The other day I was bound to take a casual leave which peeved my boss, a pot-bellied, bald-headed, round-faced gentleman, to the point that he called me in his office to give me a piece of his mind. The previous day was a no-leave-allowed day and it seemed as if my audacious absence had caused much scandal among office ladies and gentlemen.
I told him I have already written a leave application and submitted it at the reception desk. But he demanded an apology from me in the office in front of him. I told him I woke up with severe cramps and was not in a position to step out of my house. My body ached and I was very irritable.
My boss’s reaction was full of distrust and contempt, “Ms Pandey! Every now and then you have to make this excuse. We don’t understand how you get such notions on the very important days of the office when I announce a no-leave-sanctioned working day! This appears to have turned out as a habit with you. This kind of irresponsible behavior shall not be entertained.”
My brain seemed close to bursting at these insensitive words of that man. I felt like punching him right on his face- as I was still bleeding and standing in front of him, already suffering the irritation below- and say, “Not every time you thick headed moron! Don’t you understand slang? I have this problem once in a month. Haven’t attended biology classes in the school? Don’t you know a woman bleeds once in a month for four or five days so that more of your kind should inherit the world! Never heard of menstruation or what?"
But I couldn’t utter a word. The years of nurturing that I have got in my house and society, the manners I have learnt from my mom, my aunts and other women all around me, tell me not to speak that ‘shameful’ word menstruation in front of men. And I use words like ‘stomach ache’, cramps’ etc in a futile effort to let men around me understand that I am on my periods and need some peace of mind.
The same problem on the home front too. As fate would have it, most of the time I am on my periods when there is a festival in the house. The festivals in India are characterized by an elaborate puja (that involves worship to God by offering eatables and burning incense sticks etc). And unfortunately a woman on her periods cannot be a part of such rituals in the house. She cannot even pray to God and must be an untouchable during that time. So as I have mentioned, I am on my periods when the festivals are around. And men about the house are most astonished by my odd behavior of not partaking of the festivities.
“Oh! Sad.. she has turned into an atheist.”
“She doesn’t celebrate festivals with zeal.”
“Very odd behavior.”
“Dear Men- ,” I want to shout, “-Father, brothers, uncles, sons, nephews, I am on my period. Don’t be horrified and kindly do not judge me. It is a natural process. Most of the women go through it and none would ever tell it to your face, because... well... it’s a taboo. So kindly understand on your own when I use slangs for it. Understand it as I must be ‘ashamed’ of something that comes to me naturally every month. Even though I want to shout out aloud, “I am bleeding right now! Go, mind your own business!” I must be quiet and listen to your judgments about me.
And I must bleed in silence.