The Forbidden Tales Of Growing Up In A Boy’s School

So, what do we feel when conversations drift to our adolescent years? A blissful nostalgia overwhelms us as we tread through those formative years of our lives. We talk endlessly about the sports we played, the adventures we had, the mingling of a bunch of friends soaked in a perennial brush of spring in our undying spirits. The fights, the bantering, the classes, the teachers, the wrong things that went right and the right things that went wrong… the list is endless.

We talk about the open spaces available, we talk about the greenery, we talk about a life in which being the person we were meant more than anything else. We often dream about going back to the ‘good old days’.  In all our social discussions on the ‘best days’, one tale is seldom mentioned. And even back then, it was discussed in hush-hush tones, until of course, it so pre-occupied every discussion that the calm tones resonated like a full-score orchestra. Yes, I am talking about the dreaded three-letter word from our childhood and our first acquaintance to the bees and birds talk.

I have read some writers (mostly from the West) talk about their incessant mental preparation to deal with the innocent queries of their growing children and how well or badly they delivered their first sermon. I often wonder what hell might have broken loose if I had in the ‘good old days’ innocuously asked my father about it. If I had survived with a mild physical battering, it would have been one of those days when my father would be in a good mood with lady luck beaming at me.  So, how did I know about ‘that thing’? How did I, rather, we react? My journey in this discovery would be reminiscent to all lads of our generation from middle-class families and educated in a boy’s school. So let the forbidden track be unravelled: let’s talk about SEX!

It all started with a discussion with a few buddies from the neighbourhood when we were 11 years old during the summer vacations. The discussion about “how babies are born” was taking place in an old abandoned hut, with voices low and apprehensive, so as to not arouse the curiosity of any passerby. All four of us had four different explanations: one said the woman’s stomach had to be cut, and the other opined that it was the belly button while I was sure it had something to do with the anus. It was the fourth lad who led who stumped us all with his sacrilegious certainty that it came out from “that place” in a woman’s body and something was done to put the baby in the stomach in the first place. This something he explained in barely audible voice was sex!

I could not believe his nonsense and decided to pursue the matter further with an older guy whom I had befriended some time back. So, I gathered all the courage and asked him about it. He gave that wry smile and explained everything; everything to the minutest detail. ‘Stunned’ would be an understatement. For the next week, that was this only thing that I could think about, till I was sufficiently confident, that I could explain it to a friend of mine.

So it took a fine Sunday afternoon to present my newfound wisdom to my friend. He got so worked up that it was nearly dark when the discussion came to end. The last part of the discussion is still vividly clear in my memory when he asked me which girl I would like to have sex with. Swine! That little rascal!

Back in the classroom in school, as if by sheer miracle, half the class at nearly the same time had had their first brush with the idea of sex. That summer vacation, we had magically uncovered the biggest secrets of our little lives. Some of the newbies were given thorough lessons and with so many teachers at their disposal, it didn’t take time. So, every subject break was dominated by the topic. Sports, our favourite topic otherwise, had been pushed to the back-burner.

The sheer shock in the face of some of the boys when they discovered the truth was a sight of pure pleasure.  As days and months rolled by, sex was no longer a topic discussed in the closet. By the time, our voices changed, as we hit puberty, sex was discussed in the open amongst friends with little inhibition. The one with the highest knowledge was generally the coolest dude in the class. And the sure shot claim to fame was to bring a condom to the class and blow it in the shape of a balloon. And undoubtedly the gossip on that particular day revolved around that balloon.

However, a strange thing started to happen over a period of time. The class, as if by the sneering laws of caste system, got divided into three distinct groups. The studious boys with their manners and lesson was one group, the back-benchers (incidentally most of them were large-sized) with their expletives and muscle power was the other group, while misfits like us formed the third, navigating between the two worlds.

This was the time when the fantasy world of Mermaid and Debonair made a dramatic entry into our teenage lives.  It was available in the last rows of the class. The first glance of a naked Caucasian woman would send our already raging hormones into tipsy. And there was the variety to choose from: playing cards with the naked back to the naked front, postcards, magazines, stories et al. Everyone wanted a pie of this infinite treasure, even the gentle souls of the first seat. But one glance at any of it had the potential to break that carefully conjured social structure of the class. But I am sure everyone had a fantasy world of their own.

A crowd in the last benches with some prying eyes guarding the window during the class break meant that some porn star with enormous bosoms was gazing us with her lusty eyes. A few boys were also caught red-handed while relishing the holy books. A few parents call, a few warnings; however in a few days’ time everything was normal, the old status quo had to be maintained.

Mundane things like mating of dogs in the streets aroused such interest in us that we could stand there and watch them do it for a few minutes if the street was deserted. Some of the more sinister ones would hurl stones to separate the beasts in their soulful union.

One of the most dramatic scenes in school was in the Biology class. One of the first benchers shot his arm out and asked the teacher the meaning of “semen”. I could literally hear the collective sigh of the entire class! If we could, by magic, make the teacher disappear, the scenes in the class would resemble such chaotic assemblage of laughter that it would have shaken the whole school building. The teacher took time to answer and gauging by the reaction of his classmates, the lad understood that he had ventured into the forbidden zone of sex. I doubt he even half listened to the feeble attempt at the explanation of the teacher. He was undoubtedly more worried about post class reaction of the school press!

In the next year, by the time we had graduated to ogling girls in the nearby girls’ school, there were these two most exciting chapters in biology: Reproduction 1 and Reproduction 2. The Biology instructor was a pretty, young, unmarried lady. But alas, those two chapters were not included in the syllabus. I had never seen the boys so agitated at being denied something to study. But we were students from an all boys’ school and each one of us would read and reread the two chapters for many months. Some of the boys had also drawn a funny caricature of the private parts of the human anatomy in our Science book. The benches of the classes and the toilets were also the places where these caricature artists were in full flow. Cartoons of sex scenes, over-sized penises, profane expletives adorned all desks in the class except one: the class teacher’s!

So that is the way it went and as the years rolled by, we completed school in the year 2000. And over the years, as the raging hormones gradually subsided, I wonder how different it would have been had I been able to ask my father about sex and he politely answered all my queries. Would growing up in a boy’s school still be that exciting? Well, I simply don’t care much. I would not have it any other way!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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