Friday, May 3, 2013

The Menstrual Man

If you want to bring sanitary pads to women in conservative, tradition-bound India  - and you're a man - you need a particular brand of vision, ingenuity, persistence, and guts.  A dash of charisma wouldn't hurt.  Muruganantham is such a man.  And The Menstrual Man is his story.

Innovators will tell you that the first ingredient of vision is asking the right questions.  Muruganantham asked two key questions.  Why don't Indian women use sanitary pads?  Cost was the answer.  And does it really matter if they use cloth instead?  Yes it does, because cloth is seldom washed and thoroughly dried in a sterile manner and is thus a conductor of many kinds of infection.  Furthermore, availability of truly sanitary pads might enable women to emerge from the isolation they now face during their menstrual periods.  Thus began his vision: provide sanitary pads for Indian women at a price they can afford.

Then came the ingenuity.  Muruganantham tried many ingenious approaches to the problem, testing with different materials before settling on using cellulose.  When he couldn't convince women to test his product, he personally wore a bladder full of pig blood to simulate having a menstrual period so he could test the pads himself.  He was able to lick the problem of manufacturing by designing a trio of devices, rather than one integrated machine as used in Western plants.

Muruganantham persisted over many years, before he found the solution to making acceptable pads at a third of the usual price, and also providing employment for the rural women running these machines.   He showed guts in persevering when he became an object of derision, and was treated like a pariah by even his wife and mother who both left him.

And then there's his charisma.  Uneducated and proud of it, Muruganantham is a compelling speaker, with a great sense of humour and a vibrant energy that leaps off the screen.  It's his unquenchable enthusiasm that makes this a great movie experience.

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