Myths and facts about the ‘harmful’ effects of vaccines

A host of the new generation parents get their knowledge of vaccination from their pediatrician and through the websites of WHO and the Ministry of Health. When my son was born four-and-a-half years ago, we decided to be actively involved in understanding the need for vaccination, following the vaccination schedule, and staying updated about preservative-free vaccines.  Having a Doctor spouse made these choices spontaneous and the same was encouraged by the pediatrician.

Yet, a section of elderly relatives, friends, and acquaintances warned us about the adverse effects of vaccination in infants. It was shocking to hear that seizures or other life-threatening diseases could be an after-effect of vaccination. While my husband confronted the claims with his background in medical education, I decided to read-up on the harmful effects of vaccination before meeting the pediatrician for a detailed session.

The most common side-effects of vaccination could lead to soreness, swelling, mild fever, rashes, and pain which generally persist for a couple of days only. Yet, I stumbled upon reports that suggested autism as a side effect of vaccination. Thimerosal, a mercury-based compound, found in preservatives, was blamed for the increase in autism in children. But those claims were refuted because no substantial evidence could link the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism or even the hepatitis B vaccine to multiple sclerosis.

During our conversation with the pediatrician, it was an awful revelation for me to know that newborn babies suffered from the risk of life-threatening diseases like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Their congenital conditions could also be detected during this stage. This meant that they already had a high risk of facing an untoward medical condition. But at times, the proximity of a vaccination schedule in a similar time frame leads to incorrect reasoning as the cause of the event.

He mentioned that the chances of serious side-effects like a seizure or life-threatening allergic reactions are very rare. Statistics show that if 1 million doses of a vaccine are given, only 1 to 2 people may have a severe allergic reaction.

When a person encounters a pathogen, it is difficult to predict whether the reaction inside the body would be mild or severe. But vaccines are pre-tested to ensure that the response to these weakened or dead pathogens leads to the development of immunity in the body without harmful side-effects.

Other than physicians being the primary source of vaccination information, the availability of the immunization information system (IIS) from the healthcare provider also describes the common and rare side effects of a vaccine. At times, the vaccine manufacturers also provide some of these details through package inserts.

In India, pharmacovigilance of vaccines is highly important to promote the safe use of vaccines. India launched the Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) surveillance program in 1986 for monitoring suspected adverse events following immunization.

Considering the times that we live in, failure to immunize a child carries a higher risk of leaving them exposed to potential diseases.

Our doubts and concerns were put to rest by the in-depth QnA session with the pediatrician. Ever since we have strictly adhered to the vaccination chart and ensured that we don’t compromise with the healthy future of our son. We trust vaccines for the development of his immunity towards diseases.

However, our responsibility doesn’t end there. It is imperative to understand the need to spread this knowledge and correct information about the importance and safety of vaccination. Only by creating awareness in the society, we can hope for the holistic development of our future generation.

What’s #YourCareQuotient? How much do you understand your child when it comes to sleep patterns, feeding, and vaccination? Take the easy, interactive quiz that guides you and get the childcare guide now. 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog content are independent and unbiased views of solely the blogger. This is a part of the public awareness initiative supported by Sanofi Pasteur India. Sanofi Pasteur bears no responsibility for the content of the blog. One should consult their healthcare provider for any health-related information.

References –

https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/vaccine-side-effects-and-adverse-events

https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/safety/side_effects

https://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/1201/p2113.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-vaccines-are-dangerous/

http://www.ijp-online.com/text.asp?2019/51/4/243/266824

Why I recommend vaccination for every child

22nd September 2015 was when I entered into the new phase of motherhood. As I held the tiny bundle of joy in my arms after a difficult c-section, everything else felt inconsequential. In a while, the Pediatrician came for his round of duty and this was when he spoke about the need for vaccination in the case of new-born babies. My husband, also a Doctor by profession, listened attentively as the Pediatrician explained the vaccination chart to us.

The next couple of weeks were about getting adjusted to this new schedule of life. My focus area had shifted to understanding the importance of WHO-recommended exclusive breastfeeding for six months and surviving the state of being perennially sleep-deprived. I was lucky to be surrounded by an understanding and supportive family to help me cope up with this sudden change that was both physical and psychological.

Amidst such a chaotic life, reality dawned on me once my infant turned six weeks. The first vaccination was due and the nervous mother in me shadowed the rational individual that I was normally known to be. It was at my husband’s insistence that we decided to visit the Pediatrician. As I spoke my heart out, the empathetic and knowledgeable doctor emphasized the importance of vaccination in the life of a newborn baby.

He spoke about the functionality of vaccines in protecting babies against life-threatening diseases like Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Viral Diarrhea, Polio and Haemophilus Influenza B.He went on to elaborate how immunization helped in curbing complications related to diseases that could lead to convulsions, meningitis, encephalopathy, and death. While I was convinced about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, the Pediatrician was patient enough to dig deeper into my worries about the pain related to injections. It was at this point that he introduced me to the new concept of an acellular vaccine with less pain.

I was shocked to find that as per a recent report, one of every four child-deaths (high infant-mortality rate) in India was caused by pneumonia and diarrhea, two infections that could be controlled and prevented through immunization. In the last couple of years, I researched to understand how the benefits of vaccination extended much beyond the prevention of specific diseases in individuals to enable a healthy and fit future for societies and nations. Vaccination in the long term indeed saves time and money while also taking care of the weakest members of society.

Every parent wants to protect their child from all kinds of untoward instances. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness and the spread of misinformation on social media often lead them towards decisions that might not be favorable for the child’s health and future. In the course of staying updated with the vaccination schedule for my now 4-year-old son, most of my misconceptions related to immunization have been replaced by research-backed information. Today, I can gladly say that I have chosen a healthy future for my son as well as the future generation by deciding to protect him with the shield of immunization.

What’s #YourCareQuotient? How much do you understand your child when it comes to sleep patterns, feeding, and vaccination? Take the easy, interactive quiz that guides you and get the childcare guide now. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog content are independent and unbiased views of solely the blogger. This is a part of the public awareness initiative supported by Sanofi Pasteur India. Sanofi Pasteur bears no responsibility for the content of the blog. One should consult their healthcare provider for any health-related information.

Preservative-free vaccines for a healthier future

In an era of the internet and global exposure, an individual has multiple means of assessing the available options to fathom the consequences of their choices. When my son was born, both my husband and I wanted to check every aspect of the mandatory vaccines that were to be injected once he reached the milestones in life. It was our pediatrician who enlightened us with an in-depth analysis of the need for vaccination in children. But there was a nagging feeling about the side-effects of preservatives in vaccines after we came to know about mercury being one of its components. We carried out a detailed check about the need for preservatives in vaccines before going for a detailed discussion with the pediatrician.

From the available sources, we understood that preservatives were compounds that killed or prevented the growth of microorganisms like fungus and bacteria. In case the vaccine was accidentally contaminated due to repeated needle puncture of multi-dose vials, the preservatives prevented microbial growth. Thimerosal, (approx 50% mercury by weight), has one of the most widely used preservatives in vaccines.

In 1998, there was a study in Britain where a Doctor claimed about the MMR vaccine causing autism in children. Thimerosal was one such ingredient that was considered to be responsible for this hazard. This study led to such an uproar than many parents shunned vaccines. The results were proved to be incorrect due to the small sample size and various other conditions not taken into consideration for a conclusive deduction. Eventually, the FDA, CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine had to declare the usage of Thimerosal in vaccines as safe to eradicate the fear and bring the vaccination process back on track.

Yet, one cannot deny the fact that mercury is known for its toxicity. While there is no conclusive proof for its harmful effects as a preservative, no study has also proved for certain that it is safe. This is what makes the case of preservative-free vaccines stronger.

In the last few years, Thimerosal has been removed from most of the vaccines used in developed countries. However, it is still used in vaccines meant for developing countries. While the lack of awareness is one of the reasons, the fact that vaccines are sold to developing countries in multi-dose vials at a lower cost-per-dose also makes them a preferred choice. It is assumed that single-dose vials of vaccines (preservative-free) are not economical for developing countries, both in terms of the cost of vaccines per unit and cold chain requirements. But these assumptions might not be based on the actual scenarios in these countries.

Multi-dose vials have the added advantage of occupying less cold-storage space per dose. This aspect is overshadowed by a shocking percentage of vaccine wastage. Single-dose vials become more appealing and effective in terms of simplifying inventory logistics and vaccine tracking. In a developing country like India, one of the strongest reasons for switching to single-dose vials in the future could be the process of cost-effective manufacturing of these ampoules which makes them affordable.

Based on our discussion, the pediatrician agreed to our choice of a preservative-free vaccine. It took us an additional week to comply with the vaccination schedule but we decided to stick by our conviction of a healthy future for our son. While the findings of research-based studies related to the effects of mercury in vaccines have been vague and full of conflicts, we consider it advisable to be better safe than sorry. Hence, if the option of a preservative-free vaccine is available for a child, it is always recommended to consult with the pediatrician and opt for the same.

What’s #YourCareQuotient? How much do you understand your child when it comes to sleep patterns, feeding, and vaccination? Take the easy, interactive quiz that guides you and get the childcare guide now.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog content are independent and unbiased views of solely the blogger. This is a part of the public awareness initiative supported by Sanofi Pasteur India. Sanofi Pasteur bears no responsibility for the content of the blog. One should consult their healthcare provider for any health-related information.

References –

https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/safety-availability-biologics/thimerosal-and-vaccines

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/patient-ed/conversations/downloads/vacsafe-thimerosal-color-office.pdf

https://vaccineindia.org/article/thiomersal

https://ijme.in/articles/commentary-controversies-surrounding-mercury-in-vaccines-autism-denial-as-impediment-to-universal-immunisation/?galley=html

What it means to be a woman in India!

Today morning, I woke up to multiple messages related to International Women’s Day. 25 percent off on groceries!’ ’10 percent discount on flowers!’ ‘No making charges on diamond jewelry,’ among others.

And at that moment, I realized that the March Madness had begun. Until three years ago, March Madness for me usually began with a gentle reminder from my reporting authority in the banking sector. Or with an aggressive message from the Boss. They would both remind me that after the end of the financial year, there would be an appraisal process to keep my blood pressure and stress levels high.

As a writer, now, the reasons for stress and frustration have shifted reasons but they have not shifted loyalties like my account’s financial statement. Today, a different kind of seething anger gripped my soul. I wanted to question each of these brands and ask them if that is all Women’s Day meant to them.

And yet, all their propositions felt better than any of the headlines, I’ve woken up to in the past few months- violence, moral policing and gender stereotyping. In a bid to highlight the daily struggles we face as women, I decided to take everyone through the stages of being a female in this country.

Stage one- the birth

Since you are a girl, you don’t get to be born. You are aborted in your mother’s womb, itself. In case, you do manage to make your way to the world, you are either dumped in a dustbin or choked to death. Because what are girls, if not unwanted responsibilities?

Click HERE to read about the 11 stages of being a woman in modern India as I pour my heart out in this piece on women’s web. Because we have, for ages and across generations, fought for ourselves and no matter how much fear you instill in us, remember, we will rise. Like the phoenix from the ashes, we will rise.

I pledge to protect you, my dear son, and a WHO prequalified vaccine helps me keep my promise

22nd September 2015 was when I entered into the new phase of motherhood. As I held the tiny bundle of joy in my arms after a difficult C-section, everything else felt inconsequential. In a while, the pediatrician came for his round of duty and this was when he spoke about the importance of vaccination for newborn babies. My husband, also a doctor by profession, listened carefully as the pediatrician explained the vaccination chart to us. But I was crestfallen since I couldn’t even bear the thought of my newborn being pricked by a needle.

The next couple of weeks were all about getting adjusted to this new schedule of life. My focus area had shifted to understanding the importance of WHO-recommended exclusive breastfeeding for six months and surviving the state of being perennially sleep-deprived. I was lucky to be surrounded by an understanding and supportive family to help me cope up with this sudden change that was not just physical but psychological as well.

Amidst such a chaotic routine, reality dawned on me as my infant turned six weeks. The first vaccination was due and the nervous mother in me overtook the rational individual that I was normally known to be. It was at my husband’s insistence that we decided to visit the pediatrician. As I spoke my heart out, the empathetic and knowledgeable doctor emphasized the importance of vaccination in the life of a newborn baby.

He discussed with us in length about how vaccines functioned in protecting babies against life-threatening diseases like Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Polio, etc. The pediatrician was patient enough to dig deeper into my worries about having to inflict pain on my boy with multiple Injections. It was at this point that he mentioned the concept of combination vaccines which greatly reduce the number of shots that a baby requires. He spoke about how the acellular aspect of this vaccine is what makes it a less painful option while the vaccines before it led to a lot of discomfort and pain in babies.

Continue reading “I pledge to protect you, my dear son, and a WHO prequalified vaccine helps me keep my promise”

Real life horror stories of 6 Domestic Abuse survivors – my article trending on Women’s Web

As per a 2018 article by News18, every third woman in India suffers from domestic violence. However, the reporting percentage for such abuse is just 29 percent in rural India while for urban India, it is at 23 percent. This acts as evidence of the fact that a lot of women are still suffering in silence. Some of the major reasons for this behavior include fear of a judgmental society, lack of support from family and financial dependence on the spouse. Yet, six firebrand women chose to defy all odds, put an end to their suffering, and lead a life free from toxic masculinity. Neither was it an easy decision to take nor was the path towards their freedom smooth. But, they rose from the ashes like a phoenix, with their friends, family or colleagues acting as their support system. Holding on to their instinct of survival, educational qualifications, and financial independence, they marched on with the belief that they deserved better in life.

Meet Kasturi Ghatak, Inderjit Kaur, Anita Jain, Puspanjalee Das Dutta, Mamon Sen (name changed), Snigdha (name changed) – women whose stories need to be told to the world for they are role models in breaking societal stereotypes and standing against violence amidst all odds.

Trending on the Women's Web platform
Trending on the Women’s Web platform

Please click here for the link to the full article on Domestic Violence that has garnered more than 7000 views in just 5 days and has been trending on the Women’s Web site since published. This piece has also given me the honor of getting been featured as one of the four authors of the week on the Women’s Web platform.

Author of the week @ womensweb

Beauty lies in the grey matter of my brain


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‘Hey Fatso, how much do you eat every day?’

‘Fatso, if you dance, the stage will break down’

‘So fatty, do you purchase two tickets while taking a flight because I am sure you don’t fit into a single seat?’

‘Why is your son so thin? Do you eat away all the food in the house?”

Ah, aren’t these the usual taunts that every girl on the heavier side of the weighing scale has heard at least once in life? Our society has set such ridiculous standards in terms of what gets labeled as beautiful and what goes washed down as ugly that women have been pressurized to follow the norms to perfection since eternity. If one is on the left side of the scale measuring the perfect hourglass figure and the right kind of fair skin, one is believed to be too thin and too dark. However, if one is on the right side of this perfect scale, she is marked as too fat and too pale skinned. To add fuel to the fire, there are corporate houses whose money-making strategy seem to revolve around making young girls believe that the biggest achievement in their lives is to be fair and beautiful or have a skin without acne, pimple, and marks. And some celebrities validate such irrational expectations by being part of such endorsements. There are exceptions though like the handful of celebrities who refuse to be associated with such products or organizations like Naturals Salon who emphasize the true beauty of a woman and also help them become financially independent through employment.

I have always wanted to write about my experiences related to body shaming. After all, it is never a smooth ride for a fat girl in our society.  From my experiences, I have understood that most of the times, the general perception is to be judged based on how one looks. So I might have earned two post-graduate degrees or have a proven track record of leadership skills, but people will still be more interested in or concerned about my growing waistline. Strangely as a toddler, being chubby was considered to be cute. Unfortunately, it also gave people the liberty to pull my cheeks because who believes in taking consent from a child or even her parents! As I grew up, the words kept changing from plump to healthy and then overweight, fat, fatty and obese.

Continue reading “Beauty lies in the grey matter of my brain”

The skeletons tumbled out as I chose to speak the truth

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I grew up in a household where speaking the truth was not just encouraged but diligently practiced. Baba always believed that when one speaks the truth, one always stays true to their conscience. Besides the stated facts always stay the same. Ma had the same version personalized when she had asked me to always be the first one to let them know the truth, even if it was something that might leave them appalled. Such principles shaped my nature and character in such a way that I grew extremely close and comfortable with my parents. I knew that I was believed in my house and was one of the strongest factors that built my confidence. The only not so likable attribute that I developed because of speaking the truth was my inability to sugar-coat my words or be diplomatic in my approach.

#MeToo was a movement started last year by Tarana Burke that exposed monsters like Harvey Weinstein. Since then, there have been skeletons tumbling out of closets everywhere. However, it is only recently that this movement gained mass momentum in India after Tanushree Dutta called out Nana Patekar in a decade-old case of harassment. And for the past few days, there have been stories about media personalities, journalists, writers and stand up comics. People like Utsav Chakraborty, Gautam Adhikari, Kiran Nagarkar, Kailash Kher and many others have been called out by women who have faced harassment in their hands. India has finally woken up to #MeTooIndia and #TimeUp movement.

Amidst all this, I realize how pathetic the state of affairs is in our country. Is there any girl who has not faced harassment at any level ever? Right from being groped in crowded buses, receiving unsolicited pictures of private parts, getting masturbated at and being felt up, the list seems to be endless. Beyond a point, every girl has learned to keep her sixth sense in the maximum alert mode and be armed with a device for protection like a pepper spray. Even I have had the most horrible experiences. Most of these abusers were random people whose perverted minds derived pleasure from such sickening acts. But what does one do when this kind of sexual predator lurks in their closest circle!

S has been a family friend for ages. His father had been my Baba’s friend and mentor. Despite the huge age difference, I grew up calling S as Dada (elder brother in Bengali). I had met him many times as a child and always found him to be affectionate and caring towards me. So, I was taken aback when I felt his hands brush my chest area on the pretext of picking up a paper from the table. I was barely thirteen then. But I was so sure that it had happened by mistake that I forgot about it soon. Unfortunately, this started becoming a pattern very soon. I met him during family functions and festivals and each time he made me so uncomfortable that I started avoiding him. The mere sight of him would make me run indoors. Sadly, my parents loved him like their own son and they could never understand my sudden disappearances. The hide and seek game went on for another two years till it was my board exams and I was excused from attending all events until I completed my exams.

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Continue reading “The skeletons tumbled out as I chose to speak the truth”

And she bloomed at the red horizon of life

Om Sarva Mangala Mangalye Shive Sarvartha Sadhike
Sharanye Tryambake Gauri Narayani Namostu Te

Srishti Sthiti Vinashanam, Shaktibhute, Sanatani
Gunashraye, Gunamaye, Narayani, Namostu Te

Sharanagata Dinarta Paritrana Parayane
Sarvasyartihare Devi! Narayani! Namostu Te

Close to fifty pairs of hands folded in unison seeking the blessings of Ma Durga standing on the floor of the man-made puja mandap of the Chowdhury household.

Maha Ashtami was the most important day of Durga Puja for the Chowdhurys . Just like every other year, Uma and Pushpak had the program for these five days of Durga Puja planned well in advance. This affluent and aristocratic family in Murshidabad was known for the conducting the puja for seventy-four long years. This year relatives from different corners of the world were expected to make a visit to partake in the grandeur of diamond jubilee celebrations.  Uma had been supervising the arrangements and decor of all the fourteen rooms in the house for the past one month. Close to sixty people were expected and ten rooms were already occupied by this day.

This year had an extra significance in the family as it marked as the first puja of their newly wed daughter-in-law Srishti. Three months ago, their Chartered Accountant son Ronit was married to Srishti who worked as a Sociology Professor in the city University. Despite staying out of the country for one and half decades, the childhood family friends had decided to return back to their roots to settle down. Uma never got along very well with her radical thinking daughter-in-law. Uma believed in traditions and rituals while Srishti chose the path to question them. Their relation had been on a downhill slope last month when the philanthropic Srishti decided to sell some of her wedding jewelry  gifts to fund the school building for underprivileged girls. Despite her well-meaning intention, the conservative Uma could never forgive her.

Uma had firmly conveyed to Ronit that Srishti needed to abide by the family customs for the five days of Durga Puja. Any deviation would unnecessarily set the wagging tongues of relatives talking. Ronit had assured her of taking care of the proceedings during this period. After Vijaya Dashami that marked the end of puja, Srishti could go back to her way of living and thinking post departure of the relatives. In return Uma had decided not to get involved in their decisions unless it affected her or the family. Last two days had gone unexpectedly well. Srishti had not only taken care of all the guests but also chose to keep her outlandish ideas supporting feminism and criticizing patriarchy in check. With half day of Ashtami over, Uma only prayed that the remaining two days were equally uneventful.

After savoring the delicious bhog (prasad) of khichdi, khyaat (mixed veg), payesh (rice kheer) and rosogolla(a variety of sweet) in the afternoon, Uma went to her room to take an hours rest before starting the preparation for Sandhi puja* to be held around midnight this year. Srishti was expected to sit for the puja this evening since it marked her significance as the chosen one to bear the future heir to this family. Close to thirty years back, her mother in law Sarojbala had prepared the newly wed Uma for this role. Uma’s husband Pushpak hardly took ant interest in family functions and gatherings. Ever since he had retired, the majority of his day was spent in the sitting room playing chess with his childhood friend Paran Ghosh, She had hoped for a friend in her future daughter-in-law but Ronit’s marriage had only aggravated her existing loneliness.

Uma had come out of the room dressed in a white tasar silk sari with vermilion red borders. Her jewelry adorned frame looked elegant. Spotting her son and daughter-in-law in deep conversation on the sofa, she felt annoyed. Srishti had still not dressed up for the puja due to begin in about an hour.

“Ma, we have been waiting for you. Srishti wanted to talk to you about a complicated issue” Ronit sounded a little uneasy.

Deep within, Uma was getting mentally prepared for another confrontation. She had half expected Srishti to create a ruckus at the end moment.

“Aunty, I have just started my period. I don’t know how to handle the situation right now.” Mother in-laws were never referred to as aunty, but Ma in her family but the U.S. returned Srishti had made it clear on the first day of meeting her that she and her husband would always be aunty and uncle to her. She couldn’t imagine calling anyone else Ma – Baba other than her own parents. However much it hurt, Uma had decided not to force her against her will.

“Srishti, in that case you can’t attend the puja.”

“But Ma, how will you manage? Everyone is expecting Srishti to start the puja. If you sit instead of her, it will raise a lot of unwarranted questions now. If you tell the truth, it will only mean putting Srishti in the spotlight for reasons beyond her control. If you don’t, the obvious assumption will be an over bearing mother-in-law taking away the limelight from her daughter-in-law. I don’t want either of you to go through this.” Ronit had sounded disturbed.

“I fail to understand why you even need to be a part of this female oriented conversation. Your darling wife could have spoken to me in private instead. I would have still advised her to refrain from attending the puja. I am going to justify her absence on a sudden migraine attack since most of them are aware of Srishti suffering from it. As far as being labelled as a manipulative mother-in-law is concerned,  couldn’t care any less. Now if you two are done with such trivialities, I would want to leave and start arranging for the puja.”

“But aunty, I know this day is very important for you. In fact I was hoping to make you proud.” her voice choked with emotions as Uma was surprised by this sudden outburst.

Uma rushed towards the puja mandap. Almost everyone was curious about Srishti’s sudden disappearance. Uma politely informed everyone about the migraine attack rendering it impossible for Srishti to get out of the bed. However the incessant whispering about the assumed bitter relation between her and Srishti didn’t fail to reach Uma’s ears.

The arrangements were completed in time. Uma decided to pay a visit to the restroom upstairs before sitting for the puja. It was going to be one long night. She was surprised to see the door of her son’s room half-open. At a glance, she could figure out the tall frame of her son sleeping on the left corner of the bed just like most of the other male members in her family while the women slogged it out. Srishti sat at one corner of the bed holding her white muslin silk saree with red and orange border. Uma had gifted her this saree to be worn on the auspicious occasion of puja tonight. Srishti was weeping silently. Uma’s heart skipped a beat as she felt familiarity with the same scenario many years back.

The past –

Jaya Jaya Devi

Chara Chara Share

Kucho Jogo Shobhito

Mukta Hare

Beena Ranjita

Pustaka Haste

Bhagwati Bharati

Devi Namastute

 

The loudspeakers from the neighboring puja pandals had been playing the Saraswati puja hymns since morning. Little Ronit had just turned two and half years old and was the center of attraction today. He was to be introduced to the art of reading, writing and alphabets through the ritual of hathekhori. Uma had been running around in her crease free, new white silk saree with golden red border getting all the puja items in place before the priest arrived. The ritual demanded that Ronit sat on her lap during the puja. The mother was the one responsible for helping him transition into this new phase of learning. As she stood up to light the lamp, she felt the unexpected flow of blood just like it came every month at the beginning of her menstruation cycle. Today wasn’t even her due date. Uma rushed upstairs. Her mother-in-law Sarojbala had been observing her keenly. She went behind her silently. As Uma hurried to take out the sanitary napkin from the almirah, all hell broke loose.

That Saraswati puja was etched in the memory of every single person in the Chowdhury household. The entire household had been witness to Uma getting abused and shamed for something as normal as her monthly cycle. Sarojbala ensured that every single item that Uma had touched in her house temple was replaced by a fresh one immediately.  She was not ready to take any chance with her deity. Every visitor was made aware of her inability to be a responsible daughter-in-law that day. Little Ronit was snatched away from Uma’s embrace to be plonked on the floor during the ritual. The chanting of mantras was submerged by the crying of a toddler craving for the security of his mother’s lap and love.

Uma had been too scared to even question the ritual or stand her ground that day. Till the time her mother-in-law was alive, she had carried out her duties with diligence. But she had promised to be a better mother-in-law for her future daughter-in-law. But Srishti was so difficult to handle. She had never let Uma bridge the gap in their relationship. but looking at her tearful silhouette now, Uma felt a tug in her heart.

She walked inside silently. “Why are you still awake?”

Srishti was taken aback at the sudden entry of Uma,”I was just about to go to bed.” her eyes were a shade of red from continuous sobbing.

“Do you want to go downstairs Srishti?” Uma asked her gently.

“How can I go near the mandap? I am impure as you say.”

“Do you believe that you are impure? I  have heard you tell so many maids in the house that monthly period is nothing beyond a physiological change in the body. You keep encouraging them to lead a normal life even during those four to five days.  So why are you lying low now? Doesn’t normalizing period instead of making it a social taboo hold good for you? I feel you should preach only what you can practice.” Uma didn’t know from where she mustered the courage to put forth such a strong opinion.

“Of course I don’t belive in such prejudices. Beyond these five days, I wouldn’t even given it a second thought. But, today it would only embarrass you further in front of the family. I know they keep taunting you for my addressing you as aunty instead of Ma. I would rather not add to your woes.” Srishti sounded tired.

“But why would they need to know? It is just a normal body function. Just as there is no need to hide, is there any need to declare it as well? There’s no rule in the vedas that states that a woman can’t be involved  in rituals during her monthly cycle. I am sure you know it better than me. Come on Srishti, if you feel that there’s nothing wrong in being a part of the puja today, why are you letting the society decide your course of action?” Uma meant every single word that she spoke. Probably it was her way of trying to reclaim her own life through empowering Srishti. “Get ready fast. We will go down right away.”

Sristhi stood in awe of  the bold and courageous opinion of her mother-in-law. Suddenly their past differences seemed too insignificant. She got up to drape the saree as Uma went to freshen up.

Dressed in identical sarees, Srishti walked down the stairs with Uma. A bunch of overtly curious relatives couldn’t stop themselves from asking about her sudden reappearance.

Srishti held Uma’s arm firmly – ” I guess Durga Ma has chosen me to perform the puja. That’s why she probably sent Ma upstairs to check on my health. I have slept for two hours after taking the medicine and I feel much better now. When I heard Ma’ s voice, I knew that it was time for me to partake in the puja.”

Uma have a shiver run down her spine on hearing the word Ma from Srishti’s lips. But she couldn’t just be sure yet.

“Oh, we weren’t aware that your mother is here tonight. Where is she?” one of the relatives queried Srishti.

“Not my mother, I am talking about my other Ma – the one who became my mother not just by virtue of my marriage to her son but by her love and support for me.” Srishti walked ahead with her hand refusing to let go of Uma’s arm.

As Uma picked up the conch shell to blow, Srishti sat down in front of Ma Durga.

Uma silently prayed, “Durga Ma, I am sure as a woman you would understand. Forgive me for keeping this a secret from those who would never understand menstruation doesn’t make a woman impure. “

The dhakis (traditional drummers) had arrives to start the playing of drums. It was indeed time for the rituals to begin.

*Sandhi Puja – It is done at the exact time Mahashtami ends and Mahanavami begins, with rituals performed for the last 24 minutes of Mahashtami and for the first 24 minutes of Mahanavami. The legend behind Sandhi Puja comes from when Durga was engaged in a fierce battle with Mahishasura and was attacked by the demons Chanda and Munda. Goddess Chamunda emerged from the third eye of Durga and killed Chanda and Munda at the cusp of Ashtami and Navami. 

Sridevi, Syria and Semen – the shocking existential scenarios

Last ten days have been crazy for me. Moving back to Kolkata with an unwell toddler was not only physically exhausting but it drained me out of all the energy and enthusiasm. While he’s still riding on a sinusoidal wave of recovery and sickness again, I feel amazed at my late mother’s ability to maintain calmness and sanity while dealing with similar situations during my childhood. But amidst such turbulence in personal life, I couldn’t help but notice the incidents that have created a havoc in the world for the past few days.

Sridevi

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