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The Confused Onlooker

By Supratim Chaudhuri

A couple of years ago, I stood in line inside the clinic of my undergraduate college with the intention of getting some pills for an early morning headache. I had a casual conversation with an exchange student standing in front of me, the discussion gradually moving from the courses we had taken to the reason we were there. She told me unabashedly that her recent periods were irregular, and she needed something to fix it. As this was my first conversation about menstruation with a girl, I figured that it would be normal to speak of such things directly.

A few years later, back in India, I had to run an errand for a friend and obtain some groceries for her. While approaching the store, she called me and asked me to bring along some sanitary pads and tampons for a camping trip her travel group would be taking in the near future. I quietly passed on the list of products to the assistant at the storefront and he entered into an animated discussion with me on geopolitics and the economy, while rummaging around for the things I needed. However, while his eyes hovered down to the hygiene products in the list he abruptly quieted down. He quickly packed everything into some large plastic bags and quietly nodded at me. None the wiser, I nodded back smiling, wondering if he was referring to some recent election results. Oblivious of what just transpired, I headed back to my friend’s place.

The first thing that happened at her home was her preventing me from taking the groceries out in front of her parents who were there to greet me. Silently taking me into her room, she explained the taboo of openly discussing menstruation and anything to do with it in the following words, “ Head to one of the medical stores around town. They’ll give it to you. Wrapped in brown paper and a black cover and all. As if they’re giving you a radioactive isotope.” Having never experienced anything of the sort before, I started asking all kinds of questions in confusion. After a very patient explanation from my now slightly irritated friend, I headed home pondering deeply over the subject.

After carrying out further research, I gradually figured out the general taboos associated with menstruation in Indian culture and its associated effects on society. As someone who had lived a relatively sheltered life, I was perhaps slightly immune to the general reactions society had when such topics were broached. I noticed that it was only the children who were exposed to open displays of shame by the adults around them who developed the same response to the forbidden topics mentioned; children raised in an environment where menstruation was seen as just another natural thing were comfortable discussing it a far more casual ways. After this incident, I learnt how to bring up this issue and other taboos, both related and unrelated, while taking the cultural sensibilities of others into consideration.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ About the Author Supratim Chaudhuri is from the Batch of 2018. He was the Senior Club Coordinator of Blash- The Trade Club at IIFT

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