Society

Meet Muruganantham, the real Pad Man

Muruganantham  

A Muruganantham’s life is a haze of interviews to newspapers, TV channels and radio stations. His phone doesn’t stop ringing and his wife sees him only during meal times. To the world, he is a social entrepreneur; ‘Pad man’, ‘Menstrual man’; ‘The man who wore a sanitary napkin’: the low-cost sanitary napkin machine that he created is changing the lives of thousands of women across the world.

But at his home in Coimbatore, he’s a busy father whose bonding time with his daughter is during his work tours —he takes her along since he’s rarely home; an elusive husband with whom his wife seeks an appointment —she says this jokingly to us, but there’s truth in it.

Just the same

There’s a Bollywood movie about him that’s releasing this week and he has gained international recognition. But the man is matter-of-fact about his celebrity status. “My work remains the same,” he says, seated in the living room of his rented house. “Tomorrow, I will walk into a remote village with my machine and no one will recognise me,” he says. “Nothing has changed or will change.” But the cause that he upholds —to take sanitary pads to every nook and corner of India —is gradually gaining momentum. In another 30 years, Muruganantham is sure that he will ensure 100% penetration.

Meet Muruganantham, the real Pad Man
 

It’s like breaking a massive mountain with a sledgehammer singlehandedly—the stigma surrounding the subject is as such. Which is what makes his story interesting. Muruganantham recalls how his obsession to research on sanitary napkins earned him nothing but ridicule from those around him. “My fellow villagers thought I was a vampire,” he laughs. “I came close to being tied up to a tree.” Muruganantham wanted to create low-cost sanitary towels.

His work took bizarre turns —he strapped onto himself a machine fashioned using a football bladder that pumped out blood into a sanitary pad that he wore. He was that mad scientist the world just didn’t understand. In 2006, when his innovation won an award from the then President Pratibha Patil, his life changed forever.

“My machines now run in 4,800 points in India and in 29 other countries,” he says. His story has appeared in several foreign language publications—Hebrew being one of them. It’s only natural that it be made into a feature film.

Now a feature film

Pad Man, directed by R Balki, featuring Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, and Sonam Kapoor, presents Muruganantham’s journey from a school drop-out to a social entrepreneur. “It does have ‘masala’ elements, being a Bollywood film,” says Muruganantham. He worked with the crew for over three years, helping them set up his machines on the sets and demonstrating his work.

The story is set in Madhya Pradesh and not Tamil Nadu. Muruganantham feels that only then will the cause have a pan-India reach. “I did have Tamil filmmakers approach me,” he says. “But I didn’t want the film to be confined to one part of the country.” Elusive that he is, it took a while for actor and writer Twinkle Khanna, who has produced the film, to pin him down for a conversation. “She contacted me in 2015,” says Muruganantham. Khanna featured Muruganantham in her 2016 book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad.

Meet Muruganantham, the real Pad Man
 

Pad Man is the first feature film that talks about women’s monthly period,” he says. With barely any knowledge of Hindi, Muruganantham managed to effectively convey his thoughts to the team. “It helped that director Balki and the cinematographer PC Sreeram knew Tamil,” he says.

Despite his wide network of employees and volunteers, Muguganantham personally travels with his machines to train women to make sanitary napkins in regions affected by extremism. He rolls off names of villages that many may not have heard of — Dhamtari, Lakshmipuramu, Gajroli, Tehri… Many girls in such villagers don’t attend school due to lack of awareness and access to sanitary pads. Murugnanantham is changing that. This is the best thing about his innovation—that a village girl who shut herself at home simply because she menstruated, can finally go to school.

In all these years of working on menstrual hygiene, what Muruganatham finds most difficult to deal with, is the superstition surrounding it. “Women in rural India have the strangest beliefs surrounding the monthly period,” he says. He is trying to break these by educating them. In a tribal village in the Nilgiris, women believed that if they used a sanitary towel, their eyes will be taken away. Muruganantham says, “A girl used it for two months and told her friends ‘Look, my eyes are still intact’.”


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Printable version | Oct 7, 2021 4:39:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/the-real-pad-man-muruganantham-before-the-release-of-pad-man/article22658314.ece

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