(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.