I am being commemorated for the work I do for the special children at my institution. Being on the other side of 50 and with my children all grown up, I have been having a lot of free time. With a supportive husband, this was the least I could do for ‘Prerna’ my first born, in whose memory this institution was founded. I am not looking for anything in return and am not sure if I fully deserve all this praise coming my way.
My parents named me ‘Shreya’, the beautiful one. I was the only child of my parents, Nagendra Reddy and Anupama. I grew up in the lap of luxury with literally a golden spoon in my mouth and not a care. My father inherited a lot of property and had a flourishing garment business. I wore the finest clothes, the finest shoes and jewels, and went to the best school in a luxurious car.
Under the guidance of the best tutor, I excelled in academics too. Yes, indeed, I was a blessed child. But as I grew up, all this made me a little spoilt and arrogant. When my father entered politics, his power and consequently my power seemed unlimited. I grew up to the constant refrain, “Amulu, you’re a princess,” and it gave me an immense sense of pride and power.
I finished my postgraduation in style. There was no lack of suitors but nobody was worth marrying. The educated ones were not so rich and the rich ones were just idle rich! So I had to make the first compromise of my life and I did not like the taste of it. My marriage was arranged with the son of another powerful and renowned family, but my to-be husband was not as educated as I was. My father pointed out, “Amulu, that would make you more powerful.”
My marriage was talked about for long. The guest list included the who’s who of the Indian arena. I made a resplendent bride. Champagne flowed like a river. There were cuisines to suit all palates.
Everything was wonderful like a dream. My honeymoon was a Mediterranean cruise after a wonderful week in famed Switzerland. My husband Ajay was a doting one and I continued having my way with him too. My cup of happiness was never less than full and it brimmed over with my pregnancy.
I was pampered. The preparations for the baby’s nursery were on and interviews for the nanny were scheduled. Even the notorious morning sickness did not afflict me and I sailed through my pregnancy without any worry or discomfort.
The ‘Seemandham’ (a traditional ritual in South India carried out in the odd months of pregnancy) and the other related functions were done in style. Both my parents and in-laws vied with each other keeping in mind their status. I was slated for C-section as both my parents and inlaws felt I should be spared a normal delivery. So one fine auspicious day, my baby was ready ‘to be born’ in the best hospital under the supervision of the best obstetrician and gynaecologist.
I came back to consciousness to a sea of anxious faces around me. I smiled reassuringly and looked expectantly at the adjacent crib to take a first glimpse of my baby. “Where’s the baby?” I asked. “Amulu,” said my sobbing father hugging me. “No!” I screamed “Is it…Was it still born? Please… Please tell me.”
My voice rose in a crescendo “Please tell me. Is my child dead?” “No, Shreya. It’s a special child. A Mongoloid baby that will need all your love and affection if it continues to survive,” replied the doctor. “Why?” I screamed sobbing inconsolably. “Please I want to see the baby!” I struggled against the hold of the nurse. “Please doctor!” I pleaded. This was a novel experience. The baby was duly brought forth for my inspection, which resulted in fresh tears.
“Why was this condition not evident in the scans?” I wanted to know. The doctor explained, how the condition is not always evident during pregnancy and even if the tests are done, they do not always show the results. He added scathingly, “Maybe, it’s God’s way of showing that he is still powerful.”
I felt the remark was unjustified but I let it go. “Doctor, can I feed the baby? Will she be able to take it in?” I asked suddenly.
“If you want to give up the baby there is no need to give the poor mite a feeling of security,” the doctor said, gesturing to the sister to take the baby back. I held on tightly wondering at his animosity instead of sympathy. “What do you mean?”
“Your parents and in-laws all want to give up this baby and mollycoddle you into it too. They want this to be forgotten like a bad dream.” The doctor shrugged, “We’re looking out for society to adopt the poor mite, till then she’ll be in our care leaving you free to trot around the world and fly like a lovely butterfly after your recuperation.”
“This is news to me, Doctor,” I said, “I really feel that you shouldn’t be rude to me for a thing that I hardly know anything about. What about my husband? Does he also want to give her up?”
“I’m sorry Shreya. I ought not to have taken it on you after your ordeal. But, the way all of them are playing God is nauseating. Your husband is a dutiful son. Please remember child, in this circumstance your decision is yours alone.”
The doctor patted my shoulder. “Bringing her up is not going to be easy. You have to shield her from society besides hardening your heart every time you see her. She might die soon which would be to some extent a relief.”
At my fresh tears, he added, “I know Shreya, I might sound harsh. You’re an intelligent girl and I feel that I must lay all the cards on the table. She would need all your tender care like a sapling. It wouldn’t blossom into a flowering plant ever but tending it will be the same, as a matter of fact, more taxing. And there will be no reward except maybe let’s say satisfaction. It depends on you how she adjusts to normal life. And again, I must add that these children are unusually affectionate.”
I wept for long. “Doctor,” I said squaring my shoulders, “I might have been a social butterfly but I am taking care of her—my baby, my little Prerna.” I continued with my eyes shimmering with tears. I had lived so long in a wonderful tame and warm summer. Maybe the Almighty wanted me to experience the winter too. Like the poet Shelley, I believe that ‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind.’
The doctor hugged me and wished me luck. “Now get some sleep before you face the lions,” he smiled. “I am proud of you and I appreciate the difficulty of your decision.”
Everyone was against my decision. My father felt ashamed that a retarded child was born in his family. It was to be hushed up before the media caught up with it. “Amulu, you are being unreasonable. You can have many more healthy ones.” My mother as usual acquiesced. I never really knew my mother. I looked at her with different eyes. I was always my father’s girl. She was merely a wallpaper. Suddenly, I felt a terrible loss, the loss of a beautiful relationship.
My in-laws too were vociferous in their protest. I looked at my husband for support. He refused to meet my eyes. I felt a sudden shame to have married such a man by choice. I stuck to my guns. After all, I was my father’s daughter. My life became hell. Media persons hounded us. And servants, drivers, my mother all bore the brunt of my father’s wrath.
One day my mother entered my room stealthily. “Shreya,” she said tearfully. “Amma, What would you do? Please tell me is it possible to abandon one’s child?”
My voice broke. “Prerna needs me, I cannot abandon her like an orphan. I can never live with my conscience then.” I wept on her shoulders for long. I never recalled having ever done so before.
She was carrying a nomination slip, “Here is some money. It’s mine, though not as much as your father’s. My parents will help you get a flat and a job with the society specially meant for such babies. Teach the baby and be with her.” “Yes, my parents would have loved having you with them when you were young but you were never allowed to visit them,” she said wiping her tears with her expensive sari.
Suddenly, I realised that my mother had nothing to call her own except the clothes on her back. She continued after composing herself, “Start your life now with Prerna.” I hugged her. She bore the brunt of my father’s anger and she has been with me throughout. As a special educator, I not only looked after my daughter but others’ too. After my daughter’s death, I, with the help of my second husband and my children through him, started ‘Prerna’ for which I am being commemorated. Yes, mine was the case of reverse metamorphosis. My world changed from being a beautiful and frivolous butterfly to one trying to lead a more meaningful life.
By Chandrika R Krishnan
Illustrations: Pramod Joshi