Of sisterhood, sacred spaces & mindful living – a conversation with Aanchal & Aashna Malhotra
Sisters and housemates, Aanchal and Aashna Malhotra embody the phrase ‘kindred spirits’ perfectly. Aanchal is a celebrated author and oral historian and Aashna has a thriving career in fintech. But despite their different temperaments and personalities, they choose to be each other’s support systems. We talk about their work/life, style, inimitable connection, and more.
1. Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Aanchal is an oral historian and writer, who works on the 1947 Partition and related topics. She has authored two critically acclaimed books – Remnants of a Separation (published internationally as Remnants of Partition) and In the Language of Remembering, which together examine the long-term, multi-generational, cross-border legacy of Partition through conversations with Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. Her latest work is a debut novel about perfume and war called The Book of Everlasting Things.
Aashna has a Master's in Global Affairs from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, and is a Young India Fellow (2016). She is the Brand and Communications Manager for the fintech start-up, CreditEnable. In her free time, Aashna enjoys binge-listening to true crime and current affairs podcasts, indulging in skincare and self-care, and watching K-dramas.
Both sisters decompress by spending time with their Beagle-Cocker Spaniels, Juno and Keats.
2. How would you define your relationship growing up and how has it evolved?
[Aashna]: Growing up, Aanchal and I attended the same school, and the three of us (we also have a younger brother) shared a room. So, it seemed like we couldn’t get a break from one another. Our relationship changed once Aanchal moved to Toronto to attend university, and then I followed four years later. Being away from one another, we had the space to explore our likes and dislikes and develop into our own people, and the distance truly gave us a reason to want to spend time with one another.
While in Canada, knowing that my sister was in the same time zone and only a phone call, bus, or train ride away was always a comfort. We kept in touch every day. Living on our own allowed us to explore our personalities and likes and become strong-willed women in our own right. We know when and how to support one another and what the other needs without it being said.
Aanchal is wearing Mirage Organza Saree
3. Are you each other’s kindred spirits? What are the qualities you identify with most in each other?
Yes, we are definitely each other’s kindred spirits. Though we’re both very different in temperament and personality, we share a lot of traits and quirks and have the same dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Together, we are hilarious!
[Aashna]: I am in awe of the endless empathy and compassion with which Aanchal approaches life, her work, and the people she works with. What she does, and her area of expertise, are not easy things – especially not for a young South Asian woman in a field dominated by older men. But she deals with the barriers, negativity, and people questioning her prowess with such grace and control.
[Aanchal]: To see Aashna grow into such a confident and determined person has been a true joy. She has lived and worked in so many different places around the world – Canada, Turkey, the Bahamas, South Africa, Ghana, and Delhi – and a trait I have both witnessed and hopefully imbibed from her is to approach every place, its culture, and people with openness and respect. As someone who is averse to confrontation, I often turn to her for help with the most diplomatic solutions.
4. You live together and share a space that’s sacred to you. What’s that like? Does it insulate you from the world or prepare you for it?
Living with each other is like having the perfect roommate. Both of us are very similar in our living and cleaning habits, and we share the same aesthetic in design and art, so it works out well. Our rooms are our sacred spaces – done up to our taste and likes, even fragrances! Neither of us infringes on that space. More often than not, we tend to congregate in the kitchen while we do chores or catch up over a cup of coffee or something cold. Sitting on the countertop or the step stool exchanging memes, updates, and gossiping together is our love language!
[Aashna]: Somehow, the apartment does both, prepare us for the world and insulate us from it – depending on what we need in the moment. I moved back home right before the pandemic, and we were lucky enough to have all the renovation work done before the first lockdown. The apartment, and our entire house, did become a sort of safe space for us like I imagine homes across the country become for many families. We don’t have a television in our apartment, and though we would keep getting constant updates on our cell phones, having the ability to disconnect and enjoy our serene and soothing space has made us all the more thankful for it.
Aashna is wearing Storyteller Shirred Dress
5. You have much in common when it comes to living mindfully and making conscious fashion choices. What makes you relate to us the most?
Mindful and conscious living manifests itself the most in the way we’ve done up our apartment and the clothing and jewellery we wear. Almost all the pieces of furniture in our apartment are second-hand or made from repurposed materials. We also always prefer to employ local craftsmen to make them for us.
The same goes for our clothing. As Indians, we spend a lot on formal ethnic clothes and jewellery. Instead of trying to keep up with changing trends and going for big designer labels, we prefer to go through old suits and saris our grandmothers and mother own and repurpose those to fit our tastes. And of course, we go to our local designer-cum-tailor extraordinaire, Javed Ji, who makes beautiful modern outfits for us from these family heirlooms. We also practice this with the jewellery we own. Most of what we own are pieces passed down to us or repurposed out of old pieces.
We love Buna Studio’s sustainable and authentically green approach to fashion and its commitment to keeping local crafts and craftsmanship alive. In doing so, they are encouraging their customers to think of fashion in a more meaningful and mindful way, and proving to the fashion industry that fashion does not always have to be driven by mass production and waste.
6. What’s fashion to you? Your thoughts on personal style.
Fashion to us is the ability to be true to yourself externally, just as you are internally; comfortably and sustainably. Your personal style should be a reflection of you, not the trends around you. Sure, your style will be influenced by what’s happening around you and what others are wearing but each of us has the unique ability to put outfits together that truly reflect our personality.
We both have similar tastes in fashion, but we have a very different way of styling our clothes and it’s always fun to see how the final look always represents our individual personalities so well.
7. Last but not least, what about Buna Studio and our clothing do you like the most?
We love that Buna Studio has a clear and defined vision, aesthetic, and identity. At a time when fast fashion is steering the fashion industry, it is refreshing to see a studio that has such timelessness to its clothing. You look can identify a Buna Studio piece from afar because of your signature silhouettes and top-tier materials. For us, the clothing is a personification of India blending with 21st-century tastes; putting a modern yet minimalist twist on traditional techniques and materials.
Journal curated by Gariyashi Bhuyan
Photography by Suraj Nongmaithem