Pakhi was back!
Rajani couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw her sitting at her usual place tapping away assiduously. Neither could Avantika. But unfortunately neither could express either their relief or shared anguish to her. For sitting right next to her was Mr Bansal himself. And he continued to sit there the whole morning much to their distress and disgust.
“Come Rajani let’s go for lunch.” Tanya called.
Rajani looked up and around. Drat that man. She shook her head. “I’m not hungry thanks.”
“Why aren’t you hungry? I noticed you didn’t even have tea.”
“Nothing serious. Just a minor tummy upset.”
“I’ve got curd, you can have that.” Tanya said.
Rajani was touched. “Thanks so much. But actually I wanted to have lunch with Pakhi,” she confessed.
“Me too!” exclaimed Avantika, “But I’m starving and God only knows when he’ll leave,” Avantika grumbled. “Poor girl has been stuck to her seat for hours now. Give her a break dammit.” She shook a fist at Bansal’s well-round back.
“What’s the matter?” asked Aditi who had come up, “aren’t you coming for lunch?
“These girls were waiting for Pakhi but Mr Bansal looks to be firmly glued to his seat,” Tanya said. “Poor thing’s just come out of one nightmare and straight into another. She must be exhausted.”
“I know how to unglue Mr Bansal.” Aditi smiled grimly. She went back into her cabin and emerged with a file and went to Mr Bansal. The girls edged closer.
“Good afternoon Mr Bansal.”
“Ah Aditi, there you are. I had this vision of starting a spiritual magazine – a compilation of my spiritual thoughts, experiences and realizations.” Aditi’s eyes flickered. “With inputs from other leading spiritualists of course. What do you think?”
“Whatever you think right Sir.” Aditi said woodenly. “I was wondering if you have time to go over the salary increment and bonus for the staff?” she held out the file.
Mr Bansal’s started and shied away as if Aditi was offering him a poisonous snake. “Some other time,” he said faintly, “I’m busy…”
“It won’t take much time Sir,” she determinedly opened the file, “I have it all done, it just needs your approval,” she took out a pen.
Reluctantly, Mr Bansal took the file and desultorily flipped through it. His phone threw a shrill lifeline. He grabbed it and shot up from his seat. “Hello? Yes, yes! I’m on the way. Sorry Aditi,” he grinned widely, “another day. I’ve to go now. Mail it to me,” he instructed Pakhi before restoring exiting the office.
Giggling and laughing at Aditi’s effective tactics, they crowded Pakhi. “That was brilliant Ma’am,” Tanya said admiringly, “almost worth missing out on incentives and bonuses,” she made a face.
“He can’t run away forever can he?” Aditi was unfazed. “How about lunch? Pakhi how are you?”
Pakhi who had been laughing along with the others as if nothing had happened and she had returned from a vacation, crumpled before rallying. “I’m okay Ma’am thank you.”
“You’ve lost weight,” Tanya said looking at her critically, “and you are so pale.”
“Why did you join so early?” Nidhi scolded. “You should have taken more rest.”
“I’m okay,” insisted Pakhi. “Besides I thought I would go mad at home.” She offered a wan smile.
“We can talk during lunch.” Aditi led the way.
“I’m sorry about your miscarriage,” Rajani said in a low voice, “But was it really a miscarriage or…” she choked.
“Or what?” asked Pakhi as the others, pulled chairs and spread the spread. “Murder?”
Rajani flinched and paled. She wished she had kept her mouth shut. But she had a morbid irresistible desire to know the gory details. “I didn’t mean…” she said weakly. “I just wanted to know…but never mind,” she swallowed her curiosity and offered her meager lunch, “have some.”
“Here have some from mine,” Nidhi jumped in, “I got aloo parathas. Extra too, perhaps it was in your name.” she smiled and put it on Pakhi’s plate who smiled her thanks.
“Are you back to your in-laws? Or still with your parents?” Nidhi asked.
Pakhi shook her head mutely.
“Let the poor girl be,” Tanya ordered. “Can’t you see she is upset? Here have some water.”
“Thanks.” Pakhi drank some water. “No it’s okay. I need to vent in any case. My friends came over to meet me at home but someone or the other was always there. Besides I wasn’t well and I was upset.” She brushed at her eyes. “But now, all I have is anger. I could have killed my in-laws, my husband and my parents for insisting that I do away with… my pregnancy but I couldn’t. I was too weak and scared.” She paused. “So I did the next best thing – I murdered my baby.” Her voice cracked even as a gasp went around the room.
“Don’t call it murder dear,” Tanya said soothingly, “it’s abortion and…”
“Another name for murder,” Pakhi denied fiercely, “That’s right I killed my baby rather than bring her into a world that doesn’t want her. Not her grandparents, not her father, not her mother….”
“Don’t say that!” Rajani was openly weeping, “You wanted her…”
“What do you know?” Pakhi’s eyes glittered. “I didn’t want a baby that was tainted with their blood. I couldn’t, I simply couldn’t think of perpetuating the genes of those very disgusting people whom I cannot stand, who have no principles or morals, who are the lowest scum on this earth.” Pakhi’s breast heaved as the others stared at her in shock.
Only Aditi’s eyes glittered with satisfaction and something more.
“That’s rather harsh isn’t it Pakhi?” Tanya said gently. “I mean, I understand where all this is coming from but she would have had your genes too?”
“My genes are also not worth being perpetuated.” Pakhi wore a closed expression.
“Of course they are!” Rajani burst out, “Besides a child is much much more than just what she gets from her parents. She is…”
“Weren’t your parents supportive?” Aditi redirected the conversation with a warning shake of her head at shook Rajani who flushed and subsided.
“When my mother in-law found out about my daughter she suggested very sweetly that I should consider abortion. I was horrified and shocked,” Pakhi took a shuddering breath. “I ran away to the safety of my home, to my parents. I called my husband. He came over to convince me to go back home,” she gave a bitter laugh, “via the clinic.”
“But didn’t your parents try to talk to him?” Avantika put an arm around her.
“Talk to him?” Pakhi laughed mirthlessly. “They advocated for him. And continued to do so even after he left. I had long bitter acrimonious arguments with them.”
“Even your mother?” Rajani whispered in horrified shock.
“Especially my mother.” Pakhi was bitter. “When I asked her how could she being a woman, a mother, want to kill one of her own? She said it was because she was a woman, a mother that she could. She knew exactly what it entailed to be a girl-child in this hostile environment and unless things improved, girls were better off not being born.”
“How mean and cruel!” Rajani burst out.
Pakhi’s lips twisted, “I’m her daughter. I saw her logic and the futility of fighting the world through an innocent girl. I thought it would be the kindest thing to let her go.”
“But…but this is a sin!” Nidhi burst out. “You shouldn’t have…”
“Shouldn’t have?” Pakhi spat. “As if I had any choice! I am just guilty of justifying it, making peace with it so that I can live, be able to breathe. Am I not to be even allowed that?” She burst into heartrending sobs.
“Hush!” Tanya enfolded her into her arms and frowned at Nidhi. “It’s okay dear, it’s okay.”
“You should have tried harder to convince your parents, you husband…” Nidhi wasn’t so easy to shut up.
“But I didn’t want to beg for my daughter’s existence!” Pakhi flared up, “for her to live on anyone’s sufferance. I am the only child of my parents but I am not the heir. Why? Because I am a girl. I have no place in their life except as an unwanted burden or at best the medium through which they can get the most punya, by dumping me on another unknown man and doing kanyadaan. But I cannot do their end of life ceremonies or give them mukti.”
Pakhi’s lips twisted as she surveyed their shocked faces. “Why are you all looking at me like that? Did I say anything wrong?” she shook her head. “Nothing but the truth. In the absence of a male child, my parents did the next best thing, they adopted a distant cousin as their son, my brother.” She laughed bitterly. “He repeatedly attempted to molest me but was he chastised? Penalized? Disowned? No. I was told to behave myself. Stay away. Ignore him. My parents desire for mukti was greater than my safety.”
“No.” Rajani’s voice was a horrified whisper.
“Yes.” Pakhi was dry-eyed. “What do I know of the societal constraints and conditioning that made my perfectly decent caring rational reasonable affectionate parents into a pair of inhuman, unfeeling monsters? What if I too became like them? What if I too suffocated my daughter? Wouldn’t it be better not to let her be born?”
Peace Be With You
She merged all wrinkled and squiggling form her mother’s womb
At first breath she squealed lustily to herald her arrival.
Undaunted by the sudden change in circumstances
she screamed even louder demanding her rightful place at her mother’s breast.
Yes, she knew how to to get her way and get her way she did.
For the first time and the last time.
No sooner had the doctor and other attendants left,
her mother crushed her to her breast and
squeezed the life she had nurtured for 9 months out in 9 seconds.
Peace be with you child, she whispered, not a tear in her eyes
May you not be born again
and if my blessing is not powerful enough,
may you not be born as a human
and if that is also not granted
may you be born as a boy
For it is but a Man’s world where
women are oppressed, mothers taken for granted
wives tortured, sisters confined and daughters raped.
Peace be with you child
as with your seven other sisters
According to estimates there are about 100 million missing women in Asia…”missing” in the sense that their potential existence had been eliminated either through sex selective abortion, infanticide or inadequate nutrition during infancy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_women_of_Asia).