Annika Sharma and Nehal Tenany are the co-hosts of The Woke Desi podcast, a show that gives the South Asian community a platform for connection, community, and storytelling. Annika and Nehal have weekly conversations covering a wide range of topics from lifestyle tips to deconstructing cultural stigmas. Their insight and unique perspectives have landed them a feature in The Times of India, the 9th highest circulated publication in the world. Along with incredible guest interviews, Annika and Nehal give a voice to the South Asian community, empowering them to share their stories and perspectives with the world.
Read more from Annika Sharma and Nehal Tenany below and listen to The Woke Desi here (leave a review, too!):
Annika Sharma (AS) and Nehal Tenany (NT)
Tell us what your podcast is about in 3 sentences or less!
The Woke Desi is a groundbreaking podcast that shines a light on South Asian social issues in a conversational format hosted by two women. From taboo topics to interviews with influential people in various industries (such as actress Richa Moorjani, influencer Diipa Khosla, UK honor-based violence advocate Jasvinder Sanghera, gender equality activist Rajvinder Khaira of the Pink Ladoo Project, and more), TWD aims to tackle stigmatized and taboo topics with the goal of creating a community full of warmth, learning, advocacy, and support surrounding the subjects only whispered about until now, and to destroy the element of shame. We are currently one of the largest South Asian podcasts in the world!
NYC (AS) and San Francisco (NT) – we’re a bicoastal podcast!
AS: State College, PA – and Hyderabad, India
NT: Dublin, CA – and Rajasthan, India
What’s a quote or piece of advice that you try to live by?
AS: “We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated by purpose.” – Bob Goff
NT: If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working on it.
AS: Connecting with people and empathizing!
NT: Staying true to myself no matter what!
One thing on your bucket list:
AS: Living in Europe and having one of my books become a bestseller.
NT: Eating my way through Italy.
AS: “Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes.
NT: “Level Up” by Ciara
Last text message you sent:
AS: “Who the hell knows.”
NT: “NO, Not the Taco Bell Tostada!”
What was your first job?
NT: Sales Operations Intern
Any unusual hobbies?
AS: Researching the weirdest things to involve in plot lines of my next book! The NSA probably has me on a watchlist at this point.
NT: Binge-watching trash reality TV one second and then switching to cold cases and murders the next.
Biggest Pet Peeve
AS: When people are overbearingly Type-A!
NS: People who are late/tardy.
What inspired you to start your podcast?
Both: Two first-generation immigrant children wanted to create a safe space for South Asians to talk about topics that were hard to talk about when growing up in Indian households. We wanted to create a place that was full of learning, growth, warmth, advocacy and laughter for a community that has often lacked it when we needed it most, especially around issues like sexuality, reproductive health, LGBTQ issues, identity, mental health, honor-based violence, infertility, and so many others.
Tell us more about your work/life outside of your podcast.
AS: I’m a Communications Project Manager at Weill Cornell Medicine by day, and an agented and published contemporary fiction author and podcaster by night! I have two Masters in Education and Public Health, but creative connections were always my jam–my day job lets me bring those together, and my night jobs let my creativity soar! My career path has been all over the place, and totally shaped by my confidence in myself–one grew into the path I was meant to take as the other grew. Someday, I’ll be a best-selling author and podcaster…at least that’s the hope.
NT: I’m a San Francisco gal who works at a typical Silicon Valley tech company for my 9 to 5 as a Digital Marketing Manager. After-hours, I’m a podcaster for The Woke Desi and a lifestyle and travel blogger for NehalTenany.com. My career and passion tie hand in hand when it comes to branding, content creation, social media and analytics, but the two industries are clearly very different. The dream? To one day become a full-time blogger & podcaster!
What is your show’s USP?
NT: There has yet to be a South Asian podcast that focuses on ALL of the social justice issues we talk about on The Woke Desi podcast, within a South Asian context. Most podcasts are in specific niches like dating, mental health, sex, but TWD covers it all by partnering with thought-provoking guests and therapists.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced with your podcast?
AS: We had to start from scratch. We didn’t know anyone who’d done this, or taken on South Asian culture quite this way, using this medium, and we had such big dreams to aspire to–text messages are always flying, emails are constantly being blasted to each other, and midnight ideas are totally a thing with us! We’re flying by the seat of our pants, pulling from our knowledge base and clawing our way to success and that’s been such a great ride to be a part of.
NT: You can’t please everyone BUT we can hold ourselves accountable if we do screw up. A personal example for me was when we did an episode around Anti-Blackness in the South Asian community back in October and I had mentioned in the episode, “I think it’s okay to say the n-word in songs.” After educating myself during the month of June and reading up on the Black Lives Matter movement, I retracted my statement. I held myself accountable for saying that in an episode and openly discussed it in speaking panels and socials, basically saying, “Okay, I messed up. We shouldn’t be saying this word AT ALL. Thanks everyone for understanding and letting me grow.” The response was phenomenal. People loved that I discussed the change so openly.
AS: We’ve gotten a lot of commentary on our willingness to admit when we’ve had to rethink things or when we’ve been challenged. Our podcast literally relies on being aware, intelligent and critically-thinking and that means we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
What was one of your favorite episodes you’ve ever done? Why does it stand out?
NT: My favorite episode changes daily because all of our guests are so powerful and really shed light on important issues. My favorite episode today? Dishonorable Violence ft. Jasvinder Sanghera, CBE. This episode was around honor-based violence, which had a few different folds – her personal heart-breaking story, her charity, how this is still very prevalent today in the South Asian community, honor killings, gender inequality and so much more.
AS: Ohhh, that was a good one! One of mine was Indo-Caribbean identity. South Asians often forget that we were not only colonized, but that poorer citizens were kidnapped or sold into indentured servitude in the Caribbean. There is an entire population in the Caribbean that identifies as South Asian but have lost their family histories–literally, where they came from and their own names–and clung to what they’ve passed on through whispered stories from generation to generation. I am a first-generation Indian, and I didn’t realize this had happened. So many others who were first-generation didn’t either. More stories came from across the globe of South Asians who were kidnapped 5 generations ago and passed on what culture they had, and the current South Asian population often shuns them as outsiders like they aren’t authentic enough. THEY HAD NO SAY IN BEING TAKEN. It’s outrageous and we don’t even know about our own countries’ histories, and it was such an eye-opening episode.
What is one thing you have accomplished with your podcast thus far that you are most proud of?
NT: I’m super proud of how far we’ve come in the last year alone, with 4 seasons and over 40 episodes with phenomenal guests and a strong Instagram following, TWD is transforming into the community we’ve always wanted. One specific thing that I am really proud of is when our podcast was featured in the Times of India newspaper – I had family from all around in India calling my parents saying, “WOW, your daughter is in The Times!” OH, and when we became an official LLC – that was pretty amazing too! I’m 25 and I own a company, no big deal!
AS: My gosh, where do I even start? EVERYTHING Nehal said! But I think being one of the largest South Asian Podcasts out there, having this giant community and a platform. People are reaching out to us now–who would have thought that could happen when we were struggling to figure out where to start?!
What is one major milestone that you would like to accomplish through your podcast in the next year?
AS: Quarantine may put a damper on this but I would love to have a live event (or ten…) that involve our podcast in various countries!
NT: More listeners, hit 15K followers on Instagram, become verified, continue to partner with more brands, expand, expand, expand!
What is a trend or development in the podcast industry that you foresee happening in the next few years?
NT: I continue to see the podcast industry boom! I think during quarantine, a lot of new players came into the podcasting game to channel their creative energy. It’s important to make space for everyone while keeping your hustle going! I also see a huge rise in POC in the podcasting industry, more specifically WOC. Excited to support these badass women take the stage!
AS: YES TO MORE WOC! Our stories are being heard and it’s thrilling!
What is one of the best pieces of podcast-related advice you’ve ever received & why?
AS: Draft a mission statement and stick to it. It helped us keep our vision laser-focused and has helped us craft the business we’ve built, by going back to the basics and that statement every single time. It also allows growth – any time we want to do something outside of the statement, we have to come up with how, and it’s often outside of our podcast, letting us venture into unknown territory.
NT: Be Authentic. Be transparent. Don’t be this version of yourself that you’re actually not. In order to win over the hearts of people, be a credible host. You have to stay true to yourself. Whatever that entails.
What is one of the worst pieces of podcast-related advice you have ever received & why?
AS: Stick to safe topics. I understand why people want to–it’s a tried and true method of not getting in trouble. But maybe that’s exactly the point…to raise people’s antennae to what we’re saying by being authentic rather than careful.
NT: Just wing it! No need to research your episodes! I strongly disagree, make sure you always research your guests, show them that you get them and did your work, and always have a script that outlines the topics you want to cover.
What are some of your favorite women-hosted podcasts (besides your own)?
AS: I love the interviews on Girl Boss Radio by Sophia Amaruso. I love Crime Junkie too!
NT: LOVE Crime Junkie and The Chaatroom Pod via Brown Girl Magazine.
Can you tell us about a time when you took a huge risk/did something you were scared to do, and it totally paid off?
AS: Writing a book, getting agented, and eventually published–while my parents always told me to become a writer, I didn’t know anyone who did it! In South Asian communities at that time, in particular, it wasn’t so vocal or discussed to be creative and take on a creative career. Most people go toward the safe route of scientific careers or business because it’s more linear. Even I did that via my majors, but taking the leap into writing was huge. I also went into writing somewhat naively–I didn’t think about the risks or the stats that most writers never end up with an agent or a deal. I went through the process and succeeded. It was the smartest move I ever made.
NT: Starting my blog was definitely something I was always scared to do! I didn’t want people to hate my writing or think like “Oh wow, she’s just trying to be another influencer.” I genuinely found passions in writing bite-sized content around fashion, lifestyle, travel and more. 2 years later, my blog is thriving, I’m able to monetize off of it and also have gotten incredible opportunities to partner with some of my favorite brands. So yes, it paid off!
Are there any great podcast-related resources you love that you would like to share?
AS: I love PodMov Daily! It’s super helpful. I also sign up for classes and take LinkedIn Learning courses all the time on things that relate to podcasting like branding, marketing, public speaking, etc.
NT: Anchor! Also, just attending a podcasting workshop with experts/your favorite hosts is a great way to feel inspired. We recently held a branding workshop that was a HUGE success!
Is there a charity or cause you care about that you would like to share?
AS: There is a charity called She Will Survive and it advocates for gender equality and supports victims of gender-based violence, abuse, sexual assault and has guides and resources for all parts of the world, in multiple languages.
NT: Helping Children in Yemen – if you haven’t read up on this, please do on UNICEF and Save The Children. It’s really important we get involved and donate. This article outlines 6 organizations you can donate to ASAP: https://www.fastcompany.com/90518021/how-to-help-yemen-6-things-you-can-do-right-now-for-the-worlds-worst-humanitarian-crisis
How do you feel you’re making a positive impact and generating change through your podcast?
AS: As a South Asian community, we’ve seen platform rise exponentially in the last year or so! And it’s SO WELCOME! To get to be one of those platforms that people look to about various issues we were alone in facing earlier in our lives…that’s a blessing. It’s a responsibility. And it’s a place we can make positive impact. Our change is monumental in being able to speak about these issues openly and to shut down the culture of shame around them. And when brands or smaller businesses contact us, we have a fundamental policy of doing our best to help or showcase them on the platform–we only grow because we lend hands rather than being ruthless.
NT: We’re generating change by starting a conversation and having a platform where people can openly and freely talk about their struggles and triumphs around certain topics. And once the conversation has begun and people have participated, we’re one step closer to normalizing it.
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