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How Reading Fiction Helps Me Fill The Pandemic Void

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

It was Sunday (18th April) morning I was on a call with my friends discussing higher education plans, jobs, and how life is going back on track oblivious of the foreshadowing second wave of the pandemic.

The moment I cut the call, my phone chimes there was a notification from the India Today news app which reads and I quote “Lockdown in Delhi till next Monday”.

Since we have been through the lockdown phase before, I thought it’s going to be fine, but within two days covid-19 cases skyrocketed in Delhi and the situation was undoubtedly alarming.

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The Pandemic Void

Whenever I receive a call or text it was either about the demise of my relatives or a plea for medical aids like an oxygen cylinder or ICU bed for the severe covid patient. At this moment restlessness has groped me from my neck.

There were posts all over social media platforms where influencers and my friends were imploring for covid-19 medical aids.

It was heart-shattering to digest the fact that hospitals overrun the covid-19 medical supplies and crematoriums have run out of space.

Since I was graduated in 2020 and I took a gap year there wasn’t any loaded assignment to keep my mind off the horrendous situation. By the way, the pressure of being a student who took a gap year is itself a horrendous situation for students in our society.

I became numb and the worst thing happened I started doom scrolling. Day by day I feel like I was in the abyss. Helpless and restless so much so that I stopped doing anything even my internship work had passed the deadline.

Long Lost Hobby To The Rescue!

One random day of last week of April I was swiping through my Instagram stories and a friend of mine has shared a post of the fancy and astounding picture of a novel posted by Sumaiyyareads (she is a ‘bookstagrammer’) without wasting a second I clicked on the post and for a moment I feel at ease, from her post only I became familiar with other ‘bookstagrammers’ and followed those to whom I share my reading taste.

My bookshelf was in front of my sight and I wondered how come I ignored this piece of literary art all these days. Then I realized that college life and digital media had occupied my mind so much that I forget about my novels.

I have been collecting novels since 6th class but stopped eventually because of the pressure to read more textbooks to gain knowledge.

On the contrary, data shows reading fiction since your childhood can help build up your vocabulary in comparison to the child who doesn’t read fiction.

I noticed one thing that no matter what you are doing once you have started a novel you cannot think about anything but to finish it.

Books in Movies on Twitter: "Tara reads Catch-22 by Joseph Heller in  #Tamasha. @deepikapadukone #BooksInMovies… "
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As Joseph Addison said, “Reading is to your mind what exercise is to your body”. While reading it feels like my mind is racing, disconnecting me from other things and making graphics of the events simultaneously.

Strangely I stopped using social media and phone per se so automatically doom scrolling stopped, all because of my novels and their capability to hack my mind through peculiar stories.

Novels and fiction genres per se have so much to offer to a reader and one can know a bit about an author’s perspective on certain things, for example, let’s take Leigh Bardugo, she wrote the majority of her fantasy novels inspired by Russian Folklore.

I recently read Durjoy Dutta’s ‘The boy with a broken heart’ and its sequel, which is a romantic story but the story also focuses on inter-religion marriage, mental health, and caste discrimination in India. This proves that Durjoy not only focuses on romance but the social concept as well. That story keeps me hooked.

While going through a BBC article, I came across a Canadian cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley’s words he calls fiction ‘the mind flight stimulator’. If a child is bored from his or her textbook just give them a fiction novel to stimulate serotonin.

I have been devouring novels since the last week of April. All I know at the moment is that I am at the right place may be the abyss is filled with beautiful stories weaved

by different authors, and a big shoutout to the ‘bookstagrammar’ community, for keeping the reading culture alive and interesting.

It’s been over one month, as per government data covid cases have been declining in Delhi, which is good but still pandemic isn’t over yet all I can think right now is that read as much fiction as you can because it’s perfect escapism from the pandemic encapsulated abyss.

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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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