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Masai village by Day

Giclee Prints available of above image.

Another young girl’s death reported after being banished to a menstruation

hut.  She inhaled toxic fumes from a fire.

This poem is my outraged response to the barbarity of the practice:




My turn in this red chamber, wrapped in jute,

drinking bovine urine, for I’m impure.

I may not touch a plant, food, or a man;

I may not milk a buffalo, or bathe.

I’ve come here from menarche to this goth

and I’ll come here until my menopause.


I look at the night sky; try to count the stars;

wonder why Saraswati is angered

if any of us wants to touch a book.

She sits, pen in hand, on a white lotus

and leaves no trace of menstrual fluid,

her clothing as unstained as mountain snow.

The swan at her feet drinks milk at its will.

I’m told she is the best of mothers and

she dwells upon the tongues of poets too.

I pray she will preserve me from lightning;

keep all snakes away and send me to school;

pray that my mother will hand me flatbread

and not fling it at me, as to a dog.


Chaupadi.  I study my child’s face

and sip gahut to purify myself

from drunken animals who molest me.

I pray the rats will not come here tonight.

It’s cold – cold enough to kindle a fire,

but I must stay alert, for my sister

was found lifeless, smoke-choked, six months ago.


Tomorrow will be Vasant Panchami.

I hope the goddess will help my baby

to learn some alphabet, so she’ll read

how to rebel, without bringing bad luck

from past generations into the next.

Then her destiny will no longer be,

what we’ve all shared: the lowly cattle shed.


The Blood Moon has arisen over the peaks.

I pray for synchrony; for company

and hope that, at the chaupadi dhara,

I’ll meet another girl who’s not a ghost.

Oh, that Kalidasa would take a dip

with us one day and share our suffering!


Don’t sleep standing up. Just one more day now.