Disclaimer: We do not intend to hurt the religious and cultural sentiments of anyone.
Periods are the extension of life as a woman on earth, but the irony is that people, or I must say the woman experiencing it are even more tight-lipped when the term ‘period’ or ‘mahina ke woh din’ comes up in conversation.
I remember my first period. I was away from my mum and my dadi was there to help and she just said to me that this is going to happen on a monthly basis and handed me a sanitary napkin. I was not told how to use it, so my first 2-3 periods, I wore my pad without removing the backside of the sticky tape which helps to secure it to the panty and frankly they were the most uncomfortable periods ever. It left me staining all over the place, and my clothes were ruined, and as the first reaction from people around me, it got programmed in my head that periods are a forbidden thing in the outside world, and you gotta hide them or else you are finished. The cold stares by not only men but also women were embarrassing, so much so that I started developing negative feelings towards my own body and its mechanisms.
I have been looking at my periods as a curse since then, and to amplify these feelings, there were my girlfriends in school who also were programmed similarly and they did the same thing. They used to make fun or criticize others when it came to period stains, and there was no one to share these feelings with because it was a forbidden thing to talk about. It was a taboo, and the thing with taboos is that either you go along with the notions of the generation without questioning anything, or if you don’t believe in sheep-herd mentality, then you’re left to struggle with your own questions.
I remember we had a period sanitation documentary session where we were explained in under 10 mins what it is that we go through. Via a small video, we were informed of how to wear napkins. No questions were entertained by us and it was such a hasty session that after that we were given a trial packet of sanitary pads, which led to little hushed tones and giggles when we entered back into our class both among the boys and also among the girls. It was as if there was an inner joke where you could laugh only in private. Such a shame!
Ahhh, and don’t even get me started on PERIOD ADVERTISEMENTS. They are such a mockery. They actually have the audacity to show blood with a blue ink solution. You won’t believe it: my male batchmates from school actually believed it to be a blue coloured liquid that we shit off every month, and they thought this until high school! This is just because there is no proper information passed down to kids, nor at home or in school, which is miserable. Period knowledge should be compulsorily imparted to every kid irrespective of their gender.
Even after the GST exemption on sanitary napkins in the year 2018, there was still no benefit to the consumers and even now in India, there are 336 million menstruating women and only 121 million women have access to sanitary napkins; the school dropouts still continue to take place when girls begin to menstruate.
It’s high time to not only educate rural Indian women about hygiene concerns and the proper usage of period products, but also for individuals to liberalize the idea of menstruation in their own heads.
Now here, talking about how I found a shift in embracing my periods a little more amidst the havoc times of coronavirus all around the world, I accept it is because I belong to a privileged class and so getting access to other better period products is easier for me. On December 2018, I got delivered a menstrual cup at my doorstep as my pre-birthday gift. I was proud that I didn’t spend money on any new dress but on something much more necessary. Obviously it was a bit scary to think of inserting it into my vagina, but I browsed through thousands of videos on Youtube for techniques on the various folds to insert. For the first time, it was very difficult and scary also because I had no literal person to guide me because in my friends’ circle too, I was the first one to try this out, but after a lot of trials I finally got it in and my periods from that day have been as smooth as a feather, and the extra benefit which I find is that it has given me a sense of intimacy for my own body and bodily fluids, because I have to see the RED straight in the eye and so now I can say that I as a person am more comfortable looking at my own blood after 7 years and I do believe that when you find your liberation within, it is easier to convey the same outside.
So coming to how corona has helped to alleviate this sense of liberation even more, I have been following a Jaipur-based artist called Lylafreechild and her Instagram account also goes by this name. She has been quite vocal about menstrual blood and it’s magnificence and has also been doing art using her own menstrual blood. When I first came across it, it wasn’t acceptable to my eyes because we are never used to even looking at our own blood and it has been programmed in us to be seen as dirty, foul, negative and whatnot, but I did get inspired in a way because a woman here is accepting the roots of her sexuality out in the public eye and is making art out of it. That is quite commendable…
After seeing that, I had always meant to build this level of comfort and intimacy with my periods but I wanted that to happen with time, for it to come to me organically and so during the quarantine, everybody at home was finding new ways to engage themselves and so during one of my periods, I started collecting my menstrual blood and for the first 3 days, I watered my tulsi plant with it. It felt like a connection to the mud/earth altogether and it was like giving back in a way. After that day, now when I see my tulsi plant, it has grown lusciously and is tall, wavering whenever the breeze strikes. It reminds me that I have invested a part of me in its growth, and it’s magical if I may say so. I am not saying the tulsi plant has grown so nicely just because of this, but the connection which I now have with it is truly magical and after this adventure I decided to use the collected blood as the paint for my canvas. I would just say one thing when I completed my painting, and that is that I cried puddles. All the previous period days started flashing in a second before me and I realised I now no more need to run away from what I am and how my body is. For me, it was the greatest token of reverence I had paid to the periods, which took care of me through all these years and it’s no more a painstaking journey but it now is a deep connection retreat which me and my body go through on a monthly basis.
I know the pandemic has been a huge problem for menstruating women around the country. There are now increasing numbers of women/girls without sanitary napkins and we have women serving as front line workers in suffocating PPEs. We as women still have a long way to go to understand our periods, embrace it and portray it to the world. I hope every woman finds more comfort for her periods in the times to come.
Disclaimer: Views expressed here are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent that of the Organization.
Author: Hetvi Bhavsar
Hetvi is a foodie by religion, and loves to cook up storms on Sundays. She can go from english scones to variations of khichdi in her kitchen. Hetvi is a dental student and strives to create awareness in her own circle of friends about menstruation and other hushed-up topics.
Edited by: Divya Rosaline