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This Is Me, This Is My Life [Touching Story Of A Young Violinist]

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By Akshay Subramaniam:

Everything was fuzzy and distorted. Straining my eyes to focus on the small thing by my bed that looked like a small wire, I was wondering where it was coming from or what it was doing there. I tried to trace down the origin, moved my head but the pain was excruciating. I was hungry and weak, and more importantly I wanted to go to Lincoln Street. Wait a second, if I am not in Lincoln Street then Where am I? Suddenly, the coolness of metal presses against my skin, a jab of pain and everything turns black again.

I woke up to find that the small wire was missing. My whole body was still screaming in pain when I tried to move it, I could do nothing more than retrace my thoughts to what had brought me here. Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath I tried to relax myself ignoring the pain.

The summer of 1998, month of July, Friday, not so sure about that the date, I was never good with numbers; I remember waking up before the sun had risen, a habit I was used to and very proud of. Hard to find early risers these days, most of my friends had the habit of staying up late- partying through the night. All of them had a good rapport with women and were enjoying life to the fullest. Beer and women, what more could a twenty-six-year-old want? Scarred during college and school with education, people would term this part of the life as the ‘time to loosen up those strings a bit’. That was them and well, this is me. I was neither interested in education nor in sports nor, quite surprisingly, definitely not in women.

I had found my heart in music; inane and abstract many would say and the rest would probably say ‘Do you earn anything by plucking a couple of strings?’ or ‘I used to be interested in music too, but then you know, let’s get practical and have a look at the real world’. With a smug look on their faces, sarcasm in their eyes, they would look at me playing my violin and say, ‘I study almost 90 books excluding the reference materials and you study some seven strings, you must be having a tough time there. Hang in there, buddy.’ But I had never paid any attention to these remarks. I loved playing the violin and I also knew I was quite good with it. There were people– though they were few in number– who would appreciate my style and would always say, ‘My boy, you have a future in music, just keep going.’ So I kept going, and now it turned out that those few people were right.

James Hathway, lead violinist, Pounds, London, a monthly salary of 8,000 dollars, brown wavy hair, tall and built, twenty-six-years-old with a horde of female fans – this is me. Now my friends were dying to be in my shoes, people waiting in queues to see me, to get my autograph, or if they are lucky enough, then have a cup of tea with me. Life has never been better. I opened the doors to my apartment, lights automatically dim and the butler asks me, ‘Sir Would you like to have steak tonight?’.

I say,’ No John, it’s okay, I think I will have dinner with Ms. Kate.’

John looks at me enquiringly and I reply,’ Yes, John the daughter of the Defense minister -Kate Michaels.’ He smiles at me and says, ‘I am glad you find this woman charming sir, she seemed polite and quite elegant on the news.’

‘Oh, is that so? I have no plans for the evening so I guess I could go on a date with her. There has been this Chinese restaurant I have been dying to go to. It would be a shame to dine alone.’

John seemed very offended, ‘Sir, this woman is the daughter of the Minister of Defense, I don’t think it would be quite wise to fool around with her. You should at least give this woman a chance. She deserves it. She too would have many men waiting at her doorstep for a chance to talk with her.’

I looked at him for a couple of seconds. Words echoed inside my head, ‘who the hell does this butler think he is? I should fire him and teach him a lesson. He will come back to me, starving, begging for food like a mongrel then I would smirk at him and toss a bone, he would understand that it is NEVER right to talk back to James Hathway.’ ‘Well that’s a story for another day’, I thought and nodded my head.

I began to gear up for dinner. I looked at myself in the mirror, that Dolce Gabbana suit, Ray Ban glasses, that Rolex watch and not to forget about that Porsche waiting to pick me up. The irony about all of this was that I didn’t pay for half of the things I owned. Many women find me attractive but I never have interest in any of them. Using them for power and status had been my style. I wished for a Lamborghini in my garage and Kate had pressed the button. I had no intention of having a relationship with her. There were loads from where she came from and my duty was to humor them, accessorizing myself in the process.

She was elegant, no doubt about that, and blue was definitely her colour. She tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear and began questioning me about my interests and hobbies the moment I bumped into her at the restaurant. She was tall, fair and her hair had an ebony colour. She went on rambling about her. We had not found a table or started to decide on what to eat, and I had learnt about half of the things she did in her school including the subjects she had majored in. That Lamborghini better be smooth and fast, I thought to myself, stifling a grin. She was not very different from other women; all of them were quite the same. ‘I heard you play your violin at some random place, and I was quite lost on seeing you play’ they would all say and I would never get bored by that remark.

I always had my philosophy – Life just keeps going on, you keep going until you are satisfied, and I never get satisfied. Sipping coffee from a mug, I was staring at Kate sleeping peacefully in my bed. It was getting late for my appointment with the governor. He had wanted to talk to me about something, he had hinted that he had always admired me as a musician and was considering recruiting me for his campaign. ‘Well, the usual strategy then, humour him for a while and then squeeze him for some cash,’ I thought. Kate was stirring in bed.

The Porsche was parked outside; getting in, I was trying to make a list of things I would require for a summer in Hawaii. I was planning on going on a holiday somewhere, the beaches, sun and bikini clad women were luring me. I took a left turn and was driving to Lincoln Street to meet the governor, the next thing I knew I heard a loud thud and people were gathered around me, staring with horrified expressions on their faces.

I flexed my eyes open to find a middle aged man examining that small wire, taking notes. He smiled at me and said,’ Good Morning Mr.Hathway, How are you feeling?’ I looked at him with a blank expression but managed to nod. His smile turned to a grin and then he looked at me in the eye and said, ‘You are quite lucky to be alive, sir. God was with you’. He did not seem too happy about it though, I wanted shake his hand as a thank you for having saved my life and then I understood why he wasn’t happy. My fingers just lay still!

I did not understand what had happened. I just continued to look at the doctor shock-stricken, unable to comprehend what had happened. I was skeptical. I was getting very uncomfortable, scared and insecure. No, it can’t be that. This has to be some kind of a sick joke. Dr. Brown looked at me pathetically and said, ‘You must have realized by now, your right arm has been paralyzed. I am very sorry for your loss.’ He left without turning back, leaving me in solitude.

Randoms thoughts filled my head- Kate, John, the governor, my Lamborghini and then my future. I shuddered. I moved my left arm and held my hair, crushing it, tears rolling down my eyes. I was broke. My dreams were shattered and I no longer felt in me the surge I had. I was devoid of my right arm, my one-day girlfriend and my future. I just lay on the bed, staring at the wall, feeling deprived of something most important to me.

Three days pass with not much of a dialogue, John had come to take care of me. He took very good care of me, trying to avoid any conversation about music or the philharmonic. He stayed over at the hospital and was always there when I needed him. I regretted that I had thought of firing him. Kate had come to visit, looked at my deplorable state and left without saying a word. It was understood, who would be interested in a guy like me. All my life I had wanted to get the best of everything. Using people in exchange for fame, and now when I sought love and care, I find myself staring at a white room with weird bottles and not a soul to talk to. The governor had cancelled my appointment and cancelled upon me. I was bereaved.

The worst three days of my life.

There was no one. It was just me. I was all alone in darkness and there would be no way out of this nightmare.
There was a rope placed at one of the corners of my room. My gaze shifted towards the rope and I looked at it deeply.

Taking a deep breath I think there might be one possible to all of this, death. A sweet long slumber to heaven, I thought. I got out of my bed and inch closer towards the rope. I wrap my hands around it and notice it was about ten meters long. I took a deep breath and made a firm decision, it is better to terminate our lives than to rot. I move closer to my bed deciding to hang myself on the fan. My hands tremble and I find it very difficult to tie the rope with one unsteady hand. I began to climb the bed. The door suddenly opens revealing a young girl in tattered clothes, hardly half my height, brandishing a stick in her hand with goggles on her eyes, trying to find her way through the door.

She said, “James Hathway?”
I replied, “Yes.”
“My name is Amy Green, I am a huge fan of yours heard you playing two weeks ago and I found myself lost in your music. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.”
I look at her and reply,” You most certainly haven’t, why don’t you come in.”

She smiled and managed to pull up a chair. She spoke again,” You play very well. I have never heard such great music my whole life.”

Looking at the rope in my hand, putting it aside, I reply,” I always have this philosophy -Life just keeps going on, you keep going until your satisfied, and I never get satisfied. So just keep going on.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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