— ANJHULA MYA SINGH BAIS (click here to know more about this blogger)
It's hard to pin Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais down. One minute she's in couture receiving an award in Mumbai, voted by readers for being an inspirational cover girl; the next minute she's on her hands and knees looking into the eyes of a Rwandan child on a psychology delegation; next, she’s in her home state of Rajasthan, dutiful to her erstwhile roots. She's as steadfast walking in Jimmy Choo's — whom she knows personally — as she is with her doctorate in Psychology. Clearly she's a lady on a mission. Today, academic, activist, aristocrat Dr Anjhula Mya Singh Bais speaks on actors, advocacy and achievement. An Explosive Fashion exclusive with the globally lauded psychologist and supermodel.
Explosive Fashion (EF): It has been so long since we interviewed! I think the last time was when you were at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. I am however keeping track of your incredible work on social media, tell me a little more about that.
Anjhula Mya Singh Bais (AMSB): Jasmeen! It has indeed been long and it is always a pleasure to speak to you. I admire your consistent work and creativity in a field that has been hit hard by Covid-19. Yes, so much has been going on and I won't say since 2016… it seems like that's the way it's always been and will continue to be. I have had some amazing appointments since we last spoke and that has kept me quite busy.
EF: It is of immense pride to see you go from fashion week green rooms to the coveted list of best global leaders issued by the World Economic Forum. And recently you were on the same Covid Crusaders' list as Queen Rania and Elton John for tireless global psychology work on mental health help for front-liners. And then there is something many have seen and are quietly thinking — never underestimate a model: you sit on the noble peace prize human rights organisation, Amnesty International
AMSB: That's a good recap! Human Rights, mental health, climate crisis… all of it ties in together and I consistently try to approach it from an intersectional lens of feminism and spirituality.
EF: Of particular interest was your conversation with filmmaker [of Bajirao Mastani fame] Mitakshara Kumar a couple months back on Facebook, about the black and white photo challenge. She called you judgmental and negative. Any thoughts?
AMSB: First let me start with, I admire Mitakshara as a creative. I was a producer of one of her short films and it was a delight. We were also classmates at Lady Shri Ram College, University of New Delhi. The thing with calling someone 'judgmental' and 'negative' and asking for empathy is often the first recourse of those lacking in intellectual rigour about a particular topic. Imagine if you were getting feedback from your boss for your annual appraisal. Would you look at your boss and say, 'stop being mean'? I hope not. The hope is that the employee in this example can lay out an intelligent, well-argued line of reasoning. I may not agree, but at least get me to think.
Unfortunately, Mitakshara's reasoning was an emotional knee-jerk response. Critical thinking and asking purposeful questions is not a negative. Conflict can be creative. It's very easy to attack the person [especially women] as opposed to commenting on the behaviour. Funny you should ask about this exchange, I tell anyone on Facebook that they are welcomed to take it to direct message as I am aware many journalists are on my page and it's fair game to report on it. I received direct messages about this exchange agreeing that the black and white challenge made no sense and was a vanity project. Mitakshara's claim was, if this challenge didn't exist, she and her friends wouldn't know about femicide in Turkey. To be sure, I checked her page, and every comment without fail was about how gorgeous she looked cementing the fact that it was a form of 'clicktivism' and self-congratulatory righteousness without a single iota of positive effect. What good is knowing about femicide if you don't do anything about it?
As a model, I love a good black and white photo as much as the next person, but there is a time and place. Many high-profile celebrities apologised when they realized they appropriated a campaign meant to shed light on Turkish femicide. In India however, we see a stubborn and petulant unapologetic streak, best exemplified in Indian politics. During the row about the film 'Padmavat', I was asked by Indian media to comment as a Rajput, as a model, and as an actress. In Malaysia where the film was banned [being a Muslim majority country], I was asked to comment about the film but I passed. Someone like Mitakshara in that instance is better placed to comment as she is a filmmaker and understands the nuances and considerations that go into directing, producing, marketing and creative license. The difference between us is that I know and have the intellectual humility to stay in my lane and know when to defer to expert and authorities. I have a front row seat watching some of the best human rights campaigners, researchers and policy experts in the world at work at Amnesty International. When they say something does not work, it most likely does not.
EF: You bring up many excellent points, food for thought. I think as journalists we look at the credibility of the source. If I want to interview a Master Of Design, I will interview for example, Rohit Bal, not someone who owns every collection of Rohit's. There was another person on that feed that seemed to be trying to understand both sides.
AMSB: Correct! The problem with opinions is everyone has one yet they are not created equally. I might argue for your right to freedom of expression but to the extent I will listen, consider or implement depends on factors like your lived experience, education, method, motive. Having an opinion 'just because' doesn't mean people take you seriously. I want to see how far you can flesh it out and nine out of ten times it falls apart like a deck of cards. Social media has been a great enabler for mediocre minds to feel self-important. We have to look no further than certain male heads of state. The person trying to see a three-sixty view was Shreya Mukherjee who is a New York based healer and advertising executive. Her approach is not a surprise and is in fact one that we all should endeavour to.
EF: in the sad demise of Bollywood star and actor Sushant Singh Rajput, I noticed your ask of journalists to correct how they communicate. Can you elaborate on that and your thoughts on the suicide?
AMSB: It is always a very sad day when a life is lost. Full stop and unequivocally. Linguistics is utterly important however, from our own internalised narratives, to how we communicate thoughts and ideas that effect perception at large. We do not say someone 'committed suicide' because that implies criminal intent. Rather we write 'died by suicide'. Using terms like 'suffered from depression' is presumptuous. A person 'had depression'. Neither should we say someone is bi-polar. They are so much more than their diagnosis. It is more accurate and appropriate to write they have bi-polar disorder. It's 2020; what world are we living in if we refer to domestic help as servants? Several publications did this in reference to Sushant and Rhea's staff.
EF: Speaking of Rhea, what do you think of her treatment and of Bollywood from a human rights perspective?
AMSB: In my own personal philosophical journey and in sessions with therapy clients, I often speak about the idea that an answer is 'yes', 'not right now', 'something better'. In the past when I was younger, I wondered about not getting more involved in Bollywood. I thank my stars it didn't happen for me in a big way. Even with being at the highest levels of fashion, I was distinctly uncomfortable with the abusive tone and actions that was a socially sanctioned casual cruelty that everyone was game for in order to make it. It is only now that people are recognizing the toll it takes and the mental and emotional split and exhaustion that incurs. If you called it out as I did, you were considered weak or sensitive.
I remember speaking to models and actors during an International film festival in 2015 about this issue. There were so conditioned to think abuse and yelling were the norm, I had to spell it out for them. The pain Sushant may have felt and the subsequent 'guilty until proven innocence' edict on Rhea makes me all the more determined to set-in place proper checks and balances. The entertainment industry is a gig economy where there is huge instability and little security which has corresponding effects on the psyche. However, since mental health maturity in India is quite a way away, people are expected to tough it out; it goes unrecognised until calamity strikes be it a hanging or illness. Bollywood contributes to dreams and entertainment of billions around the world. My hope is it will be open to systematic reformation. Rhea has inadvertently led the way.
EF: What are your future plans?
AMSB: Perhaps 'Doctors Without Borders', research and publications of a high caliber, a global parenting podcast coming out soon, seeing therapy clients which is an immense privilege and media-entertainment projects with a purpose. I say no to the majority of things that come across my table. I like saying 'no’; it doesn't usually come naturally to women but I have become very adept at 'don't complain, don't explain'.
EF: As usual, it feels enlightening to speak! Any last words for the readers?
AMSB: It's been an incredible year, and as you read this interview, it means you have made it through every single one of those days. Go easy on yourself, know that your best will look different this year, and vulnerability is a strength. Should you feel like you are struggling, please reach out; help is available. When nothing is certain, everything is possible.
For Readers, more on Anjhula:
Therapy appointments can be made on https://www.facebook.com/InternationalPsychology/
[email protected] Anjhula
24 August 2012 2:50 pm Runway to Rwanda: Reflections of a Fighting Pacifist
23 September 2011 1:39 pm Anjhula's Literary Corner
26 March 2011 3:16 am A REGAL, TRADITIONAL AFFAIR WITH A MODERN SOUL
22 March 2011 8:46 am A HEALTHY VIEW OF MODELLING AND MEDIA
27 February 2011 5:03 am BOOKS AND BEAUTY