Masturbation, Menstruation, Mental Health – We need to Talk

This is not a rant. Or passive commentary. Or even a mockery. All this is, is a realistic reflection of the times we live in. As much as I am proud of being Indian, there are times when my own culture and society has failed me. Even in a modern, free, independent India.

For instance, should I dare to commit the inconsolable sin of kissing my partner in public, I will be booed, arrested, lynched even. On grounds of being socially immoral. Yet, no one will bat an eyelid at the lines of (not-so-gentle)men who publicly take out their manhood to urinate. Because even though that is (technically) socially immoral, it is still socially acceptable.

A country that proudly declares itself secular, imposes a beef ban. Which is when I must accept the unfortunate truth that if I had to choose between being a cow and a woman in India, I’m better off opting for the former.

And if that wasnt enough, may I also take the opportunity to remind you that , that in the same breath that I declare with pride that foreign conglomerates acquire Indian homegrown startups,  under Section 377, having a same-sex partner is still legally a crime in this country, and marital rape is not.

On account of this, I dedicate this blog post of mine to three widely misunderstood topics –  masturbation, menstruation and mental health, especially in the desi context.

Masturbation. A recent Bollywood flick, one which that braved the sanskaari junta to show a woman masturbating publicly on-screen, resulted in the actress being trolled all across social media. As if she, instead of her character had committed some kind of crime by expressing her right to self-pleasure. Is it because a society, we’ve conned ourselves into believing, that a woman’s right to sexual pleasure is an offence? And maybe a bigger offence, is fulfilling it without a man.

Menstruation. This brouhaha about a woman bleeding for five days of the week amuses me, then makes me sad, then makes me angry – in that order. Don’t touch the pickle. Stay out of the house. Because we have to make a tamasha about everything. Literally everything. Which includes even a perfectly normal biological process, whose onset should make women and their families sigh out of relief. But we, on the other hand, must treat it like some kind of warped interpretation of human anatomy.

And finally mental health. Sadly, I’m living in a society that’s decided to framework and yardstick how it defines success and happiness. Anyone who sticks to the code is accepted, anyone who doesn’t is ostracized, Maybe even if we just allowed more people to live their life, the way they want it to, we wouldn’t be losing Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains to depression and eventually suicide. Why just celebrities, we’d have an entire population of happier, fuller, more content people. Because they weren’t living their life on a pre-decided, dictated social roadmap.

I think sometimes, my relationship society feels like the one with a human significant other. Where on more than one occasion, you want to take a stand and say the following words. We Need to Talk.



Attack Mental Health. Now!

I remember buying my first Kate Spade bag, a few years ago. At an age when I had earned enough to splurge on a designer bag, at a stage where I was seeking confidence and identity disguised in fashion. I still have that bag, and while nothing can replace the confidence and poise that comes from within, I can’t deny the fact that there are magical things a great accessory can do to your outfit, and ultimately your self-esteem.

Which is what makes it even more heart-wrenching, that the woman behind a brand that symbolises coming-of-age, should take her own life, driven by mental health issues. Sad and ironic at the same time.

And what’s unfortunate is that she isn’t the first, and she wont be the last. Strange I should say this now, because minutes before I decided to publish this, the internet was inundated with news of celebrity chef Anthony  Bourdain taking his own life.

While Spade and Bourdain are well-known names, there are many, many more who grapple and struggle with mental health issues, ones that often drive them to take their own lives. An instinct supported by rather grim statistics. According to a study done by the John Hopkins Institute, approximately about 18% of people ages 18- 54 in a given year, have an anxiety disorder in a given year. Anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).

What is it that drives people to take their own lives?

In my opinion, a world that constantly demands we succeed. At our careers. At our relationships. At life, in general. A world which is slowly waking up to the reality that mental health issues are as detrimental as our physical ailments, yet the work being done to address this is far from the optimal. And I wonder where the solution lies. Possibly, in creating more therapists, and professionals who are trained to address the needs of a society falling prey to conditions that may not be conventional diseases and ailments, yet are even more harmful thanks to their invisible nature. In playing a more active role in redefining the traditional definition of what a holistic, happy life looks like, so that people who don’t conform to the yardstick-esque definition dont necessarily consider themselves failures. Or maybe, just opening up our hearts, doors and couches, to our own kin who might be needing nothing more than a warm hug or a heart-to-heart conversation?

I think it’s time we collectively addressed this issue. Even if we’re not certified therapists and psychiatrists.  And like charity, we need to start this at home. Remind our children constantly, that good grades aren’t necessarily an indicator of success. Check in on that friend you haven’t spoken to in ages, and ask them how they’re doing. Occasionally surprising the neighbour who lives alone by bringing them flowers. Because mental health disorders exist. It’s a conversation and subject, however taboo, that needs to be accepted and propagated. For if we’re not doing anything as a society to address this, we’d better hang our heads in shame. Unless you’re prepared to be waking up someday, to news of death by suicide, of one of your own. Very likely due to an internal war they were fighting within, and couldn’t bring themselves to share with the world. I’m not.