My tryst with Periods’ Taboos

Firstly, let me put forth the need to write an article on a topic, which either had sparked controversy or hardly been given any volume above 15 dB.  And it is no way a subjective opinion to say that Menstruation is no big a deal; There is no good reason why one should term women as ‘an impure matter’. I am of an impression that a mere secondary school education would be sufficient to attain such an enlightenment.  But to my disappointment, like everywhere else, education hasn’t translated to common sense; neither people could stand by scientific temper. Hence there are in numerous women friends of mine, who categorises themselves as impure during periods and would exercise voluntary discrimination by letting themselves out of temple festivals or family festivals. I am so tempted to shout at those friends and this is one such way, I believe.

Although, an atheist now, I had a cyclic lows and highs on spiritual beliefs. Even when I had faith in God, I never resorted to statue worship. If God exists, he/she should be omnipresent, which was my ideology. On that scale, it is too absurd to confine God within four walls and I wasn’t particularly interested to visit temples. I could count and tell the number of times, I had been to temple.

But there was a day in which, an excessive urge was created in me, to everyone’s dismay. That was around the Tamizh month of Margazhi, where the temple processions start very early in the morning (4:30 – 5:00 am).  The general ritual was that the processions to our local deity would be sponsored by our family on 1st of Margazhi and our presence on that day is an implied case.  Should anyone come and ask for my interest, the answer would have been an outright NO, for me being a night owl and not being inclined to temple rituals.

It all started with my mom saying, “We all are going and you’re not supposed to come”.  I asked why, although I knew the answer, for which she replied as “Nee theettu aagirukka”(Literal translation is that You are menstruating!) The phrase which is commonly used to refer menstruation in Tamizh parlance is, Theettu (Untouchable). This particular word, I presume is outdated now, used only within elderly people or rural spaces. There is another euphemistic word in place, if relatives or neighbours ask for your daughter and she is absent for that eve, the answer goes like ‘Ava varakkudaadhu (She shouldn’t come)’. The former phrase irks me equivalent to the scale of ‘Ratchagan Nagarjuna during that patriotic sequence’, the latter makes me ROFL.

But I retorted that I would come, no matter what! This particular line had evoked series of responses within my family. Being in a joint family, I had done a clean job in providing fodder for their talks for a week or so. I was overwhelmed that my menstruation was advertised to almost everyone within my family. Though I was against all these insane discriminatory practices, I was not really comfortable with the fact that my dad or brother might get to know, let alone other men in the family.

The subsequent days saw me confronting with almost all ladies of my home. Barring my mom, everyone relied on peaceful talks to make me relent to their cause. I was unresponsive beyond a nod and would just walk away once their talks are over. It was mentally painful, but wasn’t ready to give-up. Having encountered my stubbornness, the group discussion escalated to the next level –  as a result of which, they tried  arriving at a pact which is intermediate between the extremes, myself and the other party was holding to. The conclusion was that she could go up to Kali’s statue as it would anyway be 4th day for her (Not aware of the theory behind the difference 1st and 4th day could make!) and she should refrain from worshipping Mariamman, who resides at sanctum-sanctorum. But I failed to give an affirmative nod. For four days, I was choked with these sorts of discussions and needless to mention the distaste within my family members for my behaviour.

It is no-brainer to imagine that these talks would have had reached my dad’s and brother’s ears too. They were no longer discreet. The next morning, the temple procession is about to happen and what made me baffled was my dad’s reaction to all these chaos and he told in a polite tone, “Nee varakkudadhu ma” (You’re not supposed to come, dear!). I was embarassed and hurt at the same time ; Later comforted myself in my bed under my pillow. My brother downplayed this time and did not take any active stand amidst these chaos.

I was teased by my brother during my school days that have I ever seen sunrise. To see the light of the day anytime before 7 am is an herculean task for me. It usually takes four people effort to make me wake up even after 7 am but then I was supposed to wake up early for the auspicious eve, without anyone’s support. I was pretty much sure, even if I request for to wake me up, nobody would heed to, as that was their plan to keep me out of temple.

That night I tried to remain sober and was determinant to wake up early. There weren’t any mobile phones at home, then. You have no other go other than your parents or that time piece clock which freaks the hell out of you. My bad, it wasn’t working then.

The sun rose. Everyone got ready and I was still at my bed deep in my slumber, like every other day. I counted on Seenu, as my last resort. I knew he would bark, atleast for the kind of determination, I possess, that particular day, I would wake up of his voice.

Somehow I managed to wake up. But by then everyone had left. All I knew was that I was late, so I was rushing to get ready. In addition, I had to walk all through the way to the temple, whereas everyone else might have commuted through two-wheelers.

I reached the temple. The final poojai at sanctum-sanctorum was going on. Everyone in my family looked at me with disapproval. Good that, they did not opt to oust me or no hushing game then. The priest was distributing holy ash and he came to me as well! He might not have had the knowledge of this drama and I was saved some shame. I was religiously applying the holy ash on my forehead after blessing my eyes with the oil-lit lights! All these while, they all were staring at me but I had simply ignored.

Once everything got over in temple, my brother dropped me back to home.

I was also aware of the fact that this wouldn’t be received well within my family. The upcoming days saw my mother and father not talking to me. For a brief period of time, my presence was oblivious to them. The rest of the family members, although were talking, but you know, what should be brewing within their respective four walls!

Above all these, a sense of satisfaction prevailed in me after this very act. I wanted to register my resistance to this very discriminatory practice. Against all the odds, I had succeeded!! It is always important to register that first opposition. For people who had stuck to the age-old practices, this could act as an eye-opener, if not nothing!