Toxic positivity through Instagram captions and seemingly uplifting quotes can sometimes be more stifling than the situation we find ourselves in. Such an attitude oversimplifies emotions, discounts valid triggers and expects us to just magically heal. Surely that should be easy, they claim in the happy typeface.
For celebrated poet Nikita Gill, writing poems with utmost honesty while making sense of the pandemic was crucial. And Where Hope Comes From was a project born out of that process.
“It is really important to hold space for despair, to hold space for grief. I know this for a fact that if we don’t find a healthy way to express our feelings, they turn into poison very soon. And that is the last thing I wanted to do,” she says.
In one poem titled ‘When the Crisis Hit’, Gill writes about the need to carefully examine and confront the hopelessness staring at us in the face instead of needlessly suppressing it. “This collection of poems was certainly cathartic,” she says. “But one needs to be honest about what one feels. Because it is hard not to feel let down. Hard not to feel that our leaders could have done better.”
But, like all things human, hope must find a way. Even though the road to it might be a long and arduous one. As Gill puts it: “As a species, we’ve proven that we are a very resilient species. We are worryingly adaptable too.”
The collection, the way Gill sees it, is not a self-help book. She is aware that “she is not a therapist” and that all she has are some truths and some “hard-won wisdom”.
The long road to self-love
Reading the book, the theme of self-love struck me, particularly as it comes at a time when we’re always second-guessing ourselves; at a time when most of us have an intensely complicated relationship with loving and accepting our bodies and lives.
In ‘Daily Mantra 5’, Gill writes how there is no better time to learn to love yourself than the mirror that silence gives you. And in the lockdown, we were and still are, effectively in front of that mirror of silence all the time.
“The thing about loving yourself is something I see pushed a lot, but people rarely talk about how hard it is to love oneself. Particularly when you might have unresolved trauma or this constant anxiety that tells you every single day that there are aspects to you that you are not allowed to love,” she says.
For Gill, the distinction couldn’t be clearer: you need to learn to love aspects of yourself that no one has learned to love. She believes that we use the busyness of our lives and our mundane routines so that we don’t have to hear the sound of our own thoughts.
“For instance, you see someone standing at a bus stand and you just observe them. A thought flits through their faces and their expressions change,” she says animatedly. “But immediately, they take out their phones and start scrolling because perhaps they didn’t like that thought and they want to distract themselves through the scrolling. But confronting your thoughts is what will lead you to love yourself.”
Gill acknowledges that writing is a humbling craft and that intellectual smugness will only get you so far. She believes even a very bad book might teach you the lesson of a lifetime.
“It is important to be a student all the time. As humans, individually, we really don’t have that much to offer. If only we could learn more, listen more, then the world would be a kinder place,” she says.
Arman Khan is based in Mumbai who has been contributing to Grazia India’s culture section for the past four months. Apart from art and film reviews for the magazine, he has had the opportunity to interview artists like Gulzar, Chloe Zhao, Matthew McConaughey, Amitav Ghosh, Grammy-nominated composer Max Richter, Ira Mukhoty, William Dalrymple, among others.
Featured image credit: Instagram/@nikita_gill; Editing/LiveWire