AN annual festival that explores masculine identity is taking place from Friday (27).
The Being A Man (BAM) festival will take place at the Southbank Centre in London and will include a panel discussion about British Asian Men in the 21st Century.
Eastern Eye caught up with one of the speakers during the event, Sanjay Sood-Smith, an LGBT activist and former Apprentice 2014 candidate…
How has your time been since you came out of the Apprentice last year?
Exciting! I left my banking job and did some travelling. I have also spent lots of time doing charity work and talking to kids in schools. It’s completely changed my life in a really good way and has led me to focus on the things that I am truly passionate about – like launching my new business Tuk In!
Are you still in touch with any of the candidates or even Lord Sugar?
Haha definitely not Lord Sugar! But I’m still in touch with lots of the other candidates. Roisin has launched a food business as well so it’s been great chatting ideas through with her and getting her advice on things. Solomon is like my little brother and we hang out quite a lot too. I keep in touch with most of the others as well – I met up with Mark who won the show a few weeks ago and his company is designing the website for my new business!
What are you up to at the moment?
I’ve recently launched my new business Tuk In – curry-in-a-naan alongside my business partner Tom. We’ve taken the nations favourite food of curry and made it convenient and healthy to eat. We’ve developed some really authentic and delicious recipes and mixed the curry with rice and sealed it in a soft naan bread. So it microwaves as an easy lunch or snack in just 90 seconds. It’s a great way to have a curry on the go without any mess! That’s taken up most of my time but I also do quite a lot of speaking – be that in schools or at corporate events around diversity in the workplace.
How did you come up with the idea of Tuk In and what are the aims for the business?
The idea was thought up by my business partner Tom on a train when he was at university in Cambridge and was wishing he had a nice easy way to eat a curry! We met when we used to work in banking and this combined with my love for Indian food and the fact that I ate convenient curry from a young age when my mum used to send me to school with tandoori chicken sandwiches in my packed lunch, made the perfect partnership! Our aim is to make delicious curry more convenient for people to eat. We want to make it taste authentic but also make it balanced nutritionally and healthy for people too. Both curry and food on the go is are often thought of as things that are unhealthy – we want to show people that it doesn’t have to be!
What are your thoughts on the premise of the Be A Man (BAM) festival?
I think it’s a fantastic premise. Back in the ‘olden days’ there was a really defined idea of what being a man should be but now, quite rightly things have evolved and there aren’t the same constraints around having to confirm to an ideal, not in the UK anyway. Being A Man can mean so many different things to different people and it’s great to be able to explore some of those issues. For me, taking part in the Being An Asian Man panel is particularly interesting given that I’m from a mixed race background. I’ve felt that regardless of my gender I’ve sometimes struggled to find acceptance with people from English backgrounds, but also people with Asian backgrounds. At primary school I struggled to fit being one of a few dark faces amongst a majority Caucasian background and was bullied. But then equally I’ve had Asian people saying to me “well you don’t look very Asian, you don’t look like a Sanjay” or commenting on a recent magazine cover that I did that I don’t look Asian enough to represent that community, which was equally as hurtful. Cultural heritage is about so much more than the way you look or the pigment of your skin.
What does being a man in the 21st century mean to you?
Being A Man to me is all about knowing who you are and being comfortable, confident and content with that. I’m 28 and I’m still learning things every day. There’s lots of stuff I like about myself as a person but also stuff that I want to work on, or be better at. The way I see it doesn’t matter if your gay, straight, black, brown, white, trans, cerulean, rich, poor, tory, labour or other – we all have something valuable that we can contribute to society. But more importantly we all have something we can learn from each other. Being a Man to me is about constantly trying to better yourself and to level the playing field that we all live on.
You have a Indian, Hindu mother and an English, Catholic father…what was it like when you first came out as gay to them?
Terrifying! Although to be honest when I came out I thought that they would have already guessed – but they hadn’t! It’s definitely had its challenges and I’d be lying if I said it has been an easy journey. But it’s a journey that has taken place and we’ve come out the other side. My mum has always been a great support – she was, and still is, a real activist. She put together a magazine called Mukti with a group of friends when she was in her 20’s to help empower Asian Women so she’s extremely supportive particularly with some of the LGBT work I’ve been doing.
How much more work needs to be done within South Asian communities regarding the acceptance of LGBT issues?
I think there is still a lot of work to be done. I think I’ve been quite lucky coming from a family that accepts it, although there would still be certain family members who I wouldn’t necessarily talk openly about being gay in front of. I think a lot of time in Asian communities there is a lot more emphasis placed on the importance of getting married and pressure applied to ‘find a nice girl’.
That being said in parts of the country the acceptance of LGBT issues is much lower than in a cosmopolitan place like London no matter what community it Is in, which is why I think a lot of people move to the capital. But hopefully the more we talk about gaysian issues, the more we can create awareness and empowerment!
The full festival takes place on 27-29 November with a programme of talks, debates and performances from over 150 speakers and performers. For more information see