A One Night Stand

After going through innumerable arranged marriage bride-inspection sessions, Pallavi was tired of waiting for the proverbial knight in shining armour.

Decked in a heavy yellow Kanjivaram saree, when Pallavi entered the living room of her own house, carefully balancing the tray of sweets and savouries in her hands, she was already feeling like a clown in front of curious onlookers. Four pairs of eyes of the boy’s party followed her as she set the tray on the centre-table and managed to settle down on the sofa.

After the initial exchange of pleasantries, the boy’s mother abruptly asked, “So tell me Pallavi, are you willing to work after marriage or you would like to be a housewife?”

Pallavi stared in shock at the lady. “Of course I would work, aunty. Otherwise what’s the point of doing an M.Phil. in Chemistry!” she answered smugly.

Even her mother who was so keen on getting her married, was incensed at this thoughtless question.

The boy’s sister shoved a gulab-jamun into her mouth and after chewing it thoughtfully for a few seconds, asked, “What is all this on your face? Acne scars?”

Her mother blurted out, “You needn’t worry! It is curable. We’ve already consulted a dermatologist.”

Even with the most assiduous application of sandalwood paste and Multani mitti (fuller’s earth), Pallavi’s acne scars had persisted. But her mother’s intervention embarrassed her. What was the need to justify the acne scars? All these people could notice in her was these scars. They never appreciated her thick-lashed eyes sparkling with brilliance or her luxuriant, black hair reaching upto her waist. And wasn’t she more than her mere outward appearance?

“What is wrong with my acne scars now? I still look beautiful, don’t I?” she asked defiantly.

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The boy’s party was taken aback with this unexpected retort.

“Yes, sure,” the boy’s sister murmured.

Pallavi was already feeling uncomfortable in the heavy saree. Beads of perspiration lined her forehead. All she wanted was to change into her over-worn cotton pyjamas and curl up on the sofa.

All this while, the boy sat silently.

Beta, don’t you have any questions?” her mother asked ingratiatingly.

“No, aunty,” he mumbled.

They left saying that they would get back soon after consulting the astrologer for matching of the horoscopes. Her mother sent a silent prayer to the gods for the finalization of the match.

But the gods seemed oblivious to her prayers. The horoscopes didn’t match and the match fell flat.

***

Pallavi was now on the wrong side of thirty and this arranged marriage business had started to get on her nerves. She felt that she was doomed to spinsterhood forever. She pined for the ‘right man’ sans the ridiculous rigmarole of arranged marriage route and in the hope to find him, she started using a dating app.

Pallavi met Aditya via a dating app. The moment she laid her eyes on him, her mind wolf-whistled. He was the most gorgeous man she had ever met. Aditya’s witty banter and ready grin charmed her. They hit it off instantly.

When they met for the second time, she was already craving for his physical touch. His gaze made desire flare inside her. After a few rounds of drinks, when he held her hand, she didn’t pull away.

“Lets check into a hotel, Pallavi,” he whispered in a raspy voice which made her go weak in the knees.

She merely nodded in agreement.

“But first of all, let me make one thing clear. It’s just a hook-up. Don’t expect marriage or commitment from me. I get bored easily,” he gave out a small laugh.

After going through innumerable arranged marriage bride-inspection sessions, Pallavi was tired of waiting for the proverbial knight in shining armour. She, too, didn’t want to die a virgin and craved for physical intimacy.

What followed was a night of passionate love-making. But unfortunately and predictably, the second date never culminated into a third date.

***

Soon Pallavi landed a cushy job as an assistant teacher of Chemistry in a renowned public school in the outskirts of the city. The school was a residential one and owing to the difficulty of daily commute to and from the school, she soon shifted to the quarters allotted to her inside the school premises. The serene environment of the school made her full of bliss.

In the euphoria of settling into her new job and new life, she didn’t notice anything amiss till she skipped her period. She had always had an irregular cycle, so she didn’t suspect anything wrong. It didn’t occur to her that she might be pregnant until a full two months later. As she tracked that fateful one-night-stand, everything came back in a rush. She vividly remembered that Aditya hadn’t used protection that night and she, quite naïvely, hadn’t insisted on using protection. Moreover, she wasn’t on birth control and it never occurred to her to use the morning-after pill the following morning.

Her worst nightmares came true when two parallel pink lines on the pregnancy test stick confirmed her doubts. This came like a bolt from the blue. She had seen this in movies, but she couldn’t believe that something as momentous as getting pregnant could happen to her in real life, that too before marriage. The whole thing seemed surreal. She didn’t want to be a single mother. Though words like “pro-life” or “pro-choice” weren’t parts of her vocabulary, still continuing with the pregnancy was not an option at all. Rather, abortion seemed more of a necessity than a choice. She wept miserably for hours. She was afraid to share this terrible news with her parents or colleagues. Something must be done. She tried to pull herself together and booked an appointment with a gynaecologist the very next day. She was afraid of the doctor’s reaction. So she took appointment of a female gynaecologist hoping that she would be sensitive to her.

***

The bespectacled, middle-aged gynaecologist looked as prude as the starched cotton saree she was wearing. She made Pallavi go through an ultrasound first to confirm her pregnancy.

Then she asked her how long she had been married.

Pallavi dreaded this question. Lowering her eyes, she fiddled with the edge of her dupatta before muttering, “I’m not married, doctor. It was a one-night-stand. I’ve decided for an abortion.”

“Women of your generation are so reckless. I’d advise you to talk to the father of the child. Think of this pregnancy as an opportunity to settle down with that man.”, came the brusque reply.

Hot tears pricked her eyes. She tried to explain that marriage was not on the cards. She made an appointment for the abortion and fled from the clinic.

***

The anesthesia was slowly wearing off. And Pallavi was slowly drifting towards the edge of consciousness. There was a white-hot, searing pain in her womb, as if somebody had set her on fire. When she opened her heavy eyelids, she felt as if a veil had lifted before her eyes. She was utterly exhausted. She could see the prim gynaecologist in that room suffused with the smell of medicines and disinfectants.

“Doctor, is it successful?”, she managed to ask in a tired voice.

“Wait for the report.”, the doctor replied curtly.

Pallavi rested for a while before taking a taxi back to her quarter.

***

The report came after four excruciating days of waiting. Yes, the abortion procedure had been successful. But Pallavi slipped into a deep depression. She wasn’t worthy of being a mother. Perhaps God would never forgive her for this irredeemable sin.

***

After one year

Pallavi drew aside the curtains of the large French window of her room. Sunlight generously streamed through the window. Outside the teachers’ quarters, the bougainvillea tree was in full bloom.

She still shuddered whenever she thought of that godawful experience of going through an abortion. It took her many counselling sessions to recover from all that trauma and depression. Yet one positive outcome of that painful incident was that she learnt to take responsibility of her body completely. She still enjoyed sex as much as she did earlier, but gone was the callous attitude towards her body. She was full of gratitude towards the universe.

Author’s note: According to a report by the India Spend, in 2016 almost 10 million women in the country undergo a secret abortion each year. However our homes, educational institutions and public platforms remain silent about the conversations surrounding it. At the heart of the problem lies two integral reasons that go against the principles of Indian family values: either premarital sex or what is seen as a denial of life.

Editor’s note: Women regularly face #MedicalMisogyny from health care professionals. For the WHO World Health Day 2023 theme of ‘Health for All’, identifying this misogyny and ensuring #Equity in healthcare is essential. All of April, we will be sharing stories with you on this these, either personal stories or fiction. Find them all here.

Image source: Unsplash

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About the Author

Swagata Tarafdar

An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An avid reader. I try my hand at writing as and when ideas tussle inside my head. read more...

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