I have followed the work of Paromita Bardoloi for years now. This storyteller has taken her voice and words to a number of platforms and events where she has sought enthusiastically and singularly to make a dent in the reader conscious with insights that are simply put yet deep. When I reached out to her for this interview, she graciously agreed. I sent her a questionnaire because this articulate yet shy writer said, I am more comfortable answering via email. A few days later, she diligently called me and informed me in that calm way of hers that her hometown was slowly surrendering to the clutches of riots and she would find the first opportunity once communication was restored, to answer the questions for the interview. I thought I was a fan – but I came to actually admire her as she told me that she wanted to simply reach out before the phone lines would follow the fate of the internet connectivity and face disconnection for several days or weeks. True to her promise, she sent me the answers at the earliest opportunity.
A refreshing tone that breaks down the inaccessible land of all things intellectual, and a take on life that bars all things that don’t allow her to be – that is the sense I got from her answers and from the flow she has embarked on. The flow in which, she is simply and unapologetically who she is.
Paromita has recently started a Letter Writing Campaign – Letters from a Stranger – that helps restore the age old charm of reaching someone with words scrawled with one’s own hand. The soothing and healing touch of this campaign has been covered by a number of noteworthy publications, and it is my honour to present an interview with this amazing young lady!
What makes Paromita quintessentially Paromita?
To be honest I don’t know. You can’t ask a flower why it smells the way it does. However having said that, I guess my innate simplicity and the urge to be a good human being makes me who I am. I have a deep love for beauty and truth. I love philosophy. These days Taoism is all I am grappling with. I have a very simple life; boring to an extent. But I watch people intently. I can tell and retell everything. Some days I speak as if I am as old as time. Some days I cry over a silly boy. Life amazes me. It’s such a ride to live life. If you live enough you will see so many rises and falls. And if you understand deep enough, you will know, nothing is forever; maybe that is the beauty and tragedy of life.
May be quintessentially I am so amazed by life that, that curiosity makes me who I am.
What are the things that have shaped you?
As far as memory goes, the first presence that we were told of was of God. My family is not deeply religious. But each time something good happened, God gets credit. And when something not so right happens, we again talk of God’s will. So there was always an invisible presence around. I don’t remember when I first started praying. May be in my grandparents lap. But there was a deep faith in the invisible. My first letters were to God. May be to pass an exam. May be for a new pencil box. But I don’t know why I did not ever ask anyone else, but to God. Since I remember God has been my greatest comfort. I have an amazing set of friends and family. But God stood first. God and I are a team. I bring God to the table, first.
2018 was a very tough year. It continued to a few months of 2019 too. Something I deeply wanted did not work out. I fell on my face. But the faith that it was God’s will, kept me sailing. I am a praying woman. I pray for guidance, providence and grace. I don’t go much to temples or other such places. I pray anytime, anywhere. While working. While eating. Sometimes cleaning. Anytime. Even while writing. The base of my life stands on, my faith in God.
After that, of course my family. My grandfather was uneducated but deeply wise. In my early childhood he would sit for hours and tell us stories. All his stories were from the Mahabharata. I have never heard such wise storytelling. He would never tell us who was right and wrong, but let us decide. He taught us that no one is black or white but grey and different shades of it. Those stories stayed, like an old smell. And later in life acted as life lessons that held me through stormy waters. I still make life choices based on those lessons. And somehow those proved to be right.
Ofcourse, my parents, my education at Miranda, my relationships, everything has shaped me deeply, however the bedrock of my life is based on my faith in God and the life lessons of Granddaddy. I often feel, Granddaddy knew that his granddaughter would have dark nights when she won’t be able to make a choice. May be that is why he taught us everything about life, through all his stories.
Despite everything in life I have access to; the bedrock of my life is God and Grandfather’s stories.
Tell us a little bit about where you are from and how you got here – geographically, socially and career wise?
I am born and brought up in a small place in Assam, it’s called Rupai Siding. It’s a quaint town, where everyone knows each other, by name. I did my schooling right till 12th grade from here. Post that I studied in Miranda House. Right now, I work as a content strategist. I stay in Delhi.
So in a nutshell, that is me.
Your take on the iVirgin pill for the Outlook recently was a pretty interesting read. Do tell us how you have evolved to hold a stand like this. What has been your experience, your life lessons that others can take heart from?
I have a very unique experience in life, which very few can claim. I have loneliness anxiety. That means I always need a roommate to live with. And it’s been more than a decade I have been living in Delhi. So since hostel days, I must have lived with more than 100 roommates. And trust me when you share physical space with someone you get to see the person’s life from very close.
And with each one, I have learnt something so important in life. Honestly, I am a home bird. I can be at home for days. I am not well traveled. But what people taught me just by sharing the same space is beyond what any university can. So, what I expressed about women’s right to their own bodies comes from these experiences. No matter what, we are so run by patriarchal norms. Like I mentioned in that interview, my friend would not ever put a picture of her with a guy. Or will never talk about their sexual lives before marriage. Not everyone marries their boyfriends. That’s okay. But still keeping it a hush, hush. You know, I have seen so many marriages that have been arranged in front of my eyes. The way things are presented or done is so hypocritical still. But rightly so, otherwise there is a price to pay. And not everyone is courageous enough to pay that price.
Over the years, with so many experiences I have evolved. I became a person who hardly judges anyone. With age, I have become like the river that flows, without really looking at the shore.
Let’s talk about letters. Your hugely covered initiative is a very interesting one. Which was your first letter and how did you create it?
2018 brought me an immense emotional crisis. It was like I was going on the right direction, doing the right thing and then a truck hits you. After my initial phase of denial and protest, I got back to writing to my friends. I wrote each time, my heart broke. I wrote each time, I felt no self love. I wrote each time, I doubted my self-worth. My friends replied. And that was the beginning of my own healing. I have always been a letter writer. My first letters were to God, where I wrote every single request I had and put it in the piggy bank. It was my comfort as a child. My father died when I was barely 11. There was a lot of crisis we as a family went through post that. By 12 I started writing long letters to kids I met at school events and all that. So letters transformed into emails. As if my whole life is documented in letters. Since 2017, I have been writing one letter each month to anyone who asks me to.
So as I was riding my own crisis and writing letters, on March 30th 2019, I had an idea that I have this whole support system of friends, family, therapists to help me ride my tide – what about others who hardly have this support system? That hit me. I always live by one tenet in my life that is to use my pain to help someone else. So I just put up a status on my facebook profile, asking for 5 women who would write letters. In an hour I had 37 of them. But I had only 14 requests. So most receivers got 2 to 3 letters. Though I wanted to do a handwritten letter session, but the receivers were reluctant to share their physical addresses as all our receivers were women sharing very intimate details. So we did email letters. We opened our second circle to all genders. Though the writers were all women. We had 30 writers signing up. And I closed the receivers forms in an hour as we had 35 requests already. Right now our 6th circle is going on. We have 33 writers and 46 requests. I have realized that writers are always less than receivers. From this circle onwards, we have opened to male writers as well and all other genders. I hope we have more writers in the future. Because it’s somehow becoming humanely impossible to take so many requests. I can only apologize to everyone who wanted letters from us, but we had to close the forms as our resources are extremely limited.
We are on facebook as, “Letter From A Stranger, India.”
You are primarily a storyteller with a strong female and humanitarian narrative. So is Paromita a feminist?
By default or design, I have grown under the strong influence of women all around me. My mother raised me. I went to a all girl’s college. I completely believe in equality of all genders. And yes, that makes me a feminist. I also understand how many shy away from the F word. It is almost used as an abuse, these days. But if only we read a little history. If I can write today and can speak here, it is someone out there, who fought my right for education. And nothing has come easy.
Tell us about your speaking experiences. Were you nervous? Were you excited? And how did you grow into this role and what makes you a well known personality in this space – what sets you apart?
That’s such a wonderful question because I never reflected on it before. To be very honest, until the day I first performed in 2017, I had no idea I was going to be a storyteller. Going a little back in my own life, I never planned anything the way my life turned up. I was planning the same things many do. Like you graduate, get a job, get married and so on. In my head I planned all these by 30. I was very clear about my life choices. I was a go getter. But you know, God is bigger than everything you know. A few hurricanes came and I reached here. Not by absolute choice, but still with acceptance that this is my journey.
One fine day someone was organizing a storytelling for her workplace and I was asked to perform. I did because I had time. I was the last performer. The moment I sat on the chair to tell my story, the world faded. It was at Immigrant’s Café, Delhi. I had that déjà vu feeling, that I was always there, doing that. And then I kept doing. Some shows were good, some fell flat. But honestly it releases me from my own cages. It’s almost like therapy. I do because it comes naturally to me. I haven’t performed since March now. But I will, once the time is right.
I don’t know what sets me apart. I really don’t think much about it. As long I feel at peace, rest everything is negotiable.
You started with a platform like Women’s Web. Do tell us about the experience and how storytellers or bloggers can better their craft with platforms like these?
I owe a lot to Women’s Web. It gave me my voice. If you are a blogger/writer it’s very important to keep working on your craft. A space like Women’s Web gives one that opportunity. You hone your craft and also get to see the reader’s reaction. You can find your own space. So spaces like these are extremely important to anyone who is writing. You can experiment a lot!
If you could write a letter to the LGBTQ community in India – what would you say?
There will be moments in your life when you would want to give up. You will think that my life is mess. No way seems to be the way out. There is nothing that can’t be done. But remember that your sexuality is just one part of your life. You are much more than that. Take chances in life. Find little joys to hold onto. And when the time is right take that huge leap of faith. Take those seconds of courage to come out of your shell. Don’t ever let yourself down by thinking what will others think. Your struggles define you. Their laugh doesn’t. Someone will always be looking out for you. You are not alone.
Few lines I always think whenever I doubt myself. It’s by Shawn Mendes –
“We don’t have to be ordinary
Make your best mistakes
‘Cause we don’t have the time to be sorry
So baby be the life of the party
I’m telling you to take your shot it might be scary
Hearts are gonna break
‘Cause we don’t have the time to be sorry
So baby be the life of the party”
What advice would you give to your younger self – let’s say ten years younger Paromita.
Breathe. You don’t need to figure it all at once. But then thank you for being so young and investing on yourself. For spending your weekends working for theatre or an NGO. Or building such amazing friendships. You have no idea how everything you did has fructified as miracles in my life. Also, can you stop doubting yourself so much. You don’t need to call that guy. One day you yourself will choose walk out of it all. One day that guy will mean nothing to you. Stop selling yourself short. Life has wonderful plans for you. You will meet people who will love you, raise you higher and stand by you.
Thank you for doing so much for me. I am because you fought for me. I know you had easy choices. But you never gave up. Thank you. I love you!
What life skills do 20 and 30 year old people need to necessarily imbibe today?
In the world that we live in, things chances every day. I have seen so many people getting stuck into a time zone. The only thing that will keep you relevant is adaptability. Don’t change your chore. Change your tonality. You have to get the tonality of the time we live in. You can do anything you want, just stay updated. That’s the way to thrive in this changing world. Works, everyt ime.
From your writing and your posts, one gets the distinct feeling of pause and smells the roses. Is that something you abide by, in today’s fast paced world of has it and have it fast? If so, how do you practice this in your life? What are the choices you consciously make?
Maybe I am born that way. Constantly caught between two worlds. In my childhood I was called a “Fakeer.” I have this absolute quality of being deeply in love and detached at the same time. Ordinariness attracts me. I love how every day the Sun falls. How everything moves in a rhythm. I guess the most beautiful things passes by without us being aware of it. We all are running to reach some place. I did too. That’s how I missed so much in life. But as I grow older, I had this realization, that there is no other place. People have become so desperate and lonely in the search of some other place. I chose to stop and be. And that completely changed everything around me. It’s not that the mind does not start thinking for next 5 years. But I remind myself, “one day at a time.” Like right now, I am doing this interview with you. Post that I have to run an errand to the market. Then help Maa in the kitchen. Every activity is equally valid. And I enjoy doing the dishes too.
Now, I purposefully remind myself to be here, now. If you read my writing, everything is ordinary. And thus has its own beauty. Borges wrote, “I am that traveler who has traveled so far, that I have no intend of arriving.”
My goals in life are basic. Like being always able to pay my own bills and live a dignified life. I don’t pretend anything. Life and relationships are easy for me. I don’t chase. That’s the core of my life. And thus, everything falls in places. You cannot run away from a woman who will not come running after you. I understood that. And I stay still! That is who I am.
There was a post you had published once which showed your simple room and writing desk. Tell us about your brand of simplicity – and have things changed in the past decade?
I thrive in simplicity. Less is more. I like spaces. I guess only in spaces all creation exists. Right now, I am at home. I have a big enough room for myself. Even now, I have a bed, a table, a chair and books around me. Less makes me comfortable. I thrive in repetition. Waking up in the same bed. Meeting the same people. Drinking from the same coffee mug. Having the same blanket. I take a lot of time to adjust to the new. I hardly travel. But I love this. It might seem boring. But for me I thrive in this simplicity. It just has to be neat. That’s the only caveat.
I can live with very less, provided it is a safe space. Everything in my life has come from very simple spaces. And then had its own journey. And it has always amazed me, how people get drawn to it.
In a world that tells you to be more, to have more, to reach a place where more is rewarded, simplicity is an act of rebellion.
I know you are too young to be asked this – but in all your wisdom beyond your years, how would you say you would like to be remembered?
That’s a big question.
I would want to be remembered as a girl, who in a world of over stimulation, sat down and told a story. And people listened to her.