Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Damsel in Distress

She is being chased on a lonely road by a group of four people. She cannot run any more. She wants to keep running, she wants to save herself, but she is exhausted. She is just about to faint when she runs into the arms of a man at the turn of the road. She looks up at him but cannot see his face.

Veena always woke up at this point of the dream, panting, and then spent the rest of the day wondering who the man in the dream was. She’d had this dream quite a few times, and she worried that it may come true. She didn’t know how she would react if such a situation happened in real life. Or whether there ever would be a man to save her at the turn of the road.

Her friends said this was her repressed desire to be rescued from a dying relationship coming out subconsciously through dreams. Maybe. Her relationship with Suraj wasn’t exactly going well, despite the façade they maintained in front of the family. Five years of marriage and a baby had already taken a toll on their relationship. The spark was gone. There was no affection between them any more. They did not talk about anything except groceries, household expenses and the baby. Veena didn’t even remember the last time they made love. Of course she wanted to be rescued.

Though it was sacrilege to think that she would find someone else who would be interested in her, she often thought about having an extramarital affair. She wondered how people managed to have affairs – how did they find another person, develop trust, and fall in love all over again? She felt like she no longer knew what it is to fall in love. To be tactile and to want to be with each other all the time. To love and be loved. To be wanted, needed, pampered… Oh! Just the thought of someone giving her that kind of attention again turned her on.

Suraj and Veena had fallen in love seven years ago. She was doing her MBA and he had just finished MCA and was working in a company near her college. When they first met, she was waiting at the bus stop and he had come to drop his colleague there. He had taken one look at her and decided she was the one. And then the wooing, the motorbike rides, the secret one-day picnics where they first discovered their passions, the gifts – she was never short of attention. And the love-making was so good, so fulfilling. But by the time they had their wonderful, now two-year-old, son Veeraj, they had turned into parents of the child, and were no longer a couple. Suraj even slept off on the couch watching the TV nowadays.

***

It was a Saturday and she decided that she needed to relax a bit, hang out with friends, take a day off from being the mother and homemaker. She told the ayah she was going out in the evening and won’t be back until late in the night and to make sure the saab and Veeru have their dinner. She then dialed Suraj, but he did not pick the call. Must be another meeting, she thought in annoyance.

She called up two of her closest friends and fixed a dinner-and-club meet-up, much to their surprise. She chuckled as she heard Rekha scream from the other end of the phone, “Dude! You are coming to hang out with us! What happened, hubby jumped off the building?”

“Don’t be mean, silly. You know Suraj has never stopped me from coming anywhere with you gals. It’s always been me, unsure, depressed. But today I feel like shaking things up. I wanna drink, dance, just have fun, you know.”

“Good for you, babes! See you at 8 then!”

She was actually hoping to lay her hands on someone sexy and handsome at the club. A hassle-free one night stand. Just the thought of it was exhilarating. She decided that this called for special make-up.

She spent the entire afternoon pampering herself, warding off her son with video games and chocolates. She took a long bath in the tub with lavender-scented body oils, waxed herself free of body hair, blow-dried and curled her hair, gently massaged her favourite body lotion on to her supple skin, manicured her fingers and applied some baby pink nail polish, and dug up a pretty halter-neck magenta dress that complemented her figure well. And just as she was about to apply mascara to her eyelashes, the doorbell rang. She wondered who it could be. And to her horror, she heard the door open to the sound of Suraj hullo-ing Veeru. How could he be back so soon, that too on a Saturday! He usually went out with his buddies on Saturday nights.

She wondered what she should do – should she carry on, or walk down meekly, seek permission and then leave? Or should she cancel? But no, she did not want to cancel, so she decided that it would be best to pretend to take his permission first. She slipped out of the dress quickly and wrapped the bathrobe around her. Suraj walked into the bedroom a second later.

Suraj smelt her before he saw her. Then she smiled divinely at him and brushed his arm as she took the laptop case from him. He could not explain what came over him in that one touch. It was as if he had been blind all these years to the awesomeness of this woman before him. And before he knew what he was doing, he had enveloped her in his arms. He was kissing her neck, her earlobes, her shoulders. And she was giggling. She was moaning. She was beaming like an angel.

“Oh god, one minute, Suraj! Give me a second, I have to call Rekha and tell her I’m not coming!”

“Coming where?”

“Never mind, let me just make this call,” Veena giggled and wriggled again before dialling. She had to tell Rekha there was no damsel in distress to be rescued any more.

This is a blog written during Indiblogger Happy Hours for the Parachute Advansed Body Lotion #BringBackTheTouch campaign. Watch the campaign video below: 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Menstrual Cup

Please refer to my earlier blog posts for information on what menstrual cups are, how they work, and how to decide which size would fit you.

Advantages of using a Menstrual Cup

For those looking for a cooler display of this list, check the Buzzfeed list here.

Menstrual Cups are long-lasting and cheaper. An average menstrual cup can last anywhere between 5-15 years based on your usage. The price of a cup available in India, is between Rs. 700 to Rs. 2500 (depends on the brand you choose). Because of their durability, they help you save some money. The count of an average of 600 pads for five years means you spend around Rs. 1800 (around Rs. 30 for 10 pads) for the most basic type of sanitary pad. Imagine if you can make your cup last longer, say 10 years, then you are spending only Rs. 700-Rs. 1500 instead of Rs. 3600 or more. For tampons in India, you’ll spend around Rs. 6600 for five years at the rate of around Rs. 110 for a basic pack of 10. 

Menstrual Cups are safer and more hygienic. The cups are made of medical grade silicone that does not harm your body in any way. They do not soak up the blood or retain it artificially, so they do not cause Toxic Shock Syndrome that often happens while using tampons or pads because of bacteria growth in the blood-soaked cotton/rayon/hemp. The cups are soft and smooth and extremely flexible, so they do not cause ANY rashes around the groin (my perpetual problem with pads) or inside the vaginal canal (like tampons do). They do not contain any chemical that can be dangerous to your sexual organs. They can be taken in and out without any damage to your hymen, cervix or vagina unless you are completely careless with them and do not pull them out without releasing the seal. 

Menstrual Cups do not soak up your natural vaginal fluids. The cups do not leave your vagina dry and rough like tampons do. You can even masturbate with them on, and have orgasms with adequate release of fluids. 

Menstrual Cups have the least chance of leaking. Since the cups fit into your vaginal canal under the cervix, forming a vacuum seal with it (think of a balloon under a tap), there is very little chance of any leakage of blood. Because of this, you can use Menstrual Cups while swimming or while playing active sports. Leakage or spotting while using menstrual cups occur only if the user has not inserted it properly (far away from the cervix), if the seal is not properly formed (the cup is loose, not fitting properly or is too small for your vagina), or if you have not cleaned out your cup before it’s full. Remember that if you have heavy flow, you must clean it in 4-6 hours. 

Menstrual Cups are comfortable. The cups do not obstruct you in any form of physical movement or activity – they fit snugly into your vaginal canal and do not need external support. In this aspect the cups are quite like tampons. They also do not leak or pain while sleeping, and you do not have to get up in the middle of the night to change your pad or tampon. 

Menstrual Cups can be left in longer. Depending on your flow, you can leave in the cups for anywhere between 4 to 10 hours. A medium-sized cup can hold 15-20ml of blood, which is what you will bleed in around 5 hours if you have heavy flow (this is not a proven figure: I am doing a mental ballpark based on my own light flow). And if you have light flow like me, the cup might get “full” only after 10 hours. 
Menstrual Cups are eco-friendly. You can help reduce your contribution to land pollution drastically – instead of throwing away an average of 10 blood-soaked pads every month for five years – that is 600 pads for five years for women with light to moderate flow – you will only be throwing one small silicone cup every 5-15 years. A single pad or tampon apparently takes around 25 years to degenerate in soil, unless they are burnt, which will then add to air pollution. 

Menstrual Cups help you know your body better. Speaking from personal experience, the cup helps you learn a lot of things about yourself and your body that no other product can guarantee. You will know the positions of your cervix, the exact amount you bleed, your vaginal canal/wall and pelvic muscles, your comfort level with your body, your tolerance level of your menstrual blood, and so many tiny things that you never even thought existed within you. 

Menstrual Cups are not socially embarrassing. This is for women who do not like shopping for personal care products, or are embarrassed to discuss or take out/buy menstrual products. Since the cups look nothing like anything that is socially understood as a menstrual product, its presence in your bag, or in your hand when you meet a friend while heading to the toilet, is not embarrassing. You don’t have to worry about disposing your napkins/tampons at your house, in front of guests, in the house of friends or relatives, etc., because there is nothing to throw away! You don’t have to face the prospect of a pet dog dragging out one of your napkins or tampons from the dustbin. You don’t have to wait for them to dry out like cloth pads. And the cups come in pretty colours too! 

(Pic courtesy: MesntrualCup.co)


Disadvantages of using a menstrual cup

Menstrual Cups can get gross. The cups need involvement and interaction with your periods. They are not for people who are grossed out by menstrual blood and private parts. You need to touch your private parts very often, you need to empty the cup and see all the blood you have shed, you need to clean up in case you accidentally drop the cup while emptying. 

Menstrual Cups need a lot of practice and patience. Your vaginal walls can contract and tighten up when you are tense or agitated, so inserting and removing the cup can be troublesome if you cannot control your pelvic muscles and relax. Each insertion/removal can be different from the previous one, so you cannot take it for granted. It’s a new learning every day of the periods. 

Menstrual Cups can be scary. Inserting anything inside your vagina can be scary. Who are we kidding – we Indian women are even scared of having sex for the first time because we imagine we cannot handle the size of a penis inside us. So inserting and removing things from your vagina three to four times a day may not appeal to you. But remember, you give birth to a child via your cervix and vagina. Nothing can get bigger or worse or scarier than a full-grown infant sliding down that versatile hole of yours! 

Menstrual Cups can get tedious. For people who are used to slapping sanitary pads to their panties, the cups will seem like too much effort. But for starters, you can mix and match the usage of different menstrual products – for example, you can use the cup on your first day, tampons on your second, and pads for the next two days, to manage the flow better. 

Menstrual Cups may not be available over the counter in India yet. I ordered mine online, and even online, I haven’t seen as many brand options as available in the US. ALX Care, Diva Cups, Mooncups, Shecups, can be bought online. Please note that Softcups are slightly different than regular reusable menstrual cups so read up before buying that. But for those residing in the Americas or Europe or Australia, various options are available (For example, look at the options on the main Amazon website. Other links below. 

For those looking for an option less invasive than menstrual cups but also litter-free unlike sanitary pads and tampons, I recommend cloth pads. Of course, they have to be washed and dried out, and you’ll just have to deal with that – you can’t get everything in a product, you know! While you can make cloth pads at home quite easily, and they are reusable until the cloth tears, very pretty cloth pads are also available online on Shycart and Craftsvilla, a tad expensive though. 

Diary of a Menstrual Cup User - Day Four (The day I learned about different folds)

I recommend that you read the first three parts of this series - Prologue, Day One and Day Two and Three - before starting on this.

This morning, I had no cramps, but I have no way of telling whether that’s because I had a good night’s sleep or because I wasn’t wearing the cup. I decided to be positive about it and resolved that I won’t read any more of the forum threads today – the last day of my periods – and would reserve further reading for after the menses. I’d request you to follow this advice – do not read up too much or overthink, because then you’ll be susceptible to psychosomatic experiences and be unsure of what you are using. This advice, of course, is relevant for any product, not just cups or personal care products.

The latter half of my third day and the fourth day are generally blood-free, with a little spotting at the most. So the fourth day is usually a chilled-out day. I reinserted the cup in the morning, and used a punchdown fold (see pics) instead of the standard C-fold that I was using the last three days. Now you must wonder how many folds is even possible with this tiny thing. You’d be surprised, because I was! I watched a Lunette folds video on YouTube, which showed around nine folds! Some are quite fancy, but I think the C-fold and punchdown work the best and are the easiest.


 


All the folds in the video may not be comfortable for everyone. Plus the fancy folds such as the diamond can be used only if you have a larger vaginal canal and a wide-mouthed cup. And to break the seal that the cup forms with the cervix, you have to make sure that you don’t pull the cup out in a straight motion, but instead, settle into your most comfortable position (squatting and leaning against the wall might be best), hold the stem of the menstrual cup firmly and gently move it from left to right till you can feel the cup moving outwards. And once you can feel parts of the cup other than its stem, press and pull gently. If you are removing the cup after more than 4-6 hours and the cup could be more than half-full, ensure that you don’t spill the blood during this pulling. The cleaning up will be messy and gross. Especially if you are in an office or public toilet. Also take care not to drop the cup while removing it – imagine if it falls into the public toilet?! Yuck.

Those of you who are cleanliness freaks might also want to carry around tissues and hand sanitizers (If you are a cleanliness freak you might already be carrying these in your vanity bag!) to clean the cup and the hands after each removal and re-insertion.

The reason I was looking up folding methods is because of the suction and seal business. As I mentioned earlier, the cup forms a seal with the cervix and stays in place because of vacuum suction. The size of the mouth of the cups sometimes makes it difficult to insert it into the vagina properly. Which is why it is important for you to know the size of your vaginal canal and the size of the cup you plan to buy, in order that you don’t end up wasting your money on something that doesn’t fit you at all. A variety of size charts are available here. I reiterate – I happened to be lucky at getting the right fit, but it may not be so for you.

The fourth day was the most comfortable of them all (naturally) and though I’ve got fairly accustomed to the cup, there’s still more to learn and get relaxed with. I’m better prepared to face more cycles with the product. The cup is by far the most intimate product I’ve used and is both awesome and scary at the same time, but I find it much more comforting and sensible than the sanitary napkins I’ve been using so far. In my next post, I will be talking generally about the advantages and disadvantages of using the cup, and its comparison with other menstrual products.

(This is a non-fictional diary entry designed to spread awareness about menstrual cups. The author promises to give a true and honest review, and narrate her experiences as decently as possible.)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Diary of a Menstrual Cup User – Day Two and Three (The day I panicked)

I recommend that you read the prologue to this series and the first part before moving on to this post.

On the second day I woke up around 11 am after a cosy eight-hour sleep. Usually I would head right to the bathroom to check and change the pad, but now I felt nothing. And when I did get down to checking whether the cup was full or leaking or spotting, it wasn’t. 

I decided that I would cut a section of the stem the second day. After the trimming, it felt better though not optimal. I thought I’d test the day with the shorter stem and reduce it further if I felt comfortable with the reduced length in pulling it down. And on Day Three, I cut one more notch down, and smoothened the edges so they don’t hurt. And that second cutting worked wonders. Now my cup’s stem is just 1-cm long and I no longer get the feeling that a foreign object is inside me. 


Unnerving moments

The second day was uneventful otherwise. I cleaned the cup out every 5-6 hours, each time throwing out less than 5-7ml of blood. I did not have any cramps on the second day, and I was more at ease. But on the third day, towards evening, the cramps returned. I had severe gas trouble and backache as well, like on the first day. I was getting very uncomfortable – not with the cup but with my body in general, not to mention the fact that I started feeling dizzy and started sweating all of a sudden. Amid all this, I was reading some of the threads on the menstrual cups forum on livejournal, and some of the problems women have faced just psyched me out. 

For example, some women have had cups stuck in their vagina for two to three days because of the tight suction. Some women have had excessive cramps due to the pressure of the suction on the cervix. Some others have fainted from the cramps. Reading all this made me wonder if my cup was the thing giving me cramps on this third day (cramps on second, third or even fourth days don’t happen to me every month, but it isn’t unusual either). And all of that together made me panic. I pulled out and reinserted my cup three times while in the office to ease the suction off, though my brain told me that it couldn’t feel any tension in the vaginal cavity. 

Finally I took a deep breath, ordered a Veggie Delight from Subway, sucked on a few Polo mints and relaxed myself out of the morbid thoughts. I restrained my dizziness through single-minded focus on work (and of course the sugar). But when I reached home, I decided that I needed to give the cup a rest for the night because my thoughts needed some sorting out. So I cleaned out the cup, wiped it and slid it into its pouch, before slapping on a sanitary pad on my panty and retiring for the day. And returning to the pad for the night felt like going to a movie with an ex-boyfriend with whom you’re probably likely to have some friendship in the future, but it’s going nowhere currently! 

(This is a non-fictional diary entry designed to spread awareness about menstrual cups. The author promises to give a true and honest review, and narrate her experiences as decently as possible.) 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Diary of a Menstrual Cup User – Day One (The day I discovered cervix)

The prologue to this series can be found at: Diary of a Menstrual Cup User - Prologue

I woke up with a faint pain in the small of my back and a bloated tummy, and I knew this was going to be the first of my bloody days. Then I remembered that my new ALX Care Menstrual Cup was going to make its debut, and I got a tad excited. I got in the bathroom with my new silicone friend and start placing it in my vagina.

This time, it went in easily enough. I guess on the other days my vaginal walls were very tight or too hard. I also figured that the best position I could use to insert the cup was sitting on the commode. I also learnt to grip the cup tightly to avoid it snapping open in the middle of the inserting. That can happen a lot in the beginning. I wore it and walked around a little to check the comfort level. I tried to show it off to my husband, but of course there was no way of showing it off without being gross, so I just walked around looking all smug.

The stem of the cup poked at the tip of my vagina all the time, but for the moment I was okay with it because it assured me that it was in place and was not going anywhere. However, it added to my consciousness of the product, so I decided that as soon as my trust level with the cup went up a notch, I would trim the stem a little. The ALX Care Menstrual Cup has a very long stem – with four sections half a centimetre each, making that a total of around 2cm.

Since this was my first use, I was super conscious of “the thing inside my vagina”. While it does not hurt or bulge anywhere to cause discomfort, the fact that I had severe cramps and backache meant that I was also wondering whether the cup was adding to the pain in any way. I tried to urinate and defecate with the cup on, and had no problem doing that.

Get comfortable with your body

I went out for lunch with a friend in the afternoon and told her all about the cup. She had never heard of it so I gave her a brief idea of the product and promised to share my experiences with her. She, however, said she was not comfortable with the grossness involved in cleaning out the cup and the constant need to insert and remove it from the vagina. That is a disadvantage of the cup – if you are not comfortable with your body, if you are the kind that cannot stand visions of blood (and a collecting cup means there’ll be A LOT of it), if you do not like engaging with your private parts, then you cannot use the cup. Of course this is all psychological and can be overcome eventually, but then there are some things a person just cannot bring themselves to do. So if you fall in that “I cannot” category, you have two options – be open to changing your attitude, or stick to your current menstrual product.

I cleaned out the cup thrice between 10 am and 4:30pm (before heading out to office where I cleaned it out once again), not because of heavy flow, but because I was conscious and curious. I did not know how much blood (in ml) I discharge on the first day, and I wanted to see how much the cup would hold. The ALX Care Menstrual Cup is designed to hold around 25ml of blood to the brim, and during each of my removals the cup was not even 15% full: which means that I could actually leave it on for about 8 hours without a shred of worry. This will be different for women with heavier flow of course; I’d categorise myself among the women with low-to-moderate flow.

I wanted to know more about the cups – I was sure there would be forums that discussed the products or menstrual problems in general. That’s when I found the menstrual-cups.livejournal.com, which is a forum entirely dedicated to the cups. And it can answer a wide range of a woman’s worries – some outlandish and stupid worries included.

Size of the vaginal canal

One thing that hit me as I was reading some of the threads on the Forum was the constant allusion to “size”. Now, even while reading Kamasutra, I had always wondered how one could determine the size of one’s vagina. My confusion can be attributed to the slightly mistaken notion I had of my reproductive system (see illustration, left. Ignore the shoddy work, I used MS Paint and a woozy touchpad to do it, so whaddya expect!) I thought that the vagina was the external opening of the uterus. As in, the vagina just changed shape to become the uterus higher up the pelvic bones. And that is also why I thought, like many others, that if the menstrual cup slid high up, it would get inside the uterus.

As I read the threads on the Forum, I realised that the cervix played an important role in determining the size and positioning of the cup. And – OMG – I knew nothing about the cervix so far! Gasp! So I launched into a half-an-hour study of the cervix. I know you probably think I’m pretty stupid, and that I don’t deserve the 85% marks I got for science in Class 10, but I’m sure that a lot of women don’t think in detail about their reproductive system just like how many persons do not know every component and shape of their digestive or respiratory system.

The cervix

Finally, I learnt my big science lesson of the day. The uterus and vagina are not a single entity. They share the same space vertically, but the cervix comes between them (see pic, right, courtesy 'oncologychannel.com'). The cervix is the tip of the uterus that dangles into the vagina, like a tap. It is this tip that has to dilate from being a small slit or a 0.2mm hole to a basketball-size sphere in order to allow normal delivery of babies. A versatile hole, indeed (from the movie Sex Tape, 2014).

The cervix keeps changing its nature throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. During ovulation and menstruation, the cervix becomes soft and goes slightly higher up the vaginal tract, while on other normal days of the cycle, the cervix is firmer and dangling lower in the vaginal tract. The size and position of the cervix, therefore, will be different in different women, depending also on the depth of your vagina (which can be determined by how far your longest finger goes before it hits the cervix). This means that the menstrual cups cannot be in a standard size for all women – the variations in the depth of the vaginal canal and the length of the cervix can give you a large number of permutations for deciding the size of a menstrual cup.

This got me worried if the cup I had was suitable to me or not. Plus, there were several threads on the Forum that discussed how some cups are too large and hence not comfortable, or how some are too small and difficult to remove once put in. Now the only way for me to find out if my cup was all right size-wise or not was to determine how deep my vagina was. And you know what, I found out (though I am not telling you, of course), and cross checked with the size of my cup, and luckily, the size was just perfect.  So those of you wanting to try out menstrual cups might first want to know your intimate parts better. I was just plain lucky.

Essentially, the cup sits in the vaginal tract, under the cervix, like a balloon under a tap, and collects menstrual blood right from the source. This accounts for the lack of leakage or spotting (welcome, clean panties). Unlike the sanitary pads that are placed externally and hence collect the blood that drips out of the body, like a piece of cloth kept under the tap. Or tampons (which I have never used but can comment on based on my versatile imagination), that work like a piece of cloth placed around the tap to soak in the water.

Suction and cramping

All this while, I was suffering from acute cramps, which prompted me to look up threads on the Forum that talked about cramping. I discovered that the cups could sometimes add to the cramping due to tight suction. The cups stay in place inside the vagina and under the cervix through natural vacuum suction, as you can imagine, because of the limited space the cup has for maneuvering inside the vagina. (But then that is also the reason why the cup does not leak, so hey, I am not complaining!) Sometimes, the suction becomes a little too much, especially if left for long without removal, and sometimes you might have trouble taking it off. This suction can create pressure around the cervix and leave you feeling cramped and uncomfortable. I think removing and re-inserting the cup at least thrice a day and once before sleeping should help avoid excess suction pressure. At least, that’s worked for me so far. From my practice of removal and re-insertion through the day, I figured that the best way was to grasp the stem tightly, wheedle it to left and right till the cup moves down a little, and then use both the hands to gently pull it down.

I was slightly apprehensive about how the sleeping experience would be. Will the cup tilt and start leaking? It’s happened to others on the Forum. However, it just would not do to mistrust your friend because of what others have been saying, right? So I put my entire faith and positive thoughts on the safety of the cup, and went to sleep around 3am. The next thing I remember, I’m waking up at 11am the next morning. Eight straight hours of beauty sleep.

Day One was a day of big lessons for me. I have never known so much about my body in such little time. It felt great, because I love understanding my body and giving each part the attention it deserves. And I believe that the more women know their body, the easier it will be for them to get over social taboos and superstitions surrounding the female form, especially in India.

(This is a non-fictional diary entry designed to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and menstrual cups. The author promises to give a true and honest review, and narrate her experiences as decently as possible.)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Diary of a Menstrual Cup User - Prologue

As a woman, I've been conditioned to not talk about my personal care and menstrual hygiene in front of men. We women are more often than not, embarrassed to buy lingerie or sanitary napkins from a male salesperson at the shop, we wrap our bloody sanitary pads in newspaper before disposal so that no one sees it, we don't tell people why we are moody even though it's so fucking obvious, we don't go to temples four days a month because we are "impure" with the womb-blood...

But my mother was very frank and open with me, so I was comfortable with the idea of menstruation long before the phenomenon set in for me. And because women do not hesitate talking about this in front of each other - depending on where your trust levels are with the woman standing opposite you - I took part in a great many conversations about periods, the taboos, the embarrassments, PMS, hormone shifts, sex, and everything else a woman's vagina and the psyche goes through.

Putting something about my own experiences with menstruation up on the internet will invite three kinds of reactions -

a) Why are you writing such gross things about yourself? Have you no shame that the whole world would get to know intimate things about you?

b) Whoa baby, show us your vagina in the next post!

c) Kudos, darling I'm so proud of you. You actually came out and bared your pubic life in public.

I'm going to risk these and any related reactions, and write about menstruation - because women have a right to know the options for their body and choose the best for it. And they need not go and consult gynaecs or friends in secrecy - they should be able to search the internet and get adequate information or opinion.

I do not profess to be any sort of authority on what I am going to write. In fact, this writing, and the whole experience with the product I'm going to be writing to you about, is a steep learning curve for me. I know my body better with each passing day. And I think every woman deserves to know her body as much as her inner self. And if reading about my experiences and opinions helps even one woman, I'll consider myself blessed.

What are Menstrual Cups?

This post and all others in the "Diary of a Menstrual Cup User" series will talk about menstrual cups - touted to be a safer, cheaper and eco-friendly alternative to sanitary pads and tampons. I learnt about them quite accidentally during some random internet search on intimate products. It fascinated me, and I decided to try it out, after months of deliberation.

Menstrual cups are a cup-shaped product made for use during menstruation. Unlike sanitary pads that are slapped on to your underwear to soak up the blood or tampons that are compressed cotton cylinders inserted into the vagina to soak up the blood, the cups collect menstrual blood and can be cleaned out without needing any external forms of disposal. No need for discreet methods of throwing the pads/tampons, no need to watch dogs chew on used pads and tampons in public dustbins, no need for littering. You can help reduce your contribution to land pollution drastically - instead of throwing away an average of 10 pads every month for five years - that is 600 pads for five years for women with light to moderate flow - you will only be throwing one small silicone cup every five years. A single pad or tampon apparently takes around 25 years to degenerate in soil, unless they are burnt, which will then add to air pollution.

The cups are inserted into the vagina in order to allow them to collect the blood. It is mostly made of medical grade silicon, is soft, smooth and rubbery, and require a more hands-on experience with periods than with any other product. Since they do not soak up the blood, they are said to be free from Toxic Shock Syndrome and bacterial infections. They also do not cause rashes typically associated with pads and tampons because of the smooth texture of the cups. The cups can be left in for 4-5 hours for women with heavy flow, 6-7 hours for women with moderate flow, and 8-10 hours for light flow.

An average cup can last anywhere between 5-15 years based on your usage. The price of a cup available in India, is between Rs. 700 to Rs. 2500 (depends on brands). Because of their durability, they also help you save some money. The count of an average of 600 pads for five years means you spend around Rs. 1800 for the most basic type of sanitary pad. Imagine if you can make your cup last longer, say 10 years, then you are spending only Rs. 700-Rs. 1500 instead of Rs. 3600 or more.

I got the delivery of my new ALX Care Menstrual Cup Size 1 (for women before childbirth) off Amazon.in for Rs. 700, on November 8. I wasn't menstruating then, but I decided to try it on to get used to it - what is popularly known as "dry run". The first time I tried, it wouldn't go in. Because I was nervous, and my vaginal muscles weren't loosening up, and the soft rubbery cup kept snapping between my fingers. I was also not able to figure out the best squatting position to slide it in smoothly. And when I did manage to stick it in, I thought the mouth of the cup was too big, and that the cup was not sitting properly inside.

I tried it on again the next day, and I faced similar difficulties, but was able to insert the cup into my vagina with less effort than on the previous day. This made me confident that that this will work out with practice. Until then I'd never bothered about understanding why and how and when my vagina is tight or loose or wet or dry (except obviously, during sex or masturbation). And I thought I knew my body well enough.

Meanwhile I also scouted a few websites and forums and found a lot of interesting information on both the cups and the reproductive system. Among the ones that helped me the most are: http://vagmonologues.blogspot.in/ and http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/.

If you have any questions on these posts or anything related to menstrual cups and periods, please leave them in the comments. Even if I don't know the answer, we'll find out together. Till the next post, happy exploring!

(This is a non-fictional diary entry designed to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and menstrual cups. The author promises to give a true and honest review, and narrate her experiences as decently as possible.)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

A Breezy Read For Teenagers: Luv.Net by Bharti Mohan

Book Review by Namitha Varma-Rajesh

Luv.net by Bharti Mohan is a made of teenage stuff – romance, web chat, sex chat, the idealistic “I-can-change-the-world” philosophy, the predictable happy ending. It is targeted at the romance-loving age groups and first-time readers of the English novel. Published by Partridge Publishing India – a self-publication platform operated by Author Solutions LLC in partnership with Penguin Books India – the book is a breezy read, tries to be funny, does not tax your brains, and is written in simple language.

The story is based in the heyday of internet chatting in 2001-2002, when Yahoo Messenger was way more popular and aspirational than Google Hangout can ever dream of being. Junglecat and Lionking begin their friendship in the Flirt Chat chatroom of Yahoo Messenger and go through several phases of trust before confiding in each other their true identities and starting a long-term real-life relationship. The book is divided into two parts – the first part focuses on internet identities while the second part moves on to real identities of the characters.

I personally found the first part more interesting than the second one, especially because the chat language, conversation format and jokes that seemed natural in the formal, “unknown” webchat scenario lost their teeth when the story shifted to real life and required more narration and dialogues that should have sounded less clunky. English may not be the language Bharti Mohan is used to writing in, but the novel suffers from ponderous Indianised English at many levels.

Anyone in India who was introduced to the internet and chatting in the early 2000s can relate to the conversation and the story. The first part makes a statement on the senseless chatting in those early days, and with the profusion of social media options today – Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter – the message is still relevant. However, the author does not overdo the preaching in that department – he merely makes sure you get the point, and then moves on to other points he wants to make.

And Bharti Mohan does have a lot of points to make. In the first part he touches upon environmental cleanliness and eco-friendliness, women’s empowerment and female foeticide, and a bit of social reformation. In the second part, the caste system in India and the reservation for various communities, and the fickleness of social display of wealth are critiqued. However, he has taken care to avoid making these social evaluations meddle with the flow of the story, and dialogues centering these issues sound just how they would when two or more friends are gathered around discussing them.

If I may be permitted a minor digression and nitpicking, a problem I had with the story is that it showed a woman as being able to have an orgasm at the drop of a hat. Being a woman myself, I think that is ridiculous. Women hardly get a proper orgasm in life. Men can “come” in less than five minutes, but women aren’t made that way. They need stimulation, foreplay, good hard thrusts and a lot of love. If men think women come soon, it’s probably only because the fairer sex is great at deception and at faking orgasms.

Since the entire story is built on conversation (webchat format), it is almost like a play. And because the exchange is in webchat/SMS lingo, it spares the author and editor any scrutiny from language Nazis. Despite that, there were a few typos and grammatical errors that could have been avoided with a careful eye. The only reason I’m mentioning grammar and spelling is that one of the persistent problems in self-publication or independent publication is lack of good editing.

The language of the novel belongs to the nouveau-English speaker. Luv.net does not boast of any outstanding writing style, narrative technique or literary value, but manages to keep itself floating on the novelty of the tale. The book belongs to the post Chetan Bhagat-era of English novel writing in India, where a simple love story seeks to attract aspirational English readers in the Indian subcontinent. 

Buy the book on Flipkart or Amazon

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Old House

The old house,
seething in anger,
despondent,
distraught –
cursing wordlessly,
fought time.

Like its inhabitants,
it withered away slowly,
crumbled in places no one looked,
quivered ever-so-lightly in strong winds,
put up a brave front to visitors,
and waited.

It waited,
for the young ones to walk into it –
they ran around its vast porch once,
plucked juicy jamuns and tamarind from its garden,
fell on its high threshold,
slid on its smooth floors,
lit fires under its dark chimneys –

It waited,
for the stubborn little girl
who once found a snake
slithering amid firewood
and killed it –

It waited,
for the soft-spoken boy
who once dreamt of a demon
and wet his bed –

It waited,
for the little toddler
who once banged his head
on its door
and left liquid red patterns on the floor –

It waited,
for someone to look again,
and call the bluff
on its pretty façade –

It waited,
and wore itself out
with every passing hour.

The gates never opened
to let a young one in. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Days Before Humans Died

My dreams have become colourless, odourless, tasteless;

My nightmares come in all hues of 
hatred, 
fear, 
grief.


I yearn for the days 
when I did not have to wear saffron 
and detest green 
to live in peace.


I yearn for the days 
when symbols of religion were symbolic, 
and its tenets remained in the collective memories 
of no one in particular, 
while we circumambulated its edifices 
without a discordant thought or fanaticism. 


I wake up to news of 
communal riots, inter-religious skirmishes, deaths, rapes, sacrifices.
But now I do not even flinch. 


I yearn for the days
when the world contained more humans and less gods. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Inheritance

I. From a daughter to her mother

A solid gold necklace
studded with jades and rubies;
A rack full of books -
Tolstoys, Dostoyevskys, Gorkys;
Old newspaper cuttings
of Republic Day Parades, The Emergency, P. Chidambaram;
Binaca toothpaste miniature animal collection,
old stamps, coins, film star cutouts -
You've given me a lot, amma. 

A royal lineage,
Regal bearing, 
self-respect,
a sense of independence,
a love for literature,
a thoughtful mind, 
sensitivity, 
politeness -
You've given me a lot, amma. 

A weak respiratory system -
sinusitis, allergies, 
wheezing, breathlessness; 
Blood pressure, 
diabetes,
psoriasis - freak cells,
weak bones - 
rheumatitis, arthritis,
You've given me a lot, amma. 



II. From a mother to her daughter

I have a lot to give you, my baby -

A name
    chosen with care
                un-mispronounceable;
Broad forehead
    tiny nose
                thick long hair;
A plethora of attributes -
    sensitivity, politeness,
                thought and care;
Myriad habits,
    collected over time
                from people, places, things;
Souvenirs of a nomad life -
    Rajasthani jewellery
                Kerala sarees
                            Gujarati cuisine;
A trunk full of folktales
    gathered from grandmothers,
                teachers and Tinkles;

A bunch of hereditary disorders -
    rotten breath, blood, cells,
                Forgive me for passing them on, will you?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Some haikus and senryus

These haikus and senryus were written via my Twitter profile over the last few months. Just compiling them here.

*These micropoems do not strictly adhere to the traditional haiku/senryu styles. The only consistent feature is that they are in the 17 syllable (5-7-5) format.



petrichor ~
makes me want to make
love to you

                                                                                              Raindrops spluttering
                                                                                              on the window sill ~
                                                                                              cool wind in my eyes
                                                                                          
blooms in the garden
mocking my melancholy
look at the bright side

                                                                                              aching to fill the  
                                                                                              void left by your memories, 
                                                                                              the mind is numbed

The faraway moon
lending its light to the night
calms my writhing heart

                                                                                              Numb fingers
                                                                                              cold feet
                                                                                              burning heart

On cold sleepless nights,
with shivering hearts,
we face our demons.

                                                                                              Cold monsoon winds blow
                                                                                              coffee and music drown me;
                                                                                              wonder where is love.

My freezing fingers
ache for you ~
hold me tight.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

10 Things To Do Before I Die

Glean a baby’s smile
steal a cat’s cuteness
gather the raindrops and make a necklace;
touch the whispers of the wind
feel the murmurs of the stream
drink a bowlful of moonlight
breathe in the sunlight and glow from within;
travel on the sound of the chugging train
sleep on the froth of a rising tide
walk a mile in my mother’s shoes.

If I can do these before I die,
why, death would then hardly count. 

Friday, 30 May 2014

My first ebook of poems!

So finally, I have taken my first baby step in publishing. Here is my first free share and download ebook - 'My Heart is Your Brothel'. It's a collection of poems on infatuation, crush, love, call it what you may.

The book can be downloaded in .mobi, .epub and PDF formats. To download, however, you have to share the book link via Facebook or Twitter. To do that, click on the green 'Share and Download' button that you see when the page opens, allow Papyrus Editor to access your Facebook/Twitter profile and share the link. Once that is done, the green button on the ebook page will change to 'Instant Download', clicking which you can get the files.

I hope whoever reads this post will also download the ebook (it's just 18 pages long, so don't hesitate!), read it, share it and leave comments for me, the poet, either here, or to my twitter handle @namithavr.

Happy reading!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

In Awe

My fingers smell of cigarettes
smoked with you;
My mind is rambling on the
conversation we shared;
My heart is hoping
to see you just once more —
you say I am infatuated.

But I am merely in awe of you. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Silk threads

silk threads
are uninspiring;
find me some jute,
some coarse hands,
nothing cute –
let me create
marvels in browns and greys;

silk threads
are too pretty,
too delicate
for me to play with,
find me some coir,
some raw strength –
let me make you beds and mats;

silk threads
are brittle, expensive,
find me some cotton,
some patient minds –
let me make you things to wear,
summer, winter or rain;

silk threads
are not for me.
find yourself a man
who will care. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

He can't let go

He rolled her words upon his tongue
a satin stream of love
rolling into his brain;
He hugged her dreams,
he kissed her hopes,
a barrage of memories
drowning him in pain.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

How the Day and Night Came About

Twilight stole into the sky
kidnapped the sun,
and brought in the rule of the moon.

Dawn, that knight in shining armour,
rescued the sun and restored his reign.

The sun and moon liked their game --
thence came the rules of day and night.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Wounds

She Touched Me Where No Man Ever Did And Found Wounds That Noone Ever Did.

*Honouring Women on International Women's Day

Cooking

She spluttered mustard,
Added turmeric,
Roasted onions,
Boiled potatoes –
And added some flavour
Colour
Taste
Consistency

to her life.