She could hear the soft, feeble, whimpering cries somewhere next to her. Her mind which was in an anaesthetic haze slowly began to focus back on the source of the sound but the excruciating pain made the task difficult. She wanted to relapse back into the blissful oblivion of unconsciousness just for some more time — not because she could not endure the pain but because she did not want to face the reality. Girl. She had given birth to a baby girl. Again.
Her mind was not ready to accept this stark reality yet. Memories slowly invaded her thoughts. Of her asking the gender of the child she had just given birth to. The old doctor smilingly, yet gently reprimanding her, “An educated girl like you does not want to know first whether her baby is fine or not?”
She remembered the doctor’s face when he finally replied, “Daughter. You have one fine, healthy daughter.” Shock. Distress. Fear. Weariness were the last emotions before she mercifully succumbed to welcome oblivion.
Now wide awake, she searched her mother-in-law’s face for some comfort yet deep within she knew it was a futile attempt. Her mother-in-law was a stone faced statue. Though understanding was etched on her husband’s face, he could not express it openly in the presence of his mother. Only her three- year-old elder daughter had a welcoming smile and bright, excited eyes. She finally looked at the small bundle placed in the cradle. But she couldn’t feel the maternal pull towards the baby. She was still numb with disappointment.
She recollected the doctor’s words – “An educated girl like you… ” Her mouth twisted with a bitter smile. Yes, she was educated. An MBA from a reputed university with a good, lucrative executive job in a multinational organisation. Her husband himself was the head of the family business. Yet, her education and liberal mind could not challenge the deeply ingrained family need for an “heir.” A “male heir” to be more precise.
When she had given birth to her first daughter, the family took it in stride by conferring the title of Laxmi on the child. There were continuous sermons however on how the next time a “son” would be a pleasant addition to the family.
There was a prestigious family lineage which had to be continued. After all her husband was the sixth child after a succession of five sisters and the only son. So the responsibility was now on her. She remembered the pressure on her to do a sex determination test albeit discreetly and the subtle hints to go for an abortion if it was a “girl.”
She stoically had refused to buckle under the pressure, her soul reeling with disgust at such attitude, not to mention her shock at such mentality. But slowly the pressure started getting to her. Now she too wanted a “son” just to be relieved from such tremendous expectations.
Silent tears filled her eyes. Her friends were waiting for the happy announcement but her fingers couldn’t type the message. She shrank from the thought of the cold reception at home. The taunts that would welcome her, the silent condemnation which would greet the new unwanted arrival. The mere thought fed her soul with devastation. Already her ears were filled with the probable reproach: “Well, what can we expect when she herself is the youngest of three daughters. Her family is already a breeding ground for girls.” No, she won’t be able to bear such unjust contentions. She was now feeling too claustrophobic in the hospital room even though everyone had left.
She saw her father enter the room. He was her friend, her confidante but above all a man whose wisdom melded with a contagious zest for life. He knew her fears well. She saw him walk not towards her but towards the cradle. He smiled, bent down and kissed the baby’s forehead. “Welcome, my child,” he whispered.
He then turned towards her, sat next to her and took her hands in his. Her feelings were very much evident on her face. He pressed her hands gently. With a soft voice he asked, “My dear, will you answer one question?” She nodded ever so slightly. “Do you know who is the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi or Rabindranath Tagore?” She looked at him confusedly.
“Well, do great men or women need sons to bring honour to their surnames or to make their family name illustrious ? Do we care or are aware who the current heirs of Gandhi or Tagore are? No, we don’t. Were all these people great because of their families or because of their work? We are known by what we do, not for our gender. The generations who come next have to build their own legacy,” her father continued and added, “Jawaharlal Nehru did not have a son. Do you know or care if Kalpana Chawla had a brother or not? Should her family be filled with disappointment for having her?”
Slowly a spark of understanding made its way to her. Seeing her rapt face, her father continued, “Look at our family. I have three very precious and loving daughters. After your eldest sister was born, your mother and I decided to have another child. We were blessed with another daughter who was equally loved by us and adored by her elder sister. They both filled our house with joy, love as well as anxiety, fear and moments of helplessness. All the emotions a parent experiences irrespective of a child’s gender. And then you were born – another daughter. Had we carried resentment about having you, would you have had a secure childhood or a secure sense of self as a young woman? Imagine if we had treated you with disdain and utter apathy for being a girl? You and your sisters have such a strong bond between you. Do you rue the fact that you do not have a brother or do you see us mourning the absent son who could have carried on our name?”
She nodded understandingly. Her father gently raised her face up and lovingly explained, “As a woman, you have brought happiness to two families. First you have graced your parent’s house as a daughter and then you husband’s house as a wife. As a mother you undergo pain to bring another human being to life. A child gifts us the privilege of being parents. Just because you have a daughter does it make you any less of a parent? Just think, how much joy your elder daughter has brought you. Would it have been different for you if you had a son first? Now that joy has been doubled.”
“A son was once required to give the parents Mukti by performing the final rites. Or to maintain them. A daughter can do both today. I know it will be difficult facing those who were expecting a son this time around, but let your love for your daughter outshine the resentment and your respect for her birth assert your daughter’s existence.”
Fresh tears filled her eyes. Her father wiped them knowing that these were tears of understanding and of happiness. She wordlessly looked at the cradle. Her father rose, picked up the sleeping infant and placed her in her mother’s welcoming arms. And for the first time she really saw a child, her child and not just a daughter. Her heart brimmed with guilt and love and pride for the precious little creature. She kissed the baby’s forehead which equally conveyed both “Sorry” and “Thank you” and cradled her close to her heart.
At night when the baby was sleeping contently next to her, she reached for her cell phone and typed with a joyous heart to her friends, her relatives and her husband who had gone home to rest, “Announcing the arrival of my second precious daughter. Both the mother and daughter are now doing well. Awaiting the moment when I will hold both my children together in my arms—- A happy and educated mother.” Her husband replied immediately, “I was awaiting this moment when you would come out of your self-imposed guilt and depression. Now just looking forward to hold my brave wife and my precious heirs in my arms soon —–A proud and lucky father.”
Manasi Sawant is a lawyer by profession, a language enthusiast by choice, an amateur writer by passion and a wife and mother by destiny.