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Looking Beyond Germs

Laxmi Murthy

By Veena Shatrugna , Gita Ramaswamy, Srividya Natrajan
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2004, pp. 427, Rs. 500.00


Grandma’s home remedies; sound commonsensical advice from your closest friend; socio-political analysis of the health system and comprehensible medical opinions from your physician – all rolled into one. That’s what Taking Charge of Our Bodies – A Health Handbook for Women is all about. The reason for this unique combination is not hard to find. Authors Veena Shatrugna, Gita Ramaswamy, Srividya Natrajan are firmly grounded in feminist politics, and have been active in shaping the women’s health movement in the country for almost twenty-five years. The Health Handbook is a logical outcome of this eventful journey, encapsulating hard-hitting critiques of the current medical system and its inaccessibility to women, the search for the roots of ill-health as well as the exploration of alternates.   The book deals with questions like: Why do women feel that doctors rarely pay attention to what they say? Why are contraceptives so difficult to use? Why are so many women diagnosed as being depressed? Is fat a feminist issue? Why does the medical system trivialize problems that many women experience as debilitating – back pain, chronic urinary tract infection and menstrual disorder? Does menopause require medical intervention?   Using women’s experiences to assess scientific information, the book is an easy read. Women’s narratives are poignant, sometimes heartrending, often humorous, and always easy to relate to. Someone is always expressing exactly what you think!   The down-to-earth nuggets of advice are relevant to various points in a woman’s life – for instance, the chapter on nutrition gives helpful tips to women in hostels on how to supplement a diet. And not for them the rigid “health food” prescriptions of only sprouts and salads, but spiced dal powders and pickles to liven up boring “mess’ meals.   Talking about coping with simultaneous pressures of careers and domestic demands, the authors give sound counsel: “Get your children interested in cooking as soon as you can;” and “Many of us don’t like our husbands cooking because of the mess they make. Go easy. The mess can always be cleared up; husbands don’t always cook.” Suggestions about incorporating exercise into one’s daily routine are also refreshing and practical.   Information about the body and its functioning, presented in a reader-friendly style, clear illustrations and a minimum of medical jargon, will go a long way in demystifying ordinary bodily processes like menstruation and ovulation, and that –oh-so-mysterious event: the female orgasm. ...

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