She woke up feeling tired and worn out. She couldn’t believe it was morning already, it felt like she had gone to sleep a little while ago. She got up to wash her face, and a sudden feeling of nausea overpowered her. She wondered whether it was that left over roti with spoilt curry she had eaten last night that had caused this. Suddenly, she remembered that her periods were overdue.

Oh no! Could it be…? She couldn’t be… She remembered how her husband had forced himself on her about a month back after he had returned half-drunk at midnight. She looked at her 3 years old girl sleeping peacefully, and her heart shuddered. Her mother-in-law and husband had warned her already that if she gave birth to one more girl, she wouldn’t be allowed back into the house.

What was she to do? Whom could she tell her fears to? When her little Munni was born, her mother-in-law had refused to even look at her face. Her husband had asked her, “Woman, couldn’t you give me a son? Of what use is a girl to us? Next time this shouldn’t happen or else…” But she had been ecstatic. She loved her little girl more than anything in the world. She loved to sing to her, tell her stories, tell her every thing she felt… Because the little girl was the only person in the world who loved her.

She had started working when her Munni was two years old. Because her husband wanted her to earn. His meagre earnings as a rickshaw driver weren’t enough to provide for the family, as whatever he earned was spent on drinking and gambling.

She wanted to be able to provide her little girl with all the basic necessities. She wanted to save money, so that she could educate her. Though she tried hard to save, whatever she had, was taken from her forcefully by her husband.

Now what was she to do? She wished with all her heart that it was a boy she was carrying now. She couldn’t imagine what her fate would be otherwise. She decided to keep this a secret for as long as possible.

She got ready for work, packing a lunch of two left over rotis and a little achaar, and took her little girl with her. While she worked at the construction site, her little girl played in the shade. She knew it wasn’t a safe place for Munni, but what was she to do?

Her mother-in-law didn’t even acknowledge her existence. Munni would just have to stay hungry till she came back home from work. The sun was hot, and her condition made her all the more tired. But she couldn’t avoid work. Now her responsibility had increased. Besides she didn’t want anyone to know she was carrying, as long as she could keep it a secret. One day, as she was carrying the bricks, she suddenly collapsed.

When she came back to her senses, she was in the well-lit room of a hospital. She was being given some drip. A kind nurse came over and asked her, “How are you feeling now? What happened to you?”

Munni was sitting by her side, looking scared. She tried to get up, still feeling weak. The nurse told her, “Lie down. Dr Ayesha Khan will come to see you shortly.” She told Munni, “Don’t worry Beti. I am alright. It’s just that you will soon have a little baby to play with. Let’s hope it will be a brother.”

Dr Ayesha Khan was soon by her side. She told that doctor that it had been almost three months since she’d had her periods. After some time, her husband came barging in and asked the doctor,”What happened to my woman?” When the doctor told him she was three months pregnant, he looked shocked. He asked the doctor , “Do you know if it’s a boy or girl? If it’s a girl we don’t want it!” The doctor looked at him with disgust and told him firmly, “See, we don’t look at the sex of the child. Besides, it’s immaterial if it’s a boy or girl. And anyway she is 3 months pregnant, so it’s better to continue the pregnancy, boy or girl.”

He took her and Munni back home in the auto-rickshaw. He told his mother, “Ma, see, she’s 3 months pregnant, and she didn’t even open her mouth about it!” Her mother-in-law asked her, “I hope you are carrying a boy this time. We don’t want to have another burden on this family.” Her mother-in-law was casting a hateful glance at Munni.

She wondered who the real burden was? Here she was working so hard to bring food for the family, while all that her husband did was waste away whatever she earned. And her mother-in-law never found a fault with his drinking or hitting her, because that’s what men are supposed to do anyway. And her only solace in the world, her little Munni was being called the “burden”.

She wished to just run away, but where could she go? She wasn’t educated. She didn’t have money. She was trapped in a place where she would have to live her whole life. Her only hope was Munni and this little unborn one she was carrying in her womb whom she hoped was a boy. She couldn’t imagine what lay in store for her if it was a girl….

After some days her mother-in-law told her, “I am going to take you to someone who will be able to tell us if it’s a boy or girl you are carrying. “Her husband drove them to a scanning centre. She saw lots of women waiting outside for their turn. She felt a deep dread inside. Her heart beat fast. She wanted to run away. But where could she go?

After a long wait, her turn came. She was ushered in. Her scanning was done, but her mouth felt so dry that she couldn’t even ask if it was a boy or girl. She didn’t want to know. But when she stepped out of the scanning room, the look on her mother-in-law’s face told everything… There was a deadly silence in the auto-rickshaw as they drove back home.

When she reached home, her husband gave a resounding slap on her face, “Don’t you know anything better than giving birth to girls again and again?” And he left. Her mother-in-law maintained a stony silence. She felt partly relieved. Now at least everyone knew that she was carrying a girl. She hoped that now they would leave her and her children alone to themselves.

A few days passed by. It was almost time for her next check up. Dr Khan had asked her to come back after a month. Her mother-in-law had not been talking to her lately. Then her husband told her, “I know a good nursing home. I will take you there for the check up.” She protested, “I prefer to go to Dr Khan. She’s a good doctor.” He said,”I don’t like her. She’s a very rude woman. Her behaviour doesn’t befit a woman.”

So, she was taken for a checkup to a place in the very outskirts of the city, and not too many people were seen around. She felt a deep fear inside for her unborn child. She felt it in her bones that something wasn’t really right. She was taken into a dark room. Her hands and legs were tied up. Then she lost consciousness.

When she woke up, she realised her tummy was hurting terribly. She was lying in a pool of blood. She wanted to scream for help. But no sound came out. She tried to breathe normally. Outside she heard her husband haggling with someone. She heard him say, “You are charging way too much. Even a delivery wouldn’t cost so much.” The other person was saying, “All these things have to be kept very discreet. If this comes out, we will all be rotting in jail forever. This is the price you have to pay for secrecy.” Her husband was protesting, “But you are not even a doctor and your fees is so much more than a doctor’s charges.” The other person replied, “When you don’t want a daughter, there is a price you will have to pay…” She passed out again.

After a long time when she woke up, she realised that she had lost her child. She felt shattered, her heart broken into a thousand pieces. Her mouth felt dry. Tears refused to come out from her eyes. She felt tired, worn out, lost. She had lost this battle. Then she thought of Munni, “At least I have Munni. I have to become strong again. I can’t let Munni go on to live a life like the one I am living. Oh God! Please listen to me, please save my dear Munni.”

Her husband took her back to their house. She continued to bleed over the next few days. She started to feel weak and tired. She developed fever after some days. She couldn’t even get up from her bed. She just passed out.

Dr Khan got an emergency call. The nurse told her that the woman who had come there nearly two months back had now been brought again to the casualty. Her pulse was very feeble, blood pressure not recordable. Dr Khan rushed to the casualty. The woman seemed to be barely conscious. Dr Khan shouted out the orders, “Start the intravenous fluids. Oxygen. Be quick. Call the physician. Call the blood bank. We will need to give her blood.” Dr Khan asked her, “What happened to you? Where were you all these days? Why didn’t you come for check up? ” The woman pointed a finger at her husband, “They killed my unborn child….”

Dr Khan grasped the situation, but she didn’t have much time left. The woman suddenly seemed alert, she called out to the doctor a frantic look in her eyes, “Didi, save me. I know I am dying. I don’t want to die. There is no one for Munni if I die. Please do something for me, please…” Dr Khan saw the fear in her eyes, she tried to console her, “Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you. We will save you.” But both of them knew that her time had come. She breathed her last.

Munni was crying loudly. She didn’t understand why her mother wasn’t talking. Why everyone was silent. She knew something bad had happened. Dr Khan told the nurse to immediately call the police. Despite her calm nature, she couldn’t stop herself from shouting at that man standing in front of her. She couldn’t hide her disgust against a man who had pushed his own wife into the jaws of death. She couldn’t come to terms with the injustice done to the poor woman who lay lifeless there. She shouted at him, Aren’t you ashamed to stand here? Do you realise you have killed your wife also in the process of killing your unborn daughter?” The man just glared at her defiantly saying nothing.

The police reached the nursing home and based on the dying declaration, arrested the husband and mother-in-law. Munni was handed over to a children’s home.

Dr Khan couldn’t sleep at night. Despite her busy and tiring schedule, everytime she lay her head on her pillow at night, Munni’s crying face, and the woman’s anguish on her death bed would float before her eyes. She wished she could have saved her life. But they had taken so long to bring her, that there was nothing much she could really do.

As she turned restlessly in her bed, her husband asked her, “Ayesha, there seems to be something bothering you, tell me.” She told her husband everything, and cried herself to sleep. Next morning, he told her, “I have been thinking all night about that incident. We have been trying to have a baby since the past 12 years, and it hasn’t been written in our fortune to bring up our own baby… But maybe we could give a new life to that little girl. In that way, that poor woman’s soul may get some peace.”

Ayesha was amazed that her husband had actually suggested something which she herself was wishing for. They decided to adopt little Munni and raise her as their own little girl.

Jannat has joined a medical school. She had always wanted to be a doctor seeing her mother Dr Ayesha Khan. She has just finished her class, and was looking out of the window. A new building was under construction. It was lunch time. There she sees a woman sitting under a tree, feeding her little girl, “Munni, take one more bite.”

Suddenly she feels like somebody is calling out to her. She recalls a pair of eyes looking lovingly at her, but she doesn’t remember to whom they belong. Her friend calls out to her, “ Jannat, come on, let’s have lunch.” Jannat turns around, and looks at that woman and child one more time.

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Divya Pai

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