Nina Ganguli Masala Podcast - Soul Sutras

Nina Ganguli Masala Podcast

Can we talk about childhood sexual abuse?

Please note that the topic of this podcast might be triggering for some listeners. Feel free to skip this episode if this is difficult for you.

Nina Ganguli is on Masala Podcast, talking about an important topic on this top feminist podcast and favourite podcast for women

Listening to Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast is a tough & inspiring experience at the same time.

I met Nina on a Facebook group. We had a chat and I was so impressed and inspired by her. She spoke so openly about being abused by her father, for most of her life. I was struck then by how eloquently and compassionately she talked about the incredibly tough circumstances of her life.

Nina Ganguli is the award-winning Author of the book “Confessions of a Can’t-a-holic”., She is also a Speaker, Certified Professional Life Coach, Reiki Master, Podcaster and “I CAN” life leader. As a survivor of trauma & sexual abuse, Nina has dedicated her life to helping others. She recently launched her podcast: Nina Ganguli’s From Victim to Victory, where she shares stories of forgiveness, acceptance and releasing the anger, shame and guilt of abuse.

In this interview for Masala Podcast, we focus on Nina’s life story, and she shares with me the trauma and abuse she experienced as a young child.

Nina grew up in a multicultural community in Canada, & hers was a fairly typical South Asian household. But Nina also experienced abuse—physical, emotional, psychological and sexual—for almost 20 years at the hands of her father.

Nina says that as a child, and during the abuse she experienced, all she wanted to do was keep her father happy. Nina says that it seemed clear to her that her father had never experienced that kind of love, and their relationship made him happy.

From this deeply difficult & traumatic experience, Nina had learned many lessons. She says that she used to be so angry with the world, but she has now found peace and eventually started seeing good in the world. Now, Nina’s purpose is to help people see that they are not defined by their circumstances.


RESOURCES FOR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE

Here is a small list of resources. If you have any others that you think would be useful, please share via email and I’ll add here.


Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast: Transcript

Please note that the topic of this podcast might be triggering for some listeners. Feel free to skip this episode if the topic is difficult for you.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
This episode contains discussions that might be triggering for some listeners. So please feel free to skip anything that you may find disturbing. And also do check the show notes for support. I’ve listed some organizations and resources that you might find useful.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I felt like it was my responsibility to keep my father happy. So right or wrong was irrelevant. What was important was to keep my father happy. I was told very clearly that this was making him happy, you know, having this relationship for him. He had never experienced this kind of love and I guess maybe what he meant by that was pure, unconditional, childlike, innocent love.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I met Nina Ganguli on a Facebook group. She talked so honestly about being abused by her father for most of her life. I was struck by how eloquent and compassionate she was, while talking about the circumstances of her life. Besides being the survivor of abuse, and trauma, Nina is also a professional life coach, speaker, reiki master, author, and podcaster. She shares stories of forgiveness, acceptance, and talks about releasing anger, shame, and the guilt of abuse. I can tell you that Nina truly embodies all of those things in this interview. I hope you enjoy it.

I’m Sangeeta Pillai and this is the Masala podcast, a Spotify original. This award-winning feminist podcast for and by South Asian women is all about cultural taboos, sex, sexuality, periods, mental health, menopause, nipple hair, shame, and many more taboos. Join me around my virtual kitchen table as I talk with some inspiring women from around the world, exploring what it means to be a South Asian feminist today.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I grew up in a very multicultural environment, which was incredible for me growing up in a country that is Canada, which is mostly Caucasian, and the main cities are diverse. I experienced in my household, typical South Asian patriarchy, and also experienced abuse for almost 20 years of my life, both physical, emotional, psychological, sexual abuse at the hands of my father. And so you know, I’ve had a very interesting life experience.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
If you don’t mind me asking what were the first times or memories you have of this abuse starting in your family with your father?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
So I’ll tell you, I remember the instance in which something weird happened. And then I don’t remember anything for years, just that part, that particular part of my life, and then again at 13. So when I was about five or six, you know, all children go into their parents’ room in the morning, right? My mom was at work, I went into the room with my dad on, I’m sure it was a weekend morning because he was home. And I was tossing around in the bed jumping and jumping over him and jumping on top of him. He was lying down, and then all of a sudden it’s wet, like his underwear was wet and I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t understand. I’m like, I thought he peed himself, honestly. And I had no idea that that’s not what happened. Later on he told me that what actually happened is he ejaculated.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I don’t even know what to say to that. Wow. How old were you?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I know I was in the house that my parents had just purchased so I was between maybe five and six. not really clear. I can picture the moment I picture it all I’m even remember myself laughing and then I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember what happened from that instance, to I was about 12 years old. I was like 12 I’m almost 13. And being in my room and my aunt was visiting from India, and my dad was putting me to bed, I’m going to say it in quotes for those of you who can’t see. And she came in and he was fondling me. And I was like, mortified. Not that he was fondling me, but that she came in and she could have seen it. And that’s the that’s the next memory I have. And in between, I don’t have any recollection of what happened.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Which is not surprising, because it’s huge trauma and your brain’s locked it out, because he’s just too painful for you to remember. Gosh, what was his reaction? So you were embarrassed? What was his reaction?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
He just was trying to calm me down and calm the situation down and, you know, reassure me that nobody saw that nothing happened. And you know it’s wrong, but he would always justify it in a way that, we love each other, no one’s going to understand our relationship. The way I was groomed and manipulated was that this was a relationship. And while it was a taboo relationship, it was still based in love. And yes, it was based in his warped sense of love. And for me, my love for my father, not for him as a man or a companion. I was too young for all of that. And so yeah, that’s basically how he would justify it. It’s like its okay, only society sees it as wrong, but it’s love and under God’s eyes, and blah, you know, that kind of whole sentiment. So that, I guess, maybe for him, he could feel better about it.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Of course. And do you have any memories of what it felt like for you?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
For me, it felt like I was playing a part, I was playing the part of his wife, because he would tell me that my mother wasn’t doing a good job of being a wife. And that I was the only one that loved him the way he was looking for, I guess.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I can’t even quite process what that is like. What about your mother? Did she know what’s going on?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
That’s a good question. So it’s complicated. That’s my answer. And that’s the beginning part of the answer. So a few years ago, three or four years ago, maybe I was in a place where I was so still so angry with my mother. And I thought to myself, you know what, I don’t really care if she’s in my life, like, what is she bringing to my life? All I felt at that time was all she brings, is she phones me up, she asks me to do stuff for her. And I feel like I’ve given everything to my family for my entire life. Don’t ask me to do another thing. I’m not interested.
And so for a while, I stopped speaking to her. And then at some point, something said to me, I’m sure it was God or the universe, but it’s like, that’s not who you are. Nina, you’re not someone who stays angry. You’re not someone who hates somebody. And is this the type of relationship you want to have with your mother. And a self-serving piece of it was, is this what you want to show your children how I’m treating my mother is the way they will eventually treat me. And so I had a conversation with her about my anger.
And I did tell her everything that happened. And she said that she didn’t know, she had no idea. That being said, there had been times prior to that, where there’s definitely been an indication of her knowing that something was going on. She just doesn’t remember saying those things. And before I wrote my book, so I wrote a book called Confessions of a Can’t – aholic. And before I wrote that book, I needed to have a family meeting because I shared my story in the book.
And the result of that is I found out later on, that my uncles and my aunts had some sort of inclination, they just felt like what they were seeing was inappropriate in the in our dynamic, my father and my dynamic. And they did an intervention, where my mom and my dad were both there saying what they were seeing and what was happening. My daughter obviously vehemently denied it and my mom said nothing. And I had no idea this conversation happened until I had that family meeting, telling my family okay, I’m writing a book, and this is what I’m going to write about.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
That’s when they said we had an intervention where we thought something like this was going on and became and what was your father’s reaction to that when they turned up and said this?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
He was rude, obnoxious, aggressive, and said to my aunt, maybe your father did that to you. But I’m not doing that to my daughter.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Wow. And your mother says that never happened.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Yeah. My mother said that conversation never happened either. So I realized, though, through grace and compassion, that she was also a victim of abuse and trauma. And her psychological reaction was same thing as mine. Like, I don’t remember what happened. And she’s blocked it out. So I have to give her that grace.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Absolutely. I suppose it’s so horrific to see something like that being done by your husband to your daughter that I don’t know how anybody would be able to process that, that she’s done the next best thing which is deleted all of that.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
We do as human beings to survive.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
It’s a survival mechanism, isn’t it? Because there’s nothing else we know how to do. Denial is sometimes the only choice that’s left to us. Denial is the shield; we often hold on to so very tightly. Because the option to denial is remembering something so horrific, that it turns everything we know upside down. So we go to the only place that’s possible for us, the place of denial. As long as we can hold on to the denial, everything is good. And nothing is wrong. I had my relationship with denial for many years, I believed that I had a good childhood. I believed that both my parents had given me everything that they could. I believed that I was strong, and that nothing could touch me. Well, one fine day, I lost that gossamer thin cloak of denial. And unbelievable pain took its place. It’s taken years and years to process this pain. But letting go of denial has meant letting life in the life that I was truly meant to have. A life full of pain, and joy, and sunshine, and clouds. A real life.
I think you said once you got your period, things changed a little bit.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
When I got my period, my dad was just more vigilant. I actually can’t remember if like the first time intercourse happened was before my period or after my period. I can’t. I think it was before between the age of 12 and 13. I got my period when I was 13. But when I got my period, that’s when he was just a little more vigilant about protection. He became more I would say possessive, even more controlling because now I was stepping into being a young woman into adolescence. And yet he was more, if I think back to it, it was more controlling

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
The rest of the family. So somebody stages in intervention at some point. Do you have any siblings?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I do. I have a brother. He’s 12 years well, 11 and a half years younger than I am.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
So he probably didn’t know what was going on.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
At the time. No, he did not know what was going on. And he also was dealing with psychological and physical abuse. My dad was, I guess doing only what he saw his father do which was yell all the time.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Wow. You also mentioned physical and emotional abuse as well within the household. Are you happy to talk about that at all?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Yeah, of course. So, you know, there’s that saying spare the rod, spoil the child, however, most of us and South Asian families and back in the day, we all got spankings. But he was very scary. So, his whole demeanour was scary when he got upset and angry. And yeah, and he would hit pretty hard. I would be so petrified. Just when he called my name in that voice, when I was young, I would urinate on myself. I would get so scared my brother would begin to vomit. And so you know, that’s a type of physical abuse. I remember for my brother was pretty bad. It was like, really bad. For me it wasn’t as bad, the physical abuse, but definitely for my brother. I don’t recall my father ever being physically abusive with my mother though.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
The sexual abuse, how long did it go on for?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Many years. So it basically stopped when I met my husband. And I could say, okay, this is the man I’m going to marry. And I won’t do this anymore. Like to me it was cheating, like I was cheating on my husband to be by being with my father. Yeah, it was a very difficult time.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
What was going through your mind when this stuff was happening? I suppose part of it is blocking it out because it’s too difficult and too horrible. Did you as a child, particularly have any concept of this feels wrong? Because as children, sometimes we know. And then sometimes we feel like somehow it’s our fault and all of this stuff. Did you feel any of that?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
What I can say is, I felt like it was my responsibility to keep my father happy. So right or wrong was irrelevant. What was important was to keep my father happy. Like I was told very clearly that this was making him happy, you know, having this relationship for him. He had never experienced this kind of love. And I guess maybe what he meant by that was pure, unconditional, childlike, innocent love. Yeah, I really just feel like he didn’t understand what it was to have a mature, like mature love.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
So when you met your husband, and you were about to get married, did you have a conversation with your husband at all?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
No. I didn’t say anything to my husband until my father died. So we were married for almost seven or eight years when he died. And then I think even not right away, maybe a year later, after that I told him everything. I told him I had sexual abuse happen, but I didn’t say who.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Wow. And what was your relationship with your father? Like, once you were married?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Well, we were, I guess, father and daughter, even though you know, like, that part didn’t change. He was an interesting man who was very charismatic, very generous, and never actually thought about that. It’s a good question. We just had, I guess, a father daughter relationship. There was a weirdness between us, I would say, definitely, there was a weirdness, because the dynamics of the relationship had changed. And we had been in that relationship for so many years. So there was a little bit of weirdness. But there was always on my side, this need to please, like I had to, before he came over, make sure the house was pristine, and try and cook all his favourite foods and everything, because that’s the way I grew up. So I think for my husband, he would look around and be thinking, well, how come this is not happening for me?

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
And did you ever feel able to talk to your father about what had happened?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
After my son was born, I realized that I had had postpartum depression and it went beyond just postpartum. I think that initiated this deep depression that I went into. So I went to the doctor, and I told the doctor what had happened in my past. And she said I think you need to speak to somebody. So I spoke to a psychiatrist at the time, and then felt that I needed to speak to my dad about everything that was happening.
And I did have a conversation with him. And for him, his response was his initial response, you can get an idea of the type of man he was, was, well, am I going to go to jail now that you’ve told the psychiatrist. And I guess I was surprised; I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was because he made this about him. And it was more like, no, this is not about you or sending you to jail. It’s, in my brain. It’s too late for that. And I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to send you to jail. Basically said all my life, you made me feel like I was selfish if I ever wanted to do anything for myself. And I want to talk to you about that. And the apology was kind of flippant, like, I’m sorry, if I made you feel that way. You know, I just want to make sure I’m not going to jail.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
That’s not exactly even the beginning of an apology, is it?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
No. because I really don’t think he found he did anything wrong.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
He didn’t think that he did anything wrong. Where do you think that comes from?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
That’s a very good question. I wish I knew where it came from. I mean, these incidents don’t happen randomly and in a vacuum, right. And, you know, I don’t know a lot about the history of my father’s upbringing, I just know that his father was very strict. I know that his mom was young when she got married, she was 13. And my grandfather was significantly older than her. I know that there’s definitely mental health in the family. But nobody talks about it in the 40s and 50s. You don’t talk about that stuff. So I’m pretty sure he did not have this quote, unquote, normal childhood. I know he left the house when he was about 14, went back, then left again at 16. And then went to Bombay, at around in his 20s, I think.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
My father was a cruel man who did some terrible things. But I still remember the story that he told me. He was maybe 13 or 14 years old. His mother woke him up one morning and told him that he’d be going on a trip. This was exciting. He thought, yes, a trip from his small sleepy village in Kerala, to the big bad city called Bombay, as it was then called. My young father was sent off to start a new job, doing very hard physical labour, using a heavy hammer and tools to clip open tires from trucks and cars. Hard sweaty work outdoors, in the sweltering heat of Bombay, he was only a child. So when his mother told him he was being sent hundreds of miles away, he asked her mother, when am I coming back? She replied, you’re not. So yes, my father wasn’t a very nice man. But I’m starting to think perhaps he wasn’t born that way. What impact has this abuse had on your life, on your sexuality, on how you see yourself as a woman?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Well, it’s interesting. On my sexuality, quite frankly, I don’t think there was an impact. And the reason this is what I think I can only speak for myself is, number one, it wasn’t violent. There was no violence around it. And number two, when I was about 13, I fell in a big crush with this boy at school. And for 10 years, we had we had a sexual relationship for 10 years. And, you know, 13 At this point, yes. Yeah. So well, at 15, it started at 15. But we met when we were 13. And I think being with him, was my way of normalizing sexuality.
So you know, I’ve thought about this a lot. Like, you know, it’s interesting, because I always knew that this was not a relationship. I was in with this boy, this was for lack of a better word… a 10-year booty call, but that’s what it was. And I realized I thought about this as I was going through my healing process, like what was the purpose of that? What was the lesson that I didn’t quite understand? And then I realized that’s what I did to erase. So one erase to the other so that I would have those memories of my sexual experiences versus the ones with my father.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
How, if at all, have you made peace with this?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I have.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
How? It surprises me.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
It’s a choice. You know what they say, unforgiveness is like you taking poison and expecting somebody else to die. The unforgiveness had me so angry that it was impacting everyone around me. I didn’t even know I was angry. I really did not know that I was so angry until one day my husband came home. And I just ripped his head off. I don’t know. He just walked through the door, and I ripped his head off for nothing. And he just looked at me and said, I just walked it like, how could I have made you angry?
I just literally open the door and walk through. And that’s not who I am. And so you know, the process of true forgiveness started about six years ago, when, you know, I took a personal growth and development program and I realized, okay, I have a choice here I can, I can choose to continue to be angry, I can choose to be a victim of my circumstances, or I can choose to draw strength from, from what I’ve learned about who I am as a human being. And so I decided, okay, I’m just going to forgive him like, and it’s easy because he was dead by then already.
To be honest, he had passed away. In 2007. I started my real like, real, real hard work in 2016. So it’s been some time since then. When he passed away that day, I remember saying to him, and well, while we’re at the hospital, you know, I forgive you. But I think I said it because I know, I’m a people pleaser. I felt like his, his spirit, his Optima needed to hear that, you know, to transition. And in the moment, maybe I felt it in my grief. But the truth was, I hadn’t forgiven him, nor had I forgiven myself. And in order for me to be who I am today, I needed to forgive him, I needed to forgive myself. And it was, it really was something I had to do. So I wouldn’t walk around being angry.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Gosh, that must have been incredibly difficult. I can’t even imagine that journey from having this happen to you. And then to be in a place where you feel forgiveness, like truly inside, that must have been a really tough journey.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
The hardest part of the journey is forgiving yourself. It’s easier to forgive somebody else. I love my father; I will always love my father. That’s where the guilt and the shame and the anger comes from. Because I was angry, dammit, I shouldn’t love this guy. Look at all the stuff he’s done. It just makes me so angry. I myself was interviewing somebody for my forgiveness podcast. And one of the things one of my guests said to me, which is so true, when our parents do things to us, we don’t get mad at them. We get mad at ourselves, we take it upon ourselves, like we did something wrong. In order to be whether it’s yelled at or abused, or whatever it is, in the moment, there’s several varying degrees. So the most difficult piece was forgiving myself.
And I think it was being an adult and still continuing in the relationship. When at some point, I could have said, I’m walking away, I had like one or two opportunities. But the fact remains, that I loved my dad, I felt it was my responsibility to keep him happy. And I stayed because I didn’t want to break his heart. I didn’t want to take that take that responsibility on.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Do you mean this when you were an adult or when you were a child?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
When I was an adult, at 21/22, this all continued until I was in my late 20s. And so, it was very challenging. Because I was berating myself, why the heck didn’t you leave, you never left. People are never going to understand, right? And I was worried about what are people going to think, why am I thinking this about myself. And I just came to the realization that first of all, I was groomed to be in a relationship.
This to me was a relationship, like a, like a husband, wife relationship, not a father daughter relationship. And so, being groomed that way, thinking that, oh, my gosh, if I leave, this man is going to fall apart. And I’m going to be at the cause of that because that’s what I was told. That’s the responsibility I was given. And I wasn’t willing to be the one to do that. And I didn’t have it in me until I fell in love with my husband, because that’s when I fell in love. I loved my father. I love my father, but I didn’t. I wasn’t in love with him. He professed to being in love with me. And I just played a part so that we could all just be okay at home.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I read somewhere that the longest journey you will ever make is towards yourself. Or maybe I made that one up. I don’t know. I do know that accepting myself has been very hard work. Accepting that I’m fragile and powerful at the same time. Accepting that my body now has these wobbly bits that I’m learning to love. Accepting that love in all its forms can be beautiful, and painful at the same time. Accepting that I don’t have all the answers that I want in my own life.
Accepting that I’m growing older, that things sometimes feel harder now. Accepting that I might want to accomplish so many, many things. But sometimes, what I really need is deep rest, accepting, accepting, accepting the journey continues for me. And I suspect for all of you listening to this what’s the reaction of the rest of the family? Now that you’re talking about this openly? What is your mum say? What does your brother say?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Oh, my brother. He wishes he could have done something at the time he was a child. There’s nothing he could have really done, and he says he wishes he knew because I told him after dad died and when I got married, he was only 17 or 18 maybe 19. I said to him, there’s nothing you could have done. And he’s on his healing journey now, he’s just stepping into it now. He is working through it. He’s angry. He’s angry at dad for what dad did to me and angry at dad for how dad treated him, and he’s just dealing with that process. And my mom, it’s hard to tell with my mom. I have my professional and personal opinions on how she’s dealt with it. I really believe she feels she’s dealt with it. My personal opinion is she’s just put it in the side somewhere where she doesn’t have to look at it. Because she does feel guilty.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I mean, just thinking about it. If you lived in a house with where your daughter was being sexually abused by your husband, up until the age of 2829. It is impossible that she did no, it is utterly impossible. So the only way I’m guessing she dealt with it is by pretending it didn’t happen. And even now when you’re speaking to her to say yeah, I’ve dealt with it, but it is him, how does one begin to deal with something like that?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
It is a challenge, and I can feel a little bit of understanding about that because my daughter was dating a boy who assaulted her as well. And it happened under my watch. And I didn’t know and so I was like, how on earth did I not know? So I can have grace and unkempt and compassion for that piece. Do I feel my mother knew a lot longer than you know then she’s willing to admit to herself? Yes, 100%.
The way the dynamics were going on in the household there’s no way she wouldn’t have had some kind of thought. Like if my uncles and my aunt had that thought she must have had those thoughts as well. But it was just easier I’m assuming for her to just be like, No, that’s not possible, like how could that even be possible? For her, I have grace and compassion. There are moments you know, when we’re talking and I’m thinking No mom, you have not dealt with this. You really truly have not. I’m a professional coach. I work with people. I have a psychology background and you haven’t dealt with it. But what’s most important to you know the gift that I want for her to give herself is grace and freedom. You know, when she closes her eyes and goes up to see her maker that she doesn’t leave with guilt or regrets

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I’m awed, I think is the right word to use, by your compassion to your caregivers who should have been looking after you, but instead have inflicted this horrific abuse on you and your father directly and your mother indirectly by not stepping in so they’re both culpable in my eyes. And I’m awed at the sense of compassion that I pick up from you and forgiveness and as you rightly say, it burns the people who feel it. I get that completely intellectually but emotionally, you know, it is impossible to even for me to even conceive how you let that go because I don’t know, it just boggles my mind. But I’m honoured that you’re able to thank you for sharing that.
Thank you. Can you forgive someone who really hurt you? Who damaged you? It’s a question. I asked myself very often. Forgiveness sounds like a selfless exercise. But actually, forgiveness is more to do with you being kind to yourself than to those who hurt you. Because when we hold on to grief, pain, anger, it eats away at the core of who we really are. But forgiveness isn’t about forgetting. Because it’s a personal choice. Forgiveness looks different for each one of us. For some, it might mean always remembering the lessons that life taught us. For me it’s about remembering the pain that someone caused, but also learning to let it go. Because I don’t want that pain to define my life. My life is bigger, louder, stronger, so much more

Do you think within South Asian culture that we turn a blind eye to things like sexual abuse in families?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Yes. What was so interesting was when I was talking to my aunt and my uncle, my mom’s brother. All her brothers are older. But her second oldest brother. You know, when we were discussing the short discussion that we had, what was interesting is a comment that he made when he said oh, we’ve always known things like this happened in Bengali families. And I was like what? I never heard that.
Maybe because I don’t live in India and I’m not engulfed in the culture but to say that there’s this knowing that things like this is like, Oh, this happens in Bengali families, too. I didn’t know what to say to that. I was just like, Huh, what? And so when somebody says something like that, that says to me, we’ve, as a society, given permission for that to be okay. And it’s not normalized. Yeah, to some degree, very normalized. And then there’s also people who are completely oblivious.
I was giving a talk at an event and there was an older Indian gentleman there and when I completed my talk, and there was an open discussion he just looked at me. He apologized and said, I didn’t think this happened in India. And I was like, Are you living under a rock like what is happening? This is happening all the time. You know, it may not be known out in the public father- daughter or you know, even there are mother-son issues as well. And we were always talking about father daughter, but it happens at all levels. And I said, do you not read the news? Are you not watching movies? I don’t understand how you do not know that this is happening.
But when he asked me such a poignant, great question at that time, and he said to me, so what are you going to do about it? And at that time, I thought, Hmm, it’s a really good question. What am I going to do about it? And now I have a podcast and that’s, you know, part of part of what I’m going to do about it to begin to have these conversations and you know, so needs I just want to honour you, and thank you for opening up the door for us to have conversations like this in the South Asian community, regardless of whether we were born and brought up there or whether we’re here. Our parents bring the mentality and where we grow up in that mentality and all of our friends, our South Asian friends are growing up in this cultural agreement that we make, which is about looking good, and not looking bad.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Thank you so much for saying that. It’s an absolute honour to do this work. I feel very privileged, I think to do this, and I think what you said right there, that is important for us to look good. It’s important for us as a community, to look respectable, to look all of these things, and that seems to be far more important than what is actually going on in our lives. And I think that’s such incredible sadness. I mean, when I think of the sort of other women that I know when I think of your story, I mean 20 something years of the most horrific abuse and whatever the message it was abuse, you know, you were a child, you should never in a million years have had that happen to you. But to then have a double-edged sword, I’m sure of not really being able to talk about it for anybody to sort of come in for your mother or extended family to come in and kind of help you. It’s that kind of culture of silence. I think in our culture. It’s very much a culture of silence of keeping quiet showing, face saving face all of these things.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I’m laughing because I just think, wow, what a lot of work we do, trying to look good and not look bad. And it’s just so much work for me. That’s so much work and it causes so much trauma and pain. And if we could just begin to release the need to look good like you know, you know what those conversations like oh my kids getting A’s What do you kids getting? Oh, I bought a bigger house. Where’s your big house? Oh, look at my cars. Here’s my big Oh, look at these new saris.
I bought it all out and on and on and on, and it’s so much work. Like our mothers didn’t have conversations like this, the conversations that I have with my South Asian girlfriends now about what a pain it is to be a mom, a wife you know, this is the way things are. We mothers didn’t have conversations like that. So I think Little by little, you know, podcasts like yours, little conversations that are happening. You know, I’m part of a Facebook group. I think you’re part of that same Facebook group, Melanie’s girl tribe, you know, conversations are different there. But these are educated women, you know, that have access to this.
The conversation really does need to change at a more grassroots level for the majority of South Asian women. Because we really are the minority of South Asian women. We would like to think we’re not but when you look at the metropolitan cities in South Asia, there’s not as many metropolitan cities as there are rural cities.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I imagine sometimes that there’s so much trauma in so many households, in so many small towns and cities and there is no place for those women to take these traumas to where do they go with it right to their grave. And the weight of that I think when you were talking in my mind, I had this image of this emotional labour that we as South Asian will be carried this on our backs, is this heavy emotional labour. We carry this from the time where you know we can’t even speak we don’t even know the words and we learn that this must be ours. To carry the weight of father’s, you know, misdeeds in your case or you know, my father’s stuff that he inflicted. The weight of all of this the weight of silence, the weight of secrets that we carry, and we carry all our lives, and how heavy is this load?

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
It is a heavy burden to carry and its generational patterns that need to be interrupted. And so, you know, you and I are interrupters, and some people love it. Some people do not so much like, and that’s okay.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Too bad.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Exactly, too bad. When it is time for us to rise up not only as women, but as men, we can speak about it. But until we’re in partnership with, you know, the men that also continue to perpetuate misogyny, things aren’t going to change and what blows my mind. So that is we are descendants of the Indus Valley descent. If people were to even know what happened back then, somebody wrote the Kama Sutra, which is like, you know, who can come up with Kundalini and Tantra and have a gazillion bazillion goddesses. that men pray to? And yet we’re still here, but it blows my mind.

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
I’m with you. Absolutely blows my mind as well. I guess the only way forward is to keep fighting this fight I think which is what you’re doing, which is what I’m doing, and I know there are other activists who are doing this. And I suppose by challenging these norms that we’ve been told, that’s the way it is and you cannot ask questions and we’re saying no, hang on a minute. We don’t accept this anymore. And that’s where the journey begins. And then maybe the men will join us, and they’ll say actually, because patriarchy doesn’t serve men either, you know, they’re as damaged by it as anybody else. And maybe these changes in the next couple of generations. You know, that’s my hope.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
I’m with you. I’m partnering with you right there. That is my hope, and that it spreads you know, across the land and not just for South Asians, but human beings across the world. Without partnership, it won’t move. You know, equality is not about one being better than the other right? There are some feminists who don’t like men, and I can see why I can completely see why. I am a feminist that’s really about equality. Every voice at the table gets hurt. Yes, I know. I know the scales are right now. Just a little louder at the moment. But the hope like you said is in a generation or two. This won’t be a conversation and people will look back and think, wow, Whoa, what the heck are we thinking?

Sangeeta Pillai on Masala Podcast
Nina, thank you for your grace, your compassion, your kindness, for life that emanates out of you. I think it’s absolutely beautiful to witness and thank you for sharing some of these really difficult and painful things in your life with me. And with the audience of the masala podcast. Thank you so much, Nina, for being on Masala podcast.

Nina Ganguli on Masala Podcast
Oh, thank you so much. And just thank you for standing in the front lines and having these conversations. It’s just so important. So keep doing what you’re doing and thank you.
Sangeeta Pillai
Thank you for listening to the Masala Podcast, a Spotify original. Masala Podcast is part of my platform, Soul Sutras. What’s that all about? Soul Sutras is a network for South Asian women. A safe space to tell our story, to hear inspiring South Asian women challenging patriarchy, a space to be exactly the people we want to be and still feel like we belong in our culture, and our community. And ultimately, a space where we feel less alone. I’d love to hear from you. So do get in touch via email at soulsutras.co.uk or go to my website, soulsutras.co.uk. I’m also on Twitter, and Instagram. Just look for Soul Sutras. Masala podcast was created and presented by me Sangeeta Pillai produced, by Anushka Tate, opening music by Sonny Robertson.

LISTEN TO NINA GANGULI ON MASALA PODCAST:
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