‘She is pregnant, Mrs. Ravi Shankar.’
The doctor’s words were still reverberating in her ears and mind. Sujata could not believe her ears. Her only daughter, Sonali, was pregnant! Her sixteen-year old Sonali was pregnant!! Sonali, who, two years ago, did not know what puberty was, was pregnant!!! Sujata vividly remembered the consternation and acute embarrassment on Sonali’s face when ‘it’ suddenly happened in her classroom and Sujata rushed from home.
‘Oh my God! How could she do this?’
‘What do I do now? Do I call Ravi? No, he’ll be busy with his foreign delegates. I’ll only mess up his work.’ Sujata was restlessly pacing in her daughter’s room.
Sonali was lying on her cot in a foetal posture. She had her face to the wall and was sobbing uncontrollably. Sujata melted in pity for the poor girl and sat down beside her and stroked her tresses.
“It’s OK, dear. It’s OK. Mummy is always there for you. Isn’t she?”
Sonali broke down completely and hid herself in her mother’s loving lap.
“I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry. I’m sorry…” Sonali choked in a paroxysm of hiccups.
Sujata rushed to the refrigerator and brought a bottle of cold water for Sonali and made her drink it.
“Calm down, sweetheart. Everything will be OK.”
Sonali slipped into a tired slumber in her mother’s lap.
“Is it Prasanna?”
After a long pause, Sonali nodded.
“His parents…do they know?”
Again Sonali nodded.
“I want to talk to him.”
Sonali was alarmed.
“Don’t look at me like that. Call him.” Sujata proffered her daughter’s mobile. Sonali took it hesitantly with trembling hands.
“What…what are you going to talk, mom?”
Sujata glared at her. Sonali thought better of it and dialed Prasanna’s mobile number. Sujata took the mobile from her daughter’s hand.
“Hello, Sonali.” Prasanna’s nervous voice greeted.
“Not Sonali, her mother.”
“I must talk to you. Come home immediately.”
Half an hour later, Sujata, Sonali and Prasanna were securely ensconced in Sonali’s room; half an hour, during which Sujata pondered over the matter very carefully, pacing the floor restlessly, twirling her dupatta; half an hour, during which Sonali helplessly watched her mother going through hell; half an hour, during which Prasanna cycled the distance to Sonali’s house.
“Will you have some more toast?”
Both the children shook their heads. Sujata cleared the plates and sat in front of the children with a coffee mug in her hand.
“I won’t ask you ‘how could you do this to us’; nor will I rave and rant.” She paused. “But, ’coz of that, don’t think I’m being soft or lenient. You’ve created one hell of a mess. I want the truth and nothing but the truth. I’ve always loved you both and respected your opinions. But, this…this…I didn’t expect this. Yet, it did happen…” she paused and took a sip of coffee.
“I’m sorry, aunty…” Sujata silenced him by raising her hand.
“Can I expect you and Sonali to be honest, totally honest?”
With his head bent and tears wetting the floor tiles Prasanna said, “Yes, aunty. I’ll be…we’ll be totally honest. We realise that we have committed a terrible mistake…” he halted abruptly and started sobbing. Seeing him, Sonali broke down, too.
‘This breakdown is necessary for them,’ thought Sujata. She did not comfort or cajole them. Several minutes passed in silence.
“Do you love each other?” Sujata placed her empty coffee mug on a table. “Or is it just friendship and mutual physical attraction, which led to this…”
Prasanna and Sonali looked at each other. Sonali nodded.
“Aunty, I am speaking for both.” He paused. “It started as friendship, based on many common interests. We don’t know when it turned into love. Yes, aunty, we love each other deeply. We are committed to each other for life. With your blessings we wanted to marry and raise a family after we completed our education and entered our careers.”
“Sona?” Sujata looked at her daughter.
“Yes, mom, it’s true.”
“Sona is sixteen and you are what, eighteen?”
“Yes, aunty, eighteen.”
“You are talking of a life-long commitment!” Notwithstanding the somberness of the situation Sujata could not help smiling.
“Yes, aunty; life-long. We are serious. Please, don’t judge us by this…this…one mistake. We were planning to inform about our love and seek your blessings. In the meantime…” his voice petered away.
Sujata observed an implacable commitment in the eyes of both the children.
“What if we hadn’t agreed? I mean, before this…happened.”
“We would have married anyway, aunty,” he said with utter conviction, “but I hope all of you agree and bless us.”
“Have you spoken to your parents? What do they say?”
“Yes, aunty, I’ve told them the truth. They were shocked; didn’t expect their son to…to…to behave like this.”
Prasanna shook his head forlornly. Long minutes passed in silence.
“OK, Pras. Please bring your parents to our home in the evening. We’ll all meet and discuss and find a solution.”
“I’ll try, aunty.”
“Good. Children, listen to me carefully; very carefully. I have to inform Sonali’s father.” Sujata saw a nervous, worried expression on Sonali’s face. She continued, “Promise me one thing, kids, that you will not do anything stupid. Do you understand?”
They looked at each other perplexedly.
“I meant, slitting the wrists, suicide pact, and such nonsense. Life is for living, battling, achieving. Understood?”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“You’ll wait; allow us elders to meet, discuss, and find a solution. It’s likely that some will get angry and…You know the drill. You do have confidence in me, don’t you?”
Sujata got up, sighed and said, “I’m afraid it’s going to be a long night.”
“What? I’ll kill that little bas*ard. I’ll kill Sonali. Where is she?” screamed Ravi Shankar after listening to Sujata.
“Calm down, Ravi. You want to inform the entire area? Is this how you solve a problem?” She offered him a glass of water and a cup of tea.
“Calm down? You are telling me! After what the two little wretches have done? How can we face our friends and relatives?”
“You think you can face them if you kill the two?”
Ravi was smouldering. He finished the water in one gulp and started to pace the floor with the tea cup in hand, mumbling unintelligibly.
Sujata was sorry for her husband who was basically a gentle, peace-loving person that doted on his family. The news was too much for him to stomach.
“Calm down, Ravi; you’ll bust a blood vessel. The boy’s parents will be here in half an hour. Let’s all sit together and try to find a solution. OK?” She stroked his back in an attempt to soothe him.
“Stay put in Sonali’s room. Have your dinner here and listen to music or watch TV. Don’t come out unless I call you. OK?”
Prasanna and Sonali nodded.
They finished tea and biscuits reluctantly. Ravi, Prasanna’s father Kamlesh and mother Lakshmi were seething in anger. They were not at all comfortable in each other’s company.
‘I have one hell of a job on my hands,’ she thought.
“Shall we shift to Ravi’s study?” Sujata proposed.
Two minutes later, they were ensconced in the seclusion of Ravi’s study.
“We have a problem, a very serious problem on our hands, Mr. Kamlesh and Mrs. Lakshmi…” Sujata broached the subject…
…and the situation exploded…
The discussion, nay, argument raged bitterly and interminably. Neither Ravi nor Prasanna’s parents budged a millimetre from their strong, opinionated positions. Sujata tried to make them see reason.
“I don’t, for a moment, say that what the children did is correct. But we must remember that it has happened and is now an undeniable fact. We can’t just sweep it under the rug, can we?”
“So, what do you suggest Sujata? That we get the children married?” Ravi taunted.
“Over my dead body…” Kamlesh fumed.
…and the arguments raged…
“Finally, what do you three suggest?” Sujata posed a question.
Ravi: “Sonali will have to undergo MTP. Bye, bye to her studies. We’ll get her married. Problem solved…”
Kamlesh: “Yes, your daughter is also responsible for what happened…”
Lakshmi: “My son’s full life is ahead. He’ll get alliances in our caste…”
Sujata thought for a few moments and said, “OK. You leave me no choice.”
They looked at her surprisedly.
Without much ado or introduction Sujata plunged into articulating her thoughts that she had debated again and again in her mind over the previous several hours.
“For all your education, degrees, sophistication and worldly experience, you three are pathetic.”
Her raised palm silenced the surge of loud protests.
“First, Ravi, the father who doted on his darling daughter. He pampered her, indulged her; shielded her from my practical strictness. I didn’t mind; in fact, I welcomed it. An offspring would have a sense of security, that way. All her small and big faux pas were pardonable to him, until today. Today, he says he will kill his darling daughter!”
“She’s committed a serious mistake, a sin; a breach of my trust in her.”
“Is that so, dear? How, may I ask?”
“Sex, pregnancy before marriage…”
Sujata laughed wryly.
“Wouldn’t that definition make us – you and me – sinners, too?”
“Not nonsense, darling…You force me to say this…Where were your scruples and morality when, you and I had sex before marriage. We did, didn’t we? You won’t deny it, I hope!”
Ravi was stunned. So were Kamlesh and Lakshmi.
“Th…that…that was different.”
“How so, sweetheart?”
“We were engaged. We were both adults.”
“We weren’t married, dear, and my parents were devastated.”
“You didn’t become pregnant.”
“That’s the height of hypocrisy! Sex before marriage is OK if the girl doesn’t become pregnant! Is that your definition of morality? And it is a thin line that divides adolescence and adulthood. Seventeen, you are adolescent, foolish, inexperienced; eighteen makes you adult, wise, experienced, whatnot! Are we or aren’t we sinners, Ravi?”
“You are twisting the meaning.”
“Not at all, Ravi, I’m only elaborating. I certainly don’t approve of what the kids did. But I’ve realised that it can’t be undone, abortion or no abortion. The relation has been consummated between our daughter and their son.”
“No, no, no, no, Mrs. Sujata. Not so fast. We, his parents are still alive.” Kamlesh jumped into the fray.
“What say you, Mr. Kamlesh? And she has an opinion or is she your silent shadow?” Sujata said pointing to Lakshmi.
Ignoring the taunt Kamlesh said, “The relation can only be consummated with our concurrence and blessings in the institution of marriage. This is an aberration, madam. My son is innocent. He can’t be penalised…”
“Like hell he can’t be. What do you think of my daughter and our family, sir? I don’t like to issue threats but I’m Sonali’s mother. Seeing that her father is sitting with his thumbs in his arse, doing precious little to protect his daughter, I am forced to, not threaten but warn you…”
“Wh…What? Warn us? You are out of your mind. Our son isn’t in trouble; your daughter is. Take care of her, first, madam,” Kamlesh said sarcastically.
“I’ll tell you what I can do as Sonali’s mother. She is a minor. Your son is not. I can go to the police; submit the medical examination report; lodge a complaint; seek a DNA test, which will certainly confirm the paternity of your son. What’ll happen then, to his career, his life and your reputation? I’ll leave it to your imagination.”
“You…you…you wouldn’t do it.”
“I certainly don’t want to.”
Silence enshrouded the atmosphere for long minutes.
“Sir, tell me something honestly. Didn’t you touch your wife at all, before marriage?”
Seeing her husband squirm uncomfortably, Lakshmi, who had been watching the arguments silently, responded.
“I’ll answer that, Sujata.”
Lakshmi paused for a few moments.
“Yes, we did; after our engagement. I’m not ashamed to admit it. We necked and petted; not the whole way, though. That makes us sinners, too, doesn’t it, Kamlesh?”
Ravi Shankar was acutely embarrassed and Kamlesh looked scandalised.
“How could you reveal private things between husband and wife, Lakshmi?”
“But we weren’t husband and wife, dear. We were only engaged, not married.”
“But we were sure to marry.”
“Does that make it less sinful? And isn’t it in our hands to ensure that Prasanna and Sonali will marry?”
Kamlesh was flummoxed. Sujata looked at Lakshmi in silent appreciation.
“Listen, all. The children truly love each other; they are committed for life…”
Ravi interrupted her, “How do you know that?”
“I spoke to them. They have vowed to a life-long commitment.”
“Madam,” Kamlesh interrupted, “They are in their teens. They haven’t even completed school. We can’t depend on their judgement.”
“You must look at them to realise how serious they are about each other.”
“What if we don’t agree, Sujata?” Lakshmi asked.
“They will marry anyway, with or without our blessings. If we accept the reality, however harsh and shocking it may be, and give them counsel, protection and confidence that we are with them, their life will be easy. Otherwise…”
They were all lost in deep thought. Nobody spoke for several minutes.
“Well, we can’t be silent and wish that the problem will solve itself,” Sujata prodded.
Ravi Shankar said with finality, “I’m not convinced and I’m against it. I spoke my thoughts earlier. I stand by them.”
Kamlesh echoed Ravi’s words, “I am against it, too. Is it the age for all this?”
Lakshmi seemed to have mellowed and was convinced by Sujata’s argument. “There is something in what Sujata says. But I won’t go against my husband’s wishes. I’m sorry.”
“We’ll all be sorrier if something goes terribly wrong due to your intransigence and lack of understanding. OK, so be it. I’ll speak out my thoughts. But first, let’s all hear what the children have to say.”
There was a mini verbal commotion as Ravi, Kamlesh and Lakshmi protested simultaneously.
“There’s no way we can escape this. Had we shown more maturity, understanding and compassion, it would have been different.” She paused. “I’ll bring the children.”
Two minutes later, Sujata re-entered the study with Sonali and Prasanna in tow and sat in a chair. Prasanna and Sonali stood nervously behind her. Sujata took their hands in hers and spoke softly, slowly, and clearly.
“Children, if there’s a time for you to speak your mind, it is now. Tell the others what you told me. Tell the truth boldly but politely.”
For the next half hour, Sonali and Prasanna spoke in turns about the why and how of the issue. They bravely withstood the bombardment of questions, blame and accusations of Ravi, Kamlesh and Lakshmi.
“Dad, uncle and aunty,” Sonali spoke softly but firmly, “I and Pras love each other sincerely, deeply and totally. As we’ve already told, we are committed for life. We would like to marry with the whole-hearted blessings of all our elders. We are truly sorry for distressing you with our actions.”
“My God! Sona, you aren’t even out of school and you are pregnant! Doesn’t it worry you?”
“Dad, we’ve already gone through all that. It was a mistake. We are sorry. But it can’t be undone…”
Ravi interrupted her, “It can be…”
Sonali and Prasanna were flabbergasted. Sujata was worried while Kamlesh and Lakshmi watched.
Sonali and Prasanna looked at each other and shook their heads.
“That is no option, dad. I am keeping this baby; giving birth to it.”
“You don’t know what you are saying, Sona. You want to give birth to this…this baby, which would be born out of wedlock! Your studies, your career, your entire life will be badly affected. How will you nurse it, rear it?”
“I’ll have to learn it one day, won’t I?”
“Sona, you are still a minor. Your welfare is our, no, my concern since your mother obviously has bidden goodbye to her senses. I cannot allow you to keep the baby.”
“Is that your final say, dad?”
“I am sorry that it has come to this, dad. I don’t agree. The baby must not be penalised for our mistake. This is my life and my baby. I am going to keep it and give birth to it. I am aware that it is going to be an uphill task since you obviously have bidden goodbye to your darling daughter and wife.” She looked at Prasanna. “He is with me. Once we attain the correct age, we will marry and start our life. We know we will struggle; struggle tremendously. But we’ll learn life along the way.” She looked fondly at her mother. “And, above all, mom is there with us; will always be there for us.”
Sujata smiled and nodded.
“What do you say, Pras?” Kamlesh asked.
“She spoke for me, too, dad. I agree with every word of hers.”
Kamlesh was livid. “Then, there’s no place for you in my house or my property or my will. You can collect your clothes and books and leave.”
Lakshmi was stunned speechless. She tried to pacify her husband but he brushed away her protests. She fell silent helplessly.
“What about you, dad?” Sonali asked her father.
“Same goes with me, too.”
The words were whiplashes to Sujata.
“Do you know what you are saying, Ravi?”
“She’s a minor, a girl, your daughter!”
“Then, she’ll have to obey me.”
“It’s her life, Ravi. She’s found a loving partner for herself. Why can’t you respect her for it? Prasanna is a good boy; his family is good. They are our children. We brought them into this world, that too without their permission. Shouldn’t we allow them to live their lives? Shouldn’t we guide them and let them make their decisions and learn? We can’t abandon them just because they committed a mistake. After all, they haven’t committed a crime. It’s her life, Ravi!”
“Yeah, it’s her life. She can live it as she wants. Only, she can’t live it under my roof.”
Sujata thought for a few moments.
“What about me? I’m with them, come what may. I can’t abandon them.”
Ravi did not think even for a moment.
“The same goes for you, too, dear,” he said sardonically.
“OK, Ravi, if that’s what you want. I’ll take the children and leave.”
“Are you going to divorce me?”
Sujata smiled wryly. She knew, for all his bravado, Ravi did not know how to live without her.
“No, never. I love you too much to do that. I only hope you’ll see reason, sooner than later. It’s only that I, like you three, can’t abandon our children. It’s a pity you guys are all talk but no action when it comes to being modern, advanced, progressive or whatever. I’m sorry for you three. You are pathetic,” she paused and added, “I am confident that you people will understand and accept our children with their positive and negative points.”
Silence descended with an implacable finality on the room and its occupants.
“Is it OK? Is it vertical?”
“It’s just fine, aunty.”
The large-size portrait of Lord Venkateshwara was, finally, hung on a drawing-room wall to the satisfaction of the trio who were inseparably bonded by love, affection and mutual respect. Sujata, Prasanna and Sonali were settling in their new home, a two-bedroom apartment, away from their erstwhile homes.
Initially, after leaving their respective homes, they stayed in Sujata’s parents’ bungalow for a few weeks. Brushing aside her parents’ loving protests Sujata moved into an apartment quite close to their house.
“My dear children, the struggle, the battle has just begun. Your school management has summoned me.” Sujata smiled.
Prasanna and Sonali looked worried.
“Don’t worry. I’m with you all the way. First priority is for your education to run smoothly. I’ll not allow you to neglect it. I’ll take care of Sonali. I know we are tight on finances. My personal savings will see us through the next six or seven months. I’ve applied for the teacher’s job, which I gave up to take care of Sonali’s studies. They want me back. I’ll have to attend a formal interview in a week. The pay is good. I’ll take private tuitions in the evenings. So, nothing to worry, kids. Concentrate on your studies; realise your dreams.”
“Mom, how will we handle the school, our friends?”
“With honesty. As I said, the battle has just begun. The real test of your mettle starts now. You can’t lose faith and courage now. I won’t hide it. You’ll face tremendous pressure from school, friends, relatives, neighbours. Ignore them and move on. Always remember the conviction with which you faced your parents and the life-long commitment that you have made. That must be your driving force; come what may. OK?”
“First things first. Let me meet with your school Principal tomorrow.”
Sujata pulled them into her lap and stroked their heads affectionately.
“I was, am and will always be there with you, children, come what may.”
“Will things ever be normal again, aunty? I mean, with uncle, mom and dad?”
“They love you very much; no doubt. They panicked and reacted like any parent would. Instead of solving the problem they aggravated it. I’m positive they’ll understand ultimately. This unfortunate situation will end; sooner than you think.”
Her smile instilled a confidence in Prasanna and Sonali.
The hospital room was filled with the sweet sound of the hungry cries of an infant – the baby girl of Sonali and Prasanna.
“I told you, I am there with you all the way, my children,” said Sujata, lifting the baby girl in her arms, while Sonali and Prasanna looked on.
The infant crinkled her eyes and looked at her grandmother…
by Shyam Sundar Bulusu
Author’s remarks: All the characters and situations portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Children are God’s beautiful gift to us. They learn through our guidance as well as a trial-and-error process. They experiment with life, commit mistakes and, sometimes, fail; just like we did in our childhood. When we committed mistakes and were confused didn’t we look up to our parents for their understanding, for their compassion, for their guidance and for their reassuring hand on our head?
Blessed are those children who enjoy the understanding, the compassion and the guidance of their parents, not only during favourable and happy circumstances but even during adverse situations brought in by the children.
‘It always happens in someone else’s family; not in ours. We are safe. Our children aren’t like that,’ is usually our defensive thought process. What if it happens in my family? How would I react and handle the situation? That’s what prompted me to write this story.