Saturday, October 29, 2016


I was Nine year old and had just returned from half day school. I was wearing a white cotton frock and playing on the roads with my friends. 

"Come inside right now, see what has happened to you!!!" came the shrill ordering yell of my mom. 

Bewildered, I came in with a questioning expression. I was clueless, what had happened. All that had been remarkable was, we had a half day and we were making best of it. 

My mom turned me around and pulled up my frock and began crying hysterically and summoning my neighbouring aunties. All gathered and began whispering "She is so small, just nine!

"It must have started an hour back, she has been running around like that, how come she did not notice it..."

I was made to sit in the middle of the room on a jute mat. My clothes removed and that is when I noticed the red stains, thick and glaring. I was horrified. I pleaded to my mom that I had done nothing. I almost expected a thrashing. I also became aware of pain in my lower abdomen, but I kept quiet. I was shivering with the ominous environment around me. My aunties were simultaneously comforting my mother, who was crying inconsolably in the lap of an elder lady. 

After a while, they brought a steel strainer and poured water and oil through that over me. I was given a bath and told to wash myself. Each moment, I was petrified at all the blood coming out of my  private area. I wondered, what I had done, what sin I had committed. I asked God for forgiveness, for sins I did not know I had committed to deserve this. The more I cleaned the more it oozed. 

Utterly helpless, I looked at my mom for comfort and explanation. None came forth. Only a frowned and clamped foreboding. I wondered what I had done. After a bath they stuffed a cloth in a panty and tied it up. Back then we had both elastic and threaded ones. Then another elastic panty over it. When I gave a questioning look, one aunty added "This will prevent staining.

I gave up questioning for suddenly I was tired and I wanted to sleep and be alone. One aunt asked me to sit in the corner of the house. They had laid a jute mat. They got me a steel plate and glass and told me to not touch anything in the house. Not anyone. I was to not go out to play. Not to tell anyone what happened. 

Phewww...Half the chawl had assembled. What did it matter if I told anyone or not? They offered me the sweet they had made. They smiled and told me "Now you are a woman.

Bonkers!!! I could neither share their smiles nor ask anything further. My mother seemed to be ever distant. We never were great friends. Till date, we have never talked things that mattered to a girl. All I wanted was a comforting hug that explained all, took away the slowly searing pain that was growing in my pit. A kiss on my forehead to assure me I was not unclean. Till date, I am waiting... I got none...Never did...Now I expect none. 

Arrival of my dad and his grim expression made me feel mortified. 

I wanted to disappear!

Just a kind ray of hope came the next day. A young neighbour, with whom I spent my afternoons with, brought me a weekly women's magazine. There I learnt what I had was menstrual cycle and it is called bleeding, which would last for 4-5 days. It would occur every month till I would be 40+ and a result of a very natural, biological process. I cried then, of relief. I felt rescued. I am ever grateful for this bit of information. It lifted tons of guilt. 

What still it could not lift was the discomfort those five days brought. The rubbing of stinky clothes caused rashes. The despair of so many underclothes took away sleep in summer months. Rainy season brought other issues. Having four women in the house, it was a cumbersome task to manage the cloth pads and stuff. The ones who were out if it had to cook and clean. Sanitary pads were forbidden by my mom as her reasoning was that menstrual blood had to be washed and cannot  be thrown away. It riled me to go through so much creepy, crappy and everything yuck! 

The injustice too brought forth too many arguments. I could clean the utensils but once dried had to stay away from them. I could wash the clothes but once dried cannot touch them. Worship of course was denied. 

How could we be doing all sorts of things and then be rendered "untouchables" for those five days? We were actually reprimanded for having them if there was a religious ceremony! As if we had a say in the whole process. 

As I grew up, I rebelled against a lot of things I did not agree with. Scientifically, I knew it was a perfectly healthy situation and all women undergo it. I wondered if the western girls were kept away from temples and ceremonies in these days. Would they be sinners if they used napkins or tampons? But I dare not ask my mom to finance the napkins. We were three girls in the family! Such expenditure on us was a waste! 

But I locked horns and got beaten many times for my rebellious questioning. Once in my native village, I was given the regular jute mat. Being a mucky summer night, it was high discomfort. Distraught, I saw the wooden 'jhulla'  big enough to sleep for a four feet few inches like me. I slept on that. I woke to angry chanting of my grand-mom. She was sprinkling something on the pillow of the jhulla. She screamed at me to get off "You vile girl, you have made this place 'apavitra'. You will rot in hell!"

I got down and asked what she was sprinkling. The maid supplied 'Ganga Jal'.  By now, my mischief and revolt had surfaced. "This will purify, what I made unclean?"  Arrows of vitriol from my grandmother! As to how dare I question after sinning. 

Well I sighed and requested "Please keep this can of Holy water here for another four days, purify the pillow next few days. I cannot sleep on the jute and I will not..." Spanking and yelling was my reward. But obstinate as I was I continued sleeping on the jhulla minus the "Oh so Holy Pillow" They could spank me all they want and withhold food if they wanted. Jhulla is where I camped on for those five days and that was that. 

In college, I began earning part time. This brought me independence to dare to buy my first sanitary pad. Mom was livid, and felt I was about to destroy her religion. Out of guilt, I tried washing the pad. It was a disaster. That night, I had a long conversation within myself. I weighed my comfort against all these ill established routines and rituals which had no foundation, rationale and logic. I decided to take charge and look for making my life a little more comfortable. After a miserable eight years' period, I chose to make the five days less demanding. The trade off with my mom was I would adhere to her "No worship, no prayer, no touching contract.

My breakthrough came on my wedding day. A month before, my mom fretted on the date that coincided with my cycle. Round of doctors, medicines were all fruitless. I got my mischievous, mocking menstrual cycle on the DDay. Now what??? Again mom's accusatory stare! HOW COULD YOU??? 

Hmm...I could ask the same...How could you put my welfare before all these foolish customs??? In all this, not once she thought her baby girl has been trembling and looking for that hug... Ever since she was nine. 

How can I now sit for the sacred ceremony? 

Can we send the 'Baaraat' back? A generous mid way of bathing head to toe was invented. A hush hush was decreed. 

But I decided not to spoil the best day of my life. Menstrual cycle has a huge contribution to make post marital status fertile. 

I welcomed it, shared with my groom who was disappointed for obvious reasons but we were friends first and all would happen sooner...It just meant four more days. I took charge of my happiness. Enjoyed the ceremonies, travelled to Vaishno Devi in the Himalayas and solicited her blessings. 

None of the ceremonies were interrupted as predicted by my ancient aunties. The temple door miraculously did not intercept me as unclean . They showered me with blessings, bleeding and all. 
No wrath was let loose upon the "Sinner" me. 

And so when I began my marital life, I threw the taboo of the five days in the waste basket. Yes, those days I felt weak, I solicited extra help but never have I imposed this no touching rule. I, no longer sleep on jute mats or have separate utensils on those days. I never compromise on my comfort nor purify myself on waters brought from yonder rivers. If there is a religious function coinciding, I take no medicines to delay or expedite. I simply get on with my prayers and rituals. My prayers emanate from my clean soul and earnest desire to connect to divinity. It must connect directly regardless of a scientific, biological process of a body. 

I urge every woman to take charge and pass on an empowered vision of these five days as simply a process and not an unclean body which has to be isolated and shunned. AFFIRM...

WE deserve comfort
We deserve right to pray
We deserve to feel special and cared for! 
We deserve no frowns or wrath... Only... 
WE all need a Hug...!

By Sonnal Pardiwala

This blogathon is supported by the Maya App, used by 6.5 million women worldwide to take charge of their periods and health.

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