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Writer and motivational speaker Paromita Bardoloi realised the need for a safe, inclusive online space for people to connect on during the lockdown, so she started Let’s Huddle India.
The recent pandemic has locked all of us in our own homes, in social isolation – and we are people with a degree of privilege. Yet, some of us are terribly lonely, with no way to connect with others, meet up, and vent our frustrations. These are times no one could have prepared us for, where even touching our face needs some thinking. Locked up in homes, without those who support us in our daily lives like our domestic workers, we lost our sense of community built over years, almost overnight.
Isolation isn’t the best place to be in. Even if we can reach out online, there is no guarantee of connecting. To deal with this phase of lockdown, writer and motivational speaker Paromita Bardoloi has created an online space called Let’s Huddle India, where strangers can meet in a safe, inclusive environment, and have conversations that matter.
Here’s a brief conversation with her on why she started this, and the responses she has received so far.
“This is a listening circle where anyone above the age of 18 can register themselves and join in conversations,” says Paromita. “We have all become a screen addicted generation. We are connected, but hardly involved. Loneliness has become a rampant disease. Every human being has that innate need to connect, and that’s why these listening circles are created where people meet, sit in circles and share life stories.”
Bardoloi further adds that she has been holding listening circles since 2018, but when the lockdown was declared on 24th of March, a lot of panic was precipitated, and messages began flying everywhere. That was when she decided that this listening circle was the need of the hour.
Since then 10 such circles have been held online.
There is nothing wrong in being positive. Positive outlook definitely helps us wade through difficult times. But over time there has been a rise of positive toxicity.
How could positivity be toxic, you could ask. It is when people are expected to be positive, and told that they are “supposed to be happy and positive” all the time, even when they are worried and stressed.
This is often not possible – positivity cannot be conjured up when all your instincts drive you in the other direction. And there’s something else – with the pandemic lockdowns, a new kind of pressure to “do something” or “learn something new” has started.
Paromita says, “There is nothing wrong, if in these lockdowns someone can come out with a new skill. But there are so many who are in abusive homes or on the verge of losing a job, or may have lost one. Some people are uncertain from where there next paycheck might come. You can’t put up posters of ‘positive vibes only.’ The range of human emotions doesn’t come with a template. You can’t always be ‘inspired’ watching a motivational video. Humans grieve and fall apart too. Some rise from the ashes, some never do. The question now is, can we create spaces that are all inclusive, where everything including the broken are accepted?”
That is why Let’s Huddle India was created, a safe space where all emotions, all stories can have a space. And anyone can join, no matter who they are – for example, when mothers join the sessions they are more than welcome to bring along their kids. It’s okay if the kids sometimes cry or make noise. Because that’s how real life is – messy.
If there is one thing that stares in our face when the pandemic struck, it is some people’s ‘privilege’.
Paromita says, “The images of the migrant workers kept me awake for many nights. As if India had got divided into two parts. The haves and the have nots. The have nots were on the streets and the haves suddenly started a campaign on learning new things during isolation and ‘staying positive’.”
Yes, everyone has the right to use time as they wish. We already live in an exhibitionist culture, and it felt as if this lockdown enhanced it, especially with the many ‘challenges’ on social media.
Of course, someone may sincerely do something new / learn something worthwhile in this time. But there is a thin line between engaging with your time genuinely and becoming a part of the “look at me” culture. Those strategic images taken with tripods or otherwise, that constant barrage of posts telling the world how fine I am doing shows a lack of empathy.
“I come from a very safe home,” says Paromita. “My home has absolute zero abuses. I have huge lawns to walk around, and sit and read books. I have no loans. I have no young children or old ones that need my care. I can ‘be positive’ and learn a new art online, but there are so many who are going through their darkest phase – how systemically we have ‘othered’ them! It’s such a tragedy of our times. This circle is a way to create that sense of empathy and solidarity that you belong, and that we hear you.”
She continues, “The thing is, when you truly understand your privilege, and your actions spring from that knowingness, you create a world filled with empathy. Of course you should not feel guilty of your privileges, but don’t make it into a show during a time when millions are suffering.”
So how does a session of Let’s Huddle India work?
Participants from all genders and all walks of life can participate. The first question that is asked during the huddle time is, how everyone is faring? And everyone speaks about how they feel. They are assured that there will be no judgement, no matter what they share or ask, and each person is listened to, with empathy. The conversation can go on to any topics that come up.
Paromita says “The whole idea is to have a space where every story is heard. And the thing is that when one is heard in a safe space, the person begins their first step towards healing. If we start listening to all stories, maybe this generation, and the following generations will heal.”
We hope that these spaces grow more and start stitching a more inclusive society.
If you want to be a part of such circles, join them on Facebook and Instagram. All circles are online as of now.
Image source: Paromita Bardoloi
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