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It was during this time that Devika started to think about what an innocent child loses when its mother is unavailable to supply it with nature’s gift of mother’s milk.
Devika, a 98 year-old fragile but fit woman, was watering the garden in the home for the aged. She had been living there for 10 years now, ever since her daughter passed away at the age of 75. Her two grandchildren, settled in England and Japan each, asked her to stay with them, but she had decided two decades ago, to stay back in India. She believes she’s here for a purpose.
Yeah, at 98, she still feels she has something to give back to society, the society that once grew from her. Literally, from her. And today was special. She will be on TV, talking about her life and the cause that is so dear to her.
Devika had her only child, Latika, in pre-independent India, when she was 13. Born into an affluent family, Devika was a delightful child of her time. She had studied History, Sanskrit, Mathematics and English, with tutors coming home to teach her. She was married into another well-to-do family that did business overseas. They had woolen mills and traded with European countries. They also had friends in a few foreign families residing in India.
Devika had a very active personality, was an independent thinker, and always spoke her mind. She had a good social life too, and already had a connect with a few like-minded girls around her age. Emilie was the daughter of a French doctor who had settled in India many years ago, and Devika’s father-in-law and Emilie’s father were friends. When Emilie got married into an aristocratic family, it was celebrated with much pomp. They had to part ways as Emilie moved on to another city with her husband.
It all started when Devika turned 17 that summer. She was still breastfeeding Latika who was a 4-year old girl then. On a sunny afternoon, just as she finished her lunch, there was a postman at her bungalow. “Telegraph!” he gave a loud call. One of Devika’s servants rushed to the door to fetch it. As the servant handed the telegraph to her father-in-law, he opened it declaring with surprise, that it came on Devika’s name and from Emilie’s husband.
“Dearest Devika, Emilie is no more with us. She succumbed to cholera a few days after she delivered our baby boy. Her last wish was to not deprive her son of mother’s milk. I have the money to buy anything, but not mother’s milk. I seek your kind heart to agree being our child’s wet nurse. We will soon be at your door.”
Devika’s world came crashing down as she heard of her dear friend’s sorrowful demise, leaving her infant behind. She looked at her father-in-law for his consent to what was requested in the telegraph. Swallowing the hard fact and making up his mind, he nodded his approval to Devika.
In two days, she saw a little foreign baby in her lap, sucking her milk. The feeling of devotion to a beautiful creation called Mother, encompassed her! Never did she imagine that she could give a part of her life to a baby that was not born from her. Never did she dream that she would execute a dying mother’s last wish. “I promise to you, Emilie”, Devika said to herself.
Three years later, Emilie’s husband came over to seek his son, but looking at the way he bonded with Devika, he did not have the heart to separate them. “You’re his godmother Devika”, he said and left.
It was during this time that Devika started to think about what an innocent child loses when its mother is unavailable to supply it with nature’s gift of mother’s milk. She took her family’s consent and gracefully embraced her new-found profession of a Wet Nurse.
The milking process that started for her at the age of 13 with her biological child Latika, came to a beautiful end at the age of 48. She became a mother to 20 children in her 35 years of fertile life. She didn’t give birth to them, but she fed them all.
Born in 1920, Devika saw India getting its independence. She inculcated the ‘virtue of giving’ in her daughter, Latika. After Latika had two children, she also decided to take her mother’s path and became a wet nurse to 25 children, until she could. Latika had passed away 10 years ago, doing justice to her mother’s legacy. Her children and grandchildren were soon settled outside of India, following their own dreams.
In 2018, this August morning, Devika finally decided to speak to the world about her past. To promote the importance of breastfeeding in the new generations, she was determined to share her real life story, and what mother’s milk meant in those times.
She picked up the phone and dialled a media house. “Hello, this is Mrs Devika, 98 years old. I used to be a Wet Nurse in pre and post-independent India.”
On the other side of the phone… “What! Sure ma’am. We’re coming to see you in an hour. We will do a full feature on you, as part of #WorldBreastfeedingWeek2018Coverage.”
A version of this was published here earlier.
Image source: YouTube
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