The 'M' word and other things

Because it’s there on every blog and with every argument, I feel I need to speak up too. Ok, so most people think that periods are women’s natural biological process and need not be either hyped up/celebrated or anything to shush up/be ashamed about. Others feel they find their queen-life treatment break too good to give up on, and would rather have it than don’t. Now, let me clarify my stance. My mom was my only source of information about what to do when I woke up feeling all queasy and unusual one fine morning during my summer hols. And she is as confused as I am, most of the time. So she just gave me a detailed (she-thinks) vague (methinks) description of what was happening, introduced me to the mystical world of Whisper and said ok, you’re good to go. There was no celebration about it, and also unlike my other friends, I wasn’t allowed to miss school just like that. Minor digression: Actually, no excuse was good enough to miss school in our house. My parents are cruel like that.. we have waded through knee-deep waters, braved fake stomachaches and shivered through fog to get to school. “Don’t act up.” Whatever. Well so, my mom thought it was ok for me to jump around, go to school, get sheets stained but learn to wash them myself (because our maid can’t be expected to do that, I always agreed).

On entering religious places: There was a little temple in our house, which I anyways don’t enter too much but I could when I wanted to. Twist in the tale: The very next year, we went to my cousins’ place in Haridwar and are taken to the Ganges with our cousins. I really loved the atmosphere, the ice cold water and the excitement of the huge fast waves. We decided to return the next day. My elder cousin, however, did not want to join us the next day. She was my favourite cousin, she had to come for me to have fun. I kept asking her why she wasn’t coming, begging her, convincing her while she just ignored me with a sad face or kept shaking her head and saying she had a headache. But since, a pest like me wouldn’t give up, the poor girl broke down a little later and ran to her mom. That was when her mom told my mom why she couldn’t accompany the family and asked my mom if she hadn’t told me about the “rituals”. My mom looked rather guilty while my aunt looked scandalized. We got back home and my mom composed a lot of broken sentences that conveyed that there were certain people that didn’t like women having periods walking into temples/religious places and she had also held on to that belief for a long time. But then, there was a time when she first visited the Vaishno Devi Shrine in Jammu and got her period WHILE she was trekking up to the temple. She says she felt rather sad but then had this heart-to-heart with herself and decided that she won’t go back without having seen the temple and done her prayers. She went ahead, brushing off any apprehensions, offering her sincerest prayers. You rock, mom. I told you, my mom is pretty confused :D. And that’s when logic decided to prevail, and that’s how it is in our house.

On religious places and public opinion: My mom tried to reinstate the whole “not entering religious places” naatak once she thought that other people might take offence to our no-holds-barred policy. Forgot about it after I shrugged that off, not so politely. Temples are as much mine as they are someone else’s. And they are just as much places of my worship when I have my periods, as when I don’t.

On isolation: Never happens in any of my relatives’ place. What a joke! My mom suffered a very depressing and painful menopause not long back which resulted in erratic heavy periods combined with severe weakness. So, should we just have told her off everything that was “pure” for around 10 days a month, when the doctor advised us to do just the opposite? Given her hormones, my mom would probably have smacked the life out of everyone who so much as suggested that. Anyway, women, please have balls and do not let someone tell you you’re impure. It’s ridiculous. During pregnancy, my mom tells me, new mothers are given rest for 40 days yes. But keeping them out of kitchen on order, not done at all. We’ve never had to sneak into kitchens to steal cheese in our own house, no sir.

On buying sanitary pads: I do it, earlier my mom used to. Not because the men of the family don’t want to know about it. Because it’s weird to me. And anyway, my mom insisted on it once she figured that I was embarrassed to walk into a store to buy sanitary napkins and there was no way I could have gotten away with her buying them for me all the time, since I had to stay in a hostel. I don’t think the men in our family would freak out if someday, because of some situation, they were asked to go buy them.

On the men of the family being included: All I know is that they know about what periods are, impose no restrictions whatsoever on us and would let us rest if we had periods or not. However, there is no casual conversation on this subject with dad/brother.

On entering the kitchen: Anyone. Anytime. We do not have segregated utensils for vegetarian/non vegetarian cooking. If it makes you dizzy with thoughts of sin and atheism, just know that my mom will at best give you a good lecture on the effectiveness of “Vim” or “Pril” or whatever it is.

On not meeting people who don’t welcome it in the impure state: I have met such people on some occasions. I would not enter someone’s puja room if I end up hurting their feelings that way, but if they ask me if I have my periods, then direct me to sit on a wooden chair and inform me they would wash the damn thing once I leave, I’d rather not visit them. If they are stupid enough to believe that someone will not take offence to THAT, no matter how politely they thought they were saying it, I would let them live with that and would make a mental note about not taking their invitation seriously ever again. Because in our house, guests are invited with an open heart and we’ve been taught to respect the visiting person’s needs. But I do not feel so strongly about this issue that I would break friendships, pick up fights and draw lines because a friend who I love is unfortunately born to such a family. That said, I would probably tell said friend to do something about it for her own good. But walking away in Rani Jhansibai style.. nah!

On believing God is being kind to you if you practice something so bizarre: You have a different idea of God than I do. In my head, God is a larger entity – someone who cannot be manipulated by tactics so trivial. Someone who sees through our little acts and self-fulfilling prophecies.

On intolerance: Yes, people have different beliefs. Not just about menses, about masturbation, about abortion, about the girl child. But we cannot reprimand them till they choose to threaten our beliefs. It is wrong to believe someone’s isolation practice leads to their belief in wife-beating. It is rhetoric at best. It is true that people superstitious about one thing tend to be superstitious about other related things, but it is not one man’s place to assume stuff about another.

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22 thoughts on “The 'M' word and other things

  1. I agree with every word but the last paragraph. If we as a younger generation dont make a move towards less superstition – who will? And so its not abt Jhansi ki rani. its about telling my daughter that a stand is important. its important for them to know that just as strongly as they feel *for* it, I feel *against* it. and its not about it threatening your beliefs. Its also about being offensive. i dont want to go to any place that calls me impure or defiled just because i’m going through something that is completely normal…

  2. # the mad momma:I wholeheartedly agree that teaching the Bean to have a stand is important on your part. I’m all for the thought that your daughter would know everything there is to know, and would be given the choice and the space to form an opinion – something I know very few children get without fighting for it and something I admire you for, in this particular situation and more. I also did say that to go to some place where I’m impure is something different people will see differently. I may not enter someone’s temple but not sit on a wooden stool. There are no tangible set of criteria to impose on everyone, and I said what I did after really visualizing the situation.”If we as a younger generation dont make a move towards less superstition who will?”Here is where I disagree, and I will make a feeble attempt at explaining why. Once we really truly believe what we’re saying is right, we take it upon ourselves to prove it to the world and free it from any conflicting beliefs. I will always believe that I’m a normal person while I have my periods but there are some women who have been brought up to believe they transform into monstrous versions of themselves in “those” days. I will not have someone tell me I’m impure, so why should I find it difficult to let her believe what she sees fit. The facts are out there, and yet, someone sticks to a baseless theory. Obviously, they are at a different level from us and though we may never think at that, it is important to recognize that level to be termed tolerant. Today, Raj Thackeray believes that reservation for Maharashtrians in Bombay and ousting of poor North Indians by threating to cut off their limbs, is the right thing. And then there are people like us who speak about the New Economic Centres like Bangalore, Hyd or Bombay and think we’re right. Two groups looking in different directions, pretending the other knows nothing. We need not be the other party ever, but we have to acknowledge that the other party has a brain – that functions differenly from ours maybe. Intolerance is what I speak against – not every Hindu who thinks God is pleased if she keeps herself locked up in a room for 3 days might actually believe it’s ok if her husband beats her up. I’ve seen people who might see the former as a harmless inherited ritual but might be easily outraged at the prospect of the latter.

  3. well – i think we’ll have to agree to disagree here. every change brings conflict. i dont mind being part of that conflict. raj thackeray’s an idiot in my opinion, but he’s not my favourite example of youth seeking change simply because he is politically motivated. those are a different breed. choose another youngster making a change and we’ll talk.

  4. #MM: makes sense to agree to disagree. well, i cant think of another example but i tried to say it the best way i could.

  5. wonderful post this.I agree with what u say about tolerance of other peoples’ beliefs…however it will never be “to each his own” in this case, because as long as I sit at home during my chums…no one will care, but if I decide to go to a place of worship….it suddenly becomes everyone’s business. As long as they let it b between my god and me, I have no issues…http://chandni.wordpress.com

  6. # chandu: well said! and yes, i did say something on the same lines. i said that till something threatens to tell us we’re wrong in what we do, we’re nobody to play preachers to people who, at the cores of their hearts, believe in their practices. they may be bizarre, they may be extreme but is any part of their lives asking for a third party to intervene and induce reform? NO. however, the situation – as you rightly said – is turned around on its head when some priest tells me to not enter a temple. Now it’s my problem and I shall start a revolution, if the need be.My only point is that unwarranted reforms by belittling a conflicting viewpoint (and worse reprimanding the viewpoint holder) is highly elitist behaviour, and I absolutely abhor it.

  7. linked your post up. i knew someone who made her mom wash her undies on those days & otherwise as she did not like doing them on her own. look at her & look at the mother not driving sense in the girl

  8. # itchingtowrite: Seriously! That’s the kind of stuff kids need to be told by mothers.. even outside the context of this post.And thanks for stopping by, and linking up to this.

  9. I loved the way you wrote this post! (My first time here, though I’ve often read your comments).I guess such a social change happens only in small steps. My own family was totally un-isolationist etc., neither were my in-laws bothered about my menstrual status. I did get mighty confused for a bit when my husband started visiting temples at a particularly difficult stage in our lives and I was supposed to accompany him. Didn’t know whom I’d be offending if I went while menstruating. Certainly knew that my husband would be most annoyed if I didn’t.But, when I was living in a small township with a temple on the premises, it was a great excuse for not going there! (As you can see, I’m not a great one for temples anyway).

  10. #dipali: Thanks for visiting and commenting. I’ve read quite a few of your posts recently after I found your link in one of the posts on lifeofanindianhomemaker.blogspotYours is an interesting observation. Some of us do not pay much heed to the gravity of the issue at the time we’re faced with a situation and just do as it suits us best.. very much my style too 🙂 It’s only in discussions like these that I tend to imagine how it would be if I wanted to go to some temple and someone wouldn’t let me! Otherwise, I wouldn’t give it a second thought really.. as you said, me not big on temple-hopping either. Also, I suffer from a never-extreme-opinion syndrome.. that could also be a reason 🙂

  11. the soul of smart alec: Nice post, first time here. I have no idea what I’d do if somebody told me to sit on a bench when I am being magmanimous and courteous by entering their temples. I am not a temple person, I am not a Mosque person either. Many years ago, we were driving through a small town in Karnataka, and the driver suggested we visit a mosque there, very beautiful and all. My dad, Husband and I – all very liberal, generous and open minded, cheerfully agreed. I took time to take off my sneakers, they walked ahead. When I started to enter some bearded fellow clad in dirty white clothes (watchman?/priest?/just another visitor?) arrogantly stopped me muttering outraged protests, in the meantime my dad and husband came back, “What happened?” His tone became polite and respectful, it seemed (and believe it or not we did not know it till that day)women are allowed to enter these holy places. We were all angry, but I was the angriest. We walked back to our car and drove away. If this had happened in a Hindu temple I would have given them a solid mouthful. I would have told them what hypocrites they were and that it’s because of their patriarchal attitude that religion gets such a bad name. If a friend subjects her daughter to this I would probably talk to her. I am sure I will be able to convince her to treat her child better. If someone does this to me, tells me to stay out of the pooja room in their house, it will be so rude… unthinkable! And Raj Thakeray has only one region, religion and principle- VOTES.

  12. #IHM: Exactly! Thanks for sharing this. Once someone gives us a baseless reason like this to come between us and our place of worship, we have all the right to talk back as stongly as we want. Wonder why you didn’t tell the said bearded guy to mind his own business. However, with respect to other people’s homes that we visit, it’s all about how you take it and react to it – and no reaction in such a case is wrong. But the one point I also wanted to bring out was what if someone practices things in their house and do not treat us differently? What if the women in their house know/believe that is the only way they could get some rest, but make it a point to not bother others? Are we still to barge in and question the way of their lives? Is it fair to assume things like “these people are superstitious and who knows, they might be beating up their wives as well”? Do let me know what u think.

  13. I think it might be humiliating for young girls, who are painfully shy to have to disclose something so personal.My daughter did not want me to discuss her personal life (her first period) with any friends of mine/my mother or my sister. I remember I was the same at her age. I think it’s perfectly fine if women of the family allow the girls to choose whether they wish to follow this rule or not. Every member should decide for themselves, no compulsion, direct or indirect. I think that would be fair.

  14. #IHM: Agree completely. Hope young girls are equipped with all the information they need to be able to stand up for themselves. The most unfortunate thing to happen to kids are unquestioned traditions passed on to them, without much scope for their reasoning and choice.

  15. Hi soul of alec smartNice post, but I dont accept the conclution. When you witness a crime, and decide to do nothing about it untill, it happens to you, you are partaking in the crime. The same goes in this case. Let me explain. When one follows it, and does not impose it on others, there are yet some watching it, like say the next generation. They learn from both the wrong, and your attitude of not confronting it. They might think, that you do not talk because , the other is right. YOu sow old, stupidity, to a new mind then and there. That is why. We tend to pass on our beliefs to our next generation like a heridity diseases, without even thinking of consequences. I just want a thought before an action, thats all.

  16. # thought room: I don’t agree in this context. When we look on silently at a “crime” are we partaking in it. In a matter of beliefs, who is to point out and say it’s a crime to believe one thing and not the other till they are doing something unlawful. If you look closely, noone can arrest a person for isolating herself during her periods or even parents/in-laws enforcing this if the woman doesn’t hate it too. Why is it deemed a crime if one chooses to do something which to our informed, educated, logical minds is not “right”! Yes, it becomes something to take action on, if you see something happening to either you or your friends/acquaintances/loved ones that they detest and need help with – which is what I exactly meant by it affecting you. So “we” do not/should not pass it on to our generations but we don’t barge in and tell others to not do it to their kids because we have no right to. There are bigger problems in the world than these unasked-for reforms we imagine we’re here to give effect to. Tomorrow, someone will see that a mother does not breastfeed her kid and will shake up the kid and tell her how her mother is being cruel and not doing the right thing. It’s a way of life that is different from what we have known and are familiar with; it isn’t a crime, not even a social ill because the society is largely fragmented on this and there are hardly any compulsions. Choice is the word we often use, but choice can lie this way or that.. that’s the beauty of it right? Allow me to think aloud here on another point: you may respond saying that a teenager who hasn’t been introduced to the concept of choice is as good as forced into a tradition, but all I want to ask you is do/can we really afford to bring up kids who will not learn to question for themselves? Kids that will never ask their moms what’s so hideous about them 5 days a month that they’re locked up in a room? Kids who expect intervention from a third party? Or is it that we are belittling their curiosity and will to follow their choices? I fought with my parents on a number of things.. and I’m glad no aunt can take the credit for that.Last thing. My last paragraph was about jumping the gun. Will you call an isolationist a wife-beater? I won’t.

  17. HiYes I agree with you in the nature of crime. I did not mean it a crime in the sense of bargin in, and shaking the person, or punishing them. It is of the nature where an untouchable, accepts that he is impure. Though I cannot do any thing about it, because it is a personal choice, by not voicing my openion, I give the person lease to impose it on his next generation. Religion by its nature works on the basis that one accepts without a lot of question.The questions are left to a few who take the path of philosophy in search of themselves. But the majority accepts that a stone idol can drink milk, and cause a massive waste of mammalary products, that could have fed a lot of hungry and needy children. It is nice that we question, but it is necessary to question, those that dont.

  18. first of all…it was greeaat reading this :)and c’mon..all of us are confused..I’m confused to such an extent that I have begun to love this chaos and uncertainty in ma life… :Dagain, nice post…chilled out and enlightening…!

  19. Hey I have been following this topic around on various blogs for the past hours or so…Well like you said I was also too embarrassed to walk into my neighborhood grocery store (where the old uncle had known me for donkey’s years) to buy a packet of sanitary napkins. But when he saw my mom buying a different brand from her usual one, he sent me a bar of my favourite chocolate on the house :)And yes in my first year in hostel, I had taken along a bag with supply of one year.And yes when I did get my chums my mom did tell my father, and he had a little chat with me about how my body would now start developing and how teenage boys think and if anyone ever said or made me feel uncomfortable about my body to tell him, and he would sock that guy one And since I was in a girl’s school, someone or the other was always down in class and cramos were a favourite excuse to get out of forgettign homework and reports, so finally our Bio teacher told us that cramps are mostly 90% psychological.And onetime in hostel when I had really really bad cramps and a close guy friend heard I was unwell and came over and kept asking why I was lying down all curled up. Finally I told him and then he replied with a what’s to be embarrassed about telling me.Ad told me his sister liked having hot cofee at this time so he made me some really nice hot strong cofeeAnd I do get really bad cramps every month (for which I use a pain-relieving homeopathic medicine), but I get bigtime extra-pampering from the hubby as well. And I still call my mommy up and tell her I’m crampi just to hear that ‘Oh baby, wish I could make some nice hot chicken soup for you”. Does wonders.And yes sometimes I do use PMS as a bargaining tool :PI think periods are a natural thing for women. Not having them would be abnormal. And yes before we had Whisper & Stayfree and cloth napkins were used, it must have been unhygienic to a certain extent (I’m guessing so)I don’t agree wioth chums making me feel dirty or any other negative emotion. My periods for me are a sign of my womanhood just as for me facial hair is a sign of their manhood. Sorry for posting such a long comment, but after an hour I was finally able to comment. And have linked you too 🙂

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