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On a field visit to assess a textile plant in Madhya Pradesh, I was caught between my periods and no toilets for women. Now what?
I was a newly minted Project Manager, leading a “team” of two, conducting a project appraisal of a textile unit near Indore. It didn’t matter that neither of us knew anything about the textile industry- we could analyse balance sheets and project cashflows, the rest we could pick up on the job!
Our flight landed in the afternoon, and in our excitement, we decided to drive straight to the factory. It was a shiny white building set in a landscape with perfectly manicured lawns and brightly coloured flower beds. We were ushered into a swanky boardroom and served tea in bone china cups.
I wondered if we were at a textile unit in Madhya Pradesh or a swanky office tower in Worli! I didn’t have to think too long, though. I had my answer when I asked to use the washroom.
Our hosts looked uncomfortable and exchanged glances, before one guiltily cleared his throat and informed me that since there were no women employed in the plant, nobody had thought to put in washrooms for women! I looked out of the window and saw the army of women sweeping dried leaves and pulling out weeds- “what about them?”, I wanted to ask, but didn’t. I knew that they were quite invisible to the management and it was extremely unlikely anyone had thought to provide a washroom for them.
It is only for two days, I told myself. I would just have to do what I used to do during my undergraduate days- drink less water and use those pelvic muscles. I could do it! My only worry was that I shouldn’t get my periods early.
Anyone who knew me knew that my periods always arrived like clockwork. Exactly 30 days from one period to the next- never a day early, never a day late. My periods weren’t due for another two days, so I wasn’t too worried. Yet, to be safe, I had a chat with My Periods that night-
‘Listen, that place doesn’t even have a washroom. You better not come early, or it will be extremely inconvenient for you”, I told my periods sternly. “I hear you”, My Periods replied.
I refused a second cup of coffee at breakfast the next day, and made a trip to the washroom before leaving for the plant. Almost as an afterthought I slipped on a sanitary napkin. I wasn’t expecting my periods but thought it was better to err on the side of caution. Just as the car was turning into the driveway, I had a familiar sensation. “Hi there. I’m here. Did anybody miss me”, My Periods announced. “But you weren’t supposed to come till tomorrow”, I snarled, “didn’t you promise me you wouldn’t?” “I did, but since you didn’t trust me, I decided to surprise you”, she replied with more glee than necessary.
There was not much I could do except grin and bear it. At least I hadn’t been caught unawares. That would have been truly calamitous, I told myself. At least it was the first day- the flow would be moderate, and I could manage.
I had consoled myself too fast! It was a heavier flow than usual and by lunchtime I knew I had no choice but to change my sanitary napkin. But how?
My “team” comprised of a newly minted Chartered Accountant who had studied in all-male educational institutions all his life. Did he even know about the existence of periods, much less what happened to women when they got their periods? Only one way to find out. I had to take him into confidence- there was no way I could do what I needed to do without his active co-operation.
I tried explaining my predicament, but he started looking queasy when I got into details. I decided to omit the gory details and only tell him what he needed to do. He had to first check that the washroom was empty, and then stand guard outside it to ensure that nobody came in while I was inside. He was clearly uncomfortable with the task, but didn’t have much say in the matter.
I tiptoed into the space where no woman had gone before. I scrunched up my nose against the smell, looked away from the row of urinals, and concentrated on reaching my target- the three closed stalls at the end.
I peeled off the old sanitary napkin and slipped on a fresh one. I was not a moment too soon- had I waited another half an hour, my plain kurta would have certainly been embellished with some patterns! One task accomplished, I had a bigger one on my hands- how to destroy the evidence? I looked around for a closed dustbin. None! None in the stall. None near the basins. None anywhere. Didn’t men generate any waste? Or did they just dump it wherever they chose?
The skylight looked tempting, but I wasn’t sure of the orientation of the washroom. What if the incriminating evidence declaring my femaleness landed on the highly polished bonnet of a parked car? No, I couldn’t risk throwing the napkin; it has to be annihilated. It would have to tear it into tiny portions and flush it down the pot. Hopefully, by the time the blockage became bad enough to call a plumber the object blocking the pipes would have become indistinguishable from the normal blockage found in such locations.
I was air-drying my hands after washing them, when I heard the anxious voice of my colleague. I made haste and stepped out of the washroom just as someone else was entering. He avoided my eyes, but I refused to look guilty. The Mission Impossible theme song was playing in my ears!
Image source: woman washing hands by bisual photos, Free for Canva Pro
Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...
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