The M-Word

Friday, June 21, 2013 , 0 Comments

"Courtesy - Shobha De"
Even as a teenager, I never suffered from period cramps. I was fortunate.Perhaps my training as an athlete helped me to overcome the monthly menace that paralyses so many young lives. I could hardly afford to confess to my trainer that I wouldn’t be running / jumping at the highly competitive sports’ meet because I was menstruating.No sportswoman enjoys such an indulgence. No matter what, you play the game.Period cramps can wait. One of my daughters gets laid up for two straight days a month, doubled up with pain and unable to crawl out of  bed. Nothing helps. Not even a hot water bottle. Fortunately, today’s urban teen is raised to take menstruation in her stride as compared to the nasty old days. I notice the naturalness with which teenagers mention their ‘condition’ to friends, boys in the group included. This is a huge change from earlier times when girls were made to feel like they had a highly infectious communicable disease by their own families. Mothers would strike their foreheads in despair and curse their fates for giving birth to daughters, making a bewildered twelve year old feel guilty, ashamed and miserable for bleeding. I escaped such a fate, but my sisters didn’t. They were treated like outcastes and made to hide any evidence connected to their biological cycle. The word ‘menstruation’ was never to be uttered in the presence of men folk. And those four ‘unclean’ days had to be endured in discreet isolation. It is in this context, that I applaud the efforts of three entrepreneurs from the National Institute of Design (NID), who have launched, a website that addresses various aspects of puberty , along with exploding the incredible and annoying myths associated with menstruation. Myths that make a woman feel ‘impure’. Or advise her to stay away from pickles, not shampoo her hair or stay out of the kitchen. Aditi Gupta, Tuhin Paul and Rajat Mittal have earned the gratitude of several young girls who may not have the sort of access to responsible information when they most need it. Mothers are often hesitant or even ill informed themselves, leading to much confusion and self-loathing in the teenager’s mind.
Since it is a free website in English, the three bright sparks have decided to broaden their reach by translating the content into several languages. What’s more, their latest objective is to launch comic books in various Indian languages to  further simplify the information. They are trying to generate funds for this project and are also looking for volunteers. Their target is pretty modest –  5 lakhs is all they need. So far, they have managed to collect half the amount, mainly from family and friends. It is an initiative worth supporting, given their commitment to it. Ambitious and motivated, they also hope to make these comics  available in international languages. For the moment, the focus is on setting their ‘characters’ for the comic books, by getting the details right. For this purpose, they are building a library of  ‘looks’ from different regions, so that it will be easy for  readers to identify with these characters.
I thought how much easier life would have been for my generation had we not had to battle age-old taboos and hide our monthly affliction from the world. The worst ignominy during school days was to stain the pristine white uniform and deal with the stares and sniggers that followed. Today, with superior  sanitary products, and better awareness of personal hygiene, some of these issues have been taken care of. But not all. Despite more openness, girls are still emotionally and psychologically hampered by a society that makes them feel ‘unclean’ on some level and excludes them from auspicious functions. Till such time as we relook at our antiquated attitudes to the subject, our female teens will be forced to adopt a brave façade and project a fake nonchalance during ‘that’ time of the month. A time that is indeed difficult and delicate. For PMT is definitely not a myth. It is a recognized medical condition that affects millions of women worldwide. Some of us have had to take the inescapable monthly mood swings in our stride and soldier on. But for those whocontinue to suffer month after month, perhaps a quick visit to Menstrupedia will provide much needed comfort.

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.