It was the summer of 2001 and I was hardly 11 years old. I still remember it as clear as day. I had had a late, lazy morning and I had just finished taking a dallying, hot water bath. The mischievous little monkey that I was, I stood on the little stool of steel in the bathroom, which was still wet, trying to pull my bloomers up. The next set of events happened in such quick succession that I could hardly comprehend what was happening – The moment I tried to balance myself on my left foot alone, it slipped. The stool toppled and I came crashing down onto it. The edge of the stool struck where it hurt most! I grabbed my crotch, screaming silently inside my head, my eyes tightly shut. When I opened them, there was blood everywhere. Panic!!! I heard a scream. My own. The kind that tends to make your hair stand on end. My mom came rushing in, gave a sigh and said “Prithvi, I had told you about this! There is nothing to cry about!”. But I was wailing my guts out trying to tell her how much it hurt down there. The poor woman, unable to comprehend my woe, had to heat up some more water and give me another bath before I could muster enough breath between my sobs to tell her what actually happened. “Its not my period, Ma. I just fell down and probably broke something” I kept saying. But she was convinced that it was indeed just my period. “The clots are there, see?” she insisted.
That was probably my first encounter with my own menstrual cycle. I say ‘probably’ because I did not get my next period until late in 2003. My mother was worried. But my doctor assured her that it does happen sometimes in cases of early onset of menstruation. As a consequence, I still have no idea whether I got my period on that cursed summer day or a whole 30 months after that!
Either way, I was one of the lucky ones that had an idea about what a period is much before I had to confront it. Although my mother had told me what happens, it was Proctor & Gamble (yes, the company that sells Whisper), that taught me why and how it happens. Irrespective of whether they did it to promote their own product or as a part of their CSR initiative, they did well in educating young girls on the whats, hows, and hygiene of menstruation.
But that is not the only reason I consider myself lucky. I have seen my own cousins and other young girls who have had to use cloth during their period, while I easily managed with sanitary napkins. This, in an era that has seen unnecessarily graphic ads being made specifically for the purpose of promoting more hygienic alternatives. Sadly, menstruation and anything related to it is still considered taboo in most parts of India. I have heard of how teachers just mumbled a few unintelligible words or left the entire topic to their students when they had to teach about menstruation or copulation. But luckily (again), when my teacher had to teach us the subject, she did it with a straight face and very matter-of-factly. It reminds of this little incident – Right after she walked out of the class, one of the guys from the back stood up, held up an Apsara pencil (the black ones with a red tip), pointed at the tip and said “Guys, this pencil is menstruating!” with a snigger. Immediately, another guy stood up and said with utmost authority “Dude, no. We never make fun of such things!”. And so it was that I was rescued heroically in the only moment I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks.
Now, although most of India is hush-hush about everything sex and menstruation, I find a teensy bit of consolation in the fact that at least in my locality I can uninhibitedly walk out into the street carrying a pack of sanitary napkins or a box of condoms without having the need to hide it inside a black polythene bag! The damn thing is redundant now. After all, every soul in the country knows that if it’s a black polythene bag, it is mostly likely hiding one of three things – meat, alcohol or sanitary napkins!
An avid reader, enthusiastic trekker, amateur blogger @prithvibel.wordpress.com and passionate backpacker