Reproductive Rights, World News, Gender & Identity, Life, Social Justice

South India was flooding and I was still harassed for being a woman

I heard a few gasps from the crowd, just for asking the cashier for something every woman uses.

My mother complained of heavy bleeding and asked me if I had a sanitary pad in my stash. I said yes, I should have some. I went to look at my toiletries pouch and felt around for the familiar velvety texture of a Whisper pad, and couldn’t find any.

I was mistaken, I had run out.

I had the Herculean task of going out and buying a pack of pads. I wouldn’t have hesitated if it was a regular day but today was different. The state of Kerala was drenched in the worst case of floods it had ever seen and was taking lives mercilessly. We were in Guruvayur, where it was relatively less flooded than the rest of the state, and still remotely possible to walk outside.

I decided that I’d have to brave the floods and go anyway for my mother’s sake.

I looked around for a dry salwar kameez, but all my pairs were wet and I had to settle for the sheer white tee shirt and jeans I’d set out for emergencies. This would definitely count as one.

I realized later what a mistake that was.

With my umbrella in hand and a little bag with my wallet and phone, I set out to brave the storm.

I took the three flights of stairs down the lodge we were staying in and reached the reception area where I found a crowd of people around the television watching the midday news that was showing the current flood situation in the other parts of Kerala. It wasn’t looking very good in towns like Idukki and Ernakulam, but we were in Guruvayur, at a higher altitude, and quite safe.

I hadn’t been outside in a while, and it was refreshing to be able to breathe the pungent air. I loved the smell outside when it rained, it was calming. When I was younger, I would go out and sit on the balcony with a book and a steel tumbler with tea while it rained at sunset.

A few hours later, I would retreat indoors to find my legs bitten mercilessly by mosquitoes. I didn’t mind it at all.

I walked onto the patio of the little lodge and looked around. The water had receded into the nearby pond and wasn’t as bad as it was yesterday when the water was at about two feet above the ground and stubbornly refusing to recede. I didn’t dare venture out that day.

I gingerly placed a rubber-clad foot into a puddle and felt the water seep into my sandals, momentarily enjoying the cold sensation in my heels.

I started walking along the cobblestoned path toward West Nada, the Western path of Guruvayur Temple. The path was covered with a metal roof so I didn’t need to use my umbrella. Most of the shops were shut with blue plastic sheets against which the rain bounced off onto the passerby.

I kept my eyes peeled for a convenience store in the vicinity. The only stores that seemed to be open were those that sold “fancy” items like hair ties, hair clips, and colorful bangles; and a few others that sold fried snacks. I couldn’t see a single store that sold what we really needed at a dire time like this; how ironic.

I decided to walk further to the main road and was met with a sudden burst of showers, drenching me thoroughly as I struggled to open my umbrella against the strong wind that fought against me. I finally got it open after a few tries, only to find my clothes completely wet; my sheer white tee shirt now transparent; my sports bra clearly visible.

Sigh, I thought to myself.

What a day for this to happen.

I felt a little self-conscious; but brushed it off quickly, thinking to myself that it wouldn’t be that visible from afar, as long as I kept a comfortable distance from people.

I finally spotted a convenience store a little ahead and walked toward it eagerly. The shop looked rather empty; like it had been robbed at gunpoint by desperate villagers who wanted to stock up for the floods.

There were two other men sitting at the entrance who suddenly looked at me: A glare I couldn’t shake off. I ignored them and walked up to the shopkeeper.

I asked him clearly, “Cheta, Whisper Ultra undo?”(Brother, do you have Whisper Ultra?)

He turned red and asked me to lower my voice, gesturing toward the men at the entrance.

Ilya” (No.)

Evade kittam?” (Where can I get it?), I asked, exasperated.

He gestured toward the left and said that I’d have to walk a bit in that direction.

I nodded and turned to exit the shop. The two men were still staring at me like I was wearing nothing at all. Perplexed, I glared back. They looked away sheepishly.

I decided to focus on what was important and forget this. I walked toward the shops on the left; a few people passed by, possibly on the same quest to find a basic unattainable necessity.

A few shops ahead, I found a drug store with a queue that lasted until the next store. I sighed and stood in line behind a stooped, wrinkly woman with a prescription in her hand that looked like it had been crumpled a million times. She looked me up and down curiously, but I’d gotten used to this by now.

I was a foreigner in their town and wasn’t welcome.

Oh, whatever, I couldn’t care less, I thought to myself.

A few minutes later, the pharmacist gestured at me and asked me to come over to the counter, skipping the line. Oh, foreigners get special treatment? Yay.

I went over and asked loudly, in an effort to be heard over the sound of the pouring rain outside, “Cheta, I need Whisper Ultra.” I heard a few gasps from the crowd, rather dramatic for something every woman uses. A few people turned their gaze downwards, like they’d never heard of such a product before.

I rolled my eyes and looked at the shopkeeper. He nodded and scurried off to the back of the shop.

He returned a few seconds later with the familiar bright purple cover and proceeded to wrap it in some newspaper three times, just in case the newspaper happened to be translucent and someone noticed.

I thanked and paid him, and headed out of the store toward the pouring rain. A few more minutes and I’ll be home, I thought to myself, scouting for dry areas I could walk through.

As I walked along, I couldn’t help but notice a few people stare at me in a manner that was suggestive of being a criminal. A woman dressed in a bright orange saree looked at me, and then at my chest, made a disgusted expression and walked past me. I received a similar reaction from a balding man who passed by, only his disgust was followed by a smile that would freeze water.

Confused, I looked down and noticed that my wet shirt didn’t do me any favors of hiding my perky nipples. My dark areolas were clearly visible under the white, now transparent tee. I let out a tired groan. I couldn’t deal with this now, I had to get home.

Seriously, weren’t we women spared of judgment even during a natural calamity? There’s just no winning for us.

I lowered my gaze and walked intently past the fancy shops toward the lodge.

My frenzied entrance distracted a few guests from the TV in the reception. I walked past them to the lift and clicked the call button. I pictured the same disgusted expressions on their faces as I’d encountered before.

I got to the room and handed the hastily wrapped package to my mother, who was writhing in pain from her menopausal bleeding.

She looked at my shirt and said nothing, resigning to the bathroom with the package. I picked up a dry towel and ran it over my body, drying myself off.

Sigh, the trouble was worth it in the end.