An illustrated poster at a nearby health clinic causes much discomfort between a mother-and-daughter duo
This is a collaborative piece.
Text: Sobia Abdin
Illustration: Kritika Trehan
‘Look away! Look away!’
This was my mother’s standard, urgent order every time we passed the government clinic near our house on the way to school.
It was my first hint that an illustration of a man holding a woman caused grownups to panic.
Her panicked orders were almost always followed by her blaming me for our confrontation with the poster—it was after all because of my tardiness that we had to take the shortcut to school. My running late continued until I graduated over a decade later. And almost every single day of these morning drives to school, my mother would keep freaking out.
It was at age twelve that I first realized what this illustration, which triggered her so, depicted.
‘It’s called nasbandi,’ my cousin whispered.
‘Yes, it means nas ki bandi.’
‘But why do people want their veins to be tied up?’
‘So that they cannot have children…’
I feel like a dork to admit it now, but until that day, I had actually believed that making babies needs no human intervention. In fact, I had believed that babies were sent to women’s stomachs by God. Once when a mother in a Zee TV daily soap cursed her unwed pregnant daughter, I had asked my mother, ‘Why doesn’t she say it is God’s will?’
Naturally, I got a beating.
‘So babies don’t come from the hospital then?’ my best friend Nidhi was as surprised as she was curious.
‘No, they come out of the potty part.’
‘My aapa says we can get pregnant.’
‘What! Shut up! Have you no shame?’
‘If a boy touches us…like the man touching the woman in the nasbandi painting.’
‘Did you see it?’ I whispered on a phone call with Nidhi.
‘It doesn’t even say anything about nasbandi. Are you sure your aapa wasn’t lying?’
‘I don’t know, did you see the syllabus?’
Chapter 11- Reproduction in Plants and Animals: EXCLUDE THE PORTION ON HUMAN REPRODUCTION.
For a majority of the students in my class, seeing diagrams of human genitalia in their biology books was more exciting than the prospect of starting a new school year, of starting class 8. So, the disappointment at skipping the portion on human reproduction was difficult to cope with.
So, like most Indian kids, a lot of us did exactly what we were expected to do: magically learn everything about reproduction just as we approached ‘marriageable age’. Our source, mostly, of all forbidden information was the internet— which, by the way, they didn’t approve of us using either. Over the years, I’d managed to figure out my sources…but my mother might be reading this, so I’m going to skip over that part and move on to the next anecdote.
‘It has been excluded from the syllabus again! We are old enough to know where babies come from!’ Nidhi sounded genuinely disappointed.
‘We know where babies come from!’
‘But they don’t know that we know.’
‘I’m pretty sure they do know.’
‘Also about nasbandi?’
‘That I’m not sure about. But I don’t think they want us to not have children.’
‘Ahan! Are both vasectomy and tubectomy called nasbandi?’
‘According to the illustration…’
‘Do you want to go look at it closely?’
‘Are you out of your mind?’
We were not out of our mind. We were simply curious and deprived of proper sex education. The trip to the clinic sounds embarrassing now, but it was an adventure – especially coupled with no information and our wild imagination – when it happened.
Thinking back to the poster now, I realize the man and the woman on it were just an ordinary couple with two kids, only wanting to avail the free nasbandi service that the local government would provide under its health and family welfare schemes.
Sobia Abdin describes herself as a feminist, a poet, a storyteller, who is trying to make sense of her life, identity and the world through her writing. She documents her work on her Instagram.
Kritika Trehan is a graphic designer by day and illustrator by night. Her work is rooted in nostalgia, gender, vernacular and pop culture and she has a new found interest in hand lettering.