Wednesday, 2 November 2016

#PeriodPride: Rags of shame



'How time has flown past!' Lakshmi mused as she waved to Devi and Maya from her kitchen window. 'They'll be back again with mounds of shopping, where is the place to stuff all that they buy, I can't imagine!' she exclaimed to herself. Devi her only daughter, Maya and Siya her granddaughters were home for the holidays and she couldn't be happier. Little Siya was playing with her new Barbie kitchen-set that her doting Nana had bought her. She was busily pouring out cups of tea adorably decked in her saree - her mum's dupatta that her Nani had obligingly wrapped around her tiny frame.
By late evening the two girls were back home, as expected over-laden with shopping bags. Lakshmi pretended to be angry and scolded them,'Why do you buy so much? And where is the need to buy more sarees for me, I hardly have any occasions to wear what I have in my cupboard!'
'Ma, I know you love it! Come on, I know you wanted to buy this one, but you could never get yourself to spend on yourself, could you?' chided Devi.
Lakshmi felt her eyes moisten as she ladled bowls of piping hot food and lovingly hand-fed her darling angels, Maya and Siya. She was glad that her daughter and granddaughters were born in a different era and blessed with all they could wish for and more.
'Ma, what happened? What are you thinking? Tell me no?' said Devi seeing her mother's emotional mood.
'Nothing, just happy that you girls have all your hearts desire. It made me think of my own childhood. But let it be, we are happy now and that's all that matters.'
'Tell me Ma, I know you had a tough childhood but you've never really spoken much about it. I would like to know more.'
'Yes, those were hard days....' Lakshmi paused and finally decided she had to share this with her daughter after all these years.
'You know Devi, I was the fifth daughter in my family, my mother - your Nani had had two consequent deliveries, two male babies who died at infancy just before I was born - I the seventh child and the fifth daughter was born to her at a relatively old age of 36.
I was probably the most unwanted child in the family. Underweight from birth, undernourished through childhood, I was always an after-thought in the family, an additional burden, one more girl to be raised and married off. 
My older sisters were way older than me and I played with their children whenever they came home for their deliveries or on holidays. I never complained that I only got to wear old clothes all through my childhood, old books to study or old toys that my nieces and nephews left behind, I just thought that's the way things were supposed to be. 

 Image credit: http://shushi168.com/sad-girl-pictures.html

As I grew older, I started noticing things, things only a deprived child can understand. I saw my nieces who were slightly younger than me wearing new clothes for Diwali or their birthdays while I wore my usual clothes even on those days. My mother made kheer/sweets on those days, gifted her grand-children on those days but when it came to me, she avoided the expense. But I dismissed all of it when I saw my poor old father, overburdened by work and responsibility.
We lived in a chawl those days, which had a common toilet block on the ground floor. I hated visiting the toilet and suppressed natural body urges as long as I could...sometimes managing with only one visit in the entire day.
As time passed, I started maturing but I was ashamed about the changes my body was undergoing. My mother never encouraged such talk and I hid my growing body with over-large clothes. I knew a little about periods, having had four sisters above me. I had seen them being isolated on 'those days', served food separately, not allowed to touch or mingle with anybody. But what really happened during a period I never knew. 
I was thirteen when my first period happened. I was appalled when I woke up early one morning with stomach cramps and saw a stain on the bedding roll I slept on. 
I timidly went up to wake my mother, 'Ma, I got it, please give me some cloth,' I managed. Having raised a family full of females, she quite easily understood this cryptic message. She got up crossly and rummaged in an old trunk and came up with a bundle of old rags. 
'Go tear these up and use it. Then come back and clean the mess you've created on the mattress,' was all she said. 'And don't touch anything for the next three days,' she called out to me as I awkwardly made my way to the toilet on the ground-floor. 
That was the last time I had any talk with my mother about my periods. She never asked me whether my tummy hurt or even if I had enough cloth. By a non-communicative method - rolling my mattress in the balcony instead of along with the rest of the mattresses, I let her know, I had my periods. I felt ashamed of my monthly curse and hated it. I had to wash the blood-soaked rag in the dirty toilet without even running water and set them to dry in hidden corners in the balcony. They were my rags of shame.
Eventually, over the next few months I ran out of cloth and I was too shy to ask for more. I was down to my last cloth. I washed it and wrung it dry as best as I could and reused the same wet cloth. One of my visiting elder sisters noticed wet patches wherever I sat and took pity on me and gave me some rag cloths to use. But she never said anything to my mother, probably she had been through such times herself. 
My mother was not a unkind woman, it was just how things were those days. She had a large family of daughters, grandchildren to take care of, meager income and overburdened with too much responsibility. I don't hold any grudge against her, she did the best she could. 
All the same, I decided when I had you my dear daughter, I would never let you feel bad about yourself, your body or the miracle that happens to your body every single month.'
Lakshmi looked at Devi whose eyes were now streaming as she heard the forlorn story of her mother's childhood.
'Yes Ma, you did your best, I always had you to depend on! How tenderly you explained everything to me when I was twelve. I never had to wear or wash a rag cloth, you always bought me the best sanitary pads, even though I saw you still using pieces of cloth for yourself. I never felt embarrassed or ashamed of my periods and that's just the way I shall raise Maya and Siya, proud to be a girl, proud of the monthly period. Thank you Ma, for being there for me always.'
Lakshmi dried Devi's tears and said, 'I know you will be the best mother Devi. Now get up, your father will be home soon. I'll surprise him with the new saree you've bought for me.'



Note: This is a true story, the names of the characters in the story have been changed to protect their identity.



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­­Copyright © 2016 KALA RAVI

The Red Schoolbag




The little pebble had stayed with him a long way from school as he kicked it along with unerring accuracy. Once in a while he crushed a dried leaf under his shoes with a satisfying crunch. 
Ajay longingly eyed the numerous bottles of syrup in myriad hues flatteringly displayed on the rickety old handcart belonging to the gola-walla. Slipping his fingers into his pant-pocket, he fiddled around and came up with nothing. 
He could imagine aai waiting for him, to whip up a piping hot lunch with his favorite lentil and vegetables. She had promised him that treat, if he did well in the results today. But as luck would have it, he had fared miserably in all the subjects and his report card had more red lines than anyone else; he had failed disastrously! 
He moved ahead, dawdling and biding his time to get home from school right away as he usually did. Baba would thrash the sh!@ out of him and hear no excuses. Aai would try to protect him but he was sure she would get thrashed too. Mukta tai would hopefully stay away from the furor since she was bound to maintain her appearance for the sake of her job as a bar-dancer at the Natraj Heaven. 
This was the second time in a row that he was failing in class VI. The last time’s thrashing took two months to heal completely, though even now, nearly a year later, his fractured ribs gave him trouble from time to time, as if reminding him of the horror. No! He could not even bear to think of going through the pain again. 
So lost in his miserable thoughts, Ajay had failed to notice where he was going. Suddenly he spied a bright blue bird fluttering on a tree nearby. What a lovely bird! And how come the tree’s leaves were all yellow? He went closer to examine. The tree had golden leaves! The street looked so clean. It was the same street through which he made his way every day across the railway tracks to his home; it was familiar and yet so different! 
There were no mounds of un-cleared garbage, open stinking sewers, wet clothes hanging haphazardly on over-burdened clothing-lines. 
Instead pretty white-washed homes with large windows, dainty curtains and bountiful flower-boxes lined the streets. He could hear the distant hum of the railway line, so he knew he was on the right street. No one seemed to be about. Where had the perpetual gully-cricket team of wastrels vanished? The air was filled with a beautiful fragrance….umm, he sniffed lingeringly. He recognized the fragrance! It smelt of the chaafa flower that his aai tucked into her hair sometimes. He could also smell the tantalizing aroma of bread baking that wafted whenever he passed near the laadi-pav manufacturing godown in Sakir gully. But how come he could smell it here? His stomach rumbled in protest and he drifted towards the aroma, wonderingly gazing at the tiny shrubs with colorful flowers dotting the street where usually garbage lay. 
He reached the source of the aroma. It was a large shop with a beautiful glass-front displaying the most amazing array of the choicest buns, cakes and what-nots! Strangely, the shop seemed abandoned like the rest of the street. With no one manning this delectable haven, Ajay stole into the shop to have a closer look. Just to be sure, he called out...but no one replied. Trays upon trays of mouth-watering treats lay unattended. 
He could bear it no longer. He stealthily plunged his hands into a moundful of buns and shoved four buns into his school bag and hurried out. 
He decided he must have taken a wrong route after crossing the tracks, lost in his thoughts. He went back the way he had entered the street, his heart thumping loudly at his indiscretion. But he felt glad as well, he would have something to savor after baba’s thrashing. He would share his loot with aai and tai, not his vile, old drunk baba
He was soon back at the tracks but a huge crowd was now assembled there. Slinking through the throng he moved closer to the center of the scene to see for himself what was so interesting. He froze when he saw his aai and tai sobbing bitterly over what looked like the mangled body of a young boy on the tracks while Laxmi kaku and Rekha maushi were trying to soothe them. 
He called out desperately to both of them but no one heard him. The unrelenting mob around the scene wouldn't let him get close to them. Tears streamed down his cheeks seeing them so heart-broken and inconsolable. 
The crowd let up a little and Ajay edged closer to his dear ones. 
Dazedly he observed that the body had his frayed school uniform and tai was hugging close to her the red schoolbag that she had bought him just last month.
He was trembling all over as realization dawned on him. Mutely watching the misery in front of him, he desperately wished he could do something to alleviate it.
Tai's tear-drenched face changed to one of confused surprise as she smelt something from the bag she was holding. She reached in and her fingers clasped something warm and soft and she peered in to gaze at four beautiful buns. 
Ajay smiled contentedly and walked towards the dazzling new street that beckoned him, far from the woes of this world.


Note: I penned this short story for the TataLitLive MyStory Contest 2016. The story didn't make it through the jury selection but I am thankful to all those who generously voted for it.

This story has been published on Tell-A-Tale!
  



­­Copyright © 2016 KALA RAVI