Waiting for Manna
The scene was like that:
Three people are in a waiting around a pregnant woman.
Inside her swollen womb, His Highness has slept
In a dark, closed chamber, full of mud and filth.
The heart beats with an unspeakable anger.
The doctor records the fetal heart sound –140 per minute.
Yet, three people are in a strange kind of imprisonment
In a mysterious womb,
In a slumber of sleeplessness,
In a dreamlessness of dreams.
They are waiting. They can’t step forward,
Nor can they fly faraway like a bird.
They are waiting for the day
When the door will open
When the smile of a morning will spread
When His Highness will arrive and declare
“Look, I’ve come”, all anger,
All pains of my gone days are forgotten.
And, the three people will once again be released from the womb.
The three persons around the pregnant woman waiting for a rebirth.
The sweat which sprouted from every nook of Paramita’s body now formed a stream down the middle of her back. Sleep had deserted her long ago. Paramita heard the pediatrician asking the nurse, “Where is the baby?” A sleep-laden Paramita wondered, ‘Baby? Which baby? Baby isn’t here!’ But suddenly she remembered what madam had told her this morning when she examined her par-abdomen. “The size of the baby seems to be small; we have asked the pediatrician to have a look. We must check out the size of the baby.”
The bespectacled and bald pediatrician was looking very serious while examining Paramita’s par-abdomen. After his exam, he prescribed some medicines, bid her good day, and continued on his rounds. He hadn’t given her any information or...hope. This caused Paramita to lapse into a state of worry.
She began to think ‘Is the baby really too small? The time is ripe now; they will have to somehow bring out the baby. But is the baby a thumb-sized body like in “The Tom Thumb” story? How would she live her whole life with such a dwarf child? What would people say?’ Paramita shuddered with fear. ‘Was her inner impulse so small? Unfit for a human baby? Besides the human fetus in her womb, was there something else growing there as well?’ She had often heard of such exceptions: lambkins, monkeys, distorted babies, etc. Fear engrossed her. Partha was not with her nor was her father; only her mother had curled herself up on the floor near the bathroom door. If there had been anyone around, she would have shown them the doctor’s prescription, what medicines the doctor had prescribed. She needed a healthy complete baby even if it was not beautiful.
Paramita felt a deep sigh within her. Perhaps she would begin to weep after a few moments of loneliness. Each time the doctors said, “The baby is very small,’’ she would think about how very difficult it is for the baby to survive if born below five pounds of weight. Anger bloomed within her towards her family. It was as if no one really cared for the baby for whom they were anxiously waiting. What were they doing for her and her baby other than bickering amongst themselves? Now they all seemed withdrawn behind their own masks. Was he the same Partha with whom she had spent four years of conjugal life? Were they her parents whom she had been seeing since her childhood? The stress and anxiety affected them all.
Paramita had to remain in the hospital bed for a long time as doctors advised her to get admitted much before her expected date of delivery. They were provided with a half portion of a double-bedded cabin; the other half, along with one bed, was left for other patients. Paramita, her heavy-weighted husband Partha, and her mom and papa all had to use that one-bedded half-portion of the cabin. In addition to the people, a suitcase, basket, tiffin carrier, water pot, and a lot more things found their place in that small room. The crowded room already caused bickering among the three attendants over sleeping space. Nowadays, there appeared to be a readiness amongst themselves for bickering over anything, including the sleeping space.
At first, Partha drowsed there but was his drowsing because of his obliviousness or selfishness? He arranged to sleep on the floor, keeping the suitcase, tiffin box and other things aside. Mom was addicted to betel and she couldn’t take her betel box often because she had to jump over Partha. And since mom didn’t want to disturb her son-in-law, she asked papa, with annoyance, to always bring the betel box to her. Papa gestured to silence mom. Finally, Paramita arose from her bed and as she tried to bring the betel box, rebuked Partha saying, “Why don’t you budge? Doesn’t the man who has done so much work and brought meals for you need rest?”
“Where shall I budge to?” Partha replied sleepily.
“But won’t papa sleep?”
Partha got up suddenly. “I was going downstairs; why did you forbid me?”
“But you told there was not even room to sit.”
“What bothers you whether I sit or wander?” Partha replied, a bit annoyed.
“Why do you get angry, is this the time to move away?”
“If I can’t go downstairs, can’t wander, and can’t sleep here, then what shall I do?”
Then Paramita’s father joined in. “You sleep here son, don’t listen to her. I’m going upstairs. There is enough wind up there.” With that, he took a pillow and a bed sheet and began to leave the room.
“You sleep here, Papa, please,” Partha insisted. “I am going downstairs. You can’t sleep upstairs amidst so much dust and noise.”
“I won’t have any problem. You sleep here.” With that, Papa left leaving Partha with a sullen face.
Paramita felt unhappy for them both. She imagined an old man smeared with dust struggling to sleep on the floor of a half-built building. Maybe a young man would wander in from the scorching sun, unable to get anywhere a little space or would be smoking cigarettes, leaning against the gate by the Nepalese watchman who was drowsing on a stool. She wished to go downstairs, and upstairs too to see how both were getting on but the use of any stairs was forbidden to her.
Meanwhile, Paramita’s mom prepared betel coolly as if nothing happened. After each one departed, she told Jayanti, a woman of Paramita’s age in the adjacent bed, “Look my baby, everybody gets angry but what for? I am here for their sake. I swear I don’t want to stay here anymore after listening to so much but if I go home, people will wonder why the mother sits home, leaving her daughter in discomfort. It is only for the fear of what people will say that I am here.” Throwing a glance at Paramita, she again told Jayanti, “I pray to goddess Mangala to relieve my daughter quickly and without incident.”
Jayanti only smiled at Paramita. What could she say? She also had the same problem. Fed up with her check-ups at several hospitals, she finally had come here. She had an operation too. Her problem was the formation of mucus in the fallopian tube which had made her unable to conceive, even after twelve years of marriage. Why did such things happen? When one’s hand is ravaged with draught, another’s smiles with an abundance of greenery!
Unmindfully, Jayanti’s mother, who was also in attendance in the small cabin said, “We have enough land and property but none to enjoy. I am worried for this girl so therefore, I came here throwing away my own household. Her father is an executive officer and he has no time at all to visit as he has his work responsibilities. He can’t ever come. My son studies medicine in Berhampur. He got us admitted here and will be keeping in touch with us. What else can I do? If I go away, my son-in-law can’t do anything. Don’t you see how he always fumbles! A friend of my son’s is a doctor here. He will be looking after us.”
Paramita knew Jayanti’s mother never liked her son-in-law. She would always humiliate and caricature him publicly, even for his slightest fault; and all this because he was a farmer who had dark skin. Jayanti’s dark skin was also a problem for her marriage and therefore, she had to marry this half-educated fellow. Although he had enough landed property, he was never considered equal with the other son-in-law or even with Jayanti’s father.
Sometimes Jayanti swallowed all the quarrels and remarks; other times, she wept when she thought no one else was around. Once Paramita felt shocked at this and tried to solace Jayanti, “You should not be so sentimental and weep at such a time over such trivial matters. Two of your lower stitches have become septic and the doctor said the others are getting infected too. If you weep so much, won’t it affect your stitches?” Paramita offered.
“I don’t need anything; neither children nor family,” Jayanti began to sob as she rose to speak. “I am so far without a child. What if I don’t have one now? How long shall I live? Because of this, I will have to tolerate so much. Mama lashes with her words at whomever she wants; my husband rages whenever he feels. And simply because I am one’s daughter and the other’s wife.”
Yes, Paramita had observed everybody coming to this cabin since her stay began. All came there shrouded in a deep intimacy but after staying too close for a few days in this little room, they all developed a strange sense of intolerance. Which one of them was the real one then -- the deep, sympathetic relationship that was there when first coming to the cabin or the stark reality about their character which came out after they were there for a few days?
Paramita did not understand why there was so much want of love and sympathy among people. A misty wall of doubt, suspicion and loveless-ness always seemed to maroon one from the other. Thus were the situations with several who inhabited the other bed in her room before Jayanti.
Hema, a rustic, uncouth woman had been in this bed right before Jayanti. Her attendant was her husband, a casual labourer in a jute mill in Calcutta. Paramita had noticed a wall of suspicion and inequality even among this rustic, illiterate couple.
Hema had a keen interest in chatting with Paramita but Paramita didn’t have much interest chatting with her and didn’t really like her ugly smile and constant chatter. Perhaps Hema discerned Paramita’s uneasiness with her as she said to her, “I have enough jewellery. I am not as you see me now. I look like a queen when I put on all my jewellery.”
Paramita was startled at these words. She thought, ‘Are the eyes of this woman more powerful than x-rays, as they could capture one’s thoughts? The woman is surely very lonely in her life. And that loneliness has made her so sensitive that she can quickly know the odour of the wind, the colour of water, and the feelings in the hearts of those around her?’
It seemed from her words Hema had an intense dissatisfaction for her husband. She had been rebuking him constantly since she came back to sense after her operation. Nothing was right. In contrast, her husband was very gentle and tolerant. He had stealthily brought fish curry for his pampered wife evading the eyes of the nurse attendants after her operation. Paramita thought the woman must be very lucky having such a husband. After giving fish curry to his wife, the man struck up a conversation with Paramita’s mom saying, “Auntie, she lost her parents in childhood so I never scold her and she does whatever she likes. I have willed five acres of land, a house, and enough Jewellery in her name. By the grace of God, she doesn’t have a want of anything. Our only sorrow is we never had children.”
“How long have you been married?” asked mom.
“Sixteen years. But Auntie, I no more hope for a child. But psychologically she suffers fits. I thought I’d have her checked up as she remains alone. She accuses me of having no interest in her.”
At that point, Hema interrupted saying, “Why you are telling lies? You came only after I had sent ten letters to you. Nothing will happen to me. I shall live normally as I used to after my return.” Then her tone turned softer and she told Paramita, “Who else is mine after his departure to Calcutta? You know, he told me that he would marry another girl. He has chosen another bride and brought me here only to show off. Well, I don’t need anything from him now. I have jewellery, property, a house, everything. What more should I need?”
Paramita agreeably responded to the woman. “What else does one need?” But the words, as she uttered them, stuck in her bosom. She thought, ‘does one really need this much in one’s life? Can she be really happy with only these things?’ Despite having a large heart for Partha, Paramita’s life had become a vacuum. Perhaps her life would be more fulfilled with hope when she had a baby. And when this woman was drifting away from all possibilities, how could she lead her life?
Before Hema, a middle-aged woman had occupied the bed. Her attendant was her husband, aged and aristocratic. Their son was an officer in Bhubaneswar. This old man and his wife were also poles apart yet entangled in family-hood. Their son had distanced himself from them emotionally.
When Paramita first arrived at the nursing home, she had noticed an old lady lying like a corpse with a saline IV in her hand. She had undergone an episiotomy. A ward attendant was by her and her husband beside her bed. She had come out of the operation theater recently yet there was nobody around her -- no botheration, no anxiety.
No one else visited that old couple except their son. Amidst the routine use of coconut water, biscuit, special meal, horlicks, and bread, they drifted away their days and nights. Paramita wondered how, even after six or seven days after the operation, no one visited the lady.
Of course, their daughter-in-law had once visited and returned after fifteen minutes with a distinctly changed mood. Paramita’s parents were, of course, responsible for that. The incident was quite a trifle. Once the old lady wanted to urinate so badly she almost crawled in pain like an insect. The daughter-in-law, at that time, was chatting with Paramita. The helpless condition of the old lady was noticed by Papa. Infuriated, he told the daughter-in-law, “Why don’t you take her to the toilet? She might fall down without help.”
The daughter-in-law was careless in her response to Papa replying, “She can do everything by herself. She doesn’t need any help.” Paramita’s mom reacted quickly. “But time has changed! She is sick now!” This time the daughter-in-law didn’t reply nor did she go to the toilet to help either. Instead, she went away soon after the old lady came out of the bathroom. After the old man returned, Paramita’s Papa raged over the daughter-in-law’s behaviour, but the old couple seemed unmoved. Observing all this, Paramita felt as if the old couple has become so stoic they never expected anything; never alleged anything.
One day, raising his legs to the chair and looking at the ceiling fan, the old man said to Paramita, “Listen daughter! I was journeying to Vrindaban but have been stranded here mid-journey. How heinous a sinner I am that even at this age, I can’t move!” Meanwhile, the old lady was in slumber; Papa had gone to bring lunch; and mom was engrossed in chatting somewhere else in the building. The old man continued, “I am retired man now, I have never visited anywhere during my service except occasional visits to monasteries in Puri. I had only dreamed of retiring in Vrirndaban. But while I was preparing to go, my wife asked me to take her to our son for treatment. After treating her, my son asked me to drop her at the village after her checkup and then go anywhere I liked. And see how far my pilgrimage to Vrindaban has progressed and where I am?” Displeasure was clearly heard in the words of the old man, more for his wife than for his son, as if the old lady had trapped him into the situation purposely!
One day the old lady had to leave the hospital. Their son had come from Bhubaneswar. He had come only twice during her stay at hospital. He always seemed busy, enquiring of his mother’s health without ever physically seeing her. And without expecting an answer, he would ask his father to fill the prescriptions if more medicines were required. One time when the son actually did come to see her, the old lady sobbed, “Why did the doctors drain so much blood from you for me? Why should I need your blood? I must die then. How much blood have they drained away from you, my dear son?” The old lady sobbed as she tried to feel the hands of her son. Meanwhile, the old man had gotten the prescriptions filled and the son rushed out of the room to bring the medicines. It seemed to Paramita as if she was watching a scene from an experimental drama. And the reason for her feeling this way was the bed lamp which lit up the room instead of the overhead tube lights would constantly blink due to low voltage. When the son came back into the room with the medicines, the old man lit the overhead tube lights, then the bed lamp. And in this light, the son seemed even more mysterious.
The old man rose early the morning his wife was to be released from hospital. After his bath, he put sandalwood paste on his forehead, cleared the room, and got their luggage ready for departure. The wife wore a clean saree, put on vermillion after combing her hair, chewed some cardamoms, and sat expectantly, waiting on her bed. The man had settled all the open accounts with the hospital. Although the old lady had been permitted to be discharged, the couple waited for their son, who would come between nine and ten that morning. The time passed but the son never came. Suddenly at noon, the nurse burst into the room, behind her, a stretcher carrying a half-dead body in saline. The orderlies shouted at the old lady to get off the bed. Unable to understand anything, the old lady tried to move away in pain. The nurse was furious with her as she had delayed vacating the bed which was obviously needed for this emergency.
The old lady didn’t know where to move because many people had gathered around the new patient all at once. Paramita’s Papa beckoned her to sit with them. There she sat with them, leaning against the wall out of the way.
When the old man returned to the room after hours of waiting for their son, he was worried to see this condition of his wife, “What shall I do, sir, go to Bhubaneswar to my son? I can’t understand why he delays! If I go now, can’t I be back by evening?” As he said all this, the man carried their belongings into the space confined for Paramita.
The old lady consoled him, “Why do you worry. He will come.”
“When will he come?” The old man said in an irritated and impatient voice. “It is twelve-thirty now. I have cancelled meals in the canteen since last night. What can we do now?”
The old couple seemed lifeless as evening set in, as if they were two ghosts, two shadows – two speechless shadows. Like every other time, the son came at ten that night. There was no trace of remorse in him. Rather, he went about his business calmly as if nothing had happened. He asked, “Got everything ready? Let’s go.” And that was that. The three disappeared from the room...and Paramita’s life.
As time went on, Paramita lost all sense of time...
Tearing away the pages from the calendar,
She became timeless;
A prisoner among moments.
And you for him
And in unsleeplessness;
in an absence of happiness;
in an absence of all sorrows.
Yet sweat drips from the body in the scorching heat;
devastating thirst kills the bosom.
Nothing is there before you
No – April, no May, no June.
Not the Nursing home nor Cuttack, India , world, planets, stars, sky-
Nothing is there. Only you and he.
Prisoner among moments,
And yet timeless. And yet sweat drips from the body
under seething heat
And yet a devastating thirst in the bosom.
You have forgotten Sun Clinic and Cuttack; forgotten looking for a rickshaw at the bus stand; queue up for juice at the juice parlor; watching upbeat movies in the noon show. You have forgotten everything; forgotten that life before when you were engaged in the play of building a nest in some jungle. Like a woodcutter man, he would return from the jungle bazaar with rice in his napkin; cleaning with cow-dung that hut, that little, beautiful dream home at the foot of the hill. You would blow conch and worship in the evenings. You have forgotten that life of some previous birth.
Now you are a prisoner among moments
And yet timeless.
Before your eyes-only your shadow.
No world is before you.
Yet sweat drips from the body in the sweltering heat
And in the bosom-a devastating thirst.
You have torn all pages from the calendar,
Like falling flowers, in the sun of timelessness.
Paramita never quite escaped the reality of her situation though as she experienced several false pains in the meantime. Her body shivered in unbearable pain. While tolerating the pain with her tight lips, Paramita felt delighted at the prospect of an arrival of a baby -- her baby -- as if some long stagnant water dazzled with waves! All became alerted and anxious, throwing away anything they were doing in favor of waiting near Paramita. Sometimes, they called the nurse; sometimes they called the doctor, but all pain would subside after a few hours and then there would be a return to the status quo.
At this point, Paramita did not know what real pain was or what false pain was; but as she often heard, perhaps false pain had no importance at all. She heard the doctor the other day say, “There is no more intense pain in the world than that of labour pain. Therefore, women are preferring these days Caesarean operation than bearing these intense pains.”
But Paramita was not prepared for a Caesarean operation, nor was anyone in her family. They decided to wait. Paramita could not rest in peace after she heard the word “Caesarean” from the doctor. She feared the doctor would have made the Caesarean operation upon her. She went through the daily delivery register to check the number of Caesarean and normal cases. She was so scared she kept asking the same question to all the doctors: “What is the position of the baby? Does it need a Caesarean? What normally are the reasons for a Caesarean? When is that decision made?”
Who would answer so many questions? Still some tried to solace her. “Why do you feel so nervous? Caesarean is very normal matter now. Besides, you have to wait some more days. The doctor will make a decision depending upon your condition at that time. Please don’t worry.”
Meanwhile, Paramita had enquired the reasons for every Caesarean case and had condemned the greed of the nursing home authorities for suggesting the Caesarean surgery. She did not want a Caesarean operation but she would have to wait patiently for a normal delivery, which she couldn’t.
She never imagined, when she came here, her days would be so painful and her nights so dreamless. She had only come in for a checkup. But after examining her, the doctor had advised Partha to stay since the city was not safe for her to travel frequently by bus to and from the country.
Partha had no convenient arrangement to stay in the city nor was there a relative where they could stay for a month or two. So at this point, he was anxious to know if it was really necessary to stay in the city.
The doctor was non-committal in his reply. “It all depends upon you. If it is a normal case, we will not compel you. But we have considered this case as serious and special.”
This was the first motherhood for Paramita after years of infertility. After several examinations, x-rays, medicines, and gonadotrophine hormone treatments at AIIMS (Delhi), she was blessed with this happiness. She had almost given up all hope as if she was a barren land where no seed would ever sprout. The gonadotrophine treatment delighted all. This much-coveted dream was precious for anybody and perhaps because of that, there was so much anxiety and caution. Not caring for his business, Paramita’s father had come to stay with his daughter and bear all the expenses of the nursing home. When the doctor advised about bed admission (before a month and a half), Partha had also decided to spend all his leave here as well.
When it was decided they would stay, Paramita and Partha had planned to meet some relatives, watch offbeat movies, and visit memorable places. But, after she reached the nursing home on the morning of the twenty-fifth of March, she could never once come out. The ‘city’ turned out for her to be only a small room, a red-bulb-lit long corridor, an Alsatian dog seen through the window, and an old woman moving with her palms and feet in the neighboring apartment. She had written so many letters to many acquaintances but no one had replied or come to see her. It was as if all her acquaintances had left the city or people who had so far been writing her letters had forgotten that they knew her.
Paramita had thus become a prisoner at the nursing home. Through the window could be seen the TV tower and some ruins of the old city along an open field. There was no botheration of IV fluid, injection, medicine or bandage. It seemed to Paramita as if she had come to play the role of a patient!
The white bed sheet, pillow, and mackintosh blanket of the hospital always reminded Paramita of her role as a patient. And in a bid to forget all this, she always draped the bed with her printed bedcover. But how could she drape the environment that surrounded her; turn her face away from the insensate women returned from operation with saline; the smell of ether flowing from the OR; the trace of concern in the face of the attendants; or the desperation of the people who could not find suitable blood in the blood bank? Paramita was in that environment yet was unconcerned with ether, saline fluids, and the search for blood, the cautions of the nurses, or the alertness for the change of dressing.
The day Partha arrived with leave of a month, Paramita became very much delighted to see him. She felt as if Partha was not a husband, but her lover. She wished to weep in his embrace and pour out all her anger on him as to why he had gone away leaving her in so much loneliness. No city was there; no streets, no coffee houses, and no malls. How illusionary this city was where everything went on at a safe distance.
It seemed as if Partha wanted to say, “See, how I have rushed to you? Without you, how could I live there in peace?”
But Paramita’s father was not happy with Partha’s early arrival. According to the previous plan, her father was to return home after Partha came. But he was not willing to go now. Concealing his displeasure he asked Partha, “Why did you come so early? You should have come a week later. It is not certain how long we will have to stay; no one knows when it will happen! You have come to stay from now but you may not be able to get leave in the real time of need. It is a pleasure you came and saw the girl. Now go and cancel your leave. Come later when it is really needed.”
But Partha was resolute. He didn’t want to go back nor was he going to. He responded somewhat curtly, “You think, I can avail leave whenever I wish? It is not easy to arrange leave for a month. Better, you please return home. Your business would have suffered much loss. Mom can go with you if she wishes. Practically all of us have no such problem. I’ll arrange all the meals at the hotel. Enough days are there before the delivery. I’ll make you a trunk call, if needed.”
‘’Do you think I have no concern for my daughter? If I go back as you suggest, I won’t remain there in peace.” Papa’s voice sounded different. There was a serious altercation between Papa and Partha regarding their staying with Paramita. But in the end, no one went away. Couldn’t they see, while arguing, there wouldn’t be enough space for four persons? They could never sleep comfortably at night nor could nap at noontime. There would be enough time but they would have nothing to do. Who knows when the day might come when a person would be needed to hold a salined hand carefully, give medicines in the mouth, or softly caress a frail body!
Paramita always knew Partha slept soundly but she didn’t know he was so heavily sleepy and idle. After a little errand and a little idle sitting on the chair, he would feel so tired that he slept on the carpet spread on the floor. Paramita felt as if he had not come to attend to her. Sometimes she got irritated with her sleepy Partha and would scold him, “Why do you always lie flat like an idle?”
Partha was equally reactive as he responded, “Say, if anything is there to do. Do you think I like to sit here like this? Don’t I wish to meet my friends in the city? But I don’t want to spend my time or my money on a rickshaw, nor can I walk. If you don’t like to see my face, I am going downstairs. Call for me when you need me.”
Paramita nourished a deep anger not only on Partha but also on her mother who seemed to her to be a woman with a stone heart. She did not think to caress Paramita when she wriggled in pain. Be it false pain or real pain, it was all pain to Paramita! How couldn’t she? When Partha was comforting Paramita, caressing her aching body, how could her mother watch it unperturbedly but never realize it was her duty and not Partha’s? Unable to tolerate all these things, Paratima once told her mother, “Does it look good that he would do all these things even if you are here?”
Perhaps her mother was hurt by these words and retorted, “Don’t talk like that. I have become old, unable to do anything. I feel pain even in swallowing food. We were also pregnant at our time. Were there sufficient doctors or such nursing homes in those days? We had to do everything despite so much pain. Besides, we had to bear child after child. I am going home if you talk like that. Inform me when the child is born.”
The real issue was Paramita didn’t want three persons to sit idly around her and spend time and money needlessly. They had to spend at least fifty to sixty rupees everyday besides tips for the nurses, attendants, and sweepers. Paramita once fancied to stealthily go away to her home, stupefying these three people.
Paramita now turned back to Jayanti’s words. Jayanti asked worriedly for change of fifty rupees. Paramita enquired about the urgency of the request as she looked for the change, still worried. Jayanti said she was angry with them. Her mother had gone to the city bus stand to return to her residence. Jayanti hurried her husband to look for her mother as she might have boarded the bus already. So he rushed out. Paramita was surprised by this turn of events, and asked Jayanti, “But she was all right in the morning. What happened?”
“Nothing,” Jayanti replied. “I’m fed up with the tasteless boiled food every day here. I asked him to bring some curry from the hotel. As she noticed it, she was in a fury and suspected that we were enjoying hotel food in her ignorance.” Jayanti was on the verge of weeping. “Can she go even if she wishes?”
Paramita picked an apple from the basket, and as she looked for the knife, she saw Jayanti’s mother enter the room. “Here, Auntie is back,” Paramita announced. When Jayanti asked her why she didn’t go, her mother angrily replied the bus would be late by an hour.
The process of creation is mechanical formulae in chemistry.
Ask the pregnant woman shuddering with pain,
Ask the scientists busy with calculations after turning away from the telescope,
Ask the doctor, lost in thought of episiotomy, contraction, cervix and placenta
Do they know the address of poetry ?
Yet poetry dwells in the corners of the eye,
In tear-washed lips,
In smiles of contentment of a woman
Relieved of the burden of her womb.
Poetry resides in darkness of the sky.
Poetry blossoms in the innocent smile and cry of a new-born baby.
Ask an ignorant student of a chemistry laboratory what poetry is.
Ask, about poetry,
To a mother feeling excited with the tender kicks of her baby in the womb.
But the girl selling tickets in the planetarium
Knows the whereabouts of poetry.
Step-down from the enlightened consciousness and watch.
The process of creativity is mechanical,
But creation is all poetic.
Perhaps Paramita had turned into a machine. Now she was ready for everything, ready for whatever she was told. A Caesarean or normal whatever it would be, she needed emancipation. It was strange her family members were also losing their patience. Papa, who used to be strongly opposed to Paramita having a Caesarean, now approved of the operation. He offered, “Yes, if necessary, do it. My elder daughter’s two children’s births are Caesarean cases as well. Paramita’s chances are a bit more because of her late marriage.”
Paramita irritated the doctors with a flood of questions. She was never satisfied with the consolatory response: “Fetal heart rate was 140 beats per minute; blood pressure normal” How long could she bear to hear these words? Doctors were now aware Paramita was too sensitive. Some of them described the process of growth and life circle of the fetus from conception to delivery. Some had cautioned her talking about the affect of psychic condition of the mother upon the baby. Was she content with all these consolations?
The doctors were almost astonished the day when Paramita said, “I shall prefer Caesarean; I am prepared now. You can operate at any moment.” The doctor smiled, also astonished, said, “It is surprising that you have changed your mind! It seems you are very impatient now. You have been waiting for a long time. Let’s wait for a few more days and see what happens.”
“No, no doctor, I can’t take this anymore.”
“See, nothing is in our hands. Everything depends upon the decision of the Chief.”
Papa was a bit inquisitive now. “What is the standing rule here? How early is a Caesarean decided? Look, all the decisions lie with the authority. However, the day before the operation we bring out a list of patients scheduled for the procedure. Perhaps, these decisions are taken two or three days earlier. Akshitrutiya is ahead. As it is an auspicious days for Hindus, it will be better to give birth to a child on that day. Please convince the doctor.” The doctor smiled away with an assurance of help.
Partha was asked by the nursing home authority to arrange blood for Paramita, who had type A-positive blood. He had been restless the entire day and returned with empty hands from the blood bank in the morning. Blood of her group couldn’t be found there. Partha’s blood type was O-negative; Papa’s was AB-positive. Partha had contacted some of his friends and acquaintances, as if the blood of Paramita’s group didn’t run in anyone else. Papa asked Partha to try some more in the afternoon. If need be, Papa himself would go home to try the other children and bring one if the required blood group is found.
And it turned out Paramita’s blood type would be available in the evening from a doctor of neurosurgery but Partha had to donate his own blood in return.
“When they have asked for blood, will it surely be a Caesarean?” Papa queried.
Partha replied, “It can’t be said for sure. They told me in the office that they always asked for blood before fifteen days if it should be required in an emergency.”
Partha checked the list every evening but never found Paramita’s name, neither in the list of Caesareans nor in the list of those women in labour. Paramita wanted emancipation, but when? In the meantime, the kiths and kins had come to meet the expectant Paramita. Was the child inside Paramita’s womb also suffering in the expectation of an emancipation? Paramita felt as if the coming baby had forgotten its path and sat quietly and stoically like some sage. Frustrated in waiting, her mother had gone back home. Waiting for the baby, Papa had been reading many suspense thriller books. In the waiting, Partha had been growing his beard and nails and did not care for his dirty clothes. Yet the baby inside Paramita’s womb was quiet, unperturbed. And when the doctor came to record the vital statistics, every time it was the same: fetal heart rate 140 beats per minute; blood pressure normal.
Papa had gone to the hotel to bring some bread. Paramita was having a chat with Jayanti. Partha had lit up a cigarette looking at the darkness of the world. It was then a nurse came and informed Paramita, “Your operation will be tomorrow.”
Paramita was startled. “Mine? Are you kidding me?”
“Yes, yours. Take only bread and milk tonight. Keep the door open. You‘ll receive an enema.”
Partha had gone downstairs to check the list of medicines and returned to the room with them and asked Paramita, “How much money do you have with you? I need five hundred rupees only. I must hurry or else the medicine store will be closed.”
Paramita didn’t know why but her body shivered severely from the moment the nurse told her about her procedure being the next day. She handed the bundles of notes to Partha. She couldn’t eat more than two slices of bread that night. The entire night was spent with short trips from the bed to the bathroom and from the bathroom back to the bed. Paramita and the porcelain goddess bonded that night!
Her pubic hairs were shaved in the morning and she was given a white gown to put on. Wearing that gown, Paramita paced slowly towards the red-lit room which always seemed so mysterious. Outside the room, Papa and Partha waited.
It seemed to Paramita as if lots of people were around her amidst the mist. The scent of anesthesia grabbed her entity. Someone spoke to her from within the mist, “You have given birth a baby boy, dear -- a boy.” Paramita came out slowly from the mist. Groping for a path, she opened her eyes and caught sight of a cradle between Jayanti’s bed and hers. Someone said, “You have a baby boy.”
What a strange transformation in Paramita had taken place! Till yesterday, she was a creature of some other world and today, she was completely different. The laws and customs, values and validities of this world were now totally different. She had so far been hiding her breasts thinking them as the most secretive part of her body. Who took away all her shyness? Strange were the feelings and experiences in this new world of motherhood where all which was previously obscene was now decent and okay.
Paramita had seen a world of different realizations in those days and realized how trivial was the attainment. And why had she struggled so much for this meager attainment? She had been living, at least for three years, with hopes and fears. She had to rush for the city, crossing some four hundred kilometers to attend the nursing home for an endometrial biopsy within twenty four hours of the beginning of her periodic menstrual cycles. Yet how trivial was this attainment? After attaining motherhood, now it seemed to Paramita it was not so much important at all to become a mother.
Man can live his life only in non-attainment; like Hema Behera, like those old couples, and like Jayanti. How valueless are the love, affection, and attachment for which people are so anxious to get!
On the landscape of the other side was the desperate Jayanti, with pressing her cheeks on her knees, had become poetry. Aha! Paramita felt sad for the girl who was looking so oblivious since this morning. Paramita had observed this while Papa, Mom and Partha were busy preparing for their return. Mom went to give Jayanti the water pot; she took and kept it on the shelf in absent-mindedness. As if she was not in this world; nor was there the din and bustle of the morning around her.
All the luggage had been carried down to the vehicle waiting below. Paramita looked, for the last time, at her shared space and in the bathroom to see if she had left anything. Taking the baby boy from Paramita’s mother, Jayanti embraced him and began to weep as she kissed the baby farewell. And between the tears she asked, “You’re going?”
Paramita felt if anyone could bless a desire, she would surely ask for one thing: that Jayanti becomes a mother. After becoming a mother, let her realize that poetic moment her realize how futile all these things really are.
Translated by: Ms. Ipsita Sarangi
English editing by: Paul J. McKenna