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Writer Paromita Bardoloi On Need For Listening Circles In Times Of Deafening Silence Of Self-Isolation

  • IWB Post
  •  May 29, 2020

We live in a virtual world. We text fluently and send emojis to express our feelings. We have hundreds of followers and friends online and our social lives seem to rock just fine. But wait!

Did we just miss out on real-time conversations? Did we just forget that looking into the eye and speaking our hearts out might turn out to be a tad bit difficult, but is probably still the best way to directly connect with someone? Did we just realize that in spite of all our virtual friends it is hard to find that one someone who you could call in the middle of the night to share your troubles? The need for real meaningful conversations and connections has never been felt more than in today’s time.

We are in a lockdown phase struggling to adapt to the new normal where the scare of the virus, coupled with our many own inhibitions and worries, has left many cornered in their homes, alone and trapped. More than ever before, we have realized how much we need true human connections to keep us going and how much do we require for someone to listen to us without judgment or reason.

To start off conversations, ‘Let’s Huddle, India’ is an initiative launched by the writer and speaker Paromita Bardoloi. A safe space and place to talk, this initiative is about online circles where five-six people get together for a conversation. People who join the circle start out as strangers sharing and talking about various topics that lead to both serious and fun dialogues. It’s a great idea, especially for women who might be dealing with a lot more in unequal or abusive households.

But how and why did ‘Let’s Huddle, India’ begin? As Paromita says, “Since 2018 I have been holding such listening circles. But personally, I was going through an extremely low phase that year and I never felt so broken within. These circles brought me solace. It made me feel less lonely. So, when the lockdown was announced in March, I saw a lot of texts and messages flying where people felt anxious. That was the moment I felt the need to initiate conversations online. That’s how, “Let’s Huddle India,” started.”

IndianWomenBlog caught up with Paromita as she talks more about the initiative and life in general during the COVID-19 crisis.

We all have reimagined the power of dialogue in COVID times. How did you rediscover the meaning of conversation for yourself?

Paromita: If you walk down the streets, have you noticed the number of selfies people take? I don’t even mean the streets of Paris or even a garden. I mean even when you go to the vegetable market where cows roam around freely, I have seen people taking photos of the cow dung and posting it on Instagram stories or taking selfies with the vegetable vendors. In one way or the other, we all started living in the virtual world, where everyone is unimaginably happy in a perfect life with filters all around.

But you know what, life was never designed to be this perfect and happy. It was designed to be messy. We all started chasing Euphoria. Loneliness and mental health issues started rising and became a cause of death. We kept glued to the screen. And life had its own impact. Then came Covid19. It confined us to our homes. Despite all the suffering it has brought with itself, it somehow made us come face to face with ourselves. You can’t go out for a movie or a coffee now to avoid something uncomfortable you are going through. That’s the beginning of all conversations. Sitting down and connecting with someone. That’s also the beginning of all healing.

I hope post-Covid 19 crisis the world starts having conversations that matter and heal. This is how I am rediscovering or reimagining conversations again.

The world shifts towards digital. Could you please talk about finding the courage to trust your story to someone within the digital realm? How difficult or easy has it been, especially for women?

Paromita: I have held listening circles before, but those were all offline. I have also been a writer and a storyteller. So, the first step to connect to any audience or a circle is to be vulnerable yourself. When the video is on, I go on camera first and speak first and rest becomes easy.

Over so many years of doing it, right now it feels natural to me. People only connect when one in the group is ready to be vulnerable. Otherwise, it becomes a speech competition. So, when I as a woman start telling my story as it is, with all my flaws, everyone else irrespective of gender starts speaking their own truth. It feels like magic when a group of vulnerable people start sharing their own truths.

Paromita

Tell us about the circles that have already taken place. What stories have been shared?

Paromita: This lockdown has given people time to self-reflect. We begin our sessions with how we are coping up with the lockdown. That always breaks the ice. Post that we share about our life journeys, lessons, and everything in between.

What do those people joining the circles seek as an emotional outcome?

Paromita: Everything boils down to the basic human need of being heard and seen. Everyone wants to know that their story is valid. So, when a group of people listens to one person without judging, that makes that person feel okay about who they are. Shame, guilt, and anxiety melt. And that’s the beginning of all healing. I guess, people just come to feel okay about themselves.

How do you think such circles of trust can contribute to building the safety network for women who face domestic violence during the lockdown?

Paromita: Domestic violence is still such a hushed-up topic in society. People brush it under the carpet as if nothing has happened. Women are gaslighted to think that it’s their fault, that they do something to be violated. So many victims don’t even have any clue where and whom to approach while dealing with abuse.

If we have safe circles, where women can talk about their experiences more and more, they will find solidarity. Most victims of abuse are isolated. Any safe platform gives them a new lease of life to breath and a feeling of empowerment. That’s when they can make a better choice. And find support from someone. That’s why these circles are important, especially if someone is going through abuse during lockdown or otherwise.

What have you learned about psychological insights of gender violence happening behind the closed doors of our homes through the initiative? What stays invisible but important to bring to light?

Paromita: There is a quote that is going viral on social media. It says, “Covid 19 did not break the system. It exposed an already broken system.” If this lockdown has proved one thing, it is that home is not the safest place for women as the saying goes on. Heinous crimes happen to women behind closed doors. The gender imbalance begins at home. We really need to ask how safe our homes are. We really need to address the gender politics that runs in our home. That’s what these lockdowns showed us brutally. Even government statistics show how domestic violence is rising each day. It’s high time we say, not everyone is safe in their homes.

Tell us how far you are taking this campaign next.

Paromita: I have planned to keep these circles going on both online and offline. Online sessions will help those who might not have the agency of getting out of the house to attend the offline sessions. Of course, offline sessions will be post-Covid 19. The whole idea is to talk about what no one wants to talk about. Let’s say, “childhood sexual abuse” because so many still live with that trauma and shame. Our circles will be a collective effort to talk about what our society calls a taboo and in the hope that these conversations open new pathways of healing and a new thought process. That’s all I can plan and dream of right now.

To learn more or join a circle please visit Facebook page.

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