The blood secret

Right at the onset let me post a disclaimer — this is about periods…menstruation…menses…chums… call it what you will. So, if a perfectly natural biological function makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this article. Next, I would like to welcome both men and women to air their views and opinions freely.

I, like most other women, had the most normal reaction to my first period…I thought I was dying. Ahem…yes yes, go on, snigger. I thought I had cancer and my uninformed brain suggested that the blood I noticed on my bed-sheet, the first thing in the morning, meant I was terminally ill and my time on this precious earth was limited.

I was all prepared to be heroic and tell my mother with a calm face that she shouldn’t cry. Yes. Quite the heroine.

Alas, my mother only reacted with a laugh. I probably looked aghast despite all my inner heroic turmoil. “It’s perfectly natural,” I was told. Ummm…maybe the information that one fine day I was suddenly going to wake up in a blood-soaked bed could have been given earlier?? No, mum?

I hit puberty earlier than most peers. The advantage was that in the next couple of years, when friends were hit on the head with the ‘bloody’ mess, I could behave like a wise old hen and look on with the been-there-done-that face.

But, while my mother, and sisters and father, were really cool about it, what surprised me was the fact that I was sworn to secrecy about it. Come on, I started bleeding from an orifice I didn’t even know existed, I was uncomfortable and cramping, had a strange thing strapped between my legs (aka sanitary napkin) which rubbed uncomfortably each time I walked and I couldn’t even tell my friends why I don’t want to climb up that mulberry tree?? Not fair. And, of course, while some discussions with girls could be understood, any chat with boys was completely and irrevocably off-bounds.

The secrecy continued well into middle school, when we were ushered off for special “period” classes. I found the whole thing confusing and more than a little funny. The precocious boys, of course, knew, albeit patchily, that it had something to do with “that time of the month.”

The embarrassed secrecy, of both teachers and students alike, meant that there was something totally “off” about the whole deal. And us poor girls, thrust into the perils of ‘womanhood’ without our permission, faced some teasing about the whole affair. That is until a guy one day decided to break the secrecy code and asked, point blank, what it was all about. Embarrassment, blushing female faces, etc apart, the discussion did take place.

We beat our education system to it. Think about it. They teach you about menstruation and hormones in Class 9 or 10, by which time half the class (the girls) has already been going through it for at least three years if not more and the other half has probably already inculcated the myths associated with it, and have begun to believe it is wrong and unclean/impure?

Periods are a strange thing. No, really! When my friends started going through it I heard strange stories, of how the first time was celebrated (yes, celebrated, with a party and the whole deal) and also of how they were not allowed to do certain things, such as, enter the kitchen. Many were told to sit quietly during “that time” and not play. Others asked me if I go to the temple when I am down because they have been forbidden from places of worship during that time.

I am ever so grateful that my parents were so simply cool about it (yes, despite my planned histrionics!). It was just another day. There was no celebration nor any ostracisation. No warning against physical activity (in fact, if I remember right, one day when I whined far too much about feeling unwell my mum just scolded me into going to play. And, yes, I felt much better after that). But the secrecy was still there, not because it was impure or wrong, but because my parents felt our society was not ready to talk about periods openly.

It was only as I grew up my belief that we need to stop treating periods like they don’t exist was strengthened. A headache always gets us sympathetic tut-tuts, offers of help and advice to take it easy. So, why is it that when women are bleeding, cramping and generally feeling like crazed, emotional wrecks, they are still expected to act cheerful?

It was, ironically, a man who got me thinking about it. On a particularly bad “first” day, cranky as hell and cramping up to top it all, I slouched in a corner to ease my discomfort just a bit when this friend asked, simply, “Are you down?” No embarrassment. Not a snigger. Not even excessive, disabling pity. Just, simply, “Are you down?” The affirmative answer let loose surprisingly sympathetic offers of help. Since then, I’ve noticed that the men in my life (besides those in my family) have consistently proven to be surprisingly understanding of the predicament of “those days.”

They are uninhibited in their concern and unencumbered with discomfort.

It is simple. Maybe the process of involving men and women in each other’s problems needs to start earlier. Way earlier. Like, in Class VI! We may find that women feel more comfortable about themselves and their bodies. We may also find that men are more respectful and understanding. The veils, which are regularly torn through half-baked information received from more than one source, perpetuate more myths than truths and it is time we do away with this silly ‘secret’.

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The promise

The squeak and squawk of the falling dusk,
Orange gleams the skies,
My heart, once more, soars with the wind
With the feathered ones it flies.
It’s the promise no one made to me,
Troth of the last light.
The unfailing night.

A lesser pain?

The horrific events of last week clearly point to one thing — our forefathers (yes the very same who defined the rights of people depending on which home they were born into) got it right — there seem to be some lesser people in this world.

On Monday, April 15, two separate incidents took place on two different continents. People died. Families were left in shock. Yet, only one got the kind of coverage that both deserved.

The incidents relate to bombing in Boston, US (Big Brother), and Iraq, a Muslim nation somewhere in the Middle East, important only because it holds oil reserves deemed crucial by the ‘developed’ world.

On that fateful Monday, a bombing at the Boston marathon took three innocent lives, injuring at least 180. The same day a series of bombings across Iraq killed at least 30 people (one report even said 55) and injured many more.

Within hours of the Boston attack comments started trickling in on social media — of how a certain religious group was the bane of earth, how they are killing people, how cruel they are. Not surprisingly, most of these came from citizens of a particular nation, who were either blissfully ignorant of what happened outside the borders of their own country or just didn’t care. The second possibility is painfully scary, the first gut-wrenchingly sad.

The news, too, I am afraid, was skewed in the coverage it gave these human tragedies. Or maybe I was just watching the wrong channels.

Even the events, during which these lives were lost, seem to be like the set-up of a macabre. While on the one hand Bostonians were assembled for a celebratory marathon run, Iraqis were looking ahead at the local polls. One can only imagine the importance of such an event for the people of a country that had been reeling under the effects of dictatorship for a good part of the last century.

Within all the venomous attacks following the Boston bombing that I saw on Facebook, one picture tore my heart — two burqa-clad women holding a handwritten poster saying “To Boston from Kabul, with love.” They sent sympathies for an agony they know only too well. I saw much less sympathy from the other educated, well-developed beings.

Indeed, it looks like there are some lesser people in this world.

(This blog first appeared on Business Line Blogs. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blogs/blog-aeshadatta/a-lesser-pain/article4636725.ece)

Piety and peepshow

IMG_3331During a recent trip to the pilgrim town Rishikesh for a friend’s wedding two of my friends and me lost our way in the quaint town.

Left at the mercy of an auto driver, who mistook our hunger-driven desire for food as hunger for devotional satisfaction, we were dropped off, with small-town warmth, at the mouth of a narrow winding path.

Enthused by his energetic gesticulations directing us down the road, and unaware of his holy intentions, we sauntered along the path in search of … yes, what else, food, and chanced upon a beautiful vista of lush green mountains, a beautiful sculpture of Krishna and Arjuna and a wide river flowing serenely at its own sweet space.

Marring this beautiful sight, which took away the breath from even our growling-stomached selves, were a number of people who were praying to the  Ganga. Hurling packets of flowers, dipping into the cool water to wash off their sins, these men and women — in various stages of undress — made for a slightly jarring sight.

Religion, I have found, is extremely polarising. Just about anything can be justified in the name of religion and anything can be condemned. Emotions can be played with. Holy-men can cheat naïve believers. Murders can be ‘explained’. Brutalities can be brushed aside. And…social taboos stop mattering.

The human body in its natural form, or nudity, which is frowned upon in our society and in social and cultural spaces, finds validation when one is praying. Hundreds of women and men — of different age, colour, caste, and… errr… shapes — could be dipping their pious semi-clothed bodies into the river at the same time.

At one level it appears egalitarian but at another the hypocrisy tarnishes this thought.

In the aftermath of the recent gang rape of a student in the Capital, many debates, on television and other forums, stood up for the freedom of women. Many talked about their right to dress as they like, go where they want. But many, and I mean many, went so far as to say that the way women dress (or do not dress, as they argue) provokes men. Many self-appointed guardians of morality ‘banned’ certain items of clothing for women.

IMG_3359Previous posts on the issue illustrate  my strong opposition to such actions that impinge on women’s — or for that matter even men’s — freedom. But, I wonder why these moral brigades do not feel irked by “nudity” in such public spaces!

If a mini-skirt in a pub, which is frankly an acceptable dress in that particular place, is bothersome, then why is a see-through, wet petticoat acceptable in broad day light?

Or for that matter, why is a man in flimsy boxers (or sometimes langot), not reprimanded for causing public nuisance? (I think few would argue that the sight of fat hairy legs under, and hairy pot-bellies over these “intimates” are not disturbing!)

Nudity and sexuality make for hushed discussions in bedrooms. A sense of shame is often attached. But throw in religion — and all is fair.

The day India Gate turned into a war zone

Women: Left behind

Women: Left behind

For the last two days Delhi, the Capital of the country, has looked like it is under siege. The Government has brought out its entire arsenal – in the form of police and paramilitary force.  In the heart of the city, one could see policemen, looking exceptionally menacing in full riot  gear – bullet-proof jackets, helmets, weapons et al – standing at the crossings, most of which were cordoned off.

Cars were not allowed, obviously. And even the people walking through the streets were treated like nothing less than criminals. Since today I could not get to office on the usual underground, I was forced to haggle with an auto to take me as far as he would and I got as far as I could to find a street blocked by the police.

The same gear, the same weapons, the same menacing looks. At least 20-25 personnel had blocked it. It looked like they expected someone to attack them. Central Delhi had turned into a fortress. Continue reading

I am one of the women who walk through deserted stretches at night to take a public conveyance. What happened to the girl in the Vasant Vihar rape case could happen to me next…it could happen to any of of my many friends…it could happen to you. Was it her fault? Will it be mine? Yours?

Measuring life with coffee spoons

I write stories everyday. About exceptional women, and men. About success achieved in the face of trials and tribulations. Sometimes they are also about heroic failures. I write about mundane day-to-day activities in offices.

Some prefer to call them articles and reports. But I think the word story is more apt because I haven’t met ‘exceptional’ yet. They are stories — part fiction.

I have never asked a successful woman if she was molested before she earned the security of a chauffer-driven BMW. I never asked them if they have seen another woman get molested, if she tried to stop them.

I never asked a man if he ever visually stripped a woman around him, or maybe even groped her?

I’ve seen enough women in mini-skirts in the sanitized environments of five-star hotels’ pubs and bars. And did they look great! Most of them wore it because they could hop…

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ताना बाना

वक़्त को मैंने कई बार कहा

ज़रा थम भी जा,

पीछे मुड़कर देख कभी

कई ख्वाब बुने हैं मैंने भी।

ताना है अरमानो का, बाना आरज़ू।

वक़्त मुड़ा और हंसकर पुछा

कहाँ हैं ये सपने तेरे?

कीमत क्या है उन ख्वाबों की?

कहना चाहती थी मैं

वो ख्वाब हैं बेकीमती,

पर जब उनको ढूंडा मैंने

देखा वो बिखर चुके थे।

ना ताना था, ना बाना,

चार आंसूं की बूंदों में

बस धुला हुआ रंग बचा था।