Continued from here:
The next few days were pure hell. The wife was kept under heavy sedation so that she did not spin completely out of control after being bombarded with so much of bad news. The baby died, after a mere five days of life. The husband spent all his free time in the hospital, gazing at his slumbering wife, dreading the day she would have to deal with the horrors of reality without the numbing haze of sedation.
My grandmother paused, and gazed at me. I was astounded to see tears in her eyes. I had heard this embittered, hardhearted lady moan on about how unkind fate had been to her, that she must have committed unspeakable sins in her past lives to land up in a life like this one, and so on and so forth, but I had never, not once, seen her cry. I had no idea how to react. I could not fathom why she should be so moved to tears by this story of long ago, but maybe somewhere deep down inside myself I did fathom something, but did not want to acknowledge it. Hesitatingly, I took her hand in mine and gave it a small squeeze. She held on tightly to my hand, and taking a shuddering breath, carried on with her tale.
I won’t bore you with too many details, she said, but you
can imagine how bad things must have been. After a week in the hospital, the
wife returned home. Without a baby. With
a childless, joyless future rolling endlessly ahead of her. And there was Lalitha,
all aglow, proudly feeding her adorable little baby girl, sliding with
effortless ease into her maternal role. The wife thought she would go mad.
I told you, my grandmother told me, that soft and gentle
though the wife appeared to be, there was a conniving and shrewd side to
her. That side of her took over. She did
not consult her husband or his mother, or anyone else. She marched straight to Lalitha’s room, and
drove a hard bargain. I saved your
honor, she told her, I ensured that your name remained clean, not splattered
with shit, as it deserved to be. The mother, who had followed the wife,
listened to this conversation in growing horror, eavesdropping from behind the
half-ajar door. I got a decent man to
marry you, the wife continued, her voice rising, to take good care of you. In
your unmarried, pregnant condition, I could have thrown you out onto the
streets, you shameless hussy, but I did not. I saved your life. I paid thousands of rupees to make sure you got good
medical care. And now I demand my
Lalitha stared back, shocked. She began to whimper when the full horror of
what she knew was coming next hit her. She clutched her baby to her chest. Amma, no Amma, please no, Amma, I beg you Amma….
But events had turned the wife’s heart to stone. I will give you ten thousand rupees, she continued (behind the door, the eavesdropping mother gasped). Give me your baby, and get out. You and your husband. Find another job, go to school, I don’t care. I will bring up your baby as mine. She will have the best of everything, much more than you can ever dream or hope of giving her. You will never see her again, but you can rest assured that she will be given good care and a good home.
There was screaming, pleading, howling, begging from
Lalitha, but no, a sort of madness had possessed the wife, not the raving
lunatic kind, but a cold, pitiless heartlessness, a reptilian stoniness which
could not be budged. And in the end,
Lalitha gave in. She gave up her baby, packed her bags, and walked out of their
I was appalled. I peppered my grandmother with questions. Wasn’t
there anybody Lalitha could have appealed to? Anybody who could have taken her
side? Was the wife just allowed to snatch the baby away like that? Did the
husband and mother have nothing to say?
My grandmother did not say anything for a long time. In the
kitchen, the dishes had been washed, and a sudden silence descended upon the
house. I could hear my heart thumping loudly. When she spoke again, my
grandmother had tears running down her cheeks. In this country, she said in a
whisper, the poor have no rights. And then she began to rock back and forth,
sobbing. Oh Lord, forgive me, she whimpered, forgive me, forgive me, forgive
We sat together on her bed for a long time, the occasional
sniff from my grandmother the only sound breaking the silence. My mind was in a
whirl. I felt choked and unable to
breathe, but for different reasons this time. I thought about my mother, her sad, empty life, she who had never kissed
me or told me she loved me, and my father, who tried so hard to cheer things
up, he who so clearly adored me and told me so every so often, my grandmother,
also doomed to a life of sadness…Everything fit into place. It now all made
sense, and I began to cry. I held on to my grandmother and we sobbed till we
were drained empty.
Finally I forced myself to stop. I had a lifetime of
questions to ask, but many of them would never get answered. One question, though, had its answer in the
smile on my father’s face, which was exactly like the smile on my face, the odd
shape of his ears, which mirrored mine exactly, a question with answers in the
hundreds of ways I resembled my father.
I look just like my father, I said softly to my grandmother.
Yes, she said simply. You do.
(C) Kamini Dandapani