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It was her daughter, who had taught her to look for the beauty that was there, waiting to be found amidst the misery that seemed to surround them both.
The second winner of our April 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Shalini Mullick.
Priya was running late. She had hoped she would have time to freshen up before the meeting arrived; but it didn’t seem like that would be possible. Suhaani was in a playful mood and was taking unusually long in finishing her meal. A feeling of impatience came over her, then disappeared in a flash, as she saw her daughters twinkling eyes. She knew she could leave the meal to Renu di, but didn’t want to spoil the mood. Refreshing her lipstick could wait. She had anyways been so busy last few days, and they hadn’t seen enough of each other. She knew that was why Suhaani was playing, both with her food and her mother’s wispy hair.
Priya smiled when Suhaani finished her meal and attempted to wipe her face. She had spent so many days teaching this. The gleam of accomplishment that Suhaani had on her face, made her feel a sudden burst of pride; the kind that can come only from a mother’s heart.
As she received the visitor, Priya could hear Renu take Suhaani inside.
Having to adjust her work schedule according to Suhaani’s requirements, she had converted her small study into an office. It had been difficult initially with Suhaani finding her at home all day and wanting more attention, but they had finally been able to able to evolve a routine.
Her visitor represented a weekly magazine and wanted to discuss the recent amendments in the Medical termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971. This was an area she had worked consistently in after switching her domain from corporate law that she had majored in, to public interest litigation (PIL). This shift had been gruelling, both professionally as well as financially, especially in the initial days, but she had been instrumental in forming an especially strong and focused advocacy group.
“Would you please share some challenges you faced in this work? Managing home and work is a huge challenge for all of us women. And these developments could have kept you really busy.’’
Priya looked at the photo cube containing Suhaani’s pictures that she always kept on her desk.
“Yes, all of us face this struggle with managing time, life and priorities. As you know being a mom and juggling work is difficult but being a single mother has its own set of issues. But you move forwards, little by little. Each time you do things that you never thought you would, you become a little stronger, a little fiercer; that’s how it happens. And as life changes, you change and you learn to balance various things.”
“Priya, could you please tell us about this latest amendment in the act, which will now be tabled as a bill?”
“The Medical termination Act (1971) is the act which governs abortion in our country. Termination was permitted up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. This amendment extends the period to 24 weeks. This is very important as now better diagnostics modalities allow prenatal screening diagnosis of abnormalities or congenital disorders which are an indication for termination of pregnancy. This is also applicable to pregnancies arising in mentally challenged women or as a result of rape. The Act now allows termination of pregnancy due to contraceptive failure in unmarried women and their partners, not just married ones. Previously all these women needed to approach the courts for permission. This was a slow and draining process but the only alternative was to have unsafe and dangerous abortions.”
“You have been a very active proponent of these amendments. Do you feel this is a huge victory for you?”
Priya smiled “I think any victory or defeat is as huge as we allow it to become. Yes, this is major step; one that many people have constantly advocated for; and we must recognize it as an achievement. But it is the beginning and we must consolidate our efforts to bring about more progressive changes in the time to come.
It has recognized many facets and dilemmas that women face, especially those already at the periphery of our sometimes myopic social mind set. It will give these women what is simply their right, access to a safe abortion.”
“So these amendments will decrease the risks that these women are exposed to in the unsafe abortions they are forced to seek?”
“Yes, it is definitely a significant step in reproductive health. But for me there is another aspect that is especially heartening. It empowers the women by giving them choice”
“Yes. At each step in my life, I realized how little choice we have in how we women lead our lives. Even though I belonged to an educated, socially upward family, most of my life seemed to be designed by other people’s, usually men’s, viewpoints. We seem to be living according to a timeline that isn’t ours.
My options in higher education were decided by my parents who felt that a master’s degree would help in finding a suitable matrimonial match. When I persisted with law as my chosen career, they gave in; but suggested corporate law as it had better prospects in larger cities. I didn’t even stop to think if these were my decisions or someone else’s. Then I got married, because that was what was expected of a woman of my age, and the lack of choice was replaced by control, masquerading as concern. Thoughtful in-laws ‘allowed me’ to work, but as long as home was not compromised. Again, no one stopped to ask me if and how I wanted to balance those. Starting a family soon after marriage was considered a rite of passage, never mind that I had just started a new project at work.
The news of being in the family way was again responded to by directives pretending to be suggestions. And it wasn’t just the big stuff like having to leave my job to look after the baby, and having my in-laws move in with me. Even for the small stuff like choosing a maternity centre, being sent to my mother’s home for the delivery, no one asked me what I wanted. How would I have liked to do it? It was just assumed that whatever the others decided for me would be acceptable to me. It was strange to face the fact that that like so many others in this country, I was educated and informed , yet wasn’t empowered enough to make my own choices. The disturbing truth was that every time, I would voice my thoughts and participate in making choices that would affect me; it was seen as a rebellion. The final straw was the ante natal gender determination test when I was pregnant with Suhaani which I refused to go in for. Finally when Suhaani was born, for the first time I was given a choice. And, an extremely difficult one at that. I was told if I agreed to abandon her and give her up for adoption, my husband’s family would accept me back. All hell broke loose when I chose my daughter, as everyone had expected me to accept the decision they were taking on my behalf.
Life was difficult, as my ex husband had left no stone unturned to do so, from blaming me for breaking the marriage to depriving me of my own hard earned money. But I was beginning to understand the power of the choices I was making and the conviction that came from listening to my own self. I filed for a divorce, moved to a house near my mother’s, and reviented my career.
I realised that many women faced similar struggles.
Out of all the changes in a woman’s life, the choice of whether or not she wants to be a mother and when she wants to do it is one of the biggest ones. It is one of the most transforming events and a woman deserves to make the choice of her own volition and not have it thrust on her. It will be a huge step forward that women will be able to make informed decisions about their motherhood. These amendments to the MTP Act enable women to participate in making decisions that affect them the most. After all they are the stakeholders for all these decisions and their consequences.”
The timer on her phone went off reminding her that it was time for Renu to attend to the household chores. She would take Suhaani out to the park.
“Please do share a copy of the interview with me when it is published”, Priya said as she closed the door and turned to find Renu with Suhaani’s bag and large ball.
Suhaani was beaming at the prospect of being outdoors. Like all kids, Suhaani loved the outdoors and the shiny swings were her favorite. As they walked to the neighboring park, she held Suhaani’s hand to ensure she kept her balance and didn’t stumble.
They had reached the park and Suhaani was excited to see the swings as well as other kids. Just a few days back, Priya had stopped taking her in her lap and swinging with her and would let Suhaani try and balance alone. Suhaani loved it. The breeze on her face, the abandon of the moving swing made her feel free and she began to squeal loudly. Priya smiled; the joys of hearing your child happy were truly unparalleled. Seeing Suhaani had been grasping the swing rope well, she wondered if she should try the jungle gym also. Her balance and coordination were improving with the physiotherapy exercises, as she had hoped. As she saw Suhaani swing higher, she laughed, thinking about the last question from today’s interview.
“If you don’t mind, can I ask you a sensitive question? Have you ever wondered that maybe, if these changes had existed previously, you would have done things differently? I mean, about Suhaani….”
That was the easiest question. No. She definitely wouldn’t have.
She couldn’t imagine a day in her life without Suhaani.
Rejected by her father and his family for being a girl child and that too born with Down’s syndrome, her daughter was everything to her.
The little girl, a fighter throughout, had refused to be defined by her delayed milestones, and had charted her own path and scripted her mother’s journey. Suhaani’s smiles even at the end of the most difficult days, her continuous efforts with the simplest of tasks would bring Priya out of her despair.
That was what had given her the courage to go on when everything around her seemed to be uncertain. It was her daughter, who had taught her to look for the beauty that was there, waiting to be found amidst the misery that seemed to surround them both. Even though she couldn’t speak, Suhaani had ensured that Priya began to cherish whatever positivity and hope she could find, and summon her strength to go on. When Suhaani was ridiculed by kids in the park, but had begun to innocently laugh along with those who were laughing at her; it was a reminder for Priya that all that mattered was how we responded to the challenges that life brought.
Suhaani, who finally learnt to balance on a swing at 9 years of age, had taught her to accept and appreciate life and celebrate the goodness in it. Her gentleness and unconditional love made Priya feel light and unburdened enough to finally live out her choices.
That was how, weaving in the happiness of their moments and weeding out their pain and sorrow, she had carefully crafted this lovely life for both of them.
Editor’s note: If she had survived the Holocaust, and lived to this day, Anne Frank would have been 91 years old, on the 12th of June, 2020. Would she have realized her dream of becoming a published writer? Maybe. Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of the most riveting pieces of non-fiction literary work we have. What makes it so compelling is the fact that the writer was just an ordinary girl in her teens, writing about the ordinary things of everyday life in extraordinary circumstances and died at sixteen.
In July 1942, Anne’s family, along with some of their friends, went into hiding from the Nazi persecution of the Jews. They remained hidden in the Secret Annexe (as Anne calls their hiding place in a hidden area of her father’s office building). They were helped from the outside by loyal non-Jew friends, who kept them supplied with food, essentials and news. Sounds so much like the lockdown we’re in right? Except it was much worse – they were discovered in August 1944 and taken to a Nazi concentration camp.
Anne’s diary has its last entry on 1st August 1944. In the 2-odd years that they remained hidden, she wrote all her thoughts and experiences – the good, bad, and the ugly – in a diary that she received for her 13th birthday, from her father, Otto Frank. Miep Gies, the lady who was one of their helpers, found the diary along with other papers after their arrest, kept it safe, and handed it over to Otto, who returned after the war as the only survivor.
So much of what she writes is about hope for a better life ahead, “after all this is over”. Hope, to slightly misquote Emily Dickinson, is the thing with feathers living in every heart. Let’s look beyond this stressful time, shall we?
The cue is this quote by her: “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
Shalini Mullick wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock
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