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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Those Three days - Part 1

This is a long post that has been cut into little segments for the sake of clarity. For a preamble see here.

The post(in many parts) are my views on what a woman is entitled to when she has her periods. If your fingers are already itching to type something or other in the comment box, I request you read through the rest of the post.

Why should a guy, any guy for that matter write about something that seems to be a very girly topic? Well, this is a daddy blog site and to cut to the chase, it almost feels like there are somethings where this dad might not have a say in how his little girls will get to live their life when they are not little girls anymore and that is the reason behind writing this. At least my little girls get to know that their dad started the "Vote No on Theetu" movement long before they became women.

On a tangential note, everyone from airline passengers to credit card holders is getting a nice crisp "bill of rights" these days. So why not women who have restrictions imposed on them roughly 10% of their adult life?

"Theetu" is the Tamizh term for well, I do NOT have a single english word for it. The closest we can come to any description is "quarantined" or "contaminated" or "segregated".. hopefully that gives you the general idea. A girl is considered to have theetu when she has her periods. Anything she touches becomes "theetu" as well. The exact rules of what "any" includes is not defined in any guidebook. Based on personal experience and inference, here is the high level list of things that we know can catch a "theetu"

1. other humans on contact including kids >1 year old

2. clothes belonging to the woman and other people in the house when in contact with her/her clothes, even if it is a mere brush. Van der walls forces based contact is enough if a widowed great grandmother is present in the house.

3. Any furniture when covered with cloth (as derived from #2)

4. Any vessel that the woman drinks from or eats from.

5. Anyone drinking or eating from utensils shared by woman with Theetu or by induction kids who stay with woman with theetu

and an equally high level known exceptions to the rule. These exceptions will be accepted 90% of the time by other visiting families..

1. Breastfeeding babies are exempt. They can be handed back and forth from the theetu woman.

2. New clothes that have not been washed (from the time they were purchased from the store that is) are exempt.

3. Rexine and other shiny vinyl or synthetic fabrics. That would explain why every Brahmin family in Chennai would have a couple of rexine covered pillows around. Number of pillows would be proportional to the maximum number of women in the house becoming theetu at any one time.

4. Plastic utensils. (any Materials Science major would know even as a child that plastic : Utensil :: Rexine : cloth )

5. Naked kids < 3 years old (this exception's acceptability varies)

6. Any rules valid inside the house are not valid outside the house.

There is a third set of rules on acceptable boundary conditions for theetu rules in the space time continuum. In what can be crudely described as Sundar's law of Universal theetality, where theta represents the ... forget it. Time to be serious again.

1. Theetu is always usually restricted to a corner of the living room directly across from the TV so that the woman can watch TV.

2. Theetu will also be restricted to a particular bedroom in the event the woman has kids <3 years old or still has a breastfeeding baby.

3. The woman/ girl is not allowed to enter the room or space which is designated as prayer area as well as the kitchen or cooking area.

4. For the most part they will be confined to the verandah

5. Theetu boundaries do cross over to your neighbors house if they observe theetu but magically disappear if the neighbor says "we do not follow the rules".

6. All theetu disappears when the woman reaches the street. However when she enters another relatives house who observe the rules, the force field becomes active again.

Given the 5 basic rules, the 6 exemptions and the 6 boundary conditions that have passed self-consistency checks over decades of observation, we are now ready to proceed to the next part.

The history of theetu... which will be covered in Those Three days - Part 2.
(preview, apparently south Indian Tamizh Brahmins are not the only ones who do this. Orthodox jews, south pacific islanders, some folks from central and south america and mexico also follow similar rules)

The posting will continue, interspersed with other regular happenings...


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:28 AM, Anonymous Tamil wife wrote...

I guess the things listed in the posting are true, but not now but may be 10-15 years back. Nowadays beacuse of the changing world and lack of joint family, people(husbands) are most understanding and the concept has been understood and ladies(wives) have more freedom. On a nutshell your post is telling an outdated entry.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 5:35 AM, Blogger rrmom wrote...

@Tamilwife: This may not be observered at home, but women are still expected to reveal that they are theetu when they go to functions, religious occasions, when they visit relatives, go on trips that involve coming in contact with other people etc. If the woman chooses not to reveal the fact, then no one knows. But if she has been brought up observing theetu then a guilt feeling does prevail when the boundaries are crossed. Also when family members visit especially elders, then theetu is expected to be observed in your own home as they don't want to mingle with you on those three days.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:19 AM, Blogger B o o wrote...

Come on already! You are going to release this post in parts?? Adhuvum three parts aa? ;)

Cant help but disagree with the first comment. Things regarding the theetu are pretty much in the same state as far as I know.

And you did nt have to write that disclaimer, Sundar. If not for my dad pooh-poohing the whole theetu business and saving us from the misery, I would have been a different(read scary!) woman today!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Sivajini wrote...

Interesting post, I like your science/plastic tangent there. I believe that it should be a non issue in this time and age. I can understand cleaning up and being hygenic. But obviously not to the point of spoons and things, but considering my mom has seperate dishes for everything, I don't know. I do not however believe kadavul personally said no woman should enter the temple, but the ingrained training in me wouldn't even make me dare go in during my period, near the pooja room or temple. Why? I suppose its because I'm trying to be respectful to other people's beliefs but I don't really understand it myself.
Because frankly speaking, I don't feel there should be a discussion as to oh why won't your daughter come to the temple/function etc. nor should one have to explain to ones male family members why you are exempt, especially little kids they just seethe at you with contempt.

Anyways to add to that, I find Sri Lankan's don't even allow women to come into temples when they are pregnant, yet I see South Indian women fully pregnant coming in. My aunt is Indian and I remember the looks she used to get at a temple in North America, so my mom sat her down and explained it but she's like listen I don't care, I'm going. However, she's a stickler for the rest of the 'in seclusion' rules on cleanliness and not touching babies. Their explanation, babies can sense it and don't want to be near you. When I was a teenager I'd been babysitting one of my toddler cousins and he just wouldn't stop crying that day so my aunt goes are you on your thing?

My problem is I feel women do this to other women. (im sure i'm going to offend some ppl- sorry)
Frankly speaking, I think the shift in this attitude needs to start with women themselves, i'm all for cleanliness and hygene and being respectful towards other ppl's beliefs. But never to the extent that it should hurt someone else.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:26 AM, Blogger Kavi wrote...

I dont see it in existence to a great deal here, as much as i saw it back home.

The only 'theetu' that perhaps is very visibly present is the 'going to the temple' !

Otherwise, it is pretty much ok. I guess thats not the case under all roofs.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:47 AM, Blogger Anu wrote...

Sundar.. one topic which i shudder on.. btw the child less than 1 year is an exception only if kid is naked or wearing new clothes , otherwise theetu stands and kid needs a bath!!Thanks for documenting , because coming from a family who werent too strict into one which is , I still havent wrapped my head around the boundaries and exceptions :)!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:48 AM, Blogger Me wrote...

Sundar anna this is not fair...if you post it in parts like mega serial no one will get offended...look..no trolls...no name calling...no flaming tams..brahms or even you...aiyo what has this blog ulagam come to...ellarum sandapodungappa

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Sundar you forgot an important exception to Theetu rules as well: Animal skins (as in the deerskin that most acharyas sit upon) and wool....

As for Theetu not applying outside the house, that is merely a nod to modern times, requiring all and sundry to mingle once outside the house...

I have relatives who still bathe as soon as they enter their homes, after taking public transportation, as they fear theetu (forget dirt, sweat etc.) from some woman on the bus/train....

M (shaking her head at the utter futility of mankind...)

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:35 AM, Anonymous sathvika wrote...

Reply to Sivajini,

I am from Sri Lanka I never heard about pregnant women not entering temple. That is not true based on my and my family member’s knowledge.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

hi.. i was brought up in a tamil iyer family in Blore and we faught for our rights and abolished that teethu from our home some 20 yrs ago !! but last yr i got married and my inlaws still follow that even till this date.. it was horrible for me.. i find it to be meaningless.. even my grandparents dont see all that now.. so when u see people of todays generation following it its awaful.. i am suffering now because of that here... i hope peope will remove this nonsense from society soon.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Hi, I like your blog about theetu. I actually started browsing to find out the actual reason for it. Though I don't follow all these now cos my husband does not worry about it, I have to when I visit India. I think it is all utter stupidity. I have to sit alone when I am in India but I don't have to cos there is no one else to do all the household chores in the US (said by MIL). My older sister delivered a baby 4 years back. When I visited her, I had my menstruation (was not married then). I was asked not to hold the baby by my sister's Sister in Law. But when that Sister in Law had her period, she carried the baby because she said married women don't have theetu! What nonsense..

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Deepa wrote...

Wow ! I guess I will be the only museum piece here ! For people for Agamam is important and who do pooja at home echai and theetu are important ! I never cared for it till I started regular pooja a but now that I do, I definitely don’t feel like offering food to god on plate that we all eat or go to temple with something I wore during periods ! I definitely think there is some meaning in it .. personally I have observed and heard friend saying when we take shower on 4th day it reduces a lot of cramping .... which was what was followed ..


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