Desi Outsiders is a podcast on Indian culture and society. It is the brainchild of two Indian girls living in Europe, they chat about relationships, dating, education, culture and feminism. Sometime in early 2016, Meenal Viz stumbled upon a personal blog run by a fellow Indian residing in the UK. She soon got in touch with the curator of the blog, Ankita Narayan, with the proposal to collaborate. What started out as a purely professional relationship, soon blossomed into a beautiful friendship and thus, Desi Outsiders was born.

Ankita works as the Team Leader at the Google Digital Garage in Scotland. Along with hosting the Desi Outsiders podcast, she writes for and manages her personal website 22 Nelson Street too. She is a partner at the Google Create India programme that helps content developers from India to gain recognition online. Meenal, on the other hand, is currently working as a doctor in London after spending six years studying medicine in Prague.

SheThePeople.TV spoke with the two women behind the Desi Outsiders. Here are some excerpts from the interview: 

What kind of themes do your podcasts cover and who decides them?

We started off by focusing on singular themes like “arranged marriage” or “the Engineering/Medicine trend in India” and we discussed them with the aid of personal stories and anecdotes. It’s a good thing we focused on personal experiences from the beginning because it told us that stories of this kind worked best with our audiences, and we ourselves saw the value of learning from other people’s experiences. This is why making the transition into sharing other people’s stories through our interviews was quite easy. Very quickly, Desi Outsiders became the podcast about India that interviews pioneers and leaders in their respective fields.

But since July 2018 when Ankita started her job at Google without any set weekends (she works five random days a week and gets two days off, not necessarily two consecutive days) and Meenal graduated from medical school to start working as a Junior doctor (also with no set days off per week), interviewing guests on a weekly basis became unrealistic.

We have to consider different time zones and the lack of days off to facilitate this with a third party. Hence, we’ve decided to revert to our original system of picking a theme, researching and discussing it just by ourselves.

Ankita picked some of the initial themes in the podcast because growing up in India, she had a better understanding of the kind of stories that might resonate with a desi audience. When it came to inviting guests on the show, we both invited the people who inspired us, individually. Finally, now that we’re back to discussing themes, we pick them from our day-to-day lives based on incidents.

How do you shortlist people for the podcasts?

What we mainly look for are stories. If we feel like someone has a good story to tell with a little bit of prompting from our end, we get our microphones ready. This has worked out for us 90% of the time, although there have been times when we’ve had to make the difficult choice of not releasing an episode, despite the time and effort that went into it, simply because the story did not come out as well as we’d planned.

With the use of tech on our platform, we have heartfelt conversations with thousands of people every week. We accompany them on their commute to work, give them a morale boost during their workouts and sometimes even provide background banter while they’re cooking or going about their daily chores.

There have been times when we’ve been disappointed in episodes recorded with guests we thought would be great, and there have also been times when someone unheard of requested to be on our show and completely blew our minds with their storytelling. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the real-life story and the honesty with which it is shared.

What’s your target audience? How has the response been?

It would be fair to say that young adults from the ages of 18-34 within the South Asian community are our target audience. However, we have been surprised by the number of listeners, we discovered we had from our parents’ generation, letting us know that our conversations have helped them connect with their children (and their children’s ideologies) better. It was also surprising to find that we have a much larger listener base in the US than in most South Asian countries combined. These could be expats but we’ve heard back from quite a few young Americans and Europeans who enjoy learning about our Desi culture and society.

Desi Outsiders became the podcast about India that interviews pioneers and leaders in their respective fields.

What challenges did you come across? How did you overcome those?

While our content is for pretty much everyone, you connect with it better if you are of Indian origin. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed that even in several urban settings in India, a lot of people are just getting used to the idea of podcasts. Even in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore, people feel restricted by the lack of availability of the internet. A lot of people we’ve spoken to feel the need to sit down in one place with a good connection and dedicate an hour of their day to just listen to a podcast. This is not very practical.

Moreover, what we’ve gathered from the people we’ve spoken to back home is that the idea of the internet primarily just represents two or three things to them – Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and maybe two or three other apps. But there’s a whole world beyond just social networking apps! A shift needs to come in and we’re not saying this just because we want more people to listen to our podcast, but because there’s a whole library of amazing content out there which is going unexplored.

A shift needs to come in and we’re not saying this just because we want more people to listen to our podcast, but because there’s a whole library of amazing content out there which is going unexplored.

The other roadblock would have to be the technical side of things, the editing and sound quality, especially since we both live in different countries. Add to that a guest who lives in yet another country – making it a three-way call between people in three different countries. With sound, we’ve been on quite a journey, testing out various softwares, rooms and environments to record in. It’s only towards the end of Season 2 that we nailed it and got both our audio qualities just right.

With Season 3, we started having guests on our show every single week. So we had to figure out the best way possible to record our guests’ side of the interview too.  There are just too many things that we can’t control, for example, sometimes, the guests don’t have PCs or laptops so we’ve had to figure out a way to record their audio on a phone interview. On other occasions, there could be little kids playing in a park close by and obviously their sounds get picked up, but we can’t just ask a guest to leave that room.

So editing out external sounds and disturbances in episodes that are an hour-long is quite a process. It takes a good eight to ten hours to edit the episodes on most occasions.

What are your future plans with “Desi Outsiders”?

We are hoping to grow our user base in the UK. Our goal and vision as a podcast is to share stories that can inspire and help young people across India and the globe. Whether we do this as a podcast, as a radio show, or even a book – it doesn’t matter! We’re excited to see what the future brings.

How has your experience with technology been? Do you think technology is a great enabler for women?

With the use of tech on our platform, we have heartfelt conversations with thousands of people every week. We accompany them on their commute to work, give them a morale boost during their workouts and sometimes even provide background banter while they’re cooking or going about their daily chores.

Tech made our lives and that of many others much better by empowering us to do what we do today. We’re just two women in our mid-twenties who like telling stories. If we could do this with the help of technology, so can any other woman reading this now.

Read : Koral Dasgupta On Why Storytelling Is Her Lifelong Passion

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