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For My Grandma: The Resilient Woman Who Taught Me To ‘Smile In Pain’

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By Kunal Arora:

grandmother
Representation only. Source: Flickr

Now in her seventies, my maternal grandmother was the epitome of beauty and gregariousness in her young age. Married at the tender age of 19 to an educated and professional English teacher; she was the second wife. She gave birth to six children, four girls and two boys. It was a curse not to have a boy in the family at that time.

Besides bringing them up in a cultured way, teaching good manners to all the children, she made sure they develop into humble and kind human beings first and think about success later. With this, she never lost interest in novels and movies. She still remembers the plot of every movie she had seen on the bigger screen. Also, Devanand is her favourite actor. Old age was never an issue for her. She always thought one can use various means to support oneself at the fall of life.

Little did she know that what would happen in the ending chapters of her life would shatter her heart to pieces. A few years back she started developing issues with her knees and was forced to use a ‘walker’. Then came gall bladder stones, making her completely dependent on her husband and two married boys. After the arrival of the second daughter-in-law, the peace and calm of the house was lost. There were altercations every day regarding petty issues and there was no love left in their hearts. She never had a perfect relationship with her husband but it seems old age unites people more than love does.

She lost her husband two years back and the situation worsened. She was asked to write a will making both the sons equal holders of the meagre property grandpa had left. She did it to maintain peace in the house, but it actually brought in more pain. Restricted to walking less and eating less than she used to, she saw the apathy in the people around her. None answered her hysterical cries unless they got disturbed by it. Sometimes, she called a rickshaw puller and asked him to drag her to the hospital to get rid of stomach pains. She was asked to pay for the bills in her own house.

She loves the little kids in the house immensely. They are left to her care by my uncle but, besides this, there is no other reason why she is still supported by them. Now, when both the sons are shifting to their new houses, they are uneasy with the idea of keeping an old, ageing woman in their big, clean and organised mansions. She is still strong but everyone knows how rejection feels at this age and that too when it is your own blood that is pushing you away.

Every instance of pain and agony she shared with me, filled me with rage against my own uncles but I never saw her crying over this and she was always strong in her words. She told me, “it is better to rely on material objects rather than on blood relations. My walker is the best partner at this age, it never said no to me. Relations are weaker than a drop of water which splits with a powerless blow. Make yourself strong inside.”

Every time she was denied help, she got stronger. I asked her what keeps her so steady and resilient. “Your own sons are forcing you to stay away from them, knowing that you are weak and need constant care.”

“Old age is an arctic cold which absorbs any heat, submerging everything else and I become more polite and merciful with every denial I get. In no way can anyone escape karma at this age.” That’s what she told me. She says it is a lesson for everyone. “You live alone, stand alone and die alone. All other events are just short, happy phases which pass with time.”

She is a brave woman and I admire her for her spirit and the guidance she has given clears the mud in my thoughts regarding relations and dependence. The way she has been denied acceptance by her beloved and blessed sons, the way age crippled her to be dependent on others and how her indomitable spirit found support in her walker shows how fragile human life can get with bad relationships. But it also tells that with a spirit like my grandmother’s one can always smile in pain.

She is living in the same house in Ambala, Haryana, where she gave birth to all her children, somehow making her way through the trials and tribulations of life. Besides all this, she wears a graceful smile and no one can judge what she has been through.

This is not just the story of my grandmother. Many senior citizens face problems as their children are too busy with their lives and forget how they ought to treat their ageing parents. They suffer diseases, are mentally fragile. In the fall of life, every human being passes through this phase and needs emotional, mental and physical support. It is time we all paid tribute to our parents and grandparents by being humble and considerate to them.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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