Sharing a piece by a wonderful author Sudha Arora. The original is in Hindi, I have translated it here.
“How many bachchas do you have?” a middle-aged woman on the Superfast train from Jaipur to Delhi asked me.
“I have two daughters,” I replied with pride.
“But how many bachchas?” repeated the woman in a flat tone.
I thought she might be hard of hearing. Raising my voice a little, I said with a smile, “I have 2 daughters.”
“So no bachchas?”
I stared at her in astonishment.
She looked at me with pitying eyes.
Now I understood that when she asked about children she meant sons.
This conversation was repeated many times in many different places.
Girls don’t continue the family line, girls belong to the family they’re married into, one needs to save for their dowries, girls are a burden – these beliefs in several districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka mean that girls don’t count as children.
Someone even asked me, “Didn’t you try for more children after these two?”
There’s an interesting story behind this.
Both my children were born through Caesarean section. In those days sonography was not that prevalent. It was only after the child was born that the nurse would announce if it was a boy or girl.
When I got pregnant again ten years after the birth of my daughter, the ladies of the neighborhood tried to guess the sex of the baby by the shape of my belly, the color of my face, and whether I was craving sweet or salty food. Since my first child was a girl, they were hoping for a boy this time. My mother had already told my doctor that girl or boy, my tubes were to be tied after the delivery.
This was 1982. Holi was on the 10th of March that year. My due date was the 20th, but the doctor was worried that if I went into labor on the 10th, it might be difficult to arrange for the operation. So the surgery was scheduled on the 8th.
I was admitted to the Woodlands Nursing Home in Calcutta. On 8th March, at 10 a.m., when the doctor saw the sex of the baby after the operation, she sent the nurse running outside.
“It’s a girl! Do you still want to do the tubal ligation?”
My mother replied, “A gift from Waheguru! Tell the doctor to go ahead with the operation.”
The nurse left and returned a couple of minutes later.
“I don’t think you heard me correctly. The doctor said, it’s a girl, do you still want to do the ligation?”
This time my mother said sternly, “I care about the life of my daughter. How many times do I have to tell you to go ahead?”
She continued to fume. “This is the limit! That delicate girl is lying on the operating table with her stomach cut open and they’re wasting time sending messages – she must have lost so much blood. That’s why I said I didn’t want the surgery to be done by a Rajasthani doctor, they don’t feel complete without sons, you’d think boys were born with angel wings…”
The third day after the delivery, when the nurse took me to the bathroom to brush, I fell down in a dead faint. The hemoglobin test showed 5.6. When the doctor saw the results, she couldn’t believe it and had the test repeated. This time it was 4.8. In the ensuing panic I was administered an intravenous iron solution, but I had an immediate reaction to it and began shivering with chills. Then I was given two bottles of blood. I still had complications and was able to leave the hospital only after 17 days.
The day I left the hospital with my daughter, my weight was 38 kilos and my daughter was 4.75 pounds. Ma was relieved that we had both reached home safely.
We all have such mothers and aunts in our family trees who did not think any less of women, who wanted to have daughters despite the prevailing sentiment and social norms that devalued women, who understood the importance of girls and treated them like they were special.
When I was going through a very tough time in my life, it was this very daughter who stood before me and with me like a suit of armor and helped me stand up again by holding my hand. She is my strength, my support, my therapist.
Last year she turned 40. Life’s challenges have made her strong.
In life, every disaster, every deception, every betrayal, first causes trauma, then it becomes the basis on which you stand tall. It gives you courage and makes you strong.