Missing

Vidyaasree was sitting on the swing in the balcony of their fourth floor apartment at Karol Bagh in New Delhi. Siddharth came and sat next to her. She looked at him, did not say anything. They sat for a while.

“Sid, give me your hand”, she asked her husband Siddharth.
Siddharth forwarded his hand. She took his hand and pressed it gently on her lower abdomen. “Did you feel anything, Sid” she asked.
“Yes, I feel something”, he sounded very joyous.
“What if it is a girl again”, she asked.
The happiness from his face disappeared instantly like a shining object which disappeared into a magician’s black hat. He looked at her and realized that there was no emotion in her face; it only reflects the expression of a person waiting for the judge’s verdict.

Vidya, when she first got pregnant six years ago, she and Sid were so happy as if they were on cloud nine.
When their first child was born in a nursing home near Karol Bagh, he still remembers it as if it were yesterday, the nurse brought the child to him; the child was wrapped in a clean cloth with a knot at the front. Vidya was still in the labor room; the nurse forwarded the child to him and asked him to hold. He asked her to wait, went to a wash room, cleaned his both hands with soap and water, dried his both hands and then took the child into his hands. As soon as the child started crying, which could be due to change of hands or could be due to the fact that he was not good at holding a child, the nurse took the child back from him and placed the child into a cradle which was attached to the bed where Vidya was supposed to recuperate after being released from the labor room. The nurse congratulated him and left the child with him, asking him to call her for any need.

He started looking at the child, the eyes were closed; skin was wrinkled and moist; there was no expression in the face and it was so tiny. He felt nothing, no attraction for the child. He did not even look at the child for the next few seconds; looked again still did not feel anything.
When Vidya was six months’ pregnant, she hired an elderly maid to help her for the household chores; she was a very motherly woman who showed lots of affection for Vidya. In the nursing home, with the child in front of him, Siddharth was just waiting for the maid to come so that he could leave the child under her care and make the necessary phone calls to their relatives. He realized that he should give the news to his parents and her parents who must be too eager to know.
While waiting for the maid to arrive he started to realize one thing which surprised him the most: he gradually started getting attracted to the child, his mind started conjuring up a relationship with this tiny little life with whom he felt no attraction even few minutes ago.
He suddenly realized that their maid was standing behind him. He did not know how much time have elapsed because he was not looking at anything else other than the child. He suddenly realized that he did not love anything or anybody more than this child. He was not able to take his eyes away. He wanted to hold the child but was scared, so he controlled himself.
“Son”, he heard their maid saying, “You may go and make the phone calls to your relatives; I am going to be here.”
“Please watch very carefully”, he suggested to their maid.
He could sense a smile on her face. “Your child will be safe with me” she said.

He went to a public phone booth and called his home in Haryana. He heard “hello” before he could hear the first ring. It was his father. Sid was unable to control his joy. “Dad you got a granddaughter.”
“Why are you shouting?” he could hear his father on the other side.
“Dad you got a granddaughter” he repeated, he thought probably his father could not hear him the first time.
“I have heard Sid, it is a daughter”, he heard his father. He was surprised why his father was not as happy as he was.
“Dad, give the phone to Ma”, he said, without knowing what else to say. He expected his father to be equally cheerful like him.
“Hello”, he heard his mother.
“Ma you got a granddaughter.”
“How is Vidya” he heard his mother after a brief pause. “She is fine Ma.”
“She looks like whom, you or Vidya”, he heard his mother asking.
“Like you Ma.” He realized that he did not pay any attention to notice whether their daughter looks like him or her but this reply suddenly popped out of his mouth.
“Like me?” his mother asked. Now Sid could sense some happiness on the other side.
“Did you call her parents?” he heard his mother asking.
“No Ma, I am going to call right now.”
“You call them right now, they must be anxiously waiting for your call” his mother suggested.

When he called her parents, who also lived in Haryana but in a different village, he sensed the same kind of behavior. “What could be wrong, why they are not so happy like me”, he thought. He quickly bought some sweets and rushed to the nursing home, he started missing his daughter already.
When their daughter became four years old, Vidya became pregnant again.

This is also the time when his parents came to visit them in their Karol Bagh flat. His father was asking about the school of their granddaughter, the tuition fees, cost of a flat in Delhi etc. Suddenly his father told him something which was news to him.

Siddharth had two elder sisters; both were much older than him. When his first sister got married he was only six years old, he heard from his mother. When his next sister got married he was only nine years old.

“Your eldest sister got married”, his father started “to a boy who was from a farmer’s family, who had almost 400 acres of land. They were also trying to get established into motor parts ancillary manufacturing business in Delhi. The boy’s father asked me if I could help to establish my future son-in-law in the business. I did not find anything wrong in it. So I had to sell half of my land.”
“When your next sister got married, you were still small so may not know it, I had to sell rest of the land to help establish my next son-in-law into transportation business. Now all that is left with me is 3 acres of land and the house, both of which you will inherit. Other than the dowry all the other expenses of a marriage had to be borne by the girl’s father, starting with the reception, keeping the guests into class I hotels or any other thing you just name it. Fortunately I had the land so I could manage by selling them. Marriage ceremony has become very expensive, one kind of extravagant show off. All the receptions have to be done in 5-star hotels, there has to be more than 100 food items in the menu, there is some kind of competition for show off and unfortunately the financial burden is imposed on the girl’s family. “

When Sid and Vidya fell in love and decided to get married, he first informed his mother. He also told her that they should not accept any kind of dowry. It was very difficult to convince his father, who having paid twice, wanted to have something back. When he realized that his son was not going to listen to him, he agreed to go by his son’s decision.
But there were more surprises waiting for him. When he went with his parents to Vidya’s house, his father started talking about an endless list of gifts comprising of all kinds of furniture, TV set, refrigerator, dining table etc. Sid was surprised to see that Vidya’s father was very happily accepting his father’s demands. Sid realized that his father was doing something wrong but remained silent. He knew that his father did so many right things in his life, that for one wrong action he should not do or say anything in front of others for which his father would feel insulted. He was holding his breath but as soon as they came back to their own house he told his mother that he could not accept gift of any kind. It was difficult once again but finally his parents agreed to cancel all their demands.

That evening, after seeing off his parents, Vidya suddenly fell silent. “What is the matter, why suddenly you have become so quiet? Did I tell something which you did not like?” he asked.

“No Sid, I have been thinking what your dad had said. What if we have a daughter as our second child?” she asked.
“I know. I will become a minority in our house”, Sid was joking, not realizing at all what the matter of concern was.
“Sid, you are in public service and have retirement benefits. I work in a private school. We do not save any money, not that we earn any surplus money. We have no land. How will we meet the expenses for the marriages of two daughters , if this one also is a girl?” He slowly started realizing why Vidya looked so thoughtful.
“I do not know Vidya, I always look at you for solutions, and now you are asking me to give a solution?” he said.
“Shall we go to a clinic and find out” she asked.
“But they are illegal”, he said.
“But there are many such clinics which are run illegally” he started thinking “they should lift the ban on such clinics. If people want to know let them know, or else they would go to a fortune teller or some occult practitioner to find out whether their unborn child would be a boy or a girl. If they have to stop female feticide then they should stop dowry in all kinds including show off in marriage ceremonies for which the financial liability is always imposed on the girl’s father. Unless gender discrimination is completely eradicated this is not going to stop” he thought.
“But there are many clinics, all illegal of course, more in number than when this test was not banned”, Sid continued, “But assume the test shows that it is a girl then what should we do, Vidya?”
“I do not know Sid, but let us know first”, she suggested.
“Sometimes ignorance could be bliss”, he suggested.

In the next ten days’ time she had undergone the test, found that the child she was carrying was a girl and had undergone abortion in an illegally run abortion clinic.
Before she tried to get pregnant again, she started visiting all the Maruti temples, Shiva temples, Shirdi Sai Baba temples whichever came on her way to the school, where she was working as a lecturer. She did not tell this to Sid in the beginning because both of them never liked visiting temples for the purpose of receiving some favor as a blessing. But she felt helpless. But one day she told this to him because she did not like to hide anything from him.

Three months later when she realized that she has become pregnant again, they again went to the same clinic. When they realized that it was a girl the same procedure was repeated.

Slowly both of them realized that the spontaneity of the relation between them was diminishing. They were talking as before, listening to each other as before but he could feel some impatience in her behavior. He also started thinking if they had done anything wrong or if they could have handled it in any other way. What if they had killed two lives? He could not think any more.

Again they started trying to have a child but realized that they were doing it as a duty, as if some responsibility is to be fulfilled. He realized that something is seriously going wrong but could not realize what that could be or how to correct it.

“What if this one too is a girl, Sid”, Siddharth suddenly came out of his thoughts after Vidya repeated the question.
“I am sorry Vidya, I should have convinced you not to go for the test in the first place”, Sid suggested without even realizing what does that mean.
“We never tried to convince each other Sid, we always tried to understand each other and stood beside each other for every decision we have taken. So you do not need to feel sorry for anything, Sid”, she told.
“Vidya, I have been thinking, it is still a thought, what if we do not go for the test this time, accept it the way we accepted our first child. We will give all our children the right education, inculcate the right value into them and let them go abroad for higher education if they like to and let them choose their own life companion exactly the way we did. Let them settle anywhere they like; we will only give our moral support to them as long as we live.”
“After the second abortion”, Sid continued, “I started thinking that there has to be an alternate way. What is going on in our society today is completely wrong and this thing will continue as long as some people have huge surplus money and they will set the examples and others will follow on their footsteps by selling everything they possess to keep their heads high in the society. How long will this continue – nobody knows, but if the young and educated people start finding their own life partners and start their lives in a modest way that will create another example and definitely a better one. And probably that will become a trend setter someday.”

He sat there for a while; suddenly realized that it was already late afternoon. He wanted to have some coffee.
“Let me make some coffee for both of us”, he said.
“Sit here Sid, hold me”.
He put his arm around her and brought her closer to him.

It was many years ago, he started recollecting, they were studying at the same college in Delhi. She was a student of English literature and he was a student of Economics. They first came to know each other when they were selected in the same team for an inter-college debate competition; the topic was on some social issue. During the three years they studied in the same college, they were seeing each other every day. After college both got admission into the same university, in the same campus, for their Master’s degree. During the beginning of the second year he started preparing for public service examination and she started preparing for a lecturer’s job. At the end of the day, everyday, they used to sit in the college canteen with other friends. Even after their friends had left one by one; they used to sit longer, just the two of them; he used to walk her up to the girl’s hostel which was nearer to the college than the boy’s hostel where he was staying. One day, Rajiv, their common friend asked him if there was anything between him and Vidya. Suddenly he realized that his friend was right, but he did not realize till it was told by Rajiv. Few days later this friend again asked if Sid had spoken to her about this. Sid told him that probably in his entire life he will not have the courage to speak to her about this. Rajiv told him that unless he tells, nothing is going to happen and once they are out of the college they will stop seeing each other and everything will remain as a memory for the rest of his life.
Then suddenly it happened. One afternoon, as usual, after the class they were sitting in the cafeteria. After a while their friends started leaving one by one. At last it was Sid, Vidya and Rajiv – only those three were left. Rajiv was about to leave, he stood up and just before leaving he told “Vidya, my friend Sid likes you but does not know how to say that” and he left instantly, almost running. Sid, realizing that catching Rajiv will be impossible; he sat there, unable to look at Vidya’s eyes. She spoke nothing for a while. Finally she spoke, “Why you could not tell me?” Sid slowly raised his head, like the sun slowly rising in the eastern sky and looked at her, first only through the upper part of his eyes, like a farsighted man staring at a person, standing in front, while wearing his reading glasses, not sure what he will see in her face. She only said “stupid” and he saw a smile on her face.

“Sid, I will make the coffee, sit here with me for a while”, she said.
She rested her head on his shoulder, turned her head a little, looked into his eyes and said “stupid”.

Author: Mintu Ghoshal.

email: mintughoshal@gmail.com

Follow him on facebook: mintu.ghoshal.9

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