Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The decision....

Sumitra was in pain. The labour contractions were just about 10 minutes apart and she knew it could be anytime now. But it wasn’t the contractions that were causing the pain, this would be her third child and she knew how the birthing process would be. Her pain was rooted in something deeper, something more emotional. Having had two girls one after the other, she had been under tremendous pressure to deliver a male heir to the family. If only she knew how to magically beget a male child, it would all be well. Her husband and in-laws had told her in no uncertain terms that if she had a girl child again, she would have to fend for herself; they would never take her back. She let out a loud scream. It was almost like a cry. Her sister-in-law assumed it was the contractions, and gently massaged her hands and feet. Sumitra was just happy to let out her anguish in a scream. She didn’t want to think what would happen a few hours from now, if the child happened to be a girl.

The contractions were quicker now, and dai ma, the midwife, was encouraging her to push harder. Sumitra prayed fervently for a male child, numb to the pain her body was experiencing right then. And then she felt the baby gush out of her womb and let out a shrill cry. She looked expectantly at her sister-in-law and at dai ma, as they cleaned the baby and wrapped it up. 

“It’s a girl, Sumitra,” announced her sister-in-law, like it was her fault. She looked at Sumitra disapprovingly, before placing the child next to her and exiting the hut.

Sumitra looked at her daughter, her eyes filling with tears. She looked so beautiful. She ran a finger on the little one’s cheek, and heard her gurgle. She struggled to get up as everyone just seemed to abandon her at having delivered bad news. She sat up and held the child close to her bosom for a very long time. As she nursed the baby, she felt a surge of happiness run through her. Outside the thin wooden door of the hut, she could hear her brother and sister-in-law fighting.

“If her husband does not come to get her, let her go to hell. I don’t care if she decides to die, but she cannot stay here; let me make that very clear. We have two mouths to feed; I cannot bear an additional four mouths.”

“Where will she go? Don’t be so unkind to my sister. Let me talk to kunwar-sa.”

A little while later, Sumitra heard her brother talking to her husband on phone.

“Kunwar-sa, don’t say such things…. Where will she go… have two daughters…..yes, kunwar-sa, I understand….I have a suggestion…..”

Then she heard him talking to his wife again.

“Kunwar-sa has agreed to take her back, there’s only one condition….”

Sumitra let out a deep sigh. Peace had been brokered between the heartless husband and the hapless brother at the cost of her new born daughter. No one thought it fit to even ask her. As if she didn't matter, as if she didn't even exist. But what would she have said if they had asked her?  What happened to Rukmini and Tejo when they refused to part with their daughters was like a folk tale in the entire village. Her sister-in-law had told her horrifying tales about them, how they were starving without food, being assaulted by unknown men, and in short, how their their life had turned into a living hell. God alone knew how they would raise their daughters all alone. She didn’t know where she would go with her daughters if she was thrown out. It would be better to sacrifice a child than make her other daughters beg.They needed a roof over their heads and food in their tiny stomachs. 

No one really spoke to her about what she was supposed to do. She had heard stories of how little infants had been drowned in cauldrons of milk or fed ground seeds of cotton, so that they would choke on it. She wondered what they would do to her daughter. 

She threw up at the thought of it.

The police were more vigilant now and killing an infant like that would complicate a lot of things. But that wouldn't deter her brother or husband from getting "rid" of the baby. They would find out a way. She thought about it for three whole days. And then her decision was made. She regretted making that decision, but that seemed the only way out of the whole mess. Moreover, it was her entry pass to her husband’s home.

The cold winter night had claimed several lives in the village. She hoped it would claim her three day old daughter’s life too. She would then raise a cry in the morning and no one would suspect that she had been killed. The policemen would not suspect a thing. She removed every shred of clothing on the baby and laid its tiny bare body on the charpoy in the verandah.  She closed the door and went inside and sat by the window waiting for the baby to breathe its last. A tiny cry could be heard from time to time and then even that ceased to be heard.

She didn’t know when she fell asleep, but when she woke up, it was early morning, and the sun was still deliberating if it should cast its light over the darkness that had shrouded the village. She looked at the baby from the window, and saw it had turned bluish-red from being out in the biting cold. It wasn’t moving, it was probably dead by now. Preparing to scream and alert the neighbors, she ran to the verandah and picked up the child. To her utter shock, she heard the tiny heart beat, though faintly!

Her eyes filled with shame and remorse as she looked at her little fighter. Here, her three day old daughter had almost fought off death, and she wasn’t even capable of being as brave as her! She huddled her child to her bosom and wept for a very long time. And with that another decision was made. And she knew she wouldn’t regret it this time.


(I heard this story at a satsang, and it really moved me...Reproducing my version of the story here, because I feel it might help someone take that one decision to square their shoulders, grit their teeth, but smile and face their fear.)

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