For some background to what Pakkathaathu Ponnu means, see this.

Growing up, nothing quite infuriated me more than the words “aathula illa”, literally “she’s out”, an annoying euphemism for being on your period. My grandma would generously “warn” folks visiting us about my "condition", lest they unknowingly touch me, while I would be quietly seething with anger in a corner of the house.

In case you’re lucky enough to not know what I’m talking about, many families believe that menstruating women are to be kept separately so as to not “pollute” the place. At my place, we were made to sit, eat and sleep separately, not enter the kitchen or the puja room/space. Worse stories are of rooms that the woman walked through being cleaned with water, and just the thought of this makes me want to cry.

Needless to say, there used to be frequent arguments with my mother about this subject. She’d claim that these were days of rest from the household chores that she enjoyed. “These customs came about to give women this break, and also because it can be quite difficult to work through those days” (sure, so let’s have her sleep on a mat in a hut outside the house?) While rules were strict when my grandmother was around (we all lived together), I got a period “holiday” when my grandparents were traveling. My mother would let me eat at the table (yay!) and we’d generally be a little less fussy about the “no touching” rules.

Through my years at home, I made many little transgressions. Like not “revealing” the period on one new year’s day because I didn’t want to start the year with that idea. That day, as I marched to the temple with the family, I quietly wondered if I would be punished somehow. God, I hoped, please don’t take this out on my 10th standard results!

It wasn't always this clear-cut, though. I remember I burst into tears when I got my period a day before my birthday, because that evening, I was due to collect awards for class 10 performance (turns out God didn't mess around with the results!)

The day I left for Singapore for the first time, I got my period, but nothing was going to stop me on the most important day of my life so far! I told Amma, we arrived at a secret understanding to not mention it, and I hugged and shook hands with all the relatives who’d come to see me off. Of course I also didn’t mention it to the relatives who met me in Singapore and took me around (to a temple, again!), and this time I went in with a little more confidence. I still remember the way I ruffled all the clothes in my cupboard, only because I could rightfully touch them!  

Now, the period hardly matters for anything except the pain that comes with it and the PMS that announces its arrival. Whenever I visit home, Amma is also so chilled out that she hardly bothers when I tell her I’m on my period. I remember the wry smile she had on her face when I told her that I went to the temple with the friend who was visiting, because I couldn’t see a reason as to why he should know I’m on my period and hence “may not” visit a temple. For the first time in my life I swallowed period delaying tablets last year to participate in a family ritual (and the only reason I did it was because I found the idea of sitting outside while the rituals happened inside humiliating), and I swore after that I would never ever take those again – unless it’s for some much-awaited trip that involves water-related fun!

Very much aathulaiye iruppen, thank you.

(This post crosses my self-imposed word limit of 500, but like we'd argue with our English teachers, word limits come with a flexibility of an extra 100 words)


Varnam ByPreethi said...

Hahaha you just made me think of all the rebellious things I did with my mom. Even now I use this period tactic to my MIL when there is a pooja and I have to cook so much :D I say 4th day and still chumming :P

Sunita Gopalakrishnan said...

Hated it always and still hate it. Growing up in Mumbai we were so cut off from this terrible treatment (thankfully) Ofcourse when we went to our paati's home we were treated as the girls from Bombay and when we chose not to follow it and tell our Paati so, my Paati would keep that a secret from our Tatha. Well confession here - my biggest kept secret, I have lit karthigai deepam at MILs with the so called 'dooram' for all reasons mentioned on your lovely lovely blog!!!! Keep writing girl.......

Vaishnavi S said...

This 'dooram' really is much ado about nothing, isn't it, and I remember the frustration I felt every time I went to my grandmother's house in the summer. My own mother, mercifully, did not enforce this at home. Good going Vani! The 'upholders' of Tamil Brahmin tradition might ask why you must begin something by writing about such an inauspicious topic, but three cheers to you! Keep writing :)