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Sita’s Letter to Her Unborn Daughter, Chandra Ghosh Jain

Dear Paakhi,

Yes, I always wanted to call you a little bird. Why a bird? So that you would have wings to fly and soar up, high up. Higher than the clouds. Beyond anyone’s reach. Nobody could catch you or pin you down. Probably you may get a chance to speak to the wispy clouds, the ones that dissolve so mysteriously. Some of them might even take you along their eternal journeys across the skies. Paakhi, you may even fly close to that great orange-red orb in the sky, feel its searing heat. I am sure my little angel will make friends with the great sun god. Maybe even the sun god will envy your freedom. The magical sunbeams will be partners in your adventures.

Like a sunbeam you flood my life with light and colour. My darling daughter, yet to be born, how many dreams I weave for you. You will get to see the many-coloured rainbows. Paakhi, you might teach them to do a tap dance with you. My little bird don’t get scared of the loud rumbling thunderstorms or the lightening that might come in your path as I was when I was young. I would cling to Amma’s sari and hide my face in her lap. I would close my eyes and think that by burying my head deep, my troubles would go away.

From this collage of fantasies, your round face emerges full of laughter. Paakhi, you have the eyes of a doe and they are filled with endless mirth and gamine mischief. Unlike mine that are always scared to admit even hope. The gray blue pupils clouded permanently in a silent grief were the objects of endless admiration at some point of time. But why am I talking about myself? Your eyes are gray black, but they also have shades of mysterious blue and purple in them. Depending on your mood and fancy it might look more blue or purple. Yes, yes, I can hear your gurgling laughter trying to coax my straight lips into a smile. I can see your dimpled smile, the divine voice that will have me enthralled forever.

Do all mothers dream like this? Did Amma also yearn for me as I do for you, Paakhi? I was obviously not the favourite. Karan, my little brother, was everyone’s darling. Tall, slender, quiet and dreamy he epitomized the concept of an obedient son. While I would be engaged in endless arguments with Amma, Karan would have slipped off. Emerging only when the storm was over.

“Why did you name me Vaidehi?” I must have asked Amma a hundred times.

“What’s wrong with the name? We all want to be like Sita. She is a devi and worshipped by all.” Amma was clearly irritated.

“But Vaidehi was an orphan. Found at the tip of a plough. Abandoned, alone,” I persisted.

“Men also have names like Sita Ram, Sita Raman, the revered gods of our epic. Would you have preferred to be called Surpnakha?” Amma was enraged.

Sita, the epitome of silent suffering, while Surpnakha gave in to her wanton desires, both extreme characters in the epic Ramayana. I sometimes wished I were like Surpnakha, clearly stating my wish and going about it in a single-minded manner. I have always succumbed to pressure, always trying to please, Amma and now Varun. Creating chaos in the process and finding myself always in the wrong.

Varun, your illusive father, Paakhi. He was such fun to begin with. He would challenge me to do the wildest things possible, setting me free. Or was I just slowly yielding to his way of thinking? Whatever it was, it was intoxicating. I experimented first with drinks, cigarettes and then gradually with drugs. It was my way of getting back at Amma. Who was she to tell me what I should do with my life? Did she ever explain why she came home so late at night? Her sudden absences? Amma never knew that I would be watching from my window, how she swayed and barely managed to get to her room. She would say work, political work kept her out so late. That she was providing us with an expensive education and trying her best so that we have every advantage in life which she didn’t have.

How I hated her obvious lies. Baba had died leaving her a young widow. She got a job as a schoolteacher on compassionate grounds. Baba had been teaching in the government high school. Then her well wishers persuaded her to contest the local municipality elections. Yes, we did lead a physically more comfortable life after that. But Paakhi, I just wanted those leering hanger-ons to be thrown out of the house. There was a particularly crude, well-built one who always stared at me in an offensive way. One day he said, “Ah, soon Vaidehi can also contest the state Assembly elections. We need some young people in the party.”

There was general laughter and smirking amongst the men seated in the room.

“I will never ever join politics. Politics is the last resort of the scoundrels.” I just flung open the door and walked out in a huff.

Later, I could hear Amma’s apologetic voice say, “She is still too young. Doesn’t know how to talk to her elders…”

Oh, yes we had fireworks between Amma and me. Maybe the anger and rage brought me closer to Varun.

Amma wished me to portray the male Sita myth and then maneuver the men to get my way. Why? Because if you play the game by their rules you can still beat them (the men) and yet they will feel they have used you. It’s a comfortable arrangement for everyone. Sita symbolizes sacrifice, a woman’s greatest virtue according to patriarchal traditions. She has infinite forbearance. Justice remains a dream. Equality an absurdity and suffering an everyday reality. But Amma would give speeches exhorting the poor and the downtrodden to demand equality. She espoused the cause of justice? Was it all a grand sham? Hypocrisy in its ultimate form? Amma never believed a word she declared so loudly and vehemently.

Oh, Varun, why did he do this to me? We had dreamt so many dreams together. What went wrong? I remember the V for victory? How that two-fingered symbol was a bond that separated us from the rest. V for Vaidehi and V for Varun. I would add V for Valentine. Amma blamed all my deviant behaviour on Varun. She disliked him intensely.

“That boy will lead you to your ruin,” she said more in anger than concern. He had no job, was just an average student. He comes from a family of petty shopkeepers. “I could get you much better marriage proposals, if its marriage that you want,” Amma was coaxing, almost, as she was capable of.

“I can manage my life without your help, Amma,” I replied.

There was a general coolness after that between Amma and me. But I had Varun to turn to for solace. I wonder, did Amma feel abandoned and neglected? Once I did hear her weep on the phone to Karan. But then I thought that it was a ploy she was using to turn even Karan away from me. I was surly and rude when Karan came home for his winter holidays. Not that Karan would ever touch on any contentious issues. He withdrew in his shell.

Paakhi we imprison ourselves in walls of our own making.

The delirious joy when I received the job offer from the Times of India newspaper. The happiness was marred by Varun’s constant rejections. All my energies went in trying to bolster his self-confidence. I was beginning to feel the strain, and felt that I couldn’t carry on like that any longer. He had turned suspicious and possessive. It was difficult trying to prove my innocence again and again. After one such tumultuous fight he was overcome with remorse and started hitting his head on the wall. The thin stream of blood had me confused. Was I not capable of sustaining any relationship? First Amma, then Karan and now Varun were all drifting away from my life.

A quick marriage followed, with a promise that Varun would concentrate on running a car-rental service. Some uncle of his already had a successful venture and he would enter into a partnership by putting in some capital. Borrowing from my savings and whatever Baba had left for me raised the capital.

Paakhi, I did have a brief period of domestic bliss. Then the questions began: When will you have a baby? Initially all this amounted to an irritation and I would smilingly say, “Soon.”

My angel, why this agonizing wait? My fulfillment lay in being a mother. My mind and body hungered for the soft cuddly touch of a baby. The special bond, which excludes the whole world and yes, even the father, exists only between a mother and her child. Then gradually not having a child became a matter of concern, so much so that I spent a fortune on medical investigations. The amounts spent on appeasing the gods remain unaccounted. Paakhi, everyone plays on your fears. They hit you the hardest where it hurts most. Even Varun wouldn’t spare me. I was taunted as a barren woman. An incomplete life. A life without meaning. Meanwhile, how I yearned for you, Paakhi. You were real; you existed. You understood my agony but then you are so good at playing hide-and-seek. It was just that much more difficult to catch you, although I had caught a glimpse of you. I could hear your silvery laughter bouncing off me like moonbeams, but you would slip away.

Probably, you couldn’t bear my torment any longer, so you came. That was probably the happiest day in my life. The stars sparkled with a magical luminosity, sharing the mystery of the cosmos with me. Yes, the universe was hidden in me. How the world around me changed as well. I was complimented on my glowing complexion. But where was Varun? He appeared relieved and in between his drunken bouts even concerned about my health. But once you were with me, darling I needed no one. The whole world appeared vague and fuzzy. One heard and reacted to events of the day but it was like watching the horizon from the wrong end of the telescope.

Then Paakhi I was again rudely awoken from my reverie. You must take the ‘test’. First from well meaning relatives then insistence from Varun. But why on earth? We want a son. The grim reminder of my role. Only a mother of a son has any meaning in this society. All my pleas fell on deaf ears. “Paakhi, my darling,” I tried to explain, “is precious to me.” I have conceived after so many years. How does it matter in this day and age to discriminate on the basis of gender? Varun, very cunningly got my doctor to convince me of the amniocentesis to detect possible genetic disease. To rule out ‘Down’s syndrome’ specifically.

I felt hemmed in, Paakhi. I felt violated, but I bore up. I couldn’t care less, even if they declared that my baby was suffering from Down’s syndrome. I was confident that my angel would be perfect. Then the inevitable happened. The doctor came out with such a gloomy look that my heart lurched out. “Tell me doctor what’s wrong?”

Was that my voice, it was shrill and high pitched.

“It’s a girl”. He almost whispered it as if he was pronouncing a death verdict.

“So?” I was bewildered. I was beginning to hear the joyous songs of dance. Frowning and disapproving faces of Varun and his family started the roar…

“Drop it. A girl child what will you get? At best she will turn out like you, ingrate. Run away with some scoundrel. Better not to have any child than have a daughter.”

Like Sita, I am all alone. My soul is in exile.  Paakhi, you will not abandon me? My angel, I write so that someday you will understand the grief beneath the laughter. You are the reason of my existence, my sanity. With you holding my hands I also hope to touch the shimmering colours of the rainbow.

Why do you weep my little angel? We will always be together. Won’t we Paakhi? What is it that distresses you? Paakhi, you are brave and strong, together we will conquer the world. No, no, Paakhi, I will not let you go. The odds might be heavily stacked against us, but we will fight and survive. What is it that you say: you don’t want to be another Sita? Abandoned by father, husband and family. No, Paakhi listen don’t go…

Your ever hopeful,
Ma

~~
Chandra Ghosh Jain — She was born in Calcutta and spent her formative years in Delhi. She graduated in Economics(Honours) from Miranda House, Delhi University. She received her post graduation in Economics from Jawahar Lal Nehru University New Delhi. For a brief while she taught Economics in Delhi University as a lecturer. She did her research on the ‘Changing Agrarian relations and it’s Socio-Economic impact on development’ from Rajasthan University. Her husband’s postings offered her an opportunity to travel in the state, which boasts of palaces and forts of a bygone era; which forms a backdrop to many of her tales. Time seemed to stand still all one had to do was brush away the sands to recall a tale of surprising intensity. She is presently staying in Jaipur.

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One Response to “Sita’s Letter to Her Unborn Daughter, Chandra Ghosh Jain”

  1. quek_suan_shiau says:

    Thank you for your very long and touchng story. We don’t know leh, Sandy shrugs her shoulders, Ankit says hah, hope you write more stories, Nabilah, shakes her head and smiles nicely, she has a nice smile, Aisyah, looking forward to reading more of your stories, Sarah who is talking to Tara, Say what? Nice story..can already lah the class laughs..hope your baby is fine and you are well all thebest from class 1 E 4, Singapore

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