It’s a beautiful problem, period.

The room opens. In 2022, the room I refer to is virtual of-course! I meet multiple women and men in this room every month to talk about menstruation and it’s effect on athlete performance. On my screen I see a lot of faces – curious, confused, shy, disinterested even. Most of them are girls, sometimes women and once in a while there are a few men or a man in the conversation too. I notice that they are staring at the screen eagerly waiting for me to quickly start the conversation but then also may be to end it quickly. The conversation I am about to have is not exactly a conversation they are comfortable with. Neither the men, nor the girls. 

I ask the question, “What is a period?” 

Workshop in progress

There is pin-drop silence, always. 

Now I begin to see their faces more clearly, because there is not much that they are saying. Some girls start giggling, some roll their eyes, some run away from the screen, some laugh, some are blank, some want to almost say something, but they stop short of that. Mostly fearing they might say something that is wrong. The male coach generally doesn’t say much. I am not sure if he’s just unsure or that he thinks the question is only for the girls or other women in the session and not him. 

Why would it be for him? Nobody has asked him the question ever before. Let alone in a room that has mostly women and he is probably the only man. It is a woman’s issue, not a man’s.

When I was ten years old, I had a coach who believed that all athletes should wear white and white clothes only. White shirts, white shorts, white socks! 

This was okay till girls in our group hit puberty. Once that happened, they were not comfortable with anything white. A red stain on a white shorts is disgusting, isn’t it ? It still is for most of us. The coach would give in a little and allow us to wear dark coloured shorts, ‘on those days‘. 

Our hearts should have been filled with gratitude because our coach allowed us to wear dark colour shorts, ‘on those days’ right ? Alas ! that didn’t happen. It would actually embarrass us more. As dark colour shorts was a public announcement about us menstruating, to the rest of the group which included the boys. Our coach never had any other conversation with us on it, other than ‘ Wear dark coloured short, ‘on those days.’

This was a mistake. 

He should have told us about menstruation and how it affects our performance. He should have told us about the importance of eating right amount of calories during menstruation to avoid injuries. He should have told us to not over train during menstruation. He should have told us there is nothing to be embarrassed about a red stain on a white shorts. He should have empathised with our pain. Instead he said, “What will you do if you were in a tournament?” 

There is enough and more science now on how menstruation has a direct impact on performance.

Research and studies suggest that, there is a slight increase in body temperature (~0.5 degrees C) during the luteal phase of the cycle which can cause dehydration. Hormonal shifts in the body could affect multiple parts of the body including muscle, bone, endurance, energy level and attention. Pain levels and pain perception are also affected for many women. Bad nutrition, could cause low body weight, irregular menstrual cycles and low bone density issues for athletes. Stress fractures and other problems that the female athlete suffered from could limit an athlete’s activity and potentially even end a sporting career.

Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer at the Rio Olympics, made headlines in 2016 for telling the world she was on her period. It was the first time an athlete pointed to Periods as a reason to not performing to potential. Image Courtesy- Getty Images

And yet, when I desperately call academies and coaches to register for our workshop, I hear more ‘No’ then ‘Yes’. There are various reasons/excuses to not engage. Parents are not comfortable, participants won’t be able to sit through the entire workshop, athletes are preparing for tournaments, they are travelling, they are too young, etc. What coaches need to understand is that until understanding the female body and how it functions (which includes menstruation) is not their priority, female athletes are not their priority.

There could be many reasons to say, “NO”. There is only one reason to say, “Yes”- because it is the right thing to do.

After the radio silence on the question- “What is a period?”, the room does open up. I make sure it does. Learning doesn’t happen over a presentation, it happens over conversations. Uncomfortable, honest conversations where we share our own experiences and our struggles! Of all the answers I have heard over the course of me conducting these workshops, this one has truly stayed with me – “Periods, it is a beautiful problem.”

When I asked the girl to explain, she said, ” Because periods help us bring a new life into this world which is beautiful, but with that it also gives us pain, mental and physical problems and causes embarrassment – which is problematic, right?”

I didn’t correct her. There was nothing to correct. Period is a problem for every female athlete, that is playing any sport, at any level, anywhere in the world. It is a bigger problem for some than the others. The only way to solve the problem is to speak up and acknowledge it – by both the athlete and the coach. And then to educate ourselves on how can we manage this problem so that it helps us perform better. 

I, for one, never spoke up about it when I played my sport. I know now it was as much my mistake, as it was my coach’s. My mission now is to engage with every female athlete on the subject so that she doesn’t have to remain ignorant like me. If I have learned one thing since launching the ‘Menstruation and Sports’ workshop it is this – Talking about menstruation in sport is not easy. 

But I can promise one thing I will I keep engaging till I reach every one of the female athletes or their coaches. 

So to all the coaches – if you haven’t still received a call from me, expect one soon. The change for me begins with you, not the parents or the athletes. 

And I am going to make sure you start the conversation. 

And if you have not heard from me yet BUT are reading this, please please please reach out to me so that we can accelerate the change. Simply Sport Foundation is actively running Menstrual awareness workshops for Sports Coaches and Athletes

Let us start the conversation here.

“Let’s talk about money, honey!”

Power is an important part of our social structure. How you define power is subjective. It could mean different things to different people. But in all my readings, discussions and observations about power, one interpretation of its definition is recurring – money. Like it or not money yields a lot of power in our life. It shapes the decisions we make, the relationships we have, the people we meet, the networks we build, the things we buy, the lives we live. 

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Power= Money?

Money was really never important to me. It still isn’t. I played professional sport because I love to play. I work and coach because I am truly passionate about it. I don’t base any of my relationships on how are they going to help me financially. Money has never really been the centre of my decision-making universe and always been a by-product of sorts. Money is also never a part of any of my conversations with friends, especially girlfriends. We never speak about stocks or mutual funds. We may be touch upon how much do we earn and what we deserve sometimes. Culturally, in the society I live in, talking about money directly is considered impolite, being obsessed by it openly is considered indecent. Yet in my lifetime I have seen friendships, families, people break because of lack of it. 

But I started thinking about money a couple years back when my husband had a candid conversation with me on the topic. 

“We need to pay the EMIs for the house, buy groceries, pay the bills, pay for the insurance, pay salary of the maids, plan travel, eat out and and and …. shop for the clothes you don’t need. And this is generally the amount we spend – XXX. So honey, it is about time we talk about money.”

When my husband finished that thought, I was perplexed. For two reasons, first I thought that my husband has probably lost all of his savings on some gamble and we are doomed. Second – I had no idea where my money was at that time. The only thing I knew is that I had a bank account from which I could draw my everyday expenses – but I didn’t know until when. Luckily, the first thought wasn’t true. The second was, and still is partly true even today.

I HAD NO IDEA WHERE MY MONEY WAS!

Yes, this is exactly me. Just a little thinner! 😀

Does this ring a bell for any of my fellow women friends reading this? 

I still struggle with it but luckily I have got better since I had that conversation with my husband. Accepting that you don’t know is the first step towards knowing right?

I consider myself a strong and independent woman, a free thinker or sorts. I started earning a regular salary at the age of 16. I started earning my own money at the age of 9, when I won my first 1000 rupees ($15) in cash when I won a tournament. So basically I have not spent a day without making money one way or the other from age 9 till today. I love the hustle and am proud of it. I made the money but had no clue where it goes, how it functions, how do I make it work for me today and in the future.

This is sort of counter-intuitive. How does a strong independent woman, remain so oblivious to understanding money? More importantly her own money.

And to make things really interesting let me inform you that my father is a banker. Yep. 

My father has been working at Canara Bank since he was 19. It was his first job and his only job till he retired. He understands how the bank works. All the money I made since the age of 9 was taken care by my extremely diligent and knowledgeable father. I never had to go to the bank for anything. It was basically taken care of, for me.

Guarding me, my money and beyond…. #Bestguardever

Enter Patriarchy

Irony is that as a free woman I fight patriarchy all the time. I never tolerated it and would not let anyone I know suffer through it. Yet, when it came to managing my own finances, I let the patriarchal mindset take its course. I always let my father handle the finances at home. He decided a monthly budget and how we spent it. Now my mother, a teacher, drew a salary which in Marathi we joked would be enough to buy kothimbir and mirchi (Corriander and chilly). That basically translated into ‘ I don’t earn much so it doesn’t matter’. That salary also got routed to my father since he was planning the finances. Also it was pretty natural for her to do that since she saw her mother, all her sisters and almost all of her girlfriends do the same.

So I continued the tradition with my money. It was convenient for me. I bought whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about where to invest, how many accounts I held, do I have enough to for my older – retired self, ordering cheque books, ATM cards, filing taxes etc. Everything was given to me on a platter.

And no this was not a Britney Spears replay. I used every single penny of what I earned. My father never allowed anyone else to draw from that pool, even he didn’t touch it. #BestGuardEver. 

The Hate for Mathematics and anything that involved numbers

I passionately hated Mathematics as a kid and I still do as an adult. For me to understand money, I had to understand numbers and that scared me. I let myself believe that I should not directly handle money because I didn’t exactly understand numbers. I know money is not just Math, it is more of a combination of math and art. Also, if you understand enough, it is basic common sense – which I believe I have in plenty.

So as we enter 2022, I want to take complete responsibility of my own money. I can’t tell the world I am an independent woman, when I don’t even know what is my life’s savings, the inflow, the outflow and everything in between. I need to understand the science of money, how it functions, how to invest it, where to invest it, how to make it work for me – while I sleep – yes I caught the lingo quickly. Independence stems from being in control of your own finances, a true feminist will always tell you that.

Early this year I wrote to one of my mentors asking him to help me get better at money. I told him, that I have no understanding of money and I have finally realised that it is not exactly a thing to be proud of. We had an hour long call, he couriered me a bunch of books to start my journey. The more I have read the more I have realised handling your finances is not rocket science. It is simple, and very doable. You have to start though. 

I have been blessed with a fantastic father and a financially intelligent husband who I could completely trust with all my money and every decision I need to make with it. Though starting this year I want to take this trust I have on them and instil it on my own self. I work very hard to make my money, and only I should have the right to make decisions about it. I see all the feminists smiling at me from the heaven and the earth. This is the year I hope to make them proud.

Power is not just money for me. It will never be. But I would like to be able to live a good life on my own terms and understanding money will empower me to do that. So this year, 2022, I am finally going to be truly independent. I can’t wait to see what that feels like!

Happy New Year $$$ 

Look at how happy he was when I told him about my 2022 goal 😀