about writing and other such passionate matters

When Shanti and Sanitary Napkins help you find meaning in life

When Shanti, his newly-wedded wife, couldn’t use readymade sanitary napkins because it would adversely impact the milk budget of the family, it became the starting point for Arunachalam’s search for meaning in his life.

You need to have a fire here, says Arunachalam Muruganantham, placing his hand on his heart.  A school dropout with an earthy sense of humor, Arunachalam tells us about his journey from purchasing his very first pack of readymade sanitary napkins to providing a way to a life of dignity for women in the villages to receiving the President’s award.

How easy it is today to go to a mall and pick up a packet of your favourite brand of pads or tampons to help you tide over those difficult days. But imagine the situation in the almost 80% of the Black and White part of the country (as he calls the non-metro towns and villages of India) where due to budgetary constraints, women are forced to use cloth which, Arunachalam says he was shocked to see, were worse than the rags he used to clean his vehicle. In such a scenario, it is inevitable that women suffer from a multitude of urogenital diseases.

What was a man who loved his wife to do? Especially if he was of an entrepreneurial bent of mind?

In a hilarious TEDxGateway speech of around 14 minutes (Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012) Arunachalam pokes fun at the multi-nationals who, according to him, overcharge for products just because they are a ‘Corporate’. But the bigger adversity he faced was from women themselves who firstly, refused to discuss this sensitive topic with him and secondly, even though his wife finally agreed to the experimentation, the process was slow because he could work on this only once a month for five to six days.

You can’t keep an inquiring mind down and so Arunachalam became, arguably, the first man in the world to ever wear a sanitary napkin. He made up a contraption, with tubes and a ball filled with animal blood, to simulate the process of menstruation and he wore it while walking, while cycling and even while sleeping. And he wore a sanitary napkin manufactured in his workshop to understand how exactly the pad could provide adequate protection.

Tee and Eee is the process that could take you 8 years to master  in Stanford, says Arunachalam. Trial and Error. Fail as fast as you can so that you can be a success. Yet another gem: Shut yourself in a dark room and think about what will give meaning to your life (a hint: it is not the accumulation of money). Then, do it.

This is exactly what Arunachalam has been doing. He has invented reasonably priced machines to manufacture good quality sanitary napkins.  His factories provide a livelihood to thousands of women involved in the manufacturing of the pads. Even students in schools are making their own pads. They are not just employees-they are stakeholders. 706 machines set up in 23 states in India. It is not restricted to India and is suitable for almost 103 other developing countries.

I feel proud that, it is a fellow Indian who has taken on the might of the Goliaths of well-known brands and come up with a ‘Designed Solution’, that addresses the problem faced by his wife and all other women and at the same time makes a huge ‘Measurable Social Impact’. This, he says, can also be called ‘Business’. His vision is to make it viable for every woman in the country to have access to safe, low-priced sanitary napkins, where currently the use is only 5%.

It really is time we took the discussion of the health and hygiene aspects of the use of sanitary napkins out of the shadow of superstitions and misplaced conservatism. This will reflect in the better health of the women of the country and it is rightly said, the better the state of health of women in a country, better is the state of that country.

(Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012).


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