Hi Ganpati Bappa,
Happy Ganesh Chaturthi and welcome to our city, our country and our hearts. Everywhere I turn, I can see, hear and feel the abundant joy that you pack in your belly and get for us every year. Believers prepare for weeks for your arrival, and will bid adieu to you with teary eyes when you leave for your watery abode after enjoying our hospitality. It’s one of the best times of the year, where everyone in the city comes together, held firmly by your enormous trunk.
Through the years, I have enjoyed your presence at the family Ganpati celebration that takes place at my uncle’s house and this year, the plan was no different. This is what the day looks like. We get up and go to my uncle’s place early in the morning, my family yells at me for oversleeping and being the last one to get ready, wearing my earrings and fastening my sandals in the car, greeting my relatives and getting started with the celebrations.
This year, this is what my day looked like. I woke up late, scrolled Instagram, did some leftover office work, watched Ellen videos, pottered around in an empty house, and am now typing this, still in my pyjamas.
No, I’ve not turned into an atheist or anti Ganeshotsav activist overnight. I just got hit by the Crimson Wave. I have ‘female problems’. I’m celebrating Shark Week. I’m down (and apparently out). I’m on my period, which you must already know since you’re omniscient.
Ewww, yuck, gross! Bust out the Ganga jal! Sorry to drown the readers’ festive mood in a red sea of grossness, and the squeamish can leave this page and go dance to ‘Jhingaat’ in a Ganpati pandal, but here’s my point. This is not the first time this has happened, and neither am I the first girl to experience this. Literally every girl I know has either dropped out of a plan to come visit you, or worse, has been shunned from your welcome in her own house during her period. When I protested about not being a part of the celebration, I was told, “Ganpati bappa is very strict about this, he doesn’t allow it.” So I thought I should avoid the middlemen and ask you point blank. Do you, son of Parvati, genuinely have a problem with bleeding women? If yes, why so?
Honestly, in my daily life, I’m least bothered by either periods or organized religion. I consider both of them highly unnecessary, bloody (pun intended) unfair, if slightly painful facts of life that you just gird your loins (literally) and deal with. In this country, we may not send our girls to an actual school, but we’re taught this important math pretty early in childhood. Period = Bad. Period = Nothing doing with God for 4 days. It’s so ingrained in us (me included) that entering a place of worship is out of the question during ‘maheene ke wo chaar din’. Our feet automatically halt at the threshold of the temple while others go in, and we pray from outside for the family that forbade us to go in, to the God that refuses to grant us an audience because of a biological occurrence. The prasad is then dropped gingerly into our hands, as if we’re Edwards Scissorhands who will cut you up if touched. Look, I’m not here to tell you about the miracle of birth or how women are magical beings who transport souls wandering in the cosmos into the physical realm in the form of babies through their uteruses (uteri?) and that periods make it possible. I won’t tell you that pickles, tulsi plants, food, flowers and other humans are not going to be infected by some zombie virus if we touch them. I won’t refer to your fellow divine being the Goddess Kamakhya, who is revered even more when she bleeds. Of course you know all that, you don’t miss a thing with those big ears, do you? What I want to tell you, and I mean no offence, is that this time it’s personal. This time, your supposed revulsion for menstruating girls meant that I had to stay away from my family celebrations IN YOUR HONOUR for no reason. Because even if I’m always late for the celebrations, or have to leave in a hurry because of office work, I LOVE celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi with my family. This unwarranted, redundant, archaic taboo kept me from dressing up, from meeting my relatives, from listening to the Atharvashirsha Avartan that makes me feel at peace with myself.
It means that I have to wait another year till I hang out with my amazing family, making wonky misshapen modaks for you, singing the aarti in a way only my family can – simply but with full emotion. It deprived me of a chance to bow down to you and seek your blessings for my plans for the coming year, it deprived me of witnessing the sight of my darling nephew joining his hands in prayer to you, calling you Bappa in his blessed voice. It kept me from posting a selfie with you on Instagram, damn it! #GannuBhaiyyaRocks. For a God who removes obstacles, you’ve placed quite a few in the way of someone who just wants to revel in your divine company while you’re here.
So this is what I want to ask you, and your fellow Gods, across the spectrum of religions and faiths. Why is it that a God, who as legend has it is made from a woman herself, have a problem with a girl’s regular physiological cycle? What makes people so antsy about having a girl on her period around them? How will us being there affect anyone’s bhakti towards you? Why do make it so that people have to be shunned from your presence for a thing that they have no control over? Do you expect all women to pop pills to delay their periods and mess with their cycles just because it makes period shamers uncomfortable? Does the ‘Sukhkarta Dukhharta’ suddenly sound like the screech of a crazed banshee when girls are ‘chumming’? Or are you afraid that we’ll polish off all your modaks and barfis in our glorious period fueled gluttony?
Why is it that we are expected to perform at full capacity at work or at home even when we’re ‘down’, but the simple act of folding our hands in front of you becomes an insurmountable task? Why is it OK for ‘devotees’ to show their love for you by playing ‘Kala Chashma’ and ‘Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai’, drink, abuse and play cards in front of you in the pandal, but God forbid a bleeding woman comes within 3 feet of you? Why can a pandal manager scream ‘Lavkar chal re bhenc**d, line pudhe sarkav’ to devotees while standing at your feet but I can’t say Ganpati Bappa Morya and touch your feet during those ‘khaas din’? And to think your favourite flower is the red hibiscus! Is it just a huge case of misunderstanding, that you never told the so called custodians of faith anything of this sort, and they just banned all women on their periods in a horrific, horrific case of Chinese Whispers? Or is it more sinister than that, a studied and deliberate attempt to make women feel powerless and frustrated, as I am feeling now? The frustration comes from the stonewalling of questions. The response to any protest is, “Because it has always been this way”. Wow, that explains everything, guess I can’t argue with that unassailable logic.
I don’t mean to be angry at you Ganpati Bappa, I mean, look at that face, who can be angry at you for too long? What I am is confused and disappointed. I also wonder whether I should just walk into the nearest Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav right away, and see if the pandal or the priest burst into flames. Or if you smite me with your Ankush if I dare disobey age old rules. These feelings are followed by guilt that I’m somewhere part of the problem, because I, a seemingly emancipated, independent girl, didn’t rebel and go for the pooja. The fear is God forbid if something bad happens to any of the attendees 7-8 months down the line, the blame will be pinned on me and my normal, functioning uterine lining. I hope you can do something about it and pass on some knowledge to the custodians of faith and believers of taboos while you’re here, but even if you don’t, here’s what I can promise you. I will love you and worship you from wherever I am, regardless of whether I can be in the presence of your idol or not. I will live with the ideals that you stand for, despite the discrimination shown against me in your name. I welcome you to my city for these 11 days and hope you have a great time, even if I can’t be a part of the celebration. I will pass on your aartis and stories to my children, and make sure they realize how precious you are.
I also promise that if and when I have a daughter, I will break this circle. She will never feel left out during worship or anything else that she wishes to do, and I won’t look at the days of the month while asking her to join me in prayer. She will have the freedom to feel the barrage of emotions that come with puberty, but guilt and shame will not be a part of them. She will march right up to you whenever she feels like, and demand an audience with you. Be nice to her, and give her your blessings. As you have given me yours. Ganpati Bappa Morya!
Yours forever faithfully,
Anuja is a content writer, Grammar Nazi, avid reader of everything from shampoo bottle labels to complex books. Loves to travel, in real life and through books, movies and flights of fancy. Her hands can be found permanently attached to her music player, smartphone, laptop and hard drive. She blogs at Anuja Talks To Herself.