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Let's not confuse therapies with religion that has been embedded since childhood by family. It is very important to understand that religion and therapy are different, and break the stigma.
“The total distance from New Delhi to Melbourne is 10,213 km and the total distance to travel in search of oneself is limitless.”
In November 2011, Nandita Chakraborty had a near-fatal accident while on a rock climbing outing in Australia. The accident came on the heels of a tumultuous time in her life when she faced a series of setbacks in her personal and professional life. The fall left her with Acquired Brain Injury, a disability that impacts people in visible and invisible ways.
In the aftermath of her accident which was akin to rebirth and in the pause provided by the pandemic, Nandita sat down to write her memoir, Dirty Little Secrets. The book is a chronicle of not just physical displacement from India to Australia but an honest narration of the long, twisting journey the author had to undertake to find herself.
In this candid memoir of how a search for true love can take an ugly turn and shake up a person’s internal peace, Nandita takes us through her carefree, exciting life in Australia as a young woman in search of adventure and then back to the familiarity of her parent’s home in India when she needs to center herself. Yet, when she returns, she falls while rock climbing and ends up in the hospital with serious brain injury.
For the month of July which is Disability Pride Month, we chat with the author about her life before and after her life-altering fall and her motivations for sharing her life story through this book.
Your accident was a major turning point in your life. You consider it a ‘rebirth’. Was writing this book part of the ‘new you’ that took shape in the aftermath of the accident?
I think the accident guided me to a new life , a rebirth. I had to shed everything that was familiar. The old life was melting away and Mount Cathedral was just a medium that was changing the shape of me. It was always written for me like if I hadn’t come to Australia, if I hadn’t met Sam on- line, if I hadn’t joined a creative writing course, if I hadn’t met Franklin, if I hadn’t met with the accident. So yes as Rumi says, Wound is where the light enters.
It must have been challenging to put down your deepest fears and shine light on the parts of your life that showed your missteps. How did you manage to continue writing all the way through?
Yes, it has been tough writing this book and I won’t lie. It was like reliving those moments again. But it was cathartic, as if I was again face to face with my fear. I was in between my therapies after my accident when I was contemplating writing every day in my diary about the hospital moments. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
The narrative form you have chosen is non-linear. Any particular reason for this choice?
That was a deliberate choice because I had to draw the parallel between my old and the new life and suddenly then when I met with love for a brief period just before the accident, I had to show the collision of the two worlds hanging between a simple thread of love.
You have chosen to write a candid account of your struggles as a young Indian woman trying to find her place in the world – what was the main trigger/motivation for you to embark on this memoir?
I used to maintain a diary leading up-to my accident and I did present my friends and family with a copy of those accounts but after the accident it felt necessary to write a book especially when I felt that I was gifted with a new life. Plus I wrote for my young nieces, nephews and for every she, he , her, him, they, them and it.
In this fast moving world of transactional exchanges, forever adapting to change and nothing permanent, it was very important for me to write this. Call it love or call it being scammed in the name of love, it has been going around since the birth of time and now with so much noise and confusion with technology it’s imperative to come out with a voice.
Eleven years ago doesn’t seem that long ago but the vulnerability of a woman at that time was still fragile and still constrained from voicing an opinion. So I think that was the trigger. But that had to take a back seat until in 2018 I began giving it a shape.
It was only during the pandemic lockdown that I managed to secure an agent and the two of us plus my editor began to indulge ourselves in collating information from the journals. We had plenty of time and it took all that time with my editor and my agent to get this book done.
Growing up in India and spending your adulthood in Australia – how did the move affect your life trajectory – would your life have been different if you had stayed in India?
At the age of seven I was packed off with my sister to a boarding school in Meghalaya. It was a lonely process with strangers and we became each other’s shadows. That displacement has always been with me, be it in Meghalaya or in Delhi where the family eventually moved to live. The place to call home was always lingering on the back of my mind. During the 80’s not having a lot of the modern technologies we hid ourselves behind books and the social chatter was only at the soirees with relatives with unending stories.
I always missed my mother’s hug and my father’s voice and eating our meals together, and in the absolute silence of Australia, I especially missed the deafening crescendo of the Delhi horns.
It’s hard to say if my life would have been different if I had not left India because life is what we make of it and fate is something we are born with so I might say life could have been in a different proportion.
The switch from being alone, independent and in charge of your own life in Australia to returning to your parent’s home marked a big change in how you live your day to day life. Was it more difficult to adjust when you arrived in India or when you returned back to Australia?
The one thing when I came back to India was that I thought I was all mature. Grown up. I thought I had all the answers and my modest life in Australia was illustrious and I was practical. I was wrong! I was frightened and I think I was wearing this facade because I was in denial that I had lost the fight to agree between logic and what I wanted.
I wanted the food, the stories, the love and the family but I also just wanted to go back to Melbourne because I was caught up in relatives, neighbors meddling in my business. But, the soothing marble walls of the temple, the questions that I had been asking myself, the gods and the people in India brought me back to the center of my understanding.
You have honestly described the difficulties and dangers of dating (both in person and online) on the path to finding true love. What would be some practical advice that you would share with someone who is walking the same path?
Falling in love with someone is beautiful. Whether it’s at a bar or online it doesn’t matter, but what matters is to know the person better.
Love is not practical but one needs to be cautious what to indulge in and how much information one wants to share. Just keep your ears and eyes open for any red flags and go with your gut instinct. It will not lie to you at all.
For an Indian living in India, the chaos of everyday life and the attraction of the oasis offered by religious rituals/festivals and spiritual quest is not unusual. How has the reception been to these parts of your book when seen through the eyes of someone from outside India (eg. your friends and acquaintances in Australia)
The quest for Spiritualism may it be God or whatever one is looking for depends on awareness and I think the awareness of the last twenty two years of my life here. People are now more aware about themselves, the last two years especially have given people the time to reason and reflect .
Yes! Lot of the readers in Australia and my friends were so in awe and not one of them underestimated the power of love for the Gods and the people collaborating together to celebrate and also stand in support in a crisis.
You mention your experiences with therapy, something that is not openly spoken about in India. Do you think therapy is something that should become an integral part of coping strategies in addition to the support of family and the structure of religious practices that is currently followed in India?
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is a silent epidemic and Cognitive Disability is one of its attributes, ABI can happen from stroke, injury or even a sports person can acquire. Patients with ABI are often termed as lazy, people misunderstand us all the time just because we look normal but these are beyond our control. We do want people to treat us fairly but just because we have an able body it doesn’t mean we don’t have an impairment. People only took notice of me when they started seeing me walking with a stick and then the conversation started. So, I think as much as the onus is on people to understand us, we also have the onus to break the stigma that surrounds ABI. So Hinduism is a way of life. Let’s not confuse therapies with religion that has been embedded since childhood by family. It is very important to understand that religion and therapy are different, and break the stigma.
My disability is something that cannot be seen or touched and that’s why it’s called an invisible disability. I treat my diagnosis. My brain is not what it used to be. I am still the same person but just think differently. Being different brings us together.
Finding solidarity with the women of The Missing Peace gave you an anchor during a tough time. How important do you think friendship and sisterhood are for women to manage their lives?
If the world was run by women we would teach about love and empathy to the whole world because we are each other’s best friend. We might fight but we also have each other’s back. We are the Kalis and the Durgas who will rise up and be that resolution.
Anything you want to tell readers of your book?
Own your shame, wear your shame like your crowning glory. Remember you fall from grace only to stand up to your fears. Watch yourself grow stronger and see how life returns to you in ten folds. As you read my book without prejudice, choose to empower yourself with the truth.
In her memoir, author Nandita Chakraborty observes, “Life is not a hotel where we pack our bags and check in only to find the nearest exit when there’s an emergency”.
The deep wish to share her ups and downs, her doubts and her insights are what made Nandita Chakraborty write this memoir. As we all know, life is not a straight and easy road from cradle to grave, it is filled with detours and potholes. What matters is how we tackle these and make sense of our own lives and its value.
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Dr. Ranjani Rao is a trained scientist and a self-taught writer, the author of Rewriting My read more...
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