Monthly Archives: March 2011

XXFactored Mar2011: Sex, Self-Image And Complicated Committment

Time for another XXFactored post already! So much has been happening this woman’s own life that I’m afraid I’ve been lagging behind in the spectator stakes. Maybe what I’m reading mirrors what I’ve been thinking. Here’s what was up with March 2011:

  • A basket of goodies from the queen of confessions who lists the different kinds of sex (via TheCompulsiveConfessor)
  • Daughterly guilt and who’s fighting it – Google, Infosys! (via EconomicTimes)
  • A personal account of bust enhancement surgery and its aftermath. Forget sniggering, this really makes me want to say “No judgement” (via DailyMail)
  • Is this the truth behind all those annoying ‘happily ever after’ couples? Meet a woman who wants Facebook to know that she’s married and ‘It’s complicated’! (via YourTango)
  • Do some of the phrases that gain popularity, make you cringe? Dating terminology that we need to ditch (via YourTango)
  • Couples fight more than 300 times a year! I don’t know about you but that certainly makes me feel better! (via Glamour)
  • How ironic that we talk about the emotional/moral/social aspects of virginity and totally neglect the physical? 7 things you didn’t know about the hymen (via YourTango)
  • Lalita Iyer of HT Cafe’s Chickwit column presents her take on a chauvinistic comedian’s act (via Chickwit)
  • And finally a bit of a self-plug (I think I’ve earned it!): Do check out some of my top-of-the-line posts at Yahoo! Real Beauty. A few of them are sparking off a storm in the teacup there!
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Your Menstrual Cells Can Insure Your Health: LifeCell Femme Menstrual Cell Banking

Earlier in the month, I was invited to an event at the Taj Mahal hotel by LifeCell International. They’d chosen Women’s Day to launch their new product – LifeCell Femme. My first thought when I heard the phrase ‘stem cell banking’ was the medical thrillers I used to read in college. I was pretty sure it had something to do with regrowing limbs and such in a petri dish, for accident victims. I had no idea what that had to do with Women’s Day or me, for that matter. I went along out of curiosity.

It turns out my basic perception was right. Stem cell regeneration is the technology that allows us to regrow certain parts of the body, using basic cells. Just thinking about it is awe-inspiring. Science tells us that each of us starts with one cell, that divides progressively into halves, quarters and so on. At some point of time, the collection of cells starts to resemble an actual human being.

How does a cell know that it is going to be part of the liver and not, say, a finger? How does a cell know that it should grow in this direction, not that? How do the cells know that they should bunch up in just this shape and not another? Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Imagine a few renegade cells in your right kidney had decided that left elbow was more their thing, instead? What a miracle the human body is then, that every single cell knows its own place and function!

This line of thought took me to memories of my grandfather and uncle. The first died of cancer of the urinary bladder, the second of stomach cancer. Two generations before them have died of cancer of various parts of the body. Medical opinions I’ve heard are divided over whether cancer is hereditary or not. All I know is that it has claimed a few lives in every generation of my family. I’ve seen reports, become thoroughly familiar with terms like oncology, carcinogen, malignant, benign and chemotherapy. The scariest part of cancer is that it isn’t a virus or germ. It’s not an outside element at all but your own body turning on itself. Cells inexplicably start growing in the wrong place, in the wrong manner. Cancer is when life goes haywire, literally and metaphorically. The reason chemotherapy is such a dreaded treatment is it is quite literally killing off cells, targeting the cancerous growth but obviously other cells would suffer too.

The concept of it and my own personal experiences make me choke up at the very though of Lisa Ray, whose journey through cancer and its treatment has been chronicled in recent times. Ms.Ray was at the event to launch the product and talk about her own experience with stem cell regeneration. She spoke about being diagnosed with a rare form of the disease that was normally found only in older people. Much to her good fortune, she said, her doctors also advised her to consider stem cell therapy, which ultimately was her return-to-life story. LifeCell couldn’t have chosen a more powerful ambassador for their cause.

LifeCell Femme involves potential stem cell therapy using menstrual blood (hence the name and the launch date). It was a revelation to me to know that what I thought of as waste discarded by my body every month, was actually still of use in some way! Even with my liberal upbringing, I always thought of menstrual discharge as dirty, unclean and in general, dead.

The presentation made me think of something else. Menstrual discharge is the disposal of materials created by the womb (uterus) in anticipation of fertilization. In a nutshell, it is preparing for a baby, creating it, storing it, supporting it, feeding it and carrying it through to term. An entire human being could have been created and maintained for nine months, from the material that flows out of me every month. It seems intuitive that the cells in that discharge would be the most powerful life-creating ones found in the body. Shock, awe and pride! Reading this in a science textbook is one thing, actually realizing it on a profound (dare I say, cellular?) level is a life-changing experience.

LifeCell’s proposition is to collect and bank menstrual blood for anticipated future use. The cells thus collected, have applications in the treatment of diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, renal failure, lung failure and cancer to name a few. It’s like insuring your health (using cells instead of money) against future calamity.

The most interesting thing is that menstrual blood collection is a non-invasive process (which means the body does not have to be cut or surgically entered by a foreign object). It’s also non-intrusive, by which I mean that the customer can perform the collection all by herself and without any help needed or embarrassment faced. The way the product works is thus:

  1. On the first day of the period, the customer calls LifeCell to inform them. A collection kit is delivered to her doorstep immediately.
  2. Collection is advised on the heavy bleeding days so Day 2 can suffice. This involves inserting a small cupped tube into the vaginal passage for a few hours. 10ml of menstrual blood is the most that is required.
  3. Once collected, the kit includes a sealing and packing facility. LifeCell will then collect the kit from the customer’s doorstep.
  4. The collection is stored cryogenically at temperatures below -150 degree celcius. In theory, this sample can be frozen indefinitely. Power back-ups ensure that electricity downtime will never contaminate this storage.

It is also advised to perform this procedure as early as possible in one’s lifespan as the younger the cells are, the more potent they are (potency being a measure of how many cells can be grown from one cell).

The Menstrual Blood Stem Cell banking service costs Rs.49,900 for preserving these cells upto the age of 60. The alternate plan offers a buying price of Rs.29,900 with an annual fee of Rs.1,500.

The ideal age for a customer is purported to be under 35. I am thinking about this seriously myself. What I would like to see happening is greater awareness of this science. No doctor I’ve known has ever talked about this, even though the technology has existed for over 50 years. LifeCell Femme’s involvement goes as far as collection and storage of the cells. It would be good to see the other end, i.e. – the actual applications tying in too. For example, a top-class healthcare facility would ask its patients if they have medical insurance. I’d like to see doctors also inquire if their patients have cell insurance. I’m not a medical professional myself and at the end of the day, I may not even know that a certain ailment has a possible cure in stem cell regeneration. But the future looks promising for LifeCell International and for stem cell therapy and hence I hope, for all of us.

Wearing The Pants & The Apron In The Family

I have a friend, a guy who loves cooking and sometimes talks about the gender stereotype that he faces. He opines that men cook by rules, follow recipes to the step… wouldn’t know that you can dilute coconut milk powder in water if there is no coconut milk and so on. The argument states that women are more instinctive when it comes to cooking.

Come again? I think that is a sweeping generalisation. I hate following elaborate recipes. Most of the stuff I cook up, are by instinct, visualisation and a sense of balance of spices. And I know that I am not the only one.

I’m the mirror image of him in that I’m a woman who struggles under the assumption that I’m a good cook while he opposes the idea that as a man, he necessarily isn’t. The kitchen, in my mind, is reminiscent of the dungeons of Harry Potter’s Potions class – warm, dark and full of alien smells and eerie bubbling noises.

My earliest lessons were of learning to turn the pressure cooker off and on and landing the weight right at the top. I was petrified of fire but my parents weren’t too sympathetic with my fears and learn I did. Tea and coffee and rice came next, followed by sambhar and dal.

I must add that to this day, I consider Indian cooking extremely indulgent and wasteful. I mean, patriotic sentiment aside, we just don’t have the time and effort to put into soaking spices, boiling the dal, frying the tadka, chopping and stewing the vegetables and then bringing them all together for the grande finale. It just is too laborious and all for something that disappears in about ten minutes. I carry over that attitude into the rest of cooking as well. I’m a Mumbaiker after all, I’m always looking for the shortest, fastest way to get things done. Three hours of preparation for a ten-minute result and a subsequent clean-up ritual of another hour is just not sensible, no matter what anyone says.

Of course, there is the fact that I’m not exactly a foodie and consider food, simply fuel for the human body to be able to do other, more meaningful things. I can tell you this attitude of mine has not been well-received at all. My otherwise liberal father showed his disappointment in my lack of interest and talent in this field over many years with what he thought were funny lines like…

“My daughter can burn water very well!”

I don’t think he even realized that there was a fundamental chauvinism in that statement till I stood up to him and pointed out that I cooked every time my mother was not around. Not just sandwiches and Maggi but full Tamilian meals complete with sambhar, curry, salad, rice and home-set curd.

I even managed to pack lunches for both of us. Admittedly I did not enjoy it and I was nowhere near my mother’s expert cuisine but my food never sent anybody to the hospital. I dramatically concluded with,

“If you don’t think that being a girl entitles me to special treatment, then why do you assume that I should possess any special talents in the kitchen just because of my gender?”

He didn’t like it but he didn’t reprimand me for backtalk. He taught me to think for myself, after all. Needless to say, the jokes have stopped and each time my mum has been unavailable, dad and I both share the cooking.

Other men, however, are not so accomodating (which brings me back to the premise that there just is no one like Dad!). I remember an ad a few years ago showing two girls on a moped, meant to show off the ‘modern-girl’ attitude where one of them asked the other, what if we start asking the boys questions like

“Do you know how to sew? Can you cook?”

It struck me as a brilliant thought and I actually did do that. The first man I asked that to, gulped and goggled at me like I was an alien from outer space. And then – would you believe – he had the temerity to say,

“But why do I need to know?”

That date didn’t go very far but my confidence in the question increased as did my patience with men’s answers. I realized that most of them had never been exposed to the idea of being truly independent.

A career was all very fine but they had always had doting mamas, subservient sisters and later, girlfriends and wives to pick up for them. Well, that’s a little bit of another story but to come back to the point.

All of us eat, don’t we? It’s a human need, non-specific of gender. Isn’t it just as important that a man be able to fend for himself as a woman? Women are learning to take care of themselves in the physical rigours of the outside world. And really, truly, it isn’t because we’re trying to take away something from the men. I think all of us really see it as taking responsibility for ourselves and burden off the men’s shoulders. In turn, should the men also not start shouldering responsibility for their own upkeep and needs? And hence, why should a man not know how to cook too?

Of note, when I raise this question, I’m often hit with the argument that most of the world’s best cooks are men. That is so not the point. I am not talking about finesse in an art, I am talking about possessing a basic survival skill. It does not matter if all the best cooking in the world is done by men.

At an individual level, are you able to manage your own needs without depending upon another person, whether you are a man or a woman? I’ve just admitted freely that I am not a great cook. I do not possess talent but I have sufficient skill that I can take care of myself. And that in my mind, is true independence.

And finally, the aforementioned friend has my sympathies for facing such blatantly ignorant stereotyping. I have great regard for people who can do things that I can’t and what’s more a man who cooks well, is someone who has overcome both the fears I have as well as social norms. Men in the kitchen, bravo!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

An earlier version is posted here. A version is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty!

Inherited Relationships

Compartmentalization is the one thing that goes out of the window when you get into a relationship. I think that’s what most of us struggle the most with. We’ve spent most of our adolescent and adult lives learning to organize the world around us in a certain way. Then someone comes along with their own set of rules and structure. Merging these two is never going to be an easy prospect.

Relationships to me, are like the baby plants in my window garden. They need nurturing, a lot of daily incremental effort. At some point of time, they can be left to their own devices but really, that takes a long, long time to come. Also you can’t grow a plant overnight by pouring twenty buckets of water on it and then forgetting about it for the next month or so. Every drop must be measured, every word pondered.

In a single state, every new person is like a seed and it is up to each of us to decide how and where we’re going to fit that person into the structure of our lives. But when you’re in a relationship, all of a sudden, you’re handed down a legacy of people. Friends, classmates, family, ex-es, colleagues, all kinds of people. You don’t have a personal history with them but you’re given an encapsulated bulletin of their background, which is really only a recap of your partner’s history with them. You don’t often have a choice of where to fit them into your lives. In some cases, you may not even have a place in your life for such a person.

For example, I’m an only child. I’m completely unfamiliar with the concept of siblinghood, having only seen it from the outside as it were. The finer nuances of brother-sister, twins, older-younger, same-sex-siblings etc are things I strain to discern from what I see of my friends. I’m completely unsure about how to behave with the siblings of my partner. The casualness of friendship may not be taken for granted with them but the strictures of family must be in place. It’s not as formal as a parental relationship, not as markedly opposed as an ex- and not as casual as a friendship. Respect, trust and liking all need to be established, proven and earned. And there’s no roadmap for this.

Then there is the manifold nature of friendships. Same-sex friendships are close in a way the opposite sex can never quite fathom. The relationship is inherited to some extent (I pity the person who doesn’t get along with the best friend of their partner). On the other hand, it isn’t a same sex friendship any more which brings in a new level of uncertainty. Should one treat the best friend of the beloved on par with one’s friends of the opposite sex? But the joking flirtatious tone needs to be dropped as it seems inappropriate with friend-of-beloved. Can one trust them as much, considering their loyalties necessarily must be to your partner first and foremost?

Opposite sex friendships take on an entirely different sense of diabolical. Should I like her simply because he likes her too? In fact, is that possible? Can he ever like my buddy knowing that the man was around for me at a time when we didn’t know each other? Even after you get past the jealousy bit, how do you recreate the friendship when clearly you are not the same person as your other half? Opposite sex friendships are very different from same sex friendships. I’m going to shoot down the theory that two women cannot be friends, on the premise that I have a number of close women friends. But can two women who care for the same man (albeit in different ways) form a friendship? Extend that question to two men who care about the same woman too. It should be possible, in theory. And yet, do we really see it happening?

As if being in a relationship isn’t complicated enough, dealing with the inheritance of people just makes life a helluva lot more complex.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Tangled Hearts

A friend of mine used to say that at his wedding, he’d play the following song by Julio Iglesias,

“To all the girls I’ve loved before
who’ve travelled in and out of my door
I’m glad they came along
I dedicate this song
to all the girls I’ve loved before”

What an excruciating move! Like the final, last blow to think of an old love on the day of one’s wedding and also, at that crucial moment of giving up everyone else for one person, to dedicate that moment to everyone else.

Human beings are strange and vulnerable. We need, so very desperately, to believe that we are unique, that we are special…knowing all the time that we are not. Maybe those of us who understand that best are the ones who most need to feel especially needed.

Having influenced somebody isn’t enough. It still twists your heart into a pretzel to see that they’ve moved on and are well and happy without you. And moving on and away also has a way of wrenching something akin to blood from within you.

Ah love, what emotional acrobats you make of us!!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

An earlier version is here. Also posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

A Good Catch

I met a young man last year who was smart, successful, charming and good-looking. He was also single and he explained why, saying,

“There’s such a strong pressure on girls to land a good catch that I can never tell whether they like me for me or just because I’m a good catch. I like meeting women who are independent and confident because then, there’s an equal exchange of interest and affection, without the fear of hidden agendas.”

It made me think, aren’t men objectified just as much as women? A man has his own individuality, personality and unique traits that set him apart, over and above his qualifications and income. Just like a woman is more than a good daughter, sister, friend, lover, wife and mother.

Now, ‘good provider’ seems as outdated and offensive as ‘homely girl’.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A version is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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