Menstruation for Dummies (read: Boys)

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I feel a sharp pain shooting through my lower abdomen, and I want to murder a certain fellow passenger in the bus, and I also want to devour a mountain of spicy, cardiac arrest-level greasy noodles from the canteen as soon as I get to work. While the rest of the points may sound like PMS symptoms, I really do have a valid reason for killing that co-passenger. Why would someone want to sit right next to me when there are ten other vacant ‘ladies’ seats’ in the bus?

My uterus is all set to shed its lining and do its monthly job; I can feel it in my gut (literally).

Unlike what these advertisers make everyone believe, no girl wants to be dressed in white from head to toe and perform completely unnecessary high jumps while she is bleeding. That, and, we don’t really bleed blue. Although we love saying that while we’re cheering for our cricket team, cricket and periods are totally unrelated concepts – one is all about hitting the target while the other is an outcome of having missed one.

So, what are periods really?

Females are blessed with this divine ability to conceive, carry, and deliver (smelly yet cute-looking) babies. It’s not easy and is definitely not just a 9-month long process. This typically 32-35 year-long process begins with menarche i.e. the onset of menstruation and ends at menopause – the end of a woman’s reproductive journey. Every month, our body sheds a lining of the uterus (womb). This ‘menstrual blood’ which primarily consists of blood and tissues from the uterine lining is flushed out of the body via the cervix and finally through the vagina. 

Menarche, menstruation and menopause – it can’t simply be a coincidence that all painful experiences in a woman’s life begin with ‘men’, can it?

I fail to understand why didn’t God want us to have a happy period? After what feels like carrying a waterfall in our pants for 4-5 days, an intra-abdominal football match is the last thing a woman wants to feel. While these period cramps are a normal thing for most of us, there’s a condition known as ‘dysmenorrhea’ which is a medical term for extremely painful periods.

Have you ever watched a Bollywood heroine throw her umbrella away and encourage the hero to follow her in the rain more often than the hero doing the same? That’s because all girls are accustomed to being comfortable and at ease with being drenched since the age of 14 (or 13, or 12, or sometimes even 9).

Coming back to the title of this post, let me clarify why do boys need to be spoken about menstruation – it’s because someone told them that this is a “woman’s problem”. How can a phenomenon that forms a crucial aspect of turning a man into a father be called a problem? And that too, a “woman’s problem” alone? A lot has been said and done to eradicate misconceptions about menstruation through ad campaigns and movies, but that’s not enough.

“Allowing” women to “touch the pickle” is not enough; granting paid leaves for women on the first day of their period is not enough; posing with a pad for a promotional challenge is not enough. All this is good, but it’s not even close to meeting the basic requirement i.e. normalization of periods.

Women asking for pads in hushed tones is not normal, so is the shopkeeper’s attempt to avoid embarrassment by wrapping a pack of sanitary napkins in layers of newspapers and finally, a black polythene. The shame attached to this topic is not normal and this very abnormality, I believe, is what stops women from enjoying this wonderful process that nature has honoured us with.

Women bear all the discomfort, all the pain and even bear your child when the time comes. The least boys can do is treat menstruation as a very normal biological occurring – nothing less; nothing more. Talk about it, understand when a girl around you says “It’s “that time of the month”, let’s just chill at home today” and for God’s sake, DO NOT, I repeat, do not blame her irritation on her PMS on days when she’s not on her period! 

The colour was, is, and will always be red.; it’s time we stop fooling ourselves with that blue. Also, PMS is not a state of mind. We truly are capable of feeling murderous, cranky and hungry at the same time; blame it on the hormones!

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Sun, Sand, and Calamari

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There are 3 strong reasons why I dislike being on a trip away from home:

  1. I am never able to sleep in an unfamiliar bed;
  2. I’m never motivated enough to bathe in an unfamiliar bathroom; and
  3. I never get that “morning pressure” even after gulping two cups of strong adrak wali chai (you know what I mean?)

My cousin really made up for that shitty bus journey by arranging a cosy stay for all of us on the trip – me, her husband, sister-in-law, and her father-in-law, in the loveliest beach shack I’d ever seen. This quaint little café was tucked away in a sequestered corner of South Goa, far away from the “party maniacs”, the species all middle-class Indian parents thoroughly detest. One of the best parts of staying here was the delicious food that was served to us straight from the kitchen by the owner of the property who at some point in his life, worked as a professional chef on a cruise. Be it an authentic Goan Balchao or a continental Steak, he nailed every dish that we ordered.

Even though I was surrounded by a mesmerizing, never-ending stretch of the sea with just a handful of firangs around, I realized that I loved the noisier part of Goa more.

All this serenity was good, but I really do like visiting places that are crowded (am I crazy? Maybe!) and buzzing with enthusiasm being exuded by all travellers and tourists alike. Their energy and carefree vibes, I believe, breathe life into these streets, and cafés, and beaches, and busy markets.

Have you ever wondered that travelling to new places and meeting new people is much like learning to swim for the first time?

Just like a non-swimmer has no other option but to deal with the water on being thrown into the pool, travelling makes us face our inner selves and answer all the questions that we have very consciously managed to keep pushing away. It’s like a court-martial that we conduct with us being the accused, the accuser as well as the judge. While I watched really cool parents just let their toddlers run along the beach by themselves, unsupervised and admired some really gutsy firangs who had given up their jobs so as to explore the world, I asked myself a few hard questions. These ranged from the scary, self-actualization types such as “What is that one thing that I’m living for and the one thing that I can die for?” to the more realistic ones like “Should I renew my gym membership this time or just give up on my weight loss plans, because I can hear the treadmill flinch every time I step on it”.

I’m not sure whether I dealt with all those questions as well as I should have, but I’ll tackle those questions someday (I hope).

By the end of this trip, I was sure of one thing – our generation is hopeless.

My cousin’s father-in-law was more open to initiating conversations with random strangers than we were. While he happily taught the firangs to pronounce “bangda” and explain the appearance of the said creature in detail, we preferred to “socialize” by uploading a dozen stories a day on Instagram. While uncle fed his curiosity by asking the firangs about their life plans and their idea of being happy, we enviously admired their bikini-bodies while shamelessly stuffing our mouths with Batter Fried Calamari, diligently followed by generous sips of beer.

“Only 12 hours; I Promise!”

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I knew it was going to be a long journey, 16 hours to be precise, but we wanted to plan a Goa trip which would “not hurt our pockets”.

Now, a ‘low budget trip’ can hold different meanings for different people. For us, it translated to travelling from Mumbai to Goa, and back, in a bus.

Thanks to my cousin’s claustrophobia, we had to book seats in a non-AC bus. If you think that was worse, then let me tell you that we couldn’t get a sleeper bus due to unavailability of seats and had to settle for one with those good-for-nothing push-back seats.

“Yay!”, I thought; NOT!

15 minutes into the journey: A group of 7 – 8 cheerful and chirpy college students boarded the bus. All of them looked too excited to be taking a trip to Goa; so much that I started feeling nauseous after a while. When two girls from that gang sitting right in front of me thought that their overflowing enthusiasm and hair needed to be documented, they took their phones out and clicked at least a 10,57,36,52,383 selfies. Every picture had the same cringeworthy pout, raised eyebrows and strategically used camera angles meant to highlight their ridiculously fashionable “travel outfits”. And here I was, shamelessly comfortable in my ancient track pants and an oversized t-shirt. By oversized, I mean a humungous t-shirt which could easily fit two baby elephants at once. The selfie-taking business was not over yet; how could it get over unless at least 10 of those pictures reached social media? One of the girls then started typing an unending list of hashtags, simultaneously reading them aloud, with such intensity that it made me feel sorry for technology.

2 hours into the journey: I found myself in what I’d like to call a “who gets to claim the seat-rest championship”. This innocent-looking human sitting next to me gently occupied the common seat-rest between our seats, which by the way, we BOTH had an equal right to. After a few minutes of shameless amounts of awkward-elbow-touching, I pushed the arm-rest upward so that it could no longer be used by either of us, thus, calling it a draw. (Request: Please don’t judge me! I really thought that I totally deserved the arm-rest because I was doing an important job of reading a book while he was just watching a bunch of random WhatsApp videos.)

5 hours into the journey: I had a rather entertaining argument with one of the girls from that college gang. All I’d asked this female was to move her seat a little forward only for 2 minutes so that I could prevent my kneecap from cracking completely. But madam responded with a look that screamed: “how dare you old-track-pants-wearing woman ask me to make my pretty Victoria Secret-adorned ass uncomfortable by shifting 2 centimetres ahead?” (Clarification: I’m an accommodating person as long as I see both the parties make an effort to find a mid-way.)

7 hours into the journey: I accidentally (I swear I didn’t do this on purpose!) happened to turn towards the adjacent row of seats only to find two love-birds making out as if the apocalypse was coming to claim them in the next 10 seconds. I quickly turned back to look out of the window and genuinely wondered how uncomfortable the guy looked, who BTW was busy swallowing his girlfriend’s tongue.

This brings me to think that a couple on a bus is a lot like the bus journey itself. They pick up speed only when everyone else has fallen asleep.

12 hours into the journey: I’m still trying to find that one “perfect sitting position” which will make my terribly stiffened spine ache a little less.

15 hours into the journey: I’m cursing the ticket guy who’d said “Madam 12 ghanton mein Goa touch! Only 12 hours, I promise!”, with a God-like all-knowing smile.

16 hours into the journey: I finally see cute little houses with thatched roofs lining the streets with cows freely taking their morning strolls while the bus fellow yells “Last stop, Madgaon”, thereby disturbing the very brief and the only decent nap I’d taken on this entire journey.