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‘I Like Women And Instantly Connect With Them’: Meet Hriday Thakur, The Man From Patna

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By Siddharth Chowdhury:

siddharth chowdhury
Author, Photo by Pragya Sinha Chowdhury

The following is an excerpt (printed here with due permission from the publisher, Aleph) from the story, ‘Damsel In Distress’ by the author, from his book, ‘The Patna Manual of Style Stories’. Out now.

Truth be told I am attracted to big-breasted women and the girl sitting diagonally opposite me at Pindi Sweet House in Kilokri near Maharani Bagh had tits that would delight even the great Jogen Chowdhury. Not for me the size zero look that is all the rage these days. I like women who look like women and not boys in drag. The girl, who was wearing a red Sarojini Nagar Adidas windcheater over a blue polo T-shirt and bootcut stonewashed jeans, did not look more than eighteen and had a small black rucksack with Diesel emblazoned on the front kept at her feet. Pindi Sweet House was not a cafe where young unattended girls at 8.30 in the morning sat alone sipping a lukewarm cup of tea for fifteen minutes, while the two waiters kept staring and hovering around her yellow sunmica-topped table like hornets. The girl avoiding eye-contact with anyone kept looking at her thin gold-plated watch which was shaped like a bangle, and held on to her fast dwindling cup of tea realizing that the moment she would put the cup back on the saucer, it would be whisked away. She is waiting for an errant boyfriend, I decided, and even though I was getting a faint vibration of distress from her, promptly lost interest in her. Apart from the two of us, there were no other customers at that hour.

Pindi Sweet House is an old-style mithai shop, where at the front is the steel and glass-encased sweets counter, with rows of gulab jamun, rasmalai, kaju katli and laddus in aluminum containers, and at the back are six to eight tables with straight-backed plastic chairs where patrons through the day usually have bread pakoras, samosas, chhole-bhature, with piping hot cups of tea. Here young lower-middle class couples with names like Pinky and Rocky bond over a shared plate of gulab jamuns in the evenings. I come to the cafe at least once a day. Usually for breakfast before catching the Teevra Mudrika from the Maharani Bagh bus stop for Arts Faculty in DU where I am pursuing an M.Phil on the revenue system of Balban. I cleared my JRF-NET in the first attempt and now on the princely stipend paid by the government of India I manage quite well. I must admit that I am terribly bright. I stay in a barsati nearby and from my terrace you can have a grand view of the Ring Road, Ashram Chowk, the NAFED building and Mathura Road. At nights after consuming a quarter bottle of Old Monk, I sit and stare at the long line of inter-state buses and goods-laden lorries from every part of India that for a moment by their presence make my meagre universe larger. I feel like Kaikobad then, standing at the ramparts of his now vanished fort at Kilokri, staring intensely at the Yamuna, where he liked to disport with his concubines. Did he ever have a premonition that one day soon he would be wrapped up in a carpet with intricate Persian motifs of paradise and thrown into his beloved Yamuna, to be lost in its still water depths? Perhaps not, but looking at the neon-lit frenzy of the Ring Road I am sure to die by its side one day. I think of death a lot and I hate to travel. There are days when even this five-minute walk to the Pindi Sweet House from my room is an ordeal. I like to sit and stare.

I came to Delhi about six months back in May after my Masters from Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribagh. Delhi is still a new place for me. I am still getting used to its rhythms but the mofussil slowness still clings to me like a burr. I wish I could shed it fast, this slowness, which when I observe my merry classmates, I feel is holding me back socially. For one it makes me excruciatingly shy, when it comes to women. I like women and instantly connect with them. I can hear their inner thoughts but try as I might I can’t seem to open myself up to them. When I see the women in my group, many of whom are in relationships, some longstanding, others ephemeral, I too want to enter their world, so full of lightness. I am bored with wearing my heart on my sleeve for so long, I want to wear a condom now, for a change.

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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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