I skulked home one afternoon from school in a particularly muggy hot Delhi summer month and spent the day cursing fate that I was born a girl. I was 14 years old, in class ninth and had just discovered that my period, the first two awful days (!), were going to coincide with the two days of the annual Leadership Training Camp (LTC) that all class monitors were eligible to attend.
The LTC was an exciting and prestigious camp, which only elected student representatives of each class and two nominees were invited to, where through a series of interactive games and sessions with teachers and guest lecturers, students learnt the values of leadership. I had hoped to attend the camp for some years and finally that year I was one of the elected class monitors.
I was excited and bouncing my way through the school corridors till the tell tale stain showed up and all joy was deflated. I spent the afternoon sulking at home. In the evening, my father came home from work. (My mother at the time was pursuing her Ph.D course work in New York, so my father and I, out of sheer necessity, had developed a fairly candid relationship about matters of menstruation!)
He enquired after my long face, and I told him I had to skip the LTC which was the next and the day after. “Why,” he asked. “Because I am starting my period tomorrow,” I answered.
“So?,” he asked
“So I can’t go,” I said. “Why,” he asked again. “Because!” I said… “It’s going to be my first two days…”
“So?” He persisted. The ‘why-so’ game was getting to me. “Papa!” I snapped. “I can’t be running around playing the games and doing rigorous activities during my ‘down-time’.”
“You mean you are physically or medically incapable of doing physical activity at this time?” My persistent father continued to interrogate.
“Oh God! Papa, why don’t you understand? It’s irritating and awkward. What if something happens…” (Something was the unspeakable horror that plagued all young girls and women and probably still does, through their entire fertile years)
The fear of ‘something’. Read: What if the tell-tale stain appeared! “Hmmm..” Said my father thoughtfully, “Let’s work this out exactly. So these two days you will skip LTC. Then next month again, in those two days you may have to skip something else… So every year, two into twelve is twenty four days of skipping.”
He went on. “You are fourteen now and will probably have periods for the next thirty years, so that’s twenty four into thirty. Seven hundred and twenty days!!! That’s… uhhh.. 17,280 total hours of missing out on things you want to do in life. Only because you were scared that ‘something’ may happen.”
I was stumped. The math seemed accurate and the logic solid. For want of words, I made a face. My gruff father, cleared his throat, “Look your mother would deal with these things better and would know better. I’m a man but it seems a little ridiculous to waste so many precious active days and hours over something that is natural, and happens to half the world population at some point in their life every month.”
He continued in the same vein. “It’s your body and it’s a natural process. Own it instead of hating it or fearing it. And own these two or three or five days. They are as much yours as the other days of the month. But then again, I’m a man. I don’t know about these things.”
I made another face, and stuck my hand out. What, he asked. Give me Rs.150.
Why, he said? “I have to buy sanitary pads, what else…I have to pack for tomorrow”.
Thanks Papa! You taught your daughter a precious lesson that day — to own her body. It’s a natural process and we must own those five days in the month, like every other moment in our life. A lesson I have been applying till today — be it when I have a shoot or have to attend an event.
It’s incredible that sanitary pad brands in India highlight the importance of menstrual management and hygiene that encourages us girls to be confident, unstoppable and not treat those five days as taboo. Seriously girls, just do the math!
(The story was authored by Swara Bhaskar for IANS. She is a Bollywood actor and daughter of well known strategic analyst C Uday Bhaskar and academician Ira Bhaskar. The views expressed are personal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)