Two months ago I closed the Whatsapp group of Alphabet Sambar. It was a laborious process where I had to individually remove each member. I had to consider in what order to do this so people wouldn’t feel unceremoniously ejected. The Members list was organised in an unfathomable order (Alphabetical? What about names not on my contacts list? Numerical? That would make much more sense than I credit the platform with having). I began by removing those I was certain wouldn’t take it personally or wouldn’t notice. Then I deleted numbers that didn’t show on my contact list deciding that these were changed numbers or relationships. I reasoned seeing the multiple deletions of members before them would signal that this was not in fact, personal. Lastly, I began with the people who had been engaged with the community. I have treated the ending of this group with as much consideration as I gave its setup & management.
I started Alphabet Sambar in 2013. It was the first new thing born of the post ex me. While I’ve had other relationships, that is the one that killed everything I was and had. I had to rebuild myself, body, mind and spirit and then regenerate a whole new world. At the start of that relationship I had been a corporate cog with a side hobby of writing. In that period, I had become a writer, with several published articles, two books (unpublished), a maven in new media and an entrepreneur. At the time I set up Alphabet Sambar, all else in my life at the time was a trauma reaction or a survival mechanism. Alphabet Sambar became my first baby. Mine own, all by my unfiltered self.
As I’m writing this, my mind is also working on a writing challenge that I’ve taken up – April A to Z 2023. The first time I tried this challenge, I was standing on the shores of a new life, after I’d been shipwrecked from relationships, career and self. I wrote because I was the only one standing there and it seemed like a thing to do. Writing on a daily challenge like this one forces you to discard the anxieties, the worries that you aren’t good enough, the wish that someone would help you, validate you and tell you that you deserve to write. Since the world had abandoned me, there was just me. And like Wilson to Chuck Noland in Castaway, my stories became my personality outside myself that held me together when what was inside me was falling apart. And when I put the stories out into the world, it was like setting out on a raft into the middle of the ocean. I was found.
Alphabet Sambar became that life boat. I would form the group a few months later. I wanted a space to explore words without the pressures brought in by career writing and labels. Every one of the stories I wrote in the months earlier would pass through the group as they helped me tease out what I was trying to say, stood witness for the anguish I was expressing in those stories and guided me towards bigger and better. I wanted the group to be for people like me who did not (yet) think of ourselves as writers. I was not wise enough to realise that it would attract people who were like me in deeper ways than that.
As the years went by, Alphabet Sambar grew by leaps & bounds in numbers, geography & depth. And I became a writer, in my own mind. I began redefining myself in intrusive conversations by saying, “I am parent to a whole community”. As in my most ideal vision of parenting, I experienced the pride of watching my progeny grow, feel part of every published work, hear my own appreciation in every clap. Alphabet Sambar brought such deep, nourishing rewards for me. Building a space for people who loved words taught me the most about words, safety, people and about loving. A decade of it.
The Whatsapp group was Alphabet Sambar’s first entry to the world, the place where I first brought its name into being, choosing how to spell it, space or no space. Every step I took towards closing the group was like touching beloved keepsakes that opened doors to memory treasures. All the SecretSanta letter activities we did. The time we had to decide whether to admit writers of quality or anyone with an interest (the decision to welcome all was unanimous). The hard lockdown months made bearable by our Google Meetings workshopping writing while a virus raged. The nervous one who couldn’t spell who would one day stand on a stage and make people laugh. The time MeToo snapped at our fragile bonds. The hostilities of gender that waged war via words and the bloodied victories and casualties. The student who switched a career path after becoming one of us. The rockstar I’d seen on stage, who taught me to modulate my breathing for performance and hugged me for helping him with a song. The scientist who wrote me letters from Italy while I brought our meetings online for him. The students who welcomed us into their campuses. The friends who indulged me when I asked them to teach us about architecture, theatre, music & politics. The many stories, poems, scripts, blogposts, letters that passed under my eye and some that returned to me with the validation of the world and always, always thank you Ramya. Every one of these memories became a seed planted in my being that made me blossom into who I am today. I do not need to cling to keepsakes to show their value. The group had to be closed because it was time.
I realised then, that I was giving my beloved baby a death that it deserved. Because everything that lives must have a death, if it has lived well and been loved, it also deserves a death of peace, dignity and love. To expect something to live forever is a lie. As Alphabet Sambar and its creator, I weathered the illusory power that words give us, the turmoil of discovering fellow wordsmiths being liars. I know now that writers are not liars; lying people are liars. Writing may be the most honest, authentic thing I will ever do in my life. I have loved and been loved by words (they’re so good to me). Words deserve my truth. The community I created to help me discover these truths deserved a death of respect. Now I am grateful for Whatsapp’s clunky processes that let me linger over the life that had been lived and to say goodbye in peace.
This month I return to fiction writing after a hiatus. I also return to writing alone, without the comforting embrace of deadlines, payment or a support community. It is scary. But I am starting to think I’m the kind of creative person who is fueled by fear, abandonment, loneliness and yes perhaps even death & destruction. Closing the Whatsapp group took a lot of mental energy. I still haven’t closed the other platforms; I’m not strong enough for that yet. But it doesn’t feel right to go back there for feedback now. There is always survivor’s guilt when you stand on the other side of witnessing a death. But another part of me also feels like this is something I need to do on my own right now. Too long had I become jaded & complacent in my writing as a community I parented looked to me (and looked up to me). I feel the lightness of being a beginner again, as Jobs says in his speech ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish‘. I guess there are such things as resurrection & reincarnation (my themes for this month, by the way). And there needs to be a death before that.