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What A Mother Has To Say To Her Daughter About Finding Happiness

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By Sinjini Sengupta:

This is a news byte from New York Times from 20 years back. The time was April, the year, 1996. A few of the possessions of President John F Kennedy were up for auction. His arm-chair and his coffee table, for example. One of the last items up on auction was his tape measure. And guess what price it commanded? It sold for a whopping 42,000 USD, not allowing for commission and procedural charges. Yes, 42000 USD, back in the year 1996.

Now, imagine this. Say, this man who won this tape measure is sitting on his rocking chair that evening by the fireplace. Oh sorry, did I not say this was the month of April? Nevertheless, he’s sitting, rocking, on his grandfather chair made of oakwood, holding his pipe in one hand and the tape measure in the other, and looking at ‘the thing’ with a sense of immense pride and achievement. He might even be planning in his mind to call the local goldsmith the very next day to order a box made of 24-carat gold and a Belgium mirror glass topping, in which he would then house this tape measure. And maybe – who knows – some hundred years away from that evening, his great grandchildren will look at that box and talk of him, their great grandfather, as to how he was a man of great taste.

Now imagine – just that moment, the plumber who was working to fix the tap in the kitchen enters his room and says – “Sir, did I just leave my tape measure here in this room? There, give it to me.” And then he may add: “Sir, I heard of your win. Congratulations! They say they’ll deliver it tomorrow; the papers are with your secretary!”

Now, imagine how his sentiments will change towards that object he was holding in his hand! A fall – from the cliff, maybe? From absolute pride to utter disgust?

But really, if you think of it, nothing really has changed on the outside, but for a simple piece of innocent information! And for all you know, that thing is still a tape measure. Who knows, it can even be more accurate than the one President John F Kennedy used!

What do you see here? Do you see that while nothing at all changes in the exterior, this entire upheaval of change of emotions, sentiments, feelings are happening just inside the mind of this person? And thus, that fall from pride to disgust, how it is all just a matter of the mind? That, how we feel, how elated or disappointed we feel, is really just a matter of the mind?

My enemy is a bad person. That flower is beautiful. My manager is biased, and my parents are silly. My boyfriend was good when he was my boyfriend, but not any good anymore now that he is my ex! The hailstorm is beautiful when I am in Kerala but not so beautiful when I am on my way to the office. And when I was a child, I used to float paper boats in rain. But you know what? That day I had planned a terrace party for my friends, and what a terrible luck I had. It rained!

Sounds familiar?

Now, if you just stop for a while, hold your breath and think, you’ll know that the cause of your happiness, or the reason of your sorrow, they both reside in the same place. Your pride and your shame, your guilt and your hope, they all stay, just side by side, in the same place. And that place is you!

And not just you, even. It is that invisible, little bit of you, your mind, and your way of thinking that really makes all the difference. And, now that you know it, don’t you think that it might be a slightly better idea to perhaps try to control the way of thinking things, than going out to the world with a whip stick in your hand, attempting to put the things in the right order out there! There, won’t you agree?

The thing is, as it is true in most cases, I find it rather easy to describe to other people much more than I can get to learn and accept it myself. But for all you know, while it will indeed take a lot of time and a lot of effort to adapt it to your own thinking, it is not such a bad idea to teach it to the ‘external’ sources around you. Well, you see, if they become calm and more at peace, your job is half done anyway! And my guinea pig for such exercises is my daughter.

So, just that other day, I was waiting at the bus stop to pick her up back from school. The bus arrived, her highness alighted. Now, just as she got down from the school bus, she started, just like every day, with a list of complaints:

“You know Mum, Anmol said that my painting is ugly, and Rahul laughed when Simran pushed me and I fell on the ground. I will never be friends again with Arhan, who snatched away my lunch-box and ate away all my pasta.” I stop her, and ask – “Okay, so tell me, how do you feel?” She stops me and continues, “Aratrika is bad, and Hamid is jealous, and Adhyan is selfish. He ate his own Oreo biscuits even when he knows I love them.”

I hear her out patiently. Then, just as she stops to catch her breath, I interrupt – “Okay, don’t tell me what they are, okay? You tell me, what do you feel? Angry? Sad? Jealous? Come with me.”

We walk back a few steps and stand on the divider on the road. It is mid-afternoon and the traffic on the road is heavy. The vehicles are all impatiently honking their horns, and the drivers are peeking out of the windows to howl at each other some choicest of words. I ask her, “What do you see?” “Cars,” she replies. “Well, we’ll play a game, alright? We’ll start to give these cars names. Now, look at that red one, that truck.” I tell her. “Let’s call that Angry. Look how loud it sounds in horn! And see, that small green car, let us call that one Jealous. It is trying to overtake other cars and push its way through.” “But, this is just the road?” – She looks at me, confused. “Well, not really, not in our game. In our game, we will think of this road as the mind, alright? Now, look at that, a white car. We will call it Friendship, ok? Now, let us wait and see?”

In two precise minutes, the vehicles pass and few more take their place. We watch the traffic for a while, get bored, and then come back.

As we walk back home from that bus stop, I tell her that it does not matter who says or does what to her, they’re but just outside. All they can do, is make cars like those we saw. And then, inside her mind there is this road, and all these feelings are like cars that pass through it. Some of them are bad cars and they make a lot of noise and make us feel sad, and some of them are good cars who make us feel good things. However, we much know that they are just cars on the road and that, before we know, they will pass!

“But what if there’s a breakdown?” – my skeptical daughter asks, only just about half convinced. “Well, we’ll call a crane. Better still, we’ll ask all the happy cars to push it clear from the road. How about that?”

“Let’s try this out the next time we’re angry or sad, shall we?” – She asks, enthusiastically. “Sure, dear!” – I tell her.

Now, the smaller task is done. The bigger task is however left to do. To tell myself that next time I feel overwhelmed, that – ‘It is just a car on the road!’

This article was first published in the author’s personal blog.

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Image source: Steven Feldman/ FlickR
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 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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