Chaitali B Roy - bridging the cultural divides between India and Kuwait

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Chaitali B Roy is a Kuwait based writer, journalist, broadcaster, podcaster and television presenter professionally associated with media for more than two decades. Chaitali’s work in Kuwaiti media is focused on the study of women, society, culture, heritage and history of Kuwait and the Gulf region. Passionate about history, heritage and civilization and the lessons they teach, she has steered her work to bridge cultural divides

Chaitali began her career with HMV Saregama, a leading music and entertainment company in India where she managed the broadcast team of the FM Radio division and supervised the creative execution of the channel. Since 2001, Chaitali is professionally linked with media in Kuwait both as Special Correspondent for Arab Times and as Producer/ Editor in the state-owned Radio Kuwait Foreign Service and later also as a television anchor. In October 2016, Chaitali released her first book titled 'Women of Kuwait: Turning Tides' based on her fifteen years of studying and researching the subject. 'Turning Tides' offers a close look at the lives, challenges and achievements of extraordinary Kuwaiti women, a field previously neglected and undocumented.

In 2015, Chaitali was awarded a Journalism Fellowship for her work on Kuwait and cultural journalism by East-West Center, an international research organization formed by the US Congress to foster better understanding between the United States, and countries with major Muslim population. She is also the first Indian woman to be awarded for strengthening cultural ties between Kuwait & India by the Indian Business and Professional Council, Kuwait. In 2019, Chaitali received the Middle East Women Leaders Award from the World Women Leadership Congress for her work in media and for bridging cultures.

At present, Chaitali is working on her second book titled ‘Daughters of Kuwait’ where she continues to document outstanding Kuwaiti women leadership in different fields. She is also working on a podcast which highlights the lives and achievements of extraordinary women in Kuwait.



Chaitali has a Masters in English Literature from Calcutta University and Postgraduate diplomas in Public Relations, Advertising Management and Journalism. Contact her on Instagram @chaitali_b_roy and on Facebook. Here, Chaitali speaks to Indians in Kuwait about her books, her journey with Kuwaiti women and media.

IIK- You are the only Indian women who ever thought of writing a book about the extraordinary women in Kuwait. What made you take such an attempt?

CBR - It all started with breaking stereotypes. I arrived in Kuwait with my share of stereotypes about its society, its women and a lot of other things. As my work progressed with Kuwaiti media, I realised I was wrong, and almost on all counts. I have worked with Arab Times and Radio Kuwait since 2001, and throughout this long association, I have done extensive work based on research and personal interviews on Kuwaiti history, culture, people, society, and Islamic art and culture. A lot of my work has focussed on Kuwaiti women. I used to do a show for Radio Kuwait titled ‘Kuwaitiyah’ which ran for almost five years. In this show, I featured extraordinary Kuwaiti women. I did the same for the Arab Times.
Then there was my work with Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah. Within six months of arriving in Kuwait, my editor asked me to cover a seminar on Islamic Art which was being hosted by the Dar. The year was 2001, and I was very excited to review this event which featured scholars from the biggest museums in the world. At that event, I heard Sheikha Hussa Al Sabah, Director General of Dar Al Athar speak, and she left me inspired. Such erudition, such knowledge delivered with quiet humility. I knew then that one could not generalise about a society or a community from a distance; there is so much more to a culture than what you hear or read in mainstream media. That meeting started me on a journey of discovery. I decided to focus my work on bridging cultural divides. And that, in turn, was the beginning of my work on Kuwaiti women for both print and broadcast media. I continued to do it for fourteen long years. The stories of these women are inspiring. Some of them have fought against great odds – both personal and professional to reach where they are today. These women have walked shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts while Kuwait evolved from a pearl diving, trading and fishing seaport to a developed economy.
Moreover, I also realised that there is not much documentation of Kuwaiti women. Sheikha Altaf Al Salem Al Sabah, Founder and Chairperson of Sadu House, who is also a mentor always emphasises on the importance of documentation. She says documentation is important for the future. One cannot plan for the future without understanding their past. I wanted these stories to break stereotypes about women from this part of the world. I wanted these stories to inspire future generations of Kuwaitis and I wanted these narratives to be used as research material by academia. And again, I also wanted as an Indian to offer my contribution to the understanding of a culture, with which my country has had a close association going back to antiquity. But the truth is no matter; however much I wanted to write a book, I needed a publisher. I did not want to self publish. I was clear about that. It would give me freedom no doubt, but I wanted the backing of a publishing house. As it happened my publisher, Mr Narendra Kumar, an important name in the world of publishing in India, pushed me to write my first book. I was lucky. Sirji read my articles and he decided that these stories need to be told, and that is how it happened.



IIK - What was your experience while dealing with these extraordinary Kuwaiti women?

CBR - I try and approach my work as a student. Every time I write a piece, I believe I am learning. It is the same with these women. Every story I hear is learning. Of course, each of them has their personal traits. Some of them are very forthcoming and direct. Some of them are reserved about their personal lives. What I had to do was earn their trust because that was imperative for them to share their stories with me. With my first book ‘Women of Kuwait: Turning Tides’, it was easier. I had known most of the women featured in that book for more than a decade. It has been more challenging for my second book. I had to get to know these women, and it is an ongoing process.

IIK - As an ex-pat, how did the Kuwaitis react to your idea of writing such a book.

CBR - They were delighted. As I said earlier, the women featured in my first book, knew me. So they were not taken by surprise when I approached them for the book. They were very happy and especially so when they heard that the book would be sold in India and elsewhere. After the book was released in India and Kuwait with elaborate launch events, and with the media response and the efforts I made to get the word across, they were grateful that a foreigner worked so hard to ensure their stories were heard/ read. It is the same with my second book. ‘Daughters of Kuwait’. With my first book already being sold in bookstores and online, I had already established my credibility. I found it easier to approach some stellar women who I did not know personally. They knew of my first book and were eager and happy to be featured in my next.



IIK - After you successfully released your book, you ventured into a podcast "At My Kuwaiti Table". What is it all about?

CBR - It all happened at a lunch hosted by Dr Lavinia Davenport, to which Krysia Derekci and I had been invited. Krysia is the producer of the podcast. So at our first meeting which was sometime in early 2017, Lavinia and I hit it off really well. We realised we shared many commonalities in the way we look at life etc. And then we met Krysia who had just relocated with her husband to Kuwait. And then there was my book, which both of them had come across. And it set Krysia thinking of a podcast centred around interesting women achievers who have made significant contributions to society here. I have my background in media, so does Lavinia, who has made documentary films in her previous postings, and she is always involved in creative projects and Krysia with her extensive background in BBC and British media. And we invited Anees Backer, a technical wizard with Radio Kuwait, to manage the technical side of the podcast. And so ‘At My Kuwaiti Table’ twice a month invites a woman mostly Kuwaiti to share her favourite food with us. The conversation that starts over food leads us to an interesting journey of sharing both her personal and professional story. Please hear us if you have the interest. We also do workshops centred around the podcast, where we speak of how it starts it off, how to manage the content etc. We are enjoying the experience.

IIK -How do you identify the Kuwaiti women who are extraordinary in their own field?

CBR - All three of us because of the work we do, or the positions we serve are more or less acquainted with the work that is happening in Kuwait. And we supplement and complement our knowledge in the sense that Lavinia or Krysia may come to know of someone who has been doing extraordinary work but not many people know about her, and then we do a background check to verify facts and take a call. And the same goes for me. It is a collective decision.
IIK - You are also the first Indian woman to receive the prestigious award from the Indian Business and Professional Council (IBPC) for strengthening ties between India and Kuwait. Can you brief about the Indo Kuwait ties from a women perspective?

CBR –Indian women like their male counterparts, make up a large part of the workforce here in Kuwait. But I have a personal observation to make here. Although Indian women in Kuwait are present in various sectors as professionals, few have gone beyond the confines of their work to establish relations with the larger society. There are exceptions but they are very few. People come to Kuwait to make a living I understand that, but I also believe that we have to come out of our frog in a well existence and try and understand the history and culture of our adopted home. I know of ex-pats who have lived here for forty years, and when they go back, they are none the wiser. I believe each person who leaves India and makes his/ her home elsewhere becomes an ambassador for India. And it is our responsibility to come out of the confines of our homes, our communities, and our nine to five jobs and build relationships, no matter however small with the host country. This is something that I have found lacking in Indian women in Kuwait. I really don’t think and I am very sad to say this that there is no women’s perspective as such to Indo-Kuwait ties. But yes, after the release of my first book, and because of a lot of hard work on my part, once the message reached certain quarters in India, I was invited to give lectures at colleges and universities including at the JNU. During these lectures and presentations, I could see the interest among the students. They asked me all sorts of questions that I answered to the best of my abilities, and I realised a conversation has started on a topic that was stereotyped and much neglected, and so today there is more awareness on the subject of women in this part of the world in India. Although it is just a drop in the ocean, I hope soon it will have a ripple effect.



IIK - What are your next plans?

CBR - To finish my next book ‘Daughter of Kuwait’, which will continue to document the story of Kuwaiti women, but this time the stories featured in this book are of leaders – leaders in public service, in business, in philanthropy, in art, in corporate governance etc. My first book was a curtain-raiser which featured an interesting mix of women some very famous, and some quiet ones. My second book will feature names that are well established. I hope to release ‘Daughters of Kuwait’ a title given by HE Michael Davenport, Ambassador of Great Britain and Maxine Milleuir, a dear friend by the end of this year. It has been taking time because I am bogged down by my usual work. Both my books are labours of love, and thus the gestation period is long.



Report:
IIK Staff Reporter
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