The taboo surrounding the female menstrual cycle

I’m not sure why I’m writing this – a lot of people might get upset with this. But it’s nothing new for me, so I continue typing.

Menstruation is as natural as sweating on a hot day for anyone, both male and female. But when it comes to acceptance of the phenomenon, one witnesses strange reactions. I still don’t know how socially ‘acceptable’ periods are in the Western world, but in India, it’s a complete circus. And as in a lot of other things, my family and social customs outdo anyone else.

Periods remind me of my late grandmother (Dadi, I love you). The day I got my first period, something about me in her eyes changed. She became skeptical of caressing me, or just touching me fondly on the cheek. What if I was bleeding then?

She was the rule-maker in the household and surprisingly, even the over-grown men of the family were scared of her (or so she thought).

Some period-related rules I recall include: not entering the temple of the house, not eating at the dining table, eating and drinking in ‘special’ plates and cups, not touching the grandmother, announcing that you were ‘untouchable’ before she could be defiled at your touch and yes, the most interesting one, shampooing my hair on the ‘third’ day of the cycle.

Obviously, I didn’t understand these rules.

I would forget which day I was on and therefore the shampooing got delayed. I wasn’t sure when to start counting the days – at the start of cramping or at the first sight of blood? I tried to ask once but there were no answers. Only angry looks.

I distinctly remember a chilly winter day when the domestic help walked in with a large tray of some 12 mugs with piping hot tomato soup. I was untouchable then. Poor fellow didn’t know that (I’m sorry for not telling you, dear help!) and made the fatal error of offering me a mug. The family, which was gathered in the large, living room, was suddenly startled by a lightning-like voice. It was my grandmother. She said ‘don’t you know you can’t offer her that mug? Get the other one, kept in that corner of that drawer, in that room.’

That guy looked me in the eye, sympathy dripping from every cell of his body. I was too ashamed to meet his gaze. All the other men of the family – including father, uncle, brothers and of course, grandfather – looked at me with an emotion that beautifully combined empathy, consolation and of course, humour. Their X-ray fitted eyes pierced me just in the right place, as if they could see through me, knowing exactly what was going on with my reproductive system. At that instant, I felt like digging a large hole in the earth, and shoving them all in.

Anyway. Time passed, and each month the shame visited me and left, leaving me to deal with physical cramps and silent humiliation. For what – I still don’t know!

However, now I think I’m finally getting my answers. Even when we may talk ‘feminism’ and blame men for inflicting this and that on women of the world, sometimes the deepest wounds are caused by one set of women to another.

However, the day the so-called ‘victims’ refuse to be victimised, this stupidity and outdated belief system cannot sustain itself. All one needs to do, is question! But be careful, sometimes there are no answers, only trouble!

Tell me about it.

Image taken from Google images

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A night with the moon

Oh gorgeous moon, I see you from behind the shadows of the palms,

That try so hard to protect you from my eyes.

But I still know you’re there,

Your slicky coolness caressing my back.

I’m finally here, realising my wildest dream,

Of being in your company – just you and me,

Lying on the soft, cool sand,

With not a garment on me or my soul.

What do I have to hide from you?

Is there anything about me you don’t already know?

I lie on my stomach,

Dying to catch a glimpse of you from behind dreamy eyes,

As the furious waves scare me with their velocity.

But I’m not scared – I have you.

I know you’re looking at me, rather staring.

Have you too not waited for this union?

Your cold, icy gaze makes my back tremble,

But I love it. Go on.

Do you think I don’t know that it’s you causing the tides,

Causing the jealous water to swell in timely rhythm?

You like to see me afraid and vulnerable. Don’t you?

But it’s alright – I allow you that.

I’m shivering by now,

The sand under me keeps getting cooler and cooler.

It has managed to house itself in every crack and crevice of my body,

My navel, the gentle crack between my thighs.

Go on.. keep your gaze on me and let me stare too.

Tell me what I can do to make the night stay this way,

And make sure the sun never shows the world its face.

For the arrival of the sun implies your departure.

And how can I ever want that?

Go on. Don’t stop.

Tonight is all we have.

Image taken from Google images

I’m a mother. Judge me not!

To all those who judge my capability as a mother,

Let me present to you my side of the story.

My association with my baby is nearly two hundred and fifty days longer than yours with him.

I smile as I recall the time I first heard his heart beat on my two-monthly scan.

Warm tears rolled down my eyes,

And trust me, I don’t easily cry.

Then came the movements.

In my earliest days with him inside, I have felt him flutter like a butterfly on the sides of my waist,

Till he metamorphosed into a little gymnast, who kicked in claustrophobia.

I still recall his hiccups that shook me internally, like imaginary tremors.

And no forgetting his big, round head that pushed against my pelvis each night as I tried in vain to sleep.

Then he arrived,

And I died.

Don’t be surprised.

Every mother dies a death on the arrival of her child.

The pouty little girl in her dies,

And a stronger, vigilant woman is born.

You barely recognise this woman,

Even when she may look much the same,

Barring her fresh, purple stretch marks,

And her sore, sagged body.

Without a re-birth, how else do you think she manages to witness so much blood flow out of her body,

When she would earlier faint at the sight of a syringe?

How else do you think she manages to nurture him almost every two hours,

With bitten, sore nipples?

Or change his diapers,

With sleepy red eyes, barely open?

Do not judge please.

The word ‘mother’ barely needs an adjective,

It is self-explanatory.

I do not mean to idolise or establish superiority,

For superiority is a bigger danger, meaningless in itself.

I tell you this,

For I know that you do not know.

If you did, how could you ever judge?

I know you wouldn’t!

Am I right?

Image taken from Google images

I am…white

Do not attach those labels on me please, those that call me this or that, for they force on me the belief that I cannot be both, for ‘this’ and ‘that’ cannot exist together.

I know I can be silent for hours, only to chat for hours soon after. I talk too wisely for my age often, and may then surprise you with my child-like understanding of things.

I may seem to be a goddess to you at times, offering unending love and joy. But don’t gape in wonder when you see the angry me, eyes burning in rage.

I am silent, talkative, introvert, extrovert, curious, indifferent, wise, foolish and so much more, albeit at different times. Why are you surprised?

There is nothing that I am not. I am everything.

I am the blend of all the shades of all the colours you can imagine. I am WHITE.

Image taken from Google images

Moving on

I have begun to feel the tightness of my skin,

As if it doesn’t fit anymore.

It suddenly seems too dull and plain, as if cut out for someone much older than I am.

I want so much to shed it now, right now, immediately.

But what if they were to spot me naked,

Before I develop my new skin?

I want a neon-pink this time,

Skin that glows in the dark.

Something that everybody notices,

Even in the night.

I want people’s attention now,

I want to feel desire in their eyes.

Something I have avoided long enough,

Something I have desired, yet dreaded.

I want to shed this skin right now, it doesn’t serve me anymore.

I will silently drop it as I crawl along.

Let people who live after me find this tattered, dead skin,

And wonder how thick-skinned ‘a woman’ had once been.

They may never know my story,

Or the discomfort this skin gave me.

But it doesn’t matter.

They will at least learn that to change, to transform and to move-on, is never sin.

Image taken from Google images

Happy birthday Krishna!

Happy happy birthday Krishna!

You are the first (and only one by the way) who has comforted me with the following:

1. That I’m OK the way I am, in fact I’m great!

2. That the ultimate pleasure stands not in ‘doing’, but in ‘being’.

3. That you and I are essentially not different at all, composed at our core, of the same stardust. This makes me an equal, bound by love, and not a subordinate who clings in fear. Where fear dwells, how can love?

4. That I am more powerful that I think, for I possess the power to ‘choose’. I choose all the time, even when I may not do so, consciously. Since every choice brings about a consequence, what I behold as my experience today is the sum total of all the choices I have ever made.

5. And finally the thing I ran away from all my life – the thought of being abandoned and rejected and the perceived ‘loneliness’ that comes with it. Rejection certainly happened to me but lo and behold, ‘loneliness’ never did! What did is what I like to call ‘solitude’. The emotional independence and tranquility it brings with it, is addictive to say the least.

I may have misunderstood or misinterpreted your words in the texts I believe spring from you. For we read abstraction in the way we wish to!

Even if that is the case, let me remain happy in my ‘misunderstanding’.

When it fails to work for me, may be I will change my understanding too.

But that’s not happening today.

Let me be.

Image taken from Google images.

The sense of an ending

I move about in agitation,

My legs restless to both move and sit still.

I walk, talk and do everything as the neighbour next door,

But something feels out of place.

Millions of thoughts are flashing in my head,

Darting at the speed of light.

Something is changing somewhere,

Whether in me or in the stars, I cannot tell.

There’s one emotion that stands out,

It’s a familiar one I clearly recognise.

I lovingly call it stubbornness,

‘My stubbornness’.

I take her by the hand,

And pull her aside.

‘What’s going on in my head?’

‘Tell me what is it that I sense, for I know that it has to do with you!’

She avoids my gaze,

And shrugs her shoulders as she pouts.

I grab her by the shoulders,

My eyes red in rage.

‘I’m asking you something for God’s sake!’

‘What is it this time?’

She looks sheepishly at the floor,

And in my ear does whisper ‘this, my dear, is the sense of an ending’.

Image taken from Google images

Hello Brothers!

Happy Rakshabandhan to the Indian folks out there and for those of you not aware of what it means – it’s a day dedicated to honouring the relationship between a sister and her brother (whether biological or not) in exchange for a vow that the macho brother will protect the sister against whatever trouble may come her way.

To explain further, the Sanskrit term ‘raksha’ means protection and ‘bandhan’, bond.

It’s a beautiful celebration wherein girls/ women of all ages tie a thread or amulet on the brother’s wrist, which is symbolic of the ties they shall share for as long as they live. In exchange for the amulet (we call it a Rakhi), brothers give us gifts and money, which is by far, the coolest part of the process.

As far as I know, the day gained its significance from the times when Draupadi (of the Mahabharata) tore a strip from the end of her saree (the traditional Indian garment for women) and tied it around the bleeding hand of Krishna, who she considered brother. Some believe that it was this gesture that obliged Krishna to protect her when she was being disrobed in public. (Krishna, would you have not protected her otherwise? Are you that selfish?)

Anyway.

As I finish calling up and speaking to my brothers/ cousins and other people who evoke those feelings in me, I sit and wonder what the significance of this day really is.

To me, this is a sweet (and cute) promise from our little macho brothers to protect us from trouble. I’m sorry for my bias about ‘little’ brothers because that’s all I have. I have two twin guys seven years younger than me.

But I sometimes wonder – protection against what? What kind of protection is it that must be defined in terms of gender – the protector (the bro) and the protected (the sis)?

To help myself think clearly, let me name a few events that could require protection – Physical violence, natural calamity, robbery, vandalism? But these are all things men themselves are vulnerable to? Then how can they protect and we cannot?

This makes me think further. I think the natural answer to this question is that they promise to protect us (their sisters) against physical or sexual abuse, though not explicitly!

Naturally, that’s how we are anatomically designed right, making women more vulnerable to physical abuse, ranging from unwanted touch to outright rape. I mean men can be physically abused too, but it’s much more difficult.

And let me also tell you this – this bond or cute relationship comes with it’s own price tag. I recall how each year these seven-year younger babies (I have changed their diapers and given them a shower, for you to better understand), would counsel me (or caution me as they liked to call it) to not wear torn jeans or apply red nail paint, or for that matter, not leave my hair open. I was ‘their’ responsibility after all! Obviously women wearing red nail paint will be assaulted!

People who know me can imagine what happened next – we fought on Rakshabandhan and parents had to intervene to restore peace.

Now I wonder, in that dramatic amulet-tying and all that, who protected who? I protected these delicate ducklings whenever they landed themselves into trouble (which was almost once a fortnight). I would speak to their girlfriends to bail them out of a relationship or persuade a jilted friend to start speaking to these uncommunicative guys again.

To me, this Indian symbolism (which may have made sense back then when it started) looks like a convenient arrangement – I protect my sister against you, and you protect yours against me. Let’s all play this game, for our responsibility is limited (reminds me of the limited liability concept in company law) to our own sisters. Your sister is your responsibility. Fair enough.

But, thinking a little deeper. Do we need to protect each other for we are ‘tied’ as such, or merely a humanitarian approach works? For example, I don’t harass a woman and so don’t you! I respect women and men equally. So should you! Why don’t we play this game together?

For if we were to, the need for such silly and conditional arrangements for protection will no longer remain.

Image taken from Google images

I think you need time

You’ll never know what love really means,

Or at least what it means to me.

Concern, care and selfless attention to your being,

Acceptance of you as you are.

It’s a feeling that stems from every cell of my body,

For you, no matter your age, gender or physical appearance.

Yet I’m scared to express it to you,

Or even check on your well-being.

You often get me wrong,

And misinterpret my intentions.

You think I want something,

Or have something in mind.

I’m tired of explaining to you that it’s not the case,

I want nothing – I have all I need.

It’s just who I am at my deepest level,

It’s my reality, my truth.

But you still doubt me,

And continue to churn explanations in your head.

Logic can’t explain everything,

Probably you just need time.

May be I think on another plane,

And no matter how hard I try,

I can’t bring myself to think like you.

In fact I don’t remember a time in my life I ever thought that way.

Yes, I think you need time.

Then I decide to just let you be,

And curtail my own expression of love and kindness.

What’s the point of expressing love,

And then going about defending your innocence?

So now you just see me pass by,

Gum in the mouth and smile on the lips.

‘How are you?’ you ask,

‘Good, and you?’ I reply and move on, at the speed of light.

Image taken from Google images

An evening at the park

I must do something I really like,

I had told myself today.

Little did I realise,

When my aching feet were dragging me to the park close by.

I didn’t know why I was even there,

Under the grey clouds ready to burst any instant.

I didn’t know what to do or think,

Except may be just stare?

I saw an ignored wooden bench in the corner,

She seemed happy to see me,

As if she had been waiting, all day.

I sat there, face cupped in my hands,

Pouting like a little girl,

Who’s unsure why she’s being made to do something that makes no sense to her little brain.

I saw children play around me,

Some tossing pebbles and the others wrestling to get on the only swing.

I noticed how carefree they were, unaffected by what I or anyone else thought about them.

Probably they haven’t yet been told how useless and flawed they are.

I noticed a little blue-eyed boy,

Watching me from a distance.

He was biting his index finger with the only two teeth he had.

Out of nowhere, he blew me a kiss.

I knew not when I was cooing with him,

Matching his volume and pitch.

I knew that people, including his own mother watched.

But I had stopped caring for some moments I think.

I feel I had moved something in that little boy,

For he came trotting to get me by the hand.

Like an obedient slave, I followed.

How difficult it is to make me follow or obey, I thought.

But the little guy had managed.

Then came the breeze,

And it too took me by surprise.

It messed my hair till it was everywhere – in my eyes, on my cheeks.

I immediately frowned,

For untidy hair makes me squirm.

That irritation, that itch on my face – it’s the last thing I can take.

But something was different today,

I allowed the breeze to do whatever it wanted to. I just closed my eyes.

Image taken from Google images