Good Indian Girl, Sort Of: Sangeetha Kowsik

What’s your name? Sangeetha Kowsik

Where do you live? New York City

What your favorite hangout in NYC (pre-COVID)?  The Arab cafe down the street from my apt (the owners are my friends, I can sit outside!) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What type of work do you do? I currently work as a Freelance Graphic Designer and Art Director. I’m also the Founder/Owner/Designer of IhsanIshan Design, where I create Islamic/Arabic art, design, and calligraphy. I’m Indian American Hindu and create Islamic Arabic art to promote religious, cultural, and ethnic unity through art and design. In addition to all of that, I also work as a Hindu Spiritual Advisor Interfaith Chaplain at NYU.

I love art and design—they are my LIFE! I don’t feel normal unless I am creating something. I started my brand so I would have full freedom to design, create, and tell stories, and also, to fight stereotypes and Islamophobia—the way I want to. I also love doing freelance graphic design for a variety of different companies and clients.

What are some Indian traditions you still follow? It’s pretty hard to define an “Indian tradition,” I feel. Being Hindu (religion) & Hindu “culture” get lumped into as “Indian” culture, which I think is strange and confusing. I don’t consider doing puja (prayer), which I do every day, as “Indian.” I define that as being Hindu (I have many non-Indian friends who identify as Hindu). I don’t consider participating in Holi & Diwali as being “Indian”; those are religious holidays rooted in “Hindu faith”.

I am trained in both North & South Indian Classical Music (vocal) & three forms of Classical Indian Dance, which I still practice. I enjoy dancing to Bollywood & Bhangra music.

Bollywood or Hollywood, and why? I like both. I’m Tamil, so don’t speak or understand Hindi, which is commonly used in Bollywood (so need subtitles to watch those films like most of the world!). I love the music, dance, costumes, and jewelry (I rarely watch the movie, fast forward to see the artistry). However, I did love Jodha Akbar—both beautiful film and music. It’s evident the director, Ashutosh Gowariker, had done his thorough research in art history! As for Hollywood, I love a lot of movies.

Favorite movie? Chung King Express by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai—beautifully shot film—a weird, fascinating love story. I love all his movies. I like Jodha Akbar, too!

What’s your favorite thing about Indian culture? Family, warmth, togetherness, DIVERSITY! India is the MOST Diverse place on the planet!! It’s like 80 different countries put into one! No one speaks the same language or practices the same religion—or if they do, their practices vary. I find this so beautiful and appreciate India so much. There is ALWAYS something new and fascinating to discover about Indian culture, and I love learning about it. Indian culture is known for its warm, hospitable people as well, which I appreciate. And though Aunties and Uncles may be annoying, they always care and are there in your face, wrapping you with their love, which I so appreciate!

What’s one piece of advice your parents have given you that should probably be or are abiding by? My father taught me FAITH is the most important thing in life; regardless of the good, bad, ugly life throws at you, always have FIRM FAITH in God. To never judge anyone. You don’t know what path God has chosen for them. I adhere to this principle; I am on a unique, “not normal for an Indian girl” path. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I went to design school, worked in fashion, beauty, luxury, museums, and skateboarding. I am a Hindu chaplain, but an Islamic/Arabic Calligrapher! Ha! This is the path God has chosen for me—and I abide by it and have full faith!

Good Indian Girl? I’m proud to be Indian (land of diversity) American. I’m not too fond of Indian culture being misrepresented (for example, Indian Matchmaking on Netflix) and always being told by close-minded Indian American society to be a Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer. But, I LOVE Hinduism (what I consider to be open-minded/free thinking/non-judgemental). I’ve definitely been called a freak by Indian American society for being “too religious” and that only aunties/grandmas hang out at Hindu Temples, not young Indian American women like me. But my religion (founded in India) is open-mined—not Indian society. Don’t get them mixed up—read scriptures, and one will understand.

Check out Sangeetha’s beautiful artwork on her website or follow her on Instagram @ihsanishandesign

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