Madame Gandhi on gender equality, 'free-bleeding' and playing with M.I.A. while studying at Harvard

R Prashanth Vidyasagar

May 16, 2019 10:20:56 IST

Period. Menstruation. Do these words make you uncomfortable? Are you already scrolling down fast enough or are planning to click on a different link?

For many, menstruation is a taboo subject, although things are slowly changing for the better.

In 2015, a young runner took the virtual world by storm when her story of running a marathon while having her period went viral. The 26-year-old free-bleeding runner, Kiran Gandhi, received love and hate for her act. But most importantly, she made an impact like no other, adding fuel to the debate of menstrual stigma.

Madame Gandhi on gender equality, free-bleeding and playing with M.I.A. while studying at Harvard

Kiran Gandhi. Image credit: Maggie West

But Gandhi’s story did not start or end there. From a very young age, she was taught about gender equality and heard about it firsthand from world leaders. The run was an amalgamation of these giving her the confidence to disrupt and educate.

Gandhi was also as interested in music as she was in academia from a young age. She holds an MBA from Harvard and a Bachelor's degree in mathematics, political science and women's studies from Georgetown University. She is also an electronic artist who goes by the stage name Madame Gandhi, and uses music as a vehicle for her activism, working along with co-producer Alexia Riner. In 2016, she released her debut EP, Voices.

Firstpost caught up with the artist ahead of her show in Bengaluru. Edited excerpts from the conversation:

What sparked your interest in gender equality at a young age?

From a young age, my parents encouraged my siblings and me to be independent and confident. They taught us how to do things ourselves, public speaking, meet and socialising with people, growing up with that instilled confidence in me. And growing up I noticed that in pop culture, women wouldn’t be represented in that same sense of confidence, I didn’t like or connect with that. I would watch amazing music videos and felt that women in those videos were represented as sexual objects or a two-dimensional version of themselves. All the women in my life were strong and outgoing and I definitely understood the discrepancy. And that instilled in me this sense of activism.

How did growing up in Eleanor Roosevelt's former home in NYC add fuel to your already curious self about gender equality?

My mother loved preserving the history of her legacy and we invited world leaders for different kinds of events or invite them home if they were in town. I remember as an eighth-grader doing my homework and coming down in my pyjamas and meeting like Hillary Clinton, Cherie and Tony Blair. Listening to these influential people speak about gender equality and inequality, I learned a lot from them and saw myself in their shoes.

Can you tell us about how you used music and mathematics to help you learn about the music business?

I remember wanting to work in the music industry when I graduated from college. I worked at Interscope records and interned at the Digital Marketing department, which I then changed into a fulltime job because I used math degree to predict patterns in Spotify streams and YouTube views for all the artists signed to the Interscope.

Can you tell us an interesting anecdote about touring with M.I.A.?

I was at Harvard business school when I was touring with M.I.A. One week we had shows every single day of the weeknight in New York city but my school was in Boston which is four hours north of New York. I would go to class on Monday, in the evening fly to New York, play the show and Tuesday morning fly back and attend school and repeated the same thing every single day of the week and succeeded. It felt really good to be living my passion in both academics and music.

M.I.A. was creative with making sounds for her tracks. I asked her about one such sound that she has created, and she told me that she had dropped marbles on the table and had reversed the sound of them falling on the table. I told her we should do that live and she told me to go to a local toy store and buy some marbles so that I would drop marbles on a table and mike it and record it live. And that’s what we did for the tour.

Digital analyst to electronic artist, how has the ride been?

It has been really empowering because I take the knowledge [that] I acquired in the industry and apply [it] to my career as an independent artist. I also have a lot of friends in the music industry because we connected when we were working and that’s been a huge source of any success I have had.

What was the one factor that made you continue the 2015 Marathon despite menstruating?

I decided to run free bleeding right from the beginning. I don’t feel like any of the menstrual care products available in the market, like a pad, tampon or menstrual cup, are appropriate for running 26 miles. And I thought this would be upsetting if my cycle prevented me from attempting this marathon that I’ve been training for from a year. And so I was like, I’d rather bleed freely and just run than use products that I won’t be comfortable with for this particular scenario. So my choice was intentional, and the act wasn’t meant to go viral, it was just an act of bravery for myself. I knew that bleeding from anywhere running a marathon, if you ask me, is a punk rock kind of move and I knew it was radical. But I didn’t think that radicalism would reach that global viral level it did and spark a very important conversation about how to combat menstrual stigma in various cultures.

What was the most encouraging and hostile response you received post the marathon?

The most encouraging was my dad giving me hug at the end of the marathon and the most hostile was when the story went viral people feeling the need to compare it to male anatomy in order to understand it. People would say things like if a man ejaculated or defecated on a marathon on course, we wouldn’t call that radical. That mentality is so problematic because it's feeling the need to masculinise the female anatomy in order to understand it, but a menstrual cycle is something that exists in the female anatomy and does not have a parallel in the male anatomy. And I think that’s ok and acceptable.

Madame Gandhi will perform live at BUDXBLR om 18 May at Fandom at Gilly's Redefined, Koramangala

Updated Date: May 16, 2019 12:24:12 IST

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