We belong to a traditional, orthodox, Tamil Brahmin family. In our community in Tamil Nadu, periods are considered taboo, yet something that should be declared. So, when you get your periods, the whole household and sometimes even the neighbourhood gets to know about it (including what time you got it :)). Once you announce the onset of periods, for the next three days, most part of the house is restricted; whatever you touch during those days has to be washed and purified. When we used to protest about the treatment meted out to us in the early days, my mom used to reel out stories of how they suffered more in their teenage years and yet never complained. And now that we have come a long way, we must be happy according to her.
Long way! Phew! We are given a plate and a glass, pillow and a bed sheet to be used for three days and washed thereafter. Can’t touch anyone, can’t sit on sofas and chairs, can’t sleep on the bed, can’t eat in the dining hall–all these and more can’ts and yet, we are supposedly much better off than them and women before them, my mom claimed.
It was during one such discussion that my mom narrated a story that brings goosebumps every time I think of it or narrate it to someone.
My mother’s maternal grandfather was a well known gynecologist during his time. This was during the early 1900s. He belonged to a small town in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. My mother used to swell with pride when she recollected tales about his doctoral skills and how he could by merely seeing a women predict if she could conceive or not and whether a certain pregnant woman would deliver a boy or a girl! Certainly no mean task in those days! These may not be so impressive in the times we live now, but my great-grandfather belonged to an age when everything was manual. There was no technology to assist and most women would deliver with the help of mid-wives at home, with bare minimum facilities available.
Once it was the death anniversary of my great-grandfather’s father and the household was getting ready for the elaborate rituals and food that had to be prepared. My great-grandmother noticed the evening before that her periods had started. As was the practice, she had to inform everyone about it and soon she would become out-of-bounds from everyone and everything. During special occasions, chums could be the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Poor great-grandma, how helpless and sad she must have felt! And how worried she must have been. When she conveyed this to her gynaec husband, he was furious. How could she get her periods on such an important day? As if she decided her period dates! So infuriated was he, that he made her stand out of the house, the whole night and the next day until the function got over! This was her punishment so that she makes sure never to repeat the mistake of getting periods on important days! And poor great-grandma, bore it all silently!
The act in itself was shameful, but what makes it worse is that a gynaec could think and act like this. This is certainly not expected of one who understand the human anatomy well. In those days, getting periods itself was a punishment and to punish someone for something so natural is something that cannot be forgiven by many of us in future generations. But women in those days were too meek and helpless. Their educated husbands were dominating and sometimes inhuman. When I hear of the period tales from my mother, I am glad that I belong to a different, liberated era.
We have come a long way from where my great-grandmother stood, helpless. We realise that periods is not a time when women should be shunned and looked down upon, but a time when she needs to be cared for and allowed to rest. Our generation has become more liberal now, but still a lot needs to be done. We may have access to dining tables and sofas, beds and kitchen, but we still (in some families) don’t look at it as something natural. Some restrictions still continue and until we let go of them completely, women cannot be free in the truest sense….
Let’s join hands to fight it out…Let’s declare, “Periods are normal, not a contagious disease.”
This blogathon is supported by the Maya App, used by 6.5 million women worldwide to take charge of their periods and health.”