Farah Ahamed’s story, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, was shortlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
“It was only yesterday that the last girl, Maryam, took her turn with paracetamol and cheap alcohol. A few weeks earlier, Zainab had done the same, but Laila, who followed Hafsa, had slit her wrists. When the police took us in for questioning, we said we were ready to cooperate. We even offered to share our photographs. After all, who better than we could explain what happened to the girls? We sit in the row of kiosks on the left side of the car park as you face the front of the shrine. From behind the curtains of tasbihs, wooden rosaries and Ajrak scarves hanging on the frames of our windows, we observed the events as they unfolded in the shrine compound…”
Read the full story, and watch the office music video of Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, starring Meesha Shafi and featuring Swineryy.
We sincerely enjoyed this brand new volume [Period Matters]. In this intriguing anthology you’ll find essays, artwork, stories and poems from politicians and policymakers, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, students, activists, nuns, prisoners and the homeless. Together this provides a glimpse into the way menstruation is viewed by people from different backgrounds, religions and classes. While activist Granaz Baloch narrates how she defied traditional notions of tribal honour and conducted the first-ever menstrual health workshop in Pakistan, Radha Paudel writes about her mission to have menstrual dignity acknowledged as a human right in Nepal. Shashi Tharoor relays his radical Menstrual Rights Bill which was tabled in the Indian parliament.
The director of Period Media, writes: “I really enjoyed reading Period Matters. Text, artwork, insights: every single aspect of your book. Thumbs up! It’s on the top of our updated book overview now.”
Dignifying the menstruation experience
Farah Ahamed interviewed by Milly Maina
My earliest memory relating to periods goes back to when I was eight years old. After Little House on The Prairie one Sunday evening came an advert for pads. It began with a blonde girl in white jeans riding a bicycle, talking about the pads being ‘soft and fluffy’, and promising girls could be ‘free’ to do anything they wanted. It showed blue ink from a dropper filling a sanitary pad and ended with the image of two blonde girls on horses galloping into the sunset. I was scared of horses, I didn’t have a bike, I wasn’t blonde and I had no idea what the blue ink blotting pad was about…
Santhals Celebrate Menstruation As Hormobaha Or Flower Of The Body
Interview with Niyati Bhat
I wanted to highlight how menstruation stories could be told and interpreted in every genre and art form. To show how it influenced every aspect of life. How it was subjective and affected by context and culture. It occurred to me that the diversity of menstruation experiences could best be reflected in a book which included both fiction and non-fiction.
Talking The Unthinkable
Farah Ahamed dared to chronicle this feat of breaking the stigma associated with the cycle. When she was in Uganda, she realised the importance of menstrual hygiene management. She established an informal initiative called Panties with Purpose, the objective of which was to promote menstrual health and raise awareness about the harmful effects on girls in Kenya – such as missing nearly sixty days of school per year because of a lack of access to menstrual products, that damaged their chances for academic success and compromised their health and well-being.
When it comes to urban India, the topic of menstruation and menstrual hygiene receives a great deal of importance and attention. In fact, times are so advanced that many workplaces now ensure there is a steady supply of sanitary napkins in the women’s restroom.
But what is it really like in the world parallel to the progressive urban one, where the concept of menstruation, a natural and healthy occurrence, is taboo and any open discussion on it is forbidden?
For anyone who identifies as a woman, every menstruation story feels personal. The shame and the suffering of it. So many conversations, so much talk around periods and yet my neighbourhood chemist packs my sanitary pad in a brown paper bag. Here’s hoping Farah Ahamed’s revolutionary book can bring the pad out of the bag!
In Period Matters, we find voices that have been historically oppressed and neglected, be it in the social sphere or the academic or popular discourse around menstruation.
Ahamed recounts the stories of Farzana and Chandan, two transwomen in Lahore who strive to feel like “complete” women. To feel more feminine, they imitate the experiences of menstruation by wearing a sanitary pad once a month for a week. As it is commonly followed by women locally in Lahore during their menstruation, they also follow dietary and social restrictions. Some also use red dye to give the impression of blood on their pads. Additionally, they speak of how the pads protect them against harassment and groping. Farzana and Chandan also talk about how difficult it is to access doctors and seek medical help.
8 essential books about the female body that dispel misconceptions.
This book brings into focus important perspectives about menstruation by voices from across the globe. It endeavors to remove superstitious beliefs we have regarding this extremely normal bodily function. Full of essays, artworks, stories, and poems from policymakers, artists, activists, and academics, this book is a great study on how menstruation is experienced in South Asia.
This is especially true for some industries where male employers tend to hire women primarily because they are cheap labour, easier to control, make fewer demands and less likely to unionize. Thus, women do not always have the bargaining power vis-à-vis male employers to request period leave every month. In a society plagued by menstrual stigma, period leave cannot be left up to individuals to seek when required. The provision of paid leave for menstruation must be institutionalized at the workplace for all women for non-negotiable accessibility.
Excerpt from Right to Bleed in the Workplace by Radhika Radhakrishnan.
There were no sanitary pads then. If there were, people who lived in small towns did not know about them and most could not afford them. And therefore, my mother sat at her Singer sewing machine and stitched protective pads out of old, soft cotton sarees. These ‘pads’ had to be washed every day. By me, of course. I hated this part of my five-day ordeal as much as I hated what had happened to me. A mixture of anger and resentment overwhelmed me as I scrubbed at the pads. And helplessness. This would now happen every month, and I would be burdened with the awfulness of it forever and ever. So it seemed to me.
Excerpt from Menstruation Matters by Shashi Deshpande
“He demonstrated, with jerking movements, how the girls wrapped each brick in a rag and used it to absorb the blood that dripped down their legs every month. Repulsed, we called Yunnus a pervert. But even as we joked, we’d never been more aware that the girls were no longer children, but young women. We noticed their budding breasts, the swagger of their hips and a new listlessness about them. And by and by, we came to realize that if one of them was on her cycle, all of the girls would disappear because they were forbidden from entering the shrine, begging at the steps, or eating free food from the langar. This was a relief, for the very idea of female blood was repugnant to us.”
Excerpt from Hot Mango Chutney Sauce by Farah Ahamed.
The most interesting essays, I felt, were those placed in different settings or unique customs. One of the most striking pieces is “Bleeding Behind Bars”, an interview Ahamed conducted with Erum, a woman who spent six years in prison in Pakistan. It gave an eye-opening account of what it’s like to menstruate in jail. The piece also spoke about one of my favourite topics related to periods: female solidarity. “It was the friendships that I made with other women that helped me through that difficult time. Who am I? Just another poor woman. But the solidarity with other women helped me, without which, I would not have survived,” says Erum.
Period Matters provides a wide-angle view of the narrow means with which menstruators in South Asian countries are forced to deal with an involuntary body function. In addition to the interviews and essays, fiction, poetry, and art in the anthology capture the discourse on the gendered compulsions and problems faced by young girls and women, highlighting the immediacy of the issues.
The news spread like a swollen river flowing rapidly. A river with its own destiny through every village. From far away, people came in cars, buses, on motorbikes and on foot to pay homage to Lajja Gauri. After 1500 years, the 10cm tall, almost forgotten stone statue of the lotus-headed goddess had suddenly started leaking. Initially a drop, but then quickly a steady river of red liquid trickled from between her thighs. No one was in any doubt that the statue of the goddess was menstruating.
In the summer of 2019, I was working on an essay on how menstruation had been portrayed in fiction, by female and male authors and the differences in their approach. It occurred to me that the diversity of menstruation experiences could best be reflected in a book which included both fiction and non-fiction. When I started writing the proposal, in my mind it felt like the book was already fully formed. I decided the anthology would move away from the conventional to a deeper and more honest cultivation of stories about menstruation.
Period Matters is a well-planned and a well-thought out book. Ahamed leaves no gaps. If there’s anything that you are curious about menstruation experiences in South Asia, rest assured, the book has an answer to it. Period Matters an inclusive representation of menstruators in the truest sense of the word.
Nobody can question the “breadth of perspectives” Ahamed compiles, bringing together varied experiences in a laudable and much needed endeavour.
The anthology is backed with diligent research, including painstaking interviews of those at the margins. Wrapped in the folds of her silken words, Ahamed expresses the raw emotions of a woman – any woman, from a convict to a nun, a sweeper to a corporate honcho – wondering What if? as her poem of the same title questions.
Human rights lawyer Farah Ahamed’s anthology is a grim reminder of the steps not taken further. It gives a peek into menstruation related practices across South Asia and the plight of women.