The Unwelcome Sibling
by Anju Chandna
Anamika paces up and down the corridor of her office waiting for her cell phone to ring, her heeled shoes making a rhythmic clicking sound. The flight was scheduled at 11:00 am and it was already time. Finally, her cell phone rings. Hello! The soft female voice on the other end of the line immediately erases the creases on Anamika’s brow as she raises her voice in response.
‘Hello! Didi can you hear me? I’ve landed and am on my way home’. ‘Where are you?’ Anamika catches the growing lump in her throat and steading the quiver in her voice said: ‘Hi Mohini, I’m on my way home too. I’ll quickly pick my things and see you at home!’. Anamika grabs her handbag and runs down the stairs. Throwing her things in the back of the car she quickly takes the wheel. The road looks deserted in the scorching summer sun and Anamika’s mind wanders to that fateful day when Mohini was born.
Mohini was 15 years younger to her, the youngest of the three siblings with Anamika being the eldest followed by Sujata. A star performer in school and the university, Mohini was returning home after having been awarded a scholarship to study Law at a prestigious Law school. Mohini, endearingly called Moni was an angelic child with clear white skin, beautiful eyes, dimpled cheeks and a cheerful disposition. Her birth at the ripe age of her parents was not an accident, it was a pre-meditated effort to have an heir for the family. No auspicious ritual which could convert a Y-chromosome into an X-chromosome was spared. Holy men were consulted but alas! the Gods could not be bribed. So the family had to make do with another daughter. Anamika and Sujata were just mute spectators in this evolving family drama much to Anamika’s chagrin. She was almost 15 and mature enough to decipher the hushed tones her parents used to discuss the arrival of their ‘son’.
One day before sun dawn Anamika woke up to strange sounds in the house. So this is the day we’ve all been waiting for, she thought to herself. Her mother had been hospitalized she learnt and she was to escort her younger sibling to school. School was especially long that day, she was quiet and withdrawn waiting with confused anticipation of what was about to come. The school bus was taking unusually long to reach home that day. Will her mother survive this ordeal? Will she actually get the baby boy she so desperately desired? What if it’s a girl? Her adolescent mind had questions aplenty but no answers. The school bus came to a halt and there she saw her father waiting for her and Sujata at the bus stop. ‘We have to go to the hospital’ her father said in a flat expressionless tone. ‘What is it, papa?’ The baby? ‘You’ll soon get to see it!’ he said nonchalantly.
15 years of upbringing in a loving household were standing juxtaposed to this awkward moment of uncertainity. Anamika reluctantly followed her father to the car holding on to Sujata’a hand tightly as if out of re-assurance. The trio reached the end of the staircase leading upto the 3rd floor hospital room where her mother was admitted and sat on the bench outside. Three elderly women standing near the rails of the staircase darted a quizzical glance at them and started talking in hushed tones about the man who had just become father to a third daughter. Anamika was enraged. She looked pleadingly at her father imploring him to react to this insinuation. Lo! She caught her breath...where was the man she knew as her father. She saw her father sitting with hunched shoulders, a figure of complete dejection of a man whose only dream has been shattered. The dream of an heir, of an unborn entity who could open the doors of salvation for them was lost forever. Anamika was aghast.
Her father nudged her to follow him into the room where mother lay, a little weak from the pain of child birth and perhaps weaker with the knowledge that she had failed in her duty as a wife. Sujata rushed to her mothers’ side and hugged her, Anamika stood frozen refusing to look into her mother’s eyes. She felt a strange mix of emotions of pity and hatred for her mother. Till such time her gaze was drawn to the small bundle of white and pink flesh lying by her mothers’ side. She walked upto the bed and gently pulled away the cloth covering the baby’s face. And Oh! The most beautiful pair of eyes stared back at her. Anamika quickly looked away. How could she let her mind be overpowered by this innocent bundle when her whole being was rebelling against the very reason of its creation?
Three days later mother came back home. Home was never the same. Atleast not for the next few weeks, there was an unending string of visitors who came ostensibly to bless the young one but never failing to mention the dire consequences of bringing a third baby girl into this world. Aunts, from near and far, maternal and paternal, young and old, all came. And along came their do-good-nothing ‘world wisdom’ about parenting of girls, the pitfalls of having to deal with siblings of such huge age differences and so
on. Father put up a stoic front, never once faltering while mother was happy to lament about how destiny had played a vicious trick on them. And then one day the visits stopped. Anamika took a sigh of relief as some semblance of sanity prevailed and the business of getting around life resumed.
School time in the morning, study time in the evening and some play time later. Everything was back to normal. Except that there was a new member in the family eagerly awaiting Anamika’s way back home. As the summer gave way to winter, Anamika came to be greeted more and more by this little angel every time she came back from school. The daily ritual of climbing the staircase with a bag carelessly thrown over her shoulder became the ‘highpoint’ of the day. Moni would run towards the railing of the staircase and on seeing Anamika would burst into shrieks of joy. ‘Didi’ ‘Didi’, her gurgling sound would ring in the entire household and Anamika would wryly acknowledge the toddler. One day as Anamika set foot on the first step of the spiral staircase she saw Moni precariously dangling from the edge of the highest step oblivious to the danger that she might fall over. Throwing her bag, Anamika swung to her side and leaped to catch her baby sister in time. Thrown off guard by the sudden commotion, Moni started howling. Cuddling and caressing the baby, Anamika walked in with the little bundle and put her on the floor. Sujata followed inside and said ‘Didi really saved her today, Mom’ she said looking at their mother. What followed was a detailed account of the baby’s fall and her timely rescue by Anamika. Mother knew that her eldest daughter was still at odds with their decision to have a child so late in their life, she gave a quiet look to Anamika and said nothing.
Moni was growing and so was Anamika’s attention towards her. Moni was the first one to wake up every morning, her wake up wailings would create an instant flutter in the household. Father would run to fetch her milk bottle and mother would get busy with the unending errands that a little baby can generate. But Moni had eyes only for her siblings. She would sneak out of her bed, crawl to the bed pole for support and somehow manage to reach where her siblings slept. With her little fingers, she would reach out to their faces and play with their eyes, ears and nose. Anamika always tried hard to push her hand out of the way. But the little hand was persistent and it finally found its mate. Anamika would make mocking snoring sounds and would bite the little finger only to send Moni into ripples of laughter.
One day as Anamika came back from school she saw an unfamiliar car parked in front of their house. Sensing visitors, she cautiously entered the living room. She was met with strangers, a lady and a man appearing to be her husband. ‘What’s going on?” she enquired from her mother. Avoiding her gaze, mother nudged her out of the living room and quietly replied ‘They are some distant relatives from your father’s side, they heard about Moni and so they came.” Anamika took a breath waiting for her mother to finish but when no words followed, ….”So?’ she asked. “What do they want”? “They’ve been married for many years but have no child, so they want to take Moni” she said in an expressionless tone. “Take away, what do you mean take away”? “Moni is not a burger and this is not a take away joint” Anamika retorted, her eyes beginning to swell up with tears. Mother looked at her trying to read the expression on her face. “But I thought you don’t like the baby, you’ve never liked her….….we thought it was best for all of us….they are good people known to our family….Moni will be pampered...they have money and a good house…….” it went on and on, mother was muttering but Anamika could not hear a thing. She had started to get up, she stormed into the bedroom where Moni was playing, picked her up and came back to where mother was standing. “I am not giving her to anyone, she belongs to us” retorted Anamika, the words literally dropping from her mouth, surprising even herself and loud enough for everyone sitting in the adjoining room to hear.
The ‘distant relatives’ apparently overheard the remark and quietly left. Anamika walked into the living room with her little sibling perched on her arm, father looked perplexed. “We thought this was best for all of our family” …..his voice trailed off with a gradual sense of relief creeping in.
Anamika’s thoughts are interrupted by the sight of a pretty young lady standing in front of her car bonnet as she approaches her house. Wiping her tears away, she gets down from the car. The two women give a long loving look to each other, “Its good to see you, Sis”! as the two women run towards each other to wind up in a warm embrace while everyone in the family looks on. “You are my savior didi”, remarks Moni jokingly. “And you are mine, my kid sister for it is you who taught me unconditional love and forgiveness” remarks Anamika.