An unmarried pregnant girl is considered a sinner, but what about the young man whom she willingly had sex with? How can his family judge only her?
A little tornado entered the house throwing his school bag, water bottle, shoes helter-skelter and warbling, chortling, calling out to his Badi Mummy in his sweet voice which was like nectar to his grandmother. He was so happy to be home from school – a warrior returned from the war front. Not that he didn’t enjoy school but to get back home and have grandmother completely at his mercy in the afternoon, was what he looked forward to.
Sita tried to discipline him, “Where do we keep our school bag?”
He plonked it on the shelf, “Here.”
“Here,” he picked them up and kept them on the shoe rack. He came and sat on her lap and started telling her about his day at school. “You know, Badi mummy, we saw polar bears today. The video teacher told us that bears eat fish. Do you know when bears take a fish out of water, where do they keep it to dry?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“Why, on the ice! To dry on the ice!” and he laughed again as he found the idea funny. Sita looked at this small wonder and silently thanked God for giving her home this blessing.
It was bathing time. Atharv wanted to run from room to room in his undies. Sita had long concluded that school uniforms make children constricted. So shedding shoes and clothes gives them a feeling of freedom. And she ran after him making mock threats. This was their daily routine. She caught him amidst squeals of laughter and they started playing Keekli – holding crossed hands and moving in circles as she slowly guided him towards the bathroom.
“Badi mummy, we played cops during the recess. I was a cop but Renu also wanted to be a cop, can girls become cops?”
“Yes, girls too can become cops. Girls can do everything that boys can do,” said Sita because it was her conviction.
She remembered how she had stood by her conviction five years ago. Her son Prateek had finished his engineering a year ago and was trying for a job half-heartedly. He had always wanted to be a fashion designer but his father had compelled him to finish his engineering degree because he was a great believer in education. He had promised that Prateek would be free to do whatever he wanted after graduating.
Now Prateek felt hesitant in asking him for financial help to set up a business. The idealist in him clashed with the practical. He needed money but did not want to ask his father for it. He had been negotiating about buying the franchise of a well-known chain of boutiques as he was interested in fashion and accessories – something frowned upon by all the elder males of the family.
As usual, Sita became the bridge between the father and son. Prateek’s dream was fulfilled. His emporium was inaugurated but still he looked worried, harried, and anxious. She had always been sensitive to her children’s moods. She knew something was wrong, but what? This did not seem connected with the professional front. She tried to talk to him but he brushed it aside saying it was nothing. She waited patiently for him to open him. She knew it was time to begin to recede from her son’s life since he was almost an autonomous unit now.
Then the storm broke out one evening. Prateek came home and came straight to her room. She was lighting the evening lamp in the temple in her room: “Arrey, you have come quite early. Papa isn’t going to return today. His trip has been extended by a day. Are you going to go out again? Want early dinner?”
“Mummy, I have to tell you something. I have done something, something wrong. I have made a girl pregnant. Her name is Neha. I love Neha. We have been in a relationship for the last two years.” He sounded aggressive, fierce.
“Yes, mummy you heard it right. She is five months pregnant and we want to get married.”
“Oh, my god! What are you talking about? How can it be possible? How can you do such a thing?” She was stunned.
Her mind refused to grasp the implication of the words she had just heard her son utter. She sat still like a statue.
“I am sorry, mummy,” he said in a small spent voice. He must have wound himself up to break the news to her. So this and not the boutique had put that anxious look on his face for the past few months. “You will have to talk to Papa. You have to help me.”
“Why should I help you? I’m ashamed. I’m amazed that you have the temerity to come and tell me this and then ask for help too. Is this what I have taught you? Are these the sanskaras I have given you? Go away. ”
He whirled to go out of the room, but then he stopped by the door and appealed, “Mummy, please help me. Neha is a good girl. I love her, you will also like her.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“In the college. She is my junior by two years – the same branch. She is in the seventh sem, she lives in the hostel. She doesn’t belong to our caste. Both her parents are government officers, good family background?”
“Good family background? Really?” she said sarcastically. She couldn’t accept that her son could ignore all the good things that she had tried to instill in him and his sister Seema.
“Oh, how will I face the family with this news? Our relatives, the society – your papa?” Then she started questioning him and it all came out. They had taken precaution. But it had somehow happened. They had been to all the doctors of the area but nobody was ready to help out with an abortion. “It’s too late” was the consensus.
“Why did you wait so long?”
“We did not realize it. When first Neha realized she talked to a gynaec aunt, a friend of her mother’s on the phone about her delayed periods. She prescribed a hormonal pill. Neha took it and had her periods. But that was the effect of the medicine. By then her second trimester was more than half gone. ”
Sita felt hunted. She would have to face her own MIL, FIL and the extended family. Imagine how the girl’s mother must be feeling. How the girl must be feeling! Imagine if Seema had done this! “Oh my God! What has Prateek done!”
Throughout the night Sita tossed and turned, steeling herself to face her husband on the next day. As expected he flew into a rage and tried to hit Prateek, threatening to disown him, blaming her for not raising their son right. She told Prateek to brave the storm quietly because she knew her husband was a fair, responsible person. He raved and ranted but gradually came to consider the position of the girl, who was literally left holding the baby. They, too, had a daughter of her age. He would kill the person if someone did this to her.
That night Sita couldn’t sleep. She kept on getting up throughout the night to check on Prateek sleeping. She had confirmed from him that both of them had been willing. There was no force or compulsion used. She knew questions would be raised about the girl’s character. She was afraid that Prateek might walk out thinking his father wouldn’t help him. Instead of simply bolting, she had locked the main door from inside and kept the key under her pillow.
Now it was Om’s turn to face the extended families on both sides. Sita’s family kept quiet, they wanted to solve their daughter’s family problem. Om’s four brothers refused to consider marriage; to allow that girl into their fold. There were nearly ten youngsters of Prateek’s age group in their family. What signal would they be giving to them?
“Do whatever else you want to do – but no marriage. Such a loose girl cannot be a part of our family.” Sita knew her BILs and SILs must be having a field day discussing this unprecedented fiasco of her branch of the family and blaming her for the way she had raised her children. She imagined all the adjectives being used to describe Neha – slut, whore, tramp, floozy and whatnot. But her sense of fair play told her to think of corresponding adjectives for Prateek also.
An unmarried girl giving birth to a child is considered a sinner, so no thank you was the family’s opinion. Still, the uncles agreed to meet the girl’s family.
To everyone’s surprise, it turned out to be a normal upper-middle-class family, worried, anxious but ready to stand by their daughter. Whatever blame games, private battles they had fought, they were keeping the scars hidden.
Sita was not allowed in the baithak as per family’s traditions. Then started the negotiating by her brothers-in-law. They can go for an Arya Samaj marriage. They would have to the make all the arrangements. They would have to take the girl back after marriage. Her delivery, her finishing her graduation would be their problem. They should take Prateek away and set him up in business in some other city.
Standing behind the curtain, Sita was listening to all this. From a chink, she looked at Neha’s mother who seemed devastated. Sita’s heart went out to her and her daughter whom she had not yet met, whose photographs Prateek had shown to her.
The families slowly moved through a tension-filled, gloomy fortnight. The wedding took place. She warned all the youngsters not to put the pictures on Facebook or other social media sites. She wanted to leave everything vague in history. She did not want her unborn grandchild to ever know the unusual circumstances of his/her birth. She did not know how things would shape up in the future. She wanted to present a fait accomplie to the society. Only close relatives were invited. She had asked her beautician to dress up Neha for gode-bharai because she was bound to discover Neha’s pregnancy while dressing her up.
Youth is irrepressible. The youngsters of their family and few friends of the couple made the occasion light, bright and almost happy. Perhaps for them, it was the conclusion of a successful love story, a they-lived-happily-ever-after ending. They didn’t realize the pain, the shame the stigma attached to it which their elders were experiencing.
Surprisingly Sita’s father-in-law had been her strongest ally. He lived in their paternal house in the village and generally did not interfere in his sons’ affairs. This wise septuagenarian chose to stand by his blood, the coming child, the seed of their family and forgive the errors of the ways of youth. After this, Om’s brothers had to toe the line and participate in the wedding.
An idea was floated – now that the marriage had taken place why not go for an MTP? Oh, the doctors are doing it all the time for right medical reasons. It would save the families from disgrace.
Prateek and Neha waited for the families to decide. The turmoil, the upheaval in their lives had left them stunned, perhaps they had no soft feelings for the baby? They had been reduced to become puppets; the baby was an inconvenience to be settled? Sita was appalled – to kill a baby? No, she did not want this paap to their name. They had sent Neha back with her family as per the terms of arrangements. Her shamed, anguished face haunted Sita.
She talked to Om. Their priority was not log-kya-kahenge. Their priority were Prateek, Neha, and the unborn child. Imagine – the child had been listening, feeling all the animosity around it! How would Neha love them if she was not made a part of the family after marriage if she won’t live with them? So far Neha had not received any special care which she should have been given. If Neha had erred, so had Prateek. Why must the baby bear the brunt? Neha’s family being upset and distraught may not pamper her. “If your family refuses to stand by us or cuts off relations with us – so be it. Our son has erred but he needs our support.”
By adding small finishing brush strokes, she convinced her husband to bring Neha home. She knew society has a short memory and people remember a scandal till another, a new scandal appears on the horizon. Secretly she was proud — no she needed a different new word their culture so far did not have it — of Prateek. Not once had he thought of taking the easy way out, of ditching Neha. Quietly he had accepted the curses heaped on him by the family and maintained loyally that Neha was a good girl. Sita had given Neha all the caring and emotional nurturing she needed at this juncture.
The elders of both the families had smoothed the way for the couple and now it was up to them to nurture their relationship. Sita’s mind refused to understand the contemporary concepts of crush, infatuation, sexual exploration, ‘My Choice’, physical and emotional consequences of an unwanted pregnancy etc. For her things were moral and immoral. So she waited and watched.
Sita had fallen in love with Atharv , the moment the doctor had placed him in her hands. Neha had completed her degree with a delay of six months. In the beginning, Sita was apprehensive that Neha was moulding herself as expected by the family because of gratefulness and waited for her true colors to show. But her fears were ill-founded.
Neha is a warm, spontaneous person. A girl can do what a boy can! Perhaps the crisis they had faced had strengthened their bond. While arranging Seema’s marriage they had come across one or two families who had given weightage to this so called ‘blot on their family’s name’ but there were others for whom it was no problem. Seema too was happily married now.
In the evening Neha would be back from her office and Atharv would share his day with Neha mummy, his ears turned to the arrival of Bade Papa’s car or Prateek’s bike.
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