A Matter Of Life And Death

At night when she would cry into her pillows, 21 year old Vishnu would bring  flowers and bangles to bring the smile back on her face. The sight of tears in his beautiful bride's eyes would break his heart.

At night when she would cry into her pillows, 21 year old Vishnu would bring  flowers and bangles to bring the smile back on her face. The sight of tears in his beautiful bride’s eyes would break his heart.

The first winner of our January 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Manideepa Lahiri.

“This is not fair. You always take the window seat.” Vishnu complained.

“That’s only because you are afraid of heights, old man!” Laxmi retorted.

As Vishnu opened his mouth to counteract his wife’s accusations, his eyes went to the well dressed fiftyish gentleman sitting besides him. He was listening to their squabble and seemed to be enjoying it too.

Vishnu smiled at him apologetically and said, “Sorry about that. Hope we are not disturbing you.”

The man smiled widely at him. “Not at all. I often see people fighting over the window seat.” He chuckled and continued, “Especially in a plane. No one wants to miss the aerial view.”

He then shook hands with Vishnu and asked him conversationally, “So where are you going to?”

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“To my daughter’s place. Our grand daughter is going abroad for further studies. We are going to see her off.”

Vishnu’s chest swelled with pride as he declared this.

“That’s nice. How many children do you have?”

“Two girls.”

The gentleman now looked at the elderly man with surprise. “Just two? Well, couples from your generation had a lot more children. I, myself am the youngest of ten siblings.”

Laxmi, who until now had been listening silently to the conversation now gazed at her husband. Vishnu smiled sheepishly at her and she turned to look outside.

As the plane took off, so did her thoughts. She was married off at the tender age of 13 to the eldest son of the Choudhary family. The Choudharys were quite famous in the small village. Not because of their wealth (infact far from it) but for the huge clan they made. It was a joke amongst the villagers that you were sure to find a Choudhary in every nook and corner of the village. Every man in the family had no less than 10 children.

As a new bride, Laxmi had a hard time finding her feet. The household chores seemed never ending. She often forgot the names of the family members and thereby their relationships. For this, she was often scolded by the elders. At night when she would cry into her pillows, 21 year old Vishnu would bring  flowers and bangles to bring the smile back on her face. The sight of tears in his beautiful bride’s eyes would break his heart.

A year later, Laxmi gave birth to her oldest daughter. Her fourteen year old body was not yet ready for the ordeal. It left Laxmi torn and weak.

Laxmi sighed as she remembered those early days when she had to manage her baby single handedly inspite of being sick. Her request for help was answered with, “We all did the same. You are not the first one to become a mother.”

Two years later she again became a mother. To yet another girl. It was too much for the Choudhurys. She was threatened to produce a male heir or leave.

But Laxmi had already had enough. Running after the toddler alongwith feeding and caring for her newborn was taking a toll on her body. Moreover, the doctor had specifically asked her not to bear another child. It would then be a matter of life and death for her.

As Laxmi looked at the sleeping form of her children, her eyes brimmed with tears. What would happen to her girls if she died? No, she wouldn’t fail them.

That night, Laxmi decided what she wanted in her life. She called her husband and downright refused to have any more children. Vishnu dreaded his wife’s decision but knew in his heart that she was right. Moreover, he couldn’t bear to live away from his wife and daughters.

“Lunch for you mam.”

Laxmi started. The airhostess smiled at her politely and served her a tray. She glanced at her husband. He was busy chatting with the gentleman.

Laxmi took a spoonful of rice and looked outside. The aeroplane was roaring its way amongst the clouds. Her decision too was met with lots of denial, protest and threats. But Laxmi didn’t budge nor did she leave the house. She bore everything silently while focusing on her children’s upbringing.

As soon as they were of school going age, Laxmi got them admitted to a school much against the wishes of her family.

She still remembered that fateful day. She had gone to pick up her daughters from school. When she returned, she saw the huge iron door of her house closed. No amount of banging or shouting could open it. Wearily, she had sat outside the house with her hungry children in tow. When Vishnu returned late at night, his blood boiled at the sight of his hungry and exhausted family. That day, Vishnu rebelled. He threatened to leave the house too. The Choudharys were forced to relent.

After that things started changing slowly not only for Laxmi and her girls but for the entire Choudhary clan as well. The other parents of the family too started sending their daughters to school. Moreover, the younger couples wisely decided to follow in Laxmi’s footsteps and bore only a child or two. With lesser mouths to feed, the finances of the family started to improve and soon the old ancestral house got a fresh coat of paint and much needed repairs. The villagers were awestruck.

As years passed, Laxmi’s girls stepped outside their small village and went to study, work and finally get married in big cities. The rest of the children in the family followed suit.

Laxmi took out a betel leaf from her handbag and started chewing. She was extremely fond of them and always stocked them in her bag. She closed her eyes in pleasure and smiled contentedly.

Gudiya, her granddaughter was going abroad. The seed Laxmi had planted years ago was finally bearing fruits. She couldn’t be happier. The world would be such a beautiful place if only the woman decided what she wanted for herself.

As the plane started its descent, Vishnu gripped her hands in his. He gazed into her eyes and whispered, “Hadn’t it been for you, I wouldn’t have been a proud grandfather today.”

Editor’s note: It’s the new decade of the new millennium, and here’s a fresh theme for our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month. In 2020, we bring to you quotes feminist women achievers around the world – we hope to bring you some food for thought, and look forward to the same engaging short stories that are a hallmark of our Muse of the Month contests.

Here’s the woman for January 2020 – sassy, bold, clear in her vision about what she wanted from life, an unconventional Indian woman who broke all rules about the ‘good Indian girl’, Sushmita Sen came into the limelight when she was crowned Miss Universe 1994. She then went on to do modelling assignments and films, but is better known for her life choices – be it adopting her two daughters as a single woman, being unapologetic about openly being in a relationship with a much younger man, or her dignified way of dealing with all that life threw at her. The cue is this quote by her: “The world would be a better place if the woman decides what she wants for herself!”

Manideepa Lahiri wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: shutterstock


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