Tag Archives: #womensempowerment

Is Gender Parity in Politics a Distant Dream?

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

As another election season comes to an end in India, it leaves us with lingering doubts – introspection into what could have been avoided and needs to be mended. Aggressive campaigning amidst pandemic led to a rocketing spike of cases, an unexpected setback for the central ruling party.

But the fundamental and crucial issue that remains unnoticed is the staggering ratio between the number of male contenders to female contenders in the election. Have you ever pondered on the count? Well, it’s shocking to note that the count not even close!

This is an issue that is very much prevalent across the globe. In America, we saw the first woman win the vice-presidential election campaign only in the recent 2020 election. Prior to Kamala Harris, the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American vice president, only five women throughout history had made it to a major party’s primary debate stage.

According to the UN Gender statistics 2020, globally, only a quarter of seats in national parliaments are held by women. In local deliberative bodies, the count is hardly 37 percent. When it comes to the world’s government heads, only 6.7 percent are women. With the current rate of progress, the UN believes global gender parity can be achieved only after 2060. And even that looks dicey with the number of gender discrimination cases rising across the world.

Not just for women to come to the fore and hold the reigns of power, the journey of disparity goes a long way back, right from the procurement of the basic right to vote in elections. The odyssey of women’s suffrage is unimaginable considering the outrageous reasons cited for denying voting rights to women. Absurd denial reasons included women’s incompetence to understand politics and how they would neglect home and wreck families if allowed to venture into politics. 

It took more than 75 years of struggle, protests, and agony for women to obtain their basic right to vote. However, it’s surprising to observe the superpowers of today were not among the first on the list to embrace the change. New Zealand was the first country in the world to proclaim the right of women to vote in 1893. Followed by Australia, Finland, and Norway. It took yet another seven years for 28 other countries to join the wagon including the U.S, Germany, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries. For Asian countries, they had to wait until the end of World War II.

Unknown to many, few conservative nations withheld the rights until the start of the Twenty-First Century. Oman approved the rights in 1994 and UAE only in 2006. Saudi Arabia became the most recent country to grant women voting rights in 2015. Currently, Vatican City is the only country in the world to deny voting rights based on sex. 

2021 saw a welcoming dawn with Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, becoming the only country to have both a female president and prime minister. But still, the women leaders who have emerged from the shackles of patriarchy are only a handful, while many others are only in the game to honor family names or to be mere puppets in the hands of male supremacy. 

Through this video story, Tell-A-Story unfolds the historical women’s suffrage movement, the journey of the incredible women in power, current staggering gender economics and the need for miles to go, and millions to empower for a gender-neutral world!


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

For more such intriguing stories, subscribe to the channel. You can also follow the stories on Facebook @tellastory2020 and Instagram @tell_a_story2020


 

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

Bay-Area Based Filmmaker Alka Raghuram Documents Muslim Women Boxers’ Fight for Liberation

How far would you go for freedom? A choice between survival and social acceptance.

For girls of Kiddirpur, a small Muslim neighborhood in West Bengal, the path they chose was something no one even dreamt of; a path less trodden. To be women boxers, carving out a space of their own in a male-dominated sport, that too in a patriarchal society. Burqa Boxers, an internationally acclaimed documentary portrays the incredible life story of these Muslim women boxers, how they shatter the preconceived notions incredulously and stand up for their fight for survival. 

Written and Directed by California-based Indian American Alka Raghuram, the documentary is currently premiered on Cinemapreneur – an OTT platform for independent filmmakers, and has already received rave reviews from across the world.

“When I heard about this unusual story of girls from a traditional community stepping out of their comfort zone to do something unique, it just inspired me right away. One of my photographer friends had shot these women in action and seeing those photographs gave me a massive adrenaline rush, and then and there, I decided that I want to tell this incredible story to the world,” said Alka Raghuram, who is also the producer of the film along with Deann Borshay Liem, 24 Images from France and Premlatha Durham.

With three women boxers belonging to different age groups as main protagonists, trained under Razia Shabnam, one of the first Indian women to become a boxing coach and an international referee, the documentary sheds light on their life trajectory amidst societal acceptance, financial conditions, aspirations, and dreams. Smitten by poverty, for these girls, boxing is not just their passion, but a path to attain financial independence. Being an earning member of the family empowers them to take their own decisions. The only way to break free, or else they are married off.

“Kolkata has a long history of boxing with many public boxing rings around and these girls have seen their brother or father in the field and that gave them the exposure. Coming from underprivileged communities and boxing being a cheap sport compared to others, they saw this practical opportunity and grabbed it right away. Boxing gives them financial independence and also the confidence to defend and stay strong when needed,” adds Alka, who spent nearly a year for research, building relations with the conservative community, and understanding the intricacies of complicated dynamics of the society. 

The movie explores the emotions of not just the three boxers but people around who influence them and how boxing acts as a catalyst in life-changing decisions. For Ajmira Khatoon, an aspiring boxer from the neighborhood, boxing is her future and leaves no stone unturned to attain the goal, even if it means regular beatings from father and family fights. To be financially independent is boxer Parveen Sajda’s dream, who is already a state champion but still struggles to get a job amidst societal marital pressure. And for Taslima Khatoon, who resides at a hostel for kids of impoverished communities like sex workers, run by New Light NGO, boxing has opened up new avenues to flourish. 

Apart from these main protagonists, the documentary also brings to fore many alarming issues like the rise in the number of rape cases in India, an upsurge in fear, and how girls discover the need to rise, fight, and conquer their fears. Through the eyes of coach Razia Shabnam and her son, it also delves into prejudiced notions of society that perpetuate unknowingly and engulfs even the educated minds. 

Funded by Independent Television Service (ITVS), Diversity Development Fund, Centre national du cinema et de l’image animee (CNC France), and Visions Sud Est, Burqa Boxers has already many accolades to its credit. Screened at the Locarno Film Festival co-production market, it received the top honor and the team also exhibited a compilation of photo, video and art installation based on the project at the venue.  

California Filmmaker, Alka Raghuram

“Even though the setting of the movie is a poor neighborhood in West Bengal, people from across the world could resonate and relate to it during the screenings, which I consider as most rewarding. To be able to convey a story crossing all cultural boundaries was fulfilling as a visual storyteller. I would love to take Burqa Boxers further ahead to many more public platforms where it reaches a wider audience, especially educational screenings that initiate a conversation on women empowerment and the need for change. We need more stories like these for people to step out of their comfort zone and discover their dreams,” states Alka, who is all set to embark on a new project – fiction feature film ‘Ayna’ starring acclaimed actress Mithila Palkar, a psychological thriller with cinematography by Gurgaon fame director Shanker Raman

Alka also collaborates with other artists for different projects and is currently working on five short films based on choreography by Charlotte Moraga, artistic director at Chitresh Das Institute that encompasses the theme of five elements of life. She is also working on advocacy videos profiling mothers of kids with serious mental illness. 

Dreaming high with her best-laid projects ahead, Alka contemplates the proclaimed theme of Burqa Boxers, women need to step out of their comfort zone to discover their true self. Raised in a small town of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, filmmaking was never her childhood dream but it was her hidden passion that she unraveled while living in the US, returning to school after having kids. “We must always continue to explore ourselves. Nobody comes on the world stage with everything in hand. The only thing required is to be able to ask questions without any hesitation. You just have to ask, to learn, to empower, and to discover yourselves!” concludes Alka. 


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.


 

Silicon Valley’s South Asian Theater Weaves Women’s Narratives into Performance

Women in performance art are playing a pivotal role in crafting compelling cultural narratives, whether in the roles of founders, directors, costume designers, set managers, or music directors, they are increasingly helming the process of creation, rather than jumping into something already created.  

This new positive and empowering image of women is what you will see in EnActe Arts’ latest initiative WEFT (Women EnActe for themselves). A brave space for women, it presents writers to exercise their craft under the guidance of qualified mentors. Women may make up 50% of the population, but the representation of women in the Arts hovers between 16% to 20% globally, and EnActe is doing its bit to redress the balance. Launched last year, WEFT is a fellowship program offering female-identifying writers a space in which to work under the guidance of a global, incredibly talented group of mentors to craft their stories, workshop them with professional talent and produce them under the EnActe banner. Mentors for the program include such seasoned artists as Anita Ratnam, Patty Gallagher, Susan McCully and Roberta Katz.

This week Reena Kapoor, EnActe’s first WEFT Fellow, opens a showcase of the four pieces she has written and produced through WEFT. Kapoor was born and raised in mostly urban India. “And while I have been gone from India for over 30 years, growing up there in the 70s and 80s was formative. It is a culture, a way of life, a social metaphysics that is not easily erased. Ironically while India, especially in the metros, has changed and moved on, the Indian diaspora I have encountered here continues to reenact much of what I had hoped was left behind. In fact, in some ways the diaspora holds on even tighter to all that is Indian – good, bad, and ugly,” says Kapoor. 

Her stories are informed by what she saw, and grew up within her own extended family and among friends–even in social circles that professed modernity. Kapoor says her story inspiration came from her “surprise, and often disappointment, at the rigid and less desirable attitudes that the Indian diaspora continues to abide by here. Women are expected to occupy, and often submitting to, prescribed roles, dictated by stricture and double standards that deserve to be rejected; and women repeatedly asked to sublimate their own desires and self-respect in service of meaningless tradition.”

The first play she wrote from this vantage is Art Of The Possible and is a somewhat humorous look at a situation where a young woman decides she can no longer sustain a marriage with her “perfect” husband and worse she cannot come up with a “good” enough reason why. What is she to do? 

Bollywood Rules: For Women is a rather tongue-in-cheek rap song about the inherent patriarchy in Indian films, starring a host of aspiring Bay Area talent – from professional actors to Arts Council members. Highlighting the “double standards for women that Bollywood films have long embraced. I do not wholly blame Bollywood; in my view, it reflects and yes, perhaps amplifies, what we hold dear. But we can protest, and powerfully mock it and hopefully, as a result, dismiss its focus and amplification,” adds Kapoor.

Art Of The Possible, a 45-minute play, explores the beautiful relationship between a nervous mother and a determined daughter as she plans to walk away from a marriage, not because there is anything wrong with either partner, but because she wants other things out of life. The play stars Anita Ratnam from Chennai, Shubhangi Kuchbhotla from Baltimore, Sreejith Nair from LA, and Anususya Rao from Bay Area.

Burned is a deeply resilient response by the victim of an acid attack, addressed to her attacker, in which she finds the courage to live to the fullest the life he has attempted to rob her of. Starring Yeshaswini Channaiah from Bangalore. 

Oasis is an epistolary piece that traces the thoughts and memories of a child abandoned by an abusive father as she navigates through childhood and adolescence and reaches precarious adulthood.

The narrative that weaves through all of Kapoor’s work is that of urgency. “My character is a woman of Indian origin who finds herself in a situation that was visited upon her and in which she suffers. But she doesn’t succumb to a narrative of victimhood and instead reclaims her voice and life. Her savior is not out there but within. She suffers — and yet SHE rises!” 

While WEFT is a dedicated space for the feminine lens, other EnActe initiatives explore female relationships too. As physical interaction shuts down in the new reality of the pandemic, the world has moved to virtual communication, opening up avenues of global collaboration amongst artists not possible before. In a bid to capture this COVID-dictated reality, and to provide a platform for artists to stay engaged and collaborate internationally, EnActe Arts, USA and Rage Productions, India launched a Festival of New Plays by accomplished and aspiring playwrights on the subject of love, life, and family in the pandemic-altered reality of today.

The second play in this series How It Happens, opening April 30th, explores the shifts in the relationship between two former high school friends connected by a dark past. Set against lockdown despair of the raging pandemic, a positivity influencer accuses an essayist of adolescent bullying, a story that burns through social media, destroying the fragile trust between COVID infected friends. Written by the Bangalore-based playwright Deepika Arwind and played by Bay Area’s Roshni Dutt and Sonia Balsara. 

More Info About WEFT:

WEFT(Women EnActe for Themselves)  is a program designed to support women writers writing on women’s issues to take their nascent stories to completion, and work with a sisterhood of creatives to bring those stories to life as a performative art, first presented by EnActe.

In this program women writers research, create and write stories that are pertinent to women, and bring these stories to life in theatrical performances that can reach audiences in meaningful, resonant, and entertaining ways.

The program works as follows: 

Phase 1: Ideation & Research

Phase 2: Story/scriptwriting through workshops

Phase 3: Script/story development as a performance piece

Phase 4: preparation of the piece(s) as a live presentation workshop

Phase 5: Event creation & rehearsals

Phase 6: Premiere Performance

Bollywood Rules For Women & Art of The Possible

Sat, Apr 10

5:00 pm PST, 8 pm EST, 5.30 am (Apr 11th) IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

Burned & Oasis

Sun, April 25

10:00 am PST, 1 pm EST, 10.30 pm IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

How It Happens by Deepika Arwind

Fri, April 30, 8 pm PST  

Sat, May 1, 5 pm PST

Sun, May 2, 4 pm  PST

Tickets: $15 – $100

Pay-it-Forward All-Access Pass for the entire 2021 Season:

https://enacte.org/seasonpass/


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

From the Darkness of Desi Culture, Women Find the Light

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PDT/ 9pm EDT!

Being a Desi woman can be hard…

I often hear of the specific struggles my Desi clients face in their communities. 

My mentor used to say, “things in the dark always come to light”, and my hope is, through this article, that women will feel empowered enough to break down generational curses of antiquated traditions that are not working for them in this day and age.

One of the most brutal and painful, yet extremely common issues I have confronted is one of Eurocentric beauty standards in the Desi community. Being a woman who has been forced into this conversation at home for her entire life, I’m just eager to dive into this one!

From complaints of being too fat, too dark in complexion,  too short, having small boobs, and even having short hair – I have heard it all. 

Who said beauty was limited to these features? More importantly, who has control of said inherited genetic traits?

The worst part is society, family, even friends, at times.

I remember my relatives would set me up for arranged marriages with men larger than me, mainly so that I would not be rejected.

I once had a family bargain for me. They said, “Since your daughter is not good-looking, make sure she has a doctorate so we can show her off that way.” 

I have heard Desi women being told: just look nice until you get married, and then it doesn’t matter how you look. There are matchmakers that say things like “She is dark. I have the perfect dark-colored boy for her.”

All these dialogues need to stop. We need to change the narrative about beauty in our South Asian households and encourage our communities to embrace all bodies and all forms of beauty. It was this that pushed me to address stereotypes and motivated me to become one of the first few Indian American Plussize Models in the world.

Marriage Talk

This topic can be toxic, especially when it comes from other women.

I have heard many families refer to the marriage of their daughter as an escape. “We have raised you all this time, once we hand you over to a man, then we can finally rest.”

Starting from the age of being “legal”, a typical desi woman enters the age of marriage talk. Growing up, my eldest female cousin did not really know how to cook and clean. My relatives used to say, “If we don’t send you to your in-laws’ house without proper training you, they won’t blame you. They will blame us for sending an inadequate woman to that household.”

It used to blow my mind. In what way was she inadequate?

She is educated. She is beautiful. She is so sweet and caring. Yet, she is inadequate.

And now, with women being so educated, independent, and self-sufficient, marriage has become a competitive sport! Parents are trying to get their daughters liked by “qualified” men.

I would often hear: “We are the girl’s side, we have to go along with their demands” or “You are the girl, just adjust.” Women don’t get to choose, they are the ones being chosen.

Oh, you thought dowry was an old practice? Well, you’re wrong.

Prospective in-laws and parents parade their gold and silver jewelry and discuss how big the dessert table was in their respective daughters’ weddings.

Once you’re married, the nature of the pressure changes to childbirth and motherhood. Many South Asian women are forced into having children, one after the other, because that is what their husbands and in-laws want. 

Career Choices – For Women

In one narrative, it all boils down to how your work affects your husband and your child-rearing capabilities.

In another narrative, Desi women are discouraged by their husbands or families from accepting promotions and higher positions to avoid ego clashes with their counterparts.

I worked with a Desi woman studying to be a surgeon. All throughout her medical school and residency, her family members would question her parents, “Why are you allowing her to do surgery? That is very difficult. Tell her to do something more women-friendly” or “How will she manage a family if she picks such a difficult career path? She has to take care of her husband and children and also patients?”

How is a woman’s personal choice for a career dependent on her future husband and unborn children?

This places the burden of children and running a household on the woman.  

“What does women’s empowerment mean to you?”

This was a question I was asked and it is one that I ask others.

Empowerment is a two-way support network. Women supporting those around them while receiving genuine support from the others in their life. By educating yourself on the painful narratives of Desi women, see how you can empower HER by having the right conversations.

For the Desi women out there, do not be afraid to speak your mind.

For the Desi men out there, support the women in your life by listening to their needs.

For the Desi parents out there, give your daughter the respect and independence she deserves. Let her make choices for herself.

By bringing touchy subjects to light and having healthy communication in your households, we can ensure the proper treatment of desi women.


Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.

Mira Had to Fight Back: A Common Woman’s Story

This story is inspired by a true incident. The names of the characters have been changed.

Mira was barely 16. Excited about life. She had dreams. She was vulnerable. She was impressionable.

A young, bubbly teenager with a big dimpled infectious smile, she was a happy child. She had dreams, Cinderella fantasies; her prince charming would come one day on a well-bred groomed horse and take her away to the land full of pots of gold. She was a hard-working girl, full of grit; however, she was a daydreamer, stargazing and moonstruck with all the hues of the rainbow in her small world.

Mira was enveloped by immense love and support from her family. With her parents living out of the country, she had to settle in a boarding school for her high school years. Routines were very different, but no complaints as she managed to sail through them every single day. Jubilant moments were accompanied by melancholy ones when she would long for one warm hug.

Going to her maternal Aunt Krishna’s house every weekend was the highlight for her. She eagerly waited by the school gate every Friday afternoon when her Uncle Hari would pick her up. The late-night chit-chatting and sharing her innermost secrets with her cousin Simrin was something she looked forward to week after week. Summer vacation was right at the corner, and Mira was super excited to travel and spend time with her family. As always, her favorite Uncle Hari picked her up from school around 6:00 pm that Friday. Mira could not stop talking to him while they drove back home.

It was getting dark at 7:00 pm, the traffic jam was at its peak, and Uncle Hari took a detour with the intention to reach home on time. Mira started feeling a bit distressed and cramped in the car. Her gut was not too happy and was sending signals to her brain, ”Mira, something is not right. Even though there is traffic, it should still not take that much time”.

Uncle Hari came to a halt near an office building and said, “Mira, I need to meet an office colleague for a few minutes. Please wait for me in the car, I will be back soon.”

The few minutes turned into an hour, and Mira was nervous and getting jittery; she wanted to be home as soon as possible. Finally, Uncle Hari made his way back to the car, but in a different form. Mira felt uneasy and was afraid of her Uncle, who was in an inebriated state. His alcoholic breath made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to dash out of the car.

She was numb when she felt her Uncle’s awkward gestures as he tried to get close to her physically. She felt paralyzed as though someone had handcuffed her. What was happening? Mira felt trapped and powerless till some unknown power took over her.

She assertively requested, “Please behave, Uncle. You are not in your right senses, just drive me back home.”

The man who she idealized all her life turned into a villain, and Mira felt betrayed. It was like a bomb had blasted with full speed. The respect came crashing down, and in her full senses, she slapped the man sitting next to her—the man whom she had put on a pedestal and had glorified all these years.

Uncle Hari was shocked and dumbfounded. A timid man who tried to take advantage of his niece was stunned and felt impotent at Mira’s undaunted behavior. He was baffled at her militant and lion heartedness act. Quietly, he started driving back home in awkward silence.

That night onward, all changed for Mira. She had this unseen cloud of tension between her cousin Simrin and Aunt Krishna. It was not their fault. However, the gap widened.

She detested her Uncle; there was intense repugnance towards him, and she wanted to punish him for his misdoing. She tried a few times to confide in Simrin but held back with a feeling of shame and guilt. She started chastising herself internally as though it was her fault. Her house visits reduced and came to a stop when Mira decided to take their name off the list as her local guardian. It was a tough decision and hard to explain to her parents, but they abided by it.

The secret got buried in her heart with no mention to anyone. She often questioned herself, “Did I do anything wrong?”

She never got a concrete answer to her question and let it go by. She embalmed her innermost feelings and mummified them. The point of contact with her aunt Krishna and Simrin was all gone. The gap widened till there was no communication between the families. Mira’s mother once asked her, “Please tell me what happened, let me help you.”

” No, mom, I am fine. I have grown apart from Simrin. Leave it.”

That was the last time they ever spoke about this topic.

Years passed by, Mira was in a happy place in her life. Actively chasing her dreams, attaining her life goals, she was married and had a fulfilling family life. One evening her phone rang and she heard the news that her Aunt Krishna had passed away in a horrific accident. Mira was dismayed, and a colossal teardrop rolled down her cheek. Her most loving Aunt was no more and she had not spoken to her for almost two decades. Her mind flashbacked to all the priceless memories of their times together.

The phone rings again after a few years, with Mira’s mother on the other line, ”Your Uncle Hari is on life support. He is dying alone with no one by his side.”

Mira felt a sigh of relief and said to herself, finally, he will be gone forever. Her anger and detest seemed to vanish away suddenly in the air. It was as though a gargantuan burden had been lifted off her chest.

Uncle Hari passed away. He was in physical pain during the last few days of his life. However, Mira always wondered, did he have any remorse or shame? Did he ever want to redeem himself for what he had done? Did he have any realization of his hideous act? Was she right in her thought process? Should she forgive him?

Mira never got her answers. She decided to forgive herself for having held on to the feelings for so long. She gathered her guts, opened up the skeletons from the closet, and confided in her sister Ahana. She bawled her eyes out, cried for hours, and finally escaped from the chrysalis. All these years, she wanted to be heard but evaded the truth, and finally, it happened. Mira was relieved and felt comforted in the arms of her sister Ahana.

The bold and beautiful Mira decided to educate her daughter Sia to be a vocal, balanced and competent woman. She felt she owed it to her, and it was her duty to encourage her sense of autonomy to handle all the trials and tribulations within the circle of life.

Mira’s message is loud and clear, walk like a queen and never take any abuse. Speak up at the right time, take risks, be gentle but not too nice to be taken advantage of, and lastly, you get to decide your worth – not the world around you.


Dr. Monika Chugh is a resident of Fremont and a doctor by profession. She has an undying love for blogging and actively shares her personal experiences with the world on different topics. An active Rotarian, nature lover, coffee-fitness-yoga-hiking enthusiast, domestic violence advocate, in her free time, you will find her reading in her Zen sipping coffee working on her writing. 

BURNED

I wrote this piece of fiction in honor of victims of acid attacks — especially in India. It was developed at EnActe Arts as part of the WEFT (“women enacting for themselves”) program. It is a humble and probably inadequate attempt to depict the victims’ plight, written with deep humility for unless we walk in their shoes we cannot know the unimaginable pain they bear. I offer it with empathy for their suffering, and admiration for their courage in the face of such heinous crimes. India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) has found that between 2014 and 2018, there have been 1,483 victims of acid attacks in the country, according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. Many more go unreported or unrecorded. 

In my dreams I am whole, with my easy laughs, ready quips, fleeting annoyances, steady love of ice cream. I am walking, happy. But I shiver. I walk towards the sun. I don’t see the gaping pit ahead. I wake up shaking, sweating, hot and cold. Then my hands are on my face, and… I feel the scars, the craters, the hardness — Your gift.

Your gift erased so much of me, my face, my one window to the world. They say we are nothing without memories. We are also nothing without a face. This visage, this countenance, this mirror where the world sees itself reflected and knows its place. How do I tell the world who I am? I look in the mirror and my one watery eye sees a stranger, a horror story with no end. This thing that used to be a face, a recognition, a mirror is now a dark hole where all light ends and nothing reflects. Where there used to be me, my signature smile, my left cheek’s dimple – it’s all gone. I remain a nameless, faceless ghost visible only in my misfortune. Your branding iron left a seething script. 

When it first happened, they wanted me to utter your name. I wouldn’t defile my mouth. The neighbors, the relatives, even the police came asking. They came to condole, to comfort my father, my mother, my brother who seethes in daily rage. But I know they just came to see me – the remains of me. Curiosity beats empathy but sometimes that’s the only vehicle to my door. I wrote your name down only once and gave it to the police. My mother took a photo of that piece of paper with my brother’s phone. When did she learn to take photos with a phone? She knew I wouldn’t utter it again, so she kept the “evidence” she said. But I know she keeps this paper to rekindle vengeful fires in her heart. My gentle, god-fearing Kali, who quietly tolerated harsh words from her mother and mother-in-law, is ready to kill for me today.

My father does not look at me. I miss how he used to cup my face, kiss my forehead every morning. Proud Papa. Now he won’t touch my face, just puts a hand on my head looking away. Sometimes I hear him crying when he thinks I can’t hear. My mother hardly cries. Instead she asks him harshly, “What’s the point of crying now?! Have you called the lawyer?” She is hard. So hard I fear her brittleness will break her. She only softens when she brings me food. Patiently lets me eat, gently wiping the drool from my mouth. My lips’ bare remains, mere lines relearn how to contain food. Grateful I can still taste, I tell her how much I love it. She won’t even acknowledge this joy. She keeps her vengeance alive.

I can’t recall the particulars, only the horrific pain of your carnage. Or why? Later they said it was because “you could not bear an unrequited love”. “Love”? Yes Love! Love? I want to laugh! I have forgotten that sordid history. Somehow the acid erased that too; clean, flat, blank like the contours of my face. Perhaps best this way or I may join those that blame me. “She could have said yes…”, “She could have married him…”, “Girls these days think they are better than anyone…”. Your signature devastation demands justice and there will be none. Blaming me helps the onlookers feel better. Perhaps safer. Some relief for their miserable, beaten souls. 

When I came home after the first 23 surgeries, I heard them in my stupor from all the painkillers. I hated them then. All of them who said, who still say I could have alleviated your hate, who think I should now be traded off to someone even lesser, to “free” my parents. Perhaps free them of any hint of guilt. They know they are who made you possible. They supplied the fodder for the kind of anger you thrive in. When I first heard them I would scream but no sound emerged. Only violent, bruising tears. But then my mother – my gentle Kali – took care of them and their solicitousness. That makes me smile – only on the inside. The skin on my face borrowed from my thighs, my stomach stretches too thin to bridge a smile. I’ve tried it in the mirror – a contortion for a smile. I cringe with my eyes without eyelashes, even as I marvel at my perfect painted eyebrows. I often marvel at how well I saw all the flaws in my reflection before this annihilation of me. Maybe now I will learn to accept what I see. Maybe that is how I win.

It’s been over two years since I came home. I must have nightmares because my mother shakes me awake, often caressing my forehead, trying to calm me. But all I remember are dreams where I am whole. At first I prayed for a merciful death. But now I don’t want to die. I listen for the birds singing in the morning. My good eye loves the sun. I still marvel at how well my mother sings. I cook with her, I learn to sew with her, little things. Soon my hands will be steady. I put my head on my father’s knee when he comes home every evening. His blessing stalls the night.

This week I step out for the first time. I shake so hard that my Kali grips my hand tight as I accompany her to the market. I cover the side of my face. I want to keep my old face. I don’t let go of her hand. Soon I know I will bare my whole face and let them all see — and let you see. Maybe when I see you in court. I will look and point at you – steady, unselfconscious, straight. Maybe you can relish what you wrought. Your hatred manifesto. I will let you flinch at my ugly erasure. And when you flinch I will laugh. You gave me unutterable pain, you scarred me for life, almost erased me. Almost. The me that your acid cannot erase, is here. Still here. I win because I will make YOU look away. 


Reena Kapoor is a writer and photographer. Her poems take the reader on journeys through a multitude of places, time periods, and emotions. ‘Arrivals & Departures‘ is her debut poetry collection. 

‘I Want My Work to Encourage People to Stop & Think’ Says Michelle Poonawalla

(Featured Image: Michelle Poonwalla and Circle of Life Artwork)

Artist, businesswoman, philanthropist, and socialite Michelle Poonawalla recently showcased a series of her new artworks at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. Michelle’s four oil on canvas works—Blue Wave, Desert Rose, Forest Flutter and Flutter Fly—come from the artist’s Butterfly Series, and feature three-dimensional, sculptural elements affixed to the canvas. Painted in bold colors, the works feature gold-effect butterflies.

Futter Fly

Poonawalla lives and works between London and Pune. Her practice combines cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic mediums, often utilizing sound, video mapping, projection, motion sensors, and other techniques. She has previously exhibited her work at the Saatchi Gallery, London; Alserkal Avenue, Dubai; and as a collateral project at the Kochi Biennale, India. More recently, Poonawalla has also begun exploring work with shorter digital format films.

In this exclusive interview, she spoke to us among other things about her earliest artistic influences, nature as inspiration, her favorite art medium, and the butterfly symbol in her works.

Tell us a little about your oil-on-canvas works at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend.

MP: The four works come from my Butterfly Series which evolves beyond traditional 2D painting, incorporating sculptural elements that bring the artworks off the canvas and into the viewer’s space. A lot of my work features the butterfly symbol which for me represents both beauty and freedom–an ephemeral creature that is the result of a metamorphosis.

What was the idea, inspiration behind them?

MP: The works all have different inspirations and stories behind them. For example, Blue Wave is inspired by Mumbai and references the city through its free-flowing language and color. Desert Rose, which also features butterflies, represents the inherent beauty in nature’s patterns as I allowed the butterfly sculptures to fall naturally on the work before affixing each one where they landed.

A theme often addressed in my work is the strength and beauty of nature and the importance of preserving it. This is perhaps most obvious in Forrest Flutter. Painted in dark earthy hues and greens, the work celebrates the forest. 

You are the granddaughter of the iconic south Mumbai architect Jehangir Vazifdar. Tell us about some of your earliest artistic influences.

MP: From an early age, I was taken to some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world. I have always loved art and painted throughout my life and studied Interior Design at university. I was perhaps most inspired by my grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned painter and architect. My grandfather had a very special technique in oil painting with a ruler which he shared only with me, and it is important for me to carry on his legacy.

Your work is known to explore universal, socially engaged topics. Tell our readers about some of these themes.

MP: Art is a universal language with a powerful voice, and I’m conscious my work is used to spread a positive message. For example, I have recently produced a series of video works that explore environmental change and other issues around us today. I want my work to encourage people to stop, think, and introspect. Be it climate change, water scarcity, or violence in our world, people should always stop and think.

Desert Rose

Which is your favorite art medium? Do you feel that digital art is the future of art?

MP: I enjoy acrylic and work in acrylic for my butterfly paintings. However, I wouldn’t say I have one favorite medium. I’ve worked in oils a lot and I am looking forward to exhibiting some drawings at the 079 Stories gallery in Ahmedabad soon.

Digital art is certainly something we are seeing more of but I think physical painting will always have a place – it is important to be able to physically engage with artwork in person. I’ve always been interested in combining cutting-edge technology and traditional art forms, and digital art has allowed me to create huge immersive installations where the viewer is completely emerged in the visual image. Technology gives an artist the freedom to explore endless possibilities; it allows a greater feeling. I also think digital art speaks the language of the younger generation, and it keeps their interest in art growing.  

What are you working on next?

MP: I’ve got several projects coming up, including showing work in a drawings exhibition at the beautiful 079 Stories in Ahmedabad in February. Later in the year, I will also be showing work in a group exhibition in Delhi. Alongside this, I am exhibiting work online with several platforms including digital work with SeditionArt.com and several new works I have just produced for House of Culture. Hopefully, there are a few international projects on the cards which I will be able to announce later in the year. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

India’s Shooting Star: In Talks With Deepika Kumari

With the changed dates of the Tokyo Olympics to July 23, 2021 – August 8, 2021, the livelihood of Olympians is in question. During this month of women’s empowerment, let’s underscore one of India’s most prominent female athletes.

Ranked World No. 1 archer at the tender age of 18 and at number 9 currently, India’s Deepika Kumari is an inspiration to thousands out there who dream to participate in the world championships but have practically no social or financial backing. If one breaks the mold and steps up to carry the baton of grit, determination, and achievements, many others are bound to follow. 

Kumari, on whom the award-winning documentary Ladies First was based, believes a calm mind is an archer’s biggest asset. Training at the national camp in Pune, India, with an eye on Gold at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, she shares the sweat and toil that goes behind shooting each arrow. Excerpts of a conversation:

IC: What were your first thoughts when the nationwide lockdown happened in March 2020?

DK: I didn’t think much about it initially. About two months later, the Olympics were postponed, which was good in a way as we were unable to do much while at home. But slowly, the uncertainty of when normal life would resume started getting to me. Our first training camp started on October 1. It was a long gap. 

IC: Did you continue training during the lockdown? 

DK: In the first few weeks, I practiced at home with the portable accessories which we use. These allow a shooting range of 3-4 meters. As an outdoor shooter, my range is 70 meters. Our physical exercises and yoga continued throughout though, alongside eating a whole lot of delicious home food. I also got married (to fellow archer Atanu Das) during this period. Lockdown had both good and bad.

IC: What are your most important assets as an archer – do you have a collection of bows and arrows? 

DK: I have two sets of these: two bows and arrows. One set is for daily practice; the second for competitions. In either case, one set I’m using, the second is in reserve. We keep around 6-7 dozen arrows with us made of carbon and wood. That apart, we have accessories/equipment for saving us – helmet, arm guard for elbow, chest guard for half chest, finger tab to protect our fingers from cutting against the thin string, sling so that the bow doesn’t fall, quiver for arrows. 

Atanu (my husband) has made my finger tab in leather – our desi jugaad. The string used on our bows is prepared by us in about 35 minutes using thread and wax. 

One bow lasts for about 1.5 years. It has various parts – the grip, arrow rest, clicker, limb (refer to picture attached) – which we purchase and assemble as per requirement. Different parts have varying lifespan. Limb lasts 6 months, string for 3 months, etc. We thus keep spares for replacement. Once used completely, we give the bow to other needy kids, sell it or throw it. 

We shoot about 450-500 arrows everyday during practice. We cut these arrows ourselves and assemble its various parts – fletch, feather, large and small points and nock. Each and every part of my gear is thus dear to me. 

Archer, Deepika Kumari

IC: Tell us something about your daily routine – what kind of workout and training you are undergoing daily before the Olympics? 

DK: We have our physical (exercises) from 6.30-7.30 every morning. And from 8.30 am-12 noon we practice shooting. We shoot anything between 350-450 arrows in this time and then it’s rest time. Again in the evening, we do physical from 6-7.30 pm, followed by short practice. We take complete rest on Wednesdays and Sundays. I watch movies, listen to songs, sleep, clean my room, wash clothes, and at times play cricket too!    

IC: Does the number of arrows you shoot in a day matter? 

DK: No, especially before competition, as quality matters more than quantity. We have to control the bow, draw the string as many times as the number of arrows shot. It needs physical power, called poundage. It’s significant to maintain that else you wouldn’t be able to shoot that big a distance in windy outdoor conditions. Continuous practice without long breaks is also critical in maintaining the poundage – something that didn’t happen during lockdown.

IC: Which parts of the body do you work on most rigorously? 

DK: The shoulder, since we have to pull a lot. But we require the whole body in archery. Your core should be stable to draw the string. You need energy to breathe through a match/session without gasping. Focusing with one eye is integral to this sport. Thus staying away from eye straining activities like smartphones is a prerequisite in daily life. And finally, mental training. 

IC: Concentration on the target – at what age did you first start this and how do you attain it day in day out? 

(Starts laughing) I am still a baby in this respect. I started mental training only three years ago. I strongly recommend kids should start focus and concentration exercises early in life. It is paradoxical: we run to sports for fun. And now, when as athletes or commoners we are given focus training, we find it challenging/boring. As a child, no one realizes that they are concentrating while playing. You are given a target; you use your gear, hit, and win! But now, as a competitive player, when your experience and expectations have increased tremendously and you are playing for long hours daily, there is pressure from family, media and even your own self to perform, you don’t know how to handle it all. Now I am learning this technique – mental training. Not allowing the mind to jump around like a monkey with hits and misses requires mental training. 

IC: Which skills matter the most in archery according to you? 

DK: You gain skills as a sportsperson, but get drained mentally. The skill that matters the most is being calm.  

IC: Do you think Indian archers need sports psychologists?

DK: Definitely. I started playing 12 years ago. Had I got this support at that time, I would have perhaps achieved much more… now, Olympic Gold Quest (a not-for-profit organization) is giving us mental training. 

IC: Tokyo Olympics would be your first big game since your wedding and you are participating as a couple in it. Excited?

It’s a rare happening for sure. And, perhaps, the first time in the history of Olympics archery at least! I am happy about it. We are each other’s pillar of strength. We want the team to win. 

IC: Which is your favorite match so far in your career? 

DK: I played (and won gold at) the Delhi Commonwealth Games (2010) when I was just starting out in my career. When I went to play the match, I was not aware of how significant a platform it was. My opponent in the finals Alison Williamson had already played six Olympics. It was an electrifying setting. People were cheering for me and there was wind too. The commentary was in perfect Hindi and with every arrow, my morale was getting higher. I had enjoyed it a lot. And I didn’t know or care that time about winning. But I did.

We look forward to a safe and successful 2021 Summer Olympics and send our best to Deepika Kumari on her upcoming competitions!


Suruchi Tulsyan is an experienced Features Writer. She has been on a break for the past few years since the birth of her kids.

Image by Bill Hails and under the Creative Commons License.

 

 

Does the Great Indian Kitchen Lead to the Great Indian Marriage?

While I ran about in the sprawling open courtyard of my mother’s house in a somewhat sleepy little village in rural North Bengal, I remember my granny sitting on a low stool cooking in the dimly-lit kitchen. It was already dusk and a few hours later, a tasty dinner was served. My parents had gone down to spend a few days during the Durga Puja holidays. 

After my mother’s family moved to Kolkata, I often used to visit my maternal uncle’s place. Here, the kitchen was big and bright, but granny still continued to cook. Her specialty was a chicken dish which no one ever in my family has been able to replicate. Maybe it was the spices she used or her loving and caring hands that were behind the deliciousness. 

Granny is now no more. She passed away a few years ago, but I still remember her chicken curry. Today, after watching The Great Indian Kitchen, a Malayalam movie earning rave reviews from critics, I realize how I never knew my real granny: what was she like, her likes, dislikes, desires, and aspirations. Maybe none of these things ever mattered to anyone in the family.

And this is what makes the ‘great Indian marriage’ such a fearsome thing to enter into, especially in an arranged marriage set up, where women are mostly expected to cook and clean and act submissive. Exceptions are always there. In my family, I have seen my father making tea, cooking rice, and even doing household work. An aunt of mine who lives in Delhi was horrified when she learned that I had praised her husband’s culinary skills in front of my other relatives. It was a most shameful thing for her and she reproached me for making the hush, hush fact “public”. 

I can understand her consternation, the great dilemma she felt because women are expected to cook for their families. Little do they realize that in doing so, they become fettered and chained forever. 

A scene from the Great Indian Kitchen.

I am no great cook, but I can make basic meals for myself and during the lockdown prepared a few dishes, among them egg biryani twice. My friend Neeraj, who is a great cook himself, keeps on sending me recipes and colorful snaps from his kitchen from time to time. He once taught me to cook the perfect rice over the phone. 

Cooking is art no doubt, but as the movie shows it can become a tedious routine. The movie’s female protagonist, Nimisha Sajayan who plays the docile wife and later leaves her husband to follow her dreams, is expected to cook rice on the firewood, besides making a variety of tasty dishes and serving food to the men. In almost all the scenes featuring her, she is shown cutting, chopping, and dicing vegetables, besides making hurried meals, attending to the faulty kitchen sink in need of urgent repair, cleaning up the kitchen, dusting, and washing her hands frequently.

I entered into a brief marriage only to regret it to this day. My in-laws expected me to shift to a small town where they lived, take up a part-time job or better still become a housewife and cook for the family whereas I wanted to pursue my dreams. So, I packed my bags and came to Delhi when I was offered a transfer. 

Cooking is not an issue. I prepare food for myself every day and quite enjoy doing it. But slaving away in the kitchen is quite another matter. In the movie, the men are shown relaxing, doing yoga, and reading newspapers whereas the women are portrayed tirelessly working in the kitchen. The most evocative scene in the film is the one where the women eat food at the table made dirty by the men with spilled over and chewed food. When the wife confronts her husband about it later at a restaurant over his bad table manners at home, he gets angry.

For most women, cooking and doing housework is a routine and they are not supposed to complain. It is for us to decide whether to follow our dreams or please the men. If you want the first, just let it go like I did eight years ago, or else give up on your desires and aspirations. 

My next-door neighbor back in Kolkata could not fry papad properly and they always used to get burnt. She was always the subject of criticism in the neighborhood, but nobody praised her ever for being an excellent teacher, her love for Bengali literature, and intelligent conversations. 

Women in our kitchens have become such a regular fixture that we never pause and question their narrowed existence. All my childhood memories are centered around the great Indian kitchen: my granny on her low stool, my father’s mother stirring the milk tea, my aunt chopping vegetables, my mother making sweet delicacies in winter, the neighborhood aunty (she was called Ronny’s mom after her son’s name as if her identity never mattered) making parathas so that we children could enjoy it on Sundays.

Welcome to the great Indian kitchen. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave like Nimisha’s character or me. After so many years, a remark by my erstwhile husband came back to me. He had remarked once, “You never served me tea (in Bengali of course).” But you see I was born to rule and not to serve. I served him coffee, of course, but he conveniently forgot all about it. But what I remember is that he never made either tea or coffee for me and that’s what made all the difference.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Six Yards of Draped Emotions

Until recently, traveling to India meant carrying a half-empty suitcase, so it could be packed with saris to be brought back to the US. But as the Indian immigrant population began to grow, the second suitcase was no longer necessary. We have gone global and so have our methods of expression. I can find any type of sari at a local shop near me, as I would in the sari shops lining the streets of Abids in Hyderabad.

The quintessential Indian drape, 6 yards of sheer fabric or the Sari, has been a trusted sakhi for all women of all ages and personalities. The word Sakhi comes from Sanskrit, meaning girlfriend – a friend with whom you shared your innermost secrets, a friend for life. South Asian women feel connected to their roots, in a foreign land, whenever we drape ourselves in a sari, our fond sakhi. We feel her embrace and forget our inhibitions. 

“Sari stores thrive in many Indian enclaves in America. Among the largest is India Sari Palace in New York, with a vast inventory from India, as well as Japan. Many in the Indian community wear mostly saris, and so there is a constant demand even in America. Just looking at the stores in ‘Little Indias’ across America indicates the sari market is thriving. In the 60s, many women were reluctant to wear saris in the US, afraid they would stand out. But in multicultural America…there seems to be a new pride in one’s roots.”, writes Lavina Melwani, “And why not? After all, there is quite as graceful as a sari.” 

The sari drape got revolutionized by Garden Vareli, a brand that used women who were modern, bold, and draped the sari in novel ways.

Garden Vareli’s marketing expert, Santosh Sood, emphasized, “We had a sari ad that celebrated the sexuality of women unabashedly, but without being vulgar. A woman does not always have to be somebody’s mother, daughter, wife or sister. She is she and that is her identity.” 

Thus began the sari revolution. It no longer was the attire of the homemaker or of the average middle class. It was a bold fashion statement. Navroze Dhondy of Garden Vareli, commented, “For the first time, it was a shift from the sari being perceived as boring, everyday wear without any sensuality to a smart, bold and sexy attire meant for the modern woman.”  

Princess Niloufer

But long before Garden Vareli, Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad and the daughters of Vijaylakshmi Pandit were refashioning the sari and making its presence known, globally. The sisters, Nayantara Sahgal and Rita Dar, after their graduation in the summer of 1947 from Wellesley College, went to Mexico on a visit and met the legendary painter and fashion icon, Frida Kahlo, and dressed her up in the traditional Indian attire.

Princess Niloufer, a Turkish princess, learnt to drape a sari when she got married to Prince Moazzam Jah, son of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1931, and was always seen in a sari even when overseas. 

The sari today has become an expression of who the person is and of their style. Women are not draping them in just the traditional way but are experimenting with their drapes. Blouses are being replaced by Crop tops and fashionable blouses, t-shirts, and jackets. Belts are being worn to hold the pleats better and some saris also have a pocket for your cell phone. The sari, itself, is being draped over pants and skirts and isn’t necessarily worn with a matching blouse. 

The function of the sari has expanded beyond the function of the home. Women are not only walking and exercising in a sari but also running marathons.

But more importantly, there are Sari Sakhis all over the world – friends who share their love of saris and its utility. The sari connects, empowers, and gives voice to South Asian women, regardless of how far apart they may be.

Saree Speaks: A Revolution

Saree Speak Members: Yogita Pradip Hudekar (right), Sunayana Mundra (middle), Namita Arora (left)

Vini Tandon Keni, sari influencer and founder of the group, Saree Speak, has managed to start a sari revolution! Founded in April 2016, the group has 144,722 women of South Asian diaspora including many celebrities and movie stars like Kalpana Iyer, Anita Kanwal, Himani Shivpuri, Indira Krishnan, and the famous designer Anita Dongre. I spoke with Vini Tandon Keni to get more insight into the sari revolution:

AM: Other than your love for saris, what inspired you to start this group? 

VT: To encourage and make draping saris more acceptable and friendly to the younger sari wearer.

AM:  Being a member of this group, I know that you not only decide the theme of each month but also encourage members to share their personal stories and stories associated with each sari. Is this why the name Saree Speak was chosen or is there another reason as well? 

VT: Speak is the common name for all my groups. Another word for ‘voice’, another word for ‘share’. When you share you add to your joy or reduce your fear.

AM:  How do you inspire your members?

VT: We try to promote the unconventional styles that have come up, to add interest to the sari. Give it a variety, make it the fashion-forward.

Sari Stands

The sari has withstood the test of time, the pressures and struggles. It has fought to keep its place against the salwar kameez, trousers, jeans, capri, churidar, tights, and the palazzos, and became its own entity. And as Tandon says – every sari has a story. Just as we wear our scars, we women wear our saris, close to our hearts with pride and with joy. 

So we drape ourselves in six yards of fabric, layered with our emotions, identities, and voices. We remain wrapped in the warm embrace of our sakhi, our friend, our modern armor – our sari.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and writer based in Fairfax, Virginia.