Jason stared helplessly over the hood of a leased Toyota Innova wondering where to find tampons in India. This was a topic with which he was thoroughly unfamiliar. He knew what tampons were—25 years of marriage has that effect—but was mostly sheltered from having to consider them. As his driver barreled through midday Hyderabad traffic, Jason carefully considered his options.
What is a Tampon?
According to Google, our internet BFF, the word ‘tampon’ originated, like all the other great English language words, from the French: ‘tapon’ is a plug or stopper. Today’s contemporary definition isn’t far from the original—a plug of material used to stop a wound or block an opening in the body and absorb blood or secretions. That about sums it up.
Tampons are considered a Class II medical device by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the FDA’s website, Class II medical devices “are higher risk devices than Class I and require greater regulatory controls to provide reasonable assurance of the device’s safety and effectiveness.” The FDA also classifies condoms as Class II devices, which makes even less sense.
Tampons have a long and storied history—which we won’t discuss because in most cases their use and the materials used for them are gross. If you are interested, Google, “the history of tampons.” Today, they are part of the spectrum of feminine hygiene products used—and occasionally disparaged—by those in need.
Tampons and India
Tampons are not ubiquitous in India. Depending on the city, availability ranges from zero to something approaching the number of big foot sightings in a given year. Even if the store carries tampons, it is unlikely they will have a particular brand, and if they do, it is highly likely they will cost more than they do in the West, and even more likely they won’t be available a month from now.
Amazon.in carries tampons. An initial search on the famed shopping site resulted in the following: “Showing results for tamron. Search instead for ‘tampon’”, followed by a multi-page list of Tamron lenses. Even Amazon India’s search algorithm assumes the user misspelled the word ‘tampon’. The same search on Amazon.com did NOT result in an attempt to correct the spelling with camera lenses.
Some women—perhaps all, I’ve never done a survey—can also be particular about brands and styles. The “search instead” option on Amazon.in for ‘tampon’ returned 830 results. The first page included only tampons, but the second page listed results for the Shewee Stand Up and Pee Original Reusable Female Urination Device, Everdeen Bikini Line Hair Remover Creme, and a book titled, Do Tampons Take Your Virginity? By comparison, a search on Amazon.com returned 6,982 results.
In 2014, a user on Quora.com, a question-and-answer forum with a large percentage of Indian participants, asked why tampons were less available in India. A responder noted, “95 percent of the female population in India don’t know about tampons or how to use them.” Another posted that tampons were not easily available within India because there is no demand, they are hard to use, and their use takes away one’s virginity.
It was this collision at the intersection of attitude and availability that left Jason vexed.
Where’s a Drug Store When You Need One?
Kate sat uncomfortably in the back seat directly behind Jason’s driver. A coworker from Jason’s wife’s US firm, Kate was a charming brunette in her mid-forties who came to India to train colleagues and experience the best of India’s food and history. She brought with her the minimum mandatory mule fee, two bottles of wine—we also accepted two bottles of bourbon, or a 12 pack of craft beer—appropriate clothing for our conservative Indian city, and a sense of adventure. Jason happily spent the day showing her around the city.
It was a great day. Jason and Kate started at Golkonda, a fort in Hyderabad, haggling for an over-priced guide with henna-dyed hair and nicotine stained fingers. They walked up to the peak, took in the surrounding city, and meandered back down, stopping occasionally to take photos with delightful and curious Indian’s. After Golkonda they drove to Qutb Shahi Tombs, followed by a trip to Charminar and a stop at Jason’s favorite Hyderabad bar, MOB. A pretty standard tour for the uninitiated westerner.
The question came during the drive home. As they left the bar, Kate, whom Jason had known for about two days, asked, “Is there a drugstore or grocery store on the way to the house?”
Jason considered the question. A guest not wanting to show up empty handed might ask to detour—but Kate already delivered the mule fee. Something was amiss. Trying not to be overly intrusive—since their burgeoning, 48-hour relationship had yet to mature—Jason asked, “Things are available at different types of shops in Hyderabad. What are you looking for?”
Kate looked uncomfortable. Jason, a largely unaware male member of the species, made conscious attempts to avoid thinking about things like menstrual cycles. He didn’t consider the ramifications of internal clocks, or the consequences of a mishap. When his granddaughter started her period he advised, “We can talk about it, but trust me, you’ll get better information from grandma.” It’s simply not in Jason’s wheelhouse.
To her credit, Kate, like most women, did not suffer from the lack of maturity found in many males. Not wanting the driver to overhear, she delicately mouthed the word, ‘tampons.’ To which Jason replied with all the sensitivity he could muster, “Oooh. I’m not sure we’re going to find those here. We might have to stop several places.”
Jason stared over the hood, honking horns drowned out by his thoughts. He’d done his own due diligence relative to tampon availability and was confident they wouldn’t find what Kate needed. Nevertheless, he sent a text to a female expat who’d been in-country for over a year. Her curt reply confirmed his fears, “LOL! Are you kidding?”
Jason was perplexed. Where would they find tampons? He presumed they couldn’t wait a few days for the Amazon delivery person to arrive on a scooter with a box of Helen Harper Light to Medium Flow Applicator Tampons—a 16 pack available on Amazon.in for 300 rupees or about $4.50 US. He also didn’t think circumnavigating the city in the hopes of finding a store carrying the needed articles would be productive. He considered posting a request on the Hyderabad Expat Facebook page—but quickly realized the potential downside of a thousand people knowing about his need for feminine hygiene products. He was at a loss.
Then Jason recalled his move to India a few short months earlier. His wife, Brandi, imported something akin to 1,000 boxes of tampons in their luggage. He wondered, were tampons shareable? Do women trade tampons with their girlfriends like a kid trades Pogs? These little gems were rare commodities. As clueless as he was, he knew enough not to commit his wife’s stash.
Unable to think of another option, Jason tapped out a text. “Kate needs tampons. Can I tell her she can have some of yours? I’m not sure where we’ll find them but I don’t want to offer up your prized stash.”
Brandi, in addition to being brilliant and patient, is also incredibly generous—even with hard to find items like tampons and imported beer. She texted back, “Of course. They are in the bottom drawer of the closet.” Brandi also knew Jason well enough to know that he wanted very much to be done with his part in this effort. She continued, “Just take her up there and let her get what she needs.”
Relieved, Jason glanced back at Kate and smiled. “No worries. We apparently have stuff at home.”
An hour later, his role in tampon acquisition complete, Jason opened a bottle of Kate’s imported wine and sighed. Another disaster averted.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just plain scary. Copyright can be found here for my original work.