SWITCHING TO A MENSTRUAL CUP

Switching to a Menstrual Cup

Conversations On the Intersections Between Menstrual Health and the Indian Social Structure

In the last decade, collective conversations around menstruation have been diversifying, connecting dialectically with a range of related subjects. Along with women’s health, dialogues on cultural taboos, gender inequality, inequity, discriminatory social norms, poverty and climate change have become central themes from which to understand many aspects of menstruation. Menstrual products are one of the intermediary (re)sources through which activists and brands are educating us on the wide ranging impact of our choices and the alternatives that the market now offers to us. At IKKIVI, we partnered with ‘Hiccup’ to help share their message of making menstrual cups the norm for all menstruators. We spoke with Meenal Velani, Founder of the menstrual cup brand ‘Hiccup’, about why she started the enterprise, and about the scope of impact that our everyday choices can have on intersecting problems. Sharing with us her insights and experiences, she describes the importance of being mindful in selecting and working with menstrual products, and in learning to become more conscious both as brands and consumers.

 

Could you tell us of your background and interests through
your early years?

I come from a city called Jamshedpur. As a kid I loved Literature, hated Math and was a phenomenally curious being. Being brought up in a middle class joint family in a small town meant that I was always instilled with the values of not being wasteful and thinking community – first. My family is predominantly women – all of them strong, willful and fiercely independent which I gained from them in inheritance – something I am most proud of.

For my education, after schooling locally, I did my Undergraduate in Literature from Kolkata and moved to Delhi to get my Masters in Advertising. Since I was in school, I was working towards becoming a copywriter in an Ad agency. However, actually joining the workforce quickly disillusioned me about the real nature of advertising. I felt very conflicted working for organisations that were actively and negatively affecting the lives of people and the quality of the planet.

I still really enjoyed the work I did which is why I left my first job to start Oddity – a marketing agency that works exclusively with small and medium businesses that are actively working on making the world a little better. We work with businesses that are just starting out (eg: a sourdough bread brand, an organic cold pressed oil company, an EdTech firm) to help amplify their voice. This was more aligned to who I was as a person. Somewhere in this journey, my partner and I had a realisation about menstrual cups and decided to start Hiccup – a step that was made easier to take because of my background in advertising.

There’s a lot to be said for forces aligning in my favour, at least in this case. With my background and immense passion for the environment and my partners’ background in Gender Studies, it was like starting Hiccup was meant to be for us.

How did you come to the idea of starting a brand dedicated to selling menstrual cups? Could you tell us the influences and inspiration(s) that led to the inception of Hiccup?

We started Hiccup to provide awareness about the single most sustainable menstrual product and allow people to have access to high quality care. We encourage a market where all menstruators can decide for themselves which product they would like to use, for example, reusable cloth pads, period underwear – while not harming the environment.

When I personally started using a cup is when I realised how useful it was in the larger context – for the health of menstruators as well as for the environment. I belong to a city called Jamshedpur, that is in one of the poorest states – Jharkhand. We directly saw how inadequate Menstrual Health Management affected people in every aspect of their lives. Working in Delhi for the past 7 years also brought to light the problems surrounding waste management as we’ve all seen the mountain of trash and foamy Yamuna in the middle of the city. As someone who is also passionate about the environment and takes active steps to live a more mindful life (plastic free purchasing, no fast fashion clothes, reusable everything, composting) it was a joy to discover that simply using a menstrual cup can help us work towards the Sustainable Development Goals set by UNDP. We can achieve Climate action – SDG13, Good health and well-being – SDG 3, Gender inequality – SDG 5. All of this led to the birth of Hiccup.

 

Hiccup is one of the only few brands in India to exclusively offer menstrual cups. Could you share with us why it was/ has been important in your view to introduce these in the market? Were there any connections between your own experiences with menstruation and with launching Hiccup as well?

It took us almost a year of research into the Indian cup market to decide that we wanted to start Hiccup. There are a few menstrual cup brands in India that sell cups for really cheap that are low quality and made using hard polymers. This means that first time users have a bad experience and cannot completely shift to cups. I personally tried some of India’s most popular brands before realising that the current solutions on offer weren’t good enough. We had to be able to do better!

Since Day 1, we have been very clear on the fact that while menstrual cups are phenomenal for the health of menstruators, the environment was a big part of why we were doing this. There are some companies in India that sell cups but also sell single use sanitary napkins – which goes against the very ethos of Hiccup. We knew we only wanted to sell cups despite the fact that pads get picked up faster and have a repeating customer base because otherwise we wanted to stay true to who we were. We have also noticed menstrual cup companies distribute sanitary napkins to the underprivileged as a part of their CSR programs. This makes me so sad – it’s like going one step forward and five steps back.

At Hiccup, we stand against the concept of “poor solutions for poor people”. This is why while we do understand that not everyone can pay for a cup, our Buy 1 Donate 1 program allows us to create education around cups and donate them to those who can’t afford them. Systemic problems require long term solutions and not the band aid of solutions that are effective only in the short term. In the coming years, we see hiccup becoming a catalyst that brings together governmental organisations, NGOs, foundations and feminist researchers to provide all menstruators regardless of their social capital, with a
cup as an alternative.

How did you come to select the name ‘Hiccup’ for the brand? Does it signify something in particular?

Before we came up with the name we knew the word “cup“ had to be part of the brand since most of our users are being introduced to the product category itself. We didn’t want to add another layer and make it more confusing. We spent a few weeks dismissing a lot of names before Hiccup came to me while watching an animated film that has a character by the same name (How to Train Your Dragon).

I loved the name immediately because it worked on so many levels! There is so much stigma around periods that they are almost considered an abnormality – a hiccup in daily life and we wanted to take back the word and make it mean something positive. Plus, it sounded so fun and we didn’t want a brand that takes itself too seriously.

 

Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process of the cups? What materials are used, and how the cups are made?

Sure! So, menstrual cups that are available in the market are typically made with two materials – either TPE or silicone. Hiccup is made with medical grade silicone at an FDA approved manufacturing unit. Silicone is an inert, non-reactive material which essentially translates to it being completely safe for long term internal use. In fact, using menstrual cups is safest when it comes to risk of infections, disease etc.

Our cups are made of soft silicone that is easy to insert and remove, making it great for first time users. We’ve also made sure to add a stem at the bottom that makes a cup easier to locate for removal. We spent over a year figuring out the perfect firmness, size and colours for our cups since we knew that a majority of our customers would be first time users and we wanted them to have as seamless an experience as possible!

 

Are there any challenges you encountered in starting the brand, given the cultural stigma toward menstruation? Or even, since the start of the business? If so, what have your experiences been with it thus far and how do you/ have you respond(ed) to them?

To be very honest, starting Hiccup was the least challenging part of the journey. When I used my first cup, years before there was so much information around them in India, I knew I was a menstrual cup evangelist. Starting Hiccup to fill this gap seemed like the most natural, almost necessary thing to do.

Once we started up however, there were definitely operational challenges. From trying to figure out which tax bracket menstrual cups fall into (there is absolutely no clarity on that even today) to explaining what the product was to delivery partners comes to mind. Our team aims to be very patient and transparent in all conversations but we have often faced awkward silences when it comes to collaborators who are not from this field. On the contrary, the conversations on our social media and DM’s have been a revelation to us. The questions usually come from a place of curiosity rather than hate. This is in part due to the safe space we create in all our interactions. The stigma definitely persists but we do not expect to undo intergenerational ignorance and conditioning. We try our hardest, remain patient and strong in our convictions.

Since the incoming of Hiccup, what kind of responses have come forth from consumers? What kind of appreciation and apprehensions have you seen them carry toward menstrual cups?

In India, a majority of the people who reach out to us are first time cup users. A few questions we get very often are how using cups will affect their virginity (it won’t), will it hurt (it doesn’t) and why they should buy a Hiccup and not some other/ cheaper cup. Since it is a comparatively higher upfront payment, a lot of people tend to pick the cheapest option available. Since there is a difference in quality, they end up having not the best experience and then we’re faced with the challenge of getting them to try another cup.

On the flip side, those who use the cup and get used to it, absolutely rave about it! We get messages every day from users about how it has changed their lives or the different conversations they had because they use a cup. That is absolutely gratifying. We also get a ton of appreciation for being an open, inclusive, honest brand that spends time on education about the climate crisis, gender, sex positivity and of course, menstruation.

 

We notice that educating consumers and the public is a significant part of your work through your social media channels. Could you share with us why you think that is vital, and what kind of dialogue you have seen unfold(ing) – about menstruation, womens’ bodies, health – through it on social media?

Making menstrual cups mainstream is a goal we cannot accomplish in isolation. Asking someone to move from a pad to hiccup isn’t as simple as asking them to shift loyalties to a new brand but rather, is a lifestyle shift. When it comes to menstrual cups, the personal is political. Using a cup means unlearning everything we’ve been taught about how to interact with our bodies. It means feeling empathetic and proactive about the future of the planet. It means recognising the inequality in menstrual care, it’s correlation with poverty and trying to find equalizers. It is a big ask to make. We acknowledge that and don’t take it lightly. So when someone trusts us enough to make that shift, we owe it to them to arm them with as much knowledge as possible.

The Hiccup social media channels are therefore spaces of inclusive advocacy that promote education and awareness around menstrual health management, body neutrality, sex positivity, gender and climate change. We do this because using a cup genuinely lies on the intersection of these issues and there is an abysmal lack of education or awareness surrounding these topics. We aim to fill this gap and increase accessibility to this information as much as possible.

Making a transition from conventional utilities – such as sanitary napkins and tampons – can feel intimidating and invasive (as the cup needs to be inserted inside). Could you offer some guidance on what someone who would like to try it could do to make the experience easier?

I completely understand that using a menstrual cup for the first time can be really intimidating. Even tampons are barely used in our country and there is such a taboo around insertion!

My first suggestion to first time users would be to get familiar with your body. A lot of us, even if we are sexually active may not be familiar with our anatomy. When you’re not on your period, use your fingers to find your cervix. Insert a finger and move it slowly to familiarise yourself with the area. When you’re comfortable, insert multiple fingers. You’ll see that the vaginal walls are flexible and inserting a cup will seem less daunting now.

My second suggestion would be to use a cup for the first time on a lighter flow day of your period (ideally the third or fourth day). This way you get the natural lubrication of your period without the worry of potential leaks. You could even use a pad along with the cup the first few times if you’re really worried. That way you’ll be more confident to wear it by itself.

Lastly, choose the right cup. A soft cup will make both insertion and removal easy. If your cup has a stem, you’ll be reassured that the cup will be easy to locate. (Hiccup is a soft cup with a stem).

Finally, trust that the cup cannot get lost – it is anatomically impossible for it to vanish. Converting to a cup isn’t a one time thing. It is a slow gradual process so be patient with yourself. It will take 2-3 cycles to get used to it but I promise that once you are comfortable with it, you won’t change back!

Are there any specific intentions Hiccup holds to generate an impact for the wider Indian public and consumers?

Our goal with starting hiccup is to make menstrual cups mainstream. When we talk about period products or simply when we teach young menstruators in schools about what their options are – we want the thought of menstrual cups as an option to come as easily as pads. Along with this, we want menstrual cups to be easily accessible. Anyone, across the country – whether they stay in the capital city or in a small village, should they choose to use a menstrual cup, should have access to it.

This is something we cannot do alone. To create a deeper and more meaningful impact, we aim to work with the State, private corporations and foundations to do intensive research on the Indian menstrual space factoring in the well-being of both menstruators and the environment. This will help us keep researching and developing better and more effective period care solutions.

 

What are your subsequent aspirations with, and for Hiccup as a brand and as an enterprise carrying a collective voice to show menstruation as a healthy and normal process of our bodies?

Our aspirations for Hiccup as a brand that is Activist not just in words but in nature, goes beyond normalising conversation around menstruation for us. That I think is what we want to tackle as our first step. Not only do we want people to be comfortable talking (and listening) about periods, we want to be able to extend that normalisation towards uterine diseases, mental health, sex education, body neutrality, the gender and sexuality spectrums; among a hoard of other things.

We do this the best way we know how – we talk about it normally without making a big deal about it. We amplify the voices of those who have lived experiences, we try to be as open and inclusive a space as possible and creative vetted and responsible education around it. Currently we do this through our social media but our plans extend to working with NGOs to make this information available for those who are underprivileged and working with Governments to make accessibility easier.

Is there anything you would hope for, or expect, clients to discover and take from Hiccup?

So many things! First and foremost, we want menstruators to feel free and comfortable during their periods. Cups are outwardly invisible – letting you do all things you would on any other day. You can do headstands, swim, even scuba dive on your periods with a cup. I think that’s a special kind of liberating. There is also a different kind of comfort knowing that there aren’t any chemicals touching your body or that there won’t be any rashes after a few hours of having your period.

But something most people don’t talk about that becomes a crucial part of the menstrual cup experience is self awareness about the body. Using pads or tampons gives us a very misleading view of how and how much we bleed. Using a cup showed me that it is way less than we are led to believe by the stark, sterile white of other period products. Not just that but the simple act of inserting something safely and non-sexually into the body is intimate in a way most of us might be unfamiliar with. I expect (and hope) cup users get more comfortable with their body and have a more mindful understanding of their periods – the colour, the texture etc.

Lastly, it is an amazing feeling to not have to dispose of something every few hours!

 

Could you describe how your experience of working on this venture since 2019 has been?

The experience of founding and running Hiccup has been challenging but also very rewarding. Convincing people to consider menstrual cups as an option isn’t easy. We battle stigma, myths and disapproval every single day. However, when someone uses the cup and comes back to us with how much they enjoyed using it – it is a victory for us. When people DM us asking us personal questions – it is a victory for us. When mothers buy a cup for their child – it is a victory for us. When we get orders from small cities we have never even heard of – it is a victory for us. We know that somewhere, someone is taking control of their own body and being climate positive which makes it all worthwhile. We understand that we are a far cry away from making cups mainstream, but we’re in it for the long haul.

Meenal was interviewed by our writer Malini Mathur. To learn more about Hiccup and to support their effort, please follow them here.

Colorism in India:Reformulating Institutional Conceptions and Rhetoric

Reformulating Institutional Conceptions and Rhetoric

Colorism in India

The subject of colorism in India is vast, and its prevalence, both within different regions of the country and in society on the whole is extensive. Color inequality has ensued from historical views of privilege as well as contemporary discrimination, with light-skin and fairness having held (and still holding) symbolic meanings and associations with feminine beauty, class privilege, spiritual purity and cultural superiority, and dark-skin with primitiveness, inferiority, and unattractiveness.

As a consequence of beliefs about skin color determining one’s status and value, and individuals with darker skin tones having experienced persistent disadvantages (with regard to education, income, opportunity, health, and marriageability), many people have taken recourse to “whiten” their skin over the centuries. The formulation of skin-lightening practices draw ascendancy from notions of skin color as being a form of capital, such that fair-skin is garnered as economic capital, social capital, and even symbolic capital. Colorism and the stratification affiliated with it have been further complicated by the influence of ideas about light-skin, success and better life outcomes, and the aesthetic model transplanted by the skin-lightening and cosmetic industry. Fairness and light-skin have since been commodities that are acquired for a price and traded for access to goods and services, such as social forums, romantic partners, education, and employment. 

The acquisition of capital and status through such practices elucidate the acuity with which colorism continues to affect people and the rhetoric of whiteness that the multibillion-dollar skin lightening industry capitalises on in exchange for monstrous profits. Colorism and racial prejudice, as well as shaming and ‘individual preferences’ for light-skin have long been displayed in Indian advertisements – ranging through hair removal creams, intimate washes, facial creams and cleansers, matrimonial features, ‘white’ electric lights and bulbs endorsed by esteemed personalities, and indoctrination at the grade school level with images of fair(er) people to explain ‘beauty’ and of dark(er) ones ‘unattractiveness’.

 

 

The fallacy of color is evident in lands like India – which have great regional heterogeneity and whose people are culturally diverse – impacting almost all the public. The fact that ‘color’ remains relevant for advertising agencies to influence sales – whether in their branding, in the chemicals utilized, in their story-telling, or in them all – has only reinforced misconceptions and distortions of, what should have been, an authentic self-concept amongst consumers (and non-consumers). Impacting young girls and adults alike regardless of how “educated”, “successful” and “accomplished” they may (have) be(come), skin tone biases have also been imposed on men over the years with the introduction of similar lightening and fairness products in India – with light-skin signifying “attractiveness” and dark-skin “manliness” and “muscle”. 

The systems from which colorism originates in India are those that explicate some of its fundamental religious, cultural, and social features – namely, the concepts of caste, class, (arranged) marriage, and status. The divisionary models that found their genesis in fear (of unworthiness and (social) ostracisation), erroneous scriptural and mythical interpretations, patriarchal structures, dowry systems, classism, division of labor, colonialism, gender roles, cultural conditioning, and shame, have played principal functions in systematising colorism across regions and communities. The practice of applying homemade ‘uptans’ (beauty packs) – with turmeric, milk malai (cream), egg, besan (gram flour) and other natural ingredients – to retain fairness or lighten skin has moreover solidified these perceptions in place. Such arbitrary conceptions that (have) give(n) base to, and are entangled in stratification, are correspondingly iterated in like advertisements that obscure the dynamism of one’s being – whether in the form of colorism, sexism, objectification, ageism, ableism or other analogous prejudices.

 

 

The hierarchical ordering of human differences through these contrived categorizations of color have propelled activists in the nation-state over the past several decades to cogently protest against and dismantle the inequitable system. The Black Lives Matter movement in the West has of late catalysed the issue in the Indian context, with Hindustan Unilever having renamed its prominent fairness brand ‘Fair and Lovely’, Johnson and Johnson deciding to cease sales of all fairness products in India, and Matrimonial website ‘Shaadi.com’ removing its skin color filter owing to public outcry. These changes, while could have been (seen as) a sign of progress(ion) in one sense, now raise the question about what it means for brands to revise their messaging and story-telling, and what dogmas they represent.

With ‘Fair and Lovely’ historically and thus far showcasing women as achieving success and happiness only when turned fairer, it has become crucial to explore whether such rebranding is an admittance at the end of large corporations that skin lightening products were and are a falsity, and that dark-skin is not something to be repaired or corrected, and if so, why they are not discontinued altogether; and how rebranding would absolve the colorism that underlies it. Strategic changes in messaging being (and having been) adopted by the now, ‘Glow and Lovely’ and by other beauty brands with substitute terminologies such as ‘brightening’ and ‘radiance’, may alter the rhetoric but retain the same overtones and meanings, providing marginal changes in the schema.

 

 

At the same time, disputes arise as to why brands require such an outcry from the public to amend their practices – and why even then these amendments are merely cosmetic; why at this stage, multinational corporations and brands not only ‘be’ better, but also take responsibility for how the ideology embodying their advertising and products furthers and perpetuates problematic beauty ideals, fostering insecurity, emotional turmoil, and in some cases mental trauma. More so, why profit generation not be based on unfeigned values in place of deceptive and misleading premises, and sensitivity consultants involving activists not share space with their advisory boards to direct reform? 

Though the problem of colorism and the exploitative business model that has flourished on its basis is so compounded that an adequate understanding of it will require the synthesis of a number of concepts and disquisitions in diverse fields, historical conditions do unveil how densely tied colorism is – and continues to be – with our traditional practices and ideologies. The neoteric developments and calls for social change that have been prompted into our conventions by activists and citizens, and through social media, have been proving influential in collapsing (and reformulating) systems that inhibit the diversity and equity inherent to life, but a shift in economic, cultural and emotional ethos remain particularly limited in the country.

 

 

 Much less is still realised about how the commodification of beauty and color is deployed to, and by men, and the degree to which they serve as consequential in their lifestyle. The chronic ‘preferences’ for light skin will require closer studies to interpret the contemporary interplay and meanings of skin color with(in) psycho-social, spatial and global contexts, and to observe whether the changes in branding, while strategic ploys at present, will gradually play any notable part in moving toward more inclusive story-telling and truthful representation of who we are.  

We collaborated with model and illustrator Namita Sunil for the illustrations in this thought piece.

Written by Malini Mathur

Conversations with Small Businesses after Covid-19 

Conversations with Small Businesses after Covid-19

Cultivating New Dynamics and Trajectories

At IKKIVI Zine, we spoke with a few small business owners from India on the state of commerce, their individual experiences and the business reorganisations apprehended by them.The sharp declines in economic activity with the spread of the novel Coronavirus have commenced unprecedented losses across industries over the last several months. Having impacted all businesses and commercial undertakings profoundly, the economic deceleration – and in many instances, closure – that has extended with the onset of nationwide lockdowns has had an especially exaggerated effect on small businesses. With capital in its various species varying for small businesses depending on the particularity of their reach and concentration, more clearly, depending on the peculiarity of their field, on the state of development of their advancement and on the individuality of the products, small businesses are needing to retrace their steps to ensure business continuity in the present economic climate.

Discussing the impact that the pandemic has had on small businesses, Surabhi Chauhan, Founder and Director at the communications agency LoveStruckCow notes that “the immediate effect has been quite disruptive. Starting from a sudden drop in business activity, stalling of on-ground projects, breakdown of vendor supply chains to deferral of marketing activities and product launches, all these factors have come together to force a major relook at our yearly plans and projections.”

Traversing through similar arduous conditions, Anushka Sani, Founder of Thought Over Design, a user-centric design studio, mentions that they’ve learned that one can’t always trust people on their word or contracts. “Since it’s a sensitive time and we’re mindful of that – we’ve been understanding of delayed payments – but when it gets out of hand, as a small business – it’s really difficult to work around this when our work is based on mutual respect / trust.” Such multifaceted strains have also presented halts and delays in business activities and production processes, leading to indefinite defferals of many projects at small business firms – specifically of offline events, commercial campaigns, new product launches and installations, and a shift in business strategy.

Corroborating on the consequences of the lockdown on managing business, Rahul Singh Yadav, Founding Member and Design and Curatorial Head at Floating Canvas Company, an art-on-subscription service, outlines that one of their “biggest challenges has been the nagging sense of uncertainty about how things might stand a week, a fortnight or a month from now. Restarting operations on a full-fledged basis and aligning all teams, vendors and stakeholders is not a one-day affair. And in the face of directives by authorities at different levels – sometimes in conflict with one another – the challenges just multiply manifold.” 

Reflecting further on these experiences and their influence on focus in the face of these sudden adjustments, he states that “the initial days were quite crazy. Coming to terms with the pandemic, its health implications, wading through all the information, misinformation and instructions, managing household responsibilities and facing new business realities on a daily basis; it all felt quite overwhelming to be honest.” However, being able to spend more time at home and around his family, he says, has also provided him the mental space to closely consider the things he should be focusing on, in both business and in the personal domain.

In developing conditions congruent for conducting business through this unpredictable period, Anushka emphasizes a revision in strategies to garner new business practices. “We’re actively considering a leaner model with lighter costs. One of our biggest expenses is a beautiful and large studio space in the heart of South Bombay. We’ve been discussing this as a team and are exploring what a #workfromanywhere model would look like.” Speaking of the alterations and shifts in their business trajectory moving forward, she adds that they want to be mindful of what projects they take on moving forward. “It’s become increasingly important to evaluate the businesses we work with. The focus on local is very interesting for us at Thought Over Design…so we’re excited to see how we can help build better, more meaningful homegrown brands.”

Elaborating on the same lines, Shakti Swarup Sahu, Founding Member and Strategic and Marketing Head at Floating Canvas Company considers it essential to diversify revenue sources and ensure that the financial shock from such occurrences is minimised henceforth. Matters that largely remain overlooked due to mainstream and competitive business dynamics – including unnecessary commute and travel in many sectors of the economy, and the subtle yet discernible effects of extended work hours on mental health – have also gained heightened attention amongst professionals during this period of economic lag.

Surabhi shares that “with the enforced pause, we were all encouraged to be home and do nothing at times. This is not all rainbow and sunshine, don’t get me wrong – there are phases of laughter, arguments, frustrations, and warm meals. It’s good to not plan too much…it’s great to think of who you are and how to nourish yourself…Now with more me-time and time with family (who also are homebound), I am able to connect with myself more while being productive at work as well.” Interconnected with these aspects have been developments in the personal realm brought forth by the pandemic. Anushka explains this to have become a time of strengthening personal relationships – “If anything, this has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with people both personally and in cohorts…I’ve also found conversations are so much more meaningful and you get to know people a lot better through a time like this.”

Contemplating the macro economic changes that have been fuelled by contemporary affairs, Aagam Mehta, Founding Member and Business and Finance Head at Floating Canvas Company believes that there is going to be a shift in how and what we perceive small businesses to be (doing) and the power that they (will) have in terms of driving ethical changes in the larger market structure with the rise of this global crisis. “There’s this narrative that has been developing for quite a while that transitioning into a mega corporation is the natural endgame for any business, that every small business is just a ‘way bigger business in the making’.

I think this narrative has taken a beating with the onset of this crisis. During peak lockdown, it’s our neighbourhood kirana (grocery and general) stores that kept us going, not mega malls and marts. And I sincerely hope more people appreciate this, that how crucial a role small businesses play in efficient decentralisation and distribution of capital and resources. Small businesses are sustainable, rooted in community, and – as this crisis has shown – downright essential.”

Echoing the same truth Surabhi thinks that only small businesses will have the liberty to bring about ethical changes from this crisis. “Small businesses are usually formed with the notion of doing things differently from how big companies function. They tend to be more sustainable and ethical in their functioning. It’s my belief that we will see new names emerge as stars who were able to think and act differently in the coming times. There will be completely new products and services which will become very relevant in the near future and the small businesses would be the ones who find them.” Considering reforms on the consumption spectrum, Rubeina Karachiwalla, Founder of Ruby’s Cosmetics, suggests that “people will be looking to spend more wisely, and on less…Conscious consumerism is about to become the future and we (as a small business) want to be that choice for people.”

“One of the biggest business learnings for us from this pandemic” reflects Aagam, “has been to look at everything we do through two crucial lenses: Resilience and Diversification. In the wake of the new normal…we have tried to relook at and reorient every business activity: starting from where and how we source a vendor to where and why to hire an employee. The key is to build a business that stays resilient even if a certain location or city goes under lockdown” These shifting directions in business practices indicate a refocusing primarily of, and on, values and emotions. Surabhi highlights this period to have encouraged her “to think of how to still genuinely connect with people/entities without physically being present.” On handling present dynamics, she adds that businesses should not rely on spending more money to work well. “Invest in people and businesses you connect with. It’s the connections you form and how you impact the world.” Speaking of their reform in terms of focus in business, Rubeina counts that “we want to focus now on creating more value for our customers and working towards creating an emotional relationship beyond the transaction.”

These shifts and reformulations are extending from business ideologies, merging into cultural and collective practices and support. On how we can partake in contributing as a community to the sustainable enterprise that small businesses are, Rahul points that “it would be great if more people start considering small businesses as their first choice when it comes to opting for a product or service. But there are many other small yet significant ways of showing your support as well. Follow small businesses on their social channels. Like and share their content. Spread the word about their offerings in your circle. Or just drop a mail or give a call to say Hi. Sometimes just knowing that you are listening and that you care are all that it takes to keep it going.” Advocating for greater revision in these areas, Anushka proposes that we “look to support not just homegrown brands and local businesses but those that are going one step ahead and looking into the entire ecosystem in which they exist…And I believe if as consumers we don’t change, we will only be fuelling the same system that brought us here today.”

From becoming involved in understanding the production and supply processes of small businesses by thinking of where our products and services are coming from, whom they are supporting and the means through which they are distributed, to engaging in mindful consumption, she appeals that we also prioritise taking care of those directly dependent on us. “Please do what you can to pay your drivers, peons, domestic help and other people dependent on you. We need to care for those who rely on us for their livelihoods.”

The development of emotional and symbolic relationships are now burgeoning between networks, small and independent local firms and individual consumers. Even though distinctive paradigms around emotions, personal values and the economy have not yet developed completely, as ideologies are refined and business frameworks renewed, the nature of these relationships and changes may in due course culminate into a model that is formally based on socio-cultural dynamics and exchange. While largely commercial and profit-bound business systems have governed the concerns of economic institutions andlarge businesses, it is the systematic engagement and adoption of more conscious, mindful and ethical operations grounding small businesses that are most plausible to affect analytic frames, generating advances in economic and social behavior in the global economy.

The founders of the companies featured in this article, Floating Canvas Company, Ruby’s Organics, Thought Over Design and Love Struck Cow were interviewed by our writer Malini Mathur who also pieced their thoughts together.

With Fatimah Asghar

With Fatimah Asghar

Conversations On the Versatilities of Art

Art as an expressive and symbolic system is often positioned toward itself (the art object), the artist (the maker), actualities (the world) or concepts (as ideas or possible states of being). The cultural and individual insights, of both makers and viewers, in works of art continually reveal to us the range of possibilities – of form and detail – that lie inherent in each art form. At IKKIVI, we had the occasion to speak with Fatimah Asghar on the various emotional, artistic, and intellectual processes and experiences that (can) underlay works of art. Discussing the characteristics and significance of different artistic mediums, she shares with us the particularities that influence and embody her poetry, screen-writing, experiences and projects.

Fatimah Asghar photographed by Cassidy Kristiansen

Are there any defining moments from your childhood and adolescent years that have shaped your artistic expression?

My entire upbringing and life really informs my work. A huge theme in my work is around orphaning—my parents died when I was really young and that’s something that has been such a huge influence over my life. I don’t think most people really consider how much of our society is formed and privileges the idea of family: so when you don’t have that, when that’s taken away from you early, you really see a different side to the world. 

Are there any poets, thinkers, writers, or artists whose works continue to resonate with and move you?

So many! I feel really blessed to live in a world where I get to constantly look around and be inspired by so many people’s art. Some of my favorite poets are my peers: Danez Smith, Franny Choi, Angel Nafis, Safia Elhillo, Morgan Parker, Hanif Abdurraqib, Kaveh Akbar, Justin Phillip Reed—the list can go on forever. I love Ross Gay’s work; I wouldn’t be here without Patricia Smith and Tarfia Faizullah.

 

Does an art form play a role in the development of the other art forms you engage with? If so, could you describe their interplay?

I am an artist that works across multiple genres. They’re always influencing each other and informing each other. I’m someone who really thinks about the thing that wants to be told before I consider its container. If there’s a line that comes to me, I just write what I feel and then decide what it is once I have the thing down: is it a poem? A screenplay? Prose? I think our art is often smarter than we are, and we just need to make space for it to tell us what it wants to do.

As even within writing your work spans across different mediums, what is the relationship between your poetic voice and screen-writing voice? In the same context, where does one art form end and the other begin?

I think that my poetic voice and my screenwriting voice are incredibly interconnected because they come from the same person. We’re all such multifaceted people, that contain a lot of depth and multitudes. But ultimately, since these voices and projects come from the same person, they’re inherently connected because they have that in common. I’m not a stickler for believing in different genres as different, I love the blending of things. And therefore, I’m not too concerned with the question of where one art form begins and one ends, because ultimately I don’t know how much that matters: I’m just interested in making art that feels true to me, that is authentic, that makes a home for myself and others.

Is there a certain process you follow as you write/ in your writing?

It’s all so different depending on the project. Sometimes it just pours out of me, sometimes it takes a lot of careful planning, sometimes I dream of a project for days, months, years, before ever writing anything down. I think what’s most important to me is just trying to stay open, and trying to carve out as much space where I can really listen to my own self and voice, rather than letting iit get jumbled with others’ opinions.

Poetry Book If They Come For Us

The poems in your book, ‘If They Come For Us’, look at emotions and pain in profundity. What was the experience of writing these poems like for you? Were there any recurrent thoughts you had, and emotions you felt, through it?

I wrote the poems in that book over the course of years, and many poems that I was writing at the time didn’t make it into the book. The experience was so varied—some of the poems are so painful, and those were difficult to write. Some are very nostalgic and joyous, and felt like such a breath of fresh air to write. When you write one off poems they stand on their own, but when you’re compiling them into a book you have to be really careful: what are the recurring voltas in the poems? Are those intentional or repetitive? How can you switch it up and add more texture throughout it? When they’re put together what poems become redundant and can be cut? What poems do you need to write to thread the themes you’re writing out better? Because the book has such a heavy theme of Partition, I wanted to make sure that I was being responsible: trying to not point fingers at anyone (because that’s actually just impossible when there were transgressions on every side), but trying to really contextualize that pain and history while also dreaming of a more peaceful future.

Still from series Brown Girls

How did the plot and idea of your web-series ‘Brown Girls’ come to be? Was it a story that you had developed and wanted to showcase or something you worked on exclusively for this project?

It just came out pretty naturally. I just kind of wrote and let the writing take me where it needed to go and be.

The show (has) received a lot of praise from the public and the fraternity. What have been the personal highlights or take-aways for you and the other creators from its success?

I think the main thing was to just always make your art, even when people doubt you. Film is so hard because it’s so expensive and there are so many moving parts, but you just gotta find a way to make it. And treat people well. It’s really important to me, and to Sam Bailey who was the director of the series, that our sets be safe for queer people, people of color, and women. So often sets are so unsafe for marginalized people. And if most sets are unsafe on a basic level for marginalized people, then what art and perspectives are getting told and prioritized? When you have to show up to work every day and fight under such extreme conditions to even be considered a human, how can you make your best art? For us it was really important to make our sets like the worlds we live in: centering queer people of color, centering our humanity and being—not just our bodies and aesthetic.  

Still from short Got Game

We enjoyed watching your short film ‘Got Game’. Could you tell us a little bit about how the film came about? 

I wrote the script and then directed it. It was my first time narratively directing something so I really learned a lot. I deeply relate to the protagonist, and it really came from trying to navigate being single after being in a really long-term relationship and just being really awkward and wondering why it seems so easy for everyone else. 

Your craft ties with and expands on social activism closely. Does art inherently embody characteristics of social change or development for you?

I don’t know that I can make grand sweeping statements about art on any level. I know for me; I write deeply about what I care about. I care about a world that treats queer people of color well, where queer people of color get to thrive, where people can be who they are without being crushed by white supremacy. I think everyone should care about that. And not care so you can make art about it, but care deeply because the world we’ve inherited is fucked, shaped by so much systemic racism, and it’s going to take all of us to change it, every day, every moment.

(How) do the dialogues on social media influence the way you approach your art or your work?

I go on and off social media a lot and have a very complicated relationship with it. I think social media is a really useful tool; I also think over-listening to social media will damage you as an artist.

Are there any projects you are currently working on? When do you think we will be able to see them?

There are, but I’m not really allowed to talk about them! I’m working on a novel right now, and so that’s on the horizon.

In the wake of the recent identity violence and protests that have outbroken, what do you think one could do to stay grounded in themselves while traversing through these tense conditions?

Again, I feel like this is really hard to speak about in generalizations because it’s so specific to each person. You have to take care of yourself to be able to contribute well to the world. And so, whatever is part of your grounding ritual is important to honor—whether it be meditation, prayer, making sure you’re eating, talking to loved ones. But also, it’s our duty to show up in solidarity for Black people, to combat anti-Blackness wherever we see it, to fight for a better world. And I really hope that as folks, particularly non-Black folks are emphasizing taking care of themselves, they’re also emphasizing showing up to fight against anti-Blackness and to be anti-racist in every single way that they can. Again, this is a long fight, and it’s going to take all of us to shape a better future.  

Fatimah was interviewed by our writer Malini Mathur. For updates on her future projects and strirring writings, follow her here.

Finding The Art in The Everyday

Finding The Art in The Everyday

creation in isolation

“My art is that of storytelling, of creating beautiful images with a voice and intimate narratives; an art that I thought came with certain requirements of props and equipment skill, but the lockdown changed all of that. “

Ever taken the time to look at and appreciate the inside of a papaya? Ever thought flowing milk would be soothing to look at? I certainly hadn’t. The lockdown has shown me a lot of things and for a lot of people it has been a period of reflection. For me, it was about truly embracing slow living. It became about finding joy in the little things. Having meals together with family, playing board games again, gardening, the simple things I never treasured as much before. Being a stylist, a lot of what I do involves running around and usually depends on a group of people. However, I took the extra time to finally start teaching myself photography. I took a picture every single day, for 60 days. I sat with myself everyday around the golden hour and let myself be surprised. The 60 days locked in with my camera, made me look at everyday things in a new light. It has challenged me to explore other mediums of props. It was the start to my journey of Finding the Art in the Everyday. The greatest gift the lockdown gave me was the freedom to surprise myself, to find joy in what I love most. 

My thought process when I create always starts with the colours. While choosing my props, I see a colour palette I would like to explore in my mind, and I illustrate and play with compositions from that. For traditional top shots, you would choose props that relate to each other and illustrate a theme. I wanted to challenge myself during the lockdown and so I scrapped all my understanding of the first and followed my colour palette instinct. For these isolation creations, I chose to photograph everyday things we consume, to re-look at the ordinary.

In most of my images, I have focused on creating an emotion. With the shapes and movement, I have tried to string together a story using a series of still life compositions that each evoked a specific emotion in me.

Art and words by Caroline Joseph

Caroline Joseph is a stylist and visual artist currently based out of Kochi, with a keen view in art direction. Find more of her work on her website and instagram

The Ambivalences of Fashion

Illustration by Sunaina Mehrotra

The Ambivalences of Fashion

and its impact

The increasingly central role of fashion in contemporary culture has made it a defining feature in our lives. Fashion’s influence upon one reflects not only in its expansion as a (profitable) culture industry but also in its compound inter-connections with prosaic structures, social and political movements, and identity formations. From the development of fashion as an industry with its foundation in exclusivity, to the democratisation of its systemic principles, the dynamic of fashion has changed dramatically over the last century. The prominence of fashion as dress, image, art, practice and industry has fortified its position within visual culture, and the concept of what ‘fashion’ is and what constitutes the fashionable has sustained continuous advancements. 

Despite notable shifts in notions and practices however, fashion remains an enterprise muddled with tensions. Concurrent with its rise in popularity has been the rise of more critical issues. At one end, fashion functions as a medium of creativity, imagination, art, beauty, and expression. At the other end, unconscious practices associated with its pursuit (have) give(n) rise to a myriad of environmental, socio-economic and psychological issues. Due to the dualistic experiences and effects that it subjects one to, fashion has progressively gained ground as a field of critical analysis – as well as one subject to critical analysis – across disciplines and popular media.

While changes in the fashion system are concomitant with fashion’s own identity as an ephemeral and protean system, it has been difficult to estimate whether the democratisation of fashion can be credited to be a truly intentional change in perception, or to be a result of an industry contending itself with the shifting pace of design and of the world. It is equally complex to conclude what such democratisation has essentially meant in this context – is it the action of making fashion accessible to everyone as part of being inclusive or a shift from being impelled by profit, thrust upon by the changing digital landscape?  

Illustration by Sunaina Mehrotra

Media technologies – fashion images, advertisements, videos and networked communications in particular – have also come to play a crucial role in the forms that fashion takes in contemporary relations and the experiences it makes possible. Fashion industries and entrepreneurs promptly offer the public (aesthetic) experiences premised upon the performance of interpersonal connection through simulation and social media, such that they often become a site of reflection, creativity and expression for its participants. The digital mediation that has supported the expansion and diversification of commercialized fashion has further transformed the ways in which cultural identities and meanings are formed. The utilization of fashion on social media platforms now suffice as a space for the convergence of simulation and reality, and embody inter-cultural experiences and identities through the medium. The fashion media has thereby not only promoted developments in fashion that have shaped mainstream culture and its machines, but have also structured the manner in which fashion conventions prevalent in the contemporary era are embedded in our lives. But this (changing) landscape of fashion also exposes intimate intersections between desire, fear, shame and consumption. The desire to ‘stand out, yet belong’ – both in fashion discourses and related cultural and digital practices – induce feelings of inadequacy (shame) and separation (fear), and influence competitive consumption patterns between peer groups. The institutional obsession in fashion with newness, distinction and originality and its hyperbolic display on social media often engender amongst people an image of their identity in these ideals, and therefore in conspicuous consumption of what is fashionable.

Similar polarities exist in other domains. Though historically it is the fashion industry that has championed the LGBTQIA+ movement and community – through representation and dialogue in music, film, documentary, media, mass-movements as well as operations within the (fashion) industry – the question of how far (and how successfully) this movement and representation has penetrated through our social relations remains debatable. The continual ‘changes’ that fashion is guilty of perpetuating would have allowed the fashion industry to spearhead (for) ‘inclusivity’ prior to other industries and precipitate greater force toward it. But even through these movements, it has become imperative for us to ask if fashion practices a lack of awareness and empathy, and if that has always been the way of operation for the industry. For, the cultural dismissal and minimal representation in fashion of all that may be “old”, “large”, “queer”, “short”, “dark” and “disabled” – or in other words, of all that may be normatively ridiculed – still trails one into following a shadow that cannot be assimilated with their self.

Over the decades, people have repeatedly opposed the industry normatives and several designers (Stella McCartney, Erika Varga), brands (Otherwild, Chromat), artists (Jameela Jamil, Rihanna) and alternate fashion movements (sustainable, ethical, and slow-fashion) have been uncovering such issues within the fashion system – demonstrating, that fashion can (and needs to be) an authentic form of art, expression, agency and social change that is truly inclusive of diversity. Yet, industry practices are inundated with euro-centric beauty standards, cultural appropriation, tone-deaf articles, celebrity deification and retouched images. At the same time, the reports of abuse and sexual assault in the industry that came to light during the Me Too movement express that the industry remains shrouded in virulances in spite of structural shifts. Parallelly however, fashion has also become one of the primary industries through which this movement has gained strength over the last year.

Illustration by Sunaina Mehrotra

The character of these power dynamics and dualisms in the fashion industry beseech the question of the extent to which social change, representation and practices have been equitable, and to which they suggest ornamental pragmatism within the system. Even so, the recurrent ambivalence and oscillation of progress and decline in industrial matters are not peculiar to the fashion system, but are manifestations and extensions of a wider set of institutional and cultural beliefs and practices. The correspondence of fashion with events as political revolutions, technological innovation, avant-garde art signifies that we can employ the medium (and its various interpretations) to understand more closely the (global) cultural apparatus within which it is situated. Contradictorily though, the opposing effects of fashion are such that though an authoritative force, in several instances, it fails to transcend the institutional patterns that it has inherited and created. To understand the trajectory that fashion is taking, and its consequent relation(s) to the individual, the body, and (self) perception, it becomes crucial then to critically reflect on ideologies that govern its industrial and cultural forms. As fashion is not merely a material or artistic product but also an intangible system of signification that conveys a number of different social meanings, deploying its power as an institution and artistic form can usher further reformative and creative change; change beyond its material and industrial aspects – through the dialogues it initiates, the shift in narratives it occasions, and the representation and debate it fosters – to impact the lives of those who consume it and its content (both materially and digitally).

We collaborated with illustrator Sunaina Mehrotra for the illustration in this thought piece.

These illustrations are part of a series called ‘Warped’. Here, she explores the imperfections and impurities associated with handmade textiles and how procuring them from remote regions always poses a challenge.

Written by Malini Mathur

With Karuna Ezara Parikh

With Karuna Ezara Parikh

Conversations on The Profundity of Language & her book The Heart Asks Pleasure First

Along with being an artistic and expressive channel, writing is a medium that represents our meaning(s) and structure(s) of thinking in a given piece of work. Encompassing multiple perspectives and forms, writing has been a prime ideal through which to explore the human condition in all of its complexity, and simplicity. Reflecting on the profundity of language and the power of writing, we at IKKIVI had the pleasure of speaking with Karuna Ezara Parikh on the influence of books in her early life, their lasting impact on her present work and approach to writing, her creative process(es), as well as her upcoming book ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First.’ She also shares with us her experiences during the CAA/ NCR protests and in isolation. Parikh employs writing in an artistic capacity to express her views and vision, and offers varied and important insights on broader creative and social matters through her work.

 

What was your relationship with books and art as a child like?

 I grew up in a house full of books, so I think that helped bring them into my everyday existence from a very young age. Some of the titles I saw around the house as I was growing up, imprinted on my memory and I still remember their spines today… particularly my mother’s volumes of poetry, old Hollywood coffee table books, and early texts on feminism. I think when a child grows up with books, they are no longer separate, or something to strive to incorporate in a life. Instead they’re everyday magic, existing as friends do. It wasn’t long before I was saving up pocket money to have my own. 

Are there any artists/ writers whose work you personally came to identify with as a child, and still continue to?

Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ and Kenneth Williams’ ‘I Only Have To Close My Eyes’ come to mind. The latter is now sadly out of print, but I reference it in my novel – that’s how much I loved it! Even today I find them utterly transporting.

You often utilize writing as a means of expressing dissent. Are there any particular experiences or times you recount where you saw language and writing as powerful tools (of change)?

 When I wrote my Paris poem and saw the global response to it – on a personal level, nothing has come close in showing me how much power the written word possesses. To write a poem and two hours later have a hundred thousand people to share it. To have the BBC calling 24 hours later, Paolo Coelho rewriting it 48 hours later… That was shocking for me. I realised that I can use my words for so much better. 

 On a greater level, the things I have learnt about the world from reading, remind me of that power constantly. Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy and Jonathon Safran Foer’s non-fiction come to mind. 

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Is getting to the actual exercise of writing simple for you, or does it require you to be more disciplined?

I wait. An idea appears as a seed. I don’t begin to write immediately. I let it lay in the mud of my mind, I water it with thought, I turn the soil, maybe take a bit of sun to it. And then when I feel I cannot resist the pen, I begin putting down words.

I think most artists struggle with discipline, and there is this romantic idea that it is part of the art itself. I too have thought that way in the past, but after writing my book, I see how it is simply bringing yourself to the page, the table, the pen, the idea, day after day, that results in fruition. 

What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

Not being as good as I want to. I want to write better and better. I sometimes pause while reading a phrase or a paragraph in a book and think ‘Wow, now that is something!’ and I am in such awe of the different ways people practice approaching this craft, and it inspires me to be better but it is hard to hold yourself to a certain perhaps impossible standard.

Editing is a tough process – letting go of things you’ve written. Writers are so in love with their own words, I think it’s necessary to alert a very cold side of your heart before editing. My editor Teesta Guha Sarkar gently pointed out many places in my book where I had rambled on…and despite my attachment to those lines, I knew, with cold clarity eventually, that she was right. Letting go is hard – but important. 

What kind of differences do the mediums of poetry, prose and script writing allow you to express? Do the differences in these mediums converge at a certain point?

They each take care of a different aspect of me and allow me the liberty to explain my beliefs and my version of a perfect world, in various ways. I think they converge in style and in a value system. Both are consistent in all forms, or so I would hope.

How has your craft developed and evolved over the years? Have you taken a particular direction with it?

Intuitively. Though I always wanted to write books, I ended up working as a journalist in order to provide for myself financially. Poetry, a tighter medium, allowed me to continue to express my heart. Eventually when I have written a book, I feel like there are threads in it of the journalist I once was, and definitely my poetry writing affects the prose. So while I have not taken a particular direction, I would say my experiences of being a writer of these varied mediums allowed me to create one cumulative style. 

The Heart Asks Pleasure First Book Cover
Art by Shilo Shiv Suleman

Your book The Heart Asks Pleasure First was set to release this month, but is now pushed to September. Has this change affected you or your other/ future work(s)?

While it has been heart-breaking of course to further push the book release to Fall, considering the circumstances, I think this made sense and was better for everyone, the readers included. I do have a book of poetry releasing after the book and clearly this will affect that as well. The one thing I am hopeful about is seeing how many people have embraced reading again in this time at home. 

Could you tell us about the book and your journey in writing it? How did it come to be?

 Ah. So I began writing The Heart Asks Pleasure First about ten to twelve years ago but put it away for a number of years in the middle, finding myself unable to tap into something essential required to write it. In 2017 I moved to Calcutta. I was falling in love afresh at the time, and that, coupled with the peace and quiet I found in a new city, gave me the inspiration and space I needed to finally return to the work.

The story circles around a dancer, an Indian Hindu girl and her relationship with two Pakistani Muslim boys as she attends Dance School in Cardiff, Wales. It is set around the events of 2001 and the global turmoil that followed. I feel like I needed more years to fully comprehend the depth of those events, and to tie them more correctly to India and the communalism we battle with here even today.

What kind of research did you (have to) do before beginning this book? How did the process of developing the storyline and plot unfold?

Oh so much. If I had written a book based solely on what I knew when I began writing, it would have been a far shallower novel. I researched the entire time I wrote the book. Not all of it has gone into the pages, but it has gone into the story, if that makes sense. 

What do you hope for readers to take away from this book?

 Though I would want readers to decide that for themselves, in brief I guess I would say – hope. 

Karuna by her writing desk at home
Photographed by Nayantara Parikh

You have been an active voice through the CAA and NRC protests. When, amidst the tensions, did you become involved in the demonstrations?

From the very start. It was a matter of great sadness for me that our great country cannot find space in its massive beating heart for everyone. I simply don’t believe that. 

You faced a significant number of threats on social media as a result of your participation in the protests. Did you, at any time, have to alter your approach to the discourse on account of these difficulties?

 I took breaks from it when I needed to, but I think that is always the case with social media isn’t it? Whether I’m speaking out about the environment, women’s rights or civil rights, there are always some folk who will respond nastily. I try and tell myself that it clearly means I’m getting to them. 

Do you have any anticipations for how the NRC and CAA issue will unfold post the Covid-19 lockdown?

None whatsoever, but I do think every movement needs rest time, and no movement sees success overnight. Let’s not forget how long the Freedom movement took in India!

How has this period of social isolation been for you, both personally and professionally?

One of immense gratitude and minor frustrations. Realising how much I have, how little I need, and being given the space to ask the important question – where do I (we) go from here?

Apart from needing to work-from-home, are there any lifestyle changes you have had to incorporate since the lockdown? And have they revised your relationship to everyday life/ living in any way?

Washing my hands more?! 

On a more serious note – it has been an eye opener in the sense that, doing yoga every single day seemed like an exhausting task to me earlier. Cooking every day as well. Moving slower. Sleeping more was hard before. I have found joy in these things and hope to carry this into whatever life comes in the future. While I have other, larger observations from this time, I’m still doing the inner work on them, and feel it is too early to share or comment.

What would you like to say to fellow writers in lockdown?

I would like to share a quote from the incredible Ocean Vuong – “When you’re hitting a dead end…take it with you. Get away from the desk. It means something is not happening. It doesn’t mean you’re blocked. I don’t think writer’s block is real. I think it’s the mythos of capitalism…that you’re always supposed to be producing. This anxiety of being productive and quantifying your self-worth through page counts and word counts. You’re working…but you have to work differently now.”

Karuna was interviewed by our writer Malini Mathur. For updates on Karuna’s book launch and for more of her soulful writing, follow her here.

A Revolution of ‘Self’ and ‘Consciousness’

Art by Suzie Blake

A Revolution of ‘Self’ and ‘Consciousness’

The Broader Dimension of a Fashion Revolution

The complex environmental and social problems that have stemmed from the fashion industry’s detrimental and unconscious practices have called for a systemic reform in its overall value chain by several activists, brands, national and international bodies and trade union groups over the last decade. Reforms at the systemic level have kept emphasis on the implementation of changes in the social, economic and environmental order of production and consumption of fast-fashion and related “fast” goods. Through the years, the focus maintained on the collective practices of these three facets has been leading to the revision of many problems that fashion faces as an industry – specifically with respect to sourcing, transparency, the use of unsustainable materials and fibres, toxic waste and labour working conditions. Though we rightly tend to focus on the practical and tangible changes that such a revolution in the fashion system is generating, there remains discussion of an additional aspect that this discourse points to(ward): of identifying the broader dimension of a Fashion Revolution. 

The issue of becoming conscious in fashion requires for us to realise that meaningful change in the fashion system may begin with changes in the fashion industry but must extend to realms beyond ‘fashion’ and its economics. The objective of a fashion revolution is not only to have designers, industrialists or consumers adopt sustainable and egalitarian practices at the systemic level, but to cause a shift, a revolution, in ‘consciousness’, and consequently, of ‘self’ itself, at the broadest individual level. 

Art by Suzie Blake

In the context of our individual practices, the ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ can be perceived as being the objects of one’s reflexive focus – the objects, through which we are (and become) aware of ourselves (our feelings, temperaments, thoughts, beliefs, actions, choices) and of the world. And though our ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ lie beyond our individual personalities, they play a defining role in shaping our consumption choices and practices, at both, the macro and micro level. While our personalities embody our individuality, our ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ act as the faculty through which our myriad qualities and tastes are cultivated; tastes not only for fine(r) objects, but also, our moral and practical tastes. In this way, the (negative and positive) practices prevalent in the fashion system are mirrors reflecting to us the state of our collective consciousness. But as collective consciousness is dialectically intertwined with individual consciousness, effective changes in (mass-) production processes are also highly dependent on constituents – apart from market dynamics – dictating individual consumption patterns and choices. 

Global changes in the industrial domain alone cannot foster such a systemic revolution in the long run. There are two intersecting factors underlying this. The first is that while changes in economic and social practices can cause material, physical or substantive changes in the fashion system, they cannot affirm qualitative or reflective changes in the individual consciousnesses upon which the growth of ethical and sustainable practices are ultimately contingent. The second, that production and consumption are mirror processes of each other – making them both equally dominant in the value chain. 

Art by Suzie Blake

“Identifying the (individual) meaningfulness of garments, commodities and objects both in themselves and in our lives – beyond style and appearance – would also impact not only our (collective and individual) ‘consciousness’, but the fashion value chain at large through revised consumption choices. “

The question that arises here then is, what alternatives would we primarily need to adopt in our personal domains in order to appreciate the complexities that underlie such a revolution – both within and beyond its immediate context? To propel thought in this direction it would be valuable to consider what ‘fashion’ and ‘revolution’ mean to us subjectively, not as a compound term representative of a movement, but as individual ideas, entities and practices that entail personal, political and cultural meanings. Identifying the (individual) meaningfulness of garments, commodities and objects both in themselves and in our lives – beyond style and appearance – would also impact not only our (collective and individual) ‘consciousness’, but the fashion value chain at large through revised consumption choices.  

Whether we perceive mass-consumption as the sum total of individual consumption, or as a gestalt – where mass-patterns of consumption would represent a whole greater than the sum of its individual parts – the fact remains that individual dispositions are crucial for channelling a more complete revolution of the system. Becoming (more) conscious and intentional in our living, contemplating our quotidian traditions, as well as our relationship with fashion and with ourselves, would enable us to recognise what it means to be participants in an industry that is now directing attention toward responsibility, correction, and change. More so, it would allow us to understand subtle aspects of ourselves and indicate the things we need to manoeuvre ourselves into to (continue to) bring forth structural change. 

We collaborated with artist Suzie Blake for the artwork in this thought piece. Here is what inspires her art:

” Through my practice I explore the disruptive force of female life as it jostles with the man-made. Camille Paglia says, “society is an artificial construction, a defence against nature’s power”. It is this power that interests me. Societal organisations such as religion, science and politics are the skin into which I inject the chaos, dynamism, creation and destruction of feminine archetype.”

Writer Malini Mathur’s work centers on fashion, philosophy, aesthetics and the sociology of emotions. She holds degrees in Fashion Studies and Sociology, and has formerly worked as a Guest Lecturer in the ‘Philosophy of Art and Fashion’ at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication, New Delhi, as well as as an Assistant Editor for an independent student-led journal titled BIAS Journal of Dress Practice at the Parsons School of Design, New York. She also works at IKKIVI Zine as writer.

The Paradox of Isolation

Art by Chrys Roboras

THE PARADOX OF ISOLATION

Reflections on meanings and experiences

“Although isolation excludes – and even dis-ables – us from one set of practices and realities, it connects us with different, and often seemingly opposite sets of experiences. “

The sudden process and experience of (social) isolation that we have collectively been acclimatizing to throughout the world has brought forth for many of us overwhelming feelings of being separated, excluded and dis-connected from the normal course of life. The physical distance from our communities, routines and work has altered both the nature and shape of our everyday practices at this time. Unexpectedly however, this period has become the peculiar occasion to see the paradoxical quality that (social) isolation encompasses. Although isolation excludes – and even dis-ables – us from one set of practices and realities, it connects us with different, and often seemingly opposite sets of experiences.

Our present conditions have been lending insights into this paradox, where things have taken an inverse relation to each other – attributes through which we have often believed we connect or are connected, we are now separated from, and those through which we have often thought we are separate, we are now connected by. Needing to step back from our expressions of life through form and form-based practices outwardly in the social domain, these periods of isolation have been drawing our focus (in)to connecting with the interiority and meanings of forms, objects, feelings and their materiality inwardly. While ordinarily we have continued to trace our connections with each other through our work, group environments, subcultures, gatherings, informal retreats and the many intersections between these identity structures, we become – and notably so, have become – connected  with ourselves and with one another through the commonality of our experiences in enforced isolation. Categorizations of age, intelligence, status, roles and functions that have conventionally distinguished or separated us cease to qualify as distinctive factors, and have become the very codes that reveal to us our closeness and connections with the totality of life. These connections have now been manifesting in our fears, sufferings, feelings of uncertainty and occasional boredom, as well as in our hopes, desires and collective harmonic movements with Nature and its will; or to state briefly, through the abstract essences of our being and humanness.

Art by Chrys Roboras

Adjacent with this inversion has been the reorientation of attention of formerly peripheral and mundane practices to the centre, and conversely, of previously central practices to the periphery. Though materially and emotionally we remain involved in our personal and professional spheres, physically, attention to these affairs is primarily being directed through the quotidian and emotive frameworks we generally presume to be inconsequential. But these ordinary and mundane contexts are the foundation upon which all seemingly more valuable pursuits and connections (can) bloom. And though of late the pace of life has been slowing down for many of us, this coercion of confinement has allowed – and always does allow – us the space to sense, see, feel and appreciate the beauty of ordinary, everyday incidences – of the fragrance of the spices in our food, of the wind caressing our faces, of the blueness of the sky, of the perfection of flowers, of the rhythmic flutter of a bird’s wings, of the spontaneity of our actions, of the depth of our emotions, of the improvisations of our routines, and of all such infinite phenomena. Such physical intervals act as occasions that magnify the necessity and beauty of both, movements and halts in our lives. They enable us to understand the temporality and duality of material life, the transience of which makes intelligible their presence; a transience that is indispensable for us to perceive the meaning of their presence, and the significance of their function.

Art by Chrys Roboras

The inward cognizance that isolation provides us with, connects us more intensely to all aspects of life and enhances our relationship with the ideal experiences of life we think it separates us from. Emotionally, we may feel these intensifications as nostalgia, hope, love, loss, fear, and restlessness. Tangibly, we may experience these with mindful changes in our interactions with our surroundings, objects and people. The novelty of such emotional and substantial changes in our experiences transforms our (individual and collective) consciousness, and thereby, the materiality of our connection with the Whole, engendering it with a pronounced conscious quality. And though isolation may appear to be a withholding or withdrawing force, it operates as the very source that advances our consciousness; an advancement that ensures the continuity of life-generating and life-affirming practices. The paradoxical character of this phenomenon then, contrary to what we perceive, may harmonise our different – and differing – experiences of connectedness and dis-connectedness with all semblances of life, and offer to us insights into equanimous states of being.

We collaborated with artist Chrys Roboras for the artwork that beautifully represented our thoughts on isolation. Here is what isolation means for the artist in times of Covid-19 —

“Artists generally work alone, long hours in their studios or space. We are used to isolation and contemplation, for me its part of my process.It’s the way I can evoke the emotions required to project my story into my paintings. During this time when we are forced to be isolated and our shows have been cancelled it’s the loss of freedom that has erupted in our thoughts, the isolation has become more intense.”
Chrys Roboras

Writer Malini Mathur’s work centers on fashion, philosophy, aesthetics and the sociology of emotions. She holds degrees in Fashion Studies and Sociology, and has formerly worked as a Guest Lecturer in the ‘Philosophy of Art and Fashion’ at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication, New Delhi, as well as as an Assistant Editor for an independent student-led journal titled BIAS Journal of Dress Practice at the Parsons School of Design, New York. She also works at IKKIVI Zine as writer.

IKKIVI DIALOGUES Edition One

IKKIVI DIALOGUES Edition One

— conversations on slow living —

“In today’s world we are always bombarded with information and a society dictated way of living. Technology has stimulated us with easy access to articles, podcasts, movies and the ability to scroll through people’s lives all the time. Work fifty to sixty hour work week have become the norm and breaks are rarely taken. All of this ends up with people dealing with stress, anxiety and burnouts. The feeling of being overwhelmed by where you should be in life at different ages dictated by society is something always haunting us, until we are able to actually pull ourselves out of it and realise what is going on and be aware of what kind of choices we want to make. Slow living is different for everyone and here is my attempt at encapsulating what it means to me. I am nowhere close to living a slow life but it is something I am working towards and is a conversation I have been having for the past three years. Slow living is living with intent, it is living your life mindfully and really doing things that mean something to you. It is being conscious of your actions and its impact. It is about being fully present through every minute of your day. It is about making the choice to live the life that you would want to lead.”
— NIVI Murthy, Founder, IKKIVI

IKKIVI Dialogues is a property of IKKIVI which began as a way to gather and discuss topics which matter, make a difference and empower us all to do and act better. Follow us on Instagram to be in touch with our next Edition, it might just be in a place near you. During the duration of COVID-19, we are also planning to host a bunch of online conversations. We hope to have you attend.