I have wondered for a while why "periods" are such a taboo topic in Indian culture? There are some regions in the country that celebrate the coming of age of a woman, so to say, but from my personal experience it has been a topic which is whispered and talked about in a hush-hush tone. Having a period is treated as a untouchable disease and a matter of shame in most Indian societies.
I was brought up in a joint family. For my International readers: this a set up where you live with your grand parents and all their children (four sons in my grand parents case) and their growing families together. I remember all the women in my family (four to be exact) taking a sabbatical during their menstruating days. They were not allowed to enter a temple, kitchen, or any other religious/auspicious ceremony. They are considered impure, dirty and cursed during "that time of the month". It made sense centuries ago when there was limited water, and lack of hygiene facilities. But today? Not so much. Even when I hadn't had my first period I knew, I would never stand for such treatment.
I learnt about menstruation from a friend of mine, who had learnt about it from her teenage cousins. So my first lesson didn't come from my mother or from the biology class. There was some story about a Hindu God who had cursed women and what not ... I cannot recall it word-for-word. When I did have my first period, I knew what had happened but I felt too awkward to go tell my Mom about it. But I had to, because she was the one who would give me a sanitary napkin! I remember going for a walk with her and having an awkward talk and feeling really uncomfortable for several months.
One incident that singularly stand out in my brain is the one from my middle school days. We were given a few days off between examinations to prepare for the next one. I used to create a time-table for those days just like one in school and plan my study schedule on hourly basis so that I can use the days off efficiently. (You can see I have been an organized person since childhood! It is a birth defect). On one such day when I was studying and was in between my self-created school time-table, we had a guest over and Mom asked me to do something (can't remember what). Without thinking twice, I said I can't because I am in between my period. Y'know no body would ask you to serve the guests if you were at school! My Mom glared at me, as if I had said "FUCK YOU" in front of the guest. It only took me two seconds to understand the confusion and I explained that I was referring to my study 'period'. But that was when I realized that 'period' is something you cannot mention in front of people, especially male members of the society. For those you didn't get the reference: In India, a class is called a "period" For example, your Monday might start with a science class, in India we would call it a science 'period'.
After about a year into being a 'woman' life went back to normal. Periods became a second nature and I didn't ever think twice about them, unless I had to go swimming. And I DID enter the kitchen, temple and all auspicious ceremonies. I just didn't tell anyone that I was on my period. I ain't letting anyone discriminate against me for their own pre-historic views.
And now I am in my thirties and safe to say there is no shame associated with periods in my life today! Just another biological cycle in the life of a woman.