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Excerpt: “If You Want To Live In This City, You Can Never Run Away From The Sea”

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Rajkamal Jha, author of the novel City And The Sea

Like all children, I have a father. We shall meet him in just a little while. An odd character, my father. Sometimes, it seems, I am the one who is the adult and my father is the child. But then that’s the way Papa is. I cannot do much about it, Ma told me about Papa, “I love him but I am no longer sure how much”.

If you ask me, I would tell you that I think Ma deserves someone better. I know that’s a hurtful thing to say but I will say this behind Papa’s back, he won’t know because there’s no way he’s ever going to read any of this.  That, I am absolutely sure of.

As was her routine Monday to Friday and one working Sunday a month—which was that day—Ma should have been home latest by 4 p.m. from the newspaper where she worked on the copy desk, most of the time on the morning shift. It began at 8 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m., during which she edited stories and made pages. She had to send out at least two or three inside pages to bed, to the press, ready for plating and printing before the night shift came in and began working on the front page and the national pages.

If I sound as if I know quite a bit about Ma’s work, it’s because Ma often talked to me about it, once she took me to the office when there was no one there. She showed me how she made a page on QuarkExpress, how she drew text boxes into which she flowed the text, picture boxes into which she placed the pictures. She showed me how she typed in the headline, chose its size and font from the style sheet that popped up on the right-hand side when you hit F9 on the keyboard.

Many of these stories and pictures that I edit are from The Sea“, she said, “about people who live there, things that happen to them. “If we don’t put these stories out, no one will get to know what’s happening in the Sea“.

Why is it that important”, I asked, “why do we need to know about the sea?

“What kind of a question is that”, Ma said, “if you want to live in this city, you can never run away from the sea, so why not get to know what’s happening there? That way, you will always be prepared”.

Prepared for what?” I asked.

“When someone from the sea comes visiting”, she said.

I didn’t understand what she meant, it was 3 p.m., her shift was over, it was time to go home.

That evening, however, 4 p.m. became 5 p.m. became 6 p.m. and it was shortly before 7 p.m., more than three hours after I had returned from school, had lunch, washed, even changed into my night clothes, when Papa walked up to me and said—he was speaking to me for the first time that day—

your mother still hasn’t come home, did Ma tell you anything this morning about coming home late?”

No“, I said, “she didn’t tell me anything like that“.

You aren’t going to hear much about Papa, I will tell you that up front, because he is here then he is not here; he comes and he goes. He is at home most of the time when Ma is at work and I am at school. Or, he wanders around the city all by himself because he lost his job a year ago. When we are home, all three of us, most of the time Papa rarely gets in our way, he lives and moves in spaces in our house constantly draped in shadow.

“Maybe a bit of the Sea has slipped into your Papa, mixed with a little of his blood and that’s what has made him seem lost all the time, as if he’s missing a vital piece”, Ma whispered to me once, and I think she felt sorry for saying this because she tried to be nice to him the rest of the day even though he remained, as ever, cold and distant.

One night, when they thought I was asleep, Papa and Ma were in my room talking and Ma told him to keep meeting people, keep going for job interviews but he said-

there was no point as no one wanted him, they would like to get the same work done for half his salary”.

To which Ma said, “forget the salary, take anything they give you, you need to be out of this house working, you need to be with other people, forget about us, you need to feel safe and secure, I can’t be the only one dreaming around here”.I would love to take a vacation with all of us, I would love to walk on a beach, I would love to go abroad, to watch the snow fall, how is all this going to happen, how is any of this going to happen?”,

The way she said all of this, angry and defiant, set Papa off.

He shouted back at her, “don’t tell me about your dreams“, he struck his palm hard on the dresser table, making things fly away, “do you think I should work as a security guard? As Santa Claus? I should beg at the streetlight, scrub the toilet floor at the mall? That, too, is a job, isn’t it“, he said, and he walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Ma followed him a few minutes later. She was crying. I heard all this, I saw all this with my eyes open just a chink.
I am very good at watching with my eyes closed, at making people believe I am sleeping, that I am not listening when I am, actually, wide awake, fully alert.

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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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