Those three days - Past and Present
The previous post is here.
This post is to put things in perspective..
Theetu's origin can simply be summarized in two words "bloodborne pathogens". Do not know if cavepoeple figured out that isolating women prone to bleeding was a good idea. Have not seen any articles that study primate behavior for segregation of menstruating females (maybe because small apes get periods when they are 4 years old and larger ones when they are 8?). There are tons of papers on animal fertility, but not much out there on how primates deal with periods or how anthropology or archaeology has approached this topic. Have even wondered if the people who dug up Mohenjo-daro and Harappa or the great pyramids found special huts or chambers for segregated women.
For at least the last few thousand years (based on tribal customs handed over for centuries) certain cultures have been sending their women with "theetu" to communal huts or special enclosures where they spend time with other theetu women. If no other woman is there, they even have a senior older woman give company. The specialty of the huts is that they are cleaned more often, there is no physical exertion for the women who go to this hut and they are constantly in check with the medicine man. When a woman came out of that hut into the regular dwelling, she would take a special bath to cleanse herself. Looks like they did everything right and it seems very well thought out and organized.
a. treat the woman with extra care
b. make sure she rests
c. take care of the hygiene
Then you get a lot of literature on more complex social evolution based on "religion". That is where the whole thing takes weird connotations. Even read a paper on "slapping a girl as soon as she gets her first period" to tell her she is to awaken from her "childhood". I started laughing. In some communities today they broadcast the girl's attaining puberty to the whole world with banners, and a public ceremony.
The whole thing varies from "education" to "borderline harassment" depending on the era and culture and religion. What happens to a girl when she becomes a woman in a place that has something like the Taliban (really do not know but for some reason, cannot imagine it would be as good as the women from the tribes in the south pacific)
The personal view from looking at near and dear ones is that over the years, there is a lot of tolerance and looking the other way when it comes to certain customs that do not make sense. Even in the late seventies, remember that some of the ladies would just send a message to their work saying "cant be at work for the next three days". Do not know when Sanitary napkins became very prevalent in South India or when they became affordable for all that women would not have to take days off.
Certain things are understandable irrespective of the generation that is holding on to customs, be it in the name of religion, society, culture, tradition.
1. It is important to have a good hygiene standard. Washing hands, keeping toilets clean, changing bed spreads, clothes worn during those three days etc.
2. It also makes sense that the woman has a nice soak in the tub to relax before getting back to the routine.
3. Any girl/woman who is losing blood is bound to be weak, might have cramps and might also be moody and cranky and downright unpredictable. So it also makes sense to give them their space as long as it is not a hard floor, but the most comfortable bed (have always wondered why my dad and the kids didn't leave the bed to my mom and sleep on the floor instead of the other way around).
4. It also made sense to ask them not to cook if the hygiene standards were not upto the mark. In todays world of leftover rice and microwaves, do not see how a woman who cleans her hands with the same antibacterial soap as her snot nosed kid or constantly sick hubby would be a higher level threat. It does make sense from a stress point of view.
Thirty years ago, there were no mixers, grinders, microwaves, dishwashers, fancy ovens and day to day cooking was a lot more difficult and strenuous. Still remember that when we were kids, the gas cylinders were not very prevalent and we used a "kumuti aduppu" and 10 days a month you would wait for the new cylinder to arrive and would be on the kerosene stove or kumuti inhaling fumes or smoke. This was true even after we started getting gas cylinders and a house had only one cylinder. It makes total sense to make sure that the women got their rest from cooking, but the sticking point was that they were dependent on the others in the house to get them the food they wanted.
Poor girl would say "stop. enough. dont want more" and they would pile it on her plate knowing that once it got to her plate she couldn't put it back or give it to anyone else, because the food on her plate was now "theetu". If she choose to waste that food, she would get yelled at. Also, the fact that people who observe this had men in the house who had no clue how to cook and learnt cooking on "those three days", can be the subject of a book by itself. If Meenakshi Ammal wrote a book on learning to cook in thirty days, many a Meenakshi Sundaram has learnt to cook in three days out of thirty!
In today's world, any newly married couple who are by themselves mostly choose to observe "theetu-lite" where they restrict themselves from going near the prayer room, temples, religious functions, even cultural functions like weddings (don't know why you would not go to a close relative or friends wedding because you have periods, that one still beats me. For some reason identical rules for a person in mourning are applied to a woman with periods when it comes to attending functions, Why?).
Some women go one step further and eat outside or go on a jamba juice diet which again makes sense. No cooking and need to keep hydrated! Also know that most of the couples we know do not have separate beds and that means they do sleep in the same bed when the woman has periods. Chances are she is going to ask for a hand and foot massage because of cramps and she totally deserves it and she will get it in houses with "theetu-lite".
There are a lot of families which just do not observe any differences and tell you they do not believe in "theetu". There are believers in god who do not observe theetu and atheists who do, in Tamilnadu which is interesting. So that is probably the proof that this crosses religious boundaries and could be more of a social custom.
However if you have parents, in-laws or older relatives living with you the rules bend. If grandparents or grand-in-laws are there the rules pretty much bend so much that they look like a mobius strip.
To a large part the future of "theetu" depends on this past and present. How the previous generation convinces the next to follow certain customs is the final part of the post.
1. How much of a choice did/do/will my grandmother/mother/wife/daughters have in chosing to observe these customs?
2. How were/are/will the girls be convinced on the moral, ethical ramifications of the decisions they make?
3. How were/are/will they be judged based on their choice?
There are still families which follow "theetu" in India. A lot of folks who have stopped following it because they live in nuclear families, automatically assume that the rest of the world has moved forward with them. That is not true. I am also guilty of making such assumptions on a day to day basis. Have this subconscious feeling that the whole world is tech savvy, which it clearly is not.
Very sad to disappoint those folks who were expecting a fight or flame. The intent of these posts was not to create any animosity or friction.
It is to understand and get clarity on this custom and maybe learn a thing or two by sharing thoughts. Using a professors words "you haven't thought it through till you have written it down and you haven't understood it till you have published it"..
Here is to hope for a better understanding as the publish button is being hit.
ps. the final part on Saturday.