Paanch Saal Paro-normal

On April 18, 2010 I wrote my first-ever column of Paronormal Activity. I had great doubts about producing a weekly column. The editor at the time, probably familiar with writers’ affectations of doubt and fussy despair (what Bengalis call ‘naikamo’) said “just do it for six months.” Now, here I am, the goodest of girls, five years later, with full attendance not a column missed. If emojis were permitted, I’d put a row of smileys here.

At first, each deadline day was torture for the people around me as I slumped about spreading doom and gloom, agonising over what to write about.

Illustration/Amit Bandre
Illustration/Amit Bandre

I guess I agonised because when we set out on any creative enterprise people intone ‘insights’ about what “readers”, “audience” and “public” like/accept/want. It implies your thoughts are not sufficient. You should somehow know what others think and echo that. You should preferably say it in a grave, dadi-wala, authoritative way or people won’t take you seriously.

While stereotypes and generalisations are rooted in reality, truth though, is an ever-expanding understanding of that reality. By writing what I feel, without that venerable vibe, trying to do it as fairly and professionally as I can with as much respect for those I disagree with, as love for those I agree with, I’ve learned readers/people/audiences are not a frozen entity. Many different ways of thinking prosper in the world.

For 300 weeks I’ve been surprised weekly, with what I thought was an unpopular view striking a strong chord; with what I imagined was an obscure observation eliciting dozens of messages saying “you said what I was thinking”; with considered, thoughtful, comments which are a far cry from the unpleasant trolling we have come to expect. Yaniki, I’ve learned, that like in romance, so in expressing opinion, second-guessing is a boring idea and risk is the only viable option. You have to risk saying what you really feel, to receive an answer that really matters I guess.

Of course it’s not all chicken soup for the soul. Karela juice is also served. I’ve had a movie star complain about me. I’ve been invited to stuff only in the expectation I’d write about things here and felt dismayed to realise it (sensible friends point out it’s proof your column is popular to which I, mournful as always, say, “but what about me? I also want to be popular na!”).

Gaalification has come: I will never forgive you I saw X film because of your column, who is this auntie to criticise Kapil? Westernised feminist, recently, 5-Star activist (they did not mean I get a chocolate I think. Not even that I get a star for finishing five years. Hmff). Sometimes when people have told me “I recognise you from your picture,” I have hoped they do not mean the wonderful but extremely comical cartoons the illustrator makes of me (which I love).

I no longer wonder what to write about. I’ve developed the opposite problem of wanting to write about too many things each week. The column has invigorated my curiosity, revealing the world as an exciting and varied place. The weekly practice of writing has made me humbler, more efficient, happy.

A part of me thinks, five years, and goes ‘dude, you getting old.’ But the truth is, writing this column (senti alert) actually makes me feel young because it offers infinite opportunities to learn new things, and helps me be part of a rich ongoing conversation about the political and philosophical meaning of our everyday lives. Thank you for reading it, I hope we will be talking for a long while more.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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