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For the first time in her married life of three years, Mrs. Prasad heard the sound of her own voice. As did her mother-in-law.
This story begins when the silver screen in the cinema hall flashes ‘Intermission’ when dim lights suddenly come to life and you turn your neck to peer into the face of the person who shared your armrest for the last one hour; when suddenly your senses become aware of melting talc, sweat and stale tobacco hanging in the air; when hurried feet scramble along the narrow corridors to doors marked ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ or to purchase the soggy packet of salted chips
One such hurried pair of feet belonged to Mrs. Prasad. Clutching a packet of popcorn in one hand and her daughter’s hand in the other, she walked into the E row. No one knew this, but Mrs. Prasad loved watching trailers—the promise of action, two bare-chested men leaping from orange viscous flames, unscathed and unhurt, the woman throwing herself into the man’s arms unabashedly, a grey trembling sky, and the woman sharing her umbrella with her man. Mrs. Prasad waited for one such tale to unfold before her eyes. Finally when the ‘No Smoking’ placards started flashing on the screen, she heaved a sigh of relief and watched the trailers run with childish glee.
She sat on the seat allotted to her by him, her saar, with the mother-in-law on the other side. The mother-in-law had the girl on her lap. After all, Mrs. Prasad was already in the fourth month and ever since her mother-in-law had noted the shape of her tummy, “oblong not circular”, they had been doubly cautious, not wanting to take any risks.
Once or twice during the course of the movie, when the hero swept the heroine into his arms, she looked through the darkness into her husband’s eyes, wanting to catch his glance. But like always, he had his hands folded on his chest and his face was inscrutable. Feeling the rustle of her mother-in-law’s stiff starched sari against her skin, she turned her gaze away. What would her mother-in-law think? For once she was thankful for the darkness. But she wanted her saar to reach out through the darkness and hold her hand – just once. Like that couple in the front row.
While the family thus watched the movie, let us go back in time just a little bit and come back to a Saturday morning, when Mr Prasad announced to the entire family that he would be taking them to see the cinema and they should all be ready by evening. She felt excited like a little child and would have continued feeling so, had she not overheard her saar tell his mother that he had been promoted as a bank manager that day. Her happiness came plummeting down even as she cleared the table after the lunch. Couldn’t it be her just one time, like the lady who stayed on the third floor? How she had boasted about knowing everything in her husband’s office! “Politics,” she called it. But this lady was different. Her voice was loud and the ladies in the building whispered to each other that she talked just like a man. Many times, Mrs. Prasad wanted to ask the ladies what they meant. But she never could, like always.
Anyway our Mrs. Prasad was not the one to brood. After her husband made the announcement, she set about making the arrangements for the evening cinema. Supper to be prepared, one vegetable without onions since it was Saturday and her mother-in-law did not touch onions on Saturday, and one with onions since her husband did not touch anything without onions. Chapatis to be made, three for the husband, three with refined oil for the MIL, one soaked in milk for the girl , and two pulkas for herself smeared with ghee liberally according to the strict instructions of her MIL. Even when her mother-in- law declared with confidence, that this time, it was going to be a boy, she noticed the sudden spark of pride in her husband’s eyes.
Hurriedly tucking the pleats of her sari, she remembered the time she had put up the poster of Aamir Khan opposite her bed so that when she opened her eyes in the morning, his liquid brown eyes would be the first thing she would see. Her father was livid. Tearing down the poster, he screamed and ranted.
“Good girls don’t put pictures of strange men in their rooms!” he had said, finally slamming the door behind him. She had been scared that time. As scared as her mother was, with her hair twisted in a single coil at the nape of her neck.
Life, my dear reader, would have continued along the by lanes of promotions and increments, onion curries and onion less suppers, chapattis and phulkas, diapers and matching clips, had it not been for another Friday morning.
Time for the monthly check up!
After the girl had her cerelac and the mother-in-law had her almond milk, after hurried prayers had been said before the Gods, and milk poured into the sterilized bottles, all the three ladies along with the saar of the family hailed the nearest auto.
Half an hour later the family was sitting in the lounge of Mother and Child Hospital. The mother-in-law counting her rudraksha beads, Mr. Prasad engrossed in the tattered issue of Filmfare of the last century, Mrs. Prasad flipping through India Today and the girl clutching her little teddy close to her.
Dr. Vyjayanthi arrived with brisk, hurrying steps and smiles.
“Everything seems to be OK,” she pronounced a few minutes later after making her lie down and prodding her tummy gently, “but better to get an ultrasound done since it is already the fourth month.”
An hour later, after Mrs. Prasad obediently drank water from the Bisleri bottle to the last drop, she dragged herself to the ultrasound room.
The nurse came and after loosening up her petticoat, applied some gooey gel all over her tummy. For a moment Mrs. Prasad wished she was surrounded by the darkness of the cinema hall all over again so that she could remain unseen by her mother-in-law. But there was light, lots of it, and Mrs. Prasad couldn’t do anything about it.
Dr. Vyjayanthi came and started rubbing her tummy with some instrument.
The screen flickered. Images appeared. Faded and appeared with more intensity. Mrs. Prasad felt her palms wet with sweat. A form appeared on the screen. With a big head and a little trunk and holes in the place of eyes. And two match sticks hanging by the side. Mrs. Prasad’s heart started hammering loudly.
A form appeared on the screen. With a big head and a little trunk and holes in the place of eyes. And two match sticks hanging by the side. Mrs. Prasad’s heart started hammering loudly.
‘Want to hear the baby’s heart beat?’asked Dr. Vyjayanthi.
Mrs. Prasad just nodded, afraid that the sound of her own voice would disturb that little thing on the screen.
At first the room was filled with a big whooshing sound. And moments later it came. At first feeble and then loud, clear and resonating.
Surely such a tiny being couldn’t carry such a loud heart beat? The girl too watched fascinated.
Dr. Vyjayanthi nodded in approval.
“That’s the baby’s heart beat for you,” she said with a smile.
“She’s perfect,”continued Dr. Vyjayanthi. “Continue being active the way you are.”
It was the way the Doctor had mouthed the word “she”. The mother-in-law stood rooted to the spot.
“She? She..?,” she muttered. To herself, to the walls and to the doctor who realized the enormity of what she had just done.
‘Of course, all babies are she,” the doctor said uneasily, her face turning red, “and it is really too early to tell if it is a she or he.”
Mrs. Prasad saw fear in the doctor’s eyes, and the doctor saw it in Mrs. Prasad’s. Both of them knew that the older woman could easily distinguish a lie from the truth.
The next few days continued at the same pace. Four whistles from the pressure cooker; three different types of rotis, except that now her mother-in-law no longer told Mrs. Prasad to smear her rotis liberally with ghee.
The older woman too continued with her prayers but her daughter-in-law made her uneasy. These days she walked with greater ease and confidence. The other day she saw the woman from the third floor talking to her in hushed whispers.
“Get ready,” said the mother-in-law one day after coming to a decision. She and Mr. Prasad had held a long, closed door discussion last night. “We are going to Sewa clinic. Annapurna told me that the doctor there does it even in the seventh month of pregnancy.”
The younger woman didn’t pay attention. Going into the kitchen she started chopping the spinach drying on the kitchen counter.
The mother-in-law repeated her order.
Again her daughter-in-law went on doing what she was doing. Drying the clothes this time; spreading the damp towels on the clothes line.
A slow rage spread itself through the mother-in-law’s veins.
“Amma, your soap nut powder is ready,” said Mrs. Prasad finally, as though to break the silence.
Then she stepped out of the flat. The mother-in-law followed her, livid at her temerity. The woman from the third floor was holding something large in her hand; she was smiling. Together,she and Mrs. Prasad started fixing something on the flat’s outer wall.It was a board, written in Telugu and English.
SANGEETHA MUSIC CLASSES
TIMINGS: 10:00AM – 11:00AM
“Haven’t you heard me?” the mother-in-law screamed.
“Amma, I heard you. I’m not going with you. Dr Vyjayanthi told me IT IS NOT SAFE FOR ME AND MY BABY! ”
“And before you ask, this signboard is for my music class, which starts from tomorrow!”
For the first time in her married life of three years, Mrs. Prasad heard the sound of her own voice. As did her mother-in-law. The woman from the third floor gave her a surreptitious thumbs up.The corridors and the walls reverberated with Mrs. Prasad’s silent declaration that she will not remain invisible anymore. She had remembered her name;it was Sangeetha! Once she heard the sound of her own name, nothing could dampen her spirits. Neither the fourth whistle from the pressure cooker; nor her mother-in-law; nor the cold, brooding saar!
Image via Shutterstock.
Sridevi Datta is a freelance content writer and editor. She blogs at "The Write Journey"
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