Pranami is a student at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and is pursuing Photography Design. She is keen on learning and experiencing new things. The rare and untold stories intrigue her. Through photography and writing, she wishes to explore critical social issues and work closely with communities. She believes the visual medium is an impactful tool to bring a positive change in the world.
Menstruation is a biological cycle and yet it is used as capital to further patriarchal gains. In India, significantly in Hindu households, a bleeding woman has to perform rituals and maintain rules imposed by tradition and society. Women are considered ‘impure’ and ‘dirty’ during those days and are not allowed to enter kitchens and ‘holy’ spaces. The practice of isolating menstruating women away from home in temporary shelters also exists. These rituals are defined around the idea of separating purity from pollution.
In most parts of India, when a woman hits puberty, this ‘event’ is marked by a forced social exclusion. She is served uncooked food, not allowed to leave her room and kept completely secluded from everyone for days. At the end of this isolation period, a ceremony takes place where she is given a ritual bath followed by feasting and merry-making. These rituals are practised across caste and rural/urban spaces. I experienced such a period in my life at the age of 12. During the initial years, I lived with the idea of a menstruating body as being impure, as being a stigma.
The memory of that time evokes feelings of isolation, exclusion, purity, womanhood and its celebration, use of colloquial language as references to menstruation and religious rituals. I travelled from Gujarat to Assam and was put under mandatory quarantine in my own house. The COVID-19 lockdown has stirred certain emotions and memories that I experienced as a girl during my first menstruation. These feelings are accompanied by thoughts about the pandemic on usual days and on others, I get reminded of the 12-year-old girl menstruating in a room, isolated and impure.
Through these photographs, I attempt to explore memories of certain lived experiences and the feelings evoked when experiences are re-lived in a different time, space and context. These differences provide the underlying emotional confusion in the photographs. The series also highlights the anxiety of re-living the memory of a stigmatised body coupled with the experience of a body as a potential carrier of a virus. The performative element in the photographs tries to explore these associations and disruptions in the emotional realm and how this complexity affects relationships with loved ones, especially the mother.