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My Eternal Love For Reading: Why Books Are Like Spinach Soup For Me

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By Yusra Khan:

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” –Anna Quindell

Hermione Granger with books
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Growing up, I have always felt that there was something surreal in the art of book-writing. How mere words and sentences structured in a certain way were supposed to transport you from one world to another – how did a select few in the world gain the power to do that? Giving the mind a singularly distinctive function to adhere to, somewhere between the lines of Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’, we realise books are a resource for limitless amounts of knowledge. Not just a medium of enjoyment, but pure treasure. Reading nourishes you in the way almond oil enriches dry roots, the way spinach soup soothes an upset stomach, the way a bowl of porridge gives you a fresh start in the morning; reading is supposed to infuse you with new ideas, and give freshness to your thought process.

As a child, I loved opening up a book and landing in a different world like the one with Sally and Darrell, returning to ‘Malory Towers’ with its soft grey stone standing high up on a cliff that fell steeply down to the sea. Each school term was full of vicarious joy, and a distant boarding school in an English countryside became an endless fantasy. Harry Potter was a childhood love, no, I wouldn’t say that. It remains essentially pivotal to everything I build myself on as I grew up and anyone who points out it’s all “magic and witchcraft” deserves to be housed with the Dursleys.

When I was reading, I didn’t notice people weren’t. I assumed my classmates must have stacks of books piled up in their own homes, with bookshelves that were much bigger and more grandiose than mine. I dreamt of owning a beautiful shelf, one resembling the magnificent furniture that filled Professor Kirk’s mansion in the Narnia stories. I truly believed I could step into a book; I had pictured myself do it, endless times. Once, on a particularly lonely afternoon when all I wanted was to escape the pile of unfinished holiday homework which was due the next day, I convinced myself I needed to run away and I swear I have felt the breeze of the Hogwarts grounds (even if for a just moment, and only if a whiff were enough for a lifetime). I have travelled with Bilbo on endangered roads, become wiser with Atticus Finch, been seated next to a shaky Elizabeth during the monthly school parliament meeting, battled the Dark Lord with Harry, known the thrill of endless puzzles with Professor Langdon, and even waged a war in Narnia.

I will never stop marvelling at the meditative trance-like effect that a good book produces that forces you to finish a 387-page novel overnight. How we fall in love with people we have never met and continue to long to meet them all our life. How you are a different person at the end of the book. How a different person at the end of another?

I never understood why people didn’t want to read – dive into worlds far more fantastical than ours. What special beauty did materialism hold, that was not momentary or alterable? Everything returns to dust, yes, but not books. Not the elation the end of its last page brings to you – not that. Not the fascination with a new author and the hungry urge to gorge on all of his works, not the mad thirst to meet him and kiss the hand that spelled such magic on print and brought to life inanimate words and sentences. Never that.

Lifetime readers will agree when I say reading good literature can be transformative. When you pick up a Jane Austen novel and submerge yourself in a world that consists of the most diverse characters that are capable of both good and bad, you find that perfectionism is not what we should strive for. Grey characters have worked all this time because they are the ones we can relate too. Reading gives you a sense of belonging. When you are a part of the experience, even if just as a mute spectator, you feel less lonely in your existence. You know your dreams and hopes and struggles are shared. That you are not alone in thinking what you’re thinking. You are part of a larger ecosystem.

Books affect our thinking in more ways than we think they do. And that is purely why, besides the pleasure of it, we need to delve into a wider variety of rich genres that the world offers us – and that can range from, Dr Seuss to Ayn Rand. Just pick any book you think you will love; remember, a book will always love you back.

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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, 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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