Hopefully. Next time.

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Times of India is having a contest called Write India where a prompt will be supplied for the next 11 months and a story has to be developed on those lines. I participated a couple of months back, I did not win, but it was great writing fiction. A short story. All of you who have ever wished to write, go on the link and participate. Writing fiction and short stories liberates me. Makes me live in the minds of someone I am not. 

Please note, this is purely fiction. Read and et me know what you think. 

Hopefully. Next time.

It all started three years back when the 18 week sonography was done. No wait, it all started the day they got married. His relatives said husband and wife are supposed to sleep apart from each other till the ‘Garbhadaan vidhi’ was completed. She found it odd, but her mother had told her that a new family would mean a new way of life. Customs differed. It did not hurt to play along. For that first night she had to sleep with her mother in law, whom everybody lovingly called Badi maa. But that was okay. The next morning the priest was called for an elaborate ritual and and they were permitted to be husband and wife. Aneel and Vibha. The first few months went by smoothly. They both resumed work after coming back from the honeymoon.  Each month her mother-in-law would ask her if she had missed her period yet. Every time she felt flushed when that question was asked and she tried to dismiss it , but the enquiry was persistent. Soon another priest was called and she was given Ayurvedic pills to be taken everyday. She complained to her husband that it was not essential, but he too insisted on it.

Finally one month, she missed her periods . She felt nauseated and light headed. While coming back from the office she got a home pregnancy test, and it was positive. Two pink lines. She waited for Aneel to announce the good news, and everyone was ecstatic. He mother in law immediately took an appointment with Dr Mrs. Mehra- gynaecologist cum family friend. Doctor confirmed that she was pregnant. Immediately they went to the temple and and made offerings to the God to bestow them with a son. She did not care. She just wanted a healthy child.

But that night Aneel took her in his arms and told her that he knew it is a son. Because all of them were real men and no one in their family ever had a daughter. She wondered what was the connection between being a man and fathering a daughter.

The next day onwards every morning a foul smelling concoction was poured in her right nostril by the house help Kamalbai. It was to beget a son. She resisted. It made her vomit, but it couldn’t be escaped. They told her to stop working. She assured them that she was fine. But never mind, she applied for a sabbatical and was granted one for a year.

Each day was the same as the earlier one. Herbal concoctions, threads of various deities and offerings to various gods. It was all the same. Boy boy boy. Her husband assured her that it was for the best. For a boy they wanted so badly. She cringed, but played along.

Then when she completed three and a half months, they scheduled an appointment for sonography. Her husband and mother in law accompanied her. She found that rather sweet. The doctor or the family friend said it was a girl. She was sorry.

Aneel told her that he will get an appointment for abortion for the next day. She did not understand. Her baby seemed to be doing well, then why was he talking about abortion? She tried to argue with him and with Badi ma, but nobody listened to her. She felt a wave of panic and nausea , but she was helpless. She cried and thought of ways to run away, but Aneel gently held her and told her to not worry. There would be a boy next time. Exhausted, she slept.

The next day it was over. She felt a hollow inside her. Her baby was gone.

Numbed, she just slept in her bed for several days. She used to think about those early times when she met Aneel. In Chicago -where they had both been sent for a month long training course. After work they used to sit in Starbucks for long hours. Away from the cold. In the midst of their conversations which went on for hours, she found him fascinating. An only child, he was well pampered but down to earth. He had four uncles and five cousin brothers, but he was the eldest. It was mostly a joint family system. They all stayed in the same building in separate flats. On the other hand, her father had shifted to Pune from their native place a long time back and it was just her parents and younger sister in their family.

When they decided to get married after courting for a few months, she met everyone in his family. They all seemed very warm and friendly. Except Meera aunty. She had a very melancholic look to her, she hardly spoke. Aneel told Vibha that Meera aunty had been silent and subdued ever since her miscarriage several years back. Vibha felt bad for her, but Aneel told her to stay away from Meera aunty.

The day Vibha’s baby girl was killed, Meera aunty tried to tell her something, but she was shooed away by everyone else in the family.

Slowly, Vibha recovered from the loss. Aneel took good care of her, but he kept telling her that they would have a boy next time. She started fearing him, worrying about what would happen if it was a girl the next time too. Aneel started having sex with her only on odd days. Some religious priest had told him that it was a key to conceiving a boy. Badi maa started chanting various hymns around her and advised them to conceive at auspicious hours or muhurats to guarantee a son. Vibha started living in constant worry. She did not tell any of this stuff to her parents, or they would have asked her to come back to their home. She just said that she miscarried because of some medical complication and that she would take rest and feel fine. Her mother kept on telling her to come to her house for a few days to rest. But she wanted to resume work and get over it as soon as possible.

Aneel was especially affectionate towards her. He would get her little gifts, take her out several evenings and often they would drive to Hornimon circle for her favourite latte in Starbucks. She felt may be what happenned to her was a stray incident. He will get around the fact that a daughter is equally cherished as a son.

A few months later, she missed her periods again. She knew she was pregnant. But she did not tell anyone. No one. Continued her life as if nothing had happened. She would hide the morning sickness, the light headedness and pretend to have her menstrual cycle each month. She wore loose fitting clothes and stayed by herself all day. But soon after the fifth month, her belly started showing. Badi maa and Aneel found out that she was carrying a child and they immediately took the doctors’ apponitment. Vibha clutched her heart tight and prayed that everything would go well the next day. She stayed awake whole night talking to the baby in her womb. Telling the baby that they would both survive this thing, together.

Next morning, the doctor said it was a girl but the pregnancy was too far ahead to do an abortion. They would have to induce labor and deliver the child, but a foetus would be unviable outside the mother’s womb at 22 months. Vibha was devastated. She was too weak to physically fight back. They gave her pitocin injection for inducing labor pains and delivered the baby girl. The foetus did not survive. Vibha’s world collapsed.

She was on bed rest for a few weeks. Her parents called her often, but she told them nothing of her pregnancy or the foetus or anything else.

Meera aunty tried to talk to her, but somebody would come and shoo her away.

Aneel started getting mad at her for not giving him a son. He sometimes used to lock her up in the bedroom during the day and often stayed out late night and then come and force himself on her. She dreaded the nights, she was afraid she might not get pregnant again, but was equally terrified of conceiving.

One evening, everyone had gone out for a wedding. Vibha felt too drained to go and hence stayed back home. She stumbled towards the balcony to get some fresh air and saw Meera aunty in the adjacent balcony. Realising that it was just the two of them there, Meera went to her cupboard, got a blue scarf, tied few of her gold bangles in it and rushed to see Vibha. She held the poor girl in her arms for a while, let her cry and sobbed with her. Meera aunty told her the story of her life, how she had conceived several times and each time the foetus was aborted because it was a baby girl. Finally her insides were so damaged, that she could not conceive any more, and hence remained childless for ever. Due to some old belief that a girl child will lead to the downfall of the family, they aborted all female foetuses and only let the males survive. Vibha was shocked, but her heart went out to Meera aunty.

Suddenly they heard someone come in at the main gate. Meera aunty took Vibha’s hands in her hand, gave her the blue scarf with the bangles and said, “When the time is right, run beta. Run for your life.”

Vibha quickly composed herself, tucked away the bangles in a small purse in the bottom of the cupboard. She started eating right and regained her strength. She was waiting for a good time to escape and go back to her parents.

A few weeks later, Vibha felt a wave of nausea wash over her. She waited for a few days and knew she was pregnant again. She did not know what to do. She wanted to save her child, but not raise it with that monster Aneel.

That night, Aneel came home drunk. He pushed Vibha aside and she slammed her elbow on the mahogany desk. He was furious with her, with his life and out of his mind. He started hurling abuses and kept hitting her on the face. Vibha knew she had to act quick. In the spur of the moment, she reached for the chef’s knife and stabbed him in the stomach. Twice. He fell to the ground grimacing in pain. Vibha went to the cupboard, picked up her purse,  ran down the stairs and took a taxi to Hornimon circle.

Her hands were trembling and her mind was fumbling. She called her parents in Pune and told them that she is on her way to their house and that they should avoid answering any calls till then, except from her cellphone.

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf and the gold bangles. Starbucks was where they started their journey and it was where it ended. She looked at the knife and her belly. Wondered how would the cold steel feel in her gut. For a brief moment she contemplating ending it all.

But she couldn’t. She loved her unborn baby and herself and her parents way more than she imagined. She had to be strong. She had to be safe and raise the child and teach him/her to be a good person. She hired a cab and reached Pune in a few hours before anybody could get to her. She was safe with her unborn child.

Back in Mumbai, Badi Maa found Aneel lying on the floor. He had passed out. She called his uncles and they took him to the hospital. His condition was critical but stable. He recovered and came home in due course of time.

For several months he did not contact Vibha at all. She did not press charges against him as she just wanted herself and her baby to be safe and away from all of this.

Seven months later, Vibha delivered a healthy baby. A baby boy. Aneel and Badi maa immediately came to see her and the baby. Aneel had tears in his eyes. Vibha cried too, for those two elder sisters this baby boy might have had.

Aneel refused to leave Vibha’s side. He apologised profusely for what he had done. Vibha did not want to see him, but she felt that the child should not be taken away from the father.

For six months Aneel constantly tried to persuade Vibha to come back home. All of his family members showered Vibha and the baby with lots of gifts and blessings. Her own mother said that may be she should consider going back as a child needs both his parents, and plus Aneel repented what he had done. Vibha did not believe what she heard.

The little baby boy started growing fond of his ever-doting father. Aneel was a very loving father and exceptionally caring towards Vibha and her parents. He visited them every weekend without fail.

Slowly Vibha started warming up towards Aneel. She loved her baby and wanted the best for him. May be she should give Aneel a chance. There wont be any redemption of his deeds, but there was definitely a promise of a better future. Now that she had given him a son.

She moved back with him in their house. With doubts and concerns, but determined to give her baby, Vikram, a good life.

Vikram is ten years old now. He will never find out what happened to his mother before he was born. Vibha can never forget her two baby girls but yes, she is willing to forgive. For Vikram. For a life together.

Rutvika Charegaonkar

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