Urvashi


Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?

My dad was in the merchant Navy so we'd spend 4-5 months of the year sailing. Once we were in South America for 4 months, on the beach every day. I looked like a burnt monkey.
Back on land, we lived in NOIDA. I didn't fit in at my school and was bullied a lot. My life on board was too different for anyone to understand. Especially fourth graders. They couldn't believe that I'd been sailing for months. So I felt quite distant from my classmates. But I didn't care about having friends; I just wanted to be mama and papa's girl and sail around the world with them.

What was your childhood like? 
It was wonderful. I had imaginary friends. My dad would make me superhero outfits out of old flags. In the engine room I learnt how to weld. I would make jewellery for myself. We learnt how to Rollerblade on the ship! It was so easy - we'd just move with the rhythm of the ship.
I had a very special childhood.


What did you do after school?
I studied Fine Art in London. I was very ambitious. I interned with Alexander McQueen. I'd paint on their dresses. I even worked with the Saatchi Gallery - giving tours, talks and workshops. I worked non stop in London. It was mad, it was amazing.
A couple of days after my graduation my brother called me to tell me my mum had Cancer. Fourth Stage. I moved back home to Delhi to look after her while my dad was away on the ship. When my dad came home, I'd run away. I just wanted to be somewhere beautiful where I thought I could heal. I lived in the Andamans, Goa, Sri Lanka. But I didn't find happiness anywhere. Because healing happens inside, not on the outside.

That must've been tough. 
Chemotherapy can make a person go crazy. I missed my mum so much. Ultimately, she decided to stop chemotherapy completely and try alternative medicine instead. We moved to the hills and with the help of things like cannabis oil, cow urine etc. my mother lived a happy life for 4 years. 
I was in limbo for a couple of years. When my dad retired I moved to Bombay. I was the happiest there - more than any other beach I'd been to. That stint ended abruptly when my mum left us earlier this year. But now, with my mothers blessings, things will start off again for me. 

What are your inspirations?
I'm completely inspired by the ocean. Being in the middle of the ocean is like being on another planet. My dad was also very interested in astronomy and when I was younger we'd look at the stars together. Due to all these influences, my paintings end up looking a bit sci-fi. 

What does the ocean mean to you.
The ocean means everything to me. She has fed me. She has taken care of me. She has healed me. The ocean intoxicates me. It makes me cry. It makes me dance for joy. 

What's your spirit animal?
I'm a mermaid. My brother once told me that if I put salt in my bath and sit in it I would get a tail and gills. So I would sit in the bath for hours and then check the mirror, hopefully, for my tail to pop. Spiritually, though, I'm a black panther. 

You spend a lot of time and energy looking after animals. How did that start?
I rescued a donkey when I was 7. I've been doing this my whole life. Since animals can't express themselves, I feel like it's my duty to protect them. It's very hard to live a world in which animals are viewed as objects. But you just have to power through and do what you can. My mum loved animals - she rescued the first dog. And before you knew it, we had a bunch of dogs living with us.

Is it tough to be a animal crusader?
YES. So tough. It sucks. People are constantly telling you that you should be helping people instead. Or they make fun of you for being a vegetarian. 

Were you always so empathetic/sensitive?
Unfortunately yes. It's a curse. My life would be so much easier if I did not give a fuck. 

You're also an environmentalist. You try not to generate any landfill waste. How do you do that?
I won't call myself an environmentalist - that's quite a fancy word. But I absolutely love my Mother Earth and to see her being trashed hurts me more than anything. I despise all the plastic floating around in the ocean. So I try to do my bit. I avoid plastic as much as I can. Recycle and reuse. And overall, I just own fewer things. Oh, I brush my teeth with coconut oil - it's amazing. 

What is feminism to you?
Feminism is giving a woman her basic rights. We're not asking for more, we're asking for equal. Half the population got independence in 1947, but the other half of us are still waiting for it. 

How important is it for women to support one another?
Before country, before faith, we are women. We have to stick together. We have to unite and uplift the consciousness of this Earth. 

What is strength to you?
When you look after yourself in a great amount of stress or sadness, without passing it on to other people, that's strength. Not by pushing your feelings down and being stoic on the surface. But by facing your feelings. And moving forward. 

Strongest woman you know.
Hands down my mother. She was the strongest women I've ever known. She died gloriously in the hills and was cremated in a valley, surrounded by rainbows. 

All images by Tenzin Lhagyal.

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