The Women of India Project – Niyati Kukadia

 

Niyati Kukadia is one third of the founding partners of Soar Excursions in Gujarat. I was delighted when I came across them on social media as so few people showcase this often ignored state for the truly incredible and diverse destination that it is. However, when I met Niyati, I very quickly realised that this is possibly the least of her extraordinary achievements. She certainly holds more knowledge about so many subjects than I could ever hope to read about in a lifetime.

She qualified as a Chemical Engineer, but left that behind to follow her passions one of which is researching into ethnic communities facing marginalization in rural Gujarat, such as the Mir, Siddi & Rabari.  She facilitates the beadwork project aimed at building on existing skills of the nomadic Mir women. This has led to improvement in the quality of their hand-beaded bangles which are now sold in the markets of Sydney, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. They have also developed new items such as spectacle strings, necklace, bracelet, and anklets. She has presented an independent research paper at Borneo International Beads Conference on ‘LIVING BEAD CULTURES OF GUJARAT’ focusing on ethnography and social history of traditional bead embroidering communities.

In addition, Niyati has a wonderful knowledge of culture, architecture and social history of many regions of India. She leads special tours for groups of diverse interests such as textiles, monuments and indigenous communities.  She has a deep interest in social justice movements, cultural heritage, and conservation of the environment. She has assisted and facilitated as field work co-ordinator for various experiential study abroad programs on the subjects of Urban Planning and Rethinking Food Security; works with various American schools as the Program Coordinator for the Spring and Summer Experiential and Experimental learning programs.  She has assisted leading newspaper journalists from national and international media as well as students of architecture and textile designing for socio-political, textile and monuments tours.

 

  1. Who you are (naturally!)

A collector of hobbies. I like exploring new ventures and taking up different challenges that push my comfort zone and make me learn about new things.

  1. What inspired you to create your business?

I didn’t want to spend my life doing one thing. I wanted to travel and explore. My business gives me ample opportunities to travel and see India in a different light. India is a land of paradoxes. And this country never ceases amaze, confuse, fascinate, and frustrate me…sometimes all at the same time.

  1. An anecdote which epitomizes your India?

The tribals in South Gujarat singing traditional songs and dancing around a saree clad goddess style statue of Mariam mata (mother Mary) after recent conversion to Christianity. It reminds me about how simple cultural traditions transcends the religious beliefs.

  1. One thing that you can’t live without?

My books, my family, my cat Imli.

  1. One thing that you hate?

The patriarchal mindset and casteism in Indian society.

  1. If you could change one thing about India what would it be?

Casteism and growing religious extremism. I would like for Indian women to have more autonomy in their lives.

  1. Who is your greatest inspiration?

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Dr Ambedkar

  1. What is your favourite quote?

Empowered women empower women

  1. I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?

Digital revolution and connectivity. Mobile phones have really changed the cultural fabric of the society.

  1. What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?

Management of plastic waste, accessible quality education, rural healthcare, etc.

  1. Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?

Samarkand and the entire silk route

  1. What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?

Times Square in New York.

  1. Book or Movie?

Book, always book.

  1. Just for fun! I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?

Poha batata (rice flakes, onion and potato)

  1. In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year-old self?

Have confidence on your abilities and stand by your opinions even when they are not the majoritarian views. Your idealism, however naïve, makes you a better person.

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