‘A New York Minute’: Brown Girls Get Real About Their Roots with Anita Dongre Grassroot’s Collection (Pt. 2)

It all happens in ‘A New York Minute.’ That push and pull between the city and our motherland. The uniqueness of our cultural heritage and blended upbringing in an amalgamation of cultures. Brown Girl Magazine honors our collective experiences with an exclusive editorial in collaboration with Grassroot by Anita Dongre – which is the epitome of our South Asian-American hyphenated identities. We’ve never let our roots fade with the city’s hustle and bustle nor do we ever plan on letting them. So, this photo campaign—shot downtown near Brooklyn Bridge—is us paying homage to the dichotomy of our lives in New York City and our countries of origin.

Photos are courtesy of Pooja Dhar and makeup is by Preity Reilly

[Read Related: ‘A New York Minute’: Brown Girls Get Real About Their Roots with Anita Dongre Grassroot’s Collection (Pt. 1)]

Megha Patel


Growing up in America as an Indian girl wasn’t the easiest for me. I was raised in a town with a majority of the people being middle/upper white class. None of the girls in my grade had a unibrow, and all of them had pretty hair, skin, and nails. At that point in time, all I wanted was to be like the other girls in my school. However, as I grew, I learned. I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that I have two great sides to me – a girl who was born and raised in America, and a girl whose values and morals come from India. I then started to join Indian dance classes, watched more Bollywood movies, learned how to cook my favorite Indian dishes, and was even an Indian princess for three years straight on Halloween because nothing was more satisfying than showing off my new Indian outfits. All of these moments were stepping-stones into me finding myself and figuring out the type of person I want to be.

Living in America can easily lure you away from your roots if that is something you are not as passionate about, but for me, there is one gem that kept it all intact: New York City.

This beautifully crazy, perfectly loud, and gloriously radiant city targets everything that I love about my culture, mixed with the American lifestyle that I grew up in. The Midtown street carts are basically pani puri lari’s, there are countless Soho boutiques that carry dhoti style skirts, taxi drivers may or may not run you over like the rickshaw drivers in Ahmedabad, and I swear that Murray Hill straight up smells like a combination of buttery pav bhaji paired with the warm comfort of masala chai.

When I started my blog, I knew that a lot of my content was going to be based on my love for fusion food and East meets West fashion, and it’s great knowing that within an hour, I can be in New York to get my weekly dose of inspiration from anything and everything.

When I learned that Anita Dongre’s Grassroot Collection is in New York City, I knew I had to get my hands on an outfit. Her taste resonates so well with mine, being that it is minimalist in style, great quality fabric, and it has the pretty desi prints that I thought were only possible to find in India. I’ve always been an advocate for representing yourself through your passions, and since fashion is one of my biggest, I’m so glad that I can portray my love of my culture and my roots through Anita Dongre’s line.

Afshan Nasseri


Firstly, I have to admit that New York City and I have been in a complex and exciting fling since I was 17 years old. For the past four years, we’ve been back and forth, mostly myself being pulled back by its opportunity and people. As I finish my last year of university in Montreal, NYC and I are flirting quite a bit. I visit often on weekends and for periods of work to create conceptual shoots based around being part of the desi diaspora.

Now if you know me, you know that the one consistent thing about me will always be my love for India. Even while being only half Indian (and half Iranian), going to India alone since I was 15 to craft my nonprofit organization in Lucknow has allowed me to grow alongside with the budding country. I fell in love with Indian music, tried out dancing, engrossed myself in history, mingled with Urdu and Hindi, and began to understand the complexity of Urdu poetry. In my teenage days of woe, it seemed that my trips to India molded me into caring less about myself and more about the progression of my society as a whole.

So, on an everyday basis, where can I find my desi roots in NYC? Well, just about anywhere really. I can grab a quick chai while on the run at Desi Dhaba, just blocks from my midtown apartment, have my luxurious Nawabi dinner at Chote Nawab’s, and then seize the night with my friends at Babylon.

You don’t have to choose between your two worlds in NYC – desi spots are not only in pockets but also woven in through restaurants, dance classes, and shopping!

More importantly, I can give myself and the streets the dose of desi that we both deserve, by playing with fusion fashion and fully embracing my interior on my exterior. The Anita Dongre Grassroot store is the first step for more women and men like me to get conveniently comfortable in being our true selves. Rather than having to gamble online or wait until my annual trips to India, I now have the option to go into a store and find an outfit that represents me not only on a level of style but also on a level of culture and ethics. Holding on to India does not have to be represented through bold or forward actions, it can even be a simple reminder every day like the chikankari designs on your blouse or your mother’s necklace – anything that takes you back to your roots.

Shivika Sinha


I grew up in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India. I’ve met some of the most vulnerable people on our planet, and witnessed the power of business to create meaningful positive change. In New York City, I spent nearly a decade in marketing with well-known global fashion brands. In the bustling city, the world moves in breakneck speed in a beautiful, grand adventure. During my time cultivating a career in high fashion, I learned about the industry’s humanitarian and planetary impact.

Fashion is among the greatest industrial contributors to climate change and the top exploiter of people. Sixty percent of garment workers are women aged 18-35, who often earn less than a living wage and work in dangerous conditions where they’re vulnerable to sexual, verbal and physical abuse. Additionally, according to the International Labor Organization, many of the 170 million children engaged in labor are working for the fashion industry.

I left my career in fashion and am now a social entrepreneur on a mission to harness the power of conscious consumerism to transform industries, like fashion, as forces for good. Consumers, like you and me, are the key to reshaping businesses so that positive impact is imperative for profit. When we align our wallets with our values and place a premium on sustainability and human dignity, we create a financial incentive for businesses to pursue a brighter future for our planet and communities.

Anita Dongre’s Grassroot collection celebrates my heritage as an Indian and the roots of my deepest values like gender equality and securing a sustainable future. As an advocate for conscious consumerism, I’m excited that the brand works to economically uplift artisans while five percent of every purchase provides them with education and healthcare. The brand also uses sustainable practices in its materials and manufacturing process. Furthermore, I couldn’t be more proud that an Indian designer is celebrating Indian artisanship, global economic empowerment, sustainability and impeccable style in New York City.

India has a very long history with textile craftsmanship and now these long-standing traditions, which are often handed down from generation to generation, finally have a home in New York City.

Anita Dongre’s store in New York is my new go-to for a timeless style that connects me to my Indian roots and humanitarian values.  



Even though I’m a born and bred New Yorker, my Indian heritage has always been such an embedded part of my life. My lifestyle is the perfect blend of Mumbai and Manhattan. I thrive on the energy, hustle and creativity of both cities I am lucky to call home. And while both cities are most definitely a melting pot of diverse traditions, they manage to retain their respective distinct cultures which I have come to love and adore.

Staying close to your roots while you live all the way on the other side of the world truthfully hasn’t always been easy. For a long time my family, my love for Indian food, and my passion for Bollywood and classical Indian dance were the only things connecting me to my culture.

But living in a city where I can find South Asian creatives who are constantly pushing the bar on what it means to fuse the two parts of our identities together is not only gratifying but truly inspiring.

Today, I proudly wear my culture on my sleeve literally. I strive to combine the chic and edgy aesthetic of New York City with Indian accents, whether that be traditional jewelry, intricate desi prints or the vibrant colors and embroideries we’ve come to associate with Indian fashion and culture.  

Now, having one of my favorite Indian fashion designers open a flagship store in SoHo, with a collection specially tailored for South Asians living in the diaspora only makes me feel one step closer to home. The Anita Dongre Grassroot collection blends the comfort and ease of Western-style clothing with desi prints and embroideries, all while empowering rural artisan women from traditional Indian communities.

Whether it’s my favorite Indian restaurant, the biryani cart right outside my office, my dance studio, my go-to eyebrow threading salon, and now the Anita Dongre store, it’s nice to know there’s always a piece of home a New York Minute away.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Keeping our Friendships Strong as we Get Older

I organize play dates for my children. They’re friendships remind me of when I was younger when Fridays were consistently set aside for my friends. Now, it seems play is indeed meant for childhood and work is for aging adults. We often can’t find time for ourselves, let alone our friends, who are busy working mothers like ourselves. Or we moved into unreachable corners of this globe, far away from any means of physical communication. It’s fair to say, it’s hard to stay close to friends like when we were in college. Nowadays, it’s easier to travel, but more difficult to bond with others. “My Friend” asserts that we should not end let our friendships fall by the wayside. Even with physical distance and conflicting schedules, we keep our friendships close with kind words on phone calls, regular FaceTime calls, or even encouraging social media comments. Friendship doesn’t end once we become adults.

[Read Related: Connecting my Stories With Those of my mom and Grandma]

My Friend

The turbulent sea of a ticking clock,
A constant chime of chores
Unfolded laundry, unpaid bills.
For unplanned surprises, Life’s infinite stores

An achy neck, a heavy head,
A forever strong of burdens
Fleeting as they may be
Yet as real as my scribbling pens

In this world of lonely battles
Filled with competing souls
It’s you, my friend
Your comforting words, long strolls

Your phone calls, your laughter,
You listening when I’m remiss,
Your steady support,
The source of all my bliss.

[Read Related: 4 Brown Girls Who Write-U.K. Asian Sisterhood Changing the Dynamics of Poetry]

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Mars D. Gill

Mars D. Gill is the author of "House of Milk and Cheese" and "Letters from the Queen". She writes mainstream … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

[Read Related: Artivist Poem Essay-Studmavati]

Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

[Read Related: How Love Matures as you Grow]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

Life Coach and Author Shanita Liu Sets Boundaries, Builds Courage and Refutes an age-old Myth in her new Book ‘Dear Durga’

Dear Durga: A Mom's Guide to Activate Courage and Emerge Victorious
Dear Durga: A Mom's Guide to Activate Courage and Emerge Victorious by Shanita Liu | Photos Courtesy of Shanita Liu

In her new book “Dear Durga,” author and life coach Shanita “Shani” Liu takes a different approach to self-help. Liu guides readers by providing a courageous framework. She writes to the Hindu goddess Durga Ma, who is a symbol of courage to Liu. Durga Ma represents power and protection in Hinduism.

Liu ties together the personal. She shares her experiences in witnessing fear-based patterns from her own Guyanese family and culture and noticing them in herself as a mother while proving coping strategies as a life coach. In this candid conversation, Liu explores the journeys of motherhood, writing, overcoming fear and leading future generations by example.

Where did the idea for this book come from? 

It came from a diary entry I wrote in 2018 or 2019. I wrote that I was going to write a book called “Dear Durga.” I created a folder on my computer and it said “Dear Durga Book” and it was almost like I was setting the intention. I didn’t know what it was going to be about, but I did know that Durga and writing to her was an important part of my journey. And so I just had this intuitive feeling that I was going to be able to share this story one day.

How did you decide what the book would be about? 

In 2021, we were going through the pandemic, I just had my third child, and Durga was very much like, ‘okay, now you’re going to go write your book.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m sorry. I’m, like, trying to navigate motherhood again and my business and everything else that was going on.’ And she was like, ‘no, you’re going to participate in this writer’s workshop. You’re going to learn how to write a book proposal. You’re going to enter it into this contest. You’re going to win the contest, and you’re going to write a book.’ And I thought she was nuts. And all of my fears started coming up – who am I to do this, I can’t do this, I’m not enough, what am I writing about? 

I had to muster up the courage to write this book. And so Durga was a catalyst for me to call on my courage and say, ‘it’s time.’ This moment made me realize what I’ve been doing professionally for the last seven years is walking folks through my framework to help them activate their courage. So even though I was terrified, I realized this book can take the personal and the professional pieces of this puzzle and really put it all in one place. 

When you say that Durga was your driving force for action, do you mean spiritually and religiously, or something else?

For everything, yes—emotionally, spiritually. In 2015, when I was falling apart and embarking on these major life changes in my life, she came through. It was the catalyst for me to say, “I have to start breaking myself out of these fear-based mindsets and really start entering these new phases of my life with courage and disrupting old patterns.” 

[Read Related: Fireside Chat With Debut Author Sophie Jai]

Describe the writing process for this book. How did you find that courage to move past your fears?

Definitely writing to Durga. Knowing that the book was going to be about this journey of me connecting with my courage, I had to accept the challenge. I’m a writer by training. I’ve been writing my whole life. I was an English major, so I knew I could write, but I had to sit down and excavate six years of my life. I had to go into my journals from 2015 up until when I started writing the book at the end of 2021.

 It was wild to re-experience myself going through these various obstacles, these discouragements, these discomforts and then find the strength through this courageous energy I had within me, to take these small steps and overcome each obstacle. The excavation of my own life was an interesting part of the process for me to get clear on the themes based on what I remembered. 

The writing process was very spiritually and emotionally transformative because I’ve been doing all this work with my own courage that I sort of had to channel it with my own creativity to write and to marry what I had been doing professionally and what I had been going through personally. So, once I formed the book proposal, the blueprint for what I was writing, and submitted it to the Hay House contest, I then learned I won the runner up prize, I was able to write the manuscript pretty quickly. At that point, I was like, ‘okay, I know what I’m writing about now. I know I have the courage to do it.’ Durga was right, after all. 

Walk us through the four steps for somebody who is just hearing about this and is interested in your way of approaching courage. 

I have a Courage Kit framework, and I’ve had to walk my talk through it, but I’ve used it with hundreds of clients. It’s a four-phase process to support you with activating your courage and keeping it alive. The first phase is activating your courage and calling it in, identifying your courage metaphor, how to access that energy and how to commune with it and build a relationship with it. The second phase is about aligning with your needs because, as mothers and women, we don’t ask ourselves what we need due to this societal expectation and cultural conditioning. That’s an important part of emerging victorious. Victory is important because it means to attain fulfillment. Being victorious means having the courage to honor yourself so that you can be victorious, whatever that is like for you. The third phase is alleviating stressors so you can feel your best. Then the fourth phase is taking action so you can start making baby steps towards your goals. 

How was this journey impacted by being Indo Caribbean? What role did your culture play in this? 

The role that my culture plays is huge. In the book, I talk about the legacies of sacrifice that I come from because of indentureship. I’m three generations removed from that history of colonizers exploiting indentured laborers. When you come from these legacies of sacrifice, fear-based mindsets and behaviors accompany it. When I was acting from a place of martyrdom and sacrificing my own needs, I realized I learned that from the women who came before me, who learned it from the women before them. 

When you zoom out you realize this has happened across cultures. Why are women in our culture asked not to use our voices? Why are people telling us to shut up, play small and don’t cause trouble? Our voices have been collectively suppressed, and over the last few decades, we’ve been liberating ourselves. We’re going to honor all parts of ourselves and express ourselves as we need to, and we need courage to do that.

Why dedicate the book to your younger self?

I had to dedicate this book to my Little Shanny because her voice was suppressed, and due to cultural and societal expectations, she wasn’t allowed to be her fullest self. She’s very lively and creative. In the book, she is writing and we make rap songs and other things to call on our creativity. This book is an honoring. As I was honoring all parts of myself and healing my own emotional wounds, I was liberating her at the same time.

How would you describe your relationship with Durga Ma? How can others who are not Hindu achieve that sort of relationship with their metaphoric courage figure? 

Regarding Durga and myself, I don’t say, ‘I got this courage metaphor, now help me.’ You have to build a relationship with it. In the last eight years, I’ve been able to build a solid relationship with her where my courage is almost automatic. If I feel or think about fear, my automatic courage alert starts going off. The stronger connection I build to her, the stronger our relationship becomes, and the more self aware I become about making courageous choices. 

But, in the introduction of the book, I clarify that folks can use the Durga archetype or work with Durga whether they are Hindu or not. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from because she embodies victory over evil, maternal protection and an unapologetic courage that we need for fulfillment. So I encourage folks to connect with her because people who are meant to resonate with it will resonate with it and if Durga doesn’t resonate with you, you understand you have this courageous wisdom inside you. If telling my story about the way it looks for Durga and I, inspires somebody to ponder a relationship like that, that’s great! In the end, I just want folks to walk away feeling comforted and equipped with tools to be their most courageous selves.

How do you take this idea, this archetype, and apply it to yourself or anybody? 

We’re human beings and I think sometimes we just need something visual or tangible to hold on to. Sometimes I need an idea or person to help ground what’s coming up for me, so the metaphor is really helpful because I can visualize and interact with it.

 The metaphor offers information because when you’re scared and fear is clouding your judgment, it’s easy to default to doubt. Your courage metaphor offers information, encouragement or directions – targeted guidance. As long as you connect, communicate with and build a relationship with it, it will help you. That’s why I use “Dear Durga,” channeled writing, as a common thread throughout the book, it’s one modality that works. If this modality doesn’t work for you, then try interacting with it differently. But at the end of the day, regardless what modality you find, you can leverage that metaphor’s information to inform your next step.

How did motherhood and becoming a mother play a role in writing this book and also your career as a life coach? 

I started life coaching when I became a mother. I was pregnant while I was in my Life Coaching Certification Program, and Durga Ma showed up just a few months before I found out I was pregnant. I think she knew I was going into the next phase of my life, and I couldn’t continue on my own anymore. So motherhood was a huge act of courage for me. I left a toxic job so I could embark on motherhood and begin making professional choices that would support me once I became a mom. 

The beautiful thing about motherhood is that you become a different person – you change. Your ability to care, give, create and grow changes. Motherhood informed the work that I did with other women in their mind, body, spirit wellness and it forced me to focus on my own wellness. Also, Durga Ma just happens to be this maternal archetype, so maternal protection and nurturing felt important to my process as I was healing wounds. This is a powerful energy that can support other moms because we need support. We’re caring for little human beings and, as it is, most moms are under-resourced. Courage is a resource that doesn’t cost any money, that can help with life’s challenges.

Did you have to endure little battles with people around you to gain support for the kind of work that you do? 

I don’t think anyone around me discouraged me. The battle was within myself and having the courage to say, ‘I’m this life coach who’s going to focus on courage.’ I had to get over my own impostor syndrome, self doubt and fears that were weighing me down about coaching with this mindset among many other coaches. When I started, I was focusing so much on self care, but then I realized it’s so hard for women to self care because we have a fear of doing it. Everything goes back to fear. That’s why I realized the root of all of this is coming back to our courage. 

As an Indo Caribbean mother, there can be a lot of expectations. Did the courage framework also help with that? 

Absolutely. Most moms are givers, especially those of Indo Caribbean heritage. We saw our moms constantly sacrificing everything so we can have high-quality lives. But this trajectory of motherhood and bringing my courage in through my own framework forced me to ask for help, set boundaries and put my needs first. Obviously we put our children first, we’re always protecting them. But I began to honor myself. To realize I can honor myself and my needs while managing motherhood felt really important. But that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to do that because we’re breaking out of old patterns from our family’s example. This is why, in ‘Dear Durga’ I tell a lot of stories about my grandmother, because she was a major influence in what I thought motherhood should look like. 

Can this in turn create a healthier experience for the child?

Absolutely. You’re a demonstration to your children. Your children do not do what you say, they do what you do. I have daughters and a son, and I don’t want my daughters growing up thinking that when they get married or have kids and start a family, they have to clean the house all the time and never experience joy. I want them to see that Mommy can experience joy and fun and she can work, and she can do these things. It may not look perfect, but they can see that I can do all of these things without it costing my mental health and sanity. 

Do you have a favorite story that you use in this book for reference?

It’s not my favorite, but the story about my grandmother’s death and the shock that my family and I felt stands out the most. She was the matriarch and anchor to our maternal line. So, when she passed away, it created chaos. As a little girl, it wasn’t until she passed away that I questioned: ‘Who was she? What was her life like?’ It allowed me to see what my grandmother was like outside of being a grandmother. When the funeral happened, I heard stories about how she sacrificed, whether it was for her education or her family. It gave me perspective on everything that went into my family coming to the U.S. But it also made me think, now that I have the privilege and the opportunity to change things, am I going to take advantage of that?

Liu champions personal growth and overcoming fear, emboldening us to find our courage, be vocal about our needs and refute the age-old myth that Indo Caribbean women must struggle to be successful. “Dear Durga A Mom’s Guide to Activate Courage and Emerge Victorious” is now available for purchase.

By Usha Sookai

Usha Sookai is an undergraduate student at New York University, studying Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis. With a passion … Read more ›