Paromita Bardoloi is a writer and theatre activist. Hailing from the North-east, Paromita has come a long way. Womennow recently caught up with her in a candid interview.
What made you the Paromita Bardoloi that you are today?
Gut instincts. I must assure you before the interview that I am not an intelligent woman. I go with what feels home. Be it a piece of writing or a relationship. It has to resonate within. If it does, I go for it. If it does not I don’t. I have no logical reasons, why I do what I do. I do because it feels home. And what feels home has paid back in the long run. I know one thing for sure, the Universe sends us letters, and deep within we all know, which letter has our name in it. We just need to hear within.
Here is a secret. I am repeatedly asked, when I will publish my book. To evade it, I give one reason or the other. The truth is none of my characters feel home. So, until they do, I am not publishing. The day, they do, it will go out to the world.
It’s a very simple life, I lead. I need very less. I gain so much more. I hope I evolve more into what I am becoming. It is so beautiful to be here today. I am grateful.
And last but not the least, people, even the very close ones only know 30% of what goes within me. I can only tell or explain that much to anyone. Rest is a conversation that goes within and mostly seen in my writings. I am writing a piece of dance drama and most of the time, I am living in that 70% . The part that is unexplained and never spoken. All art is born there. It is forever quiet and virgin. A place I go when the world becomes too noisy. Most of the time, this world is.
Hailing from the North-East, how do you think your creative bent of mind was shaped in the early years?
Now that I look back, I think growing up was so carefree. I come from a very small town called Rupai Siding. Infact it’s still not a town. We had one English school then. We were all sent there. It was on the other side of the road. Everyone knew everyone. No one ever got lost. Lifestyle is very slow. Monday and Friday looks the same, almost. When I go back from Delhi and sit in our Veranda back home, I wonder if time has really passed. Things don’t seem to change. Only when my mother retired last year, I took a stock of time.
I was not a bright child as I was growing up. Mostly I got promoted from one class to another and that was all my parents expected me to do. I was never much interested in studies. But having said that, I was a child who was in love with nature. Nature is abundant from where I come from. It rains insanely. Anything and everything grows as our land is very fertile. I loved nature, spoke less, I failed in my midterm exams, I used to stammer, to top that my sisters used to top the school and were so good in anything that they did. But I could observe the sky for long. I knew every color that would unfurl. I knew every flower in the garden and every tree. I think I learnt more from nature than my classroom. I ran in the fields. I fished. I made paper boats. I was shy. I loved my two cousins and my friends in school. That was my life.
But our town as sleepy as it might be, was vibrant with poetry, art and culture. We were exposed to music, dance and literature very early in life. I did not excel in anything. But I absorbed it all. There would be so many poets or writers coming home, I could just play around and hear them. Even though I was too young, I knew what I liked and did not. Those conversations stayed with me and now I draw from them. Also, my grandfather was the finest storyteller I ever heard. As he narrated the Mahabharata, I could imagine it. My gift of storytelling and imagination comes from him.
I think my childhood has a lot to do with the person I am today. It made me an artist.
What brought you to Delhi? Have you faced any sort of discrimination?
I came to Delhi to do my graduation from Miranda House, University of Delhi.
I hear a lot of cases of racial discriminations, which often makes to the National Headlines. And it is very sad. But personally I have not faced it. Yes, there are curious questions, but not discriminations. I was and am always an equal. To add more, my best friends are from North India.
Tell us about your fondest memories during your stay at Delhi.
I still stay in Delhi. If I look back to the past decade, the best memories have been amazing conversations I had. I don’t travel. I stay in the city or go home. But Delhi is like the common ground. Everyone drops here. So, there is always a coffee, a lunch or a dinner with someone and I get to listen to so much. And it’s so enriching. Everyone has a story and I am the audience. The best in Delhi is always the conversations. And not to forget, my friends. When you live single in the city for long, you need a strong support system. I have a great circle of friends. They had been there through thick and thin. I am kind of obsessed with them. I always say they are family from a different lifetime and they are back in this lifetime to tell me, “Look we are here again.”
This morning I was cribbing about my dress sense and despite of the fact that we are terribly busy, my friend gave me a pep talk on chat. What will I ever do without them? Delhi gave me friends for a lifetime. I love them till death. I have this need to love and be loved back. And I am grateful. I always am.
The matriarchal culture is quite strong in the North-East compared to the rest of the country. However, what made you interested in Feminism?
Assam is not a Matriarchical State. But it has been deeply influenced by Matriarchy as it is surrounded by Matriarchal states. Having said that, it is a much better place for girls to be born and grow up than many parts of India. While growing up, I assure you, I never heard of female foeticide/dowry death or honor killing in the Assamese community. I am the third daughter of my parents, but I don’t remember growing up with the guilt of being a girl child. I never heard anyone treating my mother shabbily because she birthed three girls. I come from a family, where I have not seen violence against women. I was brought up with gender neutral values. All our women in the family work. I am the second generation of women in the workforce.
But Delhi shattered every bit of it. My first experience of an unsafe world for women was when I first went to college. On our way back, I have seen men jerking their genitals publicly at women. Something that took me time to really understand. I met girls whose first thing was to complete graduation, because after that they would be married of. Education was allowed but not career. They were given the best of amenities but not the right to choice. These things made me think of ‘Gender’ in a different way. My course in Miranda house was based on feminists’ leanings. My teachers in college opened a new world to me. A world where everything was questioned. Miranda House taught me to think not what to think. I could always question, and cross question. I think that opened my head and heart and I assimilated a lot of ideas. Also in my first year of college a girl was raped in the University, that was August I guess and I joined the first protest march. Those things deeply influenced me and my leaning towards Feminist thoughts and ideas. I figured out that Feminism tells us that both the Genders should be given equal rights and opportunities. No one should be a victim of gender roles that patriarchy hands out.
Since then, I have been a proud Feminist. The march is on.
How do you think writing as a medium can be a powerful weapon to drive home burning issues?
When you are a writer or an artist you have to understand that your primary duty is to drive a point home. It is all about opening a new thought process or bringing a new conversation to the table. Through my writings I have always tried to bring in a new way of thinking. It does not mean the old ways are wrong. It means we have other ways of doing thing, which needs a thought.
At the end of the day this is all an artist can do. Bringing a new thought to the table, what the reader or audience does with it is his/her own choice.
How did writing and acting converge into your personality? Both being creative yet different mediums of expressions.
First thing first. I am the most pathetic actor you can ever see. Aatish is a passion. It is a home, which has given me a lot. More than I can ever give it back. It’s almost 6 years I am with Aatish. I have lost counts of plays I have performed in. Having said that, standing on the stage gives you a kind of freedom and power. That freedom of finally telling a story you believe in. Writing also does the same. Once the story is out there, you feel the freedom of finally telling what matters.
Personally I have made a lot of sacrifices and struggles to be a writer and be a part of Aatish. The journey has its own heartbreaks which I have never spoken about. Everything on the outside looks hanky dory, but like everyone I have a story, that I keep to myself. It took me a lot of courage and conviction. So, each time I tell a story, it’s my ode to my soul.
Being a part of the theatre group, Aatish, how has your experience been? In what ways is street play different from a conventional theatre act or a movie?
Aatish is home. It nurtures me. It heals my wounds. Wipes my tears. Pats my back. Hugs me tight. I cannot leave Aatish. It has a part of me I cannot disown. I am deeply emotionally bonded with it. The experience has been amazing. There is a thrill in telling a story anywhere. It can be street, a playground, a stage, a field or anyplace where you can stand.
Though each medium tells a story, street theatre is a different ballgame because you are closest to your audience. Sometimes you can almost touch them. You hardly need much. Your body is all you need and your voice. You can directly talk to the audience once it is over. That is the best part of street theatre. Some of the most empowering conversations have happened after the performances. So many people come and speak out. You end up stirring a new conversation hoping for a new dawn.
Tell us about the ways in which you intend to spread cross- border harmony? What kind of organisations are you associated with?
Cross border or in a family, harmony is the root to prosperity. It is the Govts. that makes policies. But as a common person, I can be kind and friendly. Both the countries have narratives about each other. As we do not have much interaction, it is easy to hate and demonize the other. But once you get to know people at personal level, you will realize that they are like you and I. The narratives of hate can only stop when we know each other people to people. Social media is a great platform for that.
We have a history of shared pain, but its 70 years, 3 generations have come by, we need to stop this hate and war. I hope that people I know, will have a changed narrative of an Indian as I will have of a Pakistani. And my only faith is this narrative. That it will one day change the course of history. Most importantly, I always hear what they have to say. If you want peace, you have to learn to listen to the other side and find a way to bring them to a place where you both can meet. That is the most important part of peace building, always hear the other out. Even if it mean hearing against yourself. And trust me, it works out, each time. Respond to them, do not react. You win half the battle, just by hearing out.
I am a part of Aman Ki Asha and Aghaz E Dosti’s endeavour for cross border peace. Mostly on facebook, I try contributing
Is the conventional understanding of a Pakistani national quite different from your experience?
I have been friends with Pakistanis for almost a decade. Since Orkut days. Let me assure you, the more I know them, the more they feel like us. I have realized that no matter where we go our sufferings and heartbreaks are same. If the world got together in sufferings and empathy, we would have been a thriving world. Its funny how we think, guns will bring peace. Just look around, with so many guns, what a peaceful world we created!
Lastly, what kind of a change do you expect the new millennial to bring into the society?
I hope the millennial brings in a world where diversity is accepted. A world where no matter who you are , what religion, gender or sexuality you choose, you are accepted as a part of everything. The more things are changing, the more it is remaining the same. There is a stereotype by enlarge for everything and we are supposed to follow that dictum. Let us remember that there can never be one truth. My truth might be different from you, but it still has equal rights to exists. Even if a truth is accepted by a majority, still nothing is absolute. I hope and work for a dawn where it is okay to be anything. May we create spaces where many a truths can be spoken, accepted and lived fearlessly and with dignity.
Paromita’s body of work can be found at : paromitabardoloi.blogspot.in