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‘Every month I’d be lying in the principal’s room, waiting to die’

Pavitra was told that experiencing period pain was to be expected, even when the pain she was experiencing was debilitating. Why did it take so long for someone to take her pain seriously, she wonders.

“Kalyanam ana yellam seri aagirum” (if you get married everything will be okay). Dr Sharadhama told me this. Not once, but every time I crawled into the clinic with pain looking like a bent dosa karandi (ladle).

At school, my age-attained friends would see me struggle every month with as sad a face as possible. They couldn’t do anything to relieve me of the pain and they couldn’t ask me what I was going through either, or even offer sympathy. Apparently their paatis and ammas told them that if they asked me what happened, even if it was a mere “are you okay?”, the pain would shift to them. So, they would convey their feelings through facial expressions. If we had had texts back then, they would have just sent a sad face emoji and not even look at me because my pain might travel through the eyes and infect them. 

I remember the very first time I got my periods. I barely had any pain then. Like every other girl, my stomach was filled with ulunthu (black gram) ladoos and raw eggs. Everyone told me that I was supposed to feel a normal amount of pain. My Amma told it would feel slightah like an ant bite in the stomach. 

It was after the first regular period, that I understood that staying conscious was not as easy as lying unconscious in the thittu (small elevated seating area) near our bathroom. Nothing was more painful than my amma sitting near me and saying that this was all because of my grandma’s genes.

“The only solution is to close your eyes and eat the meat I cooked,” Amma said. “Only I know the struggle of gatekeeping that one tumbler of tea or juice inside my stomach,” I replied.

Sometimes, I would feel like my stomach was screaming at me for still listening to Amma. So, I would fold my hands and dramatically fall on the bathroom floor to divert Amma. The tips she gave were simple and from her own life experience: “Take bath, eat nicely and roll on the floor”.

I couldn’t follow her because I hated the smell of my wet hair and puked twice in the name of karthiga shampoo. I ate one idly and puked yesterday’s tomato rice, our bathroom was only spacious enough to stretch my legs while sitting. 

After banging my body and head continuously against the bathroom door for three to four hours, I would slowly stop moving my legs and the pain would go away completely. Till date I don’t know when the exact moment of relief comes. How to witness? Even if the pain gives me a short break, my Amma would start talking about how abnormal I was compared to all other girls. Anything opposite to normal pain is abnormal according to Amma. 

This did not stop only at home. Whenever I got my periods at school, I would be down in the principal’s room lying down with the help of two chairs waiting to meet my parents before I died. All the boys in my class knew about my condition. No one discussed it loudly, but repetition had helped them understand the situation. I was no longer able to flaunt my regular period cycle to anyone. 

An illustration of a girl, lying down between two chairs, clutching her stomach. A screaming, red, horned demon has been shown emerging out of her stomach. 

What made my pain look abnormal was that no one else around me ever talked about period pain. All they said was that their pain was just a small uneasiness, but I had dying-on-the-floor pain. My amma and I couldn’t find any other girl suffering from period pain the way I did. All my class girls used to flaunt that they had nothing but some kashaya water at home, after which and their uneasiness faded away. My amma and I were tired of trying every possible method.

I had to go through this every month until one day.

Amma was shouting from behind, “Ayy iru vandi vitutu vara” (I’ll come after parking my vehicle) in a very loud voice that has enough panic in it to alarm the whole clinic. But, I felt nothing but pain. At that point of time my stomach was playing against all my body parts. My stomach was more like a cricket match ground, very heavy and packed.

Neither the sound of the nurse, nor the visual of the queue bothered me. I was my own ambulance. I rushed to the resting bed and started to cry. Sharadhama rushed to see me. I screamed “ayyo valikuthu”. The nurse said “periods”. She asked me “first day?” I shouted “mmm”. 

An illustration of a girl lying in a hospital bed, clutching her stomach. She has been shown sleeping peacefully after being injected with some medicine. There is also an illustration of the red, horned demon on the side. It is receiving an injection and swallowing some tablets. 

One injection. I cried. She left. My hands and legs became cold. Nurse said, “okay you can go”. I refused and cried more. Amma went to get the bedsheet from home. I slept for half an hour. 


I couldn’t believe it. My body was completely silent. I regretted all the times when I believed my amma’s lecture about how every woman goes through this pain and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. 

Sharadhama called Amma and me for a small health tip session. She spoke in a normal tone. Loud enough that even the men in the room (if there were any) could also definitely hear her. She said the only solution for my pain was to eat healthy food for strength. 

But is it normal? My amma asked. Sharadhama said, “Once she gets married it will eventually go away. There is no solution until then.” She recommended a few tests and it showed that I had no medical abnormality.

From that time, the injection was in my usuals list for a long time and eventually I shifted to tablets for convenience. They even had my file saved in their computer. 

Now that my only problem about my periods was solved, Amma felt that I had nothing less but an uninterrupted femininity.

I don’t know if the pain will go completely after I get married or after few years, but I know that I don’t have to worry two weeks before my periods anymore. I flaunted how I lasted for the whole day in school without crying, even though that was my first day of periods.  

The pain they called abnormal which was usual to me has its own cycle now. It comes and goes. I use tablets when it reaches the peak or, sometimes, I drink inji (ginger) tea and tackle the pain. Among all the superstitions, unworked remedies, actively working stereotypes, the one thing I did was understand my body.

I pity those aunties calling this method of taking painkiller as artificial and dangerous. From my view at least, I will share remedies that actually work. 

Pavithra is a BA graduate, currently trying to write as much as possible. If in a room, you hear a laugh that sounds like kickstarting a bike then it's probably her, laughing at her own jokes.

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