Mother versus Mother


‘Mother versus Mother’ contains strong scenes of unwanted sexual intercourse and miscarriage, and makes strong mention of abortion.

I peek at Sudha’s bobbing head through the awkward V-shaped window formed by my airborne legs, each dangling like a crooked antler on each side of her immaculate chignon. This is my third visit to her clinic. She raises her head at regular intervals and cocks a flawless eyebrow at me. I look away every time to displace my yet-undefined guilt, hanging heavy on each molecule of the air between us. Every corner of the fertility clinic is spotless, gleaming with a sinister grin. Perhaps it mocks every woman who has resigned her fate to its corridors.

           ‘Shhh.’ Sudha chides me into position when I try to adjust myself on the exam chair. Like a good student, I purse my lips to stop the errant corners of my mouth threatening to slip upwards. I feel a strong urge to obey her, just like I have obeyed every person who has crossed the barriers of intimacy with me—first my Ma, then Ansh Sinha, and now Dr Sudha Ahuja.

           ‘You might experience hot flushes, nausea, and some other side effects of the shots. It’s nothing to worry about.’ Sudha conveys the information with a convenient, casual cacophony of syllables.

           I try to concentrate on her moving mouth to make sense of the chaos it spits. Is she wearing mauve or mulberry on her lips? Does she have a husband? Or children? If so, who decided when—

           ‘We will start the scans next week, Prerna.’ My name sounds hollow in her mouth. ‘The ball will be in your court after that.’ Sudha chuckles at her attempted joke. ‘I am very optimistic about your case,’ she says. ‘You are only 26, after all. Ansh and you have to get down to business for three days at least. The more, the better. There will be but a small window when your egg will be viable.’

           My egg is luckier than me. It has the assistance of Sudha and her tablets and her shots. They may save my marriage, if not me. I had a love-cum-arranged marriage. Ansh saw me at a wedding party. A friend or relative might have set us up; I do not remember. He asked me out right away. I was impressed with his decisiveness. We got married within a year. The sex was good at first; I had nothing to compare it to. Until his family started asking about our baby. The neighbours asked too. Soon everybody wanted to know about the impending baby. Ansh started withdrawing. His eyes told me first, then his crotch. I was left alone under the falling questions and advice. Sacks full of advice. It became the longest year of my life. When Ansh’s Chachiji recommended Sudha, I was tired enough to grab any support, even if it was momentary. My first meeting with Sudha was monitored by half a dozen members of the Sinha clan. Sudha spent fifteen minutes talking to my husband’s mother alone—Mummyji insisted on it—before she met me.

           A dozen question marks float in my head, playing hopscotch with me. Why didn’t Sudha test Ansh? A question that may or may not satiate me is also a question that doubts my faith in my husband’s manhood—an accusation. I play the possible outcomes in my head. An image of Sudha’s cocking eyebrow flashes somewhere inside me. I do not ask the question. A smiling thank you escapes my throat.

A bouquet of women adorns Maya’s lavish living room, full of bubbling chatter and cocktail flutes. The game is in full swing.

           ‘Never have I ever had an abortion.’ Maya raises her glass and beams through her teeth. The room falls silent and everybody, except Maya, takes a sip from their respective glasses. She whispers that Sahiba tops the list because she keeps having them now and then.

           The whisper gives birth to an army of whispers. Beside me, Sahiba pushes herself further into the corner of the couch, as if wanting the crevices beneath the cushions to swallow her. I squeeze her hand. Her lips attempt something akin to a smile. A few months old to this glittery group, I already know that she married young and had her kids soon after.

           Sahiba looks up at the ceiling and says, ‘My husband doesn’t like condoms and pills don’t work all the time. For our third pregnancy, I visited a local gynaecologist who prescribed me a kit. It felt like I had pulled out a part of myself, by the roots. But now, whenever I get pregnant, I just forge the old prescription and buy the kit. It’s easier and no one gets to know. I don’t want to create discord in the house over such trivial issues.’ She concludes that the kit is just like a herbicide to weed out unwanted growth. Sahiba does not keep count of the number of abortions she has undergone.

           The women look at each other and shake their heads in unison, like a pack of well-domesticated cows. I look at Sahiba and experience a kinship unlike any other. We may never reclaim our bodies from the world, but we can retrieve our pain and flaunt it over shared cocktails.

           Ma used to say: Women are supposed to be mothers, not wives. Mothers were created by nature, wives were not. Wives are not natural, that is why women get lost. When we feel lost, we do what we know best: what nature taught us to do. We mother our husbands and thus we become motherly wives. What if I never become a motherly wife, or even a mother?

The memory of the first time I menstruated after marriage is as warm and fresh as a just-baked loaf of bread. I had timed my monthly cycle to finish a few days before my marriage with the help of medication, as per the sage suggestions of experienced family and friends. When the uninvited blood paid its next visit, we were staying with Ansh’s parents. The blood seeped from my knickers into the ears of my family-in-law and a pall of mourning covered the Sinha house. My mother-in-law kept timing my cycles even after we moved into our own place. Every month, she would time her visits in sync with my expected periods. I tried manipulating my dates again. The new timetable would only last a month or two before she sherlocked her way into it.

           With time, the intensity and entourage of her visits increased. She would come with neighbours, relatives, or anybody who could lend her an ear, and chorus assistance.

           One of these learned ladies professed how a wife should be Annapurna in the kitchen and Rambha in bed.

           ‘You are lucky to have married into such a nice family. The least you can do to repay the kindness is show them the face of their grandchild,’ a relative countered.

           A neighbour claimed that I have gotten away with a lenient mother-in-law because hers started crossing dates on a paper-calendar in her living room, the very day she got married.

           Every time the dreaded blood showed its face, I failed the same exam. Again and again. The one for which I had never prepared. I started dreading each day as the clock turned with my menstrual cycles. I was more scared of the blood with every passing month. The body I inhabited seemed to be my biggest enemy.

My husband is curled up in bed, hugging a pillow. The serene face, eyes neatly shut, lips sealed. As if he is holding his breath in. The sleeping face always makes me feel like he is not sleeping but only waiting, with his eyes closed, for me to leave. But then Ansh never likes to wait for anything. Be it in bed or on the dining table. He is always in a hurry. We have not done anything for a while. Not him at least. Of late, we have fallen into a pattern. Once every fortnight or so, he starts to fondle me in bed. When I start responding, he uses a gentle yet firm hand to push my head. I go down on him and do the job. Within the next minute, he turns around and falls asleep. If I resist, he gets irritated as usual. I like to get it over with, anyway. It is better than the alternative—five minutes of peakless primal humping. I have come to enjoy the company of my undemanding vibrator.

You have to start today. All the bestDr. Sudha.

           I stare at the words on the unflinching screen of my cellphone. My eyes search the room for any sign of solace or solution. I need to remind Ansh about Sudha’s instructions. His back stares at me. To be honest, nowadays, I prefer him to be either asleep or outside the house. But is complete honesty always necessary? I inhale and announce the doctor’s message. Ansh does not turn; so I tap his stoic back. He says something, but at such a low pitch that his sounds do not turn into words when they hit my ears. I lie down and wait. He gets up and disappears into the bathroom. Some time later, he comes out and finishes inside me.

           The dried semen leaves a stain on the bedsheet that seems eager to leap out of the bed. Wasted sperm, I remind myself unnecessarily. I look at the stain and feel jealous. Blood may keep people alive, but the painful pools I pass every month are only worth the garbage dump. The weedy blood lost the battle to a spoonful of sperm-laden fluid drying beside me, precious enough for us to grieve its decay.

           A bleating bark breaks my reverie. I walk over to the window to find a bitch snuggling a patch of grass on our lawn. Ansh is not fond of strays. He thinks they are the weeds of modern society—spreading their litter through human habitation without any rent or returns. I go out with some biscuits to lure her into leaving. As soon as I reach her, I change my decision. The ball of cookie-brown fur greets me with kind eyes and a round belly. I hurry inside to look for spare blankets as well as some food fit for an expecting mother.

I amble into a crowded hall, my best smile pasted on, as my heart races ahead in front of me. A few heads turn, little shushes are uttered and a strained silence takes over. I look down and squeak. The whispers crawl up like strung spiders on me. The jewellery, the heels, it is all there. Except the slightest piece of clothing. I try to move but my feet turn leaden. I open my mouth, but no sound comes out. Even my eyelids do not budge. My body has turned into my cage. The crowd starts closing in. I watch in horror as a finger lands on my bare skin. Then another and another. Until they become a colony of spiders, jostling for space. Until I feel myself burning, and a little wet.

           I am awake. The wet pool beneath me grows. My eyes are locked shut. A metallic odour gags the air. I try to shift but cannot even move the tip of one finger, or toe. My body seems to be embalmed in hard clay. I try to swallow the stream of saliva forming in my mouth, and fail. The saliva is suffocating me. Air comes in through my half-open mouth, reaches my larynx and gets reflected back before reaching my lungs. I know that I will have to get up at some point. My limbs do not. The circuit connecting the organs to my brain may have broken down. What will I have to show for 21 weeks of life hugging my insides, gnawing at me? I look down at my bulging belly. My heart is not ready to face the truth leaking under me. In this way, my organs turn on each other, each against its own. I break down, piece by piece, to stew in my own juices.

           ‘What is that smell?’ Ansh probes through a yawn. An unctuous muscle memory pulls out my blood-soaked hand from under the bloodied quilt. He stares at the spectacle beside him. A distant memory of pain trickles into my body. I mimic the baby that I have just lost; I wind my limbs into a foetal position to overpower the pain. He cannot seem to tear his eyes from the gore. Once he manages to look away, his eyes do not meet me again.

           ‘What do you need? Should I call Ma? I will call Sudha and tell her that you are miscarrying,’ Ansh decides before leaving the room.

           Miscarry—did I carry my own seed wrong? I push myself out of bed at last, and collect the bedding after me. A stream of sullied blood trails me into the bathroom. I am somewhat aware of the fresh bout of spasms crashing into my body. There is no evidence of erstwhile life in the red slush that has piled between my legs. I feel empty, light. The cold water from the shower pierces my skin and bathes my soul in unwelcome relief. Outside the bathroom window, seven little pups suckle under the mother-bitch. I know what I should do next; I will prepare a little feast for the new Mamma.