“Come on,” she said. “Don’t be shy. You can say it.”
An incoherent murmur echoed through the dark auditorium.
“You can do better than that. Come on, loud and clear,” she urged again.
We did a little better this time around and she accepted it. She probably realised that she was not going to get us to be much louder and clearer than that. This was about 10 years ago at a show of The Vagina Monologues and the word one of the performers was imploring us to say aloud was – vagina. I had kept mum, not bothering to mutter much less shout out like she had wanted us to. I had not seen the point of the exercise. Did saying the word vagina, make us more open-minded? What did it achieve?
I remember in school up until Grade 5-6, we would say Maths period, Science period, English period. But, somewhere around Grade 7 a hesitancy got lodged before the word period. It was almost like every time the word was mentioned it was a reference to the menstrual cycle. And for some reason the reference was a source of embarrassment. Which was strange considering mine was a girls’ school. Over the years, I have used many terms to refer to my period – It’s that time of the month, I’m chumming…also something as vague as ‘I’ve got mine’.
As someone who considers herself a widely open-minded, difficult to shock, modern woman, I find it difficult to accept that I do have this prudish side to me.
I am not wildly keen to watch Akshay Kumar’s Padman. I am not big on films that seek to educate and reform. They almost always adopt a preachy tone and at some opportune moment involve a lecture by the protagonist. To some extent, Padman does fall into the trap like most ‘message movies’ but to its credit, it’s done in charming manner. This is largely possible because of the humaneness of the protagonist. At no point does he take on a holier-than-thou attitude. His social awkwardness makes him likeable, a trait far more difficult to achieve than loveable.
How far will the film be successful in erasing out the many taboos associated with menstruation is debatable and to an extent not really relevant. Films are not meant to carry the onus of societal revolution. The fact that a film about menstruation is playing in movie theatres to packed audiences comprising of women men is some achievement.
“Have you ever used the word period before your dad or brother?” I ask my friend after the film.
“Nope,” she says.
Why, I wonder. Why have I, a widely open-minded, modern woman been compelled to be vague about a monthly bodily function? In that sense, I feel responsible for adding to the taboo quotient of the subject. It does not make me appear much better than those who steer a mile clear of menstruating women for the fear of being defiled. Or those who debar them from participating in ceremonies and rituals. To change these mindsets is a big ask…a good start would be to call it out. So, here goes…period.