When a woman is going through 'that time of the month', she must not step into the kitchen, they say. She must not touch pickle or curd, because they could turn sour. Since periods make a woman impure, she must stay out of the temples as well.
Like millions of women across the country, the girls of rural Pilibhit district in Uttar Pradesh believed these myths about menstruation, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
Then, in 2009, a local non-profit organisation called Munshi Jagannath Bhagwan Smriti Sansthan organised a workshop for women and adolescent girls to bust these myths. And they had an unlikely ally — a comic book.
With colourful illustrations and accessible Hindi text, the comic book, titled Tales of Change, explained scientific and social aspects of menstruation through the story of three Indian teenaged girls and their friendly mentor, Sarita Didi.
"Initially there was a lot of giggling over the illustrations," says Medhavini Yadav, 28, creative director of the organisation. "But in comic form, even detailed explanations become easy to understand and the girls eventually had a long discussion with us about menstruation."
The comic book was created by engineers Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul as a college project at Ahmedabad's National Institute of Design (NID), where they were studying for a Master's degree in new media design.
In October 2012, the duo, along with computer science engineer Rajat Mittal, went on to launch Menstrupedia, an educational company that spreads awareness about menstruation, related myths and menstrual hygiene, via a website, menstrupedia.com.
Now, the company is set to self-publish a new, fleshed-out, 100-page comic book, also called Menstru-pedia, based on that first prototype conceived in 2009. The comic, to be available in English and Hindi initially, is being financed by a crowd-funding project that the company began in May and successfully concluded 45 days later, raising more than Rs. 5 lakh through contributions from 172 supporters across 82 cities.
The comic will be launched by the end of the year.
"Comic books are a popular and extremely efficient medium of engaging with our target audience," says Aditi Gupta, 29, co-founder of and marketing strategist for Menstrupedia. "They leave a lasting impact on young minds and can transmit information where verbal communication would most likely fail."
For Gupta, the idea of Menstru-pedia came when she got into a relationship with co-founder Tuhin Paul at NID, and he began to learn about the pain and inconvenience women experienced during their periods.
"I began to think about how hard it must be for young girls who go through this with no proper information, all the while being branded as 'impure' by their own families," says Gupta.
Even after they graduated and began working as visual designers in the e-learning industry, the couple felt a nagging need to continue what they had begun with their Master's project. Last year, they finally quit their jobs and launched their start-up social enterprise.
The Menstrupedia website contains information, FAQs and a blog where readers can share their anecdotes and experiences.
The content is sourced from the websites of established health and medical institutions around the world, and all content is reviewed by a UK-based gynaecologist who serves as Menstrupedia's medical advisor.
With about 15,000 visitors a month, Menstrupedia's website is already being viewed around the world, while its Facebook page has more than 6,000 likes.
While young girls are the obvious target audience for the website and the comics, the founders are keen to reach out to young boys and men too.
"If a man is aware about menstruation, it helps him develop a mature outlook towards the opposite sex," says Paul, 29, who serves as the storyteller and illustrator of Menstrupedia.
Once the comic books in English and Hindi are launched, Gupta, Paul and Mittal plan to expand the series to more Indian languages.
"We will collaborate with schools, NGOs and companies making sanitary pads to help distribute them," says Gupta.