Cartoonist Nidhi Chanani on Her Earliest Female Influences & What It Means to Be an Author
Continuing to speak with amazing female illustrators for Women’s History Month, we got the chance to speak with Nidhi Chanani, author of Pashmina which we loved last year. Chanani was generous enough to not only speak with us, but also make this beautiful comic about one of her female heroes, author Arundhati Roy.
TMS: Who were some of the influential female figures for you growing up? Both in your personal life, but also in terms of historical figures.
Chanani: My strongest and most complicated influence is my mom. She dealt with the challenges of immigrating to a new country, raising kids and leaving a difficult marriage. I saw firsthand how important it was to have inner strength to change your life even when your entire community opposed it.
Historical figures are harder. It’s only recently that I’ve learned about the many women in history who’ve had these amazing stories. Growing up the focus on women in history wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. I’d love to rattle off some names but most of the female influences in my life were authors like Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Beverly Cleary and Bollywood stars like Sridevi.
TMS: Where do you think we are still lacking in terms of highlighting the accomplishments of women?
Chanani: There are so many ways to approach this but I would just say that at home and abroad we’ve only scratched the surface. Although I don’t watch lots of sports I think that is just one prime example of a place where attention, support and cultivation can have deep impacts. Again that’s just one… there truly are too many to list.
TMS: What are some of the myths about womanhood that you had to bust throughout your life? Which was the biggest shock?
Chanani: One that comes to mind is the idea that I must choose between a career and a family. In reality I love both my family and my job.
TMS: Feminism means many things to different women. What does feminism mean to you? Where do you think it needs improvement? Where do you think it is working as a movement?
Chanani: Feminism is the view that women and men are equal. Movements are made by members. Any movement will be improved when folks continue to educate themselves about intersectionality and keep the conversation open.
TMS: There are a lot of larger scale institutional problems that we face as women today, but what are some of the things we can do today to make lives better for ourselves and for the women coming after us?
Chanani: Mentorship is vital and important. I have never had a mentor but I’ve seen others with those relationships thrive and flourish. I give back through teaching and try to create community among other working artists. Sharing knowledge, access and opening doors is paramount to changing the status quo. Something as small as connecting two people, referring someone for a job or gig can change the course of a life.
TMS: We talk a lot about the inequalities and gender discrimination that we face in this world so what is something that makes you proud to be a woman?
Chanani: My pride comes from trying my best to be a good person irregardless of my gender presentation. I feel pride for what I’ve accomplished and survived in my life.
TMS: Who are some of your favorite fictional female protagonists?
Chanani: Jessica from Fresh off the Boat, Molly from Insecure, Shuri from Black Panther, Moana, Izzy from the HILO graphic novel series and Ms. Marvel.
(image: Nidhi Chanani)
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