“We’re just two desi chicks riding the fourth wave of feminism in our salwar kameez and golden heels, while flipping birds to uncle and aunties.”
A traditional looking nath nose ring, bold red lips, a tongue sticking out with a heart-shaped candy placed atop that reads CHUSKI POP — an immediate attention grabber. Curiosity led me to numerous websites, as Pinterest continued to redirect me; but I was determined to find the origin of this image and its creator. Finally, I came across the original website which only led to more questions, as it stated it was a “podcast starring Sweety & Pappu.”
Now, I’m not big on podcasts. Other than the occasional Radiolab episode, podcasts never really drew me in. So what was it about Sweety and Pappu that got me hooked? A 32-year-old copywriter by day, Pappu is one half of the badass Chuski Pop (CP) duo, along with 33-year-old Sweety, a stellar illustrator and concept artist, who is in fact the creator of the titular Chuski Pop girl along with all their artwork that has taken over the world of Tumblr and Pinterest.
To be clear, Sweety and Pappu aren’t their real names. These ladies live in parts of the world where their thoughts, opinions and subject matter could be contentious matters. You see, ladies talking openly about sex, drugs and rock n roll doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, and in some areas, can actually pose a threat for slander or worse, lead to violence against them. More than pseudonyms, these are alter egos; a different persona, they tell me over email, “It’s very common in our culture to have pet names. Pappu is a very common Gujju pet name and my friends call me that. Sweety’s pet name is inspired by the movie-crazy sister in Hum Paanch.”
They continue, “While Pappu and Sweety may not be starkly different from our real everyday selves, having them makes us feel like having a secret identity — and that can be as close as one can get to having a super power in today’s world. We would like our listeners to feel an affinity with us; like we could be that girl sitting next to them on the bus.
Also having pseudonyms does serve a practical purpose. Apart from the podcast, we do have our day jobs, and unfortunately not every place understands freedom of speech. Pappu lives in the Middle East and Sweety has her family there, so safe to say pseudonyms help keep things compartmentalized in our life.”
As they explain, Chuski Pop was the result of a drunken night of word association; “No. Kidding! Chuski Pop was one of the names Sweety had shortlisted. Looking back, we would like to quietly commend our foresight for not going with ‘Kiss My Chuddies’.” (Although, in my opinion, Kiss My Chuddies would have been pretty great too.)
With topics ranging from desi culture, to mental health, pesky aunties, sex and marriage, Chuski Pop’s ladies connect with south Asian women around the world on a personal level. These desi feminists’ matter-of-fact attitude towards subjects that would make your neighbour-friendly uncle say, “Haww,” have carved a space for themselves in a world, and industry, that rarely gives a voice to women of colour to criticise or just plain make fun of cultural norms, societal expectations and absurd gender roles that are continuously prescribed in the fast-paced digital age of today. Because let’s be honest, young brown girls would rather dye their hair pink and get their nipple pierced than have a mangalsutra around their neck before age 30.
But what is desi feminism? I posed this question to Sweety and Pappu along with one that I have been asked myself. Would creating a separate category for dark skinned feminists kind of divide the overall cohesive global movement? “In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘we should all be feminists’. Desi feminism is about furthering the idea of feminism to incorporate intersectional feminism and we feel that our podcast essentially does that. The global dialogue surrounding feminism has been prominently dominated by white female voices – Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer. While we are fighting for the same things, the predominant white feminist narrative does not give voice to the unique challenges and compounded suppression that women of colour face. South Asian (or desi) women face discrimination not only because of our gender, but also on account of our culture and society, both at home and in the global arena,” they say, a sentiment that is clear in their podcasts, and one of the prime reasons I actually listen to it.
Feminism has become a bastardised term for many people nowadays. A pill too big to swallow, so often sidelined and dismissed. It’s for this reason that people like Sweety and Pappu, through various forms of art have made feminism and feminist thought more, well, digestible as well as a part of your daily life. “It’s surprising how many well-read, accomplished and independent Indian women still balk at the idea of identifying themselves with the feminist movement. For example so many prominent Bollywood actresses try so hard to distance themselves from being labeled as ‘feminist’. However, there are many desi feminists who wear the sash with pride – Arundhati Roy, Malala Yousafzai, Tanmay Bhatt, Lilly Singh. I feel that conversations around feminism are either in high-brow opinion pieces or popular western shows. We want to normalize the conversation around feminism and make it more relatable to desi girls,” they say.
One way they’re working feminism into our daily narrative is through their artwork — old Bollywood posters with pop art-style collages juxtaposing eye-catching typography. Pappu explains that the reason you see a lot of 70s and 90s actresses, like Rekha, Sri Devi, Madhuri Dixit and Parveen Babi in their posts is to celebrate their incandescent beauty and nostalgia. “While these women came to life in mainly male written narratives during this era of Bollywood movies, they were unapologetically sensual (albeit for the male gaze). Their sensuality is powerful and a celebration of their womanhood. The captioned posters also have this folded magazine effect which kind of makes the picture look like it was torn from a Filmfare, Stardust or Cine Blitz, folded and squirrelled away in a scrapbook – nostalgia.”
It’s not just about women here, as they too point out. Often we’ve stressed the importance of male feminism and the many misconceptions that surround it, more so in India. On CP’s page you’ll often find both male and female feminists celebrated and recognised in their Feminist Friday posts, right from Malala to Aziz Ansari.
Each podcast or episode is meticulously planned, topics are picked and discussed almost two to three weeks in advance, some more so than others. With Sweety and Pappu living on opposite ends of the globe (Sweety in Canada and Pappu in the Middle East) it takes a fair amount of coordination with each other as well as others they plan on interviewing. “Topics can be topical – such as the Mental Health one fell neatly in line with the Mental Health May. At other times, some topics are more serendipitous – like our Menstruation March episode. Their genesis may be an offhand WhatsApp comment or conversation… and one of us is usually like ‘OMG! We should totes talk about this!!’ And then we start building angles and fleshing it out layer by layer,” they explain.
One of my favourite episodes just happened to be the one they themselves mentioned as their favourite too; episode 32 - Mental Health May. The episode featured an interview with Dr. Merchant, a NYC-based behavioural psychologist, touching upon an issue that is still so highly stigmatised and misunderstood, brushed off and discussed in whispers behind closed doors. “Since the podcast is a project we work on alongside our day jobs, producing it is a labour of love. More so for Sweety, as she is the one who meticulously edits each episode. That is the reason why interviews pose a technical challenge – they need more time and patience to produce. Post that episode we got some really lovely DMs on Insta and Facebook from a lot of our listeners,” says Pappu.
Pappu gives us a glimpse of their upcoming episodes, and there is so much to look forward to! More desi artists and authors, activist, self-defining professionals and a whole bunch of stellar individuals, including a Sri Lankan-American author who is releasing her first queer fiction novel as well as a popular underground satirist blogger from Bangalore. What has got me even more excited is that Sweety’s artwork, created for CP, may soon be available in prints! So, you could very soon have your very own Chuski Pop girl gracing your walls.
Sweety and Pappu are two seriously badass brown girls that have created a platform for the celebration of diversity, feminism and changing south Asian identities around the globe. So if you’re a Bharatiya naari that likes sex and ran out of f*cks to give; if you’re tired of mansplaining and aunties finding you ideal grooms; if you hate plucking your eyebrows and love Andaz Apna Apna – Chuski Pop will find a special place in your loud, unapologetic heart.
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