I was 12, studying in an all girls’ convent in Ahmedabad, India, where we would have commercial sanitary napkin companies coming to my school showing videos of shy and giggly high school girls, as the girls surrounding me giggled. I would be sent home with a sample of sanitary napkin with every visit of a company. All I knew that these packets contained long cotton patches shaped like swimming pools in luxury hotels.
I was 12. Yes. I had no access to television in my house, nor did I have any access to any other form of media. The newspapers that came home daily were in the local Gujarati language, filled with the infamous pictures of the blood from one riot to another. So I never read them. Internet and computers, well, we never felt the need to have them.
I was 12. That would be around 11 years ago from today. I was the kind who would read the same textbook, again and again, and tear away the pages of my biology book that I had been instructed to do in my class by my teacher. There were the pages where I had my last chance to know my body, and the other as well, the kind I had not inherited. I remember that it was the first time that the government was experimenting with sex education, in the year 2003. So we had a student from a higher grade come and explain what AIDS was. Without explaining sex of course! I remember that during the Q&A session, I raised my hand and asked if people did “it” in the toilets? People meaning a man and a woman, other combinations was and still remains out of the normative consciousness. Do they do it naked? Really?
I was 12. My mother took it for granted that the routine of sanitary napkins being brought home meant that I knew what she needed to have explained to me. So she didn’t say a word. I did have no source to real information, but I must tell you that imagination is what I have depended upon to fill in the blanks of my life. So that is what I did. Combined with the “8” shape of the sanitary napkin, I embarked on an adventure of imagination, wondering what it would mean when girls in my class complained that there were brown stains on clothes? I remember once seeing brown stains on the chest area of a girl’s shirt. And the “8” shape fitted well to this sight, that periods happened in breasts. Yes! They do. Since breasts had suddenly appeared on my body, I had, through my imagination, resolved the question related to breasts and sanitary napkins, with blood coming from my nipples. Yes!
I was 12. So I wondered where babies came from. I formed many other such theories, finally coming to where I am now (and yes, I started menstruating somewhere in the meantime), with the help of a biology book of my cousin that I secretly read as I pretended to be napping or changing clothes. I discovered that the predominant heterosexual presentation that I had framed in my secret attempts to knowledge were misguiding. And for that discovery, I would like to thank the Gay and Straight Alliance at Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor. To be able to think today that 11 years ago, I experimented with the idea of menstruation through the shape of sanitary napkins speaks indeed much about the average knowledge on sex and gender in education in India.