by Srinjoy Bhattacherjee
The obscure little hut continued to battle the torrential night sky while being enveloped in complete darkness. Electricity was a treacherous friend in this village and had quite predictably ditched the occupants during these vital hours. Inside the room, the mother-to-be was putting a brave fight with nil medical assistance and some insignificant words of comfort - a technique the village mistress had regularly employed as a meticulous tool of delivery in absence of modern methods of medicine. Outside the room the old mother and her younger brother eagerly awaited the arrival of a boy. Shouts of pain competed with sounds of thunder and drops of the rainwater found its way into the hut through the thatched roof. Another monsoon passed by without repairs, thought the old mother, the cost of feeding a pregnant woman, her daughter, sent home by her in laws for upkeep.
The bus journey to the village is not really a comfortable one. Stuffed with people and ration and vegetables, also with livestock at times. Not to forget the external factors like heat, humidity and the roads, or rather the lack of it. Series of continuous honking preceded the final halt; the door then burst open and started to pour the passengers out of it. Amongst the passengers was the mother-to-be. She was carrying a bag in her hand and a child in her belly and was looking out expectantly for her brother in the midst of the moving crowd. She had arrived at her native village to see through the final months of her pregnancy, sent home by her husband and in-laws. Come back with a son or don't come at all, her husband had said when she had bent, in this condition, to touch his feet before her departure. Tears were what she could gift her brother when she finally spotted him. A burden she was, transported from one village to the other in the belly of a bus.
Girl it is, said the midwife, breaking the silence of the night inside the dimly lit hut. It is not for the first time has she been the harbinger of such a news and not for the first time has such news been greeted with such indifference. Fact is, she prefers indifference as a reaction to abhorrence. The brother could now hear his old mother emote tears in silence. None of her gods have acceded to her prayers. The two souls in the room bemoaned in their own way. As if the burden of paucity wasn't too much to bear.
Not much could be said about the hours that followed in that insignificant hut. The rain had
calmed down significantly and the matron had slipped out of the hut to rush home. The brother lay asleep beside the burnt remains of the candle while the mother lay surrendered in front of a few faded pictures of a handful of gods. Inside, the newborn lay asleep in the lap of her mother. Weakness was upon her as she sat with her back against the mud wall. She didn't know what to call her, she had taken mental notes of boys’ names in the preceding months, a morbid effort to rule out the possibility that she could have a girl child. Through her tired eyes, she could see images of her husband, her in-laws turning their back on her. A lone figure of liability she was when she left her husband’s home and now she had another added to the count. Life seldom retains the significance it deserves when you fail to see the way forward. It is not the hatred, the chastisement, the ill-treatment which brings down the curtain on one’s hope, it is the lack of an alternative which certainly does. No more, definitely not. There is an alternative, there always is, thought she.
The night had almost passed and it was the time before the first light of the day. Puddles occupied most parts of the fields. The backdoor of the hut opened and the young mother stepped out with the new-born in her lap. Lost in slumber she was, oblivious to the vagaries of the outside world, ideal state she was in. Unperturbed, she was, when the new mother slowly walked away from the hut, holding her firmly in her lap. She has walked down this small stretch a million times and she very well knew where she was heading. Out there was her way forward, her destination and destiny and sure she was, of her alternative.
The first group of women to have arrived at daybreak to fetch water from the well did meet the young mother and the daughter, together they were and there they were, afloat. She was still asleep when her mother saw her face for the last time, Beautiful she was, her mother thought; and then she freed her. When the sound of the water confirmed her departure, she followed. And thereby passing through the wormhole of the dark well they found their way away from those who didn't matter, immerging liberated from the wreck of their world. Brave they were to choose their way forward, to say ‘no’ to live the life chosen for them. They chose to live life by their decision – even if it meant to end it. ***