In many ways, speaking your truth in an authentic way is the most courageous act of all. Ask Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, who has mastered the art of using her life experiences to inspire others. Her directorial debut in 2018, Toffee, was a sensitive exploration of the concept of child marriage, based on a real-life incident from her own childhood. That same year, she underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction procedure (and took to Instagram to lay bare the details, even throwing in a little quip where she called herself the “half Indian Angelina Jolie”). A few months later, Tahira put on a stylish front, sans any hair, after chemotherapy. She walked a runway, gave passionate interviews to highlight the stigma around breast cancer, and went on to record a seven-episode audio series called My Ex Breast, which chronicled how the writer and filmmaker came to terms with the emotional ramifications of her surgery.
Last month, Tahira also released her fourth book, 12 Commandments Of Being A Woman, a tongue-in-cheek, upfront take on being a ‘celebrity wife’, her battles with depression, insecurities, and cancer, and her learnings from all of them.
One of the things that strikes me about Tahira—a thing partly visible in the photographs you see here, and unmistakable on our Skype call later—is her spirit. If I had to give it a colour, as is done in ‘energy tests’, it would probably be a sunshine yellow. That might explain how, through her entire journey, Tahira has made humour and faith her shield and armour. Her candour is refreshing, and the fact that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, too often, comes as a breath of fresh air. In a TED Talk she gave in November 2019, Tahira explains why she decided to draw attention to breast cancer through social media. How, on the day she was to be discharged from the hospital, a close relative told her that nobody ever needed to know about her surgery. But she also remembered being told by her doctor that countless breast cancer cases go untreated—and cause deaths—because women are embarrassed to get their breasts examined. “It was as if the entire family’s pride, somehow, lay in the women’s breasts,” she says in the talk. And so, Tahira began using her voice to deliver messages of hope, resilience, and healing, to countless women suffering in silence. “I really wanted to spread two things: awareness about early breast cancer detection, and self-love,” she says. At home, a recovering Tahira was faced with some reservation from her parents and her seven-year-old son, Virajveer. She shares, “When my son saw me bald, he began screaming and crying, ‘What have you done? I’ve only seen men go bald, never a woman!’ And I was, like, ‘Well, now you’re looking at one!’” This is the kind of episode with the emotional power to break down many a sensitive mother and woman, and one can’t help but admire Tahira for how she handled the situation. When her son declared that he did not want her to meet his friends without a wig or cap on, Tahira followed him to the play area with “a nice, shiny, bald head”. She met his friends, and thus normalised the situation. “I think I changed one thing that day,” she says. “I redefined ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’, at least for my son.”
I am interested to know where our covergirl derives the strength from. Her unique brand of courage and reinvention. Here is an excerpt from a very special conversation we had a few weeks ago, over a video call:
Nandini Bhalla: Congratulations on your new book— I'm told it has already sold out! Tahira, what are the commandments that you live your life by?
Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: “In my book, 12 Commandments Of Being a Woman, each chapter refers to my life as a woman—that’s the lens I have used and that’s the only lens I know, to be honest. I feel that every woman should have her own set of commandments. I have 12, but others can have 10, 20, 50...I really don’t want to ‘box’ anyone of us.
The ones that truly define me are, ‘Small Towns Have Many Laws; It’s Hard to Break Them' and ‘Be a Rebel With a Cause.’ Just like we were discussing earlier, we live in a patriarchal setup, and most regulations are made by a particular gender, conducive to that gender. People aren’t used to women expressing themselves or being in a position of power, and if they do so, they are termed ‘rebellious’. I come from a small town [Chandigarh], and in a funny way, I have tried to relay certain incidents, where it’s okay if they call you a ‘rebel’. That’s on them. But it’s always good to stand up for what you believe in. When you read my book, you will know what commandments have worked for or against me. The ones that have worked are amazing, and the ones that haven’t, I’m grateful for them because they are what have led me to be where I am.”
NB: Why is there a need for more women to speak up, and tell their stories?
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