When College Overwhelmed Me, The City Of Bombay Came To My Rescue

If there’s one feeling which forms the core undercurrent of my life, it’s passion. That’s the only emotion I’ve ever understood when it comes to both my personal and professional life. Unlike any high-end materialistic dreams, my only dream was to study in a great college – the best one.

And, this very word – passion – made me, officially, venture into the world of Humanities in class 11. In one word, Humanities, to me, is comforting. Back in class 8, even when I wasn’t aware of the existence of such a word, I had it streamlined. I always knew it was going to be either history, civil services or law.

As today tells, I went with the last one and I am a grumpy, excited, driven and passionate law student.
I had decided upon pursuing law by the time I began my Class 10 – the reason being, I enjoyed the vibrancy of the career and it just fit. Though there is a teeny part of my heart that still aches for not taking up history in a full-fledged manner, I am more than happy on having chosen law.

Back down memory lane, Class 11 and 12 flew by while putting in efforts to prepare for the entrance examination called CLAT (Common Law Admission Test). A huge setback came to me in the form of my Class 12 Board Results – I had failed my Mathematics paper.

While I was still trying to gauge this catastrophe of an event and the ramifications it would have on my academic records, I was in for another setback – my CLAT results were out. I hadn’t made it to any ‘prestigious’ or ‘top-tier’ National Law Universities; and, the worst mistake I had made was that of not giving any other law entrance examination or exams of private law schools. Add to that, my Mathematics failure had drastically lowered my percentile, and hence, eliminated my chance of getting through well-ranked private law schools on the basis of the same.

Those months were emotionally and mentally devastating for me on levels more than one and for reasons more than few. I couldn’t afford myself any time to crib and complain. The acceptance of my situation was going to be my only aid, it was.

I finally narrowed down to a private college, located in the dream of a city that Bombay is. Though, only later did I realize that its location was a sham, and I was going to be spending my next five years at a place almost two hours away from Bombay.

This decision affected me on two major levels – first, having lived in a small city for 18 years of my life, the shift to Bombay was going to a major one; and second, I was yet to come to terms with the fact that my only dream had been shattered.

I entered my college with a lot of pressure (of achieving something), baggage (of the past academic failures), hope (of this college being the wing to my dreams), expectations and my omnipresent passion.

I realized that this place was a place of beautiful sunrises, gorgeous dusk skies, lots of green and of peace. But, it was just as dormant academically, which was expected, but still a huge blow to my academic zeal. Being the optimist that I am, I clung to hope.

I was trying my best to make peace with classes being suspended continuously, a dearth of faculty that would create an academic environment in class which would harbor debate and literary zest, but none of it happened. Classes became limited to just being physically present, and college to yet another place of socialization.

While I was still grappling with the issue of my crushed dreams, I had another major obstacle to face. Previously mentioned, 18 years in a small town had limited my experiences. Add to that, close to zilch social interactions in said small town. What was also different was the sheer kinds of the people I was coming across in college. I was used to dealing with people that had collective mindsets with almost similar backgrounds. Cut to college, where I had suddenly been exposed to so much diversity – of people, thoughts, opinions, and behavior. In one word, it was overwhelming.

That was then and this is now. I am so much better at social relations than what I was a few years back, which can also be attributed to my fascination for how social setups work. I have made peace with the status quo of my academic life in college – but having said that, I have managed to create an environment which helps me thrive in the domains I love.

I attribute a lot of my coping to my reading. Though I was lacking in practical exposure, reading had exposed me to various dimensions of how relationships function and how perspectives work. I also discovered that many aspects of surviving college were directly proportionate to the surroundings and the city I was living in.

Right from never travelling alone even in my hometown to navigating the local trains of Bombay amidst the hustle bustle, managing my expenses wonderfully, exploring the city, taking numerous decisions that would impact my lifestyle, I learnt it all. Surviving college was also about living and sustaining myself in Bombay. If I were to use one word that would sum up what this gorgeous city has given me, it’d be liberation.

Bombay and its exuberance liberated the 18 year old me in ways that are indescribable. In a lot of ways, my explorations and my bond with the city made me aware of who I am as a person. It gave me my first taste of independence coupled with a sense of responsibility that also came with being on my own. Marine Drive became my getaway and Fort Book Street my go-to, when I would find it unable to deal with the monotony of academics.

Now that I’m in fourth year of college, I can successfully say that I have a few takeaways from my previous years. I realized how time while healing things, definitely makes you get used to things and accept situations. I realized how if we really want to excel at something, we always find ways to further ourselves in that direction, without excuses and complaints. I realized how relationships evolve and work themselves out over time.

I have met the most amazing set of people I could ever meet, and college has also been about imbibing a lot from their diverse narratives – one with such streamlined vision about his career, one whose integrity could inspire yours, and one whose rationality will. From living this experience individually, it has gradually become an experience we have all collectively lived together.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the past few years also made me more protective of my siblings and closer to my family – not just the home food, but the comfort, candor and protection of home.

College years are important, they say, for they not only shape our perspective and broader our horizons about life. But, they also help us understand the nuances of human relationships, our passion, and our true calling. They often reveal to us what principles we’d compromise on, and they make us aware of who we are as people and what we choose to represent. I am only grateful and glad that I’ve been able to experience most of these.

Note: The usage of ‘Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai’ is intentional – a conscious decision for my love of the ancient.

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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 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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