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From War To Caste To Sec 377, You’re Sure To Love Akhil Katyal’s New Book Of Poetry

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Iris Murdoch writes, “Tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify. The good artist is a vehicle of truth.” Akhil Katyal is one of those who demystifies prevailing tyrannical forces. Through his poems, he tells the truth, the naked truth, of our society. He calls soldiers from the border, claims Nusrat as our own, and recollects those times when “God was a little joke about mangoes” in his second poetry collection “How Many Countries Does the Indus Cross”

The genius of Akhil Katyal is that he’s too naïve to notice the impact his poetry has had—and will always have—on its reader, including myself. “Indus, to me, is an immediate inquiry into how to keep a mind-of-your-own in times of great derangement of the human mind and soul by polluting it with skewed ideology and agenda-driven nationalism.

About ‘Indus’

Dedicated to the great poet Agha Shahid Ali, “Indus” is divided into—how ironic to place this word “divide” when the only job of this poetry collection is to “unite”—three parts: To Will the Distant Mountains to Glass, To Will the Distant Mountains to Glass, and To Will the Distant Mountains to Glass.

The book, title of which, “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight,” is taken from a poem by Agha Shahid Ali is published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective.

Just to complement Katyal’s work, this review is also divided. There are two parts: Akhil’s Poetry and Akhil’s Poetry.

Poet Akhil Katyal. Image Source: Facebook.

Akhil’s Poetry

I remember my English teacher saying, when I was in ninth grade, “if it doesn’t stay with you—sometimes making you laugh, cry, or think—then I don’t know if it’s poetry.” She was right.

I could feel a scintilla of emotions while reading “Indus”. Sometimes I thought the poet was teasing me. His (or maybe the editor’s) placement of poems follow a pattern—a deadly pattern—of memory, dream, and reality.

Memories of a distant past leaning against the door as if mocking at you. Dreams of a just, free, and happy society. And, realities? Those are depicted without even the slightest hint of a coverup. They are an attempt to make us see things what we have mastered to un-see.

From Farida Khanum’s musical notes to an innocent inquisition posed to Dr. Siras (“What did you tell the neighbours: Teacher, Professor, Poet?”); from the Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh to Iowa; from Akhil to ABVP; from Gurgaon to Gurugram, Katyal poses difficult questions, looking for answers, attempting to reconcile with a namesake (or may be not), and taking a jibe at the newfound enthusiasm of renaming places.

Some of these poems which I read, courtesy his Instagram account, stayed with me; and I often smirked, while in the Metro, whenever I used to hear the announcement “Next station is Guru Dronacharya,” immediately recalling a line: “Eklavya be like ‘Bitch, please!'”

Others like: “[Varun is Typing]” is a reality—of people in love, of people thinking that they’re in love, of people looking to find reasons to avoid their love. It’s a meditation on the online behavior which we exhibit when we’re so hopelessly battling to find ways to communicate that we desire to communicate, but we don’t want to send our desperation across (or even hint at our underlying vulnerability)—in the messages we send. Let’s keep it simple: drop a “Hi!”. I ache to hug my love whenever I read this line: “Rohit, it has been six years since you left/and I am beginning to forget your face.” It’s strange, but it’s this universality of emotions which my English teacher wanted to express, and Akhil’s poetry collection covers it deftly.

Akhil’s Poetry

If Agha Shahid Ali, romantically and figuratively, could see Kashmir from New Delhi, then it isn’t an exaggeration to say that you can see a reflection of Agha’s genius in Akhil’s work.

For light-hearted nationalists, be advised. He’s a fully-loaded poet. He boldly creates music out of different fault lines of the sub-continent, and he does so with an astonishingly effortless charm. Yes, charm. There’s charm in the confluence of passions: to call a soldier back home; to request the reader 500 years from now to ensure that ‘Akhil loves Rohit’ is there, chiseled by the author, on the staircase to Humayun’s tomb; to inform us that “Vivekananda loved Biceps, Bhagwad & [yolo] Beef”.

These are almost heady themes to cover in one’s poetry collection: Kashmir, Tips on getting Bharat Ratna, Class, Caste, Politics, Partition, Homosexuality, Section 377, and the honorable Prime Minister with his 56-inch chest (I haven’t measured it, but I’m going by his words, like everyone is.) And, the laudable thing is, he’s done a great justice to the themes he’s covered.

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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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