RM’s post triggered my thoughts that I had to write about this.
There were a very few things that used to bug me so much I would cry to my mom that I should have better born in some other house. I should at this point of time accept that I had the most wonderful childhood and teenage period. I cant thank God enough for the family I have. What I actually hated was the community I was born in. I belonged to the Telugu Brahmin community. With the mention of the name Brahmin comes along a set of rules and regulations to be followed too. Now, my family came from very very orthodox backgrounds originating from a small village in Andhra. My dad was the only one in the family to come out of his shell and settle in Chennai. My mom is very religious and dad has his own principles. During my childhood, we lived together with our grandparents which meant that the rules were even stronger sometimes. My mammagaru (grandma) wouldn’t let us kids touch the water. I dont remember what she exactly used to tell to us, we were always frightened to dip the tumbler into the pot of water they had saved for cooking. Eating together with them was like a curse (especially during the spl ocassions). We had to mind the way we had food – the glass of water shouldn’t touch the eating plate, pickle should be served first and not to be touched during the course of meal, wash hands every time after touching rice and the list went on. I can never forget an incident the whold of my life – my mamayyagaru (aunt’s husband) shouted at me for touching the papad with my left hand while having lunch with all the relatives. It hurt me so much at that tender age of 10 and had left me a permanent scar. I used to feel that the elders of the home were only complicating the simplest of simple things – but who would listen to me? These thoughts only intensified after I started to menstruate.
I still remember the date – Jan 6th – thats when my life took an U-turn. I was just 11years then. I didnt even understand what was happening. Luckily, mammagaru was away at my native. Amma tried to pacify me and I vaguely knew about the process from what she had explained me 6 months back (may be she was anticipating) but I couldn’t accept what they were doing to me. They made me sit seperately for 5 days – I had a wear a saree (which I loved, even now I love sarees) and everyday 5-6 aunties will come to give me haarthi. I was not allowed to touch anything. All was fine because I couldn’t understand anything. It became hell from the next month when mammagaru was around. We were living in the quarters which just had a room apart from the hall and we were 5 of us living together. Having given me a separate mat, saree for a pillow, a plate and a tumbler along with some old clothes to cover on – I thought I was close to hell. I had to stay put only in the hall next to the TV as we had the pooja set up in the other room. Everytime someone had to cross or come near TV, I have to adjust myself so that they dont touch me or worst – I would have to wash their clothes too.. For the 4 days, I would be angry with everyone around. Thats how I felt especially with mammagaru. I had to wash my plate and tumbler, my clothes, adjust into to a small space given, should not go out, cant touch my sister but attend school – it was too much for a 11 yr old. Amma being the typical DIL never tried to speak a word infront of mammagaru. But she would help me whenever she could dodge grandma. She would wash my plate and tumbler for me, wash my clothes whenever her MIL is not paying attention. She tried to make it as normal as possible except for not letting me touch anything. I would still be angry on her.. for she is pushing me into this. The worst would happen, if some of my friends/ relatives would come home during this time. I used to feel all the more embarrassed. Things didn’t change for the next 2 years – I lived through it and kind of started accepting. I would fight every time but nothing changed. Finally it was my sister’s turn and she being the rival started throwing a fit right from the beginning. We both formed a pact and made our grandma go mad. Amma was always feeling bad for us but couldn’t do much always. She too joined with us this time and confronted the norms. We finally succeeded in letting them all accept to our wishes. Relatives were not so happy when they learnt this. We were well past that stage to care for them.
Coming to think of how amma and the norms have changed now, I cant believe. We dont even take the head bath on the first day (If I were to do it irrespective of the time I had periods, my sinus goes mad then). So many of my friends give me a shocking expression when I say this – how can you be a brahmin and not even take a head bath on this day? Huh.. I dont understand.. community is not one that I created around me nor I purposefully wanted myself into this community – I am just born into something my fore fathers had woven. And I dont come with a tag of things I need to do and things I cant do. Amma knew what could happen to us if she had listened to our grandma for she said, if we cant sit separately we had to take head bath on all the five days. After mammagaru’s period, the norms have been diluted even more. We do as we wish – whatever we are comfortable with. We wear new clothes, start new things, touch everything (now I have to cook too) except for going into the pooja room/temple. Nanna (my dad) on the other hand had never been pushing us with anything that we didn’t like to do. He wouldn’t care what we did but feel a lot for us that we are undergoing so much pain during that time. Till now, he is the one buying us the best sanitary napkins (he does an analysis before he buys) and he is not even a percent ashamed of this. I am glad he is not 🙂