Blood on the Bathroom Floor


Blood on the Bathroom Floor

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Dear advertisers of sanitary napkins, you’ve convinced an entire generation that “ultra-thin pads” can help us conquer the world in tight white pants. But some of us leak through the widest and longest pads, and bleed like a fountain.

The first time I saw an advertisement for a sanitary napkin on television, I understood everything. Grown-up women had a problem controlling their bladder since they couldn’t pee anywhere like adult men, so they needed to always have a stash of nappies at their disposal. So sure was I in this analysis, that when my Class 5 teacher stepped in to dispel the myth a few years later, I did not take her seriously. It sounded ludicrous. How could a woman bleed for several days every month during the better part of her life and none of the ads ever hint at it? It took a long, hard biology lesson for the truth to dawn.

The ads during this time got more and more alluring, filled with sparkling whiteness and women doing amazing things. So what if they’d skipped the bio lesson? They still promised me that life on my period would be aspirational and beautiful. One day, I would be an empowered woman, attending meetings, dancing ballet, and jumping across barricades in tight white pants to interview politicians. Periods were the dream!

When my periods finally arrived, I was overjoyed (even though slightly confused that they were not blue). I was sick of waiting and watching on the sidelines as other girls sneaked in pads and wore their newly minted breasts with precocious pride. I went running to my mom with the wind in my hair, but I was sat down abruptly and explained that now I was a woman and could hence be taken advantage of. The thakur ghor was out of bounds during these five days and I was to keep my bed clean and not discuss my periods with my brother and father. These restrictions flummoxed me. And all I could think in that moment was that the ads had lied again.

Nobody really prepares you for the sudden transition into womanhood. It is something you are just expected to grow into. Like you’d naturally understand that you should talk about your periods in a hushed tone or better still not bring them up at all. You’d merely hint at needing “supplies” from the pharmacy because of “shorir kharap” and your father would immediately swoop in and get them for you. Anything would be done as long as silence was maintained on the subject and there was no evidence that anything was underway.

Listen up dudes, even if your pads are made of snowflakes and marshmallows, we are not wearing white on our first day.

Unfortunately for my family, I have always been an expert whiner and a great source of inconvenience. On some months, I have managed to leak through two bed sheets and into the mattress. In spite of hot bags, sweet treats, and entire strips of Meftal Spas, I have been a colossal slob from the start.

I really want to speak to these people who spend millions of dollars to create period advertising. Instead of doing their fucking job, they have somehow managed to convince an entire generation that their prized “Ultra-Thin Lock- Guard-Enabled Pads” can help us achieve our dreams and conquer the world, all the while wearing white and doing splits like well-oiled acrobats. Listen up dudes, even if your pads are made of snowflakes and marshmallows, we are not wearing white on our first day. Some of us leak through the widest and longest of pads, staining our bed sheets, because we are sloppy and bleed like fountains. And, really, we’d rather chew rubber than attempt a split or skip when our uterus is hanging low and our abdomen is screaming blue murder.

A couple of years ago, a sanitary pad brand did a #TouchThePickle campaign about breaking taboos pertaining to periods. While it won several awards, the oversimplification made my eyes bleed. The lack of nuance in a band of grannies acapella-ing to “She Touched the Pickle” reminds me of being whacked by my mother as a teenager when I decided to disobey her and help my aunt in Laxmi puja arrangements while on my period. Let’s not forget, we are from a subcontinent where women in certain areas are expected to sleep in cowsheds when menstruating, many menstruating women use dried leaves, ragged clothes as a substitute for pads. And never ever has a shopkeeper looked us in the eye while wrapping the already packaged unit in several layers of newspapers and plastic.

As a pall-bearer of sorts, I have started bringing up my period at supposedly inopportune places – at the dinner table, on a date, after making out with said date. The reactions veer from horror to embarrassment to pure, unadulterated shock. But I have no choice but to start the conversation. There will be a time when advertising will grow up and social media will work to bring about change through positive and empowered messaging. Until then I shall continue to shout from the rooftops.

Just friggin’ listen.