‘NRI Woman’: Real-life stories from the diaspora

Stories of women who’ve done something different, overcome a challenge, or just have something inspirational to share

August 03, 2019 04:11 pm | Updated 04:11 pm IST

Two friends, a series of interesting conversations, a seemingly unending supply of fascinating real-life stories from women in the Indian diaspora: a great recipe for a podcast. Dubai-based Bettina Tauro and Ninorah Brookshire have been friends forever — “Sisters from different mothers,” quips Ninorah in their introductory episode of the NRI Woman podcast. Their own intense exchanges about the challenges and joys of settling into foreign cultures led them to wonder about the million other stories that might be out there, that were bound to speak to millions of women struggling and succeeding in their own ways.

“Everyone has a different story about moving away from home, and we wanted to create a platform where NRI women could share their experiences,” Tauro tells me over telephone from Goa, where she was visiting family. She quickly adds, “We were clear we didn’t want it to be another agony aunt column.”

Social media seemed to be the easiest way to go, and they set up a Facebook page in 2016. “We quickly realised the limitations of this medium,” she explains. “We found we were fairly decent at having conversations, but writing was not our strength.” So, in March 2018, the first season of the NRI Woman podcast was launched, each a 15- to 20-minute episode featuring the story of a woman who has done something a little bit different, overcome a struggle or challenge of a certain kind, or who simply has an inspirational account to share.

The narratives range from discussions around raising “third culture kids” (episode #45) to overcoming addiction (episode #43) and human trafficking (episode #37) to professional growth stories from women who made unconventional choices, and a good measure of old-fashioned love-in-the-face-of-all-odds. In case you’re thinking all this sounds much like a podcast version of chick lit, the pleasant voices and soft music disguise the dead-serious nature of some of the discussions. Tauro and Brookshire have not shied away from featuring guests who have been through some pretty tough situations, including chronic mental illness, abuse and abandonment. While they do not take on an overtly feminist tone or use “woke” vocabulary, Tauro notes that the focus is on empowerment, with women “talking about making choices they want, without judgement”.

Limited diversity

What makes the show different is the fact that neither are the hosts your seasoned interviewers nor the guests experienced speakers. Using a narrative format, the two hosts deliberately restrict their voices to framing the episode and providing background information, allowing the guest to emerge as the main storyteller. The 49 episodes spanning four seasons reveal a fair level of diversity along certain axes — women from a variety of geographies, ages and to some extent, varied social and professional situations. Tauro admits that they have had to restrict themselves to guests who are able to speak in English, even if not fluently, given their own level of comfort with the language. This leaves out the large swathe of women in the diaspora who most certainly have rich stories that contain layers of social, cultural and political complexity.

The show has found an audience not only across the globe but in India as well, where, Tauro notes, the largest number of downloads come from after the U.S. and West Asia. “We also have a fair number of non-Indians who listen to it — perhaps to gain cultural insights.

For now, NRI Woman is an independently produced podcast that is “a labour of love” for Tauro and Brookshire and their young editor, Deepthy Shibish. The show is about to go into its fifth season — and fiftieth episode — on September 1, with new episodes released weekly through the end of December.

(A fortnightly series on podcasts.)

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.

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