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‘We Found Solace In Each Other’s Grief’: A Conversation With A Stranger I Will Never Forget

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By Nazia Dhanju

He sat at the edge of the chair, with a walking stick in his hand. He sat there every evening, his head hung low, every evening of every day of every week for three consecutive weeks. He just sat there. Lush white beard flowing freely, a navy blue turban and a stark white kurta-pajama. He looked like a retired soldier, retired from his job, retiring from the spirit of life. There was this uncanny calmness around him, as well as within him. He sat on the same chair for 30-40 mins between 6-7 pm. Not bothering anyone, not talking to anyone, just by himself, in his own little world, surrounded by his own thoughts. He had freckles around his eyes, his skin was sagging, showing him as an 80 year old. Or more.

old sikh man
For representation only. Image source: Vikramdeep Sidhu/Flickr

She ran past him everyday, in that park, twice, completing two rounds of her jogging circle. He was as insignificant to others as he was to himself, people walked past him, children played around him, but no one bothered about him, just like he didn’t bother about anyone, not even the flies sitting on his face or his hand. But she noticed him, she wanted to go up and sit next to him, talk to him, ask him who he was, what did he do. To her, he seemed so lonely , abandoned and isolated from the world. Her heart went out to him. Occasionally, she would halt next to him while running, pretending to catch her breath, trying to initiate a conversation. But she could never muster up the courage to talk, until one day, she, against all odds in her mind, went and sat next to him.

She started talking. She wished him satsriakal and asked where he lived. He was taken off guard, a little hesitantly, he replied, “putt, park de piche” (daughter, behind the park). She told him she stayed nearby, and she had been thinking of talking to him for many days. He gave her a surprised look, and asked why a young woman like her would want to talk to an old guy.

He started eventually stared opening up, telling her about his life, his family who were settled in Canada, about the loss of his wife, about his son having two daughters and that it’s been 8 years since he saw them last. She shared her story of loss, how she coped with the loss of her mother. She felt like both of them were finding solace in each other’s grief. They talked, and talked, and it felt so good, so light. It seemed as if he had been waiting for someone to come and talk to him. He spoke at length about how times have changed from when he was young, how relationships have changed, how we have become entangled in this croney capitalist society, giving little value to human feelings. They talked for half an hour after which he struggled to get up and walk back to where he stayed. She offered to walk him back, to which he refused initially, but gave in on further insistence. She walked along with him, giving him support now and then. They reached the gate of an old house, there were a lot of elderly sitting in the veranda outside. To her surprise and shock, it was an old age home, she felt like a bolt of lightning had struck her. With a heavy heart she left him at the gate and went back home. She made a note in her mind to talk to him everyday. Maybe she saw herself, her pain, and insecurities in him. She felt a strange bond forming with this old man.

For the next couple of days she couldn’t go running, and very conveniently, the old man was also sent to some corner of her brain, so she forgot about him, busy in her own life. After five days when she went, she was excited to see him again, thinking about what all she would talk about today, maybe invite him to her house for lunch someday, make her father meet him, give him company. To her dismay she found the chair empty, she looked around for him in the park but couldn’t find him. Not thinking too much about it, she did her usual exercise and went back home. This happened for the next couple of days, weird thoughts started creeping her mind.

One day, she was too curious to know the reason for his absence, so she went to the old age home and asked about him. And, her world came crashing down for a few seconds, he was no more. He had died three days after she had met him, of a sudden heart attack. She just went numb. As tears welled up in her eyes, she turned and silently started walking back, cursing herself for not going back the very next day. She went back home, went over their conversation in her mind, played it again and again, trying to find some comfort in the memory. But she was heartbroken.

The only thing which he left behind was the memory of a beautiful evening, and, a name: Col H.S. Grewal. She writes to that memory, to him and to the pleasant half hour she spent with him. She writes with a heavy heart, for the memory to be etched on plain paper.

Note: This article recounts the author’s personal experience. 

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  1. Swati

    May his soul rest in peace!

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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.

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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.

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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