The man who menstruated

He, yes he, menstruated for about 10 years and then found a cure that turned his life around in a way he never imagined according to a story carried by NPR.

For a woman, menstruation is a natural process which comes with cultural “taboos” in some societies and physiological disruptions that can affect life style and work in some cases.

What happens when a man tells you he is menstruating? No one, perhaps on earth, has an answer but Arunachalam Muruganantham ( let’s just call him AM), a 52 years old social entrepreneur who lives in the city of Coimbatore in South India.

The story is not exactly what you may already be thinking but it as close as it can be.

In the beginning, there was a woman.

AM’s problem started back in 1998 when he got married and realized his wife was using torn rags to absorb blood during her period. Further investigation revealed that the practice was wide spread with some women using either ash or sand as absorbents during menstruation.

Back then, sanitary pads were not available in most of rural India. Even when available, they were not affordable. AM’s goal was to build a machine that would make effective but cheap sanitary pads.

Said AM,

“I was concerned about personal hygiene and how this would affect a woman’s health. I realized that the lack of proper sanitary napkins restricted a woman’s mobility and stifled her confidence. It was something I was determined to help with.”

But doing good is not a path paved with flowers and affection.

First, his wife was uncomfortable with the harassment for feedbacks on experimental materials. Second, he had to wait for her monthly cycle to test any new materials.

That set off AM on a bloody journey to find a solution which initially disrupted his marriage and hunted him for about a decade.

To quicken the testing of various materials and feedbacks, AM decided to approach other women for help. The combination of “shame, taboo and suspicion” prevented them from assisting in the project.

AM then approached female medical students thinking that they would be more open and understanding. He hit a brick wall there as well.

Before long rumour began to fly. Said AM’s wife:

“Everyone was saying such nasty things. They said he was going out with other women, that he had a perverted interest in sanitary napkins. It was a very difficult time.”

But she walked away.

In 2000, AM’s wife who could no longer deal with the rumours and her husband’s “weird” behaviour walked out of the marriage.

AM was not deterred. He was determined to build a machine that will give birth to his dream sanitary pads. He declared,

“I couldn’t allow myself to feel disillusioned. I needed to focus. I was determined to build the machine since I was convinced that proper sanitary hygiene and greater access to sanitary napkins would take the mystery out of it and help fight misconceptions.”

In 2002, AM decided to do reversed engineering on branded sanitary pads in order to study their components and include same in his experimental products. After isolating the required materials, the issue of getting menstruating women for testing remained a challenge.

And things turned bloody.

In 2005, with no women willing to be test subjects, AM designed a rubber pouch, which he fixed with a holster to his hip and then paid local butchers to deliver fresh goat’s blood whenever there was a slaughter.

The tube led from the rubber pouch dripped blood into a napkin which he wore to simulate menstruation. This proved an effective way to determine if the napkins held up and didn’t disintegrate.

“I had to fill the pouch quickly to test the sanitary napkin, or else the blood would congeal,” he said.

But AM reeked from the stench of animal blood while neighbors, wondering whether he was a pervert or a vampire, ostracized him.

“People would actually cross to the opposite side of the street if they saw me coming. The isolation proved good for me. It helped me keep up my single-minded focus.”

Mr. Alaje is a Nigerian serial entrepreneur who is familiar with the thorny roads that lead to success.

Then came the big pay day that kept paying.

In 2006, AM’s persistence finally paid off. He created a portable, semi-automated machine, powered by electricity, that could fit in a small space of about 11 by 11 feet and churn out two sanitary pads a minute.

The machine only cost about $1,500 to build. And the pads could be sold for only 2 to 3 cents each, a tenth of the price of other commercially made pads.

Later in 2006, AM received seed funding to start constructing the machines on a larger scale. His company — Jaishree Industries — was born. (Jaishree means “the honor of victory.”)

Since then, AM’s company has supplied more than 4,000 machines to women in India and has shipped more than 200 machines to 27 developing nations around the world.

AM demonstrating his sanity pad product to a group of women.

Awards and Recognition poured in.

  • The machine has won an award by the National Innovation Foundation of India.
  • In 2014, AM was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.
  • In 2016, he won an Indian national award, the Padma Shri, given to civilians for their contributions to society.
  • A 26-minute documentary about his work, titled “Period. End Of Sentence” has been shortlisted for an Oscar award ceremony coming up this February.
AM poses with the Bollywood actor who portrayed him in the movie Pad Man.
  • A Bollywood movie about him premiered in February, 2018..

Then she came back.

His runaway wife has since come back home

“Reflecting on the recognition felt surreal at first, said AM
“I could hardly believe it was happening.”

(Cover image, courtesy of dailybeast)

About author
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Newspackng.
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