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‘A Fantastic Woman’ And The Foreign Language Of Love

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All languages are equal but some languages are more equal than other languages. Each of them is bound by definite vocabularies and in some communities, the vocabulary is not large enough to accommodate or represent all the feelings possible for a human being. Meanings start changing when you borrow a word from a dead language, and try to use it on your own and the resultant are misunderstandings, miscommunication. We always have something to say which comes out as something else. The Greek word for “return” is nostos and algos means “suffering”. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return. While the corresponding word for nostalgia in Portuguese is saudade, a deep emotional state or a profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. The Icelandic have a different term for the specific longing for one’s homeland: heimpra. And the Czech have made an expression of love out of it: ‘styska se mi po tobe’ which means I am nostalgic for you, I am yearning for you, I cannot bear the pain of your absence. In English, it is only used while talking about the past or our childhood.

When our device of expression and comprehension could be so variant, so developed in some parts of the world and so redundant in others, so significantly altered while in transition and so evidently lost in the translation, no wonder the concept of relationships can be so varied across cultures.

But “A Fantastic Woman” made an Indian like me feel like I have always lived in the Chilean city of Santiago. Nothing feels foreign about the film, not even the language of the body of the lead. She is just like me, another person who cannot make sense of the skin she wears, another person whose private moments of tragedy are interrupted by social externalities such that you need to provide an introduction of who you are, an explanation of what you are, even when all that you are asking from the world is a small dark corner to cry your heart out.

The world is a hierarchy where you are positioned according to how much of a man you are. If you are not a man, but a woman (a breed of castrated males according to the idolized Sigmund Freud), you come second. Third, if you are a woman who dares to love another woman, with no space for the intrusion of a man in the relationship. Worse, if you are a man trying to kiss another man because then, you are shamelessly volunteering that you would do your own laundry and clean your own kitchen, and last if you are none of these but in between, because then even your status as a person is held with scepticism. In the race for individuality and acceptance by neighbours, love bleeds a slow, cancerous death. Sex with a person who was born with their gender is termed love-making, but sex with a person who has made a choice in it is prostitution. An unnatural event which needs to be brought to the court. An animalistic sin which needs exorcism and purgatory. A crime bigger than racism, an insufficiency or irresponsibility.

The film starts with a scene of Marina Vidal’s lover receiving a massage, but it’s not the kind of massage that relaxes you. The frame shows things slower than they are as if the moment is decelerating; sadness often makes us feel time more intensely. The love that Marina and Orlando share is shown to be the simplest of its kind. Not cis or trans, not short term or long term, just the most spontaneous and natural thing that can happen between two hearts that resonate. But none of the greatest love stories have ever survived without being surveyed by “well-wishers”. Your happiness is often the subject of scrutiny and bewilderment by the unhappy people who surround you. In my life, none of the casual relationships has ever felt any different from the long-term ones which have the halo of promises around them; similar in intimacy, similar in honesty. All that makes a short-term different from a long-term, are the circumstances. But even then, the confrontation on eternity apparently changes everything. As if eternity was ever anything substantial or scientific. As if eternity is even in the nature of life. I thought of it simply: If you aren’t happy, you would not last. If you are, you would not last either because death often knocks the windows which have had the best views for far too long.

But the cruelty of death is, it is an event for not the deceased, but the left behind. When Marina loses her better half, she realizes she has to fight to keep her other half intact. She tries to cover up for the grief with her invisibility; she is just a waitress, she is just a singer at the bar, she is just another depressed lonely woman who depends on her dog for emotional support. But letting it be, is the last thing which succeeds loss. Pain demands to be felt. When you are not a member of the convention, you cannot even afford invisibility. In such times, what should she mourn over? The demise of her future with a partner or the irreversible mistake of being born as an ambitious aspirant of womanhood? This somehow reminded me of the wonderful poem Lee Mokobe had written:

“I wonder how long it will be
before the trans suicide notes start to feel redundant,
before we realize that our bodies become lessons about sin
way before we learn how to love them.
Like God didn’t save all this breath and mercy,
like my blood is not the wine that washed over Jesus’ feet.
My prayers are now getting stuck in my throat.
Maybe I am finally fixed, maybe I just don’t care,
maybe God finally listened to my prayers.”

“A Fantastic Woman” feels like a lump in your throat. Like the misery of early winter sunsets but the secret anticipation of a snowfall(even when there is no sign of it). Like marks of a suicide attempt on your wrist which remind you that every day of your life now is a gift you never deserved. Sometimes it can be a victory only to cross the finish line of life, only to meet death when its destined and not prematurely. Thomas Bernhard once wrote that “Instead of committing suicide, people go to work” as if it is but a conscious commendable choice they make. Albert Camus often had to make the deliberation of choosing a cup of coffee over death. Now I know what they meant by it.

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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 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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