Kalki Koechlin on her podcast My Indian Life, and telling stories of abuse, stigma and courage

“If you are young and Indian in 2018, maybe there is nothing wrong in having your head in the stars,” Kalki Koechlin says as she introduces BP Dakshayani, one of the women scientists behind India’s mission to Mars, in her BBC World Service Podcast Kalki Presents: My Indian Life.

A series that primarily aims to address the country’s youth, My Indian Life features the journeys of a diverse group of Indians who have tackled abuse and stigma and fought against convention to pursue their passions and chase their dreams.

It explores the stories of those who are not necessarily liberal, notes Koechlin. Rather, it shares a chapter from the life of someone like Dakshayani, who hails from a conservative family, who has had a traditional upbringing and has yet managed to challenge predetermined societal norms.

Koechlin states that while it is quite easy to focus only on the one particular idea her guests are known for, it is just as important to go beyond that and talk about the moments that shaped these identities. To achieve that, the actress, who has staunchly advocated for gender equality, LGBTQI rights and who has championed various environmental causes, delves into the childhood of her guests and into those experiences from their lives that prompted them to make their choices.

The BBC World Service Podcast Kalki Presents: My Indian Life is specially aimed at the youth of India.

The BBC World Service Podcast Kalki Presents: My Indian Life is especially aimed at the youth of India.

On 11 September, Koechlin recorded a live session of the podcast in Mumbai and interacted with her guests, Insia Dariwala, a campaigner against child sexual abuse, Rahul Sonpimple, a Dalit activist, and Diskit Angmo, an ice hockey player from Ladakh.

From among all the real-life incidents that she has come across, Dariwala's story was one of the most hard-hitting, says Koechlin. She was repeatedly abused as a child and now strives to help other children in similar situations. Dariwala's story calls attention to disturbing figures: 53 percent of those who are sexually abused are boys – an aspect that is scarcely discussed. And preparing parents and teachers to help a child who has been raped is a whole other challenge altogether.

According to Koechlin, a story always resonates with people when it is personal in nature, and the podcast has tried to tap into the personal rather than the political element of the lives of these individuals, some of whom have been subject to extreme poverty and violence. These stories, shortlisted by the BBC team, were those that initially grabbed the attention of the actor, who is known for portraying unconventional characters in films like That Girl In Yellow Boots and Margarita With A Straw.

Today, says Koechlin, we observe a lot of confrontation between the youth and their parents — at least the people that we have been interviewing — and this is necessary because unless our youth behaves like adults, parents won’t treat them like adults.

One such story in the podcast series is that of the belly dancer Eshan Hilal who continues to live in the house where his father beat him, day in and day out, for the choices he made. But attaining success by running away from his family would not have mattered to him. He wanted to find a way to break that wall. This drive to take a step forward and open up to one's parents about the choices one wishes to make is happening a lot more today, the actor says. She adds, “We [the youth] have become very assertive.”

The podcast also features 94-year-old Dr Mahinder Watsa, the sexpert for a leading daily, Mid Day, and a gynecologist who has been practising since the 1950s. “When we interviewed him, we realised that at the time when he was working, nobody would talk about virginity and masturbation. Women talking about masturbation didn’t exist." But today, he often gets letters from women who speak about these issues, suggesting that there have been some incredible changes over time.

Yet, Koechlin emphasises that steps like the striking down of Section 377 or influencers or public figures raising a voice against social issues are not magic wands that can change mentalities or wipe away prejudice. We will move forward only when each of us, in our own fields, identifies the inequality and caste discrimination happening around us. Change is more about individuals in the society being aware of what they can do.

Further, while the youth struggles to fight for certain rights, discovering the grey areas as they grow up and fend for themselves, it also becomes imperative for them to understand the point of view of the other side, she says. “Debate and discussion need to win over blind insulting and social media trolling, which just shuts down the other side.”

My Indian Life, she then adds, is one such place which opens up a discussion. It is a platform for these real-life heroes and heroines to come forth and share their experiences. “It’s not saying you are right and I am wrong.” Rather it paves the way for the question, “This is what I went through, now what do you think of it?”

Even so, questions have been raised about the reach of the English language podcast, which caters only to a small section of the audience. We are considering getting a translator so that more people who speak regional languages can participate in the discussion, Koechlin says. At the same time, she says that the belief that one is not doing enough by virtue of reaching out to one section of society is not true. “If everyone was reaching out to one pocket of society, everyone would be reaching out to somebody.”

Produced by Geeta Pandey, this podcast also explores an entertainment market largely untapped in India. According to Koechlin, “We have a huge population of people commuting everyday and it’s only a matter of time before people start using podcasts.”

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Updated Date: Sep 14, 2018 18:02:44 IST

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