Leading the Change

I stay in a hut made of bricks and bamboo, with a thatched roof covered by a thick layer of plastic to protect us from the rainy days. We are five sisters and a brother, two older than me and two younger ones. The older ones are married and stay far away from us. We don’t meet too often. My brother too lives separately from us and we do not talk much. My younger sisters are the two apples of my eyes. My father was a mason and died while at work one day, without a warning for us to be prepared for it and my mother works with a self-help group.

I love my family a lot but from a young age have felt a sense of disgust and irritation at my two older sisters for just not knowing anything and neither making enough efforts to know them. They are both illiterate, but so are my parents and I am able to forgive them for that, it wasn’t their fault. However, often as a child I felt that my sisters could have known better and done better if only they had just a little intent to seek and accept opportunities. Watching them feel underconfident on most days, lacking dreams and ambitions, and especially how they restricted themselves during their periods from doing anything that they enjoyed incited a sense of anger that made me not want to be like them.

As migrants from Chhattisgarh, one of the first things we did when we reached Lucknow was to find a place for us to live, then my parents got a job and after just a little familiarization of the area, we started looking for a school for me and my two younger sisters. While in school, I was always on the lookout for opportunities for exposure and participated in any and every extra-curricular that my school offered. I have represented my school and my house in both inter and intra-school competitions at sporting events, dancing events, acting events, and also debating and singing events. I now introduce myself as a multi-talented girl. I am good at a lot of different things and can be better at many more that I try.

In my efforts to be different from my elder sisters and inspire my younger ones to be more aspirational, I do consider myself fairly successful, but even a multi-talented girl like me has a secret. Normally, I walk like I own the world. I don’t care that I live in a small hut in a big plot of land, in a colony of families that own big cars while I ride my faded pink cycle that I share with my sisters. On most days, I dance to my own tune, playing out scenes in my head while walking back home from wherever I had gone. Sometimes people complain that I ignore them on the road, but the truth is, I am playing the queen of this world in my head and I walk as if I have no care. But now back to my secret – am I super-confident? Yes, of course, I am! But when I am on my periods, I wish, I only wish that I walk like an invisible person. I just feel weighed down by the shame and guilt that so often I have seen my elders pass down to their daughters. I walk sheepishly to the store to buy myself a pack of sanitary napkins. On other days I advocate for shame and stigma to be removed from periods and encourage everyone to carry their sanitary napkins with pride, without the black polythene bag hiding the newspaper-wrapped napkins. But when on my periods, I feel this struggle to choose between being the educated person in my family who knows that periods are a normal biological phenomenon, so carries herself confidently and being exactly like my elder sisters who never questioned the norms and believed they are unworthy of holding their space… I have been conflicted with this choice for a couple of years now, but I also see some progress in how I ask for the specific napkin that I want to buy and how I am a little less fidgety while walking on the road.

I thought that becoming the change in my family, and eventually my society will be a lot easier. I understand now how the struggle for everything that I want to change is going to be unique. It has been so easy for me to seek and grab opportunities for growth and so much more difficult to be the confident girl who accepts her periods with pride. Anyway, for the sake of my sisters, and others girls whom I might or might not know, I will continue to lead the change…