The Gnarly x Nikita Gill event was transformative and (not to be dramatic) life changing. The crowd grew hushed as the lights dimmed down; the strumming of a sitar could be heard playing softly over the speakers. We were sat in a room with brown women, hearing messages of healing written for brown women, by brown women, validating our experiences of growing up with stigma, shame, and multicultural confusion.
The night began with star television presenter and author Anita Rani, who read an extract from her new book, ‘The Right Sort of Girl’. She recounted a comically horrific (and all too real) episode of starting her first period with no knowledge of what it was, how to deal with it, and…how to clean stained underwear. The hilarious anecdote raised a more serious point about the stigma and shame our communities place on young girls who are going through puberty; whether it is in regards to periods, body hair, or growth spurts.
Anoushka Shankar followed with an incredible spoken word performance that listed the rigid and unattainable expectations placed on women by men, specifically their husbands. Accompanied by a traditional Indian classical beat, Shankar listed sentiments that struck a nerve: “Be soft like water”, “Be the Earth, provide for the children I give you”.
Next, Anjana Vasan took to the stage to serenade the audience, literally, with songs from her EP, ‘Too Dark for Country’. The song “Outsider Blues” was bittersweet; an ode to the city she loves so much but also one that took time to love her back. In her words: “London, when I first moved, was like a new pair of shoes. You’re so excited to wear them out but you then realise they’ve given you blisters.”
Finally, Nikita and Gnarly Music took to the stage in a performance that can only be called triumphant. Gill’s poetry detailed the origin stories of three Hindu goddesses—Sita, Parvati, and Kali- relating their struggles eons ago, to the issues we face as women today. But it was so much more than poetry. Gill, to the bold beats of the backing track, rewrites classical history, defies patriarchal tradition, and repositions women as the central characters in the stories we were all taught as children.
“You know about the Ramayan, but let me tell you about the Sitayan”, she declared in the first segment.
The women in Nikita’s poetry are not only goddesses. They are enigmas, forces of change, gritty, burdened with sacrifice, survivors, and earth-shakers. They are not pretty, “they do not have to be”, yet there is a beauty in their fight for morality, justice, and true love. She recounts the story of the princess Sati, who after facing humiliation at the hands of her father, unleashes her inner divinity and sets fire to her kingdom. This story serves to remind us that even after humiliation, trauma, and injustice, our broken pieces represent our self respect and bravery. The women in these epics embody pure strength, unabashed courage, and an ethereal sense of self. The music that accompanied the spoken performance reflected the stories themselves, weaving and beating on, adding a heightened sensory level that brought some in the audience to tears.
The show was immersive, and through Gill’s incredible storytelling, we were transported to a time where princesses ruled queendoms and fell in love with gods. Goddesses went to war fuelled by uncontrollable rage and created chaos, as universes were destroyed and rebuilt again.
We left the event feeling different, in a way that can only be described as transformative. We felt seen, we felt validated, and most importantly, empowered by the sentiment of sisterhood—one Nikita Gill has been championing ever since she started writing poetry. Gill, alongside Gnarly Music and each performer, convinced us of our power, our beauty, and our unwavering strength. And during that evening that felt all-too-brief, we all wholeheartedly believed her.
We were gifted tickets to this event but were under no obligation to publish a review. All thoughts and opinions in this review are those of the writer and are not influenced by the receipt of gifted tickets.
Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the Editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s ‘Arts and Culture’ publication. She explores what "multi-cultural identity" looks like, in London and beyond, within her writing. She is the author of the exclusive digital column "Ketki & The City", where she explores life at the intersection of Gen Z and diaspora.