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Mangala Rao |
January 12, 2004 14:06 IST
As soon as I got to work, I opened my email, scanning the new mails for one from my sister, Chikki. She wrote to me everyday and I always looked forward to her chatty missives, filled with everyday news about what she had made for dinner, etc. Ever since she and her husband, my Bhava (brother-in-law), had bought a new house, she seemed to have blossomed. She enjoyed keeping house and cooking, in addition to working full time.
Chikki had been married for three years and had moved to Mumbai from Bangalore. She got used to Mumbai's fast pace within no time, adapting to it as if she was a born Mumbai-ite. I saw two mails from her in my Inbox and ignored them, as I read all the other mails -- work-related ones and mails from friends. I kept her mail till the end so I could enjoy it at leisure. After an hour or so, I opened the first one and saw it was just a single-liner: 'This is just a short mail to announce the arrival of your niece/nephew in April.'
I read that one line over and over again and felt the joy bubbling within me. I wanted to do something crazy, to sing and dance and waltz right there in the austere environs of my office. Instead, I just sat on my chair, grinning foolishly and wiping tears of joy.
I called my husband immediately to share the good news with him. He too was very happy for her. I couldn't wait to get back home so I could call and congratulate her. Then I realised I could not wait that long, so I bought a calling card and called her from work. Given the time difference between the US and India, I knew she would be back from work.
Both Chikki and Bhava were so happy. Over the phone, Chikki sounded like she had just won a jackpot! She had been expecting my call, knowing I wouldn't be able to wait till the end of the day to speak to her.
I nominated myself as her chief advisor, since I was not just older; I was also a veteran mother of an 18-month-old bundle of joy. We had just spent time with the entire family -- parents, in-laws and sister -- on our vacation to India a couple of months ago. Niece and aunt had bonded really well. Now Chikki was to have a little treasure of her own.
They had shared their joy with only the immediate family; having decided not to tell anyone else until the end of the first trimester. I walked around for three months, hugging the good news to my heart. I knew she too felt the same way, the happy feeling deep down warming us all day. In the midst of a mundane meeting, I would suddenly sit up and smile radiantly, thinking, 'Chikki is pregnant!'
Chikki's first trimester was a dream. She was perfectly healthy and had no nausea or morning sickness. She could eat whatever she wanted, and did! Her only worry was that she wasn't gaining weight. She had always been underweight and would have to work really hard to catch up. But her gynaecologist was not overly worried as long as she ate well and felt healthy. I called her up every week and we spent a happy half-hour comparing notes and chatting. I kept giving her unsolicited advice and she took it good-naturedly.
At the end of the first trimester, with her pregnancy still going smoothly, she and Bhava decided to share the good news with our extended family, friends and well-wishers. Good wishes and congratulations started pouring in. Life seemed so perfect. We had told my daughter there was a baby in Chikki's tummy, and every time we talked to Chikki over the phone, my daughter would ask, "How's baby?" as if she knew exactly what it meant to be pregnant!
A couple of days later, in her daily mail to me, she told me how she had spent an awful night, throwing up and nauseated. She was bewildered with this sudden development and couldn't think of what she had done that would upset her stomach so badly. She planned to go to the doctor as soon as she got off work that night.
I was a little concerned, but not too worried. I was sure it was just stomach flu or maybe a case of food poisoning. She had eaten out a couple of days before the incident and I thought that was the cause for her symptoms. Despite all my assurances to myself, I could feel a niggling worry and hoped she and the baby were okay.
I kept calling her, waiting for her to pick the phone, disappointed time and again when I heard the mechanical voice of the answering machine. I figured she hadn't returned from the doctor yet.
After several more tries, I finally got through and was shocked to hear the pain in her voice. She could hardly talk through her tears. The doctor had got worried on hearing her symptoms and asked her to have an ultrasound scan done immediately. It revealed the baby's development was abnormal. They would have to terminate the pregnancy.
Our whole world came crashing down. I was numb with shock. We went from being ecstatically happy to being emotionally shattered in just a day. It was just one of those cruel tricks of Fate, where she gave with one hand and took away with the other. I sat there holding the phone, tears flowing down my face, unable to say anything to Chikki, all the while hearing her heartrending sobs from halfway across the world. I took the rest of the day off and rushed home to try to gather my wits and come to terms with this catastrophe.
In the evening, I picked up my daughter from day care and told her the baby in Chikki's tummy had a 'boo boo' and God would be taking it back. She looked puzzled, but sensed instinctively some great tragedy had befallen us. While my husband and I kept crying and trying to console each other, she sat on our laps, or in between the two of us, touching our faces, wiping away our tears, kissing and cuddling us, trying to cheer us up. She was not boisterous or playful and seemed strangely intuitive to our sorrow. She was the only ray of sunshine in our dark world then.
By that weekend, the abortion had taken place. Chikki returned to a bleak house with an empty womb and a mind full of questions. Bhava was a pillar of strength; he never once wavered or cried. He was there with Chikki all along, in the hospital and at home, comforting her and being there for her when she needed him.
I felt helpless and useless; all I could do was console her over the phone. I called her almost everyday and talked to her. The baby had come into our lives like a brief flash of joy, a shooting star streaking across our sky, so bright but so brief, leaving behind it a greater darkness.
For a while, though I wrote emails to her everyday, I didn't say anything much about the antics of my daughter, not sure whether it would make her happy or sadden her and remind her of her loss. After reading some of my colourless mails, she wrote asking me to fill my mails with news of my daughter, for that always brought a smile on her face. So, once again, I started writing about all the words my daughter spoke, her frolics and her day-to-day activities.
After a few weeks, Chikki started rallying from the blow, sounding more like her cheerful self. She was looking back with regret, but also looking forward with hope. Now, in my daily prayers, I include a fervent appeal to God to grant Bhava and Chikki the courage and strength to face this ordeal bravely.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh