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Debunking One Myth at a Time

2 years ago / by Melanie Fourie
Niki Aggarwal, the founder of media project Kahaani (image courtesy of Niki Aggarwal)

A podcast is proving age-old myths of South Asian history wrong, and it’s about to present its season finale! The last seasonal episode of Kahaani’s worldwide blockbuster podcast, “Misrepresented,” will be released on Thursday, February 24. Audiences will learn about the bloodshed, politics, and misinformation that led to the predominance of chai tea in South Asian culture here.

As a symbol of South Asian pride, chai is sure to be a big deal in this narrative. It’s often in the news because of its exploitation as a commercial symbol of South Asian culture. However, this episode shows that chai only became a part of South Asian society less than a century ago! That said, the path to this tea dates back further than that.  The audience will learn about the British East India Company’s centuries-long battle for control of tea, which included drug battles and enslavement. Says Niki Aggarwal, the podcast’s host and founder of Kahaani, the hosting platform, “The story of chai is akin to the story of the mouse who was given a cookie. In this case, the mouse was the British East India Company, and the cookie was slave-produced sugar from the Caribbean.”

All About Niki

Aggarwal was director of marketing at Shape Security, building the company’s fortunes, before her days at Kahaani. But she was also into writing. She’s particularly pleased with a story she wrote that was featured on BBC News and in other media outlets. Niki graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in international studies and South Asian culture.

The Inception of Kahaani

The idea for Kahaani came about in 2017 when Aggarwal visited Mumbai. She was mesmerized by the ancestral gems she discovered there, and wanted to pursue something to increase exposure to South Asian history. After spending a week attending local art exhibits, eating South Asian cuisine, and exploring the historical Fort zone, she discovered the Ellora caves.

Aggarwal had never seen these caves, and imagined them to be a lot like the salt mines she had seen in Austria as a child.

“Ellora was a whole village of monuments, temples, and buildings,” she said. It was also chiseled completely out of rock. As a child Aggarwal was also concerned when she learned in school that the only recorded momentous period for India dated back four millennia. This childhood experience and the ancestral discoveries she made in Mumbai as an adult led to her setting up Kahaani.

The Evolution of a Podcast

Kahaani, which premiered in November 2021, employs South Asians. The historical nonfiction podcast has presented discussions about South Asia’s significance. This independently produced initiative was recently placed in Apple Podcast’s rankings for history in countries like Singapore, India, Pakistan, and Kenya. Its highest ranking is in Pakistan, where it came fourth.

Thus far, “Misrepresented” has streamed podcasts, which are essentially 25-minute episodes, on The Dunbar Incident and The Last Hindu Empire. They’ve also featured The Myth of the Pink City in December 2021. This renowned all-pink Jaipur attracts hordes of visitors. However, there are certain myths that have over the years, been seen as fact in this beautiful city. The podcast debunks those stories.

The podcast has also received acclamation from people like Sanjena Sathian, the writer of “Gold Diggers,” as well as New York Times writer Roshani Chokshi, who penned “Aru Shah and The End of Time.”

Paving the Way Forward with Education

Kahaani is actively engaging with educators to introduce the podcast to schools. There are teacher’s guides accompanying every episode. These can be utilized as an additional curriculum at high schools. Educators are set to introduce this as a trial this year.

If podcasts are your thing, check out our guide on 10 Podcasts for Teens from our SEEMA Magazine!