For many years, Aastha Maadan Farr would often peruse bookstores and spend hours in the planning, stationery and organization aisle back when Borders existed.
When she couldn’t find the yearly planner she wanted, she’d get a plain notebook and use her creativity to brainstorm and fill out what an inclusive planner would look like.
The idea for The Desi Planner began about four years ago when Aastha found herself missing yet another South Asian holiday for the sixth time. While caught in the middle of wedding planning, Aastha put the idea aside, but dove back into it a few months later.
In 2019, with the help from family, friends, and countless hours working with the manufacturer, designer, and ironing out other logistics—Aastha launched what would be known as The Desi Planner in November 2019.
The main goal of The Desi Planner has been to help South Asian Americans embrace their identities while staying organized through a custom weekly planner.
“Subconsciously, the seeds of The Desi Planner were planted through these little things for over a decade. To see others appreciate and identify with this has been the most rewarding part of creating The Desi Planner,” said Aastha, a transactional and healthcare law attorney.
Aastha says The Desi Planner is a daily planner with a focus on South Asians. “Every aspect of The Desi Planner is a homage to the rich heritage of South Asia,” said Aastha.
According to its official website, The Desi Planner is the “first inclusive South Asian weekly planner with major holidays from different countries and religions in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.”
Aastha launched Desi Planner in part because she noticed there was a lack of representation of South Asians in the planning and organization industries.
“As social media started to become popular, I noticed that South Asians were in all major industries, food, clothing, beauty and I still couldn’t find stationery and a planner that I would not have to handwrite all the holidays in,” said Aastha.
The Desi Planner is an inclusive planner for those who love organizational tools, but can’t find one that reflects who they are.
One of the things that differentiates the Desi Planner from mainstream planners is that it includes all the holidays from all major religions and countries in South Asia, according to Aastha.
Aastha and her parents immigrated to the U.S. when she was 15. The one thing that stands out about her upbringing is that her parents always inspired her to pursue her dreams, she explained. They didn’t give into model minority myths or the “log kya kahenge” stereotype, which translates to “what will people think?”
Growing up in a family of bibliophiles, Aastha shared that one of the most memorable moments was sitting by the fireplace, drinking coffee, and reading books next to each other. “My siblings and I were free to dream, to have hobbies and passions, and I can truly say that it made me the person I am today.”
Planning The Desi Planner
Over the years, Aastha has worked closely with a focus group that provides suggestions for holidays, approves designs, and keeps her in check as she designs The Desi Planner. Many of the discussions also focus on suggestions of what to change and include in future versions of The Desi Planner.
Aastha has worked hard to ensure that her planner is inclusive and representative of people from South Asia. “I take it as a personal responsibility to ensure that people from South Asia are truly represented from all different parts, and that includes those from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and India,” says Aastha.
Every small detail from the cover art to the inside pages of The Desi Planner is made with so much care and thought, says Aastha. In fact, she painted the cover and first iteration of The Desi Planner using water colors, inspired by the Sindh region in South Asia, says Aastha.
A lot of the ideas for The Desi Planner have been largely influenced and shaped by her focus groups and the conversations she’s had with other South Asian creatives.
The look for The 2021 Desi Planner is based on a minimalist and boho aesthetic, with a South Asian flair, says Aastha. Some of the other products that are up on the Desi Planner website spotlight South Asian women creative businesses such as The Write Aesthetic, which created South Asian inspired washi tape designs. Aastha also collects recipes and crafts throughout the year to include in the planner.
The Desi Planner has been a labor of love and much of the pages and content is a reflection of that diversity, according to Aastha.
“Throughout the year, people had reached out to me with things they wanted to see in the planner. Based on that, we included a lot more US and South Asian holidays this year, including, Caribbean-American Heritage Month as an acknowledgment for South Asians from Caribbean-American countries. I also included Black History Month, Native American Heritage month, and major Jewish holidays for the year,” Aastha said.
The current Desi Planner includes a goal-setting alignment page at the beginning of each month as well as a mental health and wellness check. “It also provides a space for people to write their business or personal goals. This one came from the focus group’s encouragement and input as well as from the polls I posted on the Desi Planner’s Instagram.”
For the 2021 Desi Planner, Aastha focused more heavily on community insights and what would be the most beneficial to them.
The Need for Inclusive Planners
Planners have become an important tool in our daily lives. With the popularity of “Passion Planners” and overall organization tools, The Desi Planner is an authentic organization tool that provides representation and helps South Asians be proud of their heritage.
“Planners, like our roots, are a part of our daily lives, so it’s a no-brainer that your planner should represent who you are…all the way from the cover art on the outside, to the holidays and recipes on the inside,” said Aastha.
Aastha shares that often, we become desensitized with the lack of representation in certain industries. Sometimes, we don’t realize what’s missing from the picture unless we take the time to pause and question it.
“So when you put something like The Desi Planner in front of a person and it represents their life experiences and their memories and heritage…that’s a good feeling. It helps to reaffirm all our identities and the fact that these identities can work together: millennials, womxn, professionals, and entrepreneurs.”
When she’s not working on The Desi Planner, Aastha’s day job is working in the legal sector for healthcare. She also previously owned her own law firm.
“I enjoy what I do and it’s fulfilling work. The two best things about a law school education are that it makes you a critical thinker, and you start believing you can do anything in the world. That can be dangerous, but I can comfortably say that for most of my 8-year career as a lawyer, I have felt intellectually engaged and stimulated almost every day.”
Aastha witnessed many formative moments during her career in law. “Most rooms I walked into, whether it was courtrooms, or boardrooms, depositions, or later conferences, and meetings, I was often the only woman, and the only South Asian woman,” said Aastha.
Being the only South Asian woman in the room only fueled Aastha to speak out about representation while creating a space for other women of color.
“You are constantly having to create space for yourself, teach people how to pronounce your name, and stand up for causes that don’t directly impact you…but you have the platform so you have to use it,” said Aastha.
Aastha acknowledges the challenge of working on passion projects like The Desi Planner, after a full-time day job. It’s not always easy to set aside time to work on side projects. But it’s the passion that fuels us to make it happen, she explained.
“It’s tough. Not going to lie. When your day job engages you mentally and you come home tired, the only thing that can keep you going is passion. Passion has fueled the entire Desi Planner journey thus far,” said Aastha.
Last year, she wasn’t sure how well The Desi Planner would be received by the public. But this year, she’s been overwhelmed by the love, support, and encouragement from family and friends to keep going on this business venture.
“This year, with people being so incredibly receptive, kind, and encouraging, I felt comfortable enough that I wanted to collaborate and lift other South Asian voices,” said Aastha. So far, she has collaborated with several South Asian creatives on additional products like washi tape and tote bags to accompany The Desi Planner.
Aastha acknowledges the importance of highlighting more WOC-run businesses and providing more culturally competent and inclusive resources.
“There are some industries that don’t have a lot of South Asian representation, and that includes organization and planning, as well as stationery. It’s important for South Asians to be represented in every aspect of the market. I hope that The Desi Planner brings us one step closer to that,” says Aastha.
Aastha says The Desi Planner has been a labor of love, but also a product of input from diverse South Asian voices. She is always open to feedback and suggestions as she begins putting together the 2022 Desi Planner! You can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and pre-order The 2021 Desi Planner here.
You can also follow The Desi Planner at @desiplanner
-Written by Monica Luhar