Gurmehar Kaur, Sheeba Chadha, Anindita Ghose and Tanya Maniktala talk about chasing dreams and accepting change

They dreamt, believed, and manifested.

Harper's Bazaar India

Four Bazaar India contributors pen exclusive essays about taking a leap of faith, inviting—and embracing—change, and the power of manifestation.

GURMEHAR KAUR, activist and author of 'Small Acts of Freedom' and 'The Young and the Restless: Youth and Politics in India' 

On Commencing a New Journey and Honing Her Craft

“At 17, I had to take a call—did I want to pursue competitive tennis or resume higher education? Since the age of nine, my sister and I trained daily to chase this ridiculous dream of representing India on an international platform. We aspired to assume the world’s no.1 spot in the sport. Compelled to take risks, we pulled out of the formal education system and joined a tennis academy. But when I found myself laid up with injuries, unable to play, and with the threat of board examinations looming large, I had to decide whether I could—emotionally, physically, and financially—afford to partake in the sport. Leaving tennis to pursue academics was hard, given that I had been out of the system for nearly a decade. The discipline and grit I had cultivated over the years became my aid in my pursuit of a new path. In hindsight, I appreciate having gone through the reality of making life-altering choices at such a young age...even though, back then, I would have loved for my mother or coach to have lifted the burden off my shoulders. Even today, when I am faced with obstacles, I reinstate the belief that whichever path I may choose to tread, I shall manage to pave my way and thrive. This sense of self-belief has been fundamental in my journey.

As an athlete—who may or may not make it to the top—I got a tonne of advice from my peers, coaches, and my mother about the financial reality of life. In these moments, we also faced the bitter truths about the dearth of institutional support for athletes competing in sports that were not as well sponsored as cricket. I reminded myself that it’s okay to stop chasing something that isn’t working out, and to quit trying to prove a point to the world. I realise I was unfairly hard on myself. A lesson learnt, which I now apply in my career as a writer. ‘Leave the paragraph that isn’t working. Move on to the next and come back to it later.’ As a young professional, I now know when a workplace is not conducive for me. As soon as I gauge that it’ll do me more harm than good, I reassess my situation and begin planning an exit.Quitting gets a bad name in our capitalist world, but really, it is not so bad.

My tryst with academics revived my love for books, and I couldn’t be more grateful. You experience a whole lot of life travelling around the world as an athlete—winning and losing, and doing the same thing all over again. I returned to academics with a curious mind; a hunger for answers that would explain my experiences and contextualise them. I began studying my circumstances with a critical lens, and that opened my mind to the many ways institutions continue to fail their citizens. Education took shape of activism, which got translated into the books I went on to write.

New beginnings are exciting and challenging; monotony is dull, and what is life if not a series of experiences different from the last? As a writer, if my life were constant, I would never be able to produce exciting work, because nothing about monotony is inspiring. Change feeds creativity. Do I hold a positive outlook towards the world? Yes. Do I believe in visualising my goals? Yes. But I do not believe in the ritualistic, almost cultish practice of manifestation. The law of attraction is not the answer to individual worries concerning money and employment, but better policies. This year, I do hope to be more creative and brave when it comes to my work. I resolve to read more non-fiction books and be more sincere towards the daily practice of my craft. It is easy to get carried away in the tide of life with day jobs. One must step back and take a moment for themselves and their goals, every once in a while.”


On Courage and Grit, and Taking the Road Less Travelled

“Relocating from Delhi to Mumbai was nothing short of impulsive—a decision that came with a caveat: ‘I’ll try for one month. If work happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then I return to the capital,’ I told myself. Having received an adequate amount of work within my first month in the city sealed my resolve to stay on. This marked the beginning of the end of a kind of life, a rhythm, and a familiarity that I had always known. Despite having visited the city of dreams fairly often during my theatre days, I had never lived in Mumbai... The decision to close a chapter and set afoot a new journey was daunting.

A great deal of apprehension preceded the big move—concerns pertaining to the ‘how’ and the ‘what’—and yet, there wasn’t a heavy weight that I lugged do-or-die, beall-and-end-all. If one doesn’t take a leap of faith, then you shall stay put and make peace with it. Alternatively, if you seek movement, it must begin with you.

Looking back, I am proud of that woman. I appreciate her openness, and her ability to tackle matters with sincerity and ease. My instincts stood me in good stead—yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The film industry is replete with insecurity and uncertainty; the trick is to not make it a focal point. While letting go of the fear of the unknown is non-viable, one must work with the unknown to pave the way for a new beginning. The future is not in our hands, but the endeavour to reach new heights is. Being somebody who gets easily lulled into my comfort zone, these radical choices took me by surprise.

Change is the only constant, and we don’t have a choice but to embrace it. As the adage goes, ‘All good—and perhaps, bad—things come to an end.’ We must reposition and ask ourselves, ‘Why must endings invariably be bittersweet?’ Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, and it could clear the way for something wonderful. Set about with eagerness, hope, and positivity, rather than resisting the inevitable...because, doing so will lead to a ripple effect of unhealthy consequences.”

ANINDITA GHOSE, Author of 'The Illuminated' 

On Believing in Herself and Paving Her Own Path

“In October 2020, I quit my full time journalism career to focus solely on fiction writing. I have a master’s degree in journalism; I’ve been a journalist for 15 years now, and it’s not a path I ever imagined veering away from... My career is very important to me, so this was a monumental decision to make. That said, it might be too simplistic to call it bittersweet. 

Many told me I was making a big mistake, but I felt I would never know if I never tried. Besides, you need to make your own mistakes, isn’t it? No one else’s experiences will ever be the same as yours. Now, after two and a half years, I’m rethinking this decision. But I don’t regret taking the leap of faith to figure this out empirically.

Believe it or not, the world is full of people giving unwarranted advice...While I cannot recall exactly now, I think I had more people telling me it wasn’t a good idea. Remember to not make decisions based on imagined outcomes that are beyond your control; make a decision that makes you happy, that makes you feel authentic.

Part of what helped me was what I was moving from, and moving to. Journalism is about facts and control—it is about black and white. Whereas fiction encourages you to inhabit the grey spaces. It is so much about relinquishing control. Because, the person you are now is not the person you were two months or two years ago, and not the person you will be two decades later either.

We change, and it’s important to not be so stubborn that we don’t adapt our dreams and goals as this change takes place."


On Charting Her Own Course in the Face of the Unknown

“My graduation heralded a time of instability and self-doubt. My siblings and friends were sprinkled across continents, and yet, there I was, as if stuck in time—clutching onto the past and pleased with the respite those memories offered. Then on, I began applying to universities was my way of holding on when everything within me felt like it would fall apart.

Shortly after, an acquaintance from my theatre circuit asked me to come in for an audition. I was afraid... Was I setting myself up for failure? Inhibitions aside, I plucked up the courage to try for the very last time. And there I was, all set and packed, when Indian American filmmaker Mira Nair rang up to tell me that I was Lata Mehra for Netflix’s A Suitable Boy ([2020). I was split between two choices—do I hold onto the past or hope for an uncertain, albeit exciting, new future? I can safely say that I made the correct choice.

I was overwhelmed with emotion...anger, frustration, self-doubt, and a lot more hurting. But, needless to say, it was a time of learning—of learning the virtue of patience, how to rely on oneself, as well as allow others to lend a hand. My circumstance taught me vulnerability, and how holding on too tight can end up wounding you. We often get in our own way; we must allow life to take its course, que será, será.

In my most tumultuous phase, I was surrounded by people who were supportive, to say the least. No pressure to be ready with the right answer, or any answer at all...just heaps of unconditional love. They would advice me to follow my heart...‘Things may not always be easy, but you have to learn to roll with the punches. Believe, believe, and keep on believing in yourself,’ they’d reiterate

In hindsight, I wish I’d warned my younger self that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. And in the same breath, remind myself that everybody charts their own path in the journey of life. In this period of trepidation, when everything seems so uncertain, one is quick to accept someone else’s dreams as your own, because yours seem too distant to reach. In such a moment, stick to your guns, because life has so much to offer, more than you can even imagine...only if you believe.

Setting myself free from the past was tough, but once you set aside the apprehension, you fill up with the hope of endless possibilities and nothing seems out of reach. You just need to be brave and step up to all that the universe has to offer—which, more often than not, lies outside our comfort zone.

Shying away from uncertainty breeds a sense of powerlessness, where one never knows just how things might turn out. Once you become greater than your fears, you hold the power and potential to arrive at a wonderful state—where the possibilities are endless and no dream is too big or too distant.

The world is within your grasp, with this untapped potential you are now willing to unsheathe. Only after an end does a new beginning commence...Though scary, this too shall pass. And who knows where the road might lead you? The power of manifestation lies deep within, in tandem with the universe, of course. My hope for this year, just like any other, is that it be better than the last. I resolve to not let myself flow away with the flow of others, to not allow external factors to dictate my inner state, and to do without the motivation of the ‘reward’. Fall in love with the process, and everything else will fall into place.”