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Food Is My Love Language: I Love Food, And I Love Through It

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As we grow up, it’s hard to not notice how everything we touch is filled with memories. We visit new places in search of newer memories, only to find ourselves in front of a ruin or a monument reeking with the scent of an irretrievable time. We long for familiar days, wishing somehow that by visiting the same places, we’ll bump into the same shadows and relive times lost but never wholly processed.

Mumma recollects a time when she used to miss school, only because she wanted to devour parantha and achaar (pickle) made by her Beeji (grandmother). Papa recollects a time of fervent cricket practice followed by gobhi parathas and achaar made by my Dadi.

The author’s mother making rotis in a Dhaba in Goa.

I, too, recollect a time when I used to come back from school. Almost magically, the dreary time of tolerating summers in an Indian school used to be placated by the soft namak-aijwain (salt and cumin) paranthas made by mumma.

It’s as if our generational connection is solidified by these very simple yet specific labours of love, often provided to us by the women in our life.

Think about lousy festival nights, every nook and cranny brimming with a person you love, relatives flooding in and out of the kitchen holding a drink or two, nibbling on shami kebab or dahi puchka made after careful consideration of everyone’s palate. Your mum has taken out her special porcelain and elaborately dressed it up on the dining table. Perhaps, as an extension of her love or as her ability to weave out order from any kind of chaos.

Come to think of it, if not formed, this is how relationships are sustained and strengthened over time.

The Importance Of Remembering

“Whenever I used to visit my Nani in Lucknow, she used to make bottles of nimbu sharbat- a kind of like a syrup made up of half sugar and half lemon juice. Before she passed away, she made around three to four bottles and sadly, there’s only one left now. I hope I can remake it every time I go to Lucknow,” my friend Aarna reminisces.

Remembrance is peculiar, and in fact essential, as it’s the only way we don’t lose our sense of belonging.

Everyone’s concerned with the history of the larger kind, but what about histories governed by individualities? The stories of our ancestors that reside within all of us but are rarely remembered because of their triviality within the larger scheme of life. Stories that help us cherish hands decorated with unconditional love. Hands that caress our tired heads and feed us, not to satiate but to nourish and nurture us with all the love they can afford to give.

 

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The roadside Dhaba on a monsoon afternoon or the overpriced bakery to impress your first love, packs of noodles made in the dead of the night before a major exam or diet-shattering desserts ordered on evenings replete with laughter and vulnerability. Our life moves on not in a linear fashion, but in fragmented bits, compartmentalised and often associated with material things like food.

This relationship of memory is often interspersed with such instances where food evolves into a love language, tucked into an intimacy that’s known only to those people.

My friend Pearl affirms this realisation with an intimate memory.

“Biryani will always remind me of papa because it was the only dish he enjoyed cooking. I’m not just talking about any biryani, papa used to make the yummiest, most filling and flavourful chicken biryani. He would get out the biggest Punjabi family kadhai possible as if he was going to feed the whole neighbourhood (this is true in parts, we did send some over to our friends every time.

Papa would usually cook it for dinner so we used to wait in excitement the whole day. The first hour of the process would be pure chaos. My favourite bit was when papa would leave it to simmer for hours and the fragrance would fill the entire house. It takes me back to a time when my biggest priorities in life were watching ‘kya mast hai life’ and eating mango after dinner. He still does cook biryani once or twice a year, but I don’t think I take out the time to fully notice and sit with the simple pleasures of life anymore. Also, I am a vegetarian now,” she tells me, as she reflects on her childhood.

Food often evolves into a love language, tucked into an intimacy that’s known only to those people. A scene from the movie ‘Lunchbox’. Photo: Netflix

Love Is As Love Does

Love and food go together; they just do. The immense power that food holds might lead some people to believe that it’s only when people start to cook for you, attempt to do so, or simply order your favourite noodle soup at the end of a tiring day, they truly start to value and adore you.

There’s something so simple yet deliberate about the act of cooking.

It encapsulates all senses. The sensation of the most innocent touch, measuring out ingredients, leaving out certain bits keeping in mind the preference of the person you’re cooking for – this is when you truly realise that love is as love does.

Come winter, mumma takes a week out of her routine to put 20kgs of achaar. The dinner table becomes a drying station, the entire house fills with the aroma of oil and masalas. That’s my signal that the season has changed.

She always makes way more than needed, so that all visitors go back with a taste of her love and affection in exchange for a two rupee coin.

It isn’t an earning as much as it’s a spell of protection around that affectionate relationship.

Nani used to wake up at 4 in the morning to make her special karela (bitter gourd), stuffed with fragrant masalas and deep-fried with a thread tied to secure it, making it taste anything but bitter. Despite having a packed work-day ahead of herself, she woke up diligently just because she knew how much my dad wished for a breakfast made by her tender hands.

The act of feeding yourself or another person, to cherish our bodies with care and utmost consideration is an act of empowerment in itself.

We all have different equations with the food we make and consume. For some of us, it’s a hassle that needs to be done with. While for others, it becomes a quiet and peaceful part of their day that they truly look forward to.

We have different relationships with the food that we sustain our bodies with. All too often, we view our bodies from a third-person perspective, subjecting them to loathsome remarks and disdained gazes.

In such times, I hope we’re able to remember the hands that fed and nurtured us unconditionally. I hope we remember to view this relationship as fluid and not a reflection of your worth.

I hope we’re able to take a few quiet moments out of our day. Slowly chop our vegetables over an old song or two, boil a flavourful broth, add all the spices we need, or simply order a take out; sit in sublime tranquillity and truly value the beautiful body we’ve been blessed with.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
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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.

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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