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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Giving Women A Safe Space To Share Thoughts, Writer Paromita Bardoloi Is Creating An Empowered World For Them

  • IWB Post
  •  May 11, 2019

I remember being a shy 16-year-old, with little to no friends and with working parents who hardly had any time to spare for the pointless ramblings of a teen. In those moments of needing some solid advice and help, it was my aunt’s life-saving letters that rescued me from the depths of my directionless meanderings. That mutual sharing of emotions and thoughts gave me a safe space to talk- something that every woman craves. And Paromita Bardoloi aims to provide this haven to as many women as she can.

A writer, slam poet, and a storyteller, Paromita is known for thr powerful series titled ‘Letters To Her Neice’, where she wrote about finding strength in the family. This time, she has come up with another innovative project ‘Letter from a Stranger Initiative’, giving a safe space to women to talk to each other via a letter.

“The writers of the letters have told me that they find it healing to write to another woman about what they know and learned in life. Women’s wisdom has not been documented or been mainstream. It has always been the masculine ways that are honored and revered. Women face life in different ways than men and this initiative is for women by women to share their own lives. It’s a message from one woman to another that we have your back,” Paromita explained.

Excerpt from one of the letters:

“So with the last few hours remaining for the submission deadline, I
am sitting here writing to you. I want you to know that I am holding
space for you in so many ways. I too am a woman and I too am a mother
to a girl but I am in no way equipped emotionally to even begin to
comprehend what it must feel to be you right now. But I have held you
with so much compassion and love all these days and will continue to
do so always—-as you hold on to life .

Speaking from the by lanes of my own life journey I can offer you
these words ——

sometimes holding on to life can be so hard and the only source of
hope comes from the passing of time …that this too shall pass and
there is light after this bend in the road which has been dark and so
long and arduous and seemingly never ending.”

Sohini Trehan, Community Worker

With an overwhelming response in her first season with 37 letters being written, Paromita is all set to bring about its second innings this May.

“Through this initiative, I want to create a tribe where women share their wisdom with each other. And even long after none of the writers are there, this wisdom should illuminate another daughter’s path in the distant future, where we might not be physically present. My whole vision is to create a pool of wisdom that helps future women navigate a brave new world,” explains Paromita. “And this is going to be my life’s work. I will not cease from going forward.”

Excerpts from our chat:

Before we delve into your project, tell us about the women in your life whose advice helped you navigate and overcome a certain crisis?

By design or destiny, I have always been surrounded and nurtured by women’s wisdom. By blood, I have two sisters. By soul, I have a thousand. One woman birthed me, and many others nurtured me. I am constantly guided and healed by women. I am so grateful for it.

The last six months and more had been difficult for me. I think emotionally this was the lowest I ever hit. I almost felt devastated. I remember it was the last Sunday of October, I had a performance. I was so low that I thought of canceling it. But that’s when my roommate gave me the best advice; she said that “No matter what never cancel a promise. Go and shine.” That was such a difficult day. I don’t remember how I dressed up. I just put my red lipstick and kajal and sat on the cab. It was such a sad day that tears would not stop streaming; I could not read the address on my phone. The cab driver had to do it. But I decided to shine. And I did. I performed well and sat with people and heard their stories, despite the fact that I was broken. That day I understood what the resilience of human spirit can do, that we can still shine even when we are broken. And choose to be kind to others.

Another advice I had, was from my mother. A year or so back, I won two awards back to back. I was at home in Assam. It was such a happy day. We had 25 people for dinner. It was a cold December night. Once the guests left, I guess it was late in the night, we were laughing and I was doing the dishes. I swear it was a mountain of utensils. That was the day Maa said “No matter how many awards you receive or the congratulations you get, always be humble enough to laugh a lot and do the dishes. It will keep you grounded.” I think that was a piece of great advice, which keeps my head on my shoulder. Never to lose your sanity no matter how bright the spotlight falls on you.

Now coming back to your project, tell me how this amazing initiative of yours works.

So, this is how it works. I try to make sure that the receiver receives at least two letters. One letter by an older woman and the other one by a younger one. If that does not work, I connect two women from the same age group. There are no hard and fast rules about it. I also connected a 17-year-old girl and a 40-year-old. That was such a wonderful letter. I wish someday I can publish a few letters as a book so that it becomes a handbook to women on how to make a way in a brave new world.

Excerpt from another moving letter from the project:

We stay within the same patterns, however harmful, because they’re familiar compared to the great unknown. We often say that seeing is believing. But we forget that believing is also seeing. When we dream of a certain future, visualise it in all its details, it becomes true. Whenever you find time, keep dreaming in detail. Before you know it you’ll be living that reality.

You have a kind heart. You’re afraid of hurting others. Let me tell you something. When we love and respect ourselves and refuse to be the container for another person’s anger, fear, frustration, we do them good as well. Because venting doesn’t solve their problem. Our being the recipient of their insecurities deceives them into thinking they’re getting relief. But you tell me if you remember being in a place of great agitation and experiencing peace. So when we reject being the vessels in which negativity can be inserted, we help the other person, who’s much weaker than us in that moment, face their negativity and do something about it.”

Ankita Anand, Writer

I hope you do. But all these women in your project, how did you connect with them in the first place?

I use social media like crazy. As I grew a year older last year in November, something within broke open. I am already 30 plus. It sunk deep that somewhere I have already lived half my life, what do I really want from life. The answer was to touch more lives positively. And that was the seed of this project. I announced it on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram handle. Takes an hour or so to get volunteers. This time I closed it in two hours as the response was overwhelming.

That’s impressive! I am sure that these letters are much more than just mundane musings.

We had a plethora of topics being covered. From domestic abuse to self-love, from being single to divorce, from heartbreak to losing confidence. From being a single mother to trying to find one’s identity in a new marriage. We have covered mostly everything that touches a woman’s life.

Letters have forever been this intimate method of sharing but writing to strangers takes courage as you lay yourself bare for another person who may end up judging you.

Here is the thing. Strangers are the best people you can bare your heart to or can share an issue with that you want no one else to know. And when one woman shares something with another it finally brings in a sisterhood, allowing two women to bond irrespective of age and backgrounds. Women feel heard. They feel that they are not alone. Nothing can ever substitute human presence. The receiver as well the writer feels connected to what one shares. The whole initiative is to create conversations where everyone feels heard and none judged. That is why it is strangers writing to each other. You know nothing about each other, apart from the given name and the issue addressed.

I have the honour of reading each letter. They are written so exquisitely and carry generational wisdom. So many times, the emotional labor and the wisdom shared made me weep. I almost cried wishing that I received these letters when I was younger and needed someone to address my heartaches. That was when I promised myself that these letters will be passed on, of course with due permissions. Because this is a safe space. Nothing will be done without the consent of all the parties involved.

I have been receiving a lot of responses post these letters. Many writers say they found it healing writing to another woman. And the receivers say they felt heard and that made them win half the battle. Someone just thanked me yesterday for this. She believed the letter she wrote to another girl finally helped her to connect to her own roots. The responses literally overwhelmed me as I wasn’t expecting so much.

These letters truly are priceless gems to be cherished! If you were writing to a stranger, what would you have shared?

Dear Stranger,

Whoever you are, if you are reading this, this is meant for you. There are times in life or years when things are dark or low. But remember this too shall pass. When you cannot run, walk. If you cannot walk, crawl. It’s okay to slow down, but don’t give up. Remember you matter, your story matters. The Universe will have one less story without you. It will grieve if you don’t live it.

These days, I am crawling through life. Some days I have lived only on prayers. But then even broken I have put up my red lipstick and went out to work. That’s my everyday courage. Broken does not mean the light won’t flow from me.

Someday I will make my brokenness look like a fairy tale woven by magicians. I will turn it around. Even with my broken tools, I try to build one brick each day. One day the castle will be built. That day everyone will say how easily I did it all. That’s how you become a master, you make your heartbreaks look like castles in the air that you can create and recreate in the tap of your fingers. One day I will be that master. That day I will stand and tell another tale.

I will and so you can. March on, sister. We will not cease from this forward march.

P.S: Broken is okay.

Love,

P

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