by Harmanpreet Bhatti (with interview by Samannaz Rohanimanesh)
Throughout the twenty-something years of my life, I’ve gone through my fair share of icebreakers: Where are you from? What’s your favorite sport? What are your career goals? To date, the only noteworthy question I’ve ever received is: If you weren’t in the field you are in as of now, what would you be doing? It’s an overused question, especially in the academic field, but I’ve enjoyed hearing my peers’ responses and seeing their reactions to my answer. “I don’t know, I’d probably be studying death.” Immediately, people would raise their eyebrows and give me confused looks. “Oh? Death? That’s a...strange field.” Strange to some, but to others, death is a field that deserves far more recognition.
Death has become a taboo subject in Western societies, a phenomenon that may be associated with improvements in medicine that have led to increased lifespan, or with changing opinions regarding religion and the afterlife. Regardless of society’s refusal to acknowledge death, it is an inevitable fate for each and every one of us. Ignoring our collective destiny has had several consequences for us, including complicating the process of grieving and accepting loss. In fact, the hardest loss is often one that has yet to happen, one that is stuck between the intersection of life and death – a loss in limbo.
A loss in limbo is a loss that has not occurred, but forces one to wonder if and when it will take place. According to Louise Hay and David Kessler, writers of the book You Can Heal Your Heart, “life sometimes forces you to live in limbo, not knowing if you will experience loss or not.” My grandfather passed away last May, after dealing with complicated health issues for several years. In the last days of his life, his health began to improve and a part of me was optimistic, thinking he would recover and everything would go back to normal. But another part of me had already begun the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – over the loss that was still in limbo. It’s weird, grieving someone who is still alive and physically present. What makes it harder is the inability to share these thoughts and feelings with others. No one wants to think about the possibility that their loved one will not make it through a complicated surgery or survive an illness. “Wondering if there is going to be a loss can feel as bad as suffering a loss itself,” say Hay and Kessler. However, if the grieving process is one that is done as a family and as a community, shouldn’t we prepare for an eventual loss as a group as well?
Losses in limbo do not receive much attention, and often do not draw the sympathy one would receive following a loss by death. I’ve spent the past year of my life trying to reconcile with a loss in limbo, and, to be honest, it stinks. The intersection of life and death, of acceptance and denial, of celebrating and grieving is a complex one. However, becoming more comfortable with exploring this subject, instead of turning away and ignoring it may make dealing with loss, especially a loss in limbo, a little easier.
Essay first appeared in Aspirants Magazine, August 2018.
1. What initially ignited the urge to start a personal-story blog?
I started graduate school last year in a new state and environment and found it incredibly stressful; as someone who’s lived at home her entire life, the thought of moving to the other side of the country for two years was daunting. A few months into my program, I began to realize that I needed some sort of outlet to de-stress, but I wasn’t sure what artistic medium to turn to. At the same time, I had friends and family back home who were asking for updates on school, my experiences, and life in general. I figured the best way to kill two birds with one stone would be to create a blog and use it as a way to write my thoughts and share my graduate school experiences with people back home. It quickly turned into an outlet for me to share my opinions about other issues in my life, including relationships and losses.
2. Your blog is called The Bakwaas Blog which means "utter nonsense" in your language (quoted from your blog). Why do you emphasize using this word and how does this word outline your thoughts, writing style, and idiosyncrasy?
I honestly called my blog “bakwaas” as a joke at first since it’s a word I use to talk about pretty much everything, but I kept describing my blog as nonsense for two reasons: 1) self-deprecation keeps me humble and 2) I don’t want anyone to take my blog too seriously. My writing style is straightforward and my posts are all pretty easy to read, so I don’t want anyone to expect long, eloquent entries when they first visit my blog. At times, I think the name is appropriate – I write essays and rants that are sometimes streams of consciousness and, at first, they sound like incoherent messes. Still, I think that’s what makes my writing appealing. If my writing is easy enough for my parents to read and relate to, I’m sure it’ll be easy for most people to read and connect with too. I’m not entirely sure if my readers like the blog name though. I’ve received a few comments from people questioning the name and telling me that my writing isn’t “bakwaas,” which is reassuring. The name’s stuck though so I guess “bakwaas” is just part of my brand now.
3. How do you make your personal stories intriguing enough for a wide range of audiences? How does it survive the contrite, the commonplace?
I like to think that my blog entries are personal but relatable. I worry that I’m oversharing constantly, but I think that’s what makes my posts appealing to my readers. I’m not the type of person to sugar-coat anything and I enjoy opening up about the good and bad experiences in my life. In this day and age, it’s become more and more common for people to filter out the negative and unappealing aspects of their lives and only post things online if it makes them look good. Posting “raw” and “unfiltered” pieces makes it easier to stand out. Plus, it’s a lot easier to start a conversation if you’re willing to pour your heart out to a bunch of strangers on the internet.
4. Which bloggers/writers/creators have influenced you the most?
There are a good number of creators who have inspired and motivated me to create. Rupi Kaur’s become a household name in the Desi community at this point, but she’s helped me feel comfortable about sharing my opinions online without worrying about what aunties and uncles on Facebook might say. Anna Akana’s another brilliant creator who’s inspired me a lot. I admire how open and vulnerable she is in all of her creations while still maintaining a quirky sense of humor, making her work entertaining to watch. I also read Zat Rana’s works and his writing’s helped me think critically of the world and the human condition.
Is this just the beginning? Or an end? Where will this blog take you and what are your future artistic plans?
I really hope this isn’t the end! I’ve been blogging for around a year now, but I hope to continue writing, even if it’s only 1-2 pieces a month. My blog and writing, in general, are both hobbies and I don’t expect to land a book deal or something down the line (and I’m completely fine with that!). An essay I wrote a few months ago was recently published in a magazine, which was super exciting. I’d like to continue writing similar pieces in hopes of reaching broader audiences so others can reflect on their life experiences too.