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‘The Last Leaf’ By O Henry Is An Epitome Of Hope And Optimism

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I remember watching the film ‘Lootera’ starring actors Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. The fact that the film was inspired by a short story was a good enough reason for me to go and watch the film on the big screen. The film was an Indianised adaptation of a short story written by O Henry. It also had a host of heart-warming moments. By the time the movie ended, I was in tears, with a feeling of melancholy holding me tightly in its grip. I must confess I was deeply moved by Sonakshi Sinha’s character, Pakhi, a young Bengali girl suffering from Tuberculosis. The experience had triggered my emotions to quite an extent.

This is exactly what prompted me to have a closer look at the story written by O Henry. The story was titled ‘The Last Leaf’ (I didn’t know the name of the story back then). I found a PDF copy of the story online. As I began reading it, memories of the good old short stories driven by emotions began flashing before my eyes. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read this short story, let me give you an overview of the story along with a comprehensive review.

An Overview

‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry tells the story of Johnsy, a young girl suffering from pneumonia. She witnesses leaves falling from the vine just outside her apartment’s window. Looking at the falling leaves, she asserts that she’d die the day the last leaf falls to the ground. Rubbishing her claims, her friend Sue tells her that she is being silly.

Sue goes to visit Behrman, an old and unsuccessful artist who lives downstairs. Behrman had tried to paint a masterpiece all his life but ended up failing miserably. Sue and Behrman discuss Johnsy’s condition. Behrman calls Johnsy’s claims ‘foolish’ and agrees to pose as a model for Sue’s illustration.

There’s a violent storm at night. Johnsy believes that the last leaf must have fallen, but when Sue pulls up the curtains covering the window, the last leaf is still there. Days roll by but the last leaf does not fall. Johnsy’s doctor comes to examine her and tells her that she’d recover soon. At this point, Johnsy realises how silly she had been to think that she’d die.

Just before leaving, the doctor tells both the women that he needs to examine another patient named Behrman. The old man had developed pneumonia. The next day, Sue tells Johnsy that Behrman has died. The janitor had found him sick in his room, dressed in cold and wet clothes.

The Analysis

‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry brings to light the importance of hope and optimism in order to tackle the adversities we come across in life. Johnsy develops a pessimistic attitude towards life after developing pneumonia. She believes she’d die, but her friend and flatmate Sue tells her that she’s stupid to think she’d die. Behrman, the old and unsuccessful artist who is protective of both the women, also rebukes Johnsy’s claims. Behrman has tried all his life to paint a masterpiece but has failed.

The story’s setting, with the leaves falling and the winter approaching, also sheds light on the gloom that seems to have engulfed Johnsy. The story further tells us about Behrman and his heroic act. He paints a leaf with all his passion to save a life. All credit to O Henry for bringing a sharp twist towards the end. No one, absolutely no one, would have thought that Behrman would sacrifice his life in order to save Johnsy’s life. The thing that stands out here is: He did not paint ‘The Last Leaf’ to prove his worth, but to save somebody else’s life. In this way, he succeeds in nurturing a sense of hope within Johnsy’s heart. She realises that life is a precious gift worth fighting for. The leaf, on the other hand, symbolises life, growth, nutrition, and health.

Also, ornamenting the story is a multitude of emotions. Right through the course of the story, we witness countless emotions, right from pessimism and the fear of death to optimism and selfless sacrifice.

With its heart in the right place, ‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry is an absolute masterpiece telling us that hope and optimism are the most formidable weapons possessed by human beings.

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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.

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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, 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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