By Vidya Kamat
Digitally modified images on vinyl incorporating the works of
Arundhathi Subramaniam & Gita Chadha.
Click on the picture for details.
|Vidya Kamat||Arundhathi Subramaniam||Vidya Kamat|
|Gita Chadha||Gita Chadha||Vidya Kamat|
|Gita Chadha||Vidya Kamat||Vidya Kamat|
|Gita Chadha||Vidya Kamat||Vidya Kamat|
begins in the body-
are toxins enough here
is an acclaimed poet and dance critic.
discussion on the pre-menstrual syndrome in the natural cyclicity of a
woman’s body begs critical discussions on menstruation and modernism.
These discussions inevitably entail an engagement with issues of how the
female body-self has been constructed in modern cultures, both at the
level of how the woman experiences the pre-menstrual condition and at
the level of the socio-cultural constructions around it. Gender as a
critical category and feminism as critical theory not only question the
specific modern constructions of the female body-self but also of
modernism at large. On some maps, therefore, feminism and
post-modernism, which represents a critique of modernism, are close
I had no clue about
menstruation before I started it. I had not been adequately
‘educated’. I was thirteen years of age and had began sensing the
changes in my body. And yet I had no clue as my friends did, I learnt
later, about the ‘period’, the ‘chum’ – as in colloquial
My mother did her best. Today
I had have no complaints against her. Because she is my mother.
But I have complaints against
the entire cultural baggage that made her, made me and that will,
perhaps, make my daughter. A baggage that carries a sanitary napkin, a
lamp and endless whispers. A baggage in which the sanitary napkin has
become the symbol of my confinement to the feminine cage and the lamp
the symbol of my right to choose my ‘gestures’.
More importantly I went into a
strange cultural loop of denial where I fought and challenged the
stereotypes for a woman by denying my own feminity. I began, let’s
say, compensating for my feminity. I looked down upon women, ‘these
silly things’ who don’t think nor challenge. Dangerously, I began
using my mind against my body. I began ‘thinking’. The image of
Rodin’s thinker began gaining hold over my consciousness. I gave up
love stories for ideologies. I gave up emotion for reason, literature
Ten years down this road a
post friend, male of course, complimented me. He said that he didn’t
think of me as a woman but as an intellectual, a friend, a brother. I
realized that I had successfully constructed myself in the mould of man.
I could think life a man-hard, skeptical, unemotional, impersonal,
objective thoughts. But the strains of my residual femininity surfaced
on and off in the form of an extra tear, in an occasional diffusion of
though and also in the facility of my body. I could not erase these.
Ironically, it was the same
friend who at a later stage said that I could only be an intellectual
after all because I was a woman and not over aspire for wisdom or
sainthood, a category above the intellectual and obviously reserved only
for men. I realized then than I had to stop playing Man. The seeds of
feminism were, perhaps, sown with that realization. I began to
recognize, acknowledge, guard and celebrate the ‘difference’. I
began to challenge the hierarchy. I began to strive against
‘sameness’ but towards equality.
When my niece began her
periods, I had to celebrate with a film. I also lit the lamp that day.
The baggage had to lighten.
Modernism is not shunned, it is celebrated. Menstruation is shunned.
Because what is celebrated, what is held valuable is born out of the
mind. And what is shunned is born out of the body. Modernism, modernity
and the modern concern cultures, nations and civilizations. These are
grand narratives. Menstruation, on the other hand, concerns a subject on
the periphery of these narrative – woman. It is a non-narrative.
Modernism is critiqued by post-modernism while menstruation is
clinicalised through the ‘jewel in the crown’ of modernism i.e.
modern medicine. One of the recent instances of such clinicalisation is
the invention of the pre-menstrual syndrome. Accepted as a ‘disease’
of the mind in English courts of law, the recent interest in
pre-menstrual syndrome, according to Jacqueline Zita, has been carried
on the wave of an ideological panic. She critiques the Scientific
studies that have reinforced this panic. These studies have shown that a
woman in the pre-menstrual state is more likely to be violent and
irritable, to have accidents, to have morbid fears and sexual fantasies,
to commit suicide, to take her children to doctor, to skip work, to
batter children, to abuse alcohol, to end marriages and to crash
aeroplanes! Some studies go to the extent of suggesting that the
‘pre-menstrual mother is responsible for the diminished performance
levels of all her family members such as the school – going child, the
teenager and the husband’. One such survey showed that the husband’s
late arrived to work was a reflection of his wife’s time cycle,
because ‘they both failed to get up with the alarm, they quarreled
over breakfast, which consequently, took longer, and then the sandwiches
weren’t ready, Zita points out that such studies suggest that the
premenstrual woman is not only a risk factor in workplace but also a
hazard at home. Zita critiques the ‘syndromization’ of the
pre-menstrual condition by arguing that most of the research generalizes
from a few extreme cases of premenstrual syndrome. She argues that the
experience of PMS is a reality for many woman though for some it is
extreme and severe. To be told that ‘its all in your head’ is both
insulting and arrogant since these experiences are rooted in the body
and in its physiological mechanisms. However, she argues, to be told
that it is due to some specific hormonal imbalance that can be medically
managed often overtly simplifies and is dangerously premature given the
state of current research.
I once asked a feminist friend
working in the area of women and health about the clinicalisation of
pre-menstrual condition and its research status in India. She shushed me
and said, “it hasn’t yet come here. Don’t talk about it. Because
if we talk about it people will catch on. I was amazed at how much a
modern India discourse in medicine and health is derived from the West.
I also realized that Zita’s critique of the pre-menstrual syndrome and
the ‘dis-easing’ of the female cycle gains another dimension in the
post- colonial feminist context that of a whisper.
Pushing 40, I realized that
the pre-menstrual state is to be valued, not to be shushed. It is to be
problematized not as a syndrome, perhaps not even as a state, but as a
space that anticipates ‘loss’. The loss of a possibility. A space
that grieves through blood. A space that is sentisized to a cycle that
bring forth the dynamics of inception, creation and destruction.
is a space that painfully evoked challenges from inner worlds to the
insensitive cultural fields in which most women, including the feminists
among us, inhabit. Fields where the mother is either a pain or a saviour,
where the wife is either a nag or a goddess. Fields which construct and
control our body – selves, but which are rarely controlled by us.
Fields which remember the sanitary napkin, the lamp and the countless
whispers. When the husband reaches late to work due to argument at home
and if at the time the woman is in her pre-menstrual state, what I
wonder is going on in the argument? Perhaps the woman is asking,
demanding, persuading her husband to give her some space in which she
can live, with sanity, the cyclicity of her body. She is perhaps asking
for a space to be left along. She is perhaps asking for an empathetic
gesture, a caress, a conversation that will erase realities of
confinement. Of mind, body and spirit.
The pre-menstrual space,
perhaps, is also a nature way of fine – tuning a woman to the equation
between the I and me. It is inevitably chaotic, neurotic and necessarily
creative. In that sense, it is similar to any other creative space. It
is the space where a woman is allowed by ‘nature’ to shriek her
loudest, to lay bare her inner self, to shed extra tears, to intensely
scrutinize her surroundings. It is a space where through an experience
of anticipatory loss, something is born. It is a space where a woman
writes her poem, sing her khayal. Or pens down her academic critique. It
is a space where a woman tells her story, makes space for her own
narrative, under the banyan tree.
is a sociologist with a knee interest in post colonial and cultural
© 2003 The Guild. All rights reserved.