Meet Kiran Sunar. She’s a PhD student in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia and her work engages questions of gender, sexuality and the fantastical in South Asian Literature and Culture. She is also a writer of fiction. Kiran is one of the featured speakers at VIBC’s 13th Annual City of Bhangra Festival, Bhangra:We panel being held on Thursday, June 15 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University at 6:00pm.

The evening event features presentations as well as panel discussions on the theme of ‘Intersections’. This year’s panel includes a range of progressive women artists, academics, musicians, dancers and writers.  Like last year each participant will have a short amount of time to present their work.  Following a short break the event will delve into a moderated discussion.  Registration is FREE for Bhangra:We. 

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Tell us about the path you took to get to where you are today.What advice would you give young South Asian women wanting to do what you do?

Well, the path was long and delightfully circuitous. I found myself here because the stars aligned! Prior to doing this PhD, I was working in content management for a tech company and trying to finish my novel on the side. Somehow, through one of my amazing coworkers, I met a young Punjabi woman who was doing this PhD program, and within 6 months, my world changed completely. If I hadn’t had that job, I would not have found my way here. You just never know!

In terms of an academic life, I would say, take courses that interest you, take languages, take humanities courses (including gender and social justice studies and literature) because it’s important that as young South Asian women, we are able to write and articulate our experiences. Meet with professors and graduate students and other role models and ask them for guidance. Be involved in extracurricular activities like community organizing, and create the worlds you need to sustain yourself and the people who love you.

More cerebrally, shed the security blankets, and be emboldened by the possibilities of your life. As I tell my lovely parents, YOLO. It is continuous work to live bravely, to live in Superwomans’ bawse world where you get to self-employ, or Rupi Kaur’s vulnerable seeking for truth. Find elders and kin, in the flesh and in art.

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How important is it to you to make South Asian women feel empowered? What do you do to help South Asian women feel empowered?

I think we live in a world where we’re taught the scarcity model. There’s a belief that there’s a lack of resources, or that one needs to be the best, or the everything, or the only. And this is a complete misconception. We are made up of our interconnectednesses. (Is that even a word?) Our worlds are best when we are aware of where we come from (our lineages) and when we work with. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I try to be good and supportive to South Asian women, and to anyone vulnerable, and to check myself.

And I guess the other thing I do is I live freely, rather than by the parameters set out for me by others/ society/ what I have been told to think are modes of success. I have been extremely protective of my life. I think we need to do that: to protect our own lives unapologetically and help others to protect theirs. We can’t live according to the models of others.

I take care of my family. I try to care for other South Asian women and women of colour including my mom and my sister and my friends and colleagues. And I’m grateful that they do the same for me.

What is your personal motto or mission statement?

These days: “Let the heart break and break and break again until it stays open.”

Besides your work, what are you passionate about?

SO MANY THINGS! Fiction. Poetry. Languages. Performance art. FAMILY. Nature. LGBTQ and women’s rights.


Where can one find you on her days off?

In the outside! Skiing or camping or running. Tending to my spiritual wellness. Writing. Having tea with my mother.

How do you balance work, life, family?

I cannot even begin to strive for balance. I dream hard and I work hard and somewhere in the midst of (and sometimes, in spite of) all that, the living happens.

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