My Story: 'We All Want To Be Heard And Seen In A World Polarizing Itself Each Day'
Paromita Bardoloi started listening circles where people would sit across and listen to each other, without judgments. During the COVID lockdown, the initiative moved online with the sole purpose to create a safe space — letting people connect with each other during tough times, foster the act of listening, and thus help build relationships.
Since my childhood, I have noticed how there should be one story and how each one of us has to adhere to it. There is one in the family who has that power to set the tone. One in our classrooms. And one in the playground. Why are the rest of us invisible? Power structures are embedded in us since childhood. Why aren't there more than enough stories where everyone can belong?
We all experience life differently. Even siblings growing up in the same house have different stories. Why is that some stories are more accepted and others silenced?
It all began when I was sent to Miranda House, Delhi University, and I stayed in a girl's hostel. Late nights girls would tell us home truths and make us swear never to tell about it to anyone. That was when I first realised that not all homes are safe. Not all parents are loving. But the set tone of the society is that; parents are Gods and our homes are sanctuaries of love. Of course, that's where the culture of silence grows. That is the beginning of trauma. And the more you keep it in darkness, the more violence is afflicted.
I grew up to be a writer. And every time I wrote about anything, people would flood my inbox with their personal stories. It reached a place where sometimes just to take a break, I would deactivate social media.
In 2018, I and my friend Riya planned to start a listening circle that will let people speak anything they wished to. And the rest of us will only listen. Conversations give the tone to narratives. And narratives decide the power centre. Narratives tell us who will wield power. We live in a world where all power is deeply patriarchal. What if we tell our own stories without the set tone of the popular narrative? What if everyone listens to one story and does not shame or silence the other?
We started with a Facebook page and invited our friends. In July 2018, we conducted our first circle in a book shop in South Delhi. The idea was equality and non-bias. So we all sat in a circle. There was no star speaker or performer. No one stood before or after anyone. There was no stage. Just a circle. It is an intimate space where everyone was welcomed. The first circle was for all women. We all shared so much. What is to be a woman in today's time? How do we truly feel about our bodies, our work and our families? It was such an empowering conversation that we were all home.
From the next circle onwards we included all genders. Since then, the circles went on. We live in a world that constantly tells us what to be. But in these circles, people shared who they were. Some shared dreams. Some shared a rant. Some shared a dark secret. We heard them all. It's strange how in front of a group of strangers people poured their hearts out. There were so many times, we had to request people to leave because the stipulated time was over. Yet, people would linger.
I moved base to Assam in 2019, due to personal reasons. I just wanted some fresh air. Then 2020 happened. And India went into a complete lockdown on 25th March. There was so much panic around, I again started a listening circle but this time online. I named it "Let's Huddle, India." It was the first time I was doing it online. I started a page on Facebook and invited my friends. Now that I look back, those were such strange times. Everyone wanted to act normal. People would randomly sing. Or share about the past. But over Dalgona coffee and online videos made, I have also seen how mental health started to take a toll. Especially when Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide. That was when people started sharing the history of their own mental health, suicides in families and breakdowns. I have never seen so many pale faces.
We are already in our 38th circle. And the sharing has continued. I never had an empty session, even though now the lockdown is long over and the vaccinations have started. No one is ever interrupted. No one is shamed or hushed. Everyone goes back home feeling heard and seen. Isn't that what we all want?
All healing begins when someone's story is heard and acknowledged. In such safe places, shame dies a radical death. For us, each story, each word is valid. That is why everyone feels included and healed.
I had been thinking of closing the online meet post vaccinations. But then I realised not everyone has the privilege of mobility. These online circles will stay open, even when we go offline.
Not every revolution comes to all guns blazing. Some revolution also happens in silence when a group of people listen to one story. Till we can, we shall listen to all stories. We shall acknowledge all traumas. We shall celebrate all human wisdom. So that someone in the distant future steps into a softer world, then the world we stepped in.
As John Lennon will sing, "I am a dreamer. But I am not the only one." In a world that is falling into dark despair, polarizing itself each day; we shall hear everyone's story. And go home heard and seen. This is how some revolution looks like.
This is our silent revolution. We shall move, one story at a time. Someday the world will move with us.
If you too have a story to tell the world, send us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org