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This Book Is A Brave Attempt At Uncovering The Politics Of Making Up The Truth By News Makers

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By Saloni Sharma: 

End of Story?: By Arjun Shekhar
Pub. By Hachette India, 2013
pp 325, Rs.350.

endofstoryElectronic media today wields undeniable power over our collective conscience. It shapes our perceptions, gives voice to our grievances and often functions as a tool for real or imagined social change. In this climate of incessant media interventions in social as well as cultural spaces, Arjun Shekhar’s second book, End of Story? strikes an interesting note. Set in an alternate present, where the Supreme Court has banned electronic advertising, thereby resulting in the shutting down of television channels, the book attempts to deal with complex questions on the nature of stories, narratives, truth, or rather, various versions of truth.

Shekhar’s protagonist, Shukrat Ali, is an ex-employee at a current affairs channel, Khulasa. To anyone familiar with the sensationalism that drives the tabloid category of news channels, the “news items” at Khulasa will sound morbidly familiar. Hauntings, witches, ghosts and gossip- all such TRP generators are fair fodder for the channel. Ali’s narrative works as a documentation of events that led to the death of his boss and mentor, Satya Saachi Sengupta. It unfolds in the racy manner of a thriller, generously peppered with the twists and turns of a whodunit. Inextricably linked with Sengupta’s death is the mystery surrounding the emergence of a new form of advertisement- of using subliminal messages to influence the viewer, not for selling products but to bring about significant behavioural changes. These covert ads, termed propagandas, function as a veritable attack on public consciousness and have far-reaching consequences, some of which play out in the theatre of world politics. The link Shekhar creates between the propagandas and a crucial event in contemporary history makes for fascinating reading.

A significant aspect of the text is its exploration of the collusion between the media and corporate houses. The current debate about the extent of “sponsorship” of television channels by corporate houses or political parties finds a sonorous echo in the novel. The book takes a good, hard look at how the agenda and the content of news are determined by market forces and not by any real concerns for the pursuit of the truth. Whether this is cynicism on Shekhar’s part or a mirroring of real life is up to the reader to decide.

Another interesting facet of the book is its connect with issues in the here and now. In taking its protagonists from Delhi to the heart of rural Maharashtra, the book confronts the tragedy of farmer suicides. In an insightful aside, the author looks at the causes as well as consequences of farmer suicide, injecting the entire episode with a strong dose of black humour. The book also glances fleetingly at the rituals and life-choices of the Gond tribe, their exuberance for life, connectedness to natural forces and startling practicality. Shukrat’s brief involvement with the Gonds forms a sort of counterpoint to the dystopic urban space the protagonists occupy.

The author seems to have made a concerted effort to conjure up a crew of characters who are realistic and sometimes, representative of a type. His “hero”, Shukrat, is decidedly un-heroic, obviously flawed and, not to create too much of a spoiler, a bit of an unreliable narrator. His daughter, Quyamat, appropriately called Q, for all the questions that gush out of her incessantly, is a lovingly crafted ten year old, curious and surprisingly wise. Shekhar uses distinct registers for many of the characters, making them identifiable to his readers- whether as the quintessential Delhi businessman- Tauji, the chairman of Khulasa, or the urbane, erudite Bengali- Satya Saachi Sengupta or even Wani, the street-smart yet philosophical driver Shukrat’s crew travels with in Maharashtra.

One of the first things about the book that catches the reader’s attention is its use of that unusual question mark in the title. It functions as more than punctuation. It represents an open-endedness, something that fits within the writer’s vision of the changing meanings of stories as they evolve. To concede more than novelty value to the question mark, it also presages the way the structure of the novel works. The text is broken up into chapters, each of which is phrased in the form of a question. The narrative then becomes an interrogation, of the protagonist by an imagined counsel, as well as an interrogation of the motives and actions of the cast of characters.

What sets End of Story? apart from other recent fictional offerings is its desire to delve into the philosophical nature of story-telling and language. It is a brave attempt at uncovering the politics of telling stories, of making up the truth, whether in the form of legends, folk tales, novels or advertisement.

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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.

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.

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.”

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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, 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.

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