‘All of modern society is abuse. We are all constantly abandoned in some way or another,’ Rituparna emphasises as she talks about the perils of modern life. Disillusioned with smartphones, social media and the adrenaline-driven lifestyle of our times, she is of the belief that slow and conscious living is our natural state of being. When you consider that we, as a race, are in an unprecedented pursuit of wellness, you can’t refute Rituparna’s instinctive claims.
True to the meaning of her name, Rituparna has embraced the permanent impermanence of life’s journey. In her brave and haunting memoir, The Water Phoenix, she pens down her journey of healing from loss, sexual abuse and psychological trauma. But, I hesitate to call her a survivor or a fighter. She doesn’t endorse these terms or the philosophy behind it.
‘It’s like those fighter dogs. You train them to be aggressive and to fight and protect. And then you have these cuddly creatures at home who are scared of a cockroach. It’s that gentleness that’s so important.’
Healing is at the heart of Rituparna’s work and life. I ask her if writing the memoir was difficult. ‘No, because I had already healed by the time I started writing it.’ This is not to say it was a smooth process either. What the author didn’t realise was how much losing her mother had impacted her.
The memoir, which Chatterjee says she would’ve finished in three months instead of five, if not for child care issues at home, takes us through death, abuse, grief and trauma from the innocent lens of a young child. But, the truly magical thing about children is that they are like curious sponges. They soak everything in, but can also squeeze it all out. The young Rituparna processes the painful events of her life as lessons. The adult Rituparna is a lesson herself, in gentleness, forgiveness, and radical self-love.
Taking ownership of one’s own happiness
Rituparna decided to take charge of her own healing after a bout of postpartum depression. After several traumatic incidents, including a diagnosis of schizophrenia, this was the final straw. As she tells me, she was ‘losing her mind.’ But despite the havoc in her mind, she didn’t want to depend on medications that would numb her. Having always been ‘hyper-imaginative,’ this was understandably a nightmare for this author. So, she took charge of her own healing.She delved into ancient Eastern philosophies, and in particular, Shamanism, which had since ages seen how mild schizophrenia could be a gift, accessing other realms, allowing for healing.
‘I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for therapy or get help. But, that’s also a choice. Ultimately, you have to heal yourself. I took all these principles and tools of therapy and applied them on myself. And that’s the thing – anybody can heal themselves. It’s about finding your own happiness, and radical self-love. That’s what this book is about – it teaches you radical self-love.’
The importance of being present
Relationships are the fabric of human life. The quality of our lives is tethered to the quality of our interactions with ourselves, the people in our lives, our work, our bodies and our environment. ‘Healing is so important if you want to have real relationships. It seems the only committed relationship people have these days is with their smartphones. We can’t sit with ourselves. We get bored, and we want to numb ourselves with online shopping or social media or games or whatever. This is a problem,’ Rituparna laments.
And then she tells me something interesting: ‘I covered silicon valley’s billionaires for a long time, none of them do this. They would tell me. I don’t watch movies. They only read what helps them grow. They are not about money at all. They are only committed to self-growth. They don’t even call it healing.’
It’s all about presence. Before technology became an extension of our lives, we would focus on one task at a time. We would be wholly present with that one task – eat without checking the last notification on the phone, read without a video playing int he background, watch T.V. without another video open in the next tab. The billionaires of silicon valley, Rituparna tells me, are present in everything they do in a way that the average person today isn’t.
‘We’re constantly abandoning ourselves. It’s the saddest thing in the world!’ she says of this fast-paced life that ultimately splits our attention.
How conscious are you of the content you consume? Do you let the algorithm decide which YouTube video to watch next, or do you ask yourself what you’re in the mood for? Do you open Instagram or Twitter or Facebook on autopilot when you wake up?
‘Everything – what you watch, the food you eat, the fabric you wear – all the things effect us. It’s all energy. We don’t really how sensitive we are to the things around us. We should not make fun of sensitivity. That is our natural state. But we need to be consciously choose what we consume. That’s how we’ll have a better world.’
You are not what happened to you
‘When you start living your life based on some of these ancient philosophies, you realise that identity is not real or fixed. It changes. And that’s such a crucial part of healing. To understand who you are, and then to decide who you want to be. There’s a quote by Carl Jung, which is also in my book: ‘I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.’
Rituparna then introduces me to the concept of Emotional Vipassana – a practice where we simply observe our emotions and let them pass, as she says, ‘without giving it meaning’.
I write. I read. I do yoga. I hula hoop. I love cats and dogs in equal measure. I'd say the same for wine. My zen motto: "Eat kale for the body, cake for the soul." Find me on IG: @prachigangwani87