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Meet Nirvana, A Millennial Exploring Feminism, Within And Outside, As She Travels The World

  • IWB Post
  •  June 11, 2018

When we asked Nirvana Bhandary to define herself, she said she is a wild woman, who is vocal about her three main passions in life: feminism, travel, and creativity. Having followed her Instagram profile for a while, I can vouch for her. 

She is what every millennial, or maybe what every human desires to be – unapologetic and a free spirit. As she travels the world, she explores feminism and unabashedly wears her opinion on her sleeve.

Being a curator of stories herself, she has interviewed various women from across the world and documented that in her storytelling project Sister Orator, which shares the stories of women whose voices go unheard. In 15 months, Bhandary has travelled to 15 countries, speaking to diverse women about their experiences of womanhood.

She is currently in India working on an experiential learning program about gender and religion, and while she is visiting the country for work, she wasn’t spared from judgement. I rang her up to know more. Excerpts from a chat:

Tell me, Nirvana, after travelling around the world, what have you noticed about people’s judgement over women’s dressing style?

Across all the countries I’ve travelled, the truth is that women’s character is still judged on the basis of her clothing and skin. When I was in Europe, I was amazed at how women lying topless on the beach was absolutely normal. No one looked twice. I felt very safe as a woman travelling alone. But then, there is the total opposite side too – women were being called out for wearing too much clothing, such as wearing the hijab or burqa. I understood that we can never win.

Millennial Traveller

The judgement just never stops, does it? You, in one of your Instagram posts, mentioned how in just a few days after stepping in India, you were judged for your lifestyle. Did that, in any way, bring a change in your lifestyle?

The judgement is very subtle and in a way, I feel that this is more dangerous. It is not overt – no one is screaming at me to tone myself down or put on clothes – but it’s the eyes, the small words – which shape the overwhelming attitude that women have to be a certain way to be respected.

The culture of patriarchy is strong in India and it feels like change is coming here so slowly. On the ground for most women things are still the same – we cannot express ourselves entirely without facing criticism. The moral police linger everywhere and the worst feeling is when you subconsciously begin conforming to their expectations. When you start seeing the moral police in the mirror. When years of defiance and bravery feel triggered. This is where courage is most necessary.

I completely agree with that. And, maybe, for this reason, South-Asian women feel a bit freer in the west. Do you agree? 

As a South Asian woman, I flourished enormously when I left home to travel around the world.
Our parents set certain expectations and we have to conform to their values while living under their roof. It can be really challenging to develop your own sense of identity and independence – especially if your parents are very strict.

I am very lucky to have open-minded parents who let me explore the world on my own. But I was still afraid of what others would say about me, about quitting my job and “roaming aimlessly” for over a year alone.

Millennial Traveller

In my travels, I learned what freedom really means – to be free of societal expectations, to be free of material things, and the small world and circle of people I was a part of. I fell in love hard, I cried harder, and I found courage and inspiration in the most unexpected places.

I was a feminist, an educated independent woman before I moved out too. But leaving definitely liberated me. Pressures of marriage, getting a Masters degree, having a traditionally successful career faded into the distance because I realised what mattered the most was that I was proud of myself; that I was waking up every day feeling aware, creative, purposeful & inspired.

Once I tasted the uninhibited freedom that came from looking at my struggles unwaveringly, from embracing my passions, and sharing my vulnerabilities – life changed forever. And it will never change back.

“Our bodies are to be hidden coyly so men know that we are pure girls, girls worthy of marriage,” you said this in one of your posts as you also spoke about judgement on women’s choices about nudity. 

I began to feel very comfortable in my skin after going to festivals and beaches where clothing was optional. It was the first time I experienced nudity as non-sexual.

And why should it be sexual? It is society that has sexualised our bodies. We are in our truest nature, our raw form – naked. Why should we feel shame for being in the state we entered the world in, in the way we leave the world? Our bodies are our homes for life, it is easier when we feel comfortable in them.

Self love & acceptance is a difficult journey for all women. To see our “flaws” exposed can be tough, but we have to learn to fight the ridiculous pressures to be skinnier, have perfect breasts, a flat stomach – to see our beauty in our uniqueness.

Before we sign off, tell us about the women who have inspired you?

My mother is the first woman who inspired me. I followed her wisdom unwaveringly until I realised that although I came from her womb, I am not her limb. Although she gave me life, my life is not hers to live.

Women who pursue their passions through hell and fire inspire me. Women who rise from oppression and repression to shout out about their rights, their freedom. Badass women who do not give a fuck what anyone thinks. I met a lot of these women through my project Sister Orator.

Women of love & resilience are my soul sisters. Some of the softest women I know are warriors. No matter where they live in the world, no matter their religion, education or profession – I see these qualities and know that we are connected, that we are the force of change the world needs.

Millennial Traveller

Nirvana is also working on her first book – a collection of raw hilarious stories about her travel odyssey which took her from a South Asian woman to an international goddess of mystery.

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