This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

India: The Reality Of My Existence

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Rahool Gadkari:

Culture, the oft intangible marker of our legacy, passed on from generation to generation and subject to a constant metamorphosis is what civilizations leave behind as their DNA marker. A TED talk by the Indian MP and former UN under secretary general – Shashi Tharoor in 2009 beautifully highlighted the concept of India’s “soft — power”, or in simpler terms, the ability of a nation to attract others by virtue of its culture and ideologies. Culture is the ultimate test of a flourishing civilization, and while the word ‘civilization’ might have, to a large extent, become archaic in this globalized world, I use it not as a means of pigeonholing India, but as an instrument referring to the watermark, that the India of today is leaving behind on the canvas of our lives. So, India’s success story also can, as Shashi Tharoor very eruditely pointed out, be judged in terms of the social structures, habits, institutions that it has created.

The Hindi idiom — “kuch pane ke liye pehla kuch khona padta hain” (in order to find something, first you need to lose something) comes to my mind when I think of my own evolved sense of nationality and belonging. I’ve spent the last two years studying in America, and I realized that despite considering myself a patriot, I had a lot more Indian left in me to discover. Being away from home is a novel feeling, very soon you start missing family, food, friends and country (in no particular order). So why do I go on and on about culture and India and Indians? Is it nostalgia? Perhaps a little, but yearning for family and home is universal, not specifically Indian. It is because I feel strongly that my Indian identity equipped me very well to handle life abroad. After all, Indians are essentially mongrels. We’ve been influenced by the Persians, Europeans, Arabs, South East Asians and of course with our rich and diverse country, regional influences have amalgamated to help enliven us and made India a cultural melting pot. I was pleasantly surprised one day, when while travelling by cab, by the ease with which I struck up a conversation with the Somalian cabbie. Guess what we talked about? Bollywood? No, that would be too easy – we spoke about Sonia Gandhi! In fact, curiosity and consequentially awareness of Indian culture is so high that a Brazilian friend of mine is more adept at quoting lines from Shahrukh Khan and Vidya Balan movies that some my more filmy Indian friends!

My Indian identity gave me a sense of belonging, bringing with it a sense of connectedness, which ironically in today’s hyper-connected world many people lack. You could be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or from the east, west, north, south of our country, once you’re out your identity as an Indian is firmly established. A friend of mine when approached by an evangelical Christian (in the hope of converting him to Christianity) on the streets of Minneapolis, startled the lady by launching into a discourse on the virtues of following the teachings of Bhagvad Gita! My point being that our upbringing helped my friend and I to develop the basic tolerance that allowed us to hold dialectic’s on topics as far ranging as the philosophy Bhagvad Gita, the virtues of dictatorship (a discussion I had with a person of Pakistani origin) to the importance of liberal arts education in today’s science crazed world.

Metropolitan cities abroad pride themselves on their multiculturalism and diversity, but my thoughts on this are succinctly summarized by English author Patrick French, who very beautifully writes in his new book — India, a Portrait (Allen Lane Books), “Integration is welcoming, it says, join us. Multiculturalism says, go to your ghetto”. India was as much a concept as a reality when thought of by its makers, and the concept was of inclusiveness, togetherness and integration. And, while things aren’t as Quixotic as Pandit Nehru and others had envisioned, I only hope that we don’t let escape from memory the reasons behind India.

I’ve often been asked what it is that I miss the most living abroad. My answer is, “I miss the conversations”. I have long believed that conversation is an art, a dying art at that. In the olden days, without the pervasive influence of television and to some extent even the internet (I mean let’s face it, how many of us are on facebook ‘just to stay connected’?) to distract us, the emphasis was on reading and connecting; connecting not in this superficial, Hi, I’d like to add you to my network way, but by actually talking to one another and forming some kind of bond. Indian culture in my opinion has an inherent warmth to it and in spite of their sometimes overly inquisitive nature (captured brilliantly by the Anurag Mathur’s protagonist Gopal (or Goh-paal if you’re American) in The Inscrutable Americans, who in a moment of self reflection says “Sometimes I wonder if India is nothing but an endless chain of housewives, each peeping into the other’s house”) many Indians have the gift of gab! The value of connecting with others, and not treating them as mere ‘contacts’ is in my opinion one of my most important takeaways from my Indian-ness. I fondly remember my grandfather on one of his evening walks. One particular day, he hadn’t come home on time, so being the youngest in the household I was tasked with finding out what happened by my worried grandmother and mother. Tracing my way along his usual route, I found him happily in conversation with the local peru-waali (guava seller). He’d planted himself on a rock, and was merrily chatting away! I miss those simple connections. India has a buzz about it; it might be the cacophony of the millions of vehicles plying it overly congested roads, or perhaps the chatter of millions like my grandfather — engaging in spontaneous chit-chat. It is a rare sight abroad (save a few ghettos) to feel the intensity of an Indian bazaar. I find the hustle-bustle, the sounds, sights (not the smells though!) invigourating! The words – ‘organized madness’ comes to mind when I think of India. Those of you who’ve seen (and been flummoxed) by how efficiently traffic flows at an intersection minus the traffic lights would undoubtedly agree with me.

Being back in India though evokes mixed feelings — I feel mentally recharged amidst the warmth of family and friends (even the heat has done its bit to help!), feel the enthusiasm that being one of the youngest populations in the world brings and of course, I cherish our food. All this while simultaneously feeling a little heartbroken at the rampant corruption, apathy towards the poor and the senseless aping of the west that I’ve seen amongst the young. Contrary to what you might have inferred so far, I love living in America, with its infinite freedoms, cultural awareness, professionalism and welcoming people. However, I hope to be able to make a difference and help uplift the average Indian. After all, what good is awareness unless put to some use? As opportunities back home open up for our society’s most educated, I can only imagine the sort of growth story India might witness. Having said that, countless challenges lie ahead and my essay by no means pointlessly extols the virtues of our culture, it only expresses the hope: that given 10, 000 years of world leadership, India in the years to come finds its rightful place at the top — economically and culturally.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author:

Rahool is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota- Twin cities and the Army Institute of Techology, Pune (University of Pune) with degrees in electrical engineering. He lives in Minneapolis and is about to start work with a semiconductor company.[/box]

You must be to comment.
  1. Rahool Gadkari

    I must mention that the word ‘mongrel’ was intended to highlight the myriad of influences that have shaped the modern Indian and not as a derogatory term.

  2. Saunil

    Nicely done! Waiting for more such pieces from you..

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Ankur Kumar

By Prince Promit

By Pragati Sharma

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        Read more about his campaign.

        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.

        Read more about her campaign.

        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.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        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.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        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.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’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.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below