Good Indian Girl, Sort Of: Jenny Vyas
I currently reside in: Chicago, IL
What is your favorite hangout in Chicago, IL: The Allis at the Soho House (Chicago). An entrepreneur friend and I have turned it into our (rent free) mobile office. If you’re going to set up a meeting with me, chances are I’m inviting you there. I also teach a monthly art class there (available through their “Eat Drink Nap” app). Pro-tip: Try their macaroons – I’m obsessed! FOR PLAY: The Art Institute. I can live there. FOR COFFEE: Iguana Café. This adorable European cafe doesn’t offer free high speed wi-fi which enables me to unplug, enjoy my coffee, conversation and crepes. Their “Chocolate Monkey” crepe is my weakness.
I currently work as: Full-time artist. Part-time digital brand consultant for clients across Chicago.
I do this because: I paint because it is a ceremonious release from the onslaught of lifelong emotions that I have bottled up within (hallelujah!). After my dream job managing Oprah’s eCommerce store ended a few years ago, I turned down a few executive opportunities and joined the startup world. However, something was missing. So I left that job and began painting a couple of years ago, while consulting freelance with clients across Chicago to provide myself the luxury and freedom to paint when I wanted to. I recently wrote a blog on Medium.com about how I began my journey as an artist. You can check it out here.
What are some Indian traditions you still follow? I religiously recite my “Sanskrit Shlokas” (prayers) from the Vedas hand written for me by my dad, and do my “divo” (candlelight) in our “mandir” (temple) at home every night. When I was a child, my father used to tell me that there is more strength and conviction in dedicating a specific time for God or a religious routine in your day. Be it 5 minutes. This has stayed with me growing up. As I get older and more spiritual, I genuinely believe this discipline is cultivating deeper and stronger ethics and principles within me.
Bollywood or Hollywood, and why? Both. My art evokes both sides; the privilege of being born and raised in India, and my adult years in America. Bollywood molded my younger and adolescent years so I have traditional values of Indian culture – I value family and friends above everything in life. Spending my adult years in America unleashed my freedom, my confidence, my depth. In essence, I found “my wings” here.
Favorite movie? Hard to pick one! I love dark thrillers, epics, suspense, the occasional Indie movie. No horror or “chick” flicks. So turn on Se7en, Lord of the Rings, Divergent (all of them), Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Primal Fear, Gangs of New York, Juno, to name a few, and you’ve got an audience out of me. Next on the list is the Star Wars episodes. I haven’t seen any. Shocking, I know.
What’s your favorite thing about Indian culture? During my adolescent years, I felt that Indian culture was very intrusive. Everyone knows everything about everyone (not exaggerating!). As someone who cherishes privacy, I felt…cornered, caged and judged. However, as I get older and navigate through some of the toughest times in my life, I’m realizing how inclusive it is. I feel loved and cared for. It’s a beautiful thing. The ‘younger me’ judged herself. I wasn’t truly in touch with myself. Without getting overly complex, I’ll just say that today— I’m understanding that you have to allow your inner core of vulnerability to surface to let love seep in through the cracks.
What’s one piece of advice your parents have given you abide by? It sounds much prettier in Gujarati, but here it is in English (in a nutshell): The day you fall in your own eyes, you will fall in front of the world. I can’t stress enough how much these words have served me in adversity. My life’s mantra is: if after every tough experience in life, my integrity and self-love thrive, I’m richer than ever before.
So are you a Good Indian Girl? Haha! Depends on who you’re asking? If you ask me, definitely. I work hard to honor my culture and family while following my heart and passions. If you ask the Desi community (i.e. my elders)— I defy the norm of earning a regular paycheck, lack the “safety” of working a corporate job and corporate healthcare. In a community that perceives art as a hobby, not a career— I quit my job to pursue art without any vocational training in the industry. All because I had a “gut feeling” that this is what I was meant to do. And I’m not yet married, nor do I have any kids; the two most significant milestones in life that I should’ve crossed by now. But what I hope gets me some points are facts that I can tie a sari better than most Indian aunties (no joke), I speak, read and write in Hindi and Gujarati, and I can read Sanskrit. I’m religious and pray every single day. So I’d say, this puts me smack dab in the middle of the “Sort Of and Maybe” category.