalilai.” she’d said when asking how she was coping with the 5km restrictions.

And there it was. 

The way she disguised herself as a hijabi Muslim woman and hid for three days in a stranger’s home in ‘83. The way she was smuggled on a boat to Tamil Nadu. The way she recounted rather flippantly, how her family dog had dragged in a severed arm. The way the IPKF looted her family home. The way she had to learn the ways of a new world.


Despite escaping the terror caused by the departure of three violent European colonisers, only to be slowly colonised by the violence of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, here we were thirty years on, still being terrorised. At what point in time did she have to sit and cry into an overpriced container of Fair-Trade ice cream? So I spent the next few weeks - fifteen to be precise, looking for answers, and sometimes joy, at the bottom of a Ben & Jerry’s tub; only to be sorrowfully reminded of its emptiness and often, my own. 

Research suggests that one way people can manage traumatic events is by talking, sharing and feeling our way through it together in communities. Despite my Amma and Appa, like many other Ammas and Appas of refugee background, living in a Thamizh refugee enclave in Homebush surrounded by people with similar life experiences, they lacked the know-how, resources and space to be able to unpack their homeland traumas together.

So, after this dog-awful event, I unpacked my first-child guilt and my role and duty as the first daughter, muddled by the curse of codependency that came from living with emotionally underdeveloped parents and the ongoing sense of false responsibility that forced me into a slow spiral. Because of the physical isolation of the events, I took to my Instagram stories, found some sort of community care in the responses and decided I could no longer leave the house. This unpacking led to packing on the covid kilos, and coping with it was a piece of cake - literally. Energy in and no energy out. And so, I found respite in calories and with this evolution came a growth spurt that meant stretchy pants were here to stay.

Lockdown and quarantine meant that my community and support were found online. Meals were delivered, homemade sourdough sent in cardboard boxes, support packs full of Blak-made artisan goodies, Zooms were had. As I turned to the only form of community I had at the time, I reflected on how in the 80s and 90s my elders, despite being in physical proximity to so many with similar lived experiences, practised true social distancing. Cultural norms, driven by fear and shame, discouraged reaching out for help, rendering them stuck in self-isolation, and self-quarantine with self-inflicted restrictions.

Post-pandemic, if indeed we can call it that, has meant I’ve had to reconsider relationships: family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. Investing in the ones that truly matter, whether online, next door or overseas, has really been how I’ve truly coped with COVID. As an intensely social being and an ambiguous ambivert, I’ve learnt to draw boundaries to allow only those who will support not just my coping but my thriving. The truth is, coping has been a real struggle. And, of course, the irony of me writing about not coping as I continue to only just cope is not lost on me. Treading water is never fun - the exhaustion that comes with it and the lactic acid build-up in calves and gut is debilitating. 

But I’ve found the folks who hold my head above the water, have thrown me multiple lifelines, and who’ve sat beside me as I’ve coughed up salt water and swallowed seaweed and snot. And I imagine these same folks will be here once we make it to shore and imagine new worlds together, ones where we aren’t just forced to cope but heal and thrive together.

Editor-at-large: Dilpreet Kaur Taggar

Co-Editor: Yohaan Prem Sharma

Graphic Designer: Jess Harwood


'Coping with COVID' is a multimedia series funded by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. Through this project, we aim to highlight the mental, physical, social and financial recovery of South Asians in Australia post-lockdowns. Follow the hashtag #CopingWithCOVID below for more.

About the author

Priyanka is an eela thamizh antidisciplinary artist, educator and writer living on unceded Darug lands. Her family fled "Sri Lanka" as refugees and she has called Western Sydney home for most of her childhood and adult life. She is the founder of we are the mainstream, a grassroots collective that seeks to dismantle White heteropatriarchy and rewrite, reright and reclaim their own narratives. Instagram: @longstoryshortis



A Punjab left behind, a Melbourne that won’t move

"I turned to writing sad poetry, memorialising my failure as a newbie migrant"

So Funny: Broke, dumped, and sharehouses from hell

I was Googling, "Why are human beings so shi**."

Delivery from Hyderabad House: Love, family and resilience

To describe it as just a restaurant would be a great disservice to my family’s history in Australia