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In the moon she saw Asha – her Asha. She only begged for Asha’s forgiveness. In some sort of rebirth, Asha gave her an opportunity of atonement.
It was a big day for Asha Singh. It was 26th January, Republic Day of India. The twenty six year old police officer was to receive the prestigious President’s Police Medal For Gallantry at a ceremony that morning.
Asha woke up at 4:45 am as usual. She started her day with yoga and breathing exercises. But she was unable to concentrate today – memories from her past kept coming back to her.
Quietly, she peeped into the bed room where her mother and grandmother slept peacefully. She owed everything she had to these two women. Asha never had a man in her life. She had not seen her father, her uncles or her grandfather.
As she made herself a cup of tea, and sat down at the table, she started thinking of her past. Her family was from a little village, Bibipur in Haryana. Asha’s father and his family were rich landowners in the village.
This little village suffered from a strange imbalance. The sex ratio there was 871 females for every 1000 males, against the national average of about 940. This was, probably why her father had to look for a bride outside the village. Her mother was imported for him from a rather impoverished region from the state of Bihar.
Irrespective of these alarming numbers, female foeticide was still rampant in the area. The brides imported from outside were forced to abort their baby girls. That further accentuated the challenge of an imbalanced sex ratio in the village.
The fact is that there is a cultural preference for boys over girls in India. Girls are often perceived as burdens for the family, while boys are perceived as the carriers of the family name. It is said that about 12 million female foetuses have been aborted over the last thirty years.
Female foeticide in India has been linked to the arrival of affordable ultrasound technology and its widespread adoption. This happened in the early 1990’s when Asha was conceived.
Her mother went through the procedure to determine the sex of the foetus. They detected that the unborn child was a girl. Her father, grandfather and very casually decided that the pregnancy had to be aborted. They planned to take her mother to a hospital in Rajasthan where she’d go through the procedure.
Her mother was helpless. She wept unconsolably, but there was nobody on her side in the entire village of Bibipur. Her mother had given up hope of saving the unborn girl. She was weeping silently as she stood next to the window in her grand-bedroom. The next morning she’d be taken to the hospital where she’d bid farewell to her daughter even before she was born.
At that moment, the grandmother – Asha’s father’s mother came there with her helper. She had packed two suitcases, with clothes, gold, food and some money.
“Bahu, wipe your tears, get ready and immediately sit in the car that waits outside. The men are all out, we are going to run away. I will not let anything happen to that unborn girl of yours until I live,” she had said.
She ordered Asha’s mother to get into the car and with the aid of her trusted helper she fled away with the mother-to-be.
The following few months were hard for the two women and the unborn child. Hiding from the family, they went all the way to Chandigarh. The women were not very well educated. However, with the money and gold that the older woman had managed to bring, they were able to rent a small room.
In the next few months Asha was born. “Asha” means “hope.” And that was a name chosen by her grandmother. They, then, went back to Bibipur, with the hope that the family would accept them and the newborn child. But they found that Asha’s father had remarried. Asha and her mother were completely disowned by the family.
And Asha’s grandfather gave his wife a terrifying look. He was furious and unhappy about the past events.
“You shameless, foolish woman – you now have to choose. Either continue to live here with us in this house, forgetting all that has happened, Or give up your own family, your property and go live with that wretched, unwanted little bitch and her mother,” he had thundered.
The brave woman decided to choose Asha over everything. She left her husband, her sons, their large bungalow and joined Asha and her mother. Her daughter-in-law asked her why she was making such a big sacrifice; to which she said, “Bringing someone into the world is not the same as giving them life. I want to give Asha a real, happy life. And I want her to be strong and capable. I want her to be able to stand up for herself and fight against monsters such as her grandfather and father, I will go where she goes. No, I am not abandoning Asha.”
The two women moved back to Chandigarh with whatever leftover fortune they had. They worked hard, day and night to bring up little Asha. The grandmother worked as a cook and nanny for children of working parents.
While, her mother took up a small course in nursing and became an assistant nurse at a small public hospital. Asha was sent to a public school in the town. As she grew up she saw how hard her mother and grandmother worked to ensure she got a good upbringing.
One day when she was old enough, her mother told her about their past. It broke Asha’s heart to know that her father hadn’t wanted her alive. However, instead of weeping about her past, she decided that she’d do everything to build a great future for herself and for the two women. The strong women who brought her up. She promised herself that she’d work hard and become a strong, respectable woman who would fight for the rights of other women.
Several years since passed and here was Officer Asha, well known in her department for her intelligence and bravery. She worked hard all her life, and had been able to complete the IPS exam to become a police officer.
After the first few months, she had been posted in one of the areas in Delhi where crime was rampant. The department didn’t have enough officers to handle the high volume of criminal activity.
She made a very clever plan and started recruiting civilian volunteers. Each village in the district was night patrolled by six civilians led by an armed policeman. Asha enabled anonymous reporting of any knowledge about crimes.
Criminal complaints were all very quickly acted upon, and arrests were made with utmost speed and efficiency. She also brought in prohibitions on illicit liquor business to reduce crimes in the area.
Within 3 months, there was a reduction in crimes. There was a drop in cases related to eve-teasing and wife beating. This gained her the goodwill of local women, who also volunteered their services to help fight crime in the area. Her smartness and bravery were very soon noticed by senior officers, who began trusting her with important cases, and complex operations.
“Your tea is getting cold dear, let me make some fresh tea for you. And look it is 6:15 already! Don’t you have to leave for the ceremony soon?” asked grandmother who stood next to her as Asha was engrossed in her own thoughts.
She had completely lost track of time, and indeed the tea in front of her was cold now. Asha hurriedly got up, took a quick shower and dressed up in her uniform. With her long black hair tied up high, the police hat on her head, well-polished shoes, and a stick in her hand, she looked beautiful and strong.
Grandmother came out with a fresh cup of tea, a hot paratha with yogurt.
“Here, eat this before you start your day.” she said.
“Daadi, I want you to go with me.” Asha requested.
“Me? Oh dear! Oh dear! No, my child. I am going to watch you on TV. I cannot go there with you,” Daadi exclaimed.
Mother was awake by then, and was smiling admiringly at her strong, beautiful, confident daughter.
“Maa, Daadi, I want both of you to be there in person when I am given this medal. Is that too much to ask for? I am what I am because of you. Please come with me,” Asha was relentless.
Her mother had tears rolling down her cheeks. She ran towards the older woman who sat on her armed chair. Mother sat on the floor, and put her head on grandmother’s lap and wept profusely. She was unable to speak for several seconds.
“Maaji, you are the one who has made this happen. I will forever be obliged to you for your sacrifice. You gave up your son, your husband, your family and all your wealth, to bring my daughter into the world. I don’t think I can ever repay you, Maaji.”
Grandmother was more composed. She was a surprisingly strong woman, who never wept. But she bit her lip and said, “Okay my children, today is a happy day, let us not weep. Our daughter Asha will be honoured today for her bravery. Asha, my child, I will go with you if it makes you happy.”
The mother and the grandmother watched with pride as their dear Asha was awarded the medal. The strong and confident Asha proudly saluted the Indian flag as she received the honour. She was congratulated by many important men who attended the ceremony.
Later that evening, after a walk in the park, grandmother sat in the balcony looking at the moon. She did this every evening. In the moon she saw Asha – her Asha. And she went into the past for a moment, fifty years to be precise.
She was only eighteen years old when she was married into the rich family of landlords in Bibipur. A month after the marriage she conceived her first child. She was excited to tell her husband. He was as happy as he could be to hear the news.
The entire family celebrated the news and prayed that they’d have a son – a son who would carry forward the family name and business. She was scared – what if it was not a boy? So she shared her fear with her husband and told him that she did not want to give up the child if it were a girl.
Her husband remained silent – he brushed the thought away, and asked her not to worry. He held her close in his arms and consoled her silently. His touch made her stronger, and made her believe that he was on her side. He’d never do any harm to their child – their first one.
She decided, if she had a son she would call him Prakash and if she had a daughter, she would call her Asha. Although the family hoped and prayed for a son, she secretly desired to have a beautiful girl – her little Asha.
She imagined that she would have a lovely little daughter. A lovely daughter who’d have beautiful black hair. She imagined dressing the little one up in the prettiest saree with a beautiful bindi as the child played with her dolls.
At night she dreamt that she was calling out to her little girl who was running around her. “Asha! Naughty Asha, come to Maa. Come here. Let me look at you, let my eyes be full of you, Asha. My child, come here and let me hold you. Let me smell your long, black hair.”
She smiled in her sleep as the little girl kissed her and ran again. The child said “Maa, I am inside you. I am yours. A part of you. My heart has all the flowers in the world, just for you.”
“Come here Asha, I want to hold you. I want to smell your hair. Why do you run away?” she said as the little girl laughed out loud while she ran around her mother in circles.
After the nine beautiful months, Asha arrived – how lovely and divine she looked! But then she was taken away. “Don’t take her away from me.” She cried and cried, but nobody listened. Asha was wrapped in a cold wet cloth for two full days, and was then brought back to her mother as she breathed her last breath. Asha died of severe pneumonia.
The voices of her lost child kept coming back to her. “Why did you not save me, mother? I was helpless, but were you? How could you let them kill me?”
And for the next twenty eight years, her dead Asha kept asking her these questions to which she had no answers. She only begged for Asha’s forgiveness. Her silent heartache was in some ways her punishment.
But then, Asha gave her an opportunity of atonement. She came back, as the unborn daughter of her son. The moment she learnt that her son’s wife had conceived a girl, she knew it was Asha, and she had to protect her. She would not lose her again.
“Daadi, my brave daadi, what are you thinking out there?” Asha called out from inside.
Asha walked with her uniform and her new medal. She sat down and put the hat on her grandmother’s head with a naughty smile on her face. She then took out the medal and put it on grandmother’s lap. “This should be yours” she said, and walked up to go back into the house.
“Asha, my child, come here to me. I want to hold you” cried the old woman softly, looking at the moon.
This time Asha came and grandmother held her tight, close to her chest, smelling her long black hair, and wept.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Diya Aur Baati Hum
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Smruti Shanbhag was born and brought up in India.
She works full time as an
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