“A great way to break a taboo is to be vocal about it and raise awareness”- by Raivat Patnana

Before I talk about my experience at Saral Designs, I’d like to tell you about myself. I hail from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and have done my schooling in Delhi Public School, Vizag and a couple other schools. Currently, I’m in my fifth year in the dual degree program offered by the Department of Engineering Design in IIT Madras.

As a part of my academic curriculum, it was mandatory for me to pursue a six-month internship in the field of my interest. For the same, companies from various fields came to my department for interviews. Of these all, I was looking for specific companies which were offering work in the field of product design. Only a handful of these companies were offering this field of work. One such company was “Saral Designs”. As an added motivation, Saral Designs is a Social Enterprise. I have always wanted to work in a Social Enterprise to understand the kind of impact they are able to create through their work depending on the cause. All these reasons led me to take up this internship.

During the course of my internship at Saral, I’ve had a lot of technical and social learnings. I designed various mechanisms and components, sent them for manufacturing, assembled and tested the machines during my internship. Hence, I had to work through complete cycles of design processes. Though I had designed devices in the past, I had never had the opportunity to complete an entire cycle of it before. This was a learning experience; I had to look at the same product through different perceptions at different stages of the design process. In addition, I was working on an entirely new design concept for this company. This was a ripe new avenue for me to ideate and design in. My overall experience at Saral Designs has been enriching and an exciting one.

As this company is committed to improving the situation of menstrual hygiene in India, I’ve learnt quite a lot about menstrual health since my joining. Well, this is embarrassing now. Prior to my internship, I didn’t know what menstruation actually is and how it affects a woman’s body. I remember a vague description from my ninth grade biology textbook where they described the biological process of menstruation. However, I didn’t remember the “word” and there was nothing about the pain it causes, among others. It was an eye-opener for me. Periods are not something people I know openly talk about. Having worked for 6 months in a start-up that focuses on menstrual health, I find myself being more comfortable and understanding of this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, menstrual health is a “hush” topic in India. In 6 months I have become more aware of how my surrounding reacts to a taboo topic like this. Let me share an experience with you that I recently encountered. I went back to my campus for a midterm review about a month after joining the company. For the same, I had to make a presentation telling what the company was about and what my work was. Since the company was involved in the manufacturing of Sanitary Napkins, I took a pad and displayed the product to my class. At once, the entire class started murmuring among themselves, and people were staring at me and the pad in a weird way as if I had committed a crime and was publicly displaying it. It took them a while, but by the end of the day, some of them came forward and appreciated my efforts to break the taboo around this subject. My lesson from this experience: “A great way to break a taboo is to be vocal about it and raise awareness”.