Where to find abortion clinics in North East? Kohima!

What do you expect when you’re about to visit a Family Planning Association of India clinic for the first time. You don’t know what to expect. I was at home, visiting one of cities of North East, trying to figure out if I could  find a good health clinic.

I took a bus from BOC point and headed to main town. From there, I got out of the bus and started walking as the traffic jam was massive. It wasn’t much of a challenge finding the clinic as I was initially given the address from which I clearly remember the name of the colony it stood in- Daklane. And as I reached the colony, the first person I met, I asked where Reproductive Health and Family Planning clinic is and he directed me perfectly and I didn’t need to ask anyone again on my way.

 

The moment I reached the clinic, I stretched my neck as it stood at a peak, and realized just how normal the clinic was and how though I’ve been to the colony many times I never really saw this yellow structure with huge billboards on Reproductive Health and Family Planning.

As I climbed up the stairs and entered, I was greeted by the head, who then took me to his office and after a brief conversation, introduced me to his team who will tell me about the clinic and answer my queries. It didn’t feel like I was in an alien place and though it was my first time I felt familiar with it.

The team took me through the process of the clinic right;

Registration,
Immunization (for children),
Counselling,
OPD and so on.

I was told they get about 250 patients coming in every month from all age groups. The number however used to be higher but because of the change in the consulting doctor who was liked by many and with whom many found comfort, had to take leave for further studies. He had a great rapport with the patients and was always the preferred one. Two doctors are currently in chair, one a male and the other a female. They take turns and are available through Monday to Friday. They have also through time have gained trust of patients and the number of visiting patients are increasing.

The clinic follows a No Refusal Policy.

Where though most treatments are FREE, for the few where fees are imposed is also not considered mandatory and if a patient is unable to pay, he or she is relieved from having to pay at all. The fee for MVA which is for safe abortion is two thousand rupees, covering all expenses like meds, procedure, full doses required. Again, even if the patient is unable to pay they will still treat her without payment.

They provide free contraceptives, and also conduct other long term procedures like coppertine, sterilization (both female and male).

The clinic not only receives patient from Kohima but all over Nagaland. Doctors from other districts and villages refer them to the clinic. Even government hospitals like Naga Hospital, Kohima refers patients to the clinic. Apart from these, they also provide Hepatitis B and C services. The clinic also have a good amount of HIV and IDU patients. Apart from such in house treatments, they also cater to an adolescents program called Adolescents Education Program, where they visit government schools and less privileged private schools, and hold comprehensive sexuality program. They conduct events and programs in order to share information on the same and create awareness. They also hold monthly musical program called Top Acts on every 4th Saturday in order to create a positive space for the same. The day I visited the clinic, an abortion was underway. It was the first time in my life that I stood next to a room where an abortion was underway. And rather than feeling anything else, I only worried if the patient is doing okay. And hoped she’d be fit both physically and mentally soon.

 

As I took my leave and was on my way out a young girl working there offered me tea, and as I came out of the clinic, it was just a normal day again. The clinic has two exits and entrances making it easier for patients to take whichever is best directed to their house or bus/taxi station. Just a couple of minutes of walk away is the bus stop and taxi station.

 

Writer : Sekulu Nyekha

Hornbill Festival: Land of Festivals

A Glimpse of the Hornbill Festival celebrated in the ‘Land of festivals’.

  • Hornbill is the biggest festival celebrated in Nagaland and also in the Northeast region of India.

 

The Hornbill Festival is an annual festival which started in the year 2000 with a vision to showcase the tradition and culture of the Nagas as a form of preserving and celebrating it.

 

It is celebrated in the first week of December commencing from the 1St of December and is celebrated till December 10th.

Each day has it’s own set of competitions, contests, cultural shows etc. Such as, Photography contest, Miss Nagaland Beauty Pageant, WW2 Vintage Motor Rally and other competitions such as The Naga King Chili eating competition, Pork Belly Fat eating competition etc. which are greatly enjoyed by the crowd.

 

There are also stalls which sells arts and crafts, which includes paintings, wood crafts, doll making, traditional ornaments etc. Giving a platform for the Naga artists to promote themselves.

 

 

  • Handicrafts sold at Hornbill Fest

Hornbill International Rock Contest is also held during the festival which has the biggest prize money in the country. The contest is joined by competitors all over the country competing against each other for the prize money. This attracts audiences from all over the country, young and old. Bringing music lovers from all over the state and country together.

  • Pictures of the International Hornbill Rock Contest.

The Hornbill festival brings along with it, the celebration of the varied traditions of the Naga culture. It helps as a means of bringing unity among the varied tribes of the Nagas. This celebration of the festival showcases the richness of the Naga culture by letting other people from different cultures experience the culture of the Nagas by going back to their roots.

 

Image Courtesy : Menule Chirhah

Stain The Stigma: St. Teresa College

‘Stain the Stigma’ is an initiative by the Final Year students of the Department of Communicative English, St. Teresa’s College(Autonomous), Ernakulam. The campaign aims at removing various social stigmas and taboos around Menstruation along with educating the general public about Menstrual Hygiene.

“Do not wear white clothes, do not enter the kitchen, do not get into the temple , don’t run , don’t jump”. Without any more questions and clarifications, it is very evident that the individual who is being instructed here is a woman and it is her ‘that time of the month’. ‘That time of the month’ , again a usage that is testament to the fact that euphemism still rules when the topic under conversation is Menstruation. A recent study conducted by Clue,a Menstrual Cycle Tracking Application and The International Women’s Health Coalition found that more than 5000 slang terms and euphemism exist for the word Menstruation. ‘Aunt Flow’, ‘Shark Week’, ‘the time of the month’, ‘Blood Mary’,etc are some of the most commonly used code words for periods. Though periods is nothing but a natural bodily process of women, it is still seen as something that should be whispered about and not talked about in public. Something that men should not even get to know.

teachers discussing with students
In India only 80% menstruating women have access to sanitary pads. Many women, especially the underprivileged section and those belonging to rural parts of the country, still use rags, dry leaves and straw in place of sanitary pads. This also results in various reproductive tract infections and diseases among women some of which could prove to be fatal. One out of five girl students in India drop out of school after the onset of menstruation. This is a clear indication of how traumatizing the onset of menstruation could be for some women in India. Societal taboos and lack of awareness have given rise to many misconceptions regarding menstruation. Even today there are girls who feel they are dying when they first see those red spots. Such is the extent of misconceptions prevalent in our society regarding menstruation.
Through the campaign we aim at removing such misconceptions and taboos regarding menstruation along with highlighting the importance of menstrual hygiene. We believe changes should begin at the grass root level.

 

a male teacher talking to students

So, as part of the campaign, awareness sessions will be held in schools and orphanages in and around Ernakulam. Both boys and girls would attend the sessions together as opposed to the usual practice of segregating the boys and girls while talking about menstruation. The first of such sessions was held on 5th December 2017 at the Govt Higher Secondary School, Elamakkara. The students were introduced to the topic with the aid of clippings from popular movies, videos, a dance performance and a skit. Ms. Reena Madhu and Mr. Fabel Varghese, Professors of The Department of Applied Psychology and Counselling, TocH Institute of Science and Technology, Arakunnam handled the classes for the students on menstrual hygiene and taboos respectively. The positive feedback we received from the students and teachers of the school has urged us to work more enthusiastically towards the cause.

Menstruation is a part of the lives of women that women are forced to hide and keep quiet about. We feel that social attitudes need to be changed immediately so that women are no longer weighed down by the shame of it. One-half of society must not be shunned for what is nothing but a natural bodily process.

 

Written by : Anagha Pradeep

Where do Rape Survivors go in Lucknow?

 

Hidden Pockets Collective went looking for One Stop Crisis Centre in Lucknow. “Asha Jyoti Kendra” established by state government is really good, said some of the government officials whom we had met. I was intrigued. There were One Stop Crisis Centres in Uttar Pradesh, and everybody seemed to say very good things about it. So we decided we will map it.

Asha Jyoti Kendra was inaugurated in 2016 in Uttar Pradesh. The centre was located within the campus of Lok Bandhu Sri Raj Narain Sanyukt C Hospital , near Shivalik Marg in Lucknow. The government order issued in April mentioned that a lady doctor, two nurses along with a psychiatrist at the trauma counselling centre should be there. When we visited we did see a counsellor and a lady constable standing around.

One of our first observation was that it was located in a part of the city which was bit deserted and even the hospital looked empty. We visited the hospital around 3 pm. We did not see anyone in the ward and we were informed that most of the people preferred referring the cases through NGOs or through helplines.

 

 

The centre is a huge building with lot of rooms. It has facilities in different rooms, but we did not see any service providers. They had a jeep for women help line (181) which was parked right outside the centre. Right outside the centre, is another wing of the hospital and the OPD for women is right across the lane. It had some plants around it and seemed like a nice place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The place looked clean and airy and there were plenty of posters all around the walls. There were women counsellors who were willing to answer any queries we had. The centre seems like  a good place, but it still needs to become a space where rape survivors feel comfortable approaching them.

What about the One-Stop Crisis Centre for rape victims in West Bengal?

West Bengal continues to have the long drawn process for rape victims seeking any help or recourse. Speaking to Hidden Pockets Collective about the process presently followed with rape victims, Dr. P.S.Chakravorthy, Head of the Department of Gynaecology at the IPGMER & SSKM hospital, Kolkata says, “The victims have to first report to the police. Then they visit the gynaecology department here, after which the forensic department is involved in the process. Then if required, the victim is sent to the psychiatric ward for counselling.

Typically, any One-Stop Crisis Centre for rape victims is supposed to include medical, legal-aid, psycho-social counselling, shelter, police assistance, video conferencing facility to facilitate police and court proceedings. Having mapped One-Stop Crisis Centre for rape victims in several other states including Jaipur and Kochi, Hidden Pockets Collective went looking for one in the state of West Bengal. It appears that West Bengal has no One-Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) for rape victims. There seems to be no information available on any centre that has been set up in West Bengal either.

Nation-wide plan for One-Stop Crisis Centres (OSCC)

According to the implementation guidelines released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in April 2015, one OSCC was to be set up in every State and Union Territory during the first phase. The Scheme of One Stop Centre was approved for 36 locations, one per each state of Union territory for implementation from April 1, 2015. The Department of Women and Child Development were required to send its proposal for a centre to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and was to be approved by the Proposal Approving Body (PAB). According to the Revised One Stop Centre Scheme report from May 2016, ‘during the year 2015-16, proposals of 33 States/UTs had been sanctioned for setting up One Stop Centre. Out of these 33, 15 Centres were become operational by 30th May, 2016.’ The scheme has also been revised to include 150 OSCCs in phase two in addition to the 36 centres from phase one. The additional centres have been distributed amongst the different states including NCT of Delhi taking into account the number of registered crime, number of female population and the Child Sex Ration in the respective state.

West Bengal not to be seen? 

Interestingly, out of the 36 from phase one, only 14 sanction orders have been listed on Ministry of Women and Child Development’s website, all for the year 2015-16. West Bengal is not to be found neither on the sanctioned list or in the list of states mentioned in the minutes of any of the PAB meetings conducted so far. It is not clear when the website of Ministry of Women and Child Development was last updated. It is also not clear if the West Bengal government is one among the 33 states whose proposal was sanctioned by the Ministry. If it is one of the 33 states,  According to the Revised One Stop Centre Scheme report, 10 additional centres have been allotted for West Bengal in phase two.

Historically, how has West Bengal reacted to OSC centre – 2016 & 17?

  • In October 2015, Maromi met the Joint Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development of West Bengal to know the status of the OSC in the state. a place has been suggested in North 24 Barashat, Noth 24 Parganas, within the complex of DM bungalow.
  • In March 2016, Maromi sent a letter to the Chief Minister’s office to understand the status of OSC in West Bengal.
  • In November 2016, Maromi representatives met Dr. Shashi Panja to invite her for a seminar. During the meeting, speaking about the OSC, the minister said regarding the setting up of the OSC during which the minister mentioned that the government is not thinking about it at the moment.
  • The Ei Shamoy article on 26, November 2016 confirmed the statement expressed by the minister.
  • The state has rejected the Centre’s proposal for stepping up of the OSC. Shashi Panja says that we have already been doing this job so there is no need to take money from the Central government and set up a separate centre.

Where do women access services if both state government and central government refuse to take any responsibility?

Where can I get an abortion in Bangalore?

If you are unable to find the service, please do write to us.

Write to us at hiddenpocketsinfo@gmail.com
Call us at +918861713567

Namma Bangaluru!!!!! Namma young people staying in Bangalore!!!! Have you ever heard about Family Planning Association of India – Bangalore??
And why should you know about them? So let me introduce you to FPAI.

As you would have already noticed that FPAI stands for Family Planning Association of India. FPA India envisages sexual and reproductive health for all as a human right, including gender equality leading to alleviation of poverty, population stabilization and sustainable development. They have their presence in
Delhi, Ahmadabad, Chennai, Lucknow, Agra, Bangalore, Mumbai and few more places.To know more about them you can visit their website: www.fpaindia.org

So where do you go if you are looking for Sexual and reproductive health aid in Bangalore?
Private hospitals? Clinics? Nowhere? For those who are still struggling, for those who are suffering cause they dont know where to go, for those who have suffered a lot because of judgmental comments by the service provider, high prices, let me introduce you to FPAI – Bangalore. A place where you wont be judged. A place where you would feel safe. A place where services are affordable and a place where proper guidance and counselling would be given for Sexual and reproductive health.

The clinic is situated at City Corporation Maternity Home Complex, 1st Floor, Palace Guttahalli (Guttahalli circle), BANGALORE – 560 003. For those who have no
clue about this place, let me tell you it is very close to Le Meridien Hotel and Bangalore Golf club, Sankey Road. As you reach the complex’s gate, you would see the FPAI board
on the left side of the building. On the first floor you would find the Admin team of FPAI – Bangalore. From the gate if you walk towards the right, you would see a path on your left which would take you to the clinic (currently which is under maintenance now; till it is ready one can visit the doctor on the first floor)
The clinic operates from 9 am -5 pm.

So what is the procedure followed by FPAI – Bangalore?

– The first thing is Registration: Here the person would be asked the reason for coming to FPAI. Is for MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) in other words safe abortion
or sterlization.
– Then the person is sent to the counselor where the counselor discusses what all happened and what can be done. Privacy is given utmost importance.
– Then the person is provided with consultation. It is checked whether the person is on her first trimester or second. Then she is provided with proper guidance on what
she is required to do.
– During the medication, if the person is asked to take abortion pill, she is provided with proper guidelines on how to consume them. And if minor operation is required
the she is guided accordingly. FPAI – Bangalore currently has 10 beds and one minor operation theater. And the clinic is very clean.
– One week later a follow up is done, where the person is asked to come back. This is done so as to check whether the pregnancy is completely terminated and the
person is safe.

FPAI – Bangalore also gives a counselling about Family Planning Methods. They also provide people with free contraceptives for example free condoms.
Apart from MTP, FPAI also does HIV testing, Cervical cancer test (compulsory for women above 30 years), Vasectomy, tubectomy and test for breast cancer.
The tests are done after the consent of the patient only. All the tests are done in the Laboratory.

FPAI Bangalore also has Adolescent health clinic and also does Male sterilization.

FPAI follows no refusal policy, this means nobody is refused or sent back without providing medical services and help.
Privacy and confidentiality is the most important aspect that FPAI follows.Whoever comes to the clinic needs to just register with one’s name.
This is required, to keep a count of the patients. It is not for public to examine. Let it be a married women or unmarried women, the information of the patient is
kept highly confidential. Nobody asks the patient uncomfortable questions like are you married or not? Where is the husband?
Everybody is treated with dignity at FPAI.

Namma bangaluru, I found FPAI – Bangalore very friendly and approachable. If required, kindly try utilizing this clinic. It’s friendly, non-judgmental, safe, clean and affordable.
The whole facility would cost around 500 INR. Kindly utilize this amazing clinic. Try it out and refer it to the ladies around.
Let us all promote safe abortion and health care around us.

PS:  “FPA India clinics may charge, what we prefer to call as a ‘partial user fee’ to the clients for seeking abortion or any other SRH service. This fee is very subsidized and helps the Association meet some running costs. However, all FPA India clinics also have a “NO REFUSAL POLICY”, which states that no client walking into any FPA India facility is denied any service, especially if he/she is unable to afford even the subsidized fee. Thus, poor and marginalized clients can also access quality services in FPAI clinics. Only when the facility is not equipped to provide a particular service (for example some client may need a specialized service, or admission or higher level emergency care) are clients to other facilities.”

Podcast: Own Your City – Cubbon Park – Bangalore

 

In this series “Own Your City”, we have Akarshitha  taking you to Bangalore, a city in the Southern part of India.  It is a city that is famous for its gardens, malls, pubs, food and lovely streets. In this walk, Akarshitha focuses on Cubbon Park, a beautiful park situated right in the middle of the city. She takes us through memory lanes and shares her stories around this park. To find out the various stories that unfold in this park, go ahead and listen to this podcast.

 

Cosplay: Gender Bending in Nagaland through Anime

“If you don’t like your destiny, don’t accept it. Instead, have the courage to change it the way you want it to be.“ – Naruto

The term ‘Cosplay’ was coined in Japan in 1984. Cosplay is a contradiction of the words costume and play. It is an art of performance where the cosplayers dress up in costumes and accessorize themselves to look like various characters from anime, manga, video game, t.v. series etc.

Since the 1990’s there has been a rapid growth of interest in in Cosplay and since then it has grown into a massive culture where people of all ages come together and share their love and interest in manga, anime, video games and so on. Cosplay is mostly popular in countries like Japan where Anime was first created. Japan is the birthplace of Japanese animation which is known as anime. It has now spread to other countries such as France, Germany, India and many others as well.

 

Anime is special to many people because it is not only about an animation series or movie playing on the screen but it teaches a lot also about certain morals in life like for example friendships, on family, hardships, love, loyalty etc.

Dressing up in costumes, getting the hair and makeup done,  helps the cosplayers or just anyone to feel like someone else for once. They get into character and that helps them to enable themselves to act more like the character itself and helps them in their cosplay.

In India, Cosplay is mostly popular in the North-eastern states. Nagaland is one such state where people have great love for it! NAJ Cosfest is one particular event where people of all ages dress up as their favorite characters from  anime, manga, comic etc. Some of the famous characters which cosplayers display as are Naruto, Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul, Luffy from One Piece and also characters from Attack on Titans. This became an annual event with more people joining the event each year. This event is hosted by the Nagaland Anime Junkies which is short for NAJ. NAJ consists of a community of anime lovers which started off as a Facebook page in 2011. They wanted to expand it and make it bigger and which led to the organization of this event called NAJ Cosfest in 2013. Since then it has been a huge success, every year it keeps getting bigger and bigger. NAJ Cosfest welcomes people of all ages. People enjoy performances by local artists,  there are stalls where people sell merchandises from outside the country and also local works as well. Inside the event various competitions are also held where cosplayers compete with each other to win the desired titles. The winners go home with merchandises from Japan and also with cash.

People of all ages come and enjoy this event. It is a way of bringing Otakus (anime fans), gamers, comic fans together and to share their love for their interest in them with each other. This love for Cosfest helps in bringing people of all ages together from an 8 year old boy to a grown up man, sharing the same love for anime. This creates a bond which breaks the age barriers within a society. There is also cross dressing in the Cosfest where guys dress up as girls and girls dress up as boys,  breaking the gender barriers as well. This makes this event more special and a place where misfits can also fit in.

This love for the Japanese culture is taking over many countries. The love for Cosplay is also growing at a fast rate. People cosplay for the connection it gives to other people who share the same passion as theirs. Cosplay is not just dressing up in elaborate costumes and trying to look like a specific character from a comic or a manga. It is about sharing your love for a character and expressing a story.

About the Writer : Menule Chirhah

Menule Chirhah is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature in Patkai Christian College and she has a great passion in writing.

Has Chennai’s theatre really opened its door for LGBTQIA+ issues?

July has been an exciting month for theatre enthusiasts in Chennai, leaving one spoilt for choice. With the Short and Sweet Theatre Festival, and several exciting plays happening in other parts of the city, it is indeed warming to see that the art of storytelling through the medium of theatre being received well.

It is a chance to transport the audience to another world for a few minutes, make them laugh, emote, sympathize, reflect on their choices, provide a visual treat, or convey some deep hitting tough messages. From the platter of diverse variety offered to you, there is something for everyone to love! The sheer diversity of themes, mode used to get across the concept will somehow find its way to strike that chord in your heart.

And I suddenly became aware of the responsibility when such a strong platform is used to convey a message. This is not from a critical perspective or a review of anything, but rather the general musings of a theatre lover. After all it is a reflection of life as it is or maybe the life we hope to see. I recently saw ‘The Birdcage’ at The Museum Theatre which is based on an American movie by the same name. It tells the story of a gay couple Armaan and his partner Alfie who own a drag nightclub in Chennai. They are forced to pretend to be a normal heterosexual couple when their son plans to marry and brings home his fiancé’s parents. Hysteric situational comedy ensues for the next 2 hours.

It is pretty bold to introduce the premise of a plot with a gay couple, having the plot revolve around their love, insecurities, quirks and the situational humour merely through two gay people who try to un-gay for a day. I have to admit that maybe a way for the society to become more progressive is to include the vastly (and conveniently) ignored LGBTQIA+ community into the mainstream entertainment. Maybe as more people include this in their work of art it might slowly sink in that ~2.5 Million people (and probably more) identify as LGBT and this in turn might make people more sensitive about the struggle it takes to live with a different sexuality in India.

On the other hand, it stings a little when the whole idea is reduced to a mere joke. Looking at a chubby effeminate man prancing around trying to walk and talk like a “real heterosexual man” makes the audience burst into peals of laughter. Of course, one might argue that certain humour has that inherent tinge of sadism – in the same way a person tripping down evokes laughter.

But when the struggles are very much real and leads to possible ostracization, is looking for tact and sensitivity too much to ask for? This raises a very interesting question on how to portray certain themes. Maybe the intentions could lean more towards pure entertainment and not much of a social message. Can we expect the mass audience who laughed at effeminate Alfie in the ‘situational comedy’ of the play to suddenly switch to a sensitive humane mode when we come across a real-life Alfie?

Though Chennai’s theatre has been open to LGBTQIA+ issues before, it took a different turn with this year’s Short and Sweet Theatre festival. My concerns were partly addressed by the Short and Sweet Theatre festival.  I saw a lot of these issues being tackled with the right mix of sensitivity, pain, humour, powerful and memorable performances. Some of my favourites being “Under the microscope” which was an expositional dialog on what it means to explore love and sexuality beyond what is accepted by evolution. This made us smile, reflect on the conversations and just stay with the characters while they eventually fall in love with each other. “Gunapathy” was one of the best performances I have seen till date where you empathize with the person who was physically separated from the body they should have been born with, when nobody wants to acknowledge his form instead attack him from all sides. “Naramugai – Aval Oru Aruveruppu” took us into the psyche of transgenders, the raw reality of their challenges in a way that moves you. “Man in Me” took us through the mental perils faced by a woman trapped in a man’s body and her journey of self-acceptance through dance. There were many more brilliant plays across various genres.

I am truly excited by the possibilities theatre as a medium has to create an impact alongside mainstream entertainment. The power of a story should not be undermined! With the last week to go, I can’t wait to see the other performances lined up. If you are yet to get into the world of theatre, you should catch the remaining few days of Short + Sweet festival in Chennai and see for yourself the magic of theatre!

Editor’s note: The writer of this piece chose to remain anonymous. However, since Hidden Pockets was in conversation with Short & Sweet Theatre festival to cover the LGBTQIA+ themed plays staged during the edition, we chose to use the images shared by the organisers. 

101 Q Dates: With the Beautiful as a HUG volunteer

Editor’s note: 101 Q Dates is an initiative by Dolly Koshy, a social activist from Bangalore. This is an account of her 101 dates with different people from the LGBTQIA+ community. All 101 Q dates will be blogged. The aim of these 101 dates is LGBTQIA+ sensitisation more than finding a partner.

Shruti sang her way into my heart. I first noticed and started talking to her at a dinner organized by ASQ: All Sorts of Queer. As I kept in touch with her after that night, I got to know how dedicated and loving she is to her family and friends and of her many talents including singing and poetry writing. Despite being very young, she has the maturity and depth that I rarely see even in many older people.

Shruti is a data analyst in an IT company and will soon be leaving India to do her master in Italy. In her own words, “At any given time I can be seen reading books, singing to a random tune or writing”.  I was completely bowled over when she sang a song in Malayalam. A non speaker of Malayalam singing a Malayalam song so well amazed me beyond words.

Date 2 of 101 was sponsored by HUG – Gift a meal. HUG is a group of citizens that have come together to create a Hunger Free Society.

Any restaurant or cafe can sign up to be a HUG certified restaurant. This allows the outlets to place table cards informing diners that if they choose to pay Rs. 30/- over and above their docked bill, HUG will ensure that it goes toward a hot meal for the underprivileged.

Join HUG Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/BangaloreHUG/

When Madhumita Kalauny who I know through The Friday Convent (TFC) came to know about the 101 Q Dates, she asked if one of my dates and I wanted to volunteer at a HUG’s event and I agreed to volunteer without an after thought.

After numerous feeding programs and months of understanding the gaps, HUG launched the Gift a meal with a HUG at World on a Plate. Hug’s #GiftAMeal program was announced and endorsed by the Masterchefs at the WORLD ON A PLATE 2017.  The event started with the  lovely children of Sahasra Deepika interacting with the chefs and having a breakfast treat of dosas made by them.

The day of our date was a gorgeous Saturday morning. I was determined to not let butterflies get the better of me and let my anxiety make a mess of my date. I reached Shruti’s place early and while I waited to pick her up, I decided it was time for a dose of caffeine to soothe my frazzled nerves.

Shruti had mentioned the previous night that she would be little nervous and to excuse her, if she was not her normal self on the date, so I was determined to make her feel very comfortable that she would forget her nervousness.

We arrived at the venue at 8.50 and met Paluk Khanna who had arrived with the kids much earlier. She put us in charge of looking after the kids and arranging the stall where HUG was going to sell baked products from home bakers donated for the cause.  I met a friend Geetha Krishnan who is also from The Friday Convent (TFC) was a volunteer for the HUG stall.

The lovely children of Sahasra Deepika who HUG brought to interact with the chefs were bunch of disciplined, full-of-life young girls. Most of them were sure of what they wanted from their future. I could not help but think that if these young girls were allowed to live their life and future as they envisioned, India would be better place. Why does patriarchy crumple the dreams of so many young girls?

After the kids finished having the dosas, it was time for us to leave. We handed the kids back to Paluk Khanna. And obviously, the smell of dosas had left us very hungry. So we stopped for tea at one of Shruthi’s favorite place. As we bonded over masala chai, I looked for some masala of my own: I asked her why she went out on a date with me. To which Shruti said, “It is to make myself and the people who read the blog understand that it’s the same as any other date. Two people hanging out, talking about their lives, seeing if they like the other person. I was homophobic a few years ago. Now, on the other side of the fence, I expected to see scandalous things, except they’re not. We are all human and our needs to love, be loved and find a partner, are all the same.”

As we headed back home, I couldn’t help but think about how regardless of our differences, we all have similar dreams, desires and hopes. I guess that’s what makes us human. And that’s what makes us a community.

Shruthi’s Experience and Version of the Date

I thought being differently oriented in gender and sexual identities from the “norm” was a difficult situation, especially in a country like ours. But only recently have I been witness to stories of horror and hatred. I can empathize how something so different from the hetero-normative can be seen as a threat – it’s unknown, rarely seen much less understood. Hence this attempt at understanding the lives of the LGBTQI seems like the right way to spread awareness and dispel any antagonism towards all precious life.

The first time I met Dolly, she resembled a lion (not a lioness, a lion!), all raring to go at the Pride. She was the epitome of what I thought a “Lesbian” looked like. I was impressed, although the ‘Out & Proud’ attitude was more than I could handle. I had only recently discovered myself.

The second time I met Dolly, it was at a fun night at Nosh & Tipple. Dolly was drunk and was flirting with me. She managed to outrage me with almost all that she said. I was convinced that I would most likely never see her again. But in between that night and the date, 3 things made me realize that there’s much more to Dolly than what I had seen in one evening:

  1. I read a novel she co-authored that I loved (Book: Broken Jars; Fistful of Dreams). A must read for all, as it deals with a lot of psychological and social issues.
  2. She made intelligent conversation  whenever I talked to her
  3.  And she has this huge heart which tells her to do too much (atrociously too much) good to others!

So, when Dolly called me on the night before the date and asked me out for a ‘Volunteering’ date, I was initially disappointed that she only considered me a filler (the person she had planned the volunteering event with could not make it at the last moment). But, I realised that this kind of filler asking out could only come with a sense of trust and comfort. After making her promise she won’t kill a flower for me, I agreed.

On Date Day, Dolly is overcompensating and arrives early to pick me up. I am ready with a bag full of handkerchiefs for my cold (so there goes the possibility of kissing, sigh!) and off we go. She’s a careful rider, I am the irritating pillion that you never want sitting behind you. We reach our destination and are put in charge of the most disciplined set of girls. All we had to say was ‘Attention!’ and they’d be ready for NDA.

The kids, a surprise run-in with an old friend, the volunteering cause (hunger management) and all the hullabaloo around the Master chefs made it a very satisfying and fun event. I was immensely moved by the two things I saw that day – compassion for life, and the complete normalcy in a same sex date. (Yes, nothing scandalous occurred, imagine that!)

After the event, we went to a cosy tea place and spoke some more. Dolly gave me her complete attention the whole time, which I loved! (except for a call on car insurance. After all, car insurance is definitely a priority). And as we headed back home, I had a smile on my face for the wonderful time and utter comfort I felt in the presence of Dolly. I knew Dolly, the activist, who helps every person she could. This date left me with a feeling of immense pride for a soul whose compassion for life is unquestionable. And yes, now I am a little less scared of dates.

Disclaimer: Hidden Pockets is media partner with 101 Q Dates. Published with author permission from the original blog