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Why Pablo Neruda And Margaret Atwood Will Always Inspire Me

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By Devanshi Tyagi:

Empathetic and genuine are the best words with which one can describe the two poets who inspire me immensely. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was from Chile and Margaret Atwood (1939) is a Canadian.

Pablo Neruda had a career spanning 52 years, during which he received numerous prizes, including the highest accolade a writer can hope to get- The Nobel Prize. But this man was wise enough to realize that “No great writer gains luster from a Nobel Prize. It is the Nobel Prize which gains luster from the recipient”.

neruda

This remarkably down to earth nature of his was what led to him gaining the informal title of “Poet of the People”. This title was apt for Neruda as he did not see the receiving of Nobel Prize as a momentous occasion but for him the momentous occasion was when from the depths of the Lota coal mine, a coal miner came up to him and said —“I have known you for a long time, my brother”.

This according to Pablo Neruda was the laurel crown of his poetry. Neruda personally put in efforts to achieve this love, this oneness. He said- “I have literally gone into every corner of Chile, scattering my poetry like seeds amongst the people of my country.” He wrote versatile poetry. He wrote his first love poem at 20. But later went on to writing much more serious poetry. He went on to write about the marginalized, the oppressors and the oppressed. He lived through difficult times. For instance the year of 1947, this was the year when Francisco Franco was made head of state. Franco went on to become the longest ruling dictator in European history. 1947 was also, the time when President Gonzaldez Videla agreed to violent attacks on striking coal miners and also banned the communist party. Neruda personally too at this time was going through a low phase as this was time (1933-1947) when he lived in great loneliness as Consul in the Far East. During this year he brought out ‘The way Spain was’, one of his most remarkable poems. The poem cherishes Spain with it “barren soil” and “rough bread” and “stricken people”. He presents the blemishes of Spain in a glorious manner so as to instil the people with a sense of pride. This is what is commendable about Pablo. He might be facing the direst of times but had the ability to express the sorrow in a hopeful manner.

He also grew over the years. His poetry was not consistent. It matured with age. He started with love poetry, then political issues he dealt with and then around 1953, his poetry showed a major concern for the masses. He started writing in a very simple manner as he believed that being esoteric is the first world’s way. He evolved and his readers evolved along with him. Even today a reader is compelled to ponder on a range of issues. So being a 20 year old, I can relate to the love poems, also his political poems and also the poems for the masses. And it all makes me think about diverse topics. So the reader has a poem available for lonely times, for tough times and so on. Neruda’s poetry never disappoints.

MargaretAtwoodAtwood has the same ability. She has the inclination towards a magical mode of writing. Atwood was born at the time of the Second World War. She was born into a generation which was pre-occupied with questions of identity of their nation state. Thus, she is from her dissenting point of view forever questioning civilization. She reveals how “the White man’s burden” is a façade and they have ruined the natural and pristine civilizations around the world. She is not one to accept prosperity and progress at face value, but one who will question it.

Her poem’s setup is such that the reader gets pulled into her make belief world and she has the ability to get him him/her out of misery. And once the reader is out of the make belief world he has enough strength to face the obstacles he/she might be facing.

Atwood explains “Our first stories come to us through the air. We hear voices”. So she notes the values of religious stories, fairy tales and childhood books. The tricks of language make the unbelievable, believable and the invisible, visible.

So the brilliant aspect about both of them is that they can deal with the problems and also at times provide solutions to them. And at all times hope is present in their poetry. I feel they should be in an inspiration for the youth. Both these poets of the third world have seen the toughest time possible, yet they remained hopeful. They did not turn their poetry into a medium of escape. They fly off to mysterious places and yet land firmly in reality in the end. So, today when the youth of India face a terrible political scenario, where we have a presidential candidate choice which is as a choice between the devil and the deep sea, we should not give up. Neruda and Atwood teach us that we may be down at times, but never out.

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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.

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.

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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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