My Baby Girl The anguish of the mother of a daughter with a newborn daughter. By Dr Rama Gupta

When Neelu came to meet her parents in Panchkula in January, she was pregnant and looked broad. Otherwise sne was of small build, brown eyed and dark haired like her mother Uma. Her face was round and fair. She was a quiet child with eyes that seemed to listen. She was most conscious of what other people feel, particularly her mother. Uma adored her and she was always attentive to her. One evening when they were walking around the park, Uma told her, “Neelu, it would be great if you stay here for your delivery. Meerut does not have good medical facilities. The Chakravati nursing home at Panchkula is reputed and its gynaecologist Dr Suman is also capable…”

Interrupting her in mid-sentence Neelu said, “Mama, why don’t you speak to my mother-in-law?” Uma wanted to say, Why?

Do you really have any serious problem asking her? But Uma said quickly, “I will do.” And wondered when Neelu would decide for herself. It would be better if she called her husband Rakesh as he was the most sensible person in that business family. As Uma waited for his reply, her mind flashed back to that Sunday evening.

Uma recollected it was a bright and beautiful day. Rakesh’s family had come to see Neelu. Neelu was about 25 years of age; no good match was coming her way.

And that day Neelu was in a hurry to approve of Rakesh, the first boy who had said “Yes”. Uma implored her, “Neelu, don’t take a hasty decision. You will miss out the best that life has yet to offer you. Take your time to think about it. We have worked and worked so that you could have a better future.”

But Neelu said quickly in contempt, “Wait? What I wait for can never come.” Her voice rang with defiance, her eyes full of reproach. Her “yes” was actually more of a surrender to her fate by one too tired to wait any more.

It was but natural for parents to be upset when their children ignored their advice. The saner voice within Uma said that her daughter had the right to choose the kind of life she wanted to lead. Still forlornness descended on Uma like a shroud then
and she hoped it to lift when she would visit Nee . at her in-laws’ house in Meerut.

Seeing Uma in her house, Neelu exclaimed “What a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see you s: soon.” Holding Neelu tightly in her arms Uma sc :

“I missed you. Are you all right?” And noticed the Neelu’s face had become more thoughtful, more solemn than what it was at Panchkula. After a • e Uma whispered to Neelu gently, “I have been meaning to ask you something. See, you are loot *c| so pale. Are you happy?” she asked struggling keep the misery out of ner voice. Neelu understo:: that her mother needed to see her happily settle: Looking into Uma’s eyes but speaking from a distance almost beyond the memory of hurt or anger, Neelu said, “Don’t worry, mom. I am jus* fine. It is so much easier to be happy t what I have.”

Uma really wanted to believe wha* Neelu was saying but she needed no 3 =~ sense to discern when the signs were □! over for her to see otherwise. She sc ••• ~ : Neelu had turned into a calm, pensive bahu with a demeanour that to Uma seemed appropriate for a dutiful da.:‘ = in-law. She marvelled at her manner c_ speech, her action, the way she wore had long plait instead of short hair. Nee was making efforts to do all the dec- -: and cooking. Though there were complaints that vegetables were too s: ~ too greasy or too bland for taste and ~e floors were either too wet or too uncie: – she didn’t say anything.

ma wanted to ask Neelu, How do you dc ~ i every day? How quietly you endure all ~ : Doesn’t it drive you crazy? But Uma did r :r say anything. It was Neelu’s life, she thought, c: she was trying to get ahead with it. What wor- e: Uma was that Neelu was not doing those nor”: things that she always did before her marriage : didn’t read as there were no English magazine: their house; never spoke in English as it offence: w. Hindi-speaking relatives; and watched only H serials which everyone else did in their family – enthusiasm for English music had also died dov.-

She didn’t step out of the house even to go for walks. Uma remembered how Neelu used to throw tantrums when her demands were not met, got her father to buy her English videos when she was back at home in Panchkula. Her time with her parents always felt natural, effortless, uncomplicated by differences and grudges or spites that infected the air at her in-laws.

And Uma remembered how they made small, harmless jokes at each other’s expense over meals and conversation always flowed. There were no arguments, no open discussions and no loud laughter any more. And Neelu made no demands on Fife and would never let others know that she too had sorrows, disappointments and that her dreams had been shattered. Uma realised how hard it was for her to do all this. Uma asked herself if it was not natural for a mother to know whether her daughter’s relations with her in-laws were cordial, strained or neutral. Had her marriage, their family and time changed her, or was she making concessions to her marriage in order to sail through life smoothly? Neelu wouldn’t say anything about them. Uma had no other means of knowing the truth. It had got Uma worried.

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ma was feeling an odd sense of compulsion that day. There was something she must do. Yes, she must call Rakesh to know their decision. Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone. Who could be at this hour? she thought. The phone rang more than a dozen times before she answered.

“Hello? Mama, are you there?” said Rakesh’s voice.

“Yes, yes,” she said trying to pull herself together. “Rakesh here. Fine mama, fine. Well, I spoke to my parents and grandmother.”

“What did they say?” Uma asked.

“They are fine with Neelu staying with you for delivery.”     ?

“It is good to hear that. Thank you,” Uma put down the phone and heaved a sigh of relief.

Neelu appeared from the inside room. Umc *: : her quitkly, “I talked to Rakesh, they have no objection.”

“Are you sure?” Neelu asked in surprise.

“Of course,” Uma said.

“Well. That is absolutely amazing,” said Nee . and her face lit up and she nodded her head slightly. She looked pleased. She also the cha-:e But Uma was surprised at her grandmother consenting to Neelu’s stay with her Panchkula _ – : recalled her conversation with Rakesh’s grand: t» when she was in Meerut for the delivery of the * r child, Abha. Her grandmother-in-law had told L~ : “We don’t send bahus to their parents for chi ~ I have all my grandchildren delivered in my presence in my own house.”

Now, Neelu was with her mother for her de – But she had become quite reserved and had re;: to excessive TV viewing. Last night after puttin; Abha to bed, Neelu came to view her favourite serial in her mother’s room. Uma knew that it : not a good time to talk but between the serial couldn’t help asking Neelu about her pregnar: “Neelu, weren’t you using copper tee? How d : conceive?” Neelu said nothing and Uma also : press the question.

After a long pause, Neelu blurted out wha‘ *;: actually happened.

“Mama, for the last one year my grandmof e law was telling my mother-in-law, ‘Subha, whcr you waiting for? Why don’t you tell Rakesh to complete his family? Now he has Abha and she three years old. It is the right time to plan for re second child.’ My mother-in-law told her, ‘The. not planning the family so soon. You know, R has just started a small business. Let him settle in his new work in Bangalore. You have see- what happened to Neelu. She virtual ■ collapsed after her first baby. She : weak to bear another child.'”

However, in September, the grandmother-in-law took Subha cri Neelu with her to visit the Bala T’ : r shrine and they all stayed with Ra* e Bangalore after visiting it. She be e that this time, with the blessing of E: Triputi, the child would surely be a Neelu wished they would not hitcr hopes to it being a boy and their expectations weighed heavily on -e Time and again Uma thought of Neelu told her yesterday about this pre’e for a male child. “Well, yes, she is right. – culture it doesn’t really matter which part of “: .

you are from, this desire for a male child cuts across all castes also.” The rest of the days passed uneventfully but happily — leisurely breakfast in the morning, meals at home, sometimes late dinner in the army club after tambola, visits to Chandigarh for shopping and evenings spent listening to music or walking in the park surrounded by children and babies in prams and their chattering mothers.

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eelu came in January and it was May when she was finally in Chakravati Nursing home for delivery. And the nurse, a rather young woman of 20 came and announced coldly. “Well, it is baby girl. Uma followed her into the labour room with the clothes of the baby. Leaving the newborn baby in Lima’s lap, they wheeled Neelu into the room without even saying congratulations. Neelu’s eyes were closed; she seemed to be in a state of shock.

“Neelu, congratulations,” said Uma, her face clearly showing the elation which rose within her. Uma held her hand and stroked Neelu’s forehead. After a while Neelu opened her eyes but looked bitterly disappointed. Her face quivered as she looked at her mother. Seeing something through and beyond her, Neelu asked her mother, “Did you tell my mother-in-law? What did she say? They were sure that it would be a boy.”

“Don’t worry, I will tell every one,” said Uma.

Uma sent SMSs to everyone.

In no time Renu, Sushma, Rajani, Asha, Praveen and many other friends came to the hospital with gifts. “Congratulations, Neelu.” “Thank you, aunty.” “Neelu, cheer up. Nowadays there is no difference between boys and girls.”

Uma expected them to congratulate her with a hug. She wanted them to ask, Uma, when are you celebrating her birthday? Where is our party? Ladoos won’t do. Nothing of that sort happened, Uma was upset. Sometimes, what people say upsets you and sometimes what they don’t say also upsets you.

But Uma was hiding her feelings and struggling not to express her strange sense of outrage at their remarks. ‘They are my friends with whom I spend most of my time every day. Why are they asking Neelu to be cheerful when they are feigning happiness?,’ she said to herself. For the first time she understood that they only pretended to be modern by speaking impeccable English, but in reality their conservative nature was deep-rooted. Even the tones of congratulations were low, subdued, that told a different story.

Hiding her disappointment Uma said in pleasant voice. “It has been a pleasure to have you here so soon.”

They grinned, she hugged them. They talked politely. Uma was busy gazing at them. She ve deferentially but without understanding. Strarge . enough, she was enjoying little of what they we’r saying. Rather, she was attentive to the delirious cacophony that busted upon her from the other room. And she peered into other rooms and witnessed families eating sweets on the birth of i baby boy and heard them chatting excitedly, laughing amidst noisy and animated conversa* : – But nothing like that was happening in her rocThis killed her efforts at fine conversation.

She didn’t want to hurt those whom she lover only thanked them for their visit. “Please let us l’ if there is anything we can do for you,” they as- sz out of courtesy before leaving the clinic.

“I will surely do that,” Uma said and could breathe freely only when they were out of the r Neelu followed her gaze to the baby in the c’; her eyes also showed hatred for their false sentiments. She didn’t seem to like their remark; either, thought Uma. After a minute or so Nee . asked hesitantly, “Are the girls so unequal in ou society?” Without waiting for an answer she continued, “It is usual for the ayahs and sweepev come for baksheesh. When they didn’t come, • had to call them. Mama, did you hear what the. said pocketing the tips? ‘If it were a boy we wc. : have asked for it. There was no need for that. Mama, you noticed papa didn’t like it either as ‘; had kept enough money in change for giving the Uma kept quiet but warmth radiated through heeyes.

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hey brought the baby home, neighbours v = them, repeated the benefits of having a c child as if to console them on the birth of baby girl in the family. One neighbour even narrated, “Uma, you know Puneet Verma has t- his parents out and rented out that annexe they living in. Now Malika has brought them to live » t» her at Panchkula. What a shame on boys!” Arc Sharan narrated what she had read in the newspaper that day. It was getting very difficul* Uma to listen to this girl-child thing but she was keeping her cool as Neelu’s mother-in-law Subf: had come.

One day Uma was making preparations for chathi in the puja room when Subha came to the room and said sarcastically, “Chathi puja is dc_e only for boys.” Even after seeing the hurt in Um: eyes, she said, “I am surprised how Neelu got c daughter though we had given her sex selection medicine. My elder sister-in-law also gave the medicine to her daughter-in-law and she gave c to a baby boy.” Uma was taken aback.

Human reactions are so unpredictable and

difficult to handle. Uma had taken the flak from others calmly but she could not bear Neelu’s mother- in-law’s remarks. They were making her angrier and angrier. However, some things become clearer after a lapse of time. After a while, when Uma could see things in their true sense she understood that this simple woman of a small town shared the same biases of modern urban middle class educated women against the baby girl. She no longer expected any understanding from her mother-in-law while her own friends failed to show that.

t was not easy to keep silent. Mothers instinctively sense when their daughters are not happy but they buy excuses and pretend that everything is

Uma was no different. She had felt things those past few days that she had never felt before.

After her mother-in-law left for Meerut, Uma went to Neelu’s room. Locking her arms tightly around her neck, she said in a disconcerted tone, “Now I understand why these people who denied you your honeymoon, had taken you for this trip to Mysore and Triputi.” For the first time since her marriage, Neelu cried bitterly and through her sobs said, “Mama, I have no idea what I have got myself into but I am feeling exhausted,” and at once became quiet.

Neelu rested her baby’s head on her arm and for the first time had a really close look at the baby, her dark hair, thick lashed brown eyes, dimples on her red cheeks. Her love came up hot, in spite of everything; this child seemed to draw her innermost

 

resentment out of her. Neelu held her close to he’ breast. With all her force, with all her soul, she would make up to her for having brought her the world, 4\leelu thought. Looking at Neelu smi -: at her child, Uma had a glimpse of the mother T-e-e would be — a mother who would stand like a : shaping her daughter’s future. There was some” -: deep in her core that neither her in-laws no sodewould be able to break. This budding of her motherly love embedded in the earthly pain wo. : be Ashatha’s salvation one day, Uma thought c: caught Neelu’s eyes drifting again and again rc ~n child sleeping in her arms. When the child at :r sank in her arms; Neelu put her to bed and dromes off at about midnight.

When Neelu got up, Uma sensed from her tc’e that she was displeased about something. V\ he~ – her husband forgot to call her or what happens: zn chathi day bothering her, Uma couldn’t tell.

Neelu stopped and turned to her mother unfczas “What were you talking about motherhood lar night? It is the greatest experience a woman he: t is sheer nonsense, mom. You don’t know anytr -: about this, mom,” Neelu said, her anger rising. I : not Uma think there was no anger in her daue’e There was a time when Uma would have riser *: such remarks and got irritated but that was yecr: ago, before Neelu’s marriage.

“Well,” Uma said, despair choking her worc: her eyes wet with tears.

eelu looked her in the eyes and said, : :: a don’t look so miserable, mama. I need *c ■= j you the cruel truth today. Nobody not e-s* you, mom, bothered to notice how I was unde­pressure during the months of pregnancy, hov. lived in fear of their shifting moods, their temperament, their taunts about my inability fc r. * the house on my own, how I coped with the fc~ what adjustments I had to make and now afte- ~e delivery, this girl issue.” Neelu continued, “Yc. : not prepare me for this. Mom, you never did. ‘ unfair, mom. All those years I was alone and >:. did not care what I thought and how I lived. N: suddenly, what right have you got to talk abo.’ gender inequality when you failed to pay eqic attention to me — your second daughter? W”: : terrible thing it was for me to know that my mc*=r doesn’t love me and to suffer the pain of not ce -: loved. Why did you have me, when you have : – all your love to other children? What an unna. : thing for a mother! Being an average girl in a of two other intelligent siblings, I suppressed ~ : urge a long time back to say anything about r ■ Now I am not sure if this was right,” her word: :zn clear and ringing.

When Neelu finished speaking, her heart was pounding and her mouth was parched. It took Uma a moment to register what Neelu had just said.

Neelu had never before spoken in that manner. After a while, Uma leaned forward and said, “I can’t understand why you talk like that.” She touched her shoulder but Neelu flinched and drew away. Uma dropped her hand too.

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here was in Uma’s eyes a look of disbelief that lasted for a moment or two, before it was replaced by shock. Uma’s lips trembled, her face broke into a frown and she buried her face in her hands, dread filled her chest, ripping something from her. Uma was too stunned to understand Neelu’s boldness and then her look of apprehension turned into anger. It was not her daughter’s face she saw but a face of unspoken grievances that found a target to focus all her simmering anger on and Uma saw no trace of respect in Neelu’s eyes for her.

Uma sighed and slumped in her chair.

She remembered how she had shaped her entire life round this thankless task of bringing up Neelu and in her own way, of loving her. And this was the reward for everything she had endured. Uma made an effort to open her mouth to say to Neelu,

You are such a huge part of my life. We have seen each other pass through both good times and bad. I will never stop loving you. Please don’t taint my job of this baby. But she said nothing.

Sne knew that children these days blame the parents if something went amiss in their life but never give a thought to all the sacrifices, all the self- denial and all the trouble they endure in bringing them up. No matter what Uma did to please them, no matter how thoroughly she fulfilled all their demands, it was not enough. Neelu was now a mother, Uma said to herself. How strange she was unable to see the sacrifices her own mother had to make for all these years. At that time she saw Neelu coming with her husband towards her before leaving for Meerut. There was no locking of her arms around Uma’s neck, no tears, no smiles and no whispered promises of her coming soon.

Uma’s eyes threatened to well up and she knew how hard she was struggling to be brave. Her knees weakened, Uma wanted to reach for Neelu’s arm, her shoulder, something to lean on. But she did not; she stood perfectly still and looked at Neelu. In silence Neelu left with that unforgiving look in her eyes.

As Uma watched them walking away, a shudder passed through her, a current of something sad and and forlorn and she looked shaken. Even then Uma

wished she could see Neelu and wished to hec _e sound of her daughter’s laugh again. She wis-e: Neelu to Yisit her with her husband to see Ash;- : growing up. She would have liked that very mua t be old and play with them. She feared she wot : never see her again and would never play with Neelu’s grandchildren.

Now all sorts of questions raced through her mind. Had she been a complacent mother, she asked herself. Had she been such a dreadful r:~e unmindful of the pain of Neelu? Had she taker :. her guilt of having the second girl, Neelu, anc —e– tried to forget it all? What harmful things had s*e unwillingly done to this daughter that she was -;■* forgiven? These unanswered questions and the silence were all too painful for Uma. There we-e days when Uma believed she was being punis’e: for what she had done to Neelu and $*e could not forgive herself. She had la.g-e: at her friends and now she was one ■: was under the microscope of her da.: – – she was the one to prove her mother -::

In the darkness of her room, she la> awake with the demons of her own be no courage to confront them and live -e again. The mere thought of resuming -er old pattern of life seemed so exhaus* -: tc Uma. She had to make enormous effc~ Ml get out of bed, to do the laundry, to ~: i* meals and she found it difficult to slee: : nights. On other days a voice inside *e tried to soothe her with consolation t-r- A is very complicated to understand bi- – goes on moving forward, unmindful c* these crises. Mechanically, Uma would go ove- : *: over on this scene. She feared she might lose -e nerve if she let her mind wander.

ne day, when Uma got up in the mornirc there was a message from Aruna, her be-: in Mumbai on the cellphone, a card fro” •- brother in Europe. The phone rang, Uma picke: r and heard the voice of her son. Lucky, who wc: calling from the USA, “Mama, I was trying to -ecd| you for so many days, but you were not picking – phone. Are you all right?” Questions of how she was were met with vague but cheerless replies “Doing fine, I am fine. Yes, I am. Yes, Neelu he: gone. I will move on. Oh, I will be fine,” said – _ to Lucky, laughing nervously, to fill the melanc: with aimless banter. By instinct she kept the pr:*i clasped to her ear long after Lucky had hung uc and looked at her house. When Uma found the house empty, her disquiet heart began to bea- quickly and her mind got lost in their childhood memories.

have a fabulous blow-out that was attended by bold-faced American names like Bill Clinton, the model Patricia Velasquez and a coterie of Indian dignitaries and the spiritual guru Dr Deepak Chopra.

In course of conducting lavish weddings, a huge amount of money is pumped into the economy through demand for products and services: a caterer, decorator, florist, jeweller, beautician or henna artist would make enough money to increase employment and spending substantially, boosting demand and supply. Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and Catherina Zeta-Jones might have set a precedent – of celebrity to-be-weds cashing in on their popularity to make a quick buck – when they sold exclusive reporting rights to a chosen publication. More recently, Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar sold publicity rights to a magazine when they got married in lavish style in Jodhpur.

So, getting hitched, hopefully for life, has never been a simple business with us Indians who love spending lavishly on the once-in-a- lifetime affair – a wedding. While the super-rich in India have always seen marriage as the perfect occasion to show off their wealth, today, the middle-class too are going for ostentatious weddings.

A lavish marriage celebration in India could run up a bill of more than a crore of rupees, depending on the scale and specifics. There are add­ons like the purchase of fine silks and designer garments, accessories and gifts, guest accommodation in hotels, transport arrangements and more. The great Indian wedding tamasha is getting bigger. It’s no longer about splendid decorations or huge amounts of dowry. It’s also about locales now. The more bizarre, the better. And that’s what upper middle- class Indians are splurging in.

Marriages in seven-star hotels and magnificent farmhouses are passe. Now they chug along in trains or are conducted on hilltops, isolated island or in floating pandals in the middle of shimmering lakes. Quite the stuff of dreams, isn’t it? Just be prepared to pay anything between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 5 crore.