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How A Gap Year After College Taught Me That Happiness Lies In Small Things

By Shwetha Gopalakrishnan:

My school days were filled with failed attempts of fitting into classrooms and playgrounds. But thankfully, my adolescence came to an end, only to introduce me to non-conformity, the art which taught me who I actually was, or rather, was becoming. It was only then that I realised that I was not meant for ‘popular choices’. It dawned on me that popular choices and I are like antithesis to each other. We ended up radiating mutual rejection towards each other like Kissan jams and Maggi sauces. We repelled each other for a long time without intending to. But ignorance and acknowledgements can’t be deterred for long, I guess. So after several genuine trials to patch our relationship, we gave up.  Just like my neighbours, who ended up sharing nasty fights over dinners, popular choices and I parted our ways only to respect mutual harmony. Different ends of the same pole share one thing – difference. But they also share the unavoidable distance. And here we were, as far as we could be.

My procrastination talents had delayed this little piece of writing for a while, but then you can’t really contain something that is spilling slowly. Thanks to continuous superficial inquiries. So here is a brief glance at my ‘tumultuous cup’ of stories from my not so tumultuous life.

After my graduation, I decided to go for a gap year (*Insert gasping sounds and shocked emoji*). I will have to truthfully confess that I have always successfully disappointed umpteen uncles and aunts in my neighbourhood, and even those who are far off, but close enough to get the gossip. Whether it be choosing arts over science, dance classes over community events, passion over ‘scope’ (yes this one is the ultimate sin), choice over impositions, I have created cavities of dissatisfaction on these faces that appear only on festive nights and sincerely ritualistic, social functions.

The most vulnerable time is generally the pre/post lunch/dinner hours when your unacceptable attitude is sure to be addressed with “so, what have you been doing these days?” kind of questions. And this is exactly the time when my curious relatives were exposed to a dangerous combination of two simple words – gap + year.  I could say from their reactions that they were ‘traumatised’.

These are the conversations that make a mockery out of your life. No, ma’am, I want you to know that I am not going to ‘rest for a year’ or ‘prepare for UPSC’ or ‘relax’ (What do you even think I am anyway? Kumbhakarnaa?). This decision of my life is not a compromise. It’s not my second last or last choice. It’s not a makeshift camp. But yes, it’s a dream that came true. It’s a tale I have always wanted to read. I want you to know that this, just like all the previous ones, is one of the best choices I have ever made.

And some of my distant contemporaries also add on to the long list of sympathy givers and pity makers. Because I feel, we have never been taught the art of appreciating ‘taking a break’ in our culture. Either we don’t understand it, or we look down upon it. Because most of us have been raised knowing that the certificates we get from inter-school competitions and relay races fill our everyday dictionaries with superficial and overarching definitions of what is ‘productive’ and ‘successful’.

The past few months of my life have passed slowly. Because time also halts, when it sees that you are learning to appreciate its presence. I have learnt some rather useful things that I really needed to. Things like embracing little joys of life. I have learnt to cook some Indian recipes, and along with them, I have also cooked aromas of mild smiles on faces that are dear to me. I have gained back my treasure – the habit of reading and reading continuously. Something that I had yearned for in the past few years. I have made new friends with books and in corners of this graceful city. I have dusted off the rust on my cycle, and I have got it repaired after almost seven years. I have learned to pedal again on the beats of my favourite music tracks. I have watched some brilliant movies and they have helped me look at life differently. I have worked on giving more time to my family. I have danced to unexpected lyrics without any expectations or ambitions. And I have gotten rid of garbage – my habit of cribbing. Not only this, but I have made deliberate attempts to address my mental anxiety, and I can happily say that I have successfully found a place where I feel the river of calmness running down my veins. I have understood self-reliance in small measures. And I have seen what it feels like to prioritise art over everything else.

I have written and received risky, long and heartwarming emails and I have also scribbled my thoughts down in my beautiful diary. And most importantly, I have felt the garnishing essence of happiness through my own company and my introverted ventures.

So if you still continue to think that I am doing nothing, I don’t have more time to waste offering defence. Keep maintaining your myths, and I shall pay no regard, because well frankly, life has too much to offer right now.

Eventually, you learn about what heals you the best. And for me it was teaspoons. Confused? I will tell you what it means. Happiness has always been served to me in teaspoons, little at a time and in the right quantity. And so, I prefer ‘teaspoons’ over ‘starry spittoons’ any day because they have made me believe in little wonders.

So I keep replacing those ‘cups’ of ‘scope’ and ‘opportunity’ because I have enough ‘teaspoons’ of ‘passion’ and ‘interest’ to find refuge in.
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Featured image illustration: Cannaday Chapman/Tumblr
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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.

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.

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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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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.

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