Interviewed by Faria Ahmed
Every now and then we come across stories of inspirational women who dare to be different and leave their mark in the way they do things. Such is the story of Nibedita Saha-Chakravorty, a Bangladeshi-Canadian woman living in Toronto, Canada. Nibedita and her husband absolutely love travelling and they make it a point to travel at least a few times a year.
During a trip to Banff, Alberta Nibedita first came up with the idea of wearing a saree (a traditional ethnic Bengali clothing for women) and photograph herself against the gorgeous snowy mountains in Banff. In extreme freezing temperatures, she managed to get photographed against this striking landscape and look incredibly glamorous doing it. A saree is a typically light garment meant to be worn in the tropics and over the centuries it has become the symbol for Bengali women everywhere. Since that day almost 5 years ago, Nibedita took it up as a personal adventure to take photographs of herself against the various terrains and landscapes as she travels the world.
“Growing up I always thought I was weird because my ideas were always a bit different from my peers”, said Nibedita. “Assimilation in Canadian society was always encouraged in my family, especially as my parents desperately wanted us to fit in. In my adult life, I realized that my thoughts and desires weren’t necessarily weird but rather they were just different“, she continued. “One of those different ideas I had was to try and take this beautiful symbol of my culture, the saree, to the next level.”
“I’m always thinking about what has not been done before. In general , South Asian countries are hot so probably there aren’t pictures of women wearing them in the snow, I thought. Next I realized that many of our friends and family living in Canada hate snow. I get it..life is difficult”, she said. Nibedita explained how we should sympathize with those who are still struggling to get around in the snow. For so many women who first move to Canada, adjusting to the weather, the culture, the change in clothing…is all part of a very big life change and it can be challenging. They have to give up a big piece of their cultural identities or preference of wearing a saree on a regular basis and only wear it to parties. “Wearing sarees in the snow is quite impractical but I thought it would be fun to take a picture of me wearing a saree in the snow to make the ladies in my community giggle. That idea started my crazy journey.”
Although the initial thought behind it was a humorous one, she soon also realized how powerful and empowering it could be do to this. “In the Bengali community, many women are afraid to dream or vocally say what they want because traditionally women have been groomed to be care takers and support systems”. Nibedita explained how Bengali women are often expected to make bold sacrifices and their own wishes and dreams are often sidelined in the process. However, she wants to show the world that while being her most bengali self, wearing a saree, she can climb a mountain and walk in sand all the same. She wants to do it literally and metaphorically to help break barriers for Bengali women, so we can be comfortable in our own skin and ethnic garments and still be proud and confident enough to take on the world.
She wants to tell everyone that if something is a part of our cultural identity, we do not need to tuck it away. It is something that adds strength to our lives and lived experiences and should be celebrated.
Most Challenging Saree-Photo Venture:
“I think the hardest for me was Dubai. The desert seemed limitless to me, and I was but a grain of sand in the vast desert sea. The dunes were hot and I kept sinking wherever I stood. The wind was so exceptionally strong, I felt if I let go of my saree, it will disappear. I felt fear and excitement. Something was all around me and it was trying to take me with it.
Most Fun Saree-Photo Venture:
My most fun experience was during my graduation. I was the only person who wore a saree at my graduation from the University of Toronto that year. I loved explaining the idea to everyone who asked about it and I loved showing up on campus in a saree as compared to other days where my hair would be in a bun and I’d be in sweatpants lugging around chemistry and physics books.
Traveled So Far:
Bangladesh: Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong India: Kolkata, Sikkim, Orissa, Darjeeling, Kashmir
Greece, Dubai, Nepal, Paris, London UK, Belize City
US: Florida, Utah, Las Vegas, California, West
Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey Canada: Alberta, Ontaro
Travel Bucket List for the Future:
Australia (Great Barrier Reef), Egypt, Amazon Basin, Rain Forest
Travels in the near future: I would love to travel within Canada (somewhere in the Maritimes and Vancouver).