Tara missed her periods. It should have happened at least a week before. Tara and Aadhi got married seven months back.
Tara and Aadhi graduated together from an engineering college. Aadhi had a crush on Tara even since the first semester of college and never had the courage to express it. Tara bagged two offers, one from Infosys and another from Deloitte. Meanwhile, Aadhi was still struggling with his backlogs and got them cleared a year after the course completion. He started with a BPO job and got into a small IT company. He then founded a riding jacket manufacturing company, and he was doing it along with his IT job while Tara was still unemployed, learning to cook and stitch. Her mother was a Headmaster of a government school, and her father was a government employee too; they had this noble thought that it was not a good idea for a girl to go to another city alone and work. Whenever she argues about going to work, they would say, once you get married you can go to work if your husband permits.
The biggest fear that Indian parents have is that what if the girl falls in love with a guy and what if he is from a different caste or faith. Tara’s family miserably failed here. Aadhi confessed his love when they were together for a friend’s wedding.
No matter how safe you are locked up, love will find its way.
After three years of struggle their families finally approved of the relationship and they got married. Tara had only one wish that she asked Aadhi; she wanted to work after marriage.
She joined as an intern in a startup after a month after the marriage. She had completed six months and was hired as a junior data scientist a week back. And now she missed her periods.
She was sitting on the sofa worried while Aadhi was back from the office. While Aadhi found out that she was upset. After hours of pampering, she told him that she could be possibly pregnant. Aadhi was excited but he decided not to show.
Aadhi asked, “Why are you so upset, isn’t it a good thing?”
Tara said,” I am confused. I am not sure I want the baby now”.
Aadhi asked, “Why so?”.
Tara said, “I was a rank holder in college. Ever since I received the offer letters, I had been dreaming of a job. My career has just begun. And now I fear this pregnancy might put an end to my career. I am equally excited about the baby. I am not sure what everybody in the family will say if I decide to abort. Even if everybody agrees, I am not sure if I can do it wholeheartedly without any guilt”.
Aadhi came near her and hugged her from behind. He said,” It is your body and your career. You have the complete authority to choose what you need now. You don’t have to worry about what others will say. If you are choosing to abort, I will stand by you. Or if you are choosing to get this baby delivered, I assure you that you will have my utmost support while looking after the baby and help you with restarting your career. There is no room for any guilt here.”
Tara hugged him and thanked him. The whole night they were talking until they realized it was their coffee time. Tara ran to the bathroom with the pregnancy test kit right after waking up. After a while she ran back to Aadhi and woke him up to show the results. There was just a single line. Aadhi and Tara laughed for a long time without a word.
Aadhi had been a crazy bike rider. He had travelled at least half the country. But this was the most difficult ride for him.
Tara completes two years at work. She loved her job. She loved every time she was able to complete a complex task. She loved taking decisions. She loved challenging the designs. She loved it whenever she was appreciated for her commitment.
She missed her periods again. This time, both were excited. The test kit showed up two lines. And she had a conference to attend. She was afraid to go in a cab. She asked Aadhi to drop him.
Aadhi was in cloud nine after the test kit showed positive. And when she asked him to drop, he couldn’t refuse. He knew he was a safe rider; riding a bike was one of the most exciting things in his life. That day it was not exciting.
He was so tense to make sure the commute was safe. Every time he would stop and turn back to Tara to check if she was fine. The conference was happening on a campus that was 18 kilometers from home; 15 mins was too much for him to cover the distance usually. That day he took 45 mins to reach the place. This was the scariest ride in his life. He waited on the campus until the conference was over that evening to take her back home. The return ride was even scarier and longer.
The following weekend it was their first hospital visit. He decided to hire a cab. They wanted to choose the biggest hospital in the city; no matter how costly it was. And the doctor told them that it was only an empty sac, and the baby had not developed. They had to abort. Aadhi and Tara were shattered. That was too heavy to handle. Aadhi would never forget that day in the maternity ward watching her bleed and cry; he felt so helpless.
"Why didn't you accept that girl's proposal?", whispered Tara suddenly; it was half past midnight.
Aadhi, who was half asleep, removed his earphones and slowly turned his head towards Tara with a confused look.
Tara repeated, "Why didn't you accept that girl's proposal?"
"Which girl?", asked Aadhi.
Tara replied, "You are asking as if you have got hundreds of proposals so far and you lost track of it. In the whole of your life, you only got one proposal. The girl who asked you if you could be live-in with her. Why didn't you move in with her?"
Aadhi smiled and replied, "That was a mistake, I should have moved in. I will look for her contact. I will call her tomorrow and ask her if the option is still open".
Tara replied with an irritated gesture, "Go ahead. She would have already blocked you".
Aadhi laughed and asked, "Why did you ask about something that happened 5 years back?".
Tara said, "I watched this latest news of a live-in couple from Delhi. The guy chopped this girl into 35 pieces and threw the pieces in different places".
Aadhi kept silent.
Tara added, "Are these talks of love jihad true."
Aadhi asked her," Rubbish, don't watch all that crap. It was an individual crime committed and that guy was arrested. Just because he is a Muslim by belief, these people want to cash in on the situation. There was another news of a Kerala Hindu girl who killed her boyfriend mixing poison in cool drinks, blindly trusting in her horoscope. What Jihad is that? Saffron Jihad?"
Tara felt silly.
After a while, Tara came back to her question, "Why didn't you accept that girl's proposal? Is it because you do not believe in live-in relationships or is it because you judged her because she made the first move being a girl?".
Aadhi defended, "Not at all. It was obviously exciting when she asked me. No girl has ever asked me this. Primarily, I was just gearing up with my start up then. I had no time for any relationship then. That too an experimental one. I was in a moral dilemma if this is right. To get that clarity that cohabitation is not something to be ashamed of. She was independent, practical and sensible. I was at the beginning of breaking my patriarchal mindset then; I was questioning and challenging my own beliefs. Maybe I was afraid that my patriarchal mindset would be exposed. Conversations with her were the beginning of my thoughts on gender equality and many more social issues. I felt I was too conservative for the person she is."
Tara interrupted and showed her belly saying, "the baby is kicking". It had been 28 weeks since the pregnancy kit showed up two lines for the second time.
Aadhi slowly placed his hands on Tara's bare belly and started talking to the baby. The baby responded back in the only language it knows.
Aadhi started speaking, "You are carrying the greatest gift that I will ever receive. A gift ticked under your belly what grows every day; wrapped by your skin that stretches beyond it can, nurtured by months of love and care. OfCourse a lot of pain! Do you know what makes this gift so special?".
Tara responded with a smile and silence. She just nodded.
Aadhi continued, "Gifts in general remain a surprise only to the one who receives them. But the baby is the only gift that remains a surprise to even the one who gives it. Unwrapping doesn't happen just in a moment like the regular gifts. It doesn't end right after knowing if it is a boy or girl. We are going to be unwrapping the gift every single day, amused at the way it eats, walks, talks, learns and what not. We do not know if the baby will be a boy or girl. We do not know if he will look like you or me. Tall, Short, Fat, Slim, Black, White; none of this matter. We already love the little soul; even before he/she is unboxed."
Tara struggled to bend down to kiss Aadhi. He helped her by getting up a little so that her lips would reach his. The kiss intensified and went on and on until she needed a breath.
Tara broke the silence with her question, "So do you say cohabitation is ok? I somehow do not feel that is right".
"This is the choice of two individuals. All the problems that you see with Cohabitation can also exist in a typical marriage; except for some legal accountability. It all depends on how mature the individuals are. There are people who get hooked up with the culturally accepted arranged marriage system considering all the factors like horoscopes and rituals with approvals of both the families and later the couple decide to get divorced within a month of marriage. There are couples who separate after a child is born and the child ends up living with one of the parents. There are some who remain in a toxic relationship just for the sake of society.
A marriage doesn't guarantee anything in a relationship. Relationships are determined by respect, love, commitment, patience, accountability and tolerance. A relationship of any type that involves all these factors can be successful. Of course, everything cannot be perfect everywhere; but as long as these factors are not breached beyond a threshold; relationships survive."
Tara replied, "I agree, maybe I was not able to accept it because of the cultural conditioning."
Aadhi said, "Culture is a variable. It keeps changing from time to time and place to place. It constantly evolves and there is always chaos when there is a disruption. Chaos would always be the reason for the change."
My grand-mom told me that she didn't like my grandfather. Nobody even listened to her. She had to live with him without even a choice though he was abusive; he later married my grand-mom’s sister also.
My uncle fell in love with a girl from the same caste and he had to move out of the family to live with his love; because the family did not approve of the relationship as their horoscopes did not match.
When I told my parents that I was in love with you, there was chaos because we belong to different castes. Finally, they had to agree.
My cousin is soon getting married to a girl from another religion; both the families agreed.
Disruption of the so-called culture has been happening continuously.
You will never know; cohabitation could be the new normal in a few years from now. Maybe our son or daughter sitting in your belly would someday walk up to you and say that he or she is going to move out with his/her partner. Imagine the child someday tells you "I am a gay”. Or say he or she becomes a transgender. Maybe the child will get married and doesn't want to have a child. Or maybe they could choose to adopt a child instead. What if the child doesn't want to get married at all?
Tara replied, "Don't scare me".
Aadhi explained, "You don't have to be scared. But it is important that you understand. These are all personal choices. Choosing a partner is a natural choice and so is the type of relationship they are choosing too. The same way the sexual orientation of the child is a natural selection. Who are you and I to override a natural process. Every animal, bird and insect have this choice.
This is what I said earlier. The child is a gift that we are going to unbox not in a day, but it is going to surprise us till our last day of life. No matter if the child is black skinned or white skinned, tall or short, calm or arrogant, introvert or extrovert, rich or poor, we will love the child and care for it. So, you should consider the sexual orientation and choices of a child the same way.
Maybe not everything is a free will; of course, we are bound to adhere and be within the limits of the culturally sanctioned freedom. Maybe as time goes by; our children might think that we are conservative, just like how we think about our parents. We might realize only when there is some chaos that our children might put before us.
There is only one rule to stay up to the time; do not question a personal choice until that negatively impacts others. And culture or tradition or what the relatives will think of us, doesn't count in the negative impact that we are talking about. If what is cooking in somebody else’s kitchen or what someone chooses to wear is bothering you, then it is not considered as a negative impact. It is you who must change.
All we must do is to teach the child to be more human enough. And when we have to educate the child and the importance and values of a relationship and guide them on choosing the right partner."
Tara smiled and said, "I understand it when you explain, somehow I am not able to accept everything. Maybe I should read all those books on your shelf to have a bigger picture of life."
Aadhi replied, "Certain books totally break and make you unlearn everything that you believed so far. When you look at the world from a broader perspective; none of these divisions or ego really matter at all".
Tara asked, "Which is your favorite author sitting out there on your bookshelf?"
Aadhi replied, "Alexander Von Humboldt. He is a geographer, a scientist, a wanderer who tried to understand the world. His theory says that all aspects of the planet, from the outer atmosphere to the bottom of the oceans were interconnected - a theory called the unity of nature.”
Tara smiled and said, "This tells me, we have to learn a lot as parents before we decide what to teach."
Aadhi said, "That's true. The schools will teach the child the language, science, technology, history and geography. There is one beautiful word called ‘Political Correctness’. We must teach the child to be politically correct in all aspects. If we don’t teach, he will learn things in his own way. They have more options than we have.”
They played their favorite songs, and the baby was dancing inside her belly.
It was the 39th week of pregnancy. She was admitted to the hospital; pain was induced, and it was decided as a c-section. Tara had been working too hard on her body; she took care of her diet and did a lot of yoga to make sure it was a normal delivery. But things turned out in a different way. They had to opt for a c-section as per the doctor’s advice.
He was waiting outside the operation theatre. The doctor walked up to him and handed over the tiny, beautiful girl. She was just the size of his palms. The doctor gave him a lot of instructions which fell into his deaf ears. Every sense of his was just filled with the little angel in his hands.
Maya was 11 years now. One day she ran up to Tara and asked, “Amma, what caste do we belong to?” And the reason behind it was a post in the WhatsApp group. The group was for the parents of Maya’s classmates. The post shared had an essay written by Maya’s friend Prem. Prem’s mother Anusha had shared it in the WhatsApp group. The mom was proud of her son’s writing skills.
The write up was in praise of their caste, talking about the pompous history of the caste. How men from this caste who served as the finance minister for most of the kings in the South Indian history.
Tara called up Anusha and invited her for lunch the following weekend.
Anusha and Prem arrived that weekend for lunch. After lunch, they let Maya and Prem play for themselves. Tara and Anusha took a walk around the garden.
Tara started, “I have known you for years, we have never discussed caste. I know you are not a casteist. But what was all that essay about”.
Anusha justified, “No, it was not about caste. Recently there was a historical movie about the locality that we belong to. He liked the movie and started researching more about the king. While reading about it he came across our caste name mentioned in many places. He got curious and wrote the essay. Trust me, it was not about caste. It was just a topic and history. I shared it because his language was good”.
Tara replied,” His vocabulary was exemplary for his age, but the content is a red flag. Mastering a language is good but what is it of any use if you do not know what to write about or write sometime that could hurt somebody. You can talk about anything for a pass time; but to write something it really has to get into his mind and to inspire he should have really believed and should have been proud of his caste. An eleven-year-old boy feeling proud of his caste and writing about it; do you think it is a good sign”.
Anusha agreed, “Yeah true, I was just happy about his writing skills. I thought it was just polite and harmless”.
Tara replied, “It is indeed harmful. I will tell you why. Prem knows his caste; it was a privileged caste, and he has a history. Even Prem’s grandparents were well educated and had white collar jobs. Another boy from the same class could belong to a suppressed caste. If he goes and checks his history; what would he have? Only the stories of pain. Slavery was there until a few decades ago; still there are people doing manual scavenging and hard jobs. The child hardly has anything to feel proud of their ancestors. Wouldn’t this create an inferiority complex in the child. Of course, the child needs to know the pains for his forefathers so that he is not back to square one. But I don’t think this is the way.
We tell our children to share the food with their friends during their lunch breaks. Remember that day, Aadhi and I were stuck in a situation and couldn’t give Maya her lunch on time. Prem and their other classmates shared their food before we could reach the school. That is how the kids are naturally. The pride of the caste in a child is like eating their food without sharing when a fellow friend is starving. That ultimately is the reason that in Tamilnadu most people do not attach the caste name to their official names. They were not suppressed by choice; the privileged ones were responsible. There is no glory in that.
Anusha agreed, “That’s true. I realize that now”.
Anusha continued, “I am asking just for the sake of understanding. The last time, he wrote an essay on his mother tongue. I am wondering if that is wrong too?”
Tara said, “That should be fine. A Malayalee can be proud of Malayalam. A Tamilan can be proud of Tamil and so with every other language that exist in the world. The languages and literatures are more like works of art. Anybody can appreciate and feel proud of the art that they like. There are some languages that are spoken by millions of people and there are some languages that are just spoken by a few thousands of people. No matter what, my mother tongue is important to me, and I will always feel proud of it. That does not make it superior or inferior.
In simple, we should remember that too much of pride in anything makes us fanatics. Once can be really proud of only his own accomplishment and no matter what we achieve we should remember that it does not make us superior to another human being.
The previous essay he wrote was about his religion. If I am confused and I need a let out I go to the beaches or mountains. When my husband is stressed out, he either hits the road or sits and meditates. My mother-in-law, her only let out on anything is just praying and visiting a temple. Everybody has their own spiritual path, and that spirituality doesn’t always need to be associated with a religion. Somebody can find peace in music or painting. So literally no faith is superior to other.”
Anusha questioned, “So you intend to grow Maya as an atheist like you two”.
Tara smiled and replied, “For the believer a religion is more moral guidance, a psychologically need. She is free to choose her belief. Faith is not like pyramidal schemes, it is not necessary that our children should adhere; even if it is atheism. Religion is as private as sex. In sex each one has their favorite position; it is absurd to say my favorite is the best, so is faith. Forcing sex on someone is rape; forcing a faith on someone is more similar.
We are all different. Every individual in the world is different. That doesn’t mean that we all should be divided. Humanity is all about understanding the differences, appreciating the choices and happily coexisting. I read a book that talks about a theory called “Unity of nature”. Literally it is like everything in the world is interconnected and we are all the cells of this mighty living organism called “Earth”. Maybe if we understand nature more, we will feel silly for how trivial are the differences that we talk about.”
Anusha thanked her for making her understand.
Tara was rushing to the bathroom again with the pregnancy kit. It was a contraceptive failure this time. The double lines showed up again. Aadhi was excited about having another kid. Tara was not ready for another baby; her age, her profession and mainly her health might not support her to look after another baby the same way she did to Maya. It was her body and she decided to abort the child.