It was a telling post that I saw on Facebook that helped me make up my mind on the topic I should write on today. When I was younger, advertisements would pop up in magazines, talking about “those four days” when women “were down”. Women used to discuss the topic, covering up the actual event, (for it was one!) with substitute phrases like “chums” and “my Aunty”. God alone knows what the poor Aunty had to do with it, anyway!
Women would be “Carefree” and “Stay free”, even as they “Whispered” about their condition. It was as if having a period was a taboo subject, not to be mentioned, much like the villain in Harry Potter books. (I don’t dare mention his name, you see!)
Of course there is a reason why men were not inflicted with "the curse", which is yet another imaginative way of referring to the subject.
Only a woman undergoing PMS knows the agonies she goes through. She feels out of sorts and often her temper goes through the roof.
The situation was worse, in the past, in big draughty houses in Kerala, when there were cavernous rooms and tiny bathrooms, often located outside. This was highly inconvenient, especially for women, but much safer than it is for women these days, who have to go to the fields, which double up as open bathrooms.
Going back to the big draughty houses, there would be one small room, dark and dingy, which was specially for women having their periods. They would be sequestered within for the four or five days when they were “unclean”, and even their food would be brought to them. They would have to wash their own sheets, and stay within, so that they would not pollute any of the other inmates in the house by touching them. I shudder to think what they went through, crouching in the dark, doubled over with cramps and back aches!
I recall my mother telling me how she and her family would go down to their ancestral home from Bombay (that was the name in those days!) for their summer vacations. Once, she had invited some friends along with her. There was a special function at the Devi temple, and unfortunately, one of her close friends came down with her periods. My mother’s grandmother was a petite woman with a will of iron. She forbade the girl from taking part in any of the activities. Wasn't cleanliness next to Godliness? Obviously not in a temple!
My mother, who was equally strong willed tried to change the old lady’s mind, but she was obdurate. “She cannot come into the temple! Not when she is unclean!”
Unconvinced, my mother stood her ground. “But, Ammamma (Grandmother), what is unclean about her having her periods? Isn’t the Devi in the temple also a woman? Doesn’t She have Her periods as well?”
Her grandmother was speechless, and for once, she did not have any justification. Suffice it to say that my mother’s friend was allowed to watch from a safe distance, which was a big concession on the part of my great grandmother.
Today women are coming out and speaking about having their periods openly, with the chums and Aunties having made a graceful exit.
Temples still do not allow menstruating women in the premises. The mindset is to firmly entrenched against the concept, and the combination of grandma’s tales, old customs and taboos will ensure that this concept of being “unclean’ is here to stay.
And finally, let me hark back to the one post that put this idea into my head. Maybe it will open up not only a discussion, but also put to rest the more ludicrous aspects of menstruation. Period!