A Short Story
Sunita was preparing dinner for her family. Her eight month old son was sleeping in the palna in her room while her toddler played in the drawing room. Sunita had worked as a teacher in a primary school before her children were born. Now, as a housewife, taking care of her home and family was her duty. Her family comprised of her husband Amitji, his parents, grandmother and their two sons. Her husband a post graduate, worked at a bank and earned sufficiently to support them.
Sunita was making chapattis in the kitchen and was wondering if she was late. She knew that the punishment for getting late with dinner was severe. The only time she had made the mistake, Amitji on his mother’s command had chastised her with a resounding slap, leaving a red palm print on her left cheek. The memory of it stung harder than the physical pain she had felt.
She suddenly heard a child whispering into her ear. Although she could not clearly hear the words being said, it was distinctly the voice of a child, a girl, maybe of five. Since there was no one besides her, she dismissed it. Maybe I am tired she told herself as she continued rolling the dough. The bangles jingled with the swift movement of her hands.
Two days later while picking up her son’s toys from the floor she heard the voice again, whispering close to her right ear. She did not think much about it till later in the evening when her mother-in-law spoke about Ammaji losing her mind with old age. Ammaji claimed to have seen a pretty little girl in the house, dressed in a beautiful frock and asserted that it was Sunita’s daughter. While Sunita knew that Ammaji at times spoke about very old incidents or forgot dates but this was bizarre.
Later, that night as Sunita was drifting off to sleep after completing all her chores and putting her sons to sleep, she was startled to hear someone call out to her... ‘Ma’. She sat up with a jerk and found both her sons and husband sleeping peacefully. She could no longer go back to sleep and began thinking about the voice she had heard repeatedly over the past few days and about Ammajis insistence of having seen a daughter in the house. A sudden sadness seemed to engulf her. A tear threated to spill over her eyelash.
She was reminded of the time when she had been pregnant with their first child five years ago, before her sons were born.Tears rolled down her sleepless melancholic eyes as she recalled how the gender detection test ordered by her mother-in-law had led to a big upheaval in her otherwise peaceful life. Her premature daughter had been snatched away from her, denied to live, extracted forcefully from her womb in an obscure nursing home. Sunita had cried for days, not from the pain, but from the grief of having lost her baby. Her husband although not an active accomplice had remained speechless and powerless in front of his mother’s wishes. The two pregnancies that followed would have met the same fate, but luckily for her, they were both male.
She wondered how an educated woman like her mother-in-law, who had been a school teacher herself, could harbour such hatred for her own creed. How a person could decide to end the life of her own grandchild, just because she was a girl? She could have revolted against her mother-in-law which would have left her homeless and rejected, but how could she fight against a society that considered a son to be the prized possession and a daughter as a burden. With these thoughts running in her mind, Sunita stayed awake till her tired body took over and guided her to sleep. She dreamt of a little girl in the pink frock, her face as pretty as a porcelain doll, bright eyes, pink lips and the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. She dreamt of the daughter she could never have.
25th November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.