petervas

Gudiya – A doll that saved me

In Short Story, Women, Writing Assignments on April 28, 2013 at 10:22 pm

 
 
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Sindhu clutched the green sheet that covered her, as she lay on the stretcher.  She stared at the ceiling.  She was parked in a freezer cold room with two other patients awaiting their turn at Operating Theater #3 of St. John’s Hospital.  She shivered.  She wished the ordeal would be over soon. She let her tears roll down her cheek and wet the joyless hospital pillow.

Her world came crashing last week.  Dr. Srinivasan made it clear, the baby needs to be aborted.  Sindhu was six months into her pregnancy.  The baby had already assumed a life of it’s own. Stuffed toys of every pastel color and shade filled the baby room. She gently stroked her bump.  The loss of motherhood was devastating.

Her stretcher moved forward suddenly without notice, as the nurse proceeded to Operating Theater 3.
 

 
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The miracle of childbirth eluded Sindhu for over five years after that first aborted journey into motherhood.  So long, that she almost gave up on conception. She conceded that having a baby would be a miracle, second only to the survival of their strained marriage. Dr. Geetha was her last hope. All else had failed so far. She visited her once a month. The fertility clinic was becoming an all too familiar place.

“These reports do not indicate any abnormality. Just take some time off from work. Go to a resort, a place of pilgrimage maybe…anything to take your mind off of your stress” said Dr. Geetha. Sindhu found that extremely difficult, that was like asking her to stop thinking of pink elephants.  The pink elephants immediately filled her thoughts and refused to move out.

“Where is he?” Sindhu looked around for Ramesh. “He should be back from the pharmacy by now.  Where is he?”

Maybe he met a friend and went out for tea? Oh God! I hope he does not disclose the purpose of our visit! Such a blabbermouth, that Ramesh, waiting to broadcast and make public the most intimate of secrets!

Could you believe he actually told his mother! Totally uncalled for, she has no right to know! And how is she going to help us anyway? She is probably going to start a chain-mail, asking everybody to forward it to ten other strangers.

Before long everybody in the universe will come to know Sindhu was “having problems conceiving”, as the mother-in-law had once hissed furtively into the phone, to some other crony friend of hers.

“Taking my mind off” she told herself as she picked up a tattered Femina magazine and decided to continue where she had left off last week.  She found the page missing and torn-off. She showered her irritation on Ramesh, who eventually appeared with a large green tender coconut in his hand and a still-warm newspaper-wrapped packet of idlis – those fluffy steamed rice dumplings that she loved.

“What took you so long?” she snapped, as she flicked the tattered and now useless magazine back on the table. “Sindhu! you will not believe what is happening out there!” Ramesh was animated. “You know that Gudiya case, na?” Gudiya was the five-year old girl in the news last week. She was raped by two men in the neighborhood and was left to die. A shudder snaked down Sindhu’s spine, recollecting the sheer brutality of an innocence violated. “What about her?” she asked quickly forgetting how impatient she had been, moments ago at Ramesh.

“She is in this hospital, in the Intensive Care Unit” Ramesh responded. “A large number of rape1protesters had gathered outside. The police are in full force. With machine guns and water cannons! I saw Dr. Geetha at the Press conference. She was giving an update, and it appears Gudia is responding to the antibiotics”

“God help us! The police will save us from evil protesters, but not from benign rapists” Sindhu snapped sarcastically, opening the moist newspaper packet to enjoy her piping hot idlis.

Koel was wearing a large party hat and was enjoying the attention the brat was paying her. She was about five years older than the brat. “Didi-lift-me-I-want-that-blue-baloon!” pleaded the brat. Koel lifted the skinny brat and planted him on her hips. The brat reached up with both hands and tugged the balloon down. The balloon burst with a loud noise that startled everybody at the birthday party. The brat laughed hysterically.

“With all this commotion, looks like it will be evening before we see Dr. Geetha”  Sindhu resigned to the idea as she sipped on the cool tender coconut water through a long straw. The ceiling fan creaked a slow rhythm as it did a fair distribution of warm summer air at this waiting room.

“Now, I’ll have to wait longer for the same old news, ‘take your mind off the problem‘ the doctor will tell me the same thing she has been telling me a thousand times'” she sighed.

Sindhu closed her eyes and let a mashup of images from recent happenings, lift her from the abject boredom of a long wait.  A candle she had lit at the shrine with a fervent prayer floated into vivid detail…

divider“Let’s sit in that corner, there is a vacant bench there” whispered Ramesh to Sindhu. They were inside a small crowded shrine. It was a Tuesday and Sindhu had taken a day off to offer prayers at the small shrine. It was their ninth and last visit here.

“Go there every Tuesday” her mother-in-law advised “Nine consecutive times. Your prayers will definitely be answered”

shaniSindhu came here with some apprehension. There were all sorts of people here but with the same prayerful intention to receive something. A flaming pink turbaned Sikh stood apart in the crowd. A man with ash smeared on his forehead had his eyes fixed on the alter. A long line snaked towards the statue of a god in his infant avatar. A woman offered a crying child to a priest standing inside the inner sanctorum. Sindhu was curiously watching the tonsured child’s head bob in and out of view from behind the milling crowd. The child’s head had turned into a bright golden musk-mellon, from the dried sandal wood paste applied to it after the tonsure.

“See that musk-mellon head over there?” she tugged at Ramesh and pointed in the direction of the altar. The priest took the child and disappeared into the sanctum sanctorum briefly, he emerged seconds later with the child, who was now crying as loud as he could, and held him up just like Rafiki held up Simba. The Circle of Life was playing silently in Sindhu’s head, as tears welled up in her eyes.  She planted herself vicariously outside the Sanctorum to receive the child.

She was here in this small shrine, praying for a child. She could not fathom why god would not provide for her all these years. The gift that god owed her, never came. She visualized her son to be five years old when she spotted somebody around that age, standing close to the handrails. His mother had a tight grasp of his hand that was holding a lit candle. The boy’s right hand was up in the air and he was snapping his fingers. He was animated to a point where it became obvious he was “touched by an angel”, as Sindhu used to refer to the reason for her first painful abortion.

She got up reflexively and walked towards the mother and child, took out a candle from her large purse, and leaned forward to light if from the burning candle held tight by the mother and child. She touched the face of the animated boy and kissed him. The boy quickly looked at her and Sindhu saw a brief sparkle in his eyes.  She could tell it was a smile. She was overcome with guilt and regret of her abortion and she quickly turned away to hide her own tears.

“I wonder what the mother is praying for” Ramesh asked when they stepped out. “Whatever it is, I am sure the gods were intensely listening” Sindhu said.

velan6

Sindhu tied the four corners of her handkerchief with a piece of yellow string and tied it to a tree inside the shrine. The tree branch was laden with hundreds of fluttering pieces of cloth tied to it. They represented a cradle in it’s simplest form. The prayer for conception made this a tree of life.

dividerSindhu snapped out of a short nap while waiting for her turn at Dr. Geetha’s fertility clinic when a lady whose face was veiled in a magenta color saree, walked in with a child and sat on the floor next to where Sindhu was seated. The child was fast asleep in the awkward arms of her mother who was squatting on the floor. Sindhu made room for her to let the child sleep on the hospital bench. Without saying a word, she placed her child on the bench.

“What happened to her?” Sindhu asked her mother inquisitively, as she saw visible bruises, with a couple of crisscrossed plaster in need of change. The mother, instead of answering Sindhu, pulled her magenta saree over her head like a hood to hide her face. A wiry man, with a large white turban accompanied her with a cloth bag stuffed with medical files. His sinewy muscles could only belong to a daily-wages laborer.

Sindhu sat there reading every scrap of printed paper still holding on to a magazine cover that read – Femina. It still had some interesting articles that had somehow escaped the wrath of the tearing hands.

The child stirred from her sleep and Sindhu instinctively put her hand on her forehead. At which she opened her eyes and squinted to take a look. She was undecided whether to cry or not when Sindhu asked her “What is your name, bitiya?” No answer. The mother stood up when she heard the conversation. Her mother softly responded “Koel” as she lifted her child from the bench. Nurse-amma appeared from behind the thick green curtain hanging in front of Dr. Geetha’s door.

“Koel” she said loudly, and the family squatting on the floor, stirred into urgent action, so as not to miss their turn.

Just as she was about to disappear behind the green curtains, she lifted her veil, looked at Sindhu with sad eyes and said “You call her Gudiya”

Sindhu was stunned. This was the 5-year old girl who was sexually abused by two men and left to die last week.  She inspected her hands.  She had touched Gudiya with them. She felt deep remorse that these hands were of no help to this wronged innocent child. She waited for almost an hour for Gudiya and her mother to come out of Dr. Geetha’s consulting room. She followed them outside, with Ramesh towing behind.

“Sindhu!” nurse-amma called out loudly “Next!”, but Sindhu had already decided that someone other than herself needed a lot more care. She was nowhere to be found.

“Anamika!” nurse-amma continued “Next!”, without wasting much time on the missing patient.

Sindhu offered the Gudiya family a ride home. Ramesh drove them to their shanty. They stopped near a dirt road that was too narrow for the car to enter.  Sindhu held the sleeping Gudiya as her mother got out of the car. She gave the child a gentle but warm hug.  The girl looked fragile even for a hug.  This injured child in her arms stirred her into a mysterious state of motherhood she never knew existed.

Her phone was ringing and Ramesh took the call. It was Nurse-amma. “Where is Sindhu? Her turn came and went” said nurse-amma, rather sternly.

“Ask her to book an appointment for next week” said Sindhu, distantly.

Sindhu missed all her subsequent appointments at the fertility clinic. She became Gudiya’s god-mother, her spokesperson, her care-giver and she barely had time for herself.  In an intense act of empathy, she forgot herself and her small worries.

Violence against women had taken on a global center-stage and the lights were on India. Not just because of the rapes, but the outrage and the protests. Sindhu simply mobilized her empathy to care for this girl survivor whose innocence was violated. She thought of ways to restore that innocence. This child’s trust in humanity needs to be restored and Sindhu unwittingly bore the yoke of a repentant and refined humanity. Or she hoped she could.

It was during one of these visits to the shanty that she bumped into Dr. Geetha.

“Where did you disappear?” asked the doctor. “Did you go to the resort that I was coaxing you to?” she gave a quizzical smile. She was wearing a dazzling white saree with a red border. She shone like an angel with stethoscope midst the narrow street of this bustling shanty.

Sindhu smiled back, amused that she could no longer bring to fore any of the annoying pink elephants.

It was then, while thinking these thoughts she suddenly felt dizzy and her legs no longer supported her as she slumped to the floor.

“Bring some water” Dr. Geetha instructed Ramesh.

Ramesh put down the tea that Gudiya’s mother had offered him and jumped to action. He ran towards the collapsed Sindhu, whose frame now appeared to be much smaller than the starched blue saree had projected.

“What is it?” he cried.  “What is it Dr. Geetha?”

“Heart rate normal, BP normal. Cause:  heat and exhaustion” she muttered more to herself than to anybody else in the small room.   She looked through a frantic Ramesh and went about her business.

Dr. Geetha forgot in that instance that just maybe her advice to Sindhu to take her mind off of her personal crisis of conception, might have paid rich dividends.

A life within Sindhu had stirred into action.

That conception came as a surprise to Sindhu. She had given up on ever having a baby. She lost herself in making it easier for a child to survive her ordeal. Her own distress appeared to be dust in front of the agony that this child might have endured. Pain is sometimes exaggerated when it is bearable. It sometimes disappears when it becomes unbearable either in us or someone we empathize with. Gudiya survived and in doing so erased the pain that gnawed at Sindhu’s soul, obstructing a dream from manifesting itself.

“Didi-let’s-play-hide-and-seek” said the brat and was off to a running start. “No looking!” he shouted as he slid behind the sofa. Koel pretended not to notice and went around every other place saying “Are you here?” “Where can you be?” “No, you are not here!”

Sindhu was in the prayer room, and heard the door creak open. As was her custom, she was offering prayers of thanksgiving to the Goddess of fertility – Saraswati. A lamp with castor oil was burning on the pooja alter. She beckoned Koel to come in and stand by her side in front of the altar.

When Koel went up to her, Sindhu hugged her tight. Gudiya was her talisman, her goddess of fertility.

The brat barged into the puja room and shouted “You are looking here?  I was behind the sofa silly!” and gave out a high pitched hysterical laugh.

 
 
 

Other Short Stories
bharathi raghu pieta
The anklet bells went dead
Lesson One – Mayamalavagowla A Delivery in the Slow Mail

 
 
Notes

  1. A discussion around the Goddess of Fertility in Hinduism – Chandramouli Mahadevan
  2. The O Ri Chiraiya cover was performed by Dhruvit Shah
  3. O Ri Chiraiya (Satyamev Jayate): Lyrics, Translation
    While Aamir Khan talked about Female Foeticide on the first episode of Satyamev Jayate, he dedicated a song to the girls at the end of the show. The song, composed by Ram Sampath and written and sung by Swanand Kirkire, is here, with the lyrics and English Translation.

    O ri Chiraiya
    Nanhi si chidiya
    Angna mein phir aaja re

    little bird,
    come back to my backyard..

    Andhiyara hai ghana aur lahoo se sana
    Kirno ke tinke ambar se chun ke
    Angna mein phir aaja re

    evil hides in the dark, and is covered in blood..
    bring the sunlight from the sky,
    and come back to my backyard..

    Humne tujhpe hazaro sitam hain kiye
    Humne tujhpe jahan bhar ke zulm kiye
    Humne socha nahi
    Tu jo ud jayegi
    Ye zameen tere bin sooni reh jayegi
    Kiske dum pe sajega mera angna

    We have done injustice against you a thousand times,
    We have given you a world of tortures..
    we didn’t think-
    that if you fly away,
    this earth will remain empty without you..
    with whose presence shall my backyard be adorned?

    O Ri Chiraiya, Meri Chiraiya
    Angna mein phir aaja re

    Tere pankho mein saare sitare jadooN
    Teri chunar dhanak satrangi bunooN
    Tere kajal mein main kaali raina bharooN
    Teri mehandi mein main kachchi dhoop malooN
    Tere naino sajaa doon naya sapna

    I’ll embed all the stars in your wings,
    I’ll weave for you a rainbow colored scarf,
    I’ll fill the dark night in your kohl,
    I’ll rub raw fragrance in your henna (adorned hands),
    I’ll give a new dream to your eyes..

    O ri Chiraiya, Meri Chiraiya
    Angna mein phir aaja re

 
 
 

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