In many countries, especially India, ‘menstruation’ is considered to be a taboo word. When you say it out loud everyone turns to look at you in the way they would at a criminal even though it is but a natural biological phenomena. Arunachalam Muruganantham, rated by TIME magazine as one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’- did not just support this stance, he went a step above and invented a mini-machine which can produce sanitary pads for less than one third of the cost of the commercial pads.
Born as the son of a handloom weaver, he grew up in poverty. Since his childhood he has had a keen interest in science and had won an award at a science exhibition for a chicken incubator design. In 1998, shortly after getting married, he discovered his wife Shanthi collecting filthy rags in a newspaper to use during her menstrual cycle. Troubled by this, he started fashioning experimental pads, and this activity became an ongoing preoccupation. Although initially co-operative, as time went by, his wife and sisters stopped giving importance to his work and started ridiculing him with others of the village.
He then bought the commercial product and realized that the raw materials at the time probably cost 10 paise, but were being sold for 40 times that price. It took him nearly two years to discover that commercial pads used cellulose fibres which helped the pads absorb while retaining shape. The turning point for Muruganantham came in 2006, when he visited IIT Madras to show his idea and get suggestions. They registered his invention for the National Innovation Foundation's Grassroots Technological Innovations Award and he won.
The machine which he designed has been praised for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, and has earned him several more awards. An excellent raconteur with a rustic touch, he has lectured at IIT Mumbai, IIM Ahmedabad and at Harvard. He has also given a TED talk. His fascinating story was the subject of a prize-winning documentary by Amit Virmani, Menstrual Man.