On Instagram, her bio reads, ‘actor, filmmaker, author’, and while she is all of it, she is also a doting mother who cares deeply about issues and writes on them, hoping that it makes a difference to someone’s life. In her latest book ‘What’s Up With Me?‘ Tisca Chopra has underlined a topic that is still considered to be taboo in the country — puberty and periods.
As young girls make their journey into adulthood, there are many experiences that leave them confused. From pimples to raging emotions and hormones, they go through myriad feelings about their bodies, and all they need is for someone to help them navigate these challenging and foundational years, and tell them of their self-worth.
In her book, the actor and writer attempts to do just that and hopes her “sensible and doable” ideas help those who genuinely feel lost.
In an exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com recently, Tisca spoke about how the idea came to her, and among other things, also touched upon her own experiences growing up, her life as a mother, and such.
What sprouted the idea for the book?
I have known my editor, Vidhi Bhargava, since our school days. She came to me and said she wanted to work on a book for young girls, and since my daughter is eight years old, she thought I was the perfect person; also, since I had written another book before this, ‘Acting Smart‘. While I thought of it as a great idea, I didn’t know if I had the bandwidth to write it during the lockdown. [Vidhi] said it was actually the perfect time. And as I started writing, I got more involved — it developed a life of its own and it was great fun.
I researched a lot, and even talked to my daughter and her friends, and a few mothers. It prepared me a lot for when my daughter goes through the puberty phase.
Growing up, what was your own experience like, dealing with puberty?
There wasn’t that much information. And it was quite a ‘quiet thing’, in that nobody spoke about it much. While my mother did give me an idea to some extent, no one else spoke about it that much. We were a straight-talking household, but this was a topic that didn’t really come up. I gathered information from cousins and friends, and a lot of it was misinformation really. It is such a confusing time. You are wondering what is this emotion; you are not getting along with your mom or dad, you are resentful of authority, thinking you know everything when actually you know nothing.
And that is what prompted me [to write], because I thought someone can, in a scientific way, hold a child’s hand and say that everyone is going through it, and that they are not alone, that however they are dealing with it is the best way. That there’s no one way to deal with it, but here is the science behind it.
Can you recall a particularly awkward incident from your teenage years that you laugh about now?
A lot of them! Things like crushing on a few boys, and then wondering…All of that was traumatic (laughs). I am so glad I am not a teenager anymore. You are thinking, ‘What’s going on? He is just my friend, and now I cannot stop thinking about him!’ But these are just hormones driving you, and there is nothing wrong with you. And that is the relief.
Not every teenager has a family member whom they can turn to, to talk about these things. Did you have someone when you were growing up?
Yes! My elder cousin, Meera, was always around.
What kind of conversations do you have with your daughter Tara about puberty, periods, and pimples?
By nature, I am a straight-talker. We address all things by their biological names. A vagina is a vagina, a penis is a penis. And so, she is like, ‘Yeah, mumma, I know’. We have been talking to her from a very young age in a practical and almost-scientific manner — age-appropriate, of course. She read my book and gave me my first feedback too. The book is dedicated to her.
I am very close to my daughter. I talk to her, not as a child, but as a young developing person.
So, did she come up with the book’s name then?
No, it was my editor who came up with the name. She came up with six or seven names, and I thought this one is really nice. I felt it was really easy to relate to.
How important is it for a young girl to have a confidant in the family?
Extremely important. But what is even more important is that the confidant doesn’t always have to be the mother only. It can be the father as well, and that is one of the other reasons I wrote the book. I wanted to make sure that the conversation around puberty and periods, and all of that doesn’t become a ‘girls-only situation’. Some of that responsibility needs to be shared, for boys exist because girls have periods. If the father is going out, he can get the tampons or pads. I wanted that discussion to open up.
It is still taboo, and while we talk about all sorts of things, we don’t talk about this. I wonder why. The chemist continues to wrap the sanitary napkin in a newspaper and give them to you, and you wonder, ‘Did I do something wrong? Is this a secret not to be shared with others?’
I wanted to change that narrative in a way that guys are also okay to talk about it.
From the standpoint of health, is there anything, any activity that you advise your daughter to do daily?
Yes, everything starting from brushing her teeth twice a day, to making sure she gets physical exercise — she’s a brown belt in Taekwondo. She cycles every day. And as you would know, I am massively into fitness. All of us are quite fit. In fact, my husband was representing his college in swimming and he’s really good at tennis. We are mindful, we eat well and conscious of all the areas.
In what way, do you think, this book can help a young girl going through this novel experience?
It is my hope that this book will be read by parents and children together. And the discussion will open up in the family. People will talk about it and be proud of the fact that you got your period. In the book, we have touched upon pimples, the first bra-fitting, body hair, moisturising the body, staying clean and hygienic, crushes and boys, and makeup and many other such aspects for young girls.
Also, I had a gynaecologist Dr Mala Arora, and a psychologist Malvika Varma chip in to help.
Any parting words for young girls and their families reading this interview on how they can normalise these changes, experiences and years?
Mothers and fathers need to understand that it’s the 21st century now. The kids today are smart, my daughter is very smart. Their bulls*** detector is very strong. If you told us something, we would believe, ki haan haan yeh toh aisa hi hoga jo bol rahe hain, but these kids are too smart. They will look at you and discuss among themselves that you are giving them ‘gyaan‘.
I think the most important thing is to talk to them frankly. Make it seem like something they are to expect, and talk about it with joy and not wait for them to get their period and then start discussing it.