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10 Books That Got Me Through 2020

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I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

From the creator of When Harry Met SallyYou’ve Got MailSleepless in Seattle and Julie and Julia, comes an anthology of essays about love, ageing and life lessons. Sharp, witty and hilarious, Nora Ephron is not only a feminist icon that I’ve adored all my life, but she is also the woman who collaborated with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal to create the infamous diner scene “I’ll have what she’s having”.

If that isn’t enough to make you fall head over heels in love with her, try reading the first essay on how she feels about:

  • Her neck: “You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck”.
  • Parenting: “Therapists and counsellors will say adolescence is for adolescents, not for parents, but the truth is adolescence is for parents, not for adolescents”.
  • Moving on from the perfect apartment in Manhattan: “The rent was fifteen hundred dollars a month along with twenty-four thousand dollars in key money, but if I lived in the building for the next twenty-four years it would amortise to only $2.74 a day, which is less than a cup of cappuccino at Starbucks”.
  • Her history with John F. Kennedy: “Perhaps nothing happened between us simply because JFK somehow sensed that discretion was not my middle name. I mean, I assure you that if anything had gone on between the two of us, you would not have had to wait this long to find out”.

It isn’t just the fact that she was a brilliant journalist and critically acclaimed screenwriter; it was that she truly lived each moment as if it was her last.

If you like, you can get your copy of I Feel Bad About My Neck here.

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

I’ll be honest; I found out about this book because a popular social media influencer would keep posting pictures of this book with a cup of coffee over and over again. There had to be something special about it because she was not getting paid to read it and YouTube stars rarely ever do that. I’m so glad I got this book.

“Ikigai” is a Japanese concept which tells us that the key to living a long and happy life is about finding the perfect synthesis between what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for.

The authors travelled to Okinawa, Japan, which has the highest number of centenarians in the world. Everything from diet, exercise, lifestyle, recreation and community is discussed and it gives an incredible insight into living a longer and more fulfilled life. I’ve had no trouble at all in following their advice and it has made it easier for me to focus on myself during an extremely difficult year.

You can get your copy of Ikigai here.

The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes

The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Why had no one ever told me about the adventures of the packhorse librarians? You think you’ve read it all and then you find this perfect piece of historical fiction based on the true account of four women in rural Kentucky from the 1800s who were running a mobile library for the edification of the neighbourhood.

Alice Wright is a simple, quiet, shy girl who marries young, following a whirlwind romance and moves to Kentucky to be with her husband. The rural town, however, is no different from her oppressive life back in England, which she is so desperately trying to escape.

Turns out, being ignored as a single woman is the same as being ignored as a married one and things seem bleak until she meets the local scoundrel Marjorie O’Hare and the sisterhood of the travelling librarians. What starts as a religious outreach programme to bring the Bible to the local community ends up becoming a life-changing journey for Alice as the women fight tooth and nail against corruption, ignorance and misogyny.

I couldn’t imagine how a town so small could hold so many conflicting ideas about womanhood. Are they mothers, wives and daughters? Are they church-going, God-fearing and rigidly devout? Or are they in fact, human beings with hopes, dreams and, most of all, desires?

In the end, this book is about the love of books. It is an ode to reading and how one book can bring you so much joy.

You can get your copy of The Giver Of Stars here.

The Splendid And The Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid And The Vile by Erik Larson

I am not one for historical biographies and this may very well have been my first one, but after watching Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech, Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour and John Lithgow in The Crown, I could not help but be fascinated by Winston Churchill. You may have quoted him many times, but you will never know this man until you read this book. I believe it is the definitive biography of Churchill about the monumental role he played in a very pivotal moment in history, World War II.

There are no words to describe the insane zest for life Churchill had. His joie de vivre, gumption, optimism, obsession with technology and passion for politics. The chapter that stood out for me was the bombing of St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry during a German air raid on the night of 14 November, 1940. As Churchill and his entourage made their way through the rubble mere hours after the massive attack, one of the locals shouted, “Get those bastards Winnie!”, at which he whirled around, raised his fist and said, “You leave that to me!”.

What you realise after reading this epic saga is that until the very end, Hitler could never truly break Churchill.

You can get your copy of The Splendid and The Vile here.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set in the 50s, this is classic horror done with a touch of magic realism. Noemi Taboada is an heiress, gorgeous debutante and high society hostess who is pursuing a degree in anthropology and chasing men when she gets a disturbing letter from her cousin begging her to come and rescue her from an ill-fated marriage with an English aristocrat.

Following the strict orders of her father, a pragmatic businessman who does not want to risk bringing dishonour to the family name, Noemi is sent to High Place, a gloomy mansion with a sepulchral cemetery and a haunted coal mine. Noemi is a reluctant heroine, far too cynical and rebellious to comprehend what is going on at High Place until it is too late. As it transpires, once you’re a guest of High Place, it becomes impossible to leave. It is forbidden.

It might sound a little clichéd when a saviour finds herself in need of saving instead, but what makes this novel terrifying is how it intertwines dreams, family drama and mycology. And yes, mycology is the study of fungi.

You can get your copy of Mexican Gothic here.

Why Men Rape by Tara Kaushal

Why Men Rape by Tara Kaushal

It might seem odd that so far I’ve neglected to mention any Indian authors, but I’m far more critical of them than I am of foreigners. This book, however, was an education. Tara Kaushal is a survivor of child rape, a seasoned journalist and a woman on a mission who went undercover to interview seven violent offenders accused or convicted of rape. Her subjects were not aware of her research and were, therefore, fairly candid about their crimes.

She also spoke to police officers, mental health professionals, women’s rights activists and heads of non-governmental organisations to put together the ultimate case study on the prevalence of violence against women in India and its primary causes. While the list is not exhaustive, it is certainly illuminating as she explores crimes committed against women across socio-economic barriers, religion, caste, class and status.

It’s the only research-based, and field work-centred novel that is part social commentary and part psychoanalysis of toxic masculinity in India. For anyone who is an advocate for gender equality, I highly recommend this book and I suggest making your notes as you go along because this is going to be a better experience than any gender justice lecture you’ve attended in your life.

You can get your copy of Why Men Rape here.

1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

So I have to start by saying that growing up, one of my favourite films was V for Vendetta and I had absolutely no idea that it was so greatly inspired by this. George Orwell’s magnum opus is a dystopian novel set in 1984 London, or what used to be London but is now called Airstrip One which is a small but central part of the State of Oceania.

Orwell’s novel takes a hard look at totalitarianism, mass surveillance, socialism and the extinction of human emotions. What makes it truly unputdownable is that even though it is about an authoritarian government ruling over its people with an iron fist (those who do not conform are “vaporised”, another word for exterminated), at the heart of it, it is a love story.

I won’t give it away, but what makes this science fiction novel worth reading is that it was one of the few classic novels that lived up to its name. I have been disappointed too many times in the past after referring to those “100 must-read classics of all time” and finding nothing that I could enjoy. I took a bit of a risk trying this one and it paid off.

It may be a sign of the times that I found comfort in this story because I now know that my fears about the current state of human rights are well-founded. At least in the world of fiction, I could see that human will is indomitable.

You can get your copy of 1984 here.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Probably the only good thing this pandemic has taught us is to start having honest conversations about mental health. Nora Seed is a shop assistant in Bedford, Bedfordshire. She’s struggling with the big D: Depression. She’s lost her mother to cancer. She is estranged from her brother, no longer in touch with her best friend, broken off her engagement with her fiancé and, today, her cat just died. She makes the ultimate decision of her life: to end it. Little does she know that one end is just another beginning.

Nora finds herself hovering between life and death (possibly having a neurological episode, or transcending this dimension?) at a library. With the help of an old friend, she must now confront all her biggest regrets and explore the different directions her life could’ve taken by reconsidering all her choices.

Is there a universe in which Nora could’ve lived up to her potential? Could she have been an Olympic swimmer? A successful musician? A good wife? These are no longer wishful thoughts. She will get the chance to live alternate versions of her own life until she finds the right one. But which one will it be? And more importantly, will it make her happy?

I’m a big fan of Matt Haig because of the amazing work he’s doing for mental health and this masterpiece is just another step in your self-healing journey.

You can get your copy of The Midnight Library here.

Rumi by Farrukh Dhondy

Rumi by Farrukh Dhondy

Don’t lie; at some point, you have shared a Rumi quote and come off as deeply spiritual. If you haven’t, what have you been doing on the internet? Farrukh Dhondy’s latest translation gives us Rumi’s most famous works and I know you’ll agree with me when I say that poetry is the soul’s elixir. Rumi’s themes are still incredibly popular because love, loss, God, philosophy, existence and human suffering continue to mystify people in the 21st century.

If you are one of those lost souls looking for answers to questions you haven’t even begun to phrase in the literary works of Paulo Coelho or Khaled Hosseini and your heart is raw from the constant chafing of life’s hard edges. This book will be a soothing balm, an oasis in the desert, a port in the storm. For me, it was like returning to a lover, because only Rumi can make me feel this way.

You can get your copy of Rumi here.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This is last on my list because I just finished it so do not let the order of the books diminish the weight of my message: read it. If the glowing reviews in the New York Times and Washington Post will not sway you, then let me make my case. Majumdar is not the next Jhumpa Lahiri; she is the first Megha Majumdar.

Her debut novel expertly weaves the stories of three characters, Jivan, a shopgirl at Pantaloons, Lovely, a transgender woman and PT Sir, the local physical education school teacher. Based in Calcutta, the novel begins with a terrorist attack where a local train is burnt down, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives and Jivan’s arrest, following her inflammatory anti-government post on Facebook.

Her high-profile trial launches the careers of Lovely, who aspires to be an actress and PT Sir, who finds a place among the ranks of the opposition party. But what is the ethical cost? Will an innocent woman’s life be spared in the pursuit of justice or will she be sacrificed at the altar of personal ambition?

More than anything, this book provides us with a brutal portrayal of the rise of extremist nationalism, communal violence, media sensationalism and mob-mentality. It should come as no surprise that the Indian media has downplayed its release and heavily criticised this work of art. Just remember, art mirrors life.

You can get your copy of A Burninghere.

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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 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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