Please tell us about yourself
Nikita Mandhani has long held a thirst for adventure. As a child growing up in India, she originally hoped to be a pilot, flying around the globe.
“My dad wasn’t okay with that,” Mandhani said with a laugh. She ultimately became a software engineer for a major multinational organization in India. But the passion wasn’t there.
I never told my father I was applying for graduate journalism school in the U.S., just like I never told him when I got my first job. I remember how I’d hide from my parents, stay up late and write content for a local technology blog or stories for creative media outlets because my ambitions never fit in the definition of a “good Indian girl.”
I was raised in Bhopal, a small city in the central part of India, where my childhood was confined by the ideologies of my parents. But, as I grew older, I began to fight with the constraints that my conservative Indian family’s belief system put on me. The more I struggled against the traditional boundaries, the more I hurt my father.
I hurt him every time I said “no”, every time I lied or stood up for what I believed in. And he loved me still. May be because that’s what parents do. I always strived to find the intersection of my aspirations and my family’s happiness. Looking back at the last ten years, I realize how far I have come and it’s gratifying to really understand what drew me to the idea of storytelling – the desire to be heard.
I started writing when I was 11, trying to find solace in my words and in the short stories and poems I wrote in my diary. Over the years, I unwaveringly used writing as a tool to share my story and those of thousands of people I met and observed. Now, as a journalist, I embrace different media to elevate human voices, and hold on to my beliefs and passion to tell stories that need to be told and understood.
I have always advocated the idea of feminism and of addressing essential gender issues that sometimes get lost in the big picture. What helps me understand the importance of a feminist movement globally is the fact that I grew up in a developing country where women either have to fight for their rights or quietly bend to the wishes of a patriarchal society.
I have eventually come to realize that the art of effective storytelling is not only important to share lesser known stories of people around the world but also to create avenues to address relevant subjects.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
To keep her creative juices flowing, she started a blog, focused largely on researching different international topics and offering her own analysis. After two years and continuously growing web traffic, Mandhani realized journalism was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
What did you study?
I did my graduation in Information Technology from Rajiv Gandhi Prodyogiki Vishwavidyalaya.
“I started doing a lot of research and read about the Medill School of Journalism [at Northwestern University],” Mandhani explained. “I came to the U.S. in 2015. And Medill changed my life.”
During a one-year master’s program Mandhani describes as “very rigorous,” she learned the ins and outs of video reporting. And while she didn’t do so as a pilot, she received grants to travel and report from California, Philadelphia, Michigan, Puerto Rico and Germany. Her work focused largely on the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the United States.
Now, she works as a video editor and producer with The Washington Post, producing content for Snapchat, the Lily (a women-focused publication of the Post) and Apple News. Her freelance portfolio includes names like NBC, Buzzfeed India and Vox.
Tell us about your work
I produce videos and documentaries and continue to write about refugees, immigrants, women and religion to bring minority issues to the fore and to describe the identity crisis that many face in the United States. Through my work, I have covered stories of discrimination against Sikhs and Muslims, the employability of ex-offenders, and the constraints and norms of society and culture. Also while reporting, I emphasize on patterns and struggles of movement – from a homeland to places where you want to or are forced to belong.
In the end what always helps me go on are times when I make people smile or give them hope by sharing stories of humans who demonstrate extraordinary resilience and courage in tough times. It’s a beautiful feeling when women I don’t know message me to say “thank you” because something I wrote inspired them.
I still have a long way to go and many more dreams to fulfill. Even now I don’t necessarily fall in line with my father’s definition of a good daughter. But as much as I love him, I also love telling stories for a cause and finding ways to spread more awareness about human suffering and strength. And I know one day my father will be proud of me. That’s when I’ll feel a little more complete.