Sweety: For our new listeners, it’s 4.20pm and I am getting stoned on air. You know, marijuana is an important part of our Indian culture…
Pappu: Is it? I didn’t know that. I thought weed was more of a Western concept.
Sweety: No! It’s Indian. It’s f****** desi. I was reading the other day that our ancient Hindu texts have used the word bhang, like raw weed. Bhang is traditionally used at festivities also. I don’t know how herbal drugs have become a f****** taboo. F*** it, ladies.
Every week, Sweety (33) and Pappu (32) unleash conversation, such as the excerpt above, via their podcast, Chuski Pop. Their names are made up, of course. Pseudonyms borrowed from common Indian pet names, that serve as much to represent the every(wo)man, as to protect their own identities.
Pappu and Sweety are Indian women who live in the Middle East (they don’t specify where due to safety concerns). “If we ever find ourselves in the limelight for saying the stuff we do, we’ll be in trouble,” says Pappu. So they take cover behind pseudonyms, and talk about everything conventionally labelled ‘un-ladylike’.
But while the names are fake, the issues they discuss are real: from parlour aunties who comment on brown skin, to next-door uncles who act as the moral police when girls come home late, to premarital sex, and women using drugs.
After a week of exchanging emails, the duo trusts us enough to speak to us over a Skype call. There’s a temporary glitch in the video call, so we can see them for a bit while they can’t yet see us. “We’ll turn off our cameras if we don’t see you soon. It’s unfair that you can see us, but we can’t see you,” says Sweety.
The anonymity is a safety mechanism. The girls have been running Chuski Pop for a little over a year now, and have made several politically incorrect statements. Case in point, the expletives, and the on-air references to weed.
United we stand
The concept of a feminist podcast isn’t entirely novel: Black Girls Talking (on African-American women), and Call your Girlfriend (on feminist movements across the US) have been around since 2013. But where Chuski Pop stands out is in giving a dedicated voice to desi feminism: the fight for gender equality in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Even the name Chuski Pop represents desi culture: inspired by the kala khatta popsicle, and a deliberate sexual innuendo.
The podcast was Sweety’s idea. She moved to Canada for a job in 2014. And the culture shock made her want to connect with home in some way. “I needed a creative outlet to feel at home again,” she says. It was also during this time that she met Pappu. The two bonded over feminist ideas and their Indian roots.
So, in August 2015, Sweety asked Pappu to partner on a desi podcast. “She said we’ll talk about everything we usually talk about: boys, sex, and Indian culture, just on air. Sweety is the mother of this podcast. I’m the reluctant father,” jokes Pappu.
The names were hurriedly chosen. Pappu was a childhood nickname; Sweety was inspired from a character in Filmi Chakkar, a sitcom on Doordarshan.
The need to focus on desi feminism stemmed from an identity crisis: Indian girls brought up in the Middle East but clubbed as brown women at a global level. “There is a shared history of sexist traditions that binds desi feminists. Girls across borders are limited by the same regressive stereotypes and traditions,” says Sweety.
Take the episode titled Kya Baat Hai Kya Cheez Hai Paisa #Money, for instance. The duo speaks about the need for desi women to be financially independent. “Don’t get a degree just to marry a better guy. Study and work hard so you can become wealthy and successful. Become a version of the man your parents wish you would marry,” says Pappu.
For the love of Bollywood
To make their content resonate better, they draw heavily from Bollywood — “the defining factor of desi culture,” says Sweety, and indeed the uniting factor across the subcontinent. The women themselves grew up watching Bollywood films.
The episode, Date pe Chalein, begins with them singing the hit song, Har Kisiko Nahi Milta (Jabnbaaz, 1986). “I’d watch that song a thousand times just to see Sridevi dance,” says Sweety. The duo is even up to date with the what’s happening in current Bollywood. “Did you hear about Lipstick Under my Burkha? That’s why we need desi feminism,” Pappu says.
But the reason for focusing on Bollywood goes beyond nostalgia. Our films have been the popular symbol for sexism and stereotypes. And in their own way — Sweety is a professional illustrator — they try to reverse that with quirky posters featuring uncharacteristically sassy dialogue. For instance, a coy Madhuri Dixit is accompanied with the quote: “I don’t have a dirty mind. I have a sexy imagination.”
As Sweety says, “I grew up on films that made casual references to rape. But what stood out was that these women were written as damsels in distress, but oozed sexuality and confidence. I give those ladies some badass desi dialogue through my artwork.” If only mainstream Bollywood would do more of that.