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The Menstrual Blues

29 Feb
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Reading Aspi’s & Co’s entertaining accounts of period-related woes brought back a few memories my own. Chief among them is the day N, my best friend since kindergarten, came armed with a scandalous piece of information for a sleepover.

“Do you know what this means?” she asked, writing down the word “period” apropos of absolutely nothing.

“Sure,” I said.

“Well, what is it then?” she challenged.

“The thing we have at school?” I said, wondering if she’d suddenly gone mad. “English period, Math period, etc?”

“Ha!” she replied with considerable satisfaction. “So you don’t know what it means.”

And proceeded to spill the gory beans all over my bed. We were only eight at the time (or were we seven?) so I don’t remember where she got hold of her information – from her older sisters or maybe it was because her mother used to be a nurse or perhaps her parents just believed in early sex education, but I remember being absolutely appalled. You bled from where? And this was normal? I thought she was putting me on. To this day, I’m a little freaked out by the whole process – although this is probably because she combined that lesson in human plumbing with another bit of valuable information: “rape”.

So in my mind, the words “school”, “rape” and “period” are sort of jumbled together in a creepy alphabet soup. Which, I suppose, explains my overwhelming sense of relief once I was done with school.

Unfortunately for me, I soon found out that she wasn’t kidding. She and I have lost touch over the years but I’ll always remember her for her valuable inputs into my vocabulary. I guess it’s an unfortunate issue to be remembered for, but hey! at least she left a lifelong impression.

When my turn came, my mom took me to the doctor and let her explain everything to me. Then she sent my dad out to buy me some sanitary napkins. He handed them over to me with the stoic expression I was to recognize well in the years to come – he got the same look on his face when my mother made him buy me training bras when I became a teenager (I guess they weren’t available in India then? Or not of a quality that she liked. I don’t know why Indian lingerie is so crap but it simply is) and checked me in at the gynecologist’s coz my mother couldn’t remember all my medical information. My dad is awesome.

There are communities out there that celebrate a girl’s first period as her first step into womanhood and I understand where that comes from – along with all the bother and unpleasantness of a monthly bloodletting, there’s also a feeling of entering a new club. For example, at last I knew what those mysterious little packages in my mother’s cupboard were. My mother still insisted that tampons were for “married ladies” and wouldn’t tell me how to use them but she was very free with old wives’ tales, superstitions and stories of how it used to be “when I was a little girl”. And of course, once the aunts got to hear – in that mysterious jungle vine way all relatives come to know everything about everyone else – that I’d crossed that line of no return, I got a earful of What it Meant to be a Menstruating Female in Ye Olde Hindoo Household.

For one thing you never talked about it. What I’m doing right now? Grounds for a stoning, I believe. And when you did talk about it, it was to enforce a kind of apartheid – the period-afflicted one had to keep to herself, take an extra shower, and make sure that their clothes didn’t touch anybody else’s. No visits to the temple were allowed and you weren’t allowed to touch anyone who might be going to the temple, either. And on the last day of her cycle, no puja would be performed at home until the afflicted person had scrubbed herself thoroughly and put every single piece of cloth she might have touched over the week into the wash. Also, there was to be no entering kitchens, puja rooms, or sleeping on beds.

“What? They kicked you out of the house?” I asked in a hushed voice.

The aunts laughed uproariously. “No, we slept on the floor on rattan mats.”

It was like I was meeting people from another century or a parallel universe. I was tempted to ask if they’d discovered fire in their day.

“I kept up the mat thing even after I was married,” Auntie #1 confided, lounging about in a pair of denims, her short hair stirred gently by the fan’s breeze, looking as if she’d never dream of doing such a thing much less actually do it. “I remember it was one of the few things I took with me to your uncle’s first posting as a doctor.”

“So you took it with you to America, too?” I asked, my mind boggling at the thought. Yours would too if you ever met her.

“Don’t be silly,” she said crisply. “You think I lugged a rattan mat to America? But it was a shock when I got there, I can tell you.”

“Male gynecologist?” asked Auntie #2 sympathetically.

Auntie #1 agreed. “And people will talk about it openly – men and women. At parties even.”

“Now that,” said Auntie #3, “is taking it too far.”

“Nonsense,” said Auntie #1, turning her attention to me. “There’s no need for you to act all embarrassed about these things, okay? It’s all normal.”

I agreed meekly. Somehow this didn’t seem the place to admit that it had never occurred to me that this was something to be embarrassed about. I also wondered when I’d get the chance to be not embarassed – who was I supposed to be discussing my period with? The boys at school? The ones that almost melted into a giggling red puddle every time we had an anatomy lesson? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Auntie #3 sighed. “I remember the first time I got my monthly,” she said. “I was such an idiot, I didn’t know what was going on. It was the day they were holding that big pooja for the house and I wanted to eat the sweets so I went and sat down near the priests.”

“No!” cried everybody in unison, aghast.

“And I don’t know what happened to me,” she continued in the tone one usually reserved for tales of the supernatural. “But all of a sudden I got up and hopped away.”

“Um, what?” I asked carefully.

“I got up and hopped away.”

We all stared at her.

“What do you mean you ‘hopped away’?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I hopped away,” she said, making little hopping motions with her hand. “It was like God was guiding me. I hopped and hopped and hopped until I fell down unconscious.”

God makes the sinners hop. Which is, without doubt, my all time favorite story about menstruation.

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16 Comments

Posted by on February 29, 2008 in Life, Personal

 

16 responses to “The Menstrual Blues

  1. calia77

    February 29, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Lol! Thanks for sharing that. A whole different experience to here in the UK. We learnt about it at school as part of sex ed… with the boys giggling every 5 seconds. And drawing faces on the ‘rude bits’ in the book! But what else can you expect from 9-year-old boys?

     
  2. M

    February 29, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Amrita,

    I just cracked up thoroughly – the whole thing was so very familiar…I’m from a traditional family in that sense as well, and my mother did all the segregation etc. – thankfully, didn’t make me sleep on the floor but I wasn’t allowed into the kitchen/pooja room when I had my period. I had the celebration done for my first period and was acutely embarassed by all the attention.
    Nowadays, I follow the US army principle of don’t ask don’t tell and everyone is happy 🙂

    – M

     
  3. rads

    February 29, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    rofl@hop hop 😀

    Exact scenario at home too. 🙂

     
  4. OrangeJammies

    March 1, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Ha! Exactly what I’ve ranted about on both my blogs. I was screeching when I read your mother’s response to tampons. Mine has the same!!! 🙂

     
  5. desigirl

    March 1, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Hey! How come so many interesting things happen in your life? Are you sure you are not making them up?

    ps: alphabet soup? eww! u grossie!
    pps: tampons are SO married woman only. or as one of my close mates put it when we were 20 and proud Vs, “don’t even use it – they are evil. Devil spawn. I chucked it in and DIED!”

     
  6. Amey

    March 1, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Luckily, being the youngest means that I get to skip all these moments. Being in a all boys’ school, I don’t remember this being covered in the “class”, though most of the class was spent snickering below the bench. Though personally, stoic look (read: fixed/frozen) sounds about right.

     
  7. sidekick

    March 1, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    hilarious, amrita! perhaps yr confession column too (or maybe it’s embarrassing tales from here and there) needs to be a regular feature 🙂 .

    the conversation with the auntyjis was a hoot! at my nani-in-law’s home, during our period we were banished to an “outhouse” (which was a separate apartment away from the main homestead) for 3 days and food was brought to us! it irked me no end, since my family is as normal as can be about womanly woes . my mom recommended m’s strategy of volunteering no info and avoiding the solitary, but i was petrified of nani-in-law though how she could have discovered my secret is not clear. somehow i had visions of her x-ray vision cutting right thru the trash!!! Nani-in-law even had a separate set of saris for us to use when we went to the temple – ones that were never sullied by menstruating women! i bit back many a tart remark on how gods and goddesses would be totally cool with the demands of internal plumbing 😛

     
  8. Amrita

    March 2, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Calia – we had sexed when we were about 12 I think and we were very carefully segregated so that the boys didn’t out anything useful. lol @ drawing on the rude bits!

    M – lol, my does the pooja bit, which I don’t mind so much ever since I heard about that goddess somewhere who’s moved from her temple for seven days every month for her period. If goddesses don’t have it any better, I guess I’m cool with it.

    Rads – hee hee, still can’t get over it. And all the aunties nodded their heads as if it made perfect sense.

    OJ – I’ll have to dig up those rants!

    DG – it’s like this: you have to first be born into a family of crazy people, preferably a large one, and then you have to talk to them. Instant hilarity ensues. … re: tampons, yeah not very comfortable 😦 but then, nothing is.

    Amey – hahaha! you get full kudos for being the only guy who commented on this post!

    Sidekick – your nani-in-law reminds me of my nani! She’d have banished us to the outhouse if she could. 😀

     
  9. Amey

    March 2, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Now you know what I meant by “frozen” look and glossed eyes 😉

    Nice template….

     
  10. Saaki

    March 3, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Amrita–

    Try putting up the old header picute..in this template…i thought that whole Indie Quill setup was brilliant…a bit flashy yes..but good. 😀

    interesting post and as somebody put it aptly….
    this incidents from here and there should be a regular feature…
    chao…..

     
  11. dipali

    March 3, 2008 at 9:25 am

    This was brilliant- all of it. What amazing aunts:)

     
  12. Amrita

    March 4, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    OJ – thank you 🙂

    Amey – thanks 🙂

    Saaki – lol, yeah I have a blog anniversary coming up and i thought the time had come for a change. I loved my old one but I’m kind of in love with this one now. I was debating whether to bring back the header – since you think it’s a good idea, I think I will. but it’ll have to wait till the weekend coz that little sucker takes time to compile. … as for reg feature, well let’s see 😀

    Dipali – they’re pretty awesome, yes 🙂

     
  13. the mad momma

    May 20, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Ams – will you kindly drop by my blog and see the period brouhaha? you are being missed.

     
  14. Ambarnath

    October 27, 2008 at 5:05 am

    ur writings are of different sort ……………..

     
 
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