To most people, it’s no surprise that South Asian representation within the creative industries is severely lacking, or even non-existent. Overlooked and oftentimes forgotten, South Asian talent had not been given the platform it deserves — until one New Zealander came along and challenged the status quo.
Diet Paratha (no, not Diet Prada, but yes, the inspiration does derive from here), is the burgeoning Instagram account that showcases and celebrates a whole scope of talent across the South Asian diaspora, run by London-based creative Anita Chhiba. Chhiba is a second-generation Gujarati-Indian, born and bred in a small farming town called Pukekohe in Auckland. With a background in advertising, Chhiba has been privy to a multitude of creative fields and is very aware of how things work behind the scenes. Growing up as a POC woman in New Zealand also added to her overall experience of feeling somewhat of an outcast, which further fueled her desire to create the community platform.
I caught up with Chhiba alongside Highsnobiety’s very own British-Indian creative, Janak Jani, to discuss all things Diet Paratha, how we should be combatting underrepresentation, and exciting goals for the future.
“I started Diet Paratha in 2017, but it looked so different; I wasn't posting consistently. I didn't really have time to start putting steam behind it until this year,” comments Chhiba on her fast-growing Instagram account. “You know, South Asians aren’t acknowledged or seen as cool, but people absolutely culturally appropriate us. Tokenism, as we know, is also something that POC individuals undergo regularly, and this narrative needs to shift, if not be totally eradicated. I’m changing that with Diet Paratha — the account is here to highlight the best of South Asia, whatever industry or background you have.”
With the exposure Diet Paratha has been getting recently, Chhiba receives messages and submissions from creatives for her to post their content on the account. “I honestly get contacted five times a week with someone saying, ‘Hey, I've done this campaign, can you post it?’ but I have quite high standards for Diet Paratha. Obviously, they’re expressing their creativity, but sometimes it just doesn't fit on my page — just because people are brown doesn't mean I have to share their work. I'm trying to bring some kind of level, a benchmark to the work I’m doing. I want brown people to aspire to excellence,” explains Chhiba.
“Diet Paratha is all about taste,” says Jani. “Not only is this a page that platforms a certain community of people, but it also adheres to a certain level of curation that you don’t compromise, because that’s when you fall into what everybody else is doing. I think this page is very quickly becoming the home for South Asian excellence.”
Chhiba hones in on the power of South Asian people as a collective, commenting: “I'm nothing without the people that make this community up, and I just have to give back to them. It is really about connecting those people together and just showcasing them to the rest of the world. It’s important to remember that I’m not a mouthpiece for all South Asians, only for myself; hence the need for a space like Diet Paratha.” With other platforms like Azeema Magazine and Burnt Roti in existence, Diet Paratha is in good, groundbreaking company. From showcasing creatives like the model and activist Kumari Seshasai and designer Imran Potato, Diet Paratha is covering all the bases. We chose to highlight some of the outstanding talent Chhiba has had on Diet Paratha to shed light on the variety and merit this page is dishing out.
Designer Namita Khade is a CSM BA Fashion student whose elegant garments recently dressed the like of Kim Kardashian.
Crowd favorite singer, Raveena, is carving out a path for South Asian singers across the board and one of Diet Paratha's most loyal followers to date.
Hailing from Amsterdam, DJ Jyoty went from managing the door at Boiler Room, to making her iconic and viral debut there on the decks. She now is the host and DJ of the long-standing London radio station, Rinse FM.
Born in India but raised in North London, MC and vocalist Nayana IZ is making big moves - and is part of the up and coming West London creative collective, NiNE8.
Multi-hyphenate Richie Shazam is a model, photographer, and event host who is paving the way for trans visibility in the South Asian community, a much-needed narrative that we are here for.
South Asian music and DJ collective, Daytimers, is aptly named after the late 80s and 90s raves which were a staple of UK rave culture playing everything from Bollywood and Bhangra to hip-hop and garage.
I asked Chhiba and Jani if either of them could think of a breakthrough, watershed moment where South Asian representation has shone in recent culture, and neither of them had a single response. “Why? Plain and simple. There are too many white people dominating the creative industries right now and it’s a battle as we have to convince them why we belong. Sometimes it really is just having people on the inside. If you want to be an ally, you need to intervene before the disaster strikes — make your internal structure mirror your external ethos because it is so apparent that not enough is being done,” explains Chhiba. Jani continues: “It is also exhausting, isn't it? To have to constantly feel like you have to fight for your seat at the table. It is not an equal platter where everyone gets a spoon. We need to shift the conversations.”
Running an Instagram account with a large following is time-consuming, especially when the level of curation for it is so high; however, Chhiba is not stopping here. After successfully hosting the Diet Paratha Book Club and printing T-shirts for India’s Covid relief program (raising £3000 — approximately $4.170 — in two days for Khalsa Aid), Chhiba is looking forward to more collaborative partnerships and projects. From dinner events in London to more clothing drops and studio shoots, it is obvious that Diet Paratha is in it for the long haul, and is here to make the change we so desperately need for the South Asian community.