Love, Wellness

I grew up learning about my period with a heavy dose of Desi totkas, and I have no regrets

Hey, who am I to question my Desi ancestors?

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My leg starts hurting, usually more intensely than usual.

I’ll be in a crappy mostly irritable mood, and ah, the cramps. The cramps!

I know what’s about to happen, but I’m still in denial.

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Just a few moments before I get my glorious *looks around* period.

THERE. I SAID IT.

The oh-so-ghastly word I was taught to be quiet about growing up in a Desi household.

It was common knowledge that boys either didn’t know what a period was (of course they did, though, it’s the 21st century) or if they did, they didn’t talk about it.

Periods are taboo in Desi communities. There’s no other way to say it. At least, that’s been a reality I’ve been in, ever since I was a child.

Periods are a topic you never dared speak with your dad about, but with your mom? Ah, every auntie LOVED talking about periods.

If you’re Desi, you definitely know what I’m talking about. Almost every mom I’ve met has a recipe Bible and Desi totka (natural fix) for that time of the month.

I used to think that my mom was the only one chock-full of remedies, but as I grew up ranting to my friends about period cramps, I quickly realized that every Desi household has totkas for period pain. These may or may not be medically tested, but they’ve been highly recommended by everyone I know, and these natural fixes have been passed down over generations.

You know what they say, yeah?

Ammi/Dadi/Nani knows best.

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1. Steam yourself some delicious haldi dood (milk with turmeric)

This is probably the most infamous recipe if you’re Desi.

My mom’s been telling me to drink this ever since I got my first period. My best friend’s mom’s been telling her to drink it for as long as I can remember. All my Pakistani and Indian high school friends drink this. Instagram’s recently been flooded with a “turmeric latte” craze, but we Desis have been rolling with it for generations.

Warm milk in a pan (or microwave) and add around 1 – 1.5 teaspoon of turmeric powder in it. Mix this up, and ta-da! You’ve got yourself some delectable haldi dood.

2. Always overdose on dates (the halal kind, duh)

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This is the easiest Desi totka because dates are just so good!  I absolutely love eating them, and it doesn’t hurt that dates have loads of health benefits.

That’s not all: dates help with period pain, too. They’re also a pre-period remedy. I have a few every day in the morning, and if I want to go for something heavier, I make a milkshake chockful of dates.

To sum up: you basically need to eat a handful of dates at least 3-4 days before your supposed date. Ha.

3. Pick reusable pads over synthetic pads, all day, every day

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Before you freak out and say “No way, I’d never try this,” think about it: what do you think people did before disposable pads came onto the market?

No, they didn’t just bleed out. I promise you that. There are way too many parties to be attending.

While this might sound like a relatively new concept to most of you, cloth pads are a way more comfortable, breathable and healthy option.  Plus, you save $$$ by not having to run to the drugstore every month.

hatecopy / via Instagram

They just used cloth and rewashed it, which might sound antithetical to all that a period is – but honestly? It’s a better solution than mucking yourself up with synthetic materials.

Even today, the Desi totka of keeping yourself clean without using wasteful materials is my go-to method. When my mom first told me about it, I was weirded out – but once I gave it a try, I’m a complete convert. I absolutely haven’t looked back at the disposable pads gathering dust in the cupboard under my bathroom sink.

I found this one solution – Performa pads! – that is just so damn convenient and inexpensive, and there’s no hassle of throwing them out. I also love that I’m not worried about messing up my clothes anymore.

4. Never pass up a cup of chai (tea)

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Okay, maybe I’m a bit biased because I can’t live without chai. I guess you could substitute this with your choice of hot drink. But having a hot cup of tea helps with distressed muscles, which could be another reason for those abysmal cramps.

I try to avoid coffee during my cycle because for some reason, I get more cramps after coffee. Sometimes, that pain is just excruciating. On the other hand, chai has the opposite effect for me. I absolutely swear by it, and so do the aunties in my circle.

5. Make yourself a warm compress

Cheryl Cole with a hot compress
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This used to be a warm folded cloth or a hot water bottle for me, but I’ve totally leveled up to a warm compress. It definitely works. I use a warm compress when I’m having cramps, and it numbs the pain.

I’m not sure of the biology that goes into this, but it helps and that’s really all I care about.

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There have been times where I’ve had severe cramps, and the only thing that’s made them bearable at the time has been this. Warm compresses? Everyone’s underrated savior.

6. On period days, we don’t wear white

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This isn’t entirely related to pain relief, but it was an unspoken rule: no one wore light colors, least of all white, during their period.

The reason is obvious: What if the pad overflows or there’s blood leakage onto your clothes? That would be the last thing you want. Not just because it’s a nightmare, but because washing the blood stains immediately is a gross hassle, one I loathe with all my heart.  I’ve had way, way too many pairs of underwear that were absolutely spoilt because of this stupid problem. I have a heavy flow, so my period is a nightmare.

I usually wear dark colors, if not black, for the most part. That way, I don’t feel as paranoid and don’t have to constantly look behind my back (literally!) for stains. It especially helped once I started using dark period-proof underwear – without any synthetic components to cause me pain (heavy periods suck!), I’ve become obsessed.

7. Bananas, bananas, bananas

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This is both a PMS and mid-cycle remedy.

Just have a banana every day, and it should help with the pain. My mom is always telling me to have bananas when I complain about cramps. In fact, she distrusts Midol and has told me to go for bananas, instead. Her reasoning is that any long-term use of Midol is unhealthy, and it’s better to go all-natural instead of “Chemicals and God knows what these pills are made of!”  (although they are all listed in the leaflet).

There’s no comment on her end when I point out that all the Midol ingredients are listed on the bottle, but I digress.

An alternative way to reach period pain relief is to slightly oil banana leaves and bake them. Next, mix them in yogurt or curd and eat up when you’re dealing with severe cramps. It’s life changing.

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8. Wear your shalwars, because skinny jeans are the worst

Punjabi girl strutting a yellow shalwar
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Wearing skinny jeans, or anything that’s tight, during your period is an absolute no-no. I love my slacks and jammies, but somehow, wearing a loose shalwar is supposed to help when you’re on your period.

My mom would suggest it if I ever complained about cramps while wearing skinny jeans. Weirdly enough, it did help a tad bit. Especially because my tummy bloats a lot, so that loose fit is a relief – but don’t tell her I said that.

9. A heavy dose of ajwain (carom) and carrot juice

Lady drinking up a lot of juice
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Ajwain (or carom) is a spice that’s quite commonly used in Desi households. This is also a favorite when it comes to cramps: not just period cramps, literally mention any stomach cramps and out comes the ajwain. Eating a handful of these seeds makes the pain go away, and they’re supposedly pretty beneficial for the stomach.

For period pain, there are two ways you can use ajwain. The first is by roasting the seeds and having them with milk.

The second way is by adding half a cup of carom juice to half a cup of carrot juice. Mix it well, and drink it. This is helpful for cramps during your cycle because it relieves the pain.

A few of my friends forcefully drink this every month – it doesn’t have the best taste, but it helps with cramps. And when you’re in all that pain, you’ll do anything to help take the pain away.

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10. Make a steaming cup of adrak (ginger) tea

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Adrak and its partner in crime, lesan (garlic),  are the two mandatory ingredients in 90% of Pakistani dishes. But that’s not all, folks. Adrak chai (ginger tea) is a fan favorite, along with Joshanda if anyone at home has the flu.

But ginger is actually great for period cramps, too! The Desi totka is to boil grated ginger in a cup of water. Next, strain the water, then add one and a half teaspoons of honey and a few drops of lemon. Drink it warm for instant cramp relief.

I personally love ginger, and I always add grated ginger to my green tea if I’m having cramps.

11. Drink a whole lot of dhanya (coriander)

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I’ve seen dhanya added to almost every dish made at home: from being used as the garnish in karhais (gravy) to being dropped in samosa batter. It probably takes the top spot, next to garlic and ginger. And it’s a favorite totka, too. My cousins almost swear by this one.

And it’s a favorite totka, too. My cousins definitely swear by this one.

Boil around 18-20 coriander seeds in a cup of water, until only half the liquid is left. Leave the mixture to cool for a while, and drink it. Add a bit of honey to it, if the taste is too bitter for you. This is also a totka for instant pain relief, but because it takes a bit of time to make, it’s best to prepare this ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator.

12. Don’t take a shower the first day

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This one never made sense to me, but my mom and grandma always tell me not to shower on the first day. I usually experience super severe cramps, and hardly have the strength to get up, so I don’t really mind. Showering seems like quite the task, especially on your first day.

From what I’ve seen, this varies from family to family. Some think it’s better to not shower the first few days, while some just emphasize not showering on the first and second day.

I know that medically it probably doesn’t make much sense, but hey, who am I to question the ancestors?

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13. Don’t have spicy food – at all

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MISSION ABORT. MISSION ABORT.

Don’t make this mistake. As someone who’s tried and tested this one, I absolutely recommend avoiding spicy food.

If you can have spicy food (or anything with red chili) and not have cramps you’re definitely lucky. Being an absolute fan of spices (how can I not?), I try to go for a lighter taste palette during my week. If I don’t, I experience worse cramps, and it’s just really not worth it.

I promise.