20 April 2012

Thanks Ma

It had been Murugan's idea. It was not a desire that he had ever discussed with her and he had not sought her opinion on it either. Instead, much unlike him, he started planting small subtle hints in their everyday conversation. They would be holding hands and he would comment that he wanted their child to have her fingers. Or while she sipped coconut water, he would look lovingly into her eyes, sigh, look heavenwards and as if in prayer, ask for their child to have her eyes. So strong was the psychological imprint of this approach that when she became pregnant, Rukmini had felt that it had been a plan all along. As she swelled, she had hoped that the baby would help their families reconcile with them. The elopement was a bitter development for both their families and their union had not been accepted. What had once been warm relationships for both of them with their mothers, had turned into meaningless acquaintances. Rukmini hoped a baby would change all that and more.

Murugan had been a caring husband: monitoring her diet and supplements, fussing about her clothes, and accompanying her on every visit to the doctor. Each day she would have to recount the number of eggs she consumed, or cups of milk she had drunk. If he felt that she was wavering from the prescribed diet she would find reminder notes: on the fridge, in her purse, sometimes even in the lunch box she took to work. Although Rukmini appreciated the thought behind the mollycoddling, she found it claustrophobic, and secretly wanted to deliver the child as soon as possible so that Murugan's attention could be focussed elsewhere.

The accident had happened when she was in her last trimester, about a month away from the predicted due date. She had been informed at work - two policemen had come to her office and taken her aside to the manager's cabin. Rukmini had received the news calmly, and till this day, she does not understand why she reacted the way she did. Considering that Murugan was the only family she had, she should have crumpled into a heap, immobile in distress and weeping inconsolably. Instead, at that time she accepted his death completely, not even holding on to the hope that they may have the wrong body.

She had called Murugan's mother after she had confirmed the identity of the body. The family had rallied around immediately and without a preamble, claimed Murugan for their own. Not only was Rukmini overlooked, her pregnancy was blatantly ignored. It was this denial, despite a clear distortion in her bony frame, that plummeted her into a silence. She could neither cry nor speak. Murugan's family used this as an excuse to exclude her from their collective grieving. They asked her to be absent at the public ceremonies that accompanied the last rites and wished for her to leave. Rukmini did not even consider informing her family.

Once home, her isolation was complete. She couldn't remember what she did with her time; she had no memory of eating, cleaning or sleeping. The days melted into one another: a dark continuum that seemed to stretch forever. It was an unexpected phone call from the doctor's office that had forced Rukmini to acknowledge the life within her. He had made the appointment, and they had called to reschedule. During that phase, Rukmini could not even bring herself to say his name.

The doctor's visit had been her first social interaction in weeks and it had been difficult. Finding her voice was an overwhelming and tiring task. Inane questions strangers asked her because she was pregnant had previously been an amusing irritation; now all she heard was a torturous high-pitched sound. It was easier to ignore them than ask her mind to find the energy to engage with it. The doctor had confirmed that she and the baby were in good health, and handed her checklists to prepare herself for labour. When Rukmini saw the strongly beating heart in the sonograph, she had finally allowed her mind to form the words to reflect her feelings: She did not want to give birth. She had wanted the the baby to go away, dissolve, and she along with it. 

The silence and numbness had continued. She still cannot recall how she managed to get to the hospital when the labour pains started. But she remembers the pain of labour and the incessant chatter that the woman sharing her labour room indulged in. Despite receiving no encouragement from Rukmini, she had blabbered on, taking a break only when a sharp contraction distracted her from thinking.

Rukmini had given birth to a healthy girl. When the nurse held the child up to her, she turned her face. She couldn't bear to look at the child or hold her, for she remained a memory from Rukmini's life with Murugan, which no longer existed. The staff was surprised. The doctor tried to cajole, matriarchal nurses were called in and finally a psychiatrist was summoned. Rukmini remained uncompromising; she could not explain herself and her acute involuntary silence compounded everyone's misery. Somehow the hospital had pieced together that her husband was dead and had tracked down her mother. It was she who concluded the entire affair.

The woman who had shared Rukmini's room had given birth to a still born child. To relieve her of breast milk, the hospital staff had handed her Rukmini's baby. Noticing how the woman held the baby, it was Rukmini's mother who suggested giving the child up for adoption. In Rukmini's state, she was incapable of taking care of the child and with the existing family dynamics, it would have been impossible for her mother to bring home Rukmini and the child. Rukmini, whose predominant thought was to be washed away at sea, had agreed without much thought. She wanted to leave the hospital, leave Murugan's memory and sleep, never to wake up again. Either sensing her desperation, or simply out of maternal instinct, her mother decided to take charge and nursed Rukmini to a living state. Her mother had also kept the child a secret from the rest of the family and took it to her grave.

It had been a slow recovery equally populated by bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts and nightmares. It took her months to just start talking and once she started, she felt like a flood unleashed. Only after she had exhausted her quota of self-pity, did she start thinking about what to do next. The bar was born then.

When Namrata had wailed about how unfair it was that she was adopted, Rukmini had thought about her daughter. She had realized much later in life that it was a choice. It was not good or bad. A choice that she made, perhaps she did not think it through, but in the state that she was in, it was possible that she wasn't well enough to anyway. In her depressed and suicidal state, and without family support, Rukmini thinks that she would have made a poor mother. But would her daughter understand that?

Author's Note:
This story has taken more than 5 weeks to come together mostly because the tone is rather sad and I am in quite a happy state-of-mind. Writing the piece was hard because I had to describe emotions I have not felt so acutely and also, because I have never been pregnant. Thus in terms of my evolution as a writer, this piece is significant. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Very poignant Megha! Its such a complex mix of emotions that I don't seem to be able to say more...
    Beautifully written, yet again.

    Love, Shoots :)

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