In This Episode
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: That’s part of like, American culture in general, that moving home is considered failure. And in my culture, it’s seen as the most kind of dignified and respectful thing you can possibly do for your family.
Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. And I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. All right, y’all, thank you for joining me for Season 2 of Unholier Than Thou. As the great Britney Spears once said: it’s been a while, I know I shouldn’t have kept you waiting, but I’m here now. And I promise I will send you a selfie with the big smile if you DM me and tell me which Britney song that is from. As I was preparing for Season 2 and of course, me and our lovely producers at Crooked were thinking really hard about what we wanted this season to be about, I kept on focusing on one word above all and that was ‘resurrection’. It felt to me as though we were hearing a lot of stories during the pandemic and towards the end of maybe phase one of this pandemic—who knows, of course, what the future holds for us as it relates to the coronavirus and its variants—but I did get to hear some really fascinating stories about people who made major or significant life choices, people who were faced with really, really hard circumstances and made the most of them, or dug deep into the wells of their strength and courage and found a way to persevere, or who used this time to simply just be more introspective and come to their own realizations about themselves, or maybe who use this time to connect more with family or from other people who had been estranged to them. There was something about being faced with constant death and constant tragedy that I think helped a lot of people to realize that maybe the lives they were living wasn’t exactly in tune with the kind of life they really were meant to or wanted to lead. And as I think about resurrection, you know, I can’t help but really mention my own story. I know all of you know, in December of 2019, I left my job as an Editor in Chief of magazines after being the Chief Content Officer of Teen Vogue, the Founding Editor of Them, I decided to leave magazines and I decided to get right with God, and I started that right here. And when I say, get right with God, I don’t mean I want to be religious, I just wanted to kind of settle the score from my upbringing and who I was told God was versus who I think I’m figuring out who God actually is. And this fall, just one year after moving to Los Angeles with my partner, I’m actually moving back to the East Coast and I’ll be attending Harvard Divinity School in their Masters of Religion and Public Life program. I’m one of 13 students accepted to this program and I’m really excited to be on Harvard’s campus, learning more about religion, spirituality and the role that it plays in the public sector. And of course, that role is both, as you all know from season one, a complicated one. It’s both good and bad. When I thought about resurrection in its purest form, even as I am hopefully heading towards, you know what I think is my own resurrection of sorts, I really was the most inspired by one of my best friends, Samhita Mukhopadhyay. Now I opened last season, episode one with an interview with the person I love the most in the world, which is my fiancé, Dr. Darien Sutton. Yes, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we are still not married, so, I’m hoping that happens fairly soon. But in the meantime, I’ll go to Harvard and we’ll figure the wedding plans out afterwards. I will keep you all posted, I promise, but I felt it was only appropriate that I open Season 2 with another one of the people that I love most in the world, and that really is Samhita. And Samhita, and I started to get to know each other when she became the Executive Editor of Teen Vogue when I was the Chief Content Officer. She was one of the most important hires I’ve ever made in my career, but really, what was most important about our relationship is the friendship that blossomed after I left Teen Vogue and was able to get to know her on a much more personal and intimate level. And she has quickly become one of the people that I treasure the most of my life, and I really admire and look up to in just a way that we only can with our best friends, you know what I mean? So, one of the things the pandemic really taught me is how much I value friendships and how much I actually needed to put more work into some of my friendships to make sure my friends knew the way that I felt about them. And so I’ve been grateful for the Facetimes and the voice memos and the various text messages that I’ve been able to share with friends to help nurture our relationships as we go. And with Samhita, we’ve been in constant contact because her life has gone through so many changes. And you will hear this in her own words pretty soon as the episode gets started, but Samhita made a couple of really big life changes during the pandemic. The first was that she gave up her life in Brooklyn, New York, and her apartment in New York, and moved in with her mom upstate. And she is still living with her mom upstate, and you’ll hear more about that in a sec. The second, of course, is that she decided after much anguish and agony to leave her job at Teen Vogue and to strike out on her own. And it’s an important revelation that she came to, because Samhita was able to trust in herself and find the strength in herself to really basically just understand and know that betting on herself would be the best bet she ever made. And you’ll hear more about why this was a spiritual decision that she had to make and what kind of healing and realization she’s come to along the way. I am endlessly inspired by Samhita’s story, and I hope all of you will be too. There’s a lot to learn here. And just a lot of love between the two of us that I hope you guys get to enjoy as much as I have. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week. And in the meantime, here is my interview with one of my best friends, Samhita Mukhopadhyay.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Go easy on me.
Phillip Picardi: I’ll do my best. Are you nervous?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: No.
Phillip Picardi: OK, good. I feel like it’s so funny to actually interview you for the podcast because we talk pretty much every day on the—oh! Do you see Juniper? How should we even get started? I guess, you know what? Why don’t you tell the story of how we met? Because you get mad at me when I tell the story. So why don’t you go ahead and tell this story? How did I meet Miss Samhita?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: What’s funny here is I think we’ve realized there was a miscommunication. And your version of the story is much more entertaining.
Phillip Picardi: OK, well, twist my arm, if you must. Basically, when I was appointed the Chief Content Officer of Teen Vogue, I had to find an executive editor, and it was a very important role because at the time I had just launched “Them” at Condé Nast and they needed someone to really run the ship at Teen Vogue. And it was an unruly ship, honey. And so I had been following you, Samhita for, I think, two to three years with your work at Mic. And you were obviously manning the movement newsletter M Mic and I just loved the team that you built. I really admired the work that you all did. I wanted our work at Teen Vogue to be a lot like it. And so when I saw that you had left Mic, unaware of the drama that we will not get into you about that departure, I was like, what divine timing? And I reached out to you. And that is when—and this is how I recall events, OK, this is what happened in my version of this story—is Samhita comes to the office—mind you, I’m all of what, 25 years old, right? Summit has been working since I basically was still shitting my pants. And so Samhita comes to the office and my assistant comes rushing up to me, like, really flustered and was like, um, um, she didn’t bring a resume. And I was like, Oh, OK. Like, I thought it was a power move that like you were like, I’m older than you, I have been in this business longer than you, you’re a little child, I’m not bringing you a resume, you either want me or you don’t. And to be honest with you, I really respected it and I was like, What a power move. So you kind of sit down and you were like, your assistant said I needed a resumé? And then like, I was like, Oh, wow. But that was when I knew that you were the perfect person for the job, that there was no one else. And look how right I was. Which I love being right. [laughs]
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Oh my god. It’s just so funny how like, you know, one, like because it’s the first time we met, so we didn’t like really know each other. And like knowing me now, you know, I’m like, way too shy to do—
Phillip Picardi: I know!
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Like on some level too shy to do something like that. And like, what had happened from my vantage point was like, I didn’t have a printer because I was like a bum, and so I was like, show—this is so good in context of like knowing all these characters—so I like, come in and I’m like, Hey, assistant Shamara, I need you to print the resume for me, I like will email it to you, do you mind printing it? I’m so sorry. And I get there, and I didn’t realize her desk would be across from your office, which had windows. And I was like, Why am I—I was so embarrassed. And so I’m like sweating through my clothes trying to get this resume from her. And then she gets me the resume, [laughs] and then I, like, come in with the resume and I like give it to you and you’re like, Oh, no, we don’t need that. And you turn it upside down and you put it next to you. And that’s what I remember.
Phillip Picardi: Got it.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And then I made a joke and I was like, Yeah, you’re just like, I don’t need your resume. And you were like, OK. And then I realized [laughs] and I was like, Wait, did that not land? And I was like, Oh no, now I know, you thought I was like . . .
Phillip Picardi: I thought you were just being a boss, which I completely loved,
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Thank God, you gave me the job.
Philip Picardi: I mean, yes. Well, yes. Me and Miss Wintour, who also loved you from the minute she met you. And obviously our time together at Teen Vogue, it was brief. I was there basically less than a year from hiring you before I departed, but you jumped right into it when you had started as the executive editor. You immediately had to oversee the March for Our Lives cover, where we had Emma Gonzalez and the other students Jaclyn Corin and Sarah Chadwick on the cover with Nza-ari Khepra, who is a gun rights activist from Chicago. There was another cover. Tyler Mitchell shot all of them. It was a really incredibly impactful moment, definitely one of the most touching moments of my career. And also most challenging moments, I think, to cover just the moral imperative of the journalism we were doing at the time was so special. And we wouldn’t have been able to do it without your genius and your expertize steering it, you know?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: I mean, that was, thank you, I’m still so proud of that cover and, but I also think it’s like, you know, and I mean, you and I talk about this a lot like something about that felt so fated, like it’s like that was such a profoundly challenging moment, right? Like it was, you know, and you have this amazing star and you have this publication that you at that point had steered to covering politics and to be actually a voice of young people that were rising up. And what a perfect moment for us to kind of like, meet and have this opportunity because I really, I think about that moment as like such a—like, it’s crazy to have a moment like that in the first 30 days of your job, right? And it was awesome because you were literally, I just remember one day you were like: Get them on the cover. Remember, Time had released their cover like the day before, and we were so angry about it.
Phillip Picardi: Yes!
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And then ours, like, blew it out of the water. Like everyone was like, and here is Teen Vogue telling the additional story that nobody else told. And I do, I just think like that was us firing at all cylinders, and I don’t know if—OK, I’m just going to stop it there.
Phillip Picardi: It was a, it was a real moment, there were so many moments at Teen Vogue, too, that you realize, especially after leaving—which we’re going to talk about your departure from Teen Vogue in a sec—but, you know, after leaving, you realize what a blessed time it was in so many ways. Obviously, you know, we all look back, anyone who works in the media looks back with such mixed feelings about their careers, and certainly I have many of mine, which I think I’ve aired fairly well over the past couple of years. But I think more importantly, and the thing I take away the most is that the most important thing about your work is who you’re working with. And we were so lucky to be in a newsroom environment that was filled with young and dedicated people who came from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences, who wanted to make sure that their readers were being considered in the content. And so even though it was such a moment that the brand really got to shine, it was also one of the most tragic moments I can remember in modern history for young people. And so I think holding all of those things at the same time was just something we learned how to do, and that was a heartbreaking skill set to have to kind of come by, you know?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah, absolutely. And I will say, you know, that was, like I learned a lot at Mic from covering trauma, and I, and that’s why I say I think it was fated because I think Teen Vogue had to take that turn. Like Teen Vogue had to go there because somebody had to go there, right? Like there was nobody there for a group of young people that are aching and that they’re in pain and has consistently been that, you know, the outlet has consistently been that now, since then.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, you’re right. You know, and I know that that’s what drew you to the publication. And so I also know that that’s why it was a shock to so many people when you decided to resign from Teen Vogue and start an entirely new chapter of your life. And I want to talk with you a little bit about that. So can you take us behind the scenes to what made you, or compelled you to, make a life change in the middle of a pandemic?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah, You know, there are so many—I appreciate the way you’re asking this question because, you know, it really was like such a confluence of factors. And, you know, I think that I was drawn to Teen Vogue because I was so interested in what was happening there but I also, it’s that like I had kind of been doing this work for a long time in a smaller scale and to have access to an audience like that where I could take, you know, kind of what we had cultivated a Feministing and where I was literally when you were in like elementary school and then, you know, kind of working my way through the political blogosphere into a place like Mic, like doing this kind of like really lefty work, but not having the kind of audience that I knew was worthy of this kind of work. And so that’s really what drew me to it. And I don’t, I was excited at the promise of that. I think I underestimated what like working in that kind of environment does to you kind of mentally and how much pressure it is to kind of be, you know, public and have to answer for these bigger kind of systemic issues and problems that either exist in media, exist in fashion, you know, and then problems within your own team. And I think I just, you know, it was, it was an amazing experience, but I think I realized that for me, there’s a shelf life to how long I could kind of do that work. And that for me, it was really a path to kind of elevate these issues that I care so deeply about. But once I saw that stuff going into the mainstream and not just that, but I actually felt like—I never want to say things are going too far, but it started to feel like we were losing the plot in how a lot of these things are being covered, and I started to have a bit of an existential crisis about kind of where media is going and where, how our budgets are getting more and more cut, how we are continue to be beholden to algorithms. But no matter what we say, no matter what we do, that is ultimately the bottom line and how we have to manipulate kind of our content to speak to these larger economic forces. And that’s not even specific to Conde, right? That’s like across the entire industry. So there’s kind of like that piece of it. There’s ongoing pressure. You’re constantly being told you have to do more with less, which is not why any of us got into this, right? And then also just I think for me, I moved home during the pandemic to upstate and, you know, I think for many reasons, I didn’t realize—and you know, I’m trying to grapple with this in my new book—is just how much the lifestyle had taken a toll on me and me not realized it, that I really was like, you know, definitely of a generation that does not prioritize self-care. Definitely felt like I just had to work and work and work. And towards the end of my time before the pandemic, I was at the point where I was having trouble walking up and down the stairs because I was so tired and my ankles were swelling and everyone was like, Samhita just takes cars, and it was like part of my identity but I was like, too ashamed to tell people that it’s because my body was in so much pain and I was so distressed that I like couldn’t get down the stairs to the—and you remember where I used to live, I used to directly live upstairs from the C train, you know? And all of a sudden overnight that went away, right? Like, we weren’t going, we stopped taking the subway, we weren’t going to the office anymore, and one day I just woke up, looked around my apartment and I was like, Why am I in this like overpriced grown lady dorm room? Why am I wearing these crazy shoes, these crazy clothes—like none of this is who I actually am. And you know, it was wild. It was like overnight my like, I started to like, almost like ‘deflate’ sounds like something about the body, but it’s not even, it was like a spiritual deflation where I had taken up so much space because of, you know, what they say is like when you’re in an environment where you feel like you’re being attacked all the time, you end up like you have to expand your spirit to kind of hold that space. And I started to kind of like decompress a little. And then one thing just led to another where I was like, You know, I’m not actually happy in this kind of environment, and I have bigger things I want to say. And there’s more than like getting invited to the right parties and making sure that I’m getting recognition in these ways and moving up the chain, like making sure I have a bigger job every couple of years. And it was such a spiritual awakening for me that I feel so blessed that I got to have at a time when there was a monumental loss. And I think that that was such a, it was such a mind fuck right to be like everybody is suffering and like, new opportunities are opening up for me because I’m privileged, because I’m like working in kind of like white-collar labor and all of these things that I think like, you know, we didn’t talk about is that people that are working from home, a lot of them are doing really well. Like, it was like, you didn’t have to spend money on restaurants. You have to spend money commuting. You didn’t like, people are coming out better, financially stable, things like that. So I think it was it was such an interesting time for me. And I also, you know, in 2019, I lost my father and so—
Phillip Picardi: That’s what I was going to say. Like you just said, monumental loss, right? And for me, as your friends, you lost your dad, your dear dad, may he rest in peace. You lost him after I had left Teen Vogue. And so we more became friends after obviously, we stopped working together, which is definitely the healthy way for things to go. And for me, when I started to observe in you is that you were able to step into a new truth that you weren’t yet ready to acknowledge after your father had passed. And even the act of you settling his life the way that he wished and you taking control of that moment for your family, being your family’s steward and leader in that moment was this, was your own version of reckoning with the monumental loss.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s, you know, I also have reflected a lot on both just grief and like what grief teaches you. Because my father died, my father worked till the day he died. Like literally was still, you know, in the hospital, like taking phone calls and, you know, just that level of kind of no boundaries at all and working. But he didn’t have, it didn’t give him the stability that he wanted in his life. It wasn’t, it was out of necessity that he kind of had to do that or felt that he had to do that. And so that was definitely a lesson after his passing. But it was also in some ways, I was prepared. I was already in mourning. I mean, the pandemic started not even eight months after he passed. I was in India as the pandemic was starting, spreading his ashes, you know, and then in the middle of all the protests in India.
Phillip Picardi: In the river.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: In the river. And so I do on some level feel like I was prepared for it, but I will say that that grief felt innocent compared to what we experienced in the last year, right?
Phillip Picardi: Yes.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Because that felt very, it felt manageable and it felt like I was allowed to have a funeral. I was able to do the religious rights. I was able to kind of do all of these things and have that dignity of death and how we kind of should celebrate and mourn and grieve together collectively. And one of the most painful things I think of the last year was watching people lose their loved ones and not be able to do that.
Phillip Picardi: Absolutely.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And I just kept thinking in light of that, it feels weird to say this, but I felt lucky that he went, he passed it before the pandemic. I felt like that was such a gift he gave us because I had friends that had to bury their parents and they had to do it over Zoom. And I can’t imagine having that experience taken away.
Phillip Picardi: Right. Because, you know, and I wrote about this for my newsletter, but a lot of people described it as a sort of delayed grief or like a grief that existed on this kind of time lapse. And you know, I remember speaking to one of my friends, Javi, who worked for me and Out, and he and he said, you know, in his abuela died, he said, it’s like I’ve had to put my grief on a shelf because I never know when I’m going to be able to properly say goodbye so I’ve just kind of put her up here and I’m waiting to be able to mourn her loss. And it’s such a, it’s such a tragic thing. But in that sense, because there is so much we learn from the cycle of life and from saying goodbye to our elders and being able to thank them for the gifts that they’ve given us and honored their lives, and honor a full and complete life. Grief can be as much a sadness as a celebration.
Phillip Picardi: And it’s interesting because so shortly after you buried your dad you then made the decision really early on in the pandemic—I remember because we were neighbors and I was heartbroken.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah.
Phillip Picardi: But you made the decision really early on to move in with your mom upstate, which is not a decision that you took lightly.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: No. I mean, it’s so funny because I was I was having dinner with my cousins on Friday, and they still are in disbelief. When I tell you that of like my circle, my family, our social circle, like I am, the last one you would have thought would come home. Like at the age of 18, I moved out. I moved to Albany, which is where I went to college. I didn’t even come home for the summers. When I was—
Phillip Picardi: You also need to give us context as to what your household was like and who your parents are.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yes. Well, I mean, I grew up South Asia, my parents are from India. And yeah, I mean, like, it’s amazing, like where my relationship is with my mother now versus like kind of what it was in high school. But I was an extremely rebellious teenager. Like shaved my head, had earrings, like Riot Grrl, pure ’90s. And my parents were literally like, We’re sending you back to India, like, we’re going to get you married, we’re going to send you back to India. And then when it wasn’t that it was like, You’re going to law school, you’re doing, you know, just the classic kind of like Asian tiger parent pressure. But like my parents are artists, like my mother is a musician, my father, you know, we’re Bengalis, so like, it’s a very kind of like traditional religious, spiritual artistic background. And so it was always this kind of like push and pull because they wanted us to be part of the arts, but they wanted us to become doctors and engineers, and like, my brother is a musician, you know? So I grew up around a lot of art, but it wasn’t, you know, my trajectory was either like, you get married or you have to have a certain kind of career. And I just rejected that. Like at 14, like I was like, I’m never going to have an arranged marriage. I remember telling my dad. I was like, Someone will go to jail and someone will go to the hospital.
Plhilip Picardi: [laughs].
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And they were literally like, OK.
Phillip Picardi: They believed you. And you know what? They should have believed you because it’s true.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: It’s just the truth. So, so yeah. When I went to college, I kind of fell in with like, you know, a beautiful community of queer people and people of color that, you know, taught me a different way to kind of live. And I was like, This is my life now, this is the direction I’m going on. This ship has sailed. So, yeah, I moved away from very young. And so the thought of kind of coming home. And I had moved home at another time, I think I told you recently when I was, when I turned 30. So when my Saturn returns, I did come home and that was not what I was expecting. I think that at that point I didn’t know some of the financial problems my parents were having and different kind of like just problems with my brother, like all of these things that I had kind of gotten to avoid because I was living in California. And I came home and I had this dream of like, I’m going to live upstate and be a writer and eat my mom’s curry. And it was like, I lasted like six months. Like, it was just like, not doable at all. And I don’t think that I had kind of healed my relationship with them. And I don’t think they had accepted me for who I was at that point. I was still young enough to, like, be pushed to get married at that point. So, so I think, you know, all of these times, like I was always a jet setter. Like there was just never a time like even in high school, I was on the debate team, of course, and I was on like I was flying all over the country to do, because I was like, we were like, really competitive debate nerds and I would go to debate camp every summer. Like I was just always the person that was away from home. Like my mom tells me now she’s like, I just, you were never the one that I thought would come home and take care of us. Like it was always going to be our brother. So, yeah, it was, you know, and you know, I’ve written about this, like I was helping my parents upstate financially, almost to the point where it was like it was challenging for me.
Phillip Picardi: Of course, yeah.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: But I could have never imagined living here like I could have never imagined moving here. And it was like an overnight—I wouldn’t say it was an overnight decision. I think first I went up there like I kept my apartment.
Phillip Picardi: You had to make peace with that at first, I remember.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah. So I went up there, I came up here and I was like, I’ll just go for a month, you know, I’m paying such high rent. I shouldn’t like not use my apartment, and I just didn’t come back for five months. I just didn’t come back.
Phillip Picardi: And throughout this process, there has been so much healing that’s been done between both you and your mom that is so beautiful to witness, even from the little glimpses on FaceTime that I get. But I know obviously it’s like you have this immigrant mom who obviously had a certain life planned out for herself, you know, and of course, tradition dictates and our parents, like they just think that what was best for them has to be what’s best for us. And so having this like Riot Grrl feminist daughter who is queer, etc. was probably not in the cards for your mom. But of course, here you are. And what beauty there is in the wake of loss of this very large father figure that the two women of the house have been able to rebuild this kind of love together in a really special way.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah. No. Thank you. That’s, beautifully said. Yeah, I’ve been reflecting a lot on that, on how just how men impact our lives. Because, as you know, I also don’t talk to my brother and I don’t, I don’t think I fully appreciated how much my relationship with my mother was strained because of my father. And part of it was my father had a lot of health problems, and I always felt very frustrated in how much my mom had to take care of him, because I’m a different generation and I was like, Why are you doing all this? And she’s, and for her generation, it’s like, that’s what you do, like, that’s the ultimate sacrifice is you take care of your husband hand and foot, no matter what. And I think that I just felt like, you know, almost kind of naively felt that she deserved a better life than that. And I think that she kind of knows that and I think we have, like we because we understand each other better now, like, I think we’ve forgiven each other for that time. And also she has started opening up about how hard it was for her and how challenging it was for her. And I think, you know, shortly after my father passed, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she’s OK but that is, I had read that that’s actually quite common, that the wife, because she’s taking such intense care of a partner, neglects her own health and then will have some kind of some kind of health problem after. And so it’s—
Phillip Picardi: Oh wow. This is why we need feminism y’all. I mean . . .
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Truly. So yeah, I think having this year has been such a gift for us. And, you know, I think she knows it’s not forever. We both know it’s not forever. But it’s actually like worked pretty well and it’s been going on longer than like, you would think that the second we reopened, I’d be moving and I haven’t like, I’m actually quite happy there. Yeah.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah. That’s kind of, it’s beautiful in its own way, too, because you were home with mom at the time where you kind of flew a very different nest, right? So you had gotten comfortable in this Conde Nast bubble and you had mom there to encourage you in your decision-making process. I remember hearing her when we would talk on the phone, she would be in the background telling you to listen. You know, she would be telling you how to advocate for yourself. Here was this woman who you used to believe was trying to in some ways make you shrink yourself or whatever, who now is standing next to you on the phone with executives telling you to stand up for yourself and be strong, right? In ways that you needed the encouragement to be strong. It’s a very, very funny thing how it all happened, isn’t it?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah. No, absolutely. And I mean, I think for—and I mean, I’m sure your parents are like this too—I think for a lot of Boomers, like the job and everything. Like, there’s no such thing as like going off the radar like that, right? Like, it’s like you leave a job for another job. You don’t just like leave a job.
Phillip Picardi: Yes. Yes!
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: So I think it was it was so important for her, like, there was a lot of healing around me feeling supported from her because I was doing something really unconventional and I needed her to trust me. And she is, I think both of us are like, our attachment style is anxious. We’re bot, we’re both high-anxiety people. She’s a Virgo, I’m a Taurus. So like we’re stability-driven people. And I think that was so important. And I honestly, I would not have been able to leave the job if I was not here, and I did not feel that kind of like maternal support from her where that, like whatever happens, we’ll be OK. And there were times when she was like, We will figure it out. Like, she’s like, even if nothing comes in, like we will figure it out. Like, I’m really not worried. And there were times when she was worried and we had, we had to talk through it. But I think that was such an important part of me being able to leave, like I really don’t think and, and it’s interesting because when I wrote about this for NBC, so many women reached out to me and said they had done the same thing, that they had, they had moved home. And I think that part of what was so you know, what I didn’t realize about this was that when you, you know, interact with people that have big jobs like we had, online, people assume that you have everything figured out. They’re just like, Oh, like, you’re, you know, you have the apartment, you have the like lifestyle, you have the haircut, you have that whole thing. And it’s like, No, I’m still figuring it out. And I actually like, you know, there is a type of feminist kind of, I think, false type of hustle culture getting ahead where moving home is seen as a failure. And I think that’s part of, like American culture in general. Moving home is considered failure, and in my culture, it’s seen as the most kind of dignified and respectful thing you could possibly do for your family is to home home—
Phillip Picardi: Oh. Interesting. Say more.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And take care of your family. I mean, it is kind of like an expectation that you do, that you do it.
Phillip Picardi: Really? OK.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And it’s interesting because I had felt my whole life that it was something I would have to run away from. And I did. It realized it was something that I would actually get a lot of personal nourishment from and want to step up to. And I also, you know, I talked to friends of mine that had to live this year without family or without partners, and they really struggled because this was definitely a year that you needed the community that you could have, whether that was, you know, your biological family or your chosen family, whatever that may be. The people that didn’t kind of have that, I think, are having had a really hard time. Whereas this year I was like, what, where could you feel safer than like with your mother, you know? And for those of us that are lucky enough to have that relationship. And I think that that was such a blessing, you know, this year.
Phillip Picardi: I mean, that’s just it, right? Like, it’s like, of course, in the face of global tragedy, it’s I never want to, especially not in this season where we’re going to be talking a lot about the changes people made during the pandemic, I never want to force people to see a silver lining. I don’t think that that’s authentic or true or really of God anyway. I think sometimes facing tragedy and being honest about the scale of tragedy and what caused this tragedy, which is human selfishness and human error, is really important. However, I did look at the journey that you were going through, and I did wonder to myself, you know what a way to make the most of a moment because when else would you have moved home to live with mom, to be in solitude with her, to get to know her in this new chapter of her life, right? Post-marriage life, you know, for her to reclaim herself and her dignity and her independence. And she now has her feminist daughter and that’s all you ever wanted for her. And you guys are now doing the same thing. It’s just in very different ways.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, the crazy thing is it’s, so my therapist, had, she takes, she takes very detailed notes and I guess shortly after my father died, when my mom was, you know, going through her first kind of rounds of chemo, I had been commuting back and forth. And, you know, as you know, that, you know, I had bought this house with my mother.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And when I, in 2015 or 2016, and when I did that, it was like a really challenging decision that I was really upset about, and it felt like such a burden. And it felt, you know, all of these like feelings that came up that I really had to grapple with at the time. And when after my father passed, I had been spending time up here and I guess I had told my therapist in October of 2019, she said, This is the ideal schedule you want for yourself. Because she asked me what it was, and it was splitting my week between upstate and the city. It was writing in the morning, doing some kind of physical activity in the middle of the day, and having a light consulting gig in the afternoon.
Phillip Picardi: And all of that really did come true.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And all of it happened. But that, at that point we didn’t even know the pandemic was happening. And the craziest thing is, I had so much anger about investing in the house because I was like, Where’s my house? Like, what about my house? And I had bitterness that I had to, and I think we don’t talk about this enough is getting angry at parents that are dying because it is a really real thing. And I have another friend who’s going through it right now. And it was really challenging. Like, it’s like, I’m trying to live this life. But then like, I have to constantly deal with a sick parent. And I don’t mean this in an inhumane way. Like, of course, I love my father—
Phillip Picardi: Of course.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: And I wanted him to be as safe as he could be. And so just like one little detail, I renovated the bathroom upstairs, my mom and I renovated it together, and I was like, really upset about it. Like, I remember going into Lindsay’s office—
Phillip Picardi: Our friend Lindsay Peoples Wagner, who was the Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue, now the Editor in Chief of The Cut. Go on.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yes. And I sat down on her couch and I just started crying. I was like, I just I feel like I’m bleeding money—this is right before my father passed—and he never got to use the bathroom. He passed like a week, like he passed in the middle of us renovating it. So we had to stop the renovation. And now that is my bathroom. And the crazy thing is, it used to be a broken down-ass bathroom and my mom was like your diva ass would have never used that bathroom and look at like, just look at God, like, look at the way that these things work out. That like this thing that I was like, ugh, why do I have to do this? Is like actually was a gift to me, ended up being a gift to myself. And it was such a, it was, it’s such a full-circle moment of like God, like, we don’t even know why the universe calls us to do the things that it calls us to do. But time and time again, my life has shown me small investments like that end up coming back in ways that I couldn’t even have possibly imagined.
Phillip Picardi: That’s right, and even thinking about the doors that have opened for you since you made your announcement. I mean, you really flew the coop and landed on a bed of roses. You just announced a major book deal. Can you tell us a little bit about what your book is about and who is publishing it?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah. So I’m writing a book for Penguin Random House with a editor—all of it is, all of it is so it just feels so magical.
Phillip Picardi: Synchronistic.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah, it’s so synchronistic. It’s unbelievable. So I’m writing it for Jamia Wilson, who is a phenomenal feminist writer—
Phillip Picardi: Amazing, yes.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Author, publisher, coming from feminist press. But her and I worked together on a project ten years ago called Femme Future, which was kind of an offshoot of the work we were doing at Feministing, which was about honoring women’s labor and fundraising and building money for feminist thought. So it’s just so perfect and full circle that I am now writing this book for her. And the book is called “The Myth of Making It” which a very smart friend of mine titled. [laughs]
Phillip Picardi: It Was My Pleasure, Honey.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: So the book is about basically kind of both the limits and kind of limitations of Girlboss Feminism and Lean-in feminism. And I recently found out that it’s coming out on the ten year anniversary of Lean In.
Phillip Picardi: Perfect.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: So what a time to kind of really be reflecting on this, you know, move in feminism, which I think is so fraught and I think it’s so easy to kind of criticize and shut down, and I think we’re having all of these kind of She-E-O reckonings and things like that. And so I’m really interested in contextualizing that within the arc of feminist labor politics and feminist history and just women’s work. But also trying to grapple with this moment where I think a lot of us are having were, we’re looking at our careers and we’re like, What am I actually doing? And I think that this generation, especially in young millennials and Gen Z, they want work that’s more impact-driven. They want work that is equitable and well-paid. They want work that has meaning in some way. And that is something that we have not really seen in generations before. And I think that is a profound shift. But there isn’t a lot of research on that, right?
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Like what does an equitable workplace actually look like? Like what does, what is the anti-racist feminist future of work? And that’s the question I am humbly trying to answer in this book.
Phillip Picardi: It’s a really good question, because I think in a lot of ways you ended up answering it for yourself this past year by deciding to exit. And by deciding to carve out your own possibility and really take a leap of faith and to bet on yourself and your work. So it’s interesting. And obviously, I look forward to reading the book and all of the things you’re going to learn along the way, but I do love how, even though the book is, of course, practically academic in nature in that way, it’s also your story. So it’s interesting to see, and I’m I’m hopeful to see how your own anecdotes will kind of be woven throughout these chapters as you continue the writing.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah.
Phillip Picardi: I guess, and one of the things that I’m the most curious about asking you is about what all of these things we’ve spoken about today, how has your relationship to your faith changed? Because I know that you grew up relatively traditionally Hindu, right? And I’m just wondering about the role—you’ve mentioned the universe, you’ve mentioned synchronicity, right, you’ve certainly mentioned your astrology today—I’m just wondering what spirituality means to you now and how you’re kind of contextualizing that or making space for that?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah. I mean, I do think that the moments that faith, your faith becomes clear at moments of birth and death. And I do think that my father passing brought to the forefront for me why religion, why people are drawn to it, why they need it, and why it is actually necessary in many ways for, you know—and I have a lot of criticisms of religion as well, which I know we’ve but we’ve talked about before, but—
Phillip Picardi: No, I mean, I remember even you not being able to spread the ashes because you were a woman, right? What does, wasn’t that?
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yeah. There was a moment at the funeral where, so when you are at the crematorium, there is now, there’s a button that you push to start the cremation. It’s actually like very emotional and you don’t, because it’s like the last moment that you’re, you, your father is in his human form and that one of the priests was basically like only the eldest son has to do that. Like and, in traditional society, it’s like they throw the match but for us, it’s like you push the button. And like in the funeral hall, I was like, I looked at my mother and I was like, I will throw the biggest fit you have ever seen right now in front of all of these people, if I don’t go in there and push that button with him. And part of it was that my brother and my father had a very fraught relationship, and my father had always encouraged me to step up for myself and to speak out and to, you know, be who I am and so I think that that moment just felt really important for me to have to be able to participate in it. And so, yeah, it started there. But so many of the rites have to be done with the eldest son versus the daughter—so many of the funeral rites, many things that he ended up doing. But my relationship with my brother is fraught, as was my father’s. And so he decided he wasn’t going to go to India to spread the ashes. And so I had promised my father I would do it and, you know, I think, like my mom and I going back and forth because she’s like, Why did you do this? Like, this is going to be so hard. I think I expected it to be this like magical emotional experience. And instead, it like—
Phillip Picardi: Totally You were waiting for that Eat, Pray, Love moment. You know what I mean. There was a prince around the corner somewhere in this story.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: I must have read this in some Jhumpa Lahiri book and been like, This is what I’m going to do. But like, I am, after all, an Indian. And you know, yeah, and it was, and it’s just so interesting because I like, first of all, I got to India and there’s protests because Modi had passed that bill, or he had proposed that bill that was basically banning Muslim refugees from coming into the country. So there’s protests happening.
Phillip Picardi: Yes. And for context, for the listeners, if you don’t know, Modi is practically a Trumpian figure in Indian politics right now.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yes, and the prime minister of India. And so the kind of type of Hindu my parents are is very connected to this Orthodox conservative Hinduism in India that is, you wouldn’t know unless you kind of knew the inter-politics of Indian culture and Indian religion. In the United States, everyone’s like, Oh, what a beautiful, austere religion. And in India, it’s kind of like one of the kind of religions that’s being used to justify ethnic cleansing, on some level. That’s OK—maybe not ethnic cleansing—but it’s basically being justified to create a ethno-nationalist state.
Phillip Picardi: Which sounds a lot like ethnic cleansing to me. But go on.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Yes, I’m like, I’m just trying not to lose my Indian visa, OK? [laughs] My OCI card. So there’s the context of that, right? And so I’m thinking it’s going to be this like big spiritual expansion for me, and instead my like anger is just kicked up because I’m like, Oh, great, like, I am now participating in this religion that is being used to justify like some of the most egregious kind of human rights violations in India right now. So that was a big wake up call, I think, of feeling like, you know—and part of it is like not growing up in India. It’s like I was born and raised in the United States, and so I didn’t have this kind of deeper context. And then it was like, it just wasn’t like, the banks of the Ganges are like dirty and like challenging and like, nobody’s really there. Like nobody could help us. Like, it was like [laughs] and so I literally like took a bag and like, threw it in the ocean. And it was supposed to be this like spiritual moment. But instead, I was like, Just get me out of here. [laughs] It was just like, it was so interesting. And it kind of is perfect. Like, it’s kind of perfect because like, how else was that moment supposed to go right? You know? And it was still beautiful. Like, I think, it feels special that, I think, that I will always have that spot in India to go back to. But you know, who knows when we can go to India again, to be honest. And it’s still I’m still glad I kind of did it because that was, those were his wishes. But literally leaving, my mom was like, Just throw me in the lake down the street.
Phillip Picardi: [laughs] That sounds like something your mom would say. It’s just, it’s been fascinating to watch all of this unfold for you. It feels like your life has gone through a hyperdrive of some sort in the past couple of years. And we’ve known each other only briefly, but I do feel like I could have known you for an eternity or for many eternities, who knows? But I found your story to be a hero’s journey in and of itself. And it’s nice to watch someone who maybe was more used to being on a sideline really step into their sunshine, right? And just like being able to take their own life, really—I’m not going to say by the balls because I want to be a feminist—by the horns and really steer it in the direction that only their willpower and their faith can bring it to. And in so many ways, you’re a role model for me in the ways in which you’ve healed with your family and the ways you’ve cared for your family, despite all of these conflicted feelings you’ve had. And it’s nice to just be a witness to the journey because it’s helped me and taught me a lot too. So thank you.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: Aw, thank you Phil. Very kind.
Phillip Picardi: OK. Samhita, that’s all I have for you today. Thank you so much for joining me for this inaugural episode of Season 2.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay: I Love you. Bye.
Phillip Picardi: OK. That’s all we have for today. I just wanted to extend an extra special thank you to Samhita, our lovely guest, especially for kicking off this season. And, on top of that for accompanying me halfway across the country on my drive from Los Angeles to Cambridge. Samhita is a real one, and I’m sure we will be telling stories of that road trip for many years to come. I’m so excited for more episodes and I’m very excited at the potential for you joining us along this very important journey. I’ll see you next week.