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#Book Review: Siddhartha, A Journey Of Self Discovery

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By Spandan Ghose Chowdhury:

It was raining cats and dogs and I picked up a book called ‘Siddhartha‘ with a picture of Buddha on its cover, from the last shelf of my school library. Siddhartha was written by Hermann Hesse, a German writer, in 1922 even before my parents were born. Upon opening the book, the central character, Siddhartha, the Brahmin’s son, begins his journey to appease his restless soul towards achieving the answer, what he felt missing in his life and in the world around him. Giving up everything — his wealth, his family and most importantly his friend Govinda who admired him most — the young man embarks on his journey of Samana with a tenor — ‘Life is pain’. And his friend Govinda joins him.

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The book starts in the same parlance as the journey of Buddha started and that further gets supported by the cover-page layout. But, the saga shatters in a span of a few pages when Siddhartha and Govinda come upon Buddha — the Holy One. Listening to his teachings, Govinda settles on becoming a monk. But Siddhartha concludes that even the Buddha himself does not have the answers he seeks and hence he leaves Buddha saying “You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings“.

The boy grows into man and keeps on walking in search of his answers. He meets new people and learns new things in every turn and twist of his journey; but he knew it had always been there in the first place. Years pass by. The detachment from the world – where he felt out of place — comes to an end when he meets Kamala who educates him about love. But Hesse’s Siddhartha still thinks like a Samana and hence wishes his death to come. He comes back to his world of non-attachment. He feels new again and learns that to find what you are seeking, sometimes, means going backwards. Siddhartha meets the ferryman Vasudeva again, who ferried him across without any cost when he was a man without money. Vasudeva believed that river would teach Siddhartha everything he needed. He learned to be a ferryman and also learned from the river, “that there was no such thing as time“, that it spoke in many voices and was wise in its teachings. Time passed for both Siddhartha and Vasudeva, but life was happy and full of positive elements.

One day Siddartha meets Kamala and a boy. Kamala somehow gets bitten by a black snake. Siddhartha comes to her aid, and recognizes that the boy is his son, and Kamala tells him that this was true. Kamala dies of the snake’s bite. His son not being happy living a ferryman’s life keep on hurting him every day, showing no love back. Finally, one day the son runs away, Siddhartha hunts for him but does not find him. He becomes sad and realizes that he had put his father through the same thing when he had left home in his youth and that his father probably missed him and was worried about him, just like he was doing over little Siddhartha. He finds the thing he sought, the meaning to life and this world, though it is not the same thing that he always wanted — detachment. And he does not find it through torturing himself with extremes, but with loving someone and seeing life as something that is needed for learning. He shares this new truth with his old friend Govinda, with whom he reunited for a little while at the end of the story. Govinda believed that his old friend Siddhartha, had become wise like the Buddha, and had entered Nirvana.

The fictional Siddhartha in Hesse’s novel — which has been adopted into a film as well — has a spiritual quest like the real Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. He goes through many spiritual quests, much like Hesse’s Siddhartha, until he finds truth in what Buddhists call the ‘Middle Way’, which teaches one to not go to extremes in either way. The masterpiece speaks of the human experience we all go through in life, whether it is our career, education, love or spirituality through astute symbolism like the river, the ferryman and the smile. You get to a point of your life’s quest or journey, whatever it may be, and you feel it’s the wrong path or isn’t enough and you want a change, you want more. To try something new, to follow another bliss, (though the whole case of torturing oneself is a bit extreme), and sometimes the search takes you right back to the same place you started. And that’s the critical learning that Hesse made me believe through the journey of non-attachment and attachment of the hero of his book — Siddhartha.

By the time the rain stops pouring in. It is the time to detach myself from the fictional world and to re-attach myself with the factual world. Though it was an easy read but the leitmotif and erudition will certainly keep lingering in the minds of the readers for an elongated period of time.

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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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