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This New Book Explores The Romantic And Cruel Side Of Love In Mumbai

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One would expect love to be this ephemeral thing which sweeps you off your feet and fills you with a sense of longing and purpose. Most romantic stories that we enjoy reading or films that we like watching make us want to aspire for that transient love which lives and thrives at that moment. They always fall one step short at the dubious juncture of a ‘happily ever after’. What happens after that?

This is where Elizabeth Flock’s book, Love and Marriage In Mumbai, comes in.

Flock introduces the real-life stories of three married couples, whose relationships are challenged by the dramatic cultural shifts in the city of Mumbai. The commercial capital of the country, the book’s only consistent character, is visceral and tangible. It is also a unique dichotomy in itself. Because where else do the poorest rub shoulders with the city’s richest, where else does tradition collide so closely with western culture, and where else is ethnicity, class and religion still deciding the nation’s development alongside pop culture and an increasing influx of technology?

When journalist and documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Flock moved to Mumbai for the first time in 2008, she had endless questions. She writes in her book, “I moved from Chicago to Mumbai in search of adventure and a job, knowing no one in the city. I lived there for nearly two years. During that time—because I was restless and homesick—I stayed with half a dozen couples and families across the city and met many more. This is where my interest in the Indian love story began.”

As India is ‘a tremendously diverse and complicated place’, Flock started understanding it through the people she met and the stories they shared. After she left India in 2010 and went back to the US, she couldn’t get a few people out of her head, they are the three couples in the book.

“I thought their three very specific, sometimes every day and sometimes dramatic love stories, could shed light on the larger picture of love and marriage in India right now… I was also always obsessed with the topic of marriage having grown up a child of divorce. I thought by interviewing married couples I could learn more about what makes a marriage work or fail – anywhere in the world. I’m not sure I got the answer to that, but I got closer,” she says.

And so you have Veer and Maya, a progressive professional couple whose relationship is tested by Maya’s desire for independence; Shahzad and Sabeena, whose desperation for a child becomes entwined with the changing face of Islam; and Ashok and Parvati, whose arranged marriage through an online matchmaker, blossoms into true love.

Flock had met many more couples during this time. She adds, “I met a jewellery seller on the train who fell in love with a Nigerian millionaire. I met two yogis who escaped over the walls of an ashram to be in love. But I chose the three couples in this book in part because they were seemingly normal, everyday, middle-class people. And yet their stories often veered toward the extraordinary.”

Flock feels that working on this project for close to a decade has actually made it better. That there are topics broached in the book – about sexual abuse, loss, and hidden dreams – which the protagonists wouldn’t share if she hadn’t been around for this long. It also helped her understand Mumbai better.

“I gathered details like a hoarder – about what toys are being sold outside Churchgate station, the precise taste of sugarcane juice, how exactly the heat felt on my skin. And then I’d come home to the U.S. to actually write it.”

She asserts that this book couldn’t be set anywhere else, because she was really keen on exploring India’s most permissive city, where people were breaking the most rules – “For example. how women are watching pornography, or refusing to live with their in-laws, or having affairs, or simply not living the lives their mothers would have. I’d also say that Mumbai is a city that can be both incredibly romantic and incredibly cruel. That to me is how love is.”

Elizabeth Flock

Was it difficult to keep her judgement aside when she documented decisions of any of the protagonists that she might not have agreed with? How was she able to become a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak in trying to paint an authentic picture of these lives?

Flock informs, “Of course, there were times when I had opinions or made judgements in my head. But I tried to keep that out of the writing as much as I could because you never know why people are behaving the way they do… That’s why I wrote the book in the third person. It didn’t add much to have me there as a first-person narrator telling the reader how I felt about things. There’s enough judgement in this world as it is.”

Her advice to aspiring non-fiction writers is to write what one is obsessed with, to have a question one is desperate to answer.

“Interview people who fascinate you. Take more notes than you need to. Go to a place you know very well or don’t know at all, so long as it makes you curious. Note down how people speak, how they laugh, what they wear, what they dream about. Don’t think you ever know it all. Let people edit you, but listen to your own voice most.”

If you want to read real-life intimate stories of love, loss, longing and most of all, hope, Love and Marriage In Mumbai will transport you to the lives of people you could have very well known all your lives.

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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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