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“I Live Between Two Needles Of The Clock”: How COVID Changed My Life And Politics

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

When we first moved nearer to the capital city of Delhi from our sleepy little shire in the hills, I couldn’t but act like the poster child for the pre-pubescent, starry eyed, fresh cheeked girl you see and dislike in your typical rom-coms. The new kid on the block. The fresh meat, that went around looking at everything with a newly acquired wonder in her eye.

Everything in the city—the frothy white waters of the Yamuna, spiced by the industrial unguents pouring into it, the snarling traffic, the sensuous politics at Raisena Hill that worked its ways into legislations and policies that circulated into the South Block before crawling at a snail’s pace into the Parliament, the formidable building of the Secretariat, the grey corporate housing areas, the alleyways of the Old City and the hundreds of crumbling tombs and mausoleums—was alive.

The hustle and bustle of Delhi, pre-pandemic, was a sight to behold. Representational image. Photo credit: Flickr.

As if the whole city was some whispering some strange secret to its million inhabitants.

It never ceased to move. The capital was always sprinting, where to only God knows. But you’d only have to look at the morning commuters piling up on the freeways inside their carbon-emitting vehicles to know that everyone had somewhere to be and no one could be even a minute late.

The Paradox Of Indian Governance

Sure enough, trials and verdicts stretched on for years before sputtering to abrupt judgements, the bureaucratic red tape never cleared, holes and potholes never fixed, municipal offices always looked as if functioning on half capacity, striking workers never paid, cleanup projects never implemented, deadlines not crossed, but obliterated as politicians created a fracas in Parliament and staged senseless walkouts.

Yet all that could be attributed to incompetency and inefficiency, the trademark of Indian bureaucracy, not an unwillingness to move.

Because the delicious paradox of Indian Governance stated:

“If a government came to power basing its election campaign on a good, corruption free government they were going to be the most corrupt, inefficient, sneaky and scoundrel of a government that the electorate ever saw but the they would have until the next election to figure it out.”

The appearance was always one of action. So, when the pandemic infiltrated our lives and shut down some of the busiest cities in the world, we were left stumped. With no people walking, driving, spitting, pissing on the roads the capital looked haunted. I fear it still is.

The Indian Education System

Before the boldly splashed headlines of the dailies carried even a whiff of the subsequent lockdowns that were to be imposed in India, I was an eighteen-year-old child who had just finished her board exams.

Five years spent in a public school, looking at the blackboard, watching draughts of chalk rise up like sulphurous clouds, thumbing through thick pages of Indian History and Civics textbooks and differentiating integrals till I my eyes ached and I was ready.

No more would I be nodding off at History, or looking outside of the French window- panes in Math class to the fruit trees and blaring morning traffic outside.  I was free as a blackbird. Free to roam every nook and cranny of the city. Free, free, free!

It was a warm glowing March morning and the soundtrack of my life was, “It’s a New Day”.  It seemed incomprehensible that a plague would end erupting all over the continent, work its way across the Pacific Ocean and then sneak into our lives as well.

It was one thing to read The Wall Street Journal and shake your head at China, but quite another to live in a world that was crumbling. You could hear the oldies collectively sighing, “Tch, tch, that’s why you mustn’t meddle with good old nature. It’s been around longer than we have.”

But then world governments and corporations labelled “eco-friendly” had been meddling with nature long before we were born. Chopping rainforests to lay their railways lines, excavating tonnes of fertile earth to scoop out fossil fuels, causing oil spills that lay like scaffolding on the ocean floors.

When The Lockdown Hit

Why must mother nature strike back at this inopportune time when I was about embrace the wide, open world. This moment in time which was to be my emancipation?  Why, why, why?

The irony was too bittersweet.  Just as I was about to make a dazzling entry into the world that lay across the far side of the Yamuna, I was yanked back and made to sit in the corner to wait it all out. The lockdown was total, absolute and complete.

It seemed as if I were entombed in walls of silence. Days came and went, suffocating and formless. Old routines resumed. A cup of milk every morning with a spoonful of Bournvita (yes, even at 18 years old) with the morning papers to supplement it.

Lounging about the house in my pyjamas with hair that hadn’t been washed in a week. It was as if someone had cut the cord between me and the real world. Now I was just floating in a vacuum hoping the electric wires could be crossed again.

Bare unscheduled summer days lay ahead. I’d thumb through the calendar at my desk looking at the dates and wonder what was I supposed to be doing with all this free time when in school every minute of every day had to be accounted for.

The Certainty Of Old Days No More

Blessed academic calendars that took up the last two pages of your school almanac. On the eighth of March you’d know exactly what you’d be doing on twelfth of September because you’d had your midterms starting from the fifteenth.

I lived the disciplined cut-to-cut life that the Indian education system imposes on its students: 7 hours of schooling, an hour of Math tuitions (the plague of my life) plus the grueling hours of self-study which may have permanently damaged my spine, coaxing my prefrontal cortex to absorb some more obscure tidbit of Indian history.

Day to day functionality broke down in the pandemic. It snatched the comfortable certainty of old days and replaced it with stale borrowed time. I was someone who lived between the two needles of the clock. Who lives, swears and dies by their schedule.

At eighteen I knew I wanted to graduate by 21, get a masters by 22 and be established comfortably at 24. I compartmentalized my life right down to marriage and retirement. Foolishly I did not plan for an anomaly.

The pandemic interfered with this delicate timeline and it infuriated me.

Stuck In A Time Warp

It seemed as if lifetimes were compounded in the clock’s circulation. Did the second hand move from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.? Did an hour fly past or have I been down the YouTube foxhole for 12 hours now? Is it the sixth of May or the seventh of June?

How much Netflix can a person binge-watch? Representational image. Photo credit: Pxhere.

There’s only a limited amount of joy to be derived from breadcrumbs and Netflix and I had reached my peak.

Fresh faced chick no longer. I have always been optimistic, I have always been clear eyed and farsighted but three months into the pandemic, say hello to the Enfant Terrible.

The one who slams the bedroom door so hard that the even the hinges protest, the one who wakes up 11 a.m. and eats processed cheese slices for breakfast, the one who has screamed out her lungs in desperation and yet nobody has bothered

Then Versus Now

The geographical distance, the spatial separation from the city where I was supposed to be and where I actually was at the moment was agonizing. The cultural and political cleavage was too vast for me reconcile. Would my life ever turn out what it was supposed to turn out as?

Or would I succumb to the drudge-sludge of a life of normalcy, of mediocrity, of utter indifference and apathy. “Am I one of those writers who’ll spent their lives in dingy bars having barely three pages worth material published?” I wrote in my journal one Saturday evening.

The fear was real. I couldn’t be one of those cynical, chewed out, middle aged pen-pushers who had big fat As on their reports cards and bright futures but were now spending their lives in falling asleep in front of the T.V in their one roomed apartments.

A stack of unpublished writing staring sullenly at them as they went about their lives. Even their epitaphs were pessimistic. Didn’t Bukowski tell people not to try? Poor sucker knew there wasn’t much in it. Didn’t Kafka say. “I have spent my life resisting the desire to end it?”

I felt as I were being rendered invisible, voiceless and was disintegrating, bit by bit, each limb at a time. Outside of this quiet world of snarling domesticity, politics was swarming the city.

Sneaky Legislations Were Passed

Every day the newspaper carried the most ghastly news imaginable, the kind that makes you want to chuck the papers in the bin and write angry essays and op-ed pieces about the deterioration of a nation-state.

Politics is the worm that burrows itself into the subterranean layers of the soil, always on the get-go.

While the world was shuttering down, sneaky legislations wormed their way into the Indian Parliament and were passed just as stealthily too. Show cause notices began flying in the air and landing up at journalist’s doorsteps.

Dissenters were arrested in the dead of the night, while the rightful occupants of central prisons were walking around in broad daylight, as if out for a stroll on Rajpath. And nobody speak of the nightly circus of television debates lest I might implode. Balderdash! Absolute poppycock!

The real world of politics and people and crime was so unfair and cruel and yet so ensnaring. I spent hours licking clean the headlines, devouring books and surfing social media trying to get a clearer view while my line of sight was obstructed due to my civilian status and of course, the godforsaken epidemic.

I imagined myself as one the protestors, crying out against the tyranny of the state. I’d skip class, hop on the metro and viola! land in the topsy-turvy world of Freedonia. As if I were some sort of 21st century Che Guevara without the motorcycle.

Romanticising The Revolution?

In this thick reality-obscuring fog never once did the undeniable fact of police brutalities, permanent injuries or even incarceration cross my head.

The idea of growing up with a popular class struggle was something I’d be telling everyone, the idea of getting a bone cracked by a police baton, not as entertaining. So much for romanticising revolution.

Police brutality is a very real consequence one should be prepared for when protesting. Representational image.

This insolent lack of acceptance of the realities of life, the impunity with which I dreamed, the foolhardiness of it all—spelled disaster for me.

Two important things about myself came to light: I hate passivity, inaction even more so. And I have not a modicum of patience in my jittery bones. “I have to stop lying to myself, life is what it is, it is the time that is given to you, not the time that is to come”, another wise journal entry.

But if were to take an overview of this situation, even with the self-awareness and intelligence I have now, I don’t see things panning out any different. I am writer, and I lie to myself for a living. No two ways about it.

I Still Dream

I wished I could be in Delhi, the air crackling with politics, every tower, every minaret telling a story and every second someone dreaming a dream. With every life the epidemic has stolen from us it becomes clearer that time is precious.

And, it becomes clearer to me that the time given to me, although not what I desired is what it is. Instead of pacing the daylight hours I sit at my desk now. I live between the two needles of the clock; the only difference is that I have turned myself over to them.

I am learning to make good use of my time even if it is spoilt. The world is getting madder by the minute, I still read the morning papers, I still always hope, and I still always dream.

And, one day when the city wakes again from the slumber and the air comes alive with the scent of politics, freedom and resistance, I’ll be there. I’ll be where I am meant to be.

Featured image, taken from Wikimedia Commons, is for representational purposes only.
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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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