Dipika Kohli


By Dipika Kohli

I got some nice feedback on the last column. Thanks if you wrote to me sharing your thoughts about it. I smiled while reading these candid notes, as some of you had talked about your own anecdotes on how you, too, may have, at one point or another, also questioned the need to over verbalize our personal opinions. Pauses help quell this pattern, I’ve noticed. Yet silence, silence is so winning.

I wanted to share a little more, in answer to a few direct questions that came up, from some of you. What made you decide to write this piece, Dipika? Why now?

I will start with the second question. So far this year for this column, I’ve written about centering moments. Maybe you read the story I wrote about going out every morning to the exact same very small, very local café for tea in the mornings. Or how there was that jaunt that I didn’t mean to take, way out beyond the outskirts of the city where I live, which is Phnom Penh, and how it felt to let the adventure that wasn’t planned simply happen while even managing to relax into it, somehow, despite the circumstances. Thinking about these, I recalled why I had suggested picking this column back up after a two-year hiatus, and why I began to set about sketching, drafting, writing, and rewriting, this series, Kismuth & The Way II.

Kismuth pieces do not start with an agenda. They go where they will go. Things happen, or they don’t, poetically, but that’s not the purpose of it. To go and see is. To try new things. Could that be something to write home about?

Quiet space is what Kismuth loves. A great quiet emerges when, and if, you make it a priority to find the space to be still; inwardly, but also, in relation to others, too.

That’s the answer to the first question, by the way, about why I wrote that piece. It’s also why I write all the pieces in this series, and why I publish Kismuth books on its own website, too. To center and spotlight that which I interpret, and, through writing, invite others to investigate into on their own, too, namely, that which resides within and around The Quiet.

Writing is a means of getting there. For me. Writing things out and seeing where the writing takes you. It’s not a linear process, for me. It’s an unveiling, and an illumination, too, if I’m lucky. Sometimes I hit a high note, which I chalk up to dedicated practice; I’ve been writing every day for fifteen years for Kismuth stuff, and before that, on staff at newspapers in Seattle and southwest Ireland.

Now I’m in Cambodia. It’s the third day of Khmer New Year, today; this is the biggest holiday of the year. As most people have gone to the provinces to visit their families, almost all of Phnom Penh’s businesses are shut. Walking down the street you’ll see a lot of flags, but not that many people. No street sellers, very few cars, some motos, and a few tourists who perhaps are wondering where everyone is. I used to be one of them, when I first got here in 2014, at this very time of year.

I’d put my initial impressions of life in Phnom Penh into the short book Breakfast in Cambodia (Kismuth / 2016). Everything was so new then. I recall a friend of mine saying that she thought this book would be about food. It isn’t. It’s about making time for yourself to do something (like a weekly breakfast out on my own), as a way to build a habit so as to ease right into flow. Breakfast was fun and light to write, perhaps because it was such a contrast to the short book I’d finished right before it.

That one had been quite a different kind of memoir, the prequel to the Kismuth series. I’d alluded to it time and time again when I’d launch each new book in the series. I put what I feel are my best collection of words into that prequel. I had to. It was so important. It’s called Kanishka (Kismuth / 2015).

This year, apart from Kismuth & The Way II, I’ve been writing in earnest on the topic of ‘Soft Skills’ for a weekly e-mag I produce, called S P A C E. Very different conversations take place over there, when I ask professionals in human relations, say, what they think about this topic. Granted, it’s trendy, but that’s part of the reason “soft skills” had crossed my desk. Empathy, active listening, effective communication, “bottlenecks” at work, and “Return to Office” are some of the things people brought up in conversations with me, over several dozen email threads and just as many calls with people across the world, this past season. We talked a lot.

Occasionally, there’d be so much to say that I’d invite an interviewee in S P A C E to join me for an audio recording, which I then edited into an MP4 for my podcast, over at my personal site. My favorite episodes are “New Baselines”, “Certainty”, and “Making a Magazine,” the last one being an interview with the editor of this magazine, Samir Shukla. Quite fun. Listen to them at: dipikakohli.com/podcast.

Dipika Kohli is an author who is based in Phnom Penh. Discover her books at kismuth.com and other projects at dipikakohli.com.