By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
An Interview with Oprah Winfrey Network’s First Female South Asian Ambassador, Malika Garrett
When I read about Malika Garrett on OWN’s channels, I was immediately intrigued. I was inspired to learn how Oprah Winfrey changed this South Asian mom’s life. An Indian Bengali artist, Malika Garrett, emigrated to the US to study art as a college student. Over the years, this masalamomma has taken her experience in business and her passion for art to make a difference in her community, raising thousands of dollars for charity.
Now an OWN Ambassador, Malika, shares with us her journey through spirituality, finding passion and how finding the OWN community and her passion for art has changed her journey through motherhood.
How did you first develop your interest in painting?
My love of art started as far back as I can remember. We are a family of artists and I was always around Art. I was taught to appreciate it from a very early age and I always loved drawing. As early as I can remember I was drawing something and looking for a paper and pencil everywhere I went.
I was one of those kids that loved receiving pencils, erasers, crayons and markers as gifts! I won the class Art prize every year in my school in Kolkata. I knew I would be painting forever. Winning the art prize every year in school also gave me the confidence to apply for an art scholarship in America and in 1985 I was given a full ride to a small women’s college in Macon GA.
How did you work in art provide opportunities you never anticipated?
I guess Art has always made me have an open mind thus gave me the opportunities to meet great people! Very early in my life as a child art allowed me to meet Mother Teresa and her Nuns at Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata- an experience I will never forget. As time has gone by I have met famous people who have also become good friends and many ordinary everyday folks and art collectors who now I call dear friends.
My interactions online now via social media have also blossomed into real-world experiences. As a result of my conversations online, For example I have had the opportunity to partner and donate my art for charity for Akshaya Patra Foundation with Dr. Deepak Chopra, For Khushi with Shashi Tharoor and Robin Raina.
I do believe every human holds their destiny in their own hands -You’re only as limited as your creativity and ambition … you’ve got to create your own connections and Art has allowed me to do all of that and more! Doors continue to open everywhere, most I don’t expect, but I have learned to surrender it. When you surrender, wonderful things happen. My paintings have followed me through a lot of transitions a lot of good times and a lot of pain. I’m not the person I was, and hope I keep growing artistically and personally but learning from ever new experience good and bad, and enjoying every opportunity that is coming my way.
How did you get on the radar of the OWN network and Ms. Winfrey?
Via Twitter and my personal story! I will never forget the day Oprah sent me a Instagram devoted to me, that was the beginning of a great friendship- we are “chai” buddies too. We share a love for masala chai!
What are some of the highlights of your experience being an OWN ambassador?
Becoming an OWN Ambassador and meeting so many wonderful people around the world who have become an extended family. I can confidently say we are all a very close group of really good friends who can call on each other at anytime! And of course meeting Oprah, the most wonderful Devon Franklin, Dr. Deepak Chopra and so many others in person.
What are your duties as an OWN Ambassador?
There are no real duties- we are a group of like-minded individuals who have the same dream- to live a better life! The role of an OWN Ambassador and an OWNER is to support OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), and have a vision “to live your best life.
As an OWN Ambassador we participate either via Facebook, or Twitter. Our group or family as we like to call it hosts Twitter Parties, Tweet Up’s, Book Club/Tweet Club. We get to Interact with like-minded fellow Ambassadors. It’s a Positive Support system that lifts you up. We are a Community having Informative conversations everyday and spreading joy and love. Hope you and the masalamommma readers will join us too?
Why do you think Oprah is a role model to our community?
Oprah gives herself selflessly everyday; she doesn’t expect anything in return. Her mission and ultimate goal is to see us improve our life. Her life has not always been a bed of roses and we can all learn from her. In our crazy and hectic world, she encourages us to remember our spirit; she is a role model for all of us; of all backgrounds, creeds and religions. Oprah like many of us is a survivor and comes from adverse situations and backgrounds but her drive and struggle to become more than where you came from should be the driving force for all of us. Anyone can become someone and prosper we should all strive to walk her walk and change our lives and someone else’s lives every day.
What have you learned about yourself since your involvement with OWN?
I have learned so much and as another OWN viewer stated recently to Oprah “it makes me feel the way I want to feel the way I wish to feel and long to feel!” One lesson that resonates most with me is what Oprah has said over and over again- “Life happens not to me but for me”- That changed my life! I have learned Self Acceptance after I started doubting myself after tragedy hit us a few years ago. She reminds me every day that we are all human and not to let the past define us. I have learned to stop being so hard on myself!
Via Super Soul Sunday, Lifeclass and Masterclass I learn something new every day- but most of all it reminds me that I am not alone. And that it is ok to be vulnerable. I strive to learn from OWN everyday so that I can do better. Every day I say I am happy, I am successful and I am SO GRATEFUL. OWN enhances my spirit – gives me power- each day and continues to help me get back up and gives me a new breath of life!
What role do you give spirituality in your home as a mom?
Spirituality exists but silently in our home as it’s an emotion that soothes us and makes us stronger. As a family we have survived some very dark times and our faith & spirituality has brought us out safe and sound but most importantly kept us together. Our Household happily coexists with two religions which in most cases can be one of the greatest challenges in a biracial household as ours.
When two religions are present in a single family, one often tends to take precedence. In my family we choose to be spiritual and I have always tried to teach both my children about Hinduism through festivals, pujas, food, and fables but also keep an open mind to all other religions and spiritual practices. We attend both the Hindu temple and the Episcopal Church.
For example- Pertinent questions about God and why they receive a fruit (Prasad) in a temple and not in a church are addressed. My husband and I don’t push anything. Our job is to present the information and let them process it; I spent my early life in India in a very liberal Hindu home attending Christian schools in Calcutta, having close friends from all religious and spiritual backgrounds, so I have never had to get into a theological tug-of-war.
My life has taught me to teach my children to be open-minded! I tell them every day if the spirit moves you to goodness that is wonderful. Be a part of a community be of help to someone else – that’s what should be most important in your life- rest will happen on its OWN J!!
What do you think holds South Asian women back when it comes to pursuing their goals/dreams?
This question comes at a very apt time- An Indian just became Miss America!! So Yes!! I believe we have changed and we are far stronger and open to pursuing our goals and dreams today. Fortunately, I come from a very strong lineage of women- who were game changers in their generation, for me there was no option but to have goals and dream big! So I know it can be done! For us as South Asians I feel the cultural and conservative backgrounds can be a block – We need to see the power we have and as South Asian Mothers I believe we should use our educational role and power in the family to assertively nurture gender equality- we seem to fall back on this one basic category! I would say it all starts at home- we can do anything and we should feel empowered to help ourselves and our families!The world is a blank canvas- we can create what we want- we just have to take that first step!
What role does twitter play in your life as a mom, woman, and person?
A fun role- it allows me as a person to interact and expand my network and also re connect with my friends and family all around the world! Twitter allows me to connect with home/India in real-time! I am a people person so I love the ability to connect and make friends.
As a mom it’s the ability to keep up with my kids and also keep tabs on them online- I joined Twitter initially to keep up with my son and laughed at the idea- as I did not understand its power soon it became a little competition between my son and I and then before long I was a twitterholic! Now I get my news via twitter as well.
For more on Malika’s amazing journey you can follow her on: www.malikagarrett.com
On Twitter- @MalikaGhosh
On Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/#!/MalikaGhoshGarrett
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