So I’m on a plane, a charter flight, zipping my way from San Jose to Orlando. The plane is full of fun and energy. Some of our industry’s most glamorous faces are on board, there are large plushy seats, personalized service and my entire Dream Team looking at me with increasing concern – for once, not because I’m scared of flying (I’m terrified), but because I can’t sit on those damn seats for more than a minute. They ask me why, I tell them it’s on account of this back problem I have. They keep asking and offering solutions until I crack and yell: “I have piles, ok? And it hurts when I sit.”
And there it is. I have piles. Nasty, mean hemorrhoids that make my life a living hell. I know this is an unusual thing to share, that a lot of people will wonder why I have chosen to announce something that will be seen as a) gross b) inappropriate c) way too much information. But that’s the point. Why should this be a problem?
Why are we indoctrinated to see perfectly natural things as embarrassing or awkward or unfit for public discourse? If I had a cold where equally foul things were being expelled through another orifice, there would be no problem, if I have a nasty wound on my hand or on my foot, no one squawks in horror and says “Eeuw!” (most of the time). But when it comes to anything involving our “private parts”, whatever they may be, we’re expected to blush and be coy and dance around with silly euphemisms. Like the one I just used.
And it starts pretty early. As a child we can never call our penis, well, a penis. It’s called anunu, or a peepee or weewee. When I was ten, I developed a rash, and on account of its awkward placement, it took me a month to tell my parents that I needed help. When I did, I of course complained that I had a problem with my “private parts.” Side bar: I was subsequently rushed to a Doctor, who gave me a cream to apply. And there was a happy ending – in that through assiduous application, I discovered happy endings! (Side bar to the side bar: you see what I did there? Another euphemism.)
So I keep wondering: why are we raised to be shy about sharing something this basic? Something that every other person of your gender actually owns. Why have the normal, the regular, the ubiquitous been turned into the unsayable? And it applies across the board. We can’t talk about piles, about penises, about periods – the most basic ritual of all and we’re all expected to dance around it. My friends tell me they’re “chumming” (which is a terrible phrase, by the way, for entirely different reasons), they’re “riding the red wave”, they have their “monthly flux.” Just now, an Olympic athlete passed a casual remark about her period and sparked a thousand headlines. Shouldn’t we be past that?
Then again, I guess not, since there are still people who believe that women shouldn’t be allowed in temples or to pray when they’re bleeding because it’s…impure? Of course I think it’s ridiculous. You should also probably know that courtesy my own particular brand of problems, I have more than a nodding acquaintance with sanitary napkins. Yes, I’m moving around with growths that have similar side effects and I can happily visit every single place of worship I want to. Nobody has ever questioned me.
And I’m sharing this with you not just because it is (too literally) a pain in the ass, but because I know I am not the only one. Not that anyone tells me or talks about it. I just know I am not the only one who watched Piku with an extra tear in my eye, because Mr. Bachchan’s plight in the movie is my plight in life. (I like to joke that I’m not Piku, I’m Leaku!) I know I am not the only one who has tried every remedy that exists: allopathy, homeopathy, even something called a totka. (Totka is a
desperate measure spiritual treatment. In this case, a dreadful powder that you must only eat with something you plan to never try again. I mean it). I have tried rings that were blessed and were supposed to bring relief. (But because it only fit on my engagement finger, it bought a series of “Oooh! Is there anything you want to tell me” through two seasons of Koffee with Karan). I know I am not the only one who is nervous when faced with a white sofa. I know I am not the only one who has stood through an entire meeting because of beige seating, and lied my way through about why.
I am over 40 years old and I still feel awkward about this and I cannot understand why. I do not understand why we are not raised to celebrate our bodies as children. Why we are told to be shy or awkward or self-conscious. I would also like to clarify that I am not (at all!) suggesting that we should go around flashing ourselves and I am not referring to sex and all the complications that come with it. I suppose I’m just wondering when we got to a point where discussing perfectly natural body parts has become so complicated.
It gets in the way of health, of larger conversations, and of the more intimate ones. Do you dance around this with your doctor? It’s so counterproductive and I also know I did at first. Then again, there’s nothing like a session with a urologist, a colorectal specialist, or (I’m told) your first Pap smear to remind you that we are all the same under the skin. No faster way to dispense with dignity than when bending over for a white-gloved specialist. And we have all at some point been there. Mine I’m told is hereditary – thanks Ma and Pa! As inheritances go, I could have done without this.
So remember, my problems are your problems – and if not now, then they probably will be sometime soon!
And so for those of you reading this, if you’ve managed to power through this piece and are still finding the subject gross or inappropriate – well, it must be said, you’re just proving my point.
(Karan Johar is one of India’s best known film and television personalities)
source: NDTV News