“Why weren’t we invited for the 2-hour session? Why only girls? Why this discrimination?”, all the boys in our class wondered. The girls in my class at school one day were sent to a ‘special’ session and all the boys were sent for a prolonged 2-hour long sports class which took place for the first time in our school lives. All of us boys were happy to be on the sports field but our curious minds were elsewhere. No hints or clues were given to us about this first of its kind all-girls meeting. There was nothing the boys could do except wait for the girls to come back when we could ask them upfront about what all this fuss was all about.The girls, after the session, were returning back to the class and some of the boys happened to notice that each of the girls were slyly carrying a packet which they hid in their bags as soon as they returned to the classroom.

During lunch break that day, a brave friend who was representing the rest of us acting as a spy,sneaked into the classroom when no one was around and peeped into one of the girl’s schoolbag. He came back running to the rest of us with a sense of accomplishment. He declared, “It’s Stayfree!” and added”Arre! Haven’t you seen the ad that comes on TV where they pour blue colored liquid on a pad? It’s that”. When he saw that quite a few of us 10-year-olds were clueless, he shared more knowledge with us based on the ‘extensive research’ he had done on menstruation. He revealed that these pads were similar to diapers that infants use and its just that these were made for girls and women. I realized after a few years how imaginative my friend was and by now I hope the others have become the same way too. This new piece of discovery then planted a question in my head, “Why can’t the girls use the bathroom which is close by on the same floor as the classroom? Why do they have to pee into these pads? Why?”

Little did I know that this was just the beginning for the further confusion that I’d be lead into. Another incident which I found amusing involved a friend of mine. He fell for a prank played by his friend on him, where he was told to ask the girl sitting next to him, “What is Whisper?” The girl was horrified and complained to the teacher. My poor friend was sent out of class, given serious punishment, and was also asked to get his parents to school.

This was the last straw after which I didn’t dare to question, at least at school, about any of this highly confidential information that everyone kept so mum about.

Girls and women in my family would sometimes skip visits to temples and refrain from attending ceremonies, not perform poojas at home, skip school/college, have abdominal  cramps or pain, slyly carry home some kind of a secret weapon wrapped in newspapers packed in a black polythene bag, and engage in many more such ‘abnormal’ activities. At one point, I got really curious, walked up to my mother and asked her to help me solve this mystery to which she just said, “It’s a girl thing!” and of course, as you can imagine, that lead me nowhere.

I had no clue about what menstruation, or menstrual cycles, or periods meant until my late teens. When I think about all the events from my childhood,I realize that everything related to menstruation was secretive. Except for one thing.

There is this practice that I cannot wrap my head around even to this day: the extravaganza that family and friends are a part of, called a ‘Puberty function’ that a lot of traditional families, especially in South India, celebrate.

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The moment I realized why this was celebrated, I was in a state of shock. Don’t we as adults have any sense of responsibility at all? Have we even once thought about the embarrassment the girl is put through, especially when she is already under stress with the changes that her body is going through? Isn’t it more important to sit down with our young girls and explain to them that what is happening is completely normal and that there is nothing to worry about?

We are absolutely fine with celebrating such an event publicly but we work with the pharmacy guy as a team and make sure the process of purchasing sanitary napkins is as discreet as possible. Would it be wrong to say that our reasoning skills have been wrecked?

All of us, men and women and others, together have made the world what it is today. Therefore, the responsibility also lies with both men and women to change our attitudes and fix what is broken.We as a society, need to change our mindset and stop limiting education to academics alone. Boys and girls learning about themselves and their bodies is as important as learning numbers and alphabets.

It all begins with starting a conversation at home where we normalize period talk and men need to be made a part of this very important conversation.

This is a Winning Entry for Men and Menstruation Contest held by Menstrupedia.

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Author – Sanjay Mucharla

Until recently, Sanjay was working with Project KHEL in Lucknow on a life skills based program for underprivileged children. He is currently working on launching a social project and is utilizing his free time reading, and being a homemaker. He loves picking up new skills, latest ones being learning to play Tabla, and make perfectly round and fluffy rotis! You can drop him an email at sanjay.mucharla@gmail.com

Edited by – Divya Rosaline