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Of 14 Writers, 12 Stories, 2 Countries, 1 Border, 1 Love: Love Across Borders #Book Review

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By Smriti Mahale:

Love Across Borders is a warm anthology of twelve short stories by both Indian and Pakistani writers, about love, friendship, memories and loss, very much in each heart of an Indian or Pakistani during the partition era. Each story is a noble attempt to cherish the cultures of both the nations, to bask oneself in the pride of national integrity and to look beyond the man made boundaries. The book published by the acclaimed Indireads, edited by Naheed Hassan and Sabahat Muhammad, is the first of its kinds of a humble initiative to create an anodyne start for the nations that have trembled on the rocks of war and separation; for once the stories from both the nations have been spilt in black and not in red!

love across borders

That 70s Babe” by Mamun Adil
The story about a young man madly in love with a very well known celebrity in the Indian Film industry brings out a memoir about the unconditional love irrespective of social obligations. The story captures the spirit of youth and the eternal love for Indian cinema by a Pakistani.

“Serendipity” by Yamini Vasudevan
A delightful read about a romantic rendezvous between two people, from different cultures, from different nations! The characters of Neha and Riyaz are crisp and what surprises the reader is the climax that swings on the age old impression Indians seem to have. The narration is crisp and the state of an ‘undecided mind‘ is beautifully expressed by the author.

One Stupid Comment” by Shuchi Kalra & Sabahat Muhammad
The story is narrated with a time swing in the year 2031. The harsh repercussions of war between the two nations, the dilemma of the posterity, the futile attempts of peace makers of both the countries, the dream of the young blood for unity and peace, and a buried treaty holding secrets to peace are the essence of the story. The sensitivity of the residents of both the countries (referred as tribes) about the way how a minor comment can spark a raging fire of war seems synonymous with the current scenario.

“Anjum” —by Andy Paula
“Anjum” is a pleasant tale of two women, Anjum from Pakistan & Vandana from India who find each other as timeless comrades; from being neighbours to best of friends. The initial inhibitions of Vandana to bond with a woman from a country at war, overcoming the same with an over whelming gratitude towards Anjum for the maturity she projects, the deeper understanding of womanhood and the overlapping of cultural differences delight the readers.

The contrast between the two women is as diverse as the contrast of the two nations, yet the timeless bond they create is message of the tale.

Dressed to kill” — by Parul Tyagi
A beautifully penned story about the two brides to be —Sejal and Saleema certainly brings a smile. When the long cherished dreams of both the brides regarding their wedding lehenga from the renowned shop of Chandni Chowk is about to unfold, one of them is disappointed with a harsh quirk of fate. While the other, understands her turmoil and comes to her rescue with her willing sacrifice. While one is the reason for another’s happiness , the other is ever grateful for the kind gesture from an unknown , that too from a different nation! The story ends with the two girls branding themselves as ‘Soul sisters’!

Best Friends Forever”- by Shweta Ganesh Kumar & Naheed Hassan
Tara and Saira are childhood friends who lose connections after Tara moves into India. They find each other again, through the social media and try hard to reconnect and recreate the comfort zone they always felt in each other’s company. The change in circumstances swaps their dreams and both of them try to find each other’s dreams in another’s realities. The importance of maintaining healthy relationships irrespective of distance and disaster is the message from the author.

Lost and Found”- by Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere
Another story about the vital role social media plays in reconnecting long lost friends across the world! The plot is quite predictable of how Dilip and Pervez find each other through Facebook and relive their days of youth spent in the United Nations

Twelve Months”- by Pervin Saket
The widow of Salim Munira is on her fifth visit to India after her husband’s death. She finds this as the only way to reconnect to him, through his family and his home at Hyderabad. Though she is looked down upon from her in-laws and made the safe custody of their driver, Shambu, the love for her dead husband gives her strength to bear it all. Shambu on the other hand is enraptured by the simplicity and will of the woman from the other side of the border and wants to liberate her from the unnecessary suffering she has thrown herself into.

An Unlikely Romeo– by M M George
Mimmy Jain under the pen name of MM George spins a tale of independence and destined love with the characters of Nafisa and Romeo. Nafisa is a young bride, tricked into marriage. She is given the place of a cook in her husband’s flourishing food business . Circumstances help her break from the clutches of cruelty and she starts a life of her own with Romeo for support. As she discovers the love and care the man shows for her, and the harsh circumstances he has come from, she decides to help him and bond with him forever.

The Long Interval-by Zafar Junejo
Again the stereo typed college romance, reunited with the power of love for social media. Being the third story connected to the social media, the plot seems quite predictable and leaves the reader with nothing to smile about.

The Old Willow– by Adiana Ray
Here comes the interesting tale of Rocky and Imran who pick up a fight in a restaurant about the greatness and superiority of their nation’s forefront in world cinema, sports and art. While each of them tries his witty sarcasm on another to pull the other down, an intrusion from an American unites them into garlanding their argument into one of mutual admiration.

Remnants of a Rainy Day– by Mamun Adil
The author remembers a one of a kind meeting he had with an Indian couple who come home to buy his television set as he packs his bags to leave to his home country after being home sick for long. The warmth of the couple, the immediate bonding the couple creates on coming to know that they belong to the same part of the world , the change of first impression of disgust into one of respect and sympathy is the essence of the whole story, The memory of the meeting is still alive in the umbrella , the couple leaves behind in the author’s home on that rainy day.

All in the all, the stories leave behind a feeling of warmth and pride, some of them disappoint with similar plots. The characters connect easily with the common crowd of the two nations, and the cultural background is harmoniously painted across all the stories. With words of praise from well known personalities from both the nations, the attempt to heal with art, certainly touches the heart.

‘What is the worth
Of pen and paper?
If not used to paint smiles
Across grieving hearts!”

The book is available for free download here

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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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