At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
Karuna is a graduate public health student and a professional in the public mental health field. She's chair of the collaboration team for 'Dil to Dil', an organization focusing on deconstructing the stigma against mental health in South Asian society. In her spare time you can find Karuna dancing and teaching for events and 'Doonya', a bollywood HIIT workout dance class. Karuna is an amazing singer and just released her collaboration debut called "Good Life." Read on to learn about how Karuna has incorporated her Indian heritage in life and is embracing it in her own way (@reeltoruna), (@publicmentalhealthlife).
On Her South Asian Heritage:
What's your background?
I come from a Gujurati Indian family.
How has, or currently does your heritage play a role in your life?
My family raised me to be extremely in touch with my culture. I showed immense interest in dance and singing, so I learned Indian classical dance, Kathak, from the ages of 6-17 and Hindustani classical singing from 6th grade on.
Throughout my childhood, I loved Indian movies, music and TV serials. My problem of being American born was the opposite of most of my peers - I felt like I was not "American" enough most of the time. Up until high school, I had wasn't exposed to much American music. I took a lot of time in high school and college catching up on all of the western music and movies. Because of this, I did grow up being bullied for who I was. Another characteristic I was questioned a lot for was being vegetarian. I felt so torn between the "two sides" of myself that I continuously tried to mesh. Sometimes it was "cool" for me to dress or act Indian, and sometimes it was perceived as "weird." In fact , some of this bullying even seeped into college. The Indian student organization I was part of sometimes made fun of people who were too in touch with Indian culture even though they were trying to represent it as a whole! It really felt like there was not a way to find a good balance. Now, after years of struggling through this, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.
Singing, dancing, and choreography seem to be a big passion in your life! Does your South Asian heritage play a role in your love of the performing arts, and if so, how? What are your future aspirations in this industry?
South Asian culture is the biggest contributor to my artistic side. Learning Indian classical dance and singing at a young age was my main inspiration, but later in high school American pop, R&B, and rap started influencing me as well. I really enjoy watching the many Indian singing competition shows such as an Indian Idol. Social media has provided a platform for me to share some of my cover songs and has opened so many doors for me. Since then, I have been working on learning how to produce music so I can create my own album for release!
In addition to singing, I love teaching dance. I came across a company called 'Doonya' which is a Bollywood HIIT fitness class a couple years ago. Last year, I became a trained instructor and that has allowed me to keep dance in my life. I also enjoy choreographing for events.
You are the chair of the collaboration team for 'Dil to Dil' which is an organization focusing on deconstructing the stigma against mental health in South Asian society, and you work professionally at a community mental health non-profit organization as well. This is needed now more than ever as society navigates its way through a quarantine due to COVID-19 and also because of the social unrest happening here in the US because of racism. How do you see 'Dil to Dil' helping in this crucial time? How do you feel you are contributing to the cause?
When COVID reached it's peak, many of us were left trying to cope with the pandemic in our own way. It was then that I decided to encourage my team to really focus in May during mental health awareness month. The collaborations team worked diligently to highlight mental health issues associated with the pandemic.
These included: Trauma that is faced due to the fear of the pandemic, those who are directly impacted by the virus, substance abuse issues rising from lock down, and an increase in domestic or child abuse. We also wanted to provide a platform where we could use art as a type of therapy during this time. This included Instagram concerts, live dance classes, live museum exhibits, and much more to help bring everyone together to cope with the pandemic. When the BLM movement occurred we dedicated time as an organization to both acknowledge and empower our Black peers, and worked hard to organize donations towards the cause. Being a student and professional in public health, I know that taking care of one's mental health is incredibly crucial. The more we discuss, educate, and listen to each others' perspectives, the more prepared we will be to handle future situations.
In most South Asian households, it is not easy to speak with our parents or loved ones about issues that we as first generation South Asian Americans experience here in the US. In most cases, they did not have the resources or tools to do so because of the many social stigmas associated with openly discussing mental health issues. What advice do you have for other first generation Indian Americans who may be grappling with mental health challenges? What changes in our culture would you like to see for future generations?
What do you love most about South Asian fashion?
I love the versatility and colorful nature of our fashion! My favorite outfits growing up were my chania cholis (two piece Indian outfit) for garba time, especially those that had the brightest colors and most skirt width.
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?
My favorite clothing style is usually dresses, particularly A-line ones that flatter my figure the most.
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
Anything Citrusy! Lemonades and Margs -- like typical TX girl :)
What are you currently watching?
Madam Secretary, a fantastic and engaging show that addresses many important topics!
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
'Palace of Illusions' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni -- I did not learn much about the Mahabharata growing up, but reading this story through Panchaali/Draupadi's perspective was engaging and fascinating.
Morning person or night owl?
Night owl continuously trying to become a morning person!
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?