My first period not only brought to me the reality of menstruation, but also made me realize that an unlikely feminist lurked inside my orthodox grandma!
I had always seen my mother sit in a corner three days of every month. I had been told always that she was unwell those three days. She would be handed a plate, a set of change of clothes, and she would be assigned a bathroom for her use. She would not take bath for three days. I did not like this separation from my mother as she could not touch me and my brother on those days. In fact, she was untouchable those three days.
I had no clue as to why my mom got unwell three days each month. Neither did my school or my friends or my senior schoolmates help me with this query. Perhaps,I was too busy otherwise, to keep wondering and seeking answers to this three day problem.
This went on, till I reached eighth grade. One day, I got up in the morning. I went to toilet and discovered to the horror of my horrors that I had bled in my panty. I panicked. Then, I calmed down as I did not feel any pain. Must be just a small injury, I thought. I just changed and went on with my morning routine.
After some time, I went to take bath. Again, I discovered that there was blood staining my lingerie. I felt no discomfort whatsoever. Moreover,I was getting late for school. I took bath, changed into a fresh panty. Then I wore my uniform and started to get my bag packed. I called out to my mom for giving me breakfast. She called out to me, “Come here.” I was irritated. I went anyway.
She told me “You have grown up. Please wear this in your panty.” She handed me a folded piece of cloth. I was unable to understand anything. I asked , “Why? ”
“You have started menstruating. You please wear this. You are going to bleed more. And unless you wear this cloth in your panty, there could be stains on your dress. Take these safety pins and tuck this inside the panty,” she ordered.
She asked me if I wanted to go to school. I thought, she has told me I am going to bleed again. And I have to wear this cloth. Better to stay at home. I said, “No, I will not go to school.” I asked her why was I bleeding and my mom simply said, “You will learn in school.”
My grandma took over after she got up. She had been sleeping in the morning as she was not keeping well. She told me that I will have to sit in a corner just like my mom would sit whenever she was unwell. That meant that mom bled every month and that too three days. I told grandma that I did feel okay and yet, she did not agree. She was one adamant woman.
I had to give in. My mom had no voice. This I had observed since I had been small. Grandma would have her way. I was upset. I cried. I couldn’t understand why I had to sit apart from others, eat apart from others, and many more things. I had to change the cloth many times in a day. I was to sleep in the corner on a blanket on the floor. I had to wash the stained clothes also. It was decided that I would miss school for three days while I bled. From the fourth day onward, I would attend school.
The next day, my classmate came home to ask, why I skipped school. She saw me in the corner. She had come of age before me, I guessed that day. Perhaps she guessed my condition. Perhaps, because, in her home, I don’t think, they were orthodox like my home. So, she might not have been segregated. She had elder sisters. So she must have realised this, before she came of age. She left some time later. We did not talk much as I was quite ashamed of being segregated. She understood and left.
The second day, my neighbour came home for dinner. I slept, or rather pretended to sleep. I told my parents that they need not be told about my coming of age. The neighbours came and wondered why I had slept so early. Thankfully, they did not venture into the bedroom.
The three days of torture were over. I was told to take head bath on the fourth day early in the morning. And then I was allowed all activities just like any day. My separation had ended.
The same day, one of our family friends visited us. Ajji & amma told the aunty about me. She was from our community, and was held in high regard at home. She was informed that I had grown up. Ajji said that I was told to keep apart from the family on the three crucial days I was bleeding.
The aunty reasoned with my grandma. She told her that nowadays nobody goes by such orthodox traditions & customs. Moreover, such segregation may have a very bad effect on the teenage girl, that is myself. Aunty told my Ajji that I cannot keep missing school three days each month in such higher grade which will be rising year by year.
After this talk, my Ajji was a changed woman. No, she didn’t get liberal overnight. She must have reasoned that I was the only female grandchild. She wanted me to grow up into a responsible adult. The aunt’s persuasive skills had won over Ajji.
Next time, I got my periods, I was not made to stay apart. I was just treated normally. Of course, I was not allowed to worship or pray openly. I say openly because, in our subconscious mind, we can do anything. There are no fences there.
I have never understood till today how my grandma agreed to what our family friend told her about not segregating me. She was adamant and orthodox to the core. Yes, she would bend rules when she felt it was not justifiable. Maybe she felt, I would be singled out in school and in the colony where we resided. We stayed in North India in a cosmopolitan set up where people from all over India resided. I am from the ultra-orthodox Madhwa Brahmin community.
Whatever the reason, my Ajji broke her rules or rather rules of her caste for the sake of her only granddaughter, that is me. That makes her a feminist, isn’t it? And that aunt, who convinced my ajji, a proactive feminist!
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