My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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6 April 2015

Yes, as a matter of fact I AM menstruating as I write this

A photo flashed around my social media last week, showing a fully dressed girl lying on a bed, with her back to us. The caption underneath said Instagram had removed the photo, and for a moment, I couldn’t think why: it looked perfectly appropriate to me. And then I saw the spot of blood on the girl’s bottom and the other smudge of blood on the bedsheet behind her. The photo had been removed because it showed menstruation—something that is as natural as having a cold, except it’s not a disease, it’s just this quirk of biology, it’s what prepares women to keep propogating the human race, it’s what reminds me when I’m healthy, it keeps me going month after month, my body’s messy, sometimes painful calendar. Because yes, I get my period, and this is not a secret. One day I won’t get my period anymore—that’s not a secret either. So why do we act like it’s this shameful, horrible thing? Is it the blood? Is it the association with sex? It’s not even that dirty compared to some of the things we touch on a daily basis (a bus handle, a public toilet flush, stroking your pet’s fur).

Also see: ink on school skirt
The photograph was by Rupi Kaur, a Sikh poet living in Canada and she responded to the take-down by saying on her website: ““I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.” Eventually, after much media furor, Instagram apologised and put the photo back up claiming it had been removed “accidentally” but the message was still sent. We do not want to see the biology of what makes you a woman. In the past, the social media platform has removed pictures of women breastfeeding claiming that it “violates community guidelines.”

Out of curiousity, I do a search for “body” on Instagram to see what they allow you to keep. I see a woman yanking down her tank top to show off her nipples. I see a man displaying his penis. Breasts, stomachs, women in bikinis, women mostly naked except for a strategic hand placed over their privates,  men unbuttoning their pants, all of this is acceptable to Instagram but a fully clothed woman with blood on her sweatpants is not. Part of this is because we as a society fetishize the body, we like to think that it exists separate of the things we make it do, unless the thing you make it do is “beautiful” and can be shared. For example: photos of a growing baby bump will meet with lots of likes and acceptance, but photos of a generally fat stomach will earn you abuse.

Closer to home, students at Jamia Milia University in Delhi have taken to using sanitary towels to spread a message similar to Kaur’s—i.e. that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of. It all began with 19-year-old Elona Kastrati sticking pads to poles in her German university with messages on them, saying things like, “Imagine if men were as disgusted by rape as they were by periods.” #PadsAgainstSexism was born, and the students of Jamia Milia took it up on their own campus as well.

Would you be shocked to see a sanitary napkin on a pole? I might still be and I’m a card-carrying feminist. In fact, until only a few years ago, I was a bit embarrassed by having to buy my monthly supplies at the chemist. Much like condoms, pads and tampons take on a whisper quality—and it’s no coincidence that the most popular sanitary towel company in the country is called Whisper, because that’s how you ask for it.

People’s reactions to menstruation, much like breast feeding, should emerge from the dark ages. I’m not saying advertise it on your social media—or hey, do it if you want to, proclaim on your Facebook status: “I’ve got my period today” and then it will be as common as any other body function. These are the bodies we’re born into, imperfect, bleeding, snotting, places to make babies, homes to viruses and germs, and home to us. Let’s get rid of the way we use a million different euphemisms to describe our state: “down” or “chums”. You’re a woman. You have your period. That’s the way life is.  

(A version of this post appeared as my weekly column in

1 comment:

  1. What you have said is so very true. How is such a natural and life-giving thing considered such a taboo?


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