Saturday, July 11, 2015

Period piece

(Published in Business Standard today.)

The other day I walked into my local chemist shop to buy supplies. A salesperson materialised instantly at my elbow and tried to rip the toothpaste out of my hand. As you know, India is a great mighty country that is very powerful and mighty, and our proud youth are a mighty powerhouse of proudy might. This means that if you reach for a tube of toothpaste, a salesperson will teleport to your side, snatch it from you and carry it to the counter so that you don’t have to strain yourself, while at the same time nobody can seem to find any good people to hire. This is known as the ‘demographic dividend’, or ‘Vyapam degree, ah?’

“Can I help you with anything else, ma’am?” said the salesperson, tugging at my toothpaste.

“Yes,” I said, maintaining a death grip on my end, “do you have a menstrual cup?”

She dropped the tube and looked at me as if I was trying to eat her face.

“The thing you’re saying,” she said furtively, “You ask at the counter.”

As someone with a vagina, I have struggled with periods all my adult life. I don’t get nasty cramps, nor am I grossed out by blood and gore. But in thousands of years of human history, all of it chock-a-block full of bleeding women, nobody has yet come up with a good product to protect clothing from expired endometrial lining. Sanitary pads are bulky and leaky, and create unlovely aromas. Tampons are less obtrusive, but if they aren’t put in right you end up walking like an orc, and you could always be the one statistic who dies of toxic shock syndrome. Someone recently invented some kind of menstrual panty, but it sounds like an inadequate diaper.

Enter, some years ago, the menstrual cup. This is a flexible bell-shaped cup that fits against the vaginal walls and can collect a larger amount of blood than either pad or tampon. I’ve heard very good things about menstrual cups: they’re comfortable, easy to maintain, re-usable, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, and I’ve been meaning to try one for the longest time. You can order them online, but I thought they might be available at the local market.

It’s a different matter that that my menstrual cycle has suddenly gotten very erratic, which means that I’m either dying of a horrible disease, or entering that glorious stage of life technically known as ‘who needs birth control’. It takes a special kind of lazy procrastinator to only get around to trying a menstrual product when she hits peri-menopause (or the brink of death, as the case may be), but better late than never.

I went to the counter and asked the man if they sold menstrual cups. Ashen-faced, he body-blocked himself behind a female colleague. I addressed myself to her. Did they sell menstrual cups?

“Menthol capsules?” she said uncertainly.

“No: menstrual cups,” I said, enunciating. She appealed to another colleague, who pretended he couldn’t see her.

“Sorry, ma’am,” she said, “What do you want?”

“A menstrual cup,” I said loudly.

She scurried backstage, pretended to rummage around, and returned.

“What did you say it was?”

“A menstrual cup,” I bawled.

The whole shop froze. Time stopped; the laws of the universe reversed; god fainted. In the dread vacuum of the un-possible the salesgirl said, in a small desperate whisper,

“We don’t have those capsules.”

Maybe, sometime in the twelve long years that I’m told it can take to complete menopause, my chemist will start to stock menstrual cups. But it might still be easier to order them online.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

In the event of an Emergency

(Stet was on a summer break on the Saturdays of May 30 and June 13. It resumed with this, published in Business Standard on June 27, 2015.)

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard. In command is Captain Fantastic. Exciting new guy, strong, silent type, only thing is he won’t let anyone onto the flight deck, so this is a flunky speaking and I’m just guessing. Our flight away from the past and into the future will basically follow a little-interrogated model of development, avoid awkward conversations about who’s actually welcome, and take a dim view of dissent. Our journey will take—well, if you give us ten years then it’ll take ten years, but we assure you that we could get you there faster if you gave us fifteen. Think about it?

We should be ready for take-off shortly. I realise we’ve been in line forever, behind China Air at the head of the queue (it kills us to say this), and—will you look at that, a Biman Bangladesh has just cheekily nipped in in front of us. We apologise for the delay, but if we’re going nowhere fast, it’s because you insist on flying us only five years at a time.

Ladies and gentlemen, we ask you to kindly direct your attention to the front of the cabin, where the crew will now demonstrate a few important safety features of this NOMO-1975 statecraft. Even if you have been a citizen before, we ask you to pay attention for a few minutes to ensure a relaxed and pleasant political climate.

This is your seat belt. We’re doing everything we can, but keep it on and stay put. It’s not just in case of turbulence; you have been seated according to a delicate algorithm based on religion, community, gender, and age hierarchies that took us many millennia to perfect, so please try not to pollute it with your rootless, patronising Western ideas. Just because we’re all going to the future together doesn’t mean that we don’t take the proud traditions of our past along.

If there is a drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks should ideally drop from the panel above your head, but we had to remove the oxygen masks to find the budget for the prayer rooms installed at the front, rear and over the wings. Please feel free to use these rooms to pray that there is no drop in cabin pressure.

Your life vest used to be in a pouch beneath your seat. You will notice that we have done away with seats in favour of yoga mats. You’re welcome. We also replaced the life vests with copies of the Gita, which you will find under the lump in your yoga mat. Enjoy. By the way, we’re totally trimming costs with these moves. You can’t say we aren’t rocking this economy thing, right! Right?

In the unlikely event of an Emergency, do not panic. We had one, and we learned from it. One of the things we learned is that the captain shouldn’t necessarily declare an Emergency—studies have shown that it only upsets people, when in fact we have every intention of giving you a pleasant ride. All we’ll say is that we really, really, really recommend that you follow our directions, stop whining about how YOU really don’t want to wear your seat belt or do your yoga, and understand that asking annoying questions is anti-national. The point is that this statecraft is more important than your individual liberties. The more time you spend in the prayer rooms, the better you will understand this.

At any rate, we will do our best to distract you from any Emergency procedures we may initiate. We assure you that our crew will carry out their duties quietly and efficiently and take care of it. You just sit back, relax, and have a pleasant flight.