When I was born in a big community hospital in Kathmandu, the nurses were more disappointed of my gender than any of my family members were. The first words she says after she hands me to my grandfather are, “Maybe next time you will have somebody to carry the family name.” Of course his immediate reaction was to maneuver the conversation. He couldn’t let me think of him as an angry old man as his first impression.
Despite the nurse’s warning, neither my parents or my grandparents ever wanted anybody else to fill my shoes. I was never not given the freedom to learn from my own mistakes and was given enough space to discover myself and my capabilities. My grandfather, being a doctor himself even taught me how to inject vaccines and had once let me medicate him for tetanus myself when I was 15.
I required a lot of love and care during my childhood being born with a hole in my heart. I had a heart surgery when I was 8 years old and was stuck to lifelong care and medication. My family never once complained about the exhausting amount of effort I required, especially from my grandparents who took care of me all day while both my parents worked.
For the initial years of my teen, I remember being extremely open about menstruation and the taboos that were associated with it in Nepal. Menstruation, is still a taboo and there are a lot of malpractices and evils that revolves around it. Especially in rural Nepal some hindus view menstruating women as impure and they are forced to remain in a hut or cowshed for days, in a practice known as chhaupadi. The social evil of chaupadi has lead to deaths, attacks by wild animals, snakebites, diseases, rapes, poor mental health, and infants dying of pneumonia. It is not as extreme in the urban cities but women are mostly banned from taking part in normal family activities during menstruation and can have no contact with men of the household during their first menstrual cycle.
I had only heard of all these in the daily news, never had I ever seen the women in my house isolate themselves because of their period. My mother travelled a lot due to her work, so it was my father who taught me what menstruation was and what I would have to do when I had mine for the first time. At home, my mother did things regardless of whether she was in her periods or not but as I started to grow older I did see many women not entering the kitchen a few times during the month, I did not know that they weren’t allowed to enter temples and the kitchen because of the self-presumed “untouchability.” This confused me a lot as a kid. I couldn’t understand why women loathed being on their periods, while my parents were talking to doctors because I couldn’t have mine. They were concerned that a surgery at an early age had changed how my body worked and were often saddened by the fact that I would never have my periods. I did not understand why I needed medical assistance to initiate those days that other women did not ever want to come across.
All this escaped from my mind once I finally got my period. I still remember the smile and relief my grandfather had when he looked at me that day. He did not isolate me from the male members of the family, did not lock me up in my room, did not confine me to the walls of the house and did not ever restrict me from going to the kitchen during my period. Instead, he immediately got me a box of chocolates and made me some soups because he had already started reading about everything about cravings and cramps and nutritional requirements a young women in her period needs.
In a country that confines women to cow shed and isolated huts during menstruation, my grandfather decided to celebrate the beginning of my womanhood. When older men like him decide to look past taboos and superstitions, they empower and fight along with women to reclaim their own body and also nurture their well-being.