by Rutuparna Deshpande UG’23 It is truly a remarkable feat that this University has made me
Esther David, Batch of 2020 and Charuvi Lokare, Batch of 2019
In November 2017, Charuvi Lokare and Prachi Palod started Kintsugi: the Mental Health Engagement Initiative. They formed a team, and now seven dedicated students are working to engage the entire student body of Ashoka in a healthy conversation about mental wellbeing. Below, Esther and Charuvi, members of Kintsugi, tell us about the idea and inception of this initiative.
‘Kintsugi’ or ‘kintsukuroi’ is a Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery or vessels by filling the cracks with gold and joining broken pieces together. The philosophy behind this practice is to embrace the object with all its flaws and imperfections. It acknowledges that the vessel is not useless even after being broken. In fact, the cracks are only made more prominent and beautiful in the process of repairing it with gold.
The symbolism of ‘Kintsugi’ to human life is one hard to miss. Kintsugi reminds us that it is okay (and necessary, even) to feel broken as long as we can embrace this brokenness without shame and with honesty. We all have our cracks and perceived weaknesses, which we try our hardest to hide. What we don’t realise is that even after every fall and every scar, we still survive, whether victorious or barely scraping by. Our survival, like Kintsugi, is evidence that we are worthy of respect and love no matter what we have been through. The metaphor that Kintsugi stands for assured us that there couldn’t be a worthier name for our initiative.
Today, talking about mental health is often followed by groans, awkward silences, or forced sympathy. However, at Ashoka, we like to believe that we are too intelligent, too well-aware and too sensitive for this norm to be applicable to us. If this is true, then why do students at Ashoka constantly stress about workload? Why do we miss breakfast almost seven days a week? Why on weekends it is so difficult for us to leave our beds or even engage in any form of social interactions?
We, at Kintsugi, put on our conspiracy theorist hats and suggest that this is because we have forgotten how to be children again. Let’s go back to being 5 for a moment: how did your parents make you feel better when you were upset? Did they take you to a new place, give you a chocolate or offer you a warm hug? In retrospect, we are not far from these 5-year-old versions of ourselves. We still get upset over tiny things, crave for attention and absolutely love it when we eat our favourite food. Often, it’s a little more than a chocolate or a tight hug that helps us feel better again, but eventually, we do find ways, things or people that do. The bottom line is that we are still those same vulnerable kids beneath our 18-year old independent, intellectual, responsible selves — then why do we stop thinking about how we can be nice to ourselves?
It’s easy to forget how ‘mental health’ pervades our everyday lives and how it’s not just restricted to clinics or Tumblr self-care articles. While it certainly takes more than a couple of years to break the stigma that surrounds psychological wellbeing, we are here to give it a try. Let’s start by saying this: everyone faces mental health issues at some point in time. They may be mild, such as stress on days closer to finals week; they are also serious, such as chronic anxiety disorders or depression. It is imperative that we learn to deal with these issues in a healthy manner; after all, building a relationship with ourselves should be one of our top priorities. This is exactly what our initiative aims to achieve, a robust conversation about mental health and the spectrum of issues that fall within it.
In an environment where people are always pressed for time, it was heartening to see the response we got for our first two movie screenings and our stall at the Winter Haat. Our movie screening discussions brought mental health perspectives from different people across batches, and our stall — with free hugs, positive quotes and a whiteboard on self-love — made so many people smile and think about what self-love means for them. We are very grateful for your engagement with Kintsugi. This is our first semester as an unregistered society and we are evolving. We would appreciate any and all inputs, ideas, excitement, among other things to keep this initiative moving. There are endless opportunities for bettering mental health on campus and we wish to take up as many as possible.