Red-emption

I realized a couple of weeks ago, that I have been menstruating for 25 years. If menstruation was a skill, I’d be an expert by now! (Indeed, if menstruation was a skill, demand for developing it would be greater than demand for engineering college entrance exam coaching classes in India!)

Anyway, despite my long association with this monthly activity, I have never really given it much thought. Fortunately, I’m one of those women for whom my period is not debilitating — sure there are occasional cramps and bouts of PMS-induced madness, but for the most part, my periods are uneventful and manageable. The only times I’ve been made to pay attention to them are when society makes me pay attention to them.

Case in point, an event that happened eight months ago.

I’ve always been very close to my grandparents — my grandmother in particular was a sort of role model for me. She was fiery and determined and clever — and still, the kindest person I ever knew. And talk about debilitation — she had been confined to the house for as long as I recall, due to a debilitating form of rheumatoid arthritis. You’d never guess it if you spoke to her without looking at her — because she was always optimistic and strong and interested in the world around her. And so when she got really sick I dropped everything to go to Bombay and be with her in the hospital. She spent six nights in the ICU, and I spent those four of those nights with her at the hospital — worrying, remembering, crying, waiting. The next day she passed away. I felt deflated and defeated.

I decided to wait for the funeral and related rituals, culminating in the 13th day feast, as is the tradition among Hindus. And — thanks to the stress and irregular routine of those few days, with no warning and definitely no invitation, Aunt Flo decided to visit me on the 10th day after my grandmother died. I was devastated and angry and confused — and hated my period more than ever. Could there have been worse timing? I could have chosen to hide the fact that it started, and continued to participate in the rituals of course. But something gnawed at me — my grandmother, in all my wisdom and love, still believed in traditional notions of purity and impurity, and would definitely have frowned on my participating in a religious ceremony while on my period. Torn and agitated between rationality and respect for my grandmother’s wishes, I decided to tell my mother and aunt. They decided that it is best for me to stay away from the rituals.

I’d never felt more isolated, excluded and insulted because of my sex than I did those 4 days, when I had to be alone, and worse — grieve alone for my dead grandmother — for no reason other than the fact that I had a healthy, fertile, young, functional and normal woman’s body.

Soon, those days passed and months passed — and my red hot indignation at the events simmered down to a slow warm determination to do something meaningful with how I felt. A few months after this, I found out about the menstrual cup and a lot of sustainable means of period management. I have now embraced this wholeheartedly — and been championing the cup and sustainable menstruation to so many women I meet. I even used a storytelling platform to raise this issue and combat some taboos. I’ve come across quite a few others in this space who are doing SO much good work to break taboos and enhance period pride!

There is the physical debilitation that many women face during their periods, which we can do little about. But the psychological and cultural debilitation that we face is entirely avoidable — and that is something we can all do something about. I finally feel like I’m personally doing something to overcome the unnecessary shaming and taboos associated with periods, especially for Indian women.

I know now, for sure, that even my grandmother is secretly very proud of me for all of this!