Sunday, December 9, 2012

MENSTRUATION. There, I said it again.

It was the eighth or ninth grade in school. I was 14 or 15, and trying to fit in (and failing miserably at it). We had an SUPW project and the teacher made us into random groups of 8. We then picked chits and had to do our project on the chit our group picked. My group had some of the most intelligent, talented and 'cool' girls and boys in it. And since that rarely happened to me, I felt confident our project would be a hit. Our chit said "Women's Problems".

So we started working on this project. We met at a group mate's house and started listing down different issues faced by women - right from foeticide to discrimination at work, to dowry and female genital mutilation. 

Then one boy asked if we should cover women's health problems. I don't remember whether it was me or somebody who brought up 'menstruation'. The boy kind of dismissed it as a 'problem'. So I said, "It hurts! I would know!". 

Everybody froze. The boy managed to mutter out, "I hardly think you should be talking about it like that", horrified that I actually talked about my periods in front of everyone. 

There was an awkward silence - even the girls didn't know what to say. That was the moment everyone just alienated and ridiculed me for making such a statement. At school, even girls ridiculed me for talking about it and I became the outcast. In subsequent projects, boys would whisper in each other's ears about 'what I said' and then gasp in surprise.

I couldn't understand what I did wrong, except know that it was something unacceptable among my school mates. And their mothers, it turned out. Some mothers who LOVED me began to ignore me. And I need hardly say that they were the ones their sons told everything. 

But here's the thing. I never once thought I did something wrong. And because I got ridiculed for it made me realise how far ahead I was, not how uncool. Sure I hated every minute of it. But I knew there was nothing to be ashamed of. It was disappointing that one of the most elite schools in Mumbai had such backward thinking about a very natural, very normal, human process.

I probably wasn't conscious of it then, but am now -- it was one of pivotal moments in my life when it hit me that the bubble we live in during school isn't real. It doesn't matter if the popular kids like you or not. It doesn't matter if you were the prom queen or the teacher's pet. What matters is who you are and being true to that. I was a 14 year old girl, who had hit puberty two years ago and wasn't afraid to talk about it. Hell, the project was 'WOMEN'S problems'. Ask any woman on the street around the world and she will tell you that menstruation is a big one. And although I had no support till the end of school, I want to thank those boys and girls for doing what they did.

It is their ridicule and shock and condescension that made me realise that I wasn't the one who was inappropriate or abnormal. I simply accepted nature and wasn't afraid to talk about it. Had they marveled at my boldness I would have lost the importance of it and thought I was 'cool' and not understood that it doesn't matter if they accepted me or not. I would have gone on another train of thought - far, far away from where I am now.

Where I am now is critical to this past experience. I work in a slum on the periphery of one of Mumbai's biggest dumping grounds. The communities that live here are small and conservative. The children that I work with are between 8 and 18 years (and growing). When I came here, the girls found it difficult to even tell me they had their periods. Because they had been told periods are 'dirty' 'unnatural' and 'unspoken of'. It's just a time of the month you bear silently and try not to stand out. The girls wouldn't even help each other and ridiculed first-timers when they didn't know how to deal with it and didn't have sanitary napkins (which I provided). Seeing this shocked and hurt me. After talking repeatedly with them and explaining how natural a process it is, after two years, I have finally reached a place where they can openly tell me they don't want to come to class because they have their periods. And my colleague is the only male they have indirectly communicated with about this. Probably the only male in their lives. Now they ask questions. They want to know more. And knowledge is the best friend one can have.

They finally have taken one small step forward in understanding that menstruation is a woman's time to bleed and shed the food her body created for the egg which wasn't fertilized. And there's NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Had I not understood that last statement back when it was most important to know, in school, I wouldn't be able to inspire women today to speak up and be open about this beautiful but god-awful process we go through every month.

So thanks, guys and girls of the batch of 2002, for making my life miserable. Because I love what it made me today.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thinkage on the Brinkage

Endless roads I travelled,
Dark corners, abysmal scorn
I reveled and reveled till I could, no more
And left the land of thorns.

Aboard a raft, I have set sail
For sunny thoughts and good cheer
The sea is beginning to calm down
And gladly take me there.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Myths for the Season

I am 26. I'm invincible!
Makes me want to laugh, how many young 'uns have fallen prey to this mythical monster of disillusionment. While I walk around my house like an arthritic old bird, weak knees and all from jumping around with leetal children at work, my friend An0 nurses an injured lower hip from neglect and overzealous sudden exercise, which she thought she could conquer just by being in her twenties. And Dancer Boy Jaggi nurses an overly abused knee from BBoying - I think he's avoiding the doctor in fear of knowing what's really wrong with him this time. According to my physiotherapist the mid-twenties are the prime age for injuries to befall the least-expected places of this age such as the knees and back. You'd think that's reserved for 40-pluses; it makes a good cocktail with mid-life crises and menopause. But noooooo, it happens when we are overconfident, unfit and out to prove to the world: "Yes, even if I never really did it my whole life, I can do this because I'm in my 20s. And that's what 20-somethings are meant to do."

With Age Comes Balls
No pun intended (except, maybe, for the few that the pun really applies to. I wouldn't know anyway). Today I spent my afternoon convincing my physiotherapist - who is almost 40 - that it is okay to stand up to your parents once in a while and take a holiday that is not approved by them i.e. going on your own to a place of your choice, domestic or international. The idea sent some shivers down her spine which she almost perfectly hid. But she was inspired. She lives in that typical South Bombay, conservative Gujju family setup, where you listen blindly to your parents and even though you're educated and experienced professionally and are financially independent and probably running the house, if your dad says 'no' to your going to Leh-Ladakh even after you've booked your tickets, you cancel your trip without a question.

Men and women can be just F.R.I.E.N.D.S
Okay, I knew this one a long time ago, but the ever-hopeful that I am, I keep trying to prove it wrong. But I've come to accept this and now I have a 'que sera sera' kind of attitude. I still do hope for male friends who will remain just that, and they do... for some time. That is enjoyable. But I have begun to trust my instincts much more now. For e.g. when I was with in a relationship, there was a time I felt that Best Friend liked me. I was getting the vibes. But because I wasn't sure of myself and didn't trust my instincts, I asked Boyfriend if he felt it too. He didn't and thought Best Friend was just friendly towards me and nothing more. Besides he liked Tree Spirit Girl... and then Cat Woman. So I was safe. Still, the doubt lingered and I was careful. After Boyfriend and I broke up, during one soulful conversation, he admitted to me that he was in love with me and liked me since the time we first became friends. He never said anything because he thought I was happy with Boyfriend and that was enough. But now he needed me to know because I felt that no one would ever desire or love me again. It was a sweet thing to say and I admit I was flattered. But more than that I was happy that I was right all this time, and I have begun to trust my instincts more. He later on asked me if there was any future between us of a romantic nature. Of course, I said no, because I really don't look at him like that. And I still don't want to lose a friend -- because I do love him. Just not the way he does. And I'd never want to lead him on. Now when I look at my new male friends, I know somewhere deep down, and a very primal and carnal level, there is a level of chemistry and attraction that brings us to each other, and whether we admit it or not, it is never, ever platonic. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vintage Whine

Here's the thing about life.

No matter how successful you are, you will always fail at that one thing.
No matter how much you are loved, you will search for love where you won't get it.
No matter how happy you seem, something saddens you.
No matter how many friends you have, someone despises you.

Knowing this truth helps. It does. Then you can accept it and see that those exceptions really don't matter. And you can go back to living.

But every once in a while, you need reminding.