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The Midnight Library By Matt Haig: Existential Crisis Amidst Books

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To Understand the Philosophical Intricacies embroiled in each Page of the book ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, there is exigency to go through basic Philosophy. Perhaps, ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder is a quintessential book, to begin with before delving into Midnight Library for conceptual clarity. A quote credited to Dan Howell says: “Embrace the void and have the courage to exist“.

As we start to read the very first page, we find the protagonist Nora Seed seems to be in an out-and-out predicament of her existence. A sense of existential crisis is being shaped in her psychological contemplation and this organically keeps her in anxiety, depression, and insomnia throughout the whole clock. Why such a state of affairs was predominant in her life? All because of lack of established definition in her life and this coaxed her to lay hold off antidepressant pills.

Image Credit: Goodreads

Fritjof Capra writes in his book “Uncommon Wisdom: Conversations With Remarkable People” which aptly fits the social and mental behavior of Nora Seed- “A person functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode may be free from manifest assumptions but cannot be considered mentally healthy. Such individuals typically lead ego-centered, competitive, goal-oriented lives. They tend to be unable to drive satisfaction from ordinary activities in everyday life and can become alienated from their inner world. For people whose existence is dominated by this mode of experience no level of wealth, power, or fame will bring genuine satisfaction. They become infused with a sense of meaninglessness, futility, and even absurdity that no amount of external success can dispel“.

As dreaming is an inclusive trait of one’s life. So, Nora Seed dreamt to become an Olympic Level swimmer, glaciologist, possess run-of-the-mill musical talent which made her dreamt to be a teacher of classical music. A man with whom she cherished to marry and planned to open a pub remained brutally unattended just before her marriage. Her relationship with every being was in chaos and her only cat dead in an accident. In amidst such a callously rough-hewn list of dreams, she settled on suicide.

In the Peripheral of extreme despondency, Nora Seed wakes up, not on her cozy bed but in a library. The library is endless with nothing but books. Each book is representing a different version of Nora’s Life. The Midnight Library to Nora is metaphorically an opportunity to have countless possibilities of living the life she adores. The library indoctrinates that she could make different choices in her ‘Original Life’ and all those different choices will lead to different aftermath and a whole new life story would bring on. This midnight Library helps her to be a nomad of an imperial Journey in discovering her ‘Self Covert’ and adopting a beaucoup of versions of her own life. Unexpectedly, Mrs. Elm, the compassionate Librarian of Nora’s Schooldays happens to be the Librarian of Midnight Library and she guides her to choose books (path) of Midnight Library with no or minimal regrets.

What Nora gets to know in the Midnight Library is very aberrant to her sense of Philosophical understanding, that, every life contains something which tends to disappoint us and every outcome of one’s life has a sense of regretfulness. An ideal life is a myth and in that loop, myth, and idealism entice us more as it deviates us from the verisimilitude of Life.

This book provokes us of being concerned about mental health. Why mental health is becoming central to our Life. The reason is of course the distraction it hands over in the day to day life. Why so? Because of the decision, we make and accept to our life. A quote accredited to Don Yaeger, “Decisions are the frequent fabric of our daily design”. The philosophy of decision-making is found in our “ability to reason“. It is believed that for human beings reasoning and making good decisions are closely connected, and those right choices and rational choices are much akin. Since the issue of mental health isn’t exclusive, so, in that loop by picking up this book, everyone will find something similar as attenuated in this book. In a state of outright silence, we will introspect the worldly side of our life. Regret holds us back, enlarging the gap between reality and dream.

Kurt Vonnegut, the American writer says, Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been“. We must admit that a coin has two sides, if not this then that. To any side of the coin, there is a pond of regretfulness and we can’t be unshared to be in a state of regret. We don’t have much courage to face the reality. We feel to enjoy the process of procrastination. The outcome of regretting is brutally bad. It’s a never-ending cycle causing dissatisfaction, lethargy, and self-hatred. Prediction is majorly disastrous. As Matt Haig writes in this book, “It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living… it takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do… but it is not lives we regret not living that is the real problem. It is the regret itself.

The future is beyond our control. The present is what with us and we should beautify our present. We are acquainted with the theory of assuming ourselves as worthless. We think we do not matter to anyone or we do not have any role to anyone’s life. In the big picture, that’s not true. Every decision of our life shapes and reshapes our future which eventually falls to other people’s spaces also. Humans, with each passing day, strive for perfection. Attempts are made to sort out the disorder and smoothen out the irregularities.

The aim, it seems, is to create an ideal world where we may get everything served on a platter just the way we want it. Simply put, a world where there would be no conflicts of either thoughts or actions and everything would be synchronized and in perfect harmony with each other. In the world that entwines chaos and flaws within its very fabric, our relentless search for perfection appears as yet another anomaly.

A good many of us spend our entire lives on this wild goose chase. To imagine this perfect world is close to impossible; to create one, even more so. The real challenge, though, is to survive in such a world where things are so apt, so precise that any deviation of thought or action will be considered an absurdity. We truly lack quality of appreciation. We are on the verge of a cataclysm in every sense. The moral lies in the unaccepted fact that not every time we used to be on the good side of our existence.

We have to face a set of challenges irrespective of the decisions we make rationally. To be in a balanced mode of our choices it tends to be the Final call to be out from the state of depression, anxiety, regret, and overthinking. Instead of accepting and fighting the hybridized throughout our life, we prefer to apart from materiality which dexterously beseems the analogy used by the Joker in the installment of the Batman series, “we’re all dogs chasing cars; we wouldn’t know what to do with one if we caught it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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