Twin Sisters: Jyoti and Swati Argade
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, everyday at Bhoomki is International Women’s Day. Each brand we sell in our store is owned or co-owned by a woman, the majority of which are women of color. International Women’s Day was created in 1909 by socialist women to shine the light on the rights of female garment workers to be treated with dignity and equality. Well this tenet is built into our DNA from Bhoomki Day 1.
This International Women’s Day, I’m thinking of friendship, sisterhood and my own sister, my twin sister, Jyoti Argade.
Photographer: Alec Pollak
Last month we launched our series Bhoomki BBs: The Love Between Friends. Many of us call our friends sisters, and then there are the sisters who are friends, ride or die ‘til the end of time. This month on International Women’s Day, in our second installment, we honor our sisters and the bonds that stand the test of time.
My sister is my oldest friend, our sisterhood often complicated by time, distance, family dynamics and significant others. We’ve traveled across oceans and continents without living on the same coast for over fifteen years and ultimately our children have underscored the necessity of remaining close no matter the miles that separate our families. It’s been an adventure with admittedly some struggle but forever with the knowledge that no one bears witness to our lives more than the other.
Swati: Why do we call each other wombies?
Jyoti: I believe it was you who came up with that term. As I think back on its origins, I’m reminded of the Nayyirah Waheed quote, “
My mother was my first country, the first place I ever lived.”
Maybe 25 years ago, I mentioned us being roommates at a party when we lived together in our Prospect Place flat. Then you said, “not only roommates, we’re wombmates!” Now its diminutive is wombie.
In some ways, since leaving our Amma’s body, we’ve been reconciling that separation, of never being that close again. While the intimacy was a given, the loss of proximity has been grieved and expressed in the many eruptions, tribulations, and misunderstandings over the lifetime of our twinhood. The separation that we longed for, to be individuals while remaining connected, was often in direct rebellion with our family – and certainly by the extended family in India. I believe one time an aunt said “we shared a soul.” (eye roll). More than a handful of friends held both of us accountable for a misstep one of us committed. Our “twinness” was often the center of the conversation. And, I personally, was less tolerant of being mistaken for you, than you were for me.
These days, of course, I don’t mind. After all, we do look quite alike, even though I think you’re the prettier one.
Swati: Not true! How is that possible when most people can’t tell us apart? The conflation of our identities into a singular one by family members and friends is perhaps the most puzzling and infuriating aspect of being a twin. What I’ve come to realize is those individuals really don’t know us at all, they're merely blinded by what looks like unwavering loyalty to each other when we both consistently take each other to task with consequence. Our closest friends and Alec (Swati’s husband) see us as true and separate individuals.
When someone finds out you have a wombie, invariably you’re asked three questions:
- Are you fraternal or identical? We are the most identical-looking fraternal/sororal twins you’ve likely ever met. Though Jyoti you tell me there’s a third type called a polar body twins when assumed-to-be fraternal twins look so identical.
- Can you read each others’ minds? Almost absolutely no. Though there’ve been times when I could locate the part of your body that was experiencing physical pain. Do you remember when I was living in Bombay and you were in Brooklyn when you told me you had a toothache, and the exact molar in my mouth started throbbing.
- Who was born first and by how many minutes? This is my favorite question to answer. We were born long enough ago to a doctor who performed breach childbirths. I came out first and headfirst, but Jyoti was breach. She was literally kicking me out of the womb until this magnificent doctor set her in the right direction. We’ve joked over the years that I was taking up too much space, so naturally she kicked me out to lay total claim. Read into that what you will. There’s not enough room here to unpack that. Still makes for a good story.
Jyoti: How do you think I dress?
You have a playful sense of style, an elevated street style before any of the luxury brands took the helm. When we were kids you professed to be a tomboy (though strangely always made me play Ken when we were playing Barbies.) In college, you wore baseball hats and oversized overalls, while I wore pencil dresses with silk handkerchiefs tied around my neck. Before everyone was wearing sneakers, you found a way to make them elegant with metallic tee shirts and excellent eye make-up. I’ve always seen a futuristic genderless vibe in the way you present yourself to the world. When confined to convention, you find your own quiet rebellion. Case in point: At your wedding you wore gold Air Jordans under your pink brocade sari.
Swati: How do you characterize my style?
Colorful, historical and geometric with tamed ornamentation. Classy but not pretentious. An exhibition of ethics and aesthetics. Each garment and accessory has a story, a negotiation between all the hands that make each piece. And everything you wear just feels so soft, luxurious and well-made, like the love and equity that went into making your clothes landed in an expression of sweet splendor.
What keeps bringing you back together?
Jyoti: To have a witness to this lifetime, a wombie, is an antidote to the loneliness and chronic individualism that marks this time. And, gotta say, that our relationship is the most curious, interesting and complex relationship that I have. I have felt every emotion to be had with you. You were with me when I cried the first time, spoke my first word and took my first step. You graduated from high school and college with me, and even competed in a Spelling Bee with me, neck and neck which you won, after they pulled out the Merriam- Webster dictionary to break the spelling volley. Beyond all the familiarity of our connection, we also have similar worldviews. Yet our values are expressed in distinctly different ways. I love hearing about all the cool things that you do, the relationships you’ve made over the years, and watching you grow into the formidable human that you are.
Swati: While we are so different, the older I get I see how similar we are in our politics, our literary tastes, our lifestyle and the unwavering curiosity we brought with us into the world. Our daughters’ sisterhood and friendship grounds us, and I feel we have so much to owe to them and your son Tejas for committing us to enjoying one another and rediscovering each other as the truly inspiring and influential individuals we are to our friends and families. We’re amazing! I’ve watched you in awe as a scholar and professor of dance who then reinvented herself in the face of personal and professional adversity as a leader in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for a major American software company. Your intellect, principled nature and unrelenting work ethic are forces for anyone to reckon with.
What do you admire most about each other?
Jyoti: Your math skills (which I am more jealous of), your sense of humor, your generosity, your cooking, critical mind, open heart, and loyalty.Swati: Your ability to fall asleep upright on an airplane, your natural flexibility on a yoga mat, your love of nature, your recent professional reinvention, your encyclopedic memory for the obscure, your ability to center into Spirit at a second’s notice. Om.
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