“Amma*,” my thin voice floated across the room. Amma walked in, tucking the edge of her cotton pallu at her waist, surprised at the whimper. What had happened to her loud, little, rebellious tomboy of a girl? I was barely ten years old, skinny, clad in a lemon yellow frock that clung to my bones. I hung my head in shame, sobs rattling in my throat. Of course I knew what had happened. After two months of ambling between embarrassment and fear, I finally told her; she huddled me in an embrace.
Of course I had known what had happened.
My summer holidays each year were spent in the raucous company of my 7 cousins, 6 of whom were girls and were older than me. As a ritual, all of us annually congregated in the large ancestral house in a small town in Karnataka. On moonlit nights, Ajji** often gathered all of us children on the terrace of the house and fed us food she had painstakingly prepared. While my grandfather ruled the house with an iron hand, my grandmother, with her quiet presence, ad ept the hearth burning for years.
I had grabbed at bits and pieces of information that had seeped through the walls of the house, had filled its courtyards on warm evenings and had tumbled down its large wooden staircase. Jokes that cropped up in the middle of conversations, words of caution that appeared once in a while: none of us ever mouthed the word, but we all knew what it was. We all knew why the women of the house “sat outside” every month. In the map of their very orthodox household, the women bled rivers and travelled in the confines of their landlocked house.
Amma, your little girl has found her words back. I have watched the women of my household blossom n wither. On days I shiver in the mornings, even in the raging summers of this coastal town, I find myself wrapped in your faded cotton sarees. I almost breathe in your embrace from years ago through its fraying threads.
*Kannada word for mother
**Kannada word for grandmother
Sharmada is a lover of poetry and a Chai addict, apart from being interested in the areas of Gender and Sexuality, and Indian Literature. She is a reclusive writer and some of her pieces have been featured in magazines on the internet.