Napkin

BY SANKARI (TRANSLATED BY ANU ROY)
Aug 23, 2010

A woman speaks of her most intimate companion like never before.

The shop owners had actually rented out a big house. The toilet in that house did not have a ceiling. One could easily peep into the toilet from neighbouring terraces, shops and houses. There was scarcity of water as well. If the second day of my period fell on a Sunday, I did not have to take leave. At other times, I took leave and the owner questioned me angrily. My sense of self never let me cry before him. I controlled my tears and worked. One day, the wife of one the owners came to the shop. She was a compassionate person though she came from a rich family. Seeing me looking extremely tired, she asked, “Why are you looking so ill?” I replied, “What to do, I wish I could die, but I am unable to.” I was 20 at that time. She felt very bad.

Then, one day, she took me to a female doctor, who prescribed some medicines. But they were of no use. The doctor said that there were no medicines other than painkillers and that using other medicines could lead to side effects. She said, “After marriage, the pain will be gone.” Given my family situation, I did not need marriage then. Earlier, I had heard that the pain would go if the uterus was removed. I asked the doctor if removing the uterus was an option. The doctor smiled pensively and said, “It cannot be done at this age, my dear.” I didn’t see any doctor after that day, and the owner also stopped scolding me if I took leave.

After a few days, I got a better job. However, it wasn’t good enough to for me to afford napkins. Instead of the cloth, I started using rolls and rolls of cotton. Even if the pain continued, the abrasions around the thighs reduced greatly. That was a great joy.

After I got married, my husband’s eyes filled with tears seeing me in such pain. That eased my pain greatly. In fact, I even felt proud. In the second month, he was slightly upset. In the third month, he left for a movie. When asked, he said, “What do I do when you are under so much pain? At least, I’ll go and watch a movie.” I was numb with grief. Of course, he can’t take away my pain. But if he was under such pain, would I look around for joy?

During menstruation, I also used to vomit in the night. Before marriage, my mother, brother or sister used to massage my back as I vomited and give me warm water to drink. It was a great relief. One night, after marriage, I woke up my husband and ran to the bathroom to vomit. As I vomited, I realised that there was no one to massage my back. I returned to bed to see my husband sleeping. I was horrified but consoled myself saying that perhaps he didn’t hear me call. When I asked him, he said, “you were just vomiting; why should I wake up for that?” It hurt badly.

It’s funny that men, who need their wives to take care of them even for a headache, call women the weaker sex!

He’s actually not a male chauvinist. He treated my family as if they were his family. He never beat me. But he hurt me with his scathing words, just like any regular man. I am not sure whether the incident I just described would affect men. In all probability, they will think that I am making a big deal out of small things. But it’s funny that men, who need their wives to take care of them even for a headache, call women the weaker sex!

Male readers and even some female readers might find this piece boring.

Today’s middle class women enjoy “freedom” and so they can afford to be “carefree” as well. But, even today, these things are still a huge problem for women from poor families. I don’t know whether this is a woman’s problem or the poor person’s problem.

When women take off on certain days, the sarcastic smiles of their male colleagues, their talk about how women use this as an excuse to not work, managers who remind women about responsibility at work, women who suffer all this in silence, being unable to voice their problems to their managers, etc… These are things that even women from middle-class households suffer every day.

I recently read in the newspaper that about 65% of households in India do not have proper toilet facilities. Both in the villages and the cities, women must finish excretion early in the morning and wait until nightfall. Severe pain affects some unlucky women like me. However, blood flow and tiredness during those days are things that all women go through. These days, I take leave when the pain is unbearable. Moreover, my office has proper toilet facilities. Indeed, life has changed quite a lot for me. But it hasn’t changed for house maids, salesgirls who must remain standing the whole day, girls who study in corporation schools, etc. I think they aren’t as naïve as I used to be. They must be aware that there’s “freedom” for women, and that that “freedom” is beyond their reach.

Last month, I was at the medical shop buying sanitary napkins. There was some drainage work happening on the road. I saw a 16-year-old girl carrying the pebbles to be mixed with the concrete. She was dark and beautiful. She was wearing a faded polyester skirt; perhaps bought for her puberty function. I remembered wearing such a new skirt at my puberty function. Filling the container with pebbles, she looked around to see if someone would help her lift it. There was no one. She didn’t even ask anyone. Gnashing her teeth, she lifted the container herself. A sharp pain shot through me. I remembered the days of stock-taking in that electrical shop. That young girl returned to refill the container. I felt a little proud at that sight.

 

This post was originally published in Tamil on Vinavu, a site that publishes revolutionary articles and essays. The translated version of this post was published on Ultra Violet, a site for Indian feminists, in May 2010.

Note about the author: Sankari is a member of People’s Art and Literary Association(PALA), Tamilnadu. She works in a private company and lives in Chennai. PALA is a cultural organisation that fights against Recolonisation and Brahminical Fascism.