By Lipi Mehta:
In terms of size, Terminal 3 of Delhi’s airport could well parade as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There are so many ups and downs, lengths and breadths, and hardly any time to stop for the goodies. I huffed and puffed my way across the terminal, finally finding a place to sit. A middle-aged man shuffled in his seat next to me, giving me a disapproving look. “Always late, these youngsters.”
I lifted my backpack onto my lap and decided to stare at it so Uncle would feel more comfortable. I was thinking of how to while my time when I suddenly felt it. In spite of playing ‘Is it? Is it not?’ with me for days, there was no doubt about it this time. I unzipped my bag quickly and rummaged through its contents. “Phew!” I thought. Just then, Uncle caught a glimpse of what I had just shoved back in my bag and widened his eyes.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is…
As a child, I always spoke about mens-trua-tion in hushed voices and so did everyone around me. Thankfully, this changed as I grew up and soon enough, there was little reason to use euphemisms—Time of the Month, You Know What, The One Who Must Not Be Named. And that day, at Delhi airport, I strutted in confidently into the washroom, armed with my trusty Whisper Ultra.
As I took out the sanitary pad from my bag, a woman waiting for her turn at the adjoining cubicle gasped loudly. “You should have thought twice, young woman!” I looked at her, wondering whether to say something to her or not. I decided not to, but made a mental note to tell my mom. By the time we both stepped inside the cubicles, I was itching to ask my now pee-buddy, “How are you okay with me listening to this steady stream of trickle but shocked when I take out that one thing that aids one of the most natural and normal process that you and I both experience?”
Aunty was aghast even when I stepped out of the bathroom and told me with her eyes, “I know what you’ve just done.” She washed her hands and walked out swiftly. I stared at her disappearing figure for a few seconds, strongly feeling that unless more and more people (especially women themselves) speak openly about period taboos, very little will change. After a long time, I had been made aware of something normal, something I didn’t choose, something that is a symbol of my good health and something that I should never ever have to feel shame or embarrassment for.
Like many girls, the earliest such memory I have, of being made aware of having my period, is at family gatherings. Mom would blink and gesture to the other women in the room and I would hear a synchronized chorus of “Aahs” and “Oohs” followed by knowing and approving nods. Charming. Another one that I distinctly remember is of the time when I was 15. During a football match, a teammate screamed to me, “Stay free! Stay free!” only to hear a boy loudly say, “Secure!” behind my back. I wanted to hug all my girlfriends and say, “We are in this together.” (Also probably the first time I wanted to punch a boy.)
I guess the least young girls expect (and so did I) is to not be made aware of this as much as be told about it in an informed way. For instance, there are so many questions that demand answers. In Bossypants, Tina Fey quotes a ‘My First Period Kit’, that she was gifted when she was young. A girl called Pam asks, “I finally got my ‘friend’ today!! Yay!! It’s about time!! If I roller-skate while I am MEN-STRU-HATING, will I die?” Well no Pam, you won’t. You could also wear pearly white shorts and play tennis or wear white pants and take your dog for a walk. Pam’s question is just one of the many that girls have in their mind when one day, out of nowhere, they are told that they are ‘women’ now. And if I may, what was I all this while?
Finally, as I sat in the flight (yes, we were still at Delhi airport), my head was swirling with the thoughts of Uncle and then Aunty, and about writing a piece such as this one. My thoughts were interrupted by my co-passenger who had realized that copy of the in-flight magazine was missing. When the air-hostess handed him one, he said, “This was different last week. Is this a weekly?”
“No sir,” she smiled. “It’s a monthly.”