Hailing from India, a land full of intriguing, vibrant stories, I have always found myself to be a storyteller at heart with an eye for design. I found my true calling in the field of film production design by combining the two things I was most fascinated with: design and storytelling. But like many others who aspire to pursue an unconventional career in India, I had a lot of odds stacked up against my journey.
Today we live in a golden age of information where anything that one needs to know is literally at a click’s disposal. We are exposed to so many possibilities, especially about different kinds of career options, and yet many still stick to the most conventional career options due to lack of knowledge and choose to live in a comfort zone.
Growing up in a small town, everyone around me was preparing to walk right into the Indian engineer and doctor stereotype. I was not great at math or science while in school, so naturally, I was made to believe that I was not capable of anything. It’s tough being a kid and not good at math in India! Because of all the people telling me that I wouldn’t have a good future if I wasn’t great at math or science, I had this drive, from a very young age, to prove them wrong and figure out, “if not this, then what?”
As a teenager, I was very fascinated with storytelling and loved watching movies! I still remember when I discovered the little behind-the-scenes video of a movie for the first time. After seeing all the people working behind the camera, I thought, “Somebody is doing this job, working hard to bring entertainment to so many people! This could be me!” That’s when I discovered production design as a field. How amazing it would be to create a world to tell stories, I thought. However, because of a major lack of knowledge about this field in any middle-class household, I had the added responsibility of having to equip myself with a LOT of research on this. So I reached out to my cousin — a strong, independent woman who was the only person I knew had dared to choose a different career path like photography and has been an inspiration to me growing up. With her help, I visited several institutes, film schools, tagged along and helped on her photoshoots, and read a lot about this field of work. And when I decided to break the news about my career choice to my parents, it was nothing short of a Bollywood drama! How ironic!
Having been raised in a conventional middle-class Indian family, where movies and television are typically seen just as a means of entertainment and never a possibility as one’s career choice, gaining my family’s confidence and support took a lot more time than I had anticipated. I had to fight. I had to prove to be taken seriously about this, but most importantly, I had to wait to even get started.
I had procured contact information from some really renowned industry professionals through the magic of the Internet, but I was too afraid to reach out. At this point, my aunt, another strong independent woman and also my only other strong supporter, told me something that really gave me a kickstart in this industry:
“Why not reach out to people who can help you? What do you have to lose?” This is the one thing that I tell myself anytime I’m too afraid to do anything, “why not?”
Because of this “why not,” I reached out for some guidance from Dilip More, a globally renowned art director who eventually became my mentor in the industry and taught me a lot about work and about life. For me, the best way to learn any skill was by getting my hands dirty, working hard and soaking in all the knowledge from different, talented people all around me.
While I was soaking in all this information, my folks back at home were still not fully convinced, mainly because if I had to really do this, I would have to step out of my parents’ house and rent a place in Mumbai, owing to the work hours and shifts. I was asked,
“But who will marry you if you live independently, away from your parents?”
So with very hesitant support from home and after a lot of sleepless nights and crashing at different relatives’ houses, I slowly gained my parents’ confidence and made them see that this industry is not all bad and most importantly, I had what it takes to succeed here and I was thriving!
In spite of all the night shifts and long hours, I loved what I did. I fell in love with creative and periodic research while working on projects like “Blackmail” and “Victoria & Abdul.” My process on any project starts with diving deep into research about the characters in the narrative, about what kind of world they lived in. I love stepping into the characters’ shoes to bring different elements to my sets. I’ve learned a great deal about history through periodic research while working on “Victoria & Abdul” when I had to bring a market street to life from the late Victorian period. I could never in my wildest dream think, when I was a kid, that I would love and be so passionate about my job!
I always like to move on to the next exciting thing. Working on different international projects and rubbing shoulders with such a talented global crew, I realised that I needed to equip myself with more skills and exposure. And because of lack of initial support, I’d never had formal training in the craft. So I decided to move to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in production design with a concentration in set decoration.
After coming to an art and design school in the U.S., I experienced the shock, not just in the culture, but in the amount of exposure and opportunities these students, even from smaller towns here, had from such a young age! Even though I had worked in this field for a few years before coming here, I was still at the same level as my fellow students because they had learned many skills and even designed actual sets for plays right from middle school. I learned about so many different jobs within the art department of films and found my passion in set decoration. I also got exposed to a lot of different art and design fields that I didn’t even know existed! I couldn’t help but wish that parents and children in my country were more exposed to a creative environment and proper knowledge about all possible career options so that they wouldn’t have to be afraid of pursuing out-of-the-box careers.
I got the opportunity to work as a set decorator on a student thesis film titled “BLACK,” which was set in the Vietnam war ’60s era. This project gave me further recognition as a set decorator as it won multiple awards, including Best Production Design Award at the Los Angeles Indie Short Film Festival in February 2020. All it took was years of hard work, sleepless nights, but mainly a picture of this award to get my mother to be extremely proud of me. It was still worth it!
Although it is a well-known fact that the entertainment industry works on insider connections, which is always an inhibiting factor for aspirants, I strongly believe that the willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone and honesty in your passion will eventually award you mentorship that will impart the valuable lessons for carving a successful career.
I’ve been fortunate to find mentorship and have learned from many inspirational creative individuals and colleagues, who have strengthened my passion for the craft even further. It makes me happy when creative aspirants approach me for guidance. It’s my way of handling the information and knowledge that I once received, back to the people who really need it to start their own journeys. Just the other day, a social media memory popped up on my phone from 10 years ago, from the time I had visited a film school to start my research about this field. Ten years later, and I’m still just getting started; I hope this journey continues to take me places and surprise me.
Every project, every struggle and every person I’ve met along my journey has inspired and shaped me as an artist and as a person. I am what I am because of the journey life has taken me on. And I just hope that more young aspirants, especially girls from smaller towns in India, are able to step out of their comfort zone and have a career that they love and not the one that they’re “supposed to” have.
In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.
Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.
Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities
Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it.
The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows.
First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble.All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities.
More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.
While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.
All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.
In celebration of Kirthana Ramisetthi’s second novel “Advika and the Hollywood Wives,” BGM literary editor Nimarta Narang is publishing this short story by the acclaimed author. This piece chronicles the evolution of a writer’s life through their ever-changing author’s bio. In the details, from the change in last name to the new address, we observe how Gigi grows into Genevieve and the life events that make her into the writer she becomes.
“My Picnic,” published in the Oakwood Elementary Storytime Scrapbook
Gigi Maguire loves strawberries, “Smurfs,” and being a first grader. Her favorite word is ‘hooray.’ This is her first short story.
“Sunshine Day,”published in Oakwood Elementary KidTale
Gigi Maguire is a fifth grader in Ms. Troll’s class. She loves writing stories more than anything in the whole world, except for peanut butter.
“What Rhymes with Witch?,” published in BeezKneez.com
Gigi Maguire is a high school junior living in the Bay Area. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath and J.K. Rowling. If she can’t attend Hogwarts, she’ll settle for Sarah Lawrence or NYU.
“On Her 21st Birthday,” published in LitEnds
Gigi Laurene Maguire is a writer and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath, Alice Munro, and Mahatma Gandhi. She is making her big move to New York City in the fall.
“Valentine’s Day in a Can,” published in Writerly
Gigi Laurene Maguire is a freelance writer who loves the written word, Ireland in springtime, and “La Vie En Rose.” She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Unspoken Ballads of Literal Heartbreak,” published in Weau Dunque Review
Gigi Laurene Maguire is an assistant editor at ScienceLife.com. Her work has appeared in Writerly and is forthcoming in Pancake House and Schooner’s Weekly. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“The Mistress of Self-Loathing,” published in Story Day
Gigi L. Maguire is the editor-in-chief of Small Business Weekly. Her work has appeared Writerly, Story Day, Pancake House, and Schooner’s Weekly. She’s currently working on a novel about witches. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her tabby cat Sabrina.
“The Distance in Your Eyes,” published in The Canton Review
Gigi L. Maguire is a freelance writer and digital marketing specialist. Her work has appeared in Writerly, Story Day, and is forthcoming in Idaho Centennial. She’s working on a novel and a short story collection. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Auspicious,” published in BookWorks
Genevieve L. Maguire’s work appears or will appear in The Canton Review, Mark’s End, Bishop Quarterly, and Idaho Centennial. A second runner-up for the Imelda Granteaux Award for Fiction, she is writing a novel and a memoir. Genevieve lives in Brooklyn.
“Meditate, Mediate,” published in Ripcord
Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears or will appear in BookWorks, The Canton Review, Berkeley Standard, and elsewhere. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she is an MFA candidate at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and their two cats.
“Chaat & Chew,” published in The Carnegie Review
Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears in Ploughshares, Ripcord, The Cambridge Review, and elsewhere. She received her master’s in creative writing from New York University. Her short story “Meditate, Mediate” has been optioned by Academy Award nominee Janet De La Mer’s production company, Femme! Productions. She lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé, their three cats, and a non-singing canary.
“Urdhva Hastasana Under a Banyan Tree” published in The Paris Review
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her fiction has appeared in The Carnegie Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Manoj in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“Reaching New (Jackson) Heights,” performed by Lana Del Rey on NPR’s “Shorts” series
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “effervescent” by Alice Munro and “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review,Elle, The Carnegie Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Park Slope, Brooklyn with their feisty menagerie of animals.
“The Bhagavad Gina,” published in The New Yorker
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta is the recipient of the Whiting Prize of Short Fiction and is a McClennen Arts Colony scholar. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review,Elle, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“When Two Becomes None,” published in American Quarterly
Genevieve Maguire’s writing has received dozens of accolades, most recently the Luciana Vowel Prize for Female Fiction. Praised by Alice Munro as “effervescent,” her work has appeared in more than twenty publications, including The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter Priyanka in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path,” published by Capricorn Rising Press
Genevieve Maguire is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in more than thirty publications, including The New Yorker and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Woodstock, New York. “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” is her first novel. Visit her website at genevievemagauthor.com.
“Hairy Arms and Coconut Oil,” published in MotherReader
Genevieve MaguireDunblatt is a novelist, homeopath, and part-time yoga instructor. She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Benji and daughter Priyanka in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life,” published by Capricorn Rising Press
Genevieve M.Dunblatt is the author of two novels, including “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path.” An aura reader, faith healer, and yoga instructor, she has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit genevieveauthormag.com to learn more about her writing, and genevieveauthormag.com/hearthappy for her wellness services.
“Comma, Coma,” published in Read-A-Day Journal
Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Alice Munro has called her writing “effervescent.” She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Next Stop New York,” published in The Lunar Reader
Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She lives in New Jersey.
This story was published as a collaboration between Brown Girl Magazine and Reckon, a national news organization that covers the people powering change, the challenges shaping our time, and what it means for all of us.
This is a special year for Ramadan. For the first time in three years my mosque will fill to capacity, giving my community a chance to rebuild lost connections and overcome heartache. It reminds me of a simple truth: healing comes not when you expect it but when you need it.
For Muslims, Ramadan symbolizes the time of the year in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran. Since Islam follows a calendar based on the monthly cycles of the moon, the start of the holy month of Ramadan is determined when a crescent moon is sighted in Saudi Arabia.
The Quran is said to have been received throughout the life of the prophet Muhammad, and Ramadan marks the days it took for him to receive its first verses. When Muhammad received this revelation, it is said that he isolated himself in a cave to reflect and devoted himself to endless worship. In the same way that Muhammad secluded himself to focus on gratitude and prayer, Muslims around the world use the time to distance themselves from daily distractions and focus on spiritual growth through a month of fasting.
Siyam in community
The Arabic word for fasting is siyam which translates to ‘be at rest.’ Abstaining from eating and drinking allows us to take the rest our body and soul so deeply crave and ground ourselves and one another in a physical, mental and spiritual reset.
When I was a child, Ramadan symbolized the one time it was normal to spend your entire weekend in the Mosque. It was my first experience of a sleepover, with pajamas hidden under my abaya and Pakistani kurtas. Beyond the gender divide of the prayer halls, children would take naps on parents laps as the community prayed throughout the night. The Mosque was a beautiful gathering space open to anyone who needed a meal, whether or not they were fasting.
During the pandemic, Ramadan was different. Endless nights in the Mosque filled with prayer and community were scaled down to Zoom hangouts. Programs that were once filled with intimate in-person conversations on the floor of the Mosque, were now faceless squares on a screen, their names barely visible.
The Jummah or Friday prayers that were once so packed with people that the crowd spilled out onto the surrounding grass and sidewalks were conducted in parked cars. The mosque decorated the parking lot for drive-through visitors for the Eid Namaz, and community members waved from a distance to others with the same time slot.
I still remember when a friend’s mother died of COVID-19. What would have been a Janaza or funeral that surrounded the grieving family with community and prayer, turned into a Zoom call. Watching the tears of my friend’s family during the burial services, unable to visit her home and read the Quran together was heartbreaking.
Even before the pandemic, the world was not always a safe place for me and my community. From my family and I being yelled at to “go back to our country” when we were on vacation, to the looks my mother received when she wore her hijab in public, I understood even as a young child the ways in which Muslims were perceived as outsiders in our own country.
In many ways the pandemic compounded the islamophobia that my community began experiencing at heightened levels after 9/11. During Trump’s time in office, the Muslim community—which in the US mostly consists of people who identify as Asian and Black—faced heightened racism and incidents of violence, in part due to misinformation about the coronavirus. In the racial justice uprisings of 2020, Black Muslims—which make up more than 20% of all Muslims in the US—were not only targeted for their race but their religious background. Mosques across the country were vandalized, and continue to experience increased threats to this day.
Ramadan as a space to heal
These last few years made me realize how badly I craved the sanctuary of my Mosque, and to physically return to a space where I felt safe. I feel relieved and at peace to return back to nights where I am surrounded by familiar faces praying together side by side and breaking our fast without any fear of judgment.