The first time I felt that sticky wetness between my legs, I panicked. I knew, somehow, that this was it: the beginning of my womanhood. The thought of menstruating did not terrify me as much as the thought of being separated from the rest of the family, the kitchen, the Gods, my joyful everyday life. At twelve years of age, I had not yet learnt to rebel. So I went ahead and confided in my mother.
The following week was undoubtedly the worst a shy adolescent could face. It was humiliating to have to wait for food and water, eat in a separate room, avoid touching anybody and be treated as impure. Never again, I thought to myself, my little heart cannot bear this.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Next time the red flowed, I protested.[/inlinetweet] Quietly, though. I simply didn’t tell anyone about my periods. Blood gushed out, worrying me with stains. My stomach hurt like someone was chewing it from within. I felt restless and weepy most of the time. And yet, I was silent, even forcing myself to smile and converse as I pretended that my periods never made an appearance after the first time. It was only my mother’s sharp eyes that called me out on my lies after around six months.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]“Are you nachhune?” she asked me straight out. Nachhune, which is literally and figuratively ‘untouchable’[/inlinetweet] – the exact reason I began the act in the first place.
My cheeks flushed, heart thudded, legs trembled. I nodded. Rarely had I seen her so disappointed in me. “You do know it’s wrong?” she asked, “What will happen if anyone knows that you have been behaving this way?” I was fully aware of all that would follow – the taunts and barbs, and the shock that I could disrespect the Gods and their orders. Only, I did not think, even for a second, that menstruation was even remotely religious. Even though I had been told this over and over in my short life,[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””] I never believed that I was any the lesser for the red running down my thighs.[/inlinetweet]
This was the thought that I held on to, that helped me chisel down taboos then and forevermore. I knew I was doing no wrong, even if I could not explain it to someone who had been warned that horrid things would happen to all concerned if menstruating females did not torture themselves in the name of culture. From then, until this day, I have dissented through silence. I simply make-believe that I am the period-less woman, period.
It is an extremely difficult act to keep up. So I made the rules as I went along. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Sometimes, during the course of a month, I behaved as if I had my periods [/inlinetweet]– whether or not they coincided with the real thing. This was just to put everyone’s mind at ease. However, I made sure that those days never fell during festivals, rituals, visits to temples, or even to relatives. I’ve lost count of the times that I had my periods right during Dashain, the biggest festival for communities like ours. While friends and relatives feverishly downed tablets to postpone their periods, I simply went ahead to receive the blessings with an abundant amount of rice and curd doused in vermilion pasted to my forehead. When I realized that the blessings worked for me irrespective of my menstrual status, I grew supremely confident.
So this, then, is how I broke free of the taboos that made me feel sick, guilty, and inhuman – I learnt to treat periods as a bodily function and nothing more. I had to rid myself of plenty of conditioning, and I chose to keep quiet about it so that I did not disconcert anyone, but [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]I refused to be treated as anything other than a perfect, functioning, happy young woman during those days.[/inlinetweet]
After marriage, I found another crusader in the form of my husband. Unlike many, many, men around me, he does not think periods are a womanly disease. In fact, he takes very little notice of my periods, except that he is a lot kinder, patient, and understanding. He does not mind when I snap at him, and makes sure I have a mugful of ginger tea as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Other than that, we continue as usual. He grew up with a mother and sister who followed taboos, but he does not find it strange that I cook, and attend religious rituals if required. Often times, I fall asleep with him rubbing the small of my back, trying to make the cramps and aches go away. This is an outrageous and even scandalous thing for us, and especially for him to do. And this is exactly why I feel that the greatest change is possible with strong men, and stronger women, by our sides.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]I do not care anymore if the world paints me red[/inlinetweet] – it is in fact, the most beautiful color to be.
Disclaimer: Views expressed here are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent that of the brand.
Author – Richa Bhattarai
Richa Bhattarai is a communications professional who believes there is not time and space enough for feminist as well as feminine expressions and creations. This personal story is a winning entry for Menstrupedia contest – Victory Chronicles.