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I Broke The Silence To Interview My Mother And Grandmother On Periods

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

I spoke to three generations of women—my grandmother, mother, and me; to understand how menstruation and ideas around it have changed or not, across time.

Hena Basu, dida, was born on 31 August 1935. She had nine siblings and her father was a doctor at the Cellular Jail in Malda. She is 85 now. Her marriage was arranged with my late grandfather when she was 18 and she went from Kolkata, West Bengal to Raipur, Chhattisgarh. A mother to 5 daughters.

Sheeooli Nag, ma, was born on 26 December 1965. She is 55 now. She was born and brought up in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. She moved to Kolkata for her job and works at the Datacore group as a Project Manager.

Born in 1996, I am 24 now. I was born and brought up in Kolkata where I completed my studies and am also currently situated.

Image design by Rupsa Nag
  • When Did You Start Menstruating?

Hena: Around fifteen years I think.

Sheeooli: Around twelve years old.

Rupsa: Thirteen years old.

  • What Menstrual Product Did You Use?

Hena: Cloth. They were cut from old sarees, folded over and over to make it thick and layered, placed inside the underwear and held together by a string attached around the waist. We changed it daily, washed it with soap, and dried in the sun. One cloth lasted 3 days after which it was discarded. Because I used cloth and wanted my girls to use the best quality product.

Sheeooli: Cloth then pad. Pads like the kind available in hospitals and after that Carefree and then Stayfree. Now I use whisper.

Rupsa: Whisper Ultra XL green. It caused skin issues so I shifted to Ultra Soft which still causes sores and rashes. I wish to switch to a menstrual cup soon.

  • How Did/Do You Dispose It?

Hena: After it was washed after the final use, it was thrown along with the garbage. It was not burnt because what if something happens if it is burnt? You know, it is not regular cloth, something could happen, it was a superstition of sorts.

Sheeooli: We washed it in the soap after use. Because it was reusable, they lasted around three months if maintained well. For disposal, we wrapped it (washed cloth) in paper and threw it with household garbage when the collector used to come. For pads, I followed the same process, and now pads I throw them in the packet they already come in.

Rupsa: I wrap it in the packet it comes in and throw it in the dustbin but recently learned that I should also use a newspaper and mark it with a red dot.

  • You Said You Washed It, So Was It Put Out To Dry In The Open?

Hena: Not completely, but yes a bit because those things could not be out in the open, especially back then. Didi instructed, ‘Rode rekhe keu jeno na dekhe, shukno holey uthiye nibi’ (Put it out to dry in the sun, ensure nobody sees it.)

Sheeooli: Same for us. It was kept out of visibility.

Rupsa: I used to hide my pad inside my clothes when taking it with me to the washroom inside my home because that is what I saw my mother do. I do not do it anymore and am not uncomfortable if my products are visible to others.

  • Who Took Care Of Your Menstrual Needs As A Kid?

Hena: My didi. I lost my mother as a child; I have no memory of her. Didi used to show me everything and make the pads for me.

Sheeooli: My mother made us shift from cloth to pads. My father would source it from the hospital; we do not exactly know how it came because this was never discussed.

Rupsa: My mother and father.

  • Did You Ever Seek Help From Any Male Member Of The Household?

Hena: We were 10 siblings. Didi took care of all the sisters’ needs and no one else was involved in it. Such things were highly concealed and done very carefully so that nothing is visible on the outside.

Sheeooli: Yes, I have, with my husband. I have never discussed it with anyone other than him.

Rupsa: Yes, my father. He even gave me a book on the female body, sexuality, and taking care of it. He had bought it to educate himself when my mother was pregnant. I like to think of it as an heirloom now.

  • Did You Go To School While On Your Periods?

Hena: Yes. With greater protection like more cloth would be stuffed in and it would be tied very tightly to prevent leakage. I also carried spare cloth.

Sheeooli: Yes.

Rupsa: Yes.

  • Your PMS Experience?

Hena: I cannot recall. These things used to stay undercover. Kauke na bole bole hoyto bhuleo gechi (By remaining silent consistently, I’ve probably forgotten what I experienced.) Mone hoto karur e jokhon hoyna, amaro hoyna, ek i rokom toh (Used to feel that if this is what everyone experiences, then mine would be same as theirs.)

Sheeooli: Fatigue, pain in the legs, mood swings.

Rupsa: Severe cramps for which I take Mag Phos but medicines don’t always help. I get fatigued, nausea, leg pain, mood swings, energy rush, and more.

  • Any Period Rules? Do They Feel Justified Enough?

Hena: Nothing great just no entering thakurghor (worship place), touching things there and touching worship equipment or flowers. It was not like we were prevented from entering kitchens or anything but we were just on our toes all the time because back in the day people were ‘shuchibaigrostho’ (obsessed over superstitious cleanliness). It seems wrong now.

Sheeooli: We were told to be more aware of those days. Make sure we do not touch any things of worship. Nothing else. It is not a problem if someone worships on those days but to each their own.

Rupsa: To not touch anything meant for worship. Barred from Durga Puja prayers until my mother said one day, let’s go, no one will know anyway. They were passionately justified. But the justifications were illogical and vague to me.

  • Did/Do You Regularly Go For An Ob-Gyn Check-Up?

Hena: No. We never went to the doctor. My father was a doctor but he was busy with his work and we couldn’t discuss such things with him, neither did he. I have seen my daughters’ cousin be taken to the doctor because she suffered extreme cramps. She felt so much pain that I used to be up by her side all night.

Sheeooli: No.

Rupsa: Not regularly but only for my severe cramps.

  • Was This Addressed At School?

Hena: In school, my subjects were history, geography, math, and art. I never recall studying science in lower classes too or anything about the reproductive system. Nobody ever talked about it so I do not even know about it.

Sheeooli: No, never.

Rupsa: No. In fact at school, I remember several instances of announcements asking girls to stay back after morning assembly. It was basically the time to discuss ‘girls’ washroom’ issues like, ‘Who disposed of the pad badly? It is dirty and should be properly disposed of.’ While teaching clean disposal is fine, the overwhelming secrecy was really problematic now that I look back. In fact, one time, upon hearing a female classmate’s complaint, a teacher accused me of talking to my two best friends who happened to be boys about periods. It’s a different thing that I didn’t do it but I did not think doing it was wrong even then. The incident, in fact, pushed me to be open about it thereon.

Picture credit: Siskathecat on

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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