She took long to realize that in an ordinary middle class Indian family; it is always about the male child, it is always about the one who will carry on the family legacy, it is always about family prestige and as a woman, she had to sacrifice. This sacrifice took a huge toll on her and it was long before she could forgive.
Sonia was now twenty seven and she was alone. The sacrifice had ended up in solitude despite the attempts made by her husband to reconcile. Tears flowed seamlessly, sliding down her fair cheeks, wetting the sides of her pink lips. Her hands moved not to wipe them; they lay folded in a cup shape on her chin. Her black hairs streamed down behind her ears. Thus she sat for hours on her bed covered with a greenish orange sheet; cursing her ill fortune; the dreams of her past bustling through her mind, breaking the very defenses that she had managed to put up for over a year. If one looked into her eyes, he would fall into the depths and would know not when he would strike the bottom. He would just keep falling and he would only be sad at what he saw; her agonies and problems and sufferings would always press him down into the wells of her eyes, which would seem like an abyss.
Three years back, she had graduated with a degree in business management from the University of Delhi. And still she remembered that day, the day of her convocation, the day of her life. Sometimes, that day seemed happy to her, sometimes she remembered it with sadness. That day, among all the other days, he proposed to her amidst the college crowd who were in frenzy over receiving their graduation certificate. He was Rohit Raj, son of a middle class industrialist who had just found his business.
Rohit was a tall guy; seemingly like someone not Indian. He had curly hair, due to which people believed he was lucky. Fair in complexion with an athletic build, he was a stud in his college. But he had eyes only on Sonia, who he claimed was the most beautiful girl in the entire college. And that was true.
Their friendship was now solid and trustworthy. They shared everything and on that day, Rohit proposed her. Such was the joy of their life that both accepted each other as they believed they were true mates who were meant to share their lives. Their classmates cheered at the event and began calling for a party. Flowers were thrown into the air; of myriad colors – yellow, red and white. Even their teachers, to whom this event was something they had foreseen, smiled and congratulated the newly joined couple. They were happy, everyone was happy, except for those who had brought her up – her parents.
Their parents scowled when Rohit came to their house to propose a union of their families, to propose Sonia in as formal way as possible, to ask for her hand from her parents. Her parents were born and brought up in a village somewhere in eastern India where inter-caste marriage was unacceptable. Rohit was disappointed and looked sadly at Sonia, who was now in tears.
Sonia was in two minds – the one mind in favor of those who had showered love upon her since her childhood, had brought her up and worked so that she would have a perfect upbringing and an excellent future; the other in favor of one who had befriended her in college, had loved her with his true heart, had trusted her in all things, had stood by her in all her problems. She cried remembering all the sacrifices made by those who had loved her. But to appease one, she felt that she had to sacrifice the other. The question in her mind was: whom?
After two days, she had come to a decision. She had selected Rohit over her parents. She was unlike them, though she loved her parents very much, she felt that she had to be independent, she felt she was capable of taking her own decisions. She knew in her heart that Rohit was her future; her life was safe with him and she had already given her heart to him. So on the evening of that day, when her parents sat watching TV in their living room, when it was raining outside, she spoke to them, clearly and respectfully, but never wavering from her taken stance.
She told them she did not believe in her family's customs which she deemed to be unrealistic and scrupulous. Her family sat quiet for a while listening, her mother almost in tears. They thought she was unkind to those who had loved her, who had taken care of her; they were the ones who meant her no harm. But she was rude to them.
Her family still did not accept her and then she had begun mocking the family customs; although in her heart, she rued them. She was in love and that blinded her to an extent that proved to be off limits for her parents.
She contacted Rohit and asked to be married in court. He had accepted and they were wed a week after he had come to her house.
The newlywed couple was happy and joy knew no bounds for them, although in her heart, she felt sad for her parents who had disowned her. Rohit was very supportive and their days passed by smoothly. Rohit's family was decent and good to her. But those joys vanished when a great shadow approached. A time had come when she had to make another decision.
Joys are always marred by shadows of great problems, it is said. And that great shadow now burst into her life, in the form of Rohit's aunt, the sister of Rohit's father. Her husband's family was a joint family and was very respectful except for this one little blotch that held absolute power. She made all the decisions of the family and she interfered in all affairs. They respected even after such intrusions; just because she took care of them relatively better than the others in the position before.
She was disappointed and angry at Rohit for taking a vital decision of his life without consulting her. Even she was against inter-caste marriages. Rohit was her favorite nephew and she had brought him up perfectly. But now she was outraged. When Rohit asked whether he was independent to take a decision or not, he was scowled at, a reply was often not given to him. His mother got the mocking. His father stayed mute in all this power play. The father, as a brother, loved his sister more than he did his wife and so did not smite her. In fact, even he too was against the system of inter-caste marriages but he had graciously accepted their wedding.
But his sister, he could not defy. The others had their reasons. Her mother was the only one who supported Rohit and Sonia but she was alone and could do nothing save reply to her sister-in-law's mocking.
The aunt, one day, had barged into their room. She said she was willing to accept their union. For a moment, happiness had glowed on their faces. She smiled but Sonia at once felt maliciousness in that smile. But on one condition, she had said, that Sonia's family would agree to pay them a dowry; a sum that was five times that which was asked when the aunt was married to Rajiv Sinha, a downtown Delhi entrepreneur who was a partner in Rohit's father's firm. There it was; a thorn in the rose.
When Rohit had argued that her only family was his family, he was cut off. The only reply that had stung her heart was that she was not told to break off from her family, so it wasn't her problem. Her aunt had then stormed off, leaving her crying. She was comforted only by Rohit's words.
The conditions were not very well for her after that incident. She was mocked at, beaten unscrupulously. Rohit did what he could but often he was out of town for work and that was the time, his aunt had taken her advantage.
She was happy only when Rohit was around, her true love.
Two years later, she had become pregnant. She was happy again but her aunt was becoming unhappier. She could not tolerate the joys of the couple.
So, three months later, her aunt called Rohit to her.
"Rohit, congratulations. I have heard that your wife is pregnant. You are going to become a father. And that is wonderful news, indeed. So what names have you decided upon?"
"Karan if it is a boy and Sucheta if it is a girl."
"They are all good names. But, do you really want a girl child?"
Rohit had become wary then.
"Why not?" he replied.
His aunt's face curdled and said, "Aren't you thinking? Or has love blinded you, for God's sake? This family needs a son more than a daughter. Think of your father, Rohit, think your father's business. Someday you would inherit it, and someday, your child will if he is a son. A daughter would not inherit. And what use is a daughter anyways? You would spend much on her birth and then give away her to someone who will ask for a big dowry amount. We are not so rich that we can afford such money, son. Realize this, Rohit, I am saying for your own benefit. A girl will be a nuisance."
Rohit became angry and said, "Were you not a girl, aunty? How would you have felt if you had been your mother and was asked to abort your child that is now you? And do you believe you are a nuisance? That I do believe. Not meaning any disrespect for you, aunty, but you leave me no choice. You have been targeting us ever since our wedding. My wife has been good to you and still respects you even after you have abused her."
"You! How dare you smite me? You are blinded by love…"
She was cut off by Rohit.
"Do not you love Uncle?" he asked
"What has that got to do with this?"
"Uncle is also a partner in my father's firm and yet you have given birth to a daughter. Why did you not abort her then? For surely, even she cannot inherit the business and even when she is given to someone, a huge dowry will be asked. So, you believe that even she is a nuisance?"
"Fool! You do not understand. This family desperately needs a son to continue the family legacy and you are our last hope. You must understand. This practical life of yours, this independence, must it come above family values, our culture?"
"What culture are you talking about, aunty? A culture where you murder a child just because it is a girl? A culture which tells us that we must follow these values even if our conscience resists the whole system? Is this the culture you are talking about, aunty?"
"You dare raise your voice against me. I have cuddled you since your beginning. More than your mother, I have raised you. I have loved you more than my child."
"Did I tell you to, aunty? I don't mean any disrespect to you, but a mother who does not tend to her own child cannot be a mother. You might have showered your love upon me but it was only to achieve your own ends. You might have pampered me but now I don't feel the need of those things."
"You speak like your mother. For long years, I have borne venom against your mother. She was also here without dowry and your father loves her. So I won't go against her. But I would not want a repeat of it again. Whatever you think of your way of life, I want you to do a sonogram. Check whether the child is a boy or a girl. It better be a boy or else, we will have the child aborted. Do you understand that? You better understand."
Saying which, she had stormed off.
Rohit was dejected for two days after that and would not talk. She had tried but failed. When she had failed, she had called upon Rohit's mother, but she too had failed.
And then she had inquired. She got to know of the fight between her husband and his aunt. She spoke to him and comforted him by whatever means she could.
A week later, his aunt had started tormenting her mother in law, abusing her, with her mouth twisted words. Rohit could not bear it and decided on a sonogram test at once. He only hoped that it wasn't a girl.
She had revolted against his decision, but he told he won't let the child down, so she had relented. The results of the test revealed that the foetus inside her was a girl. A girl child was about to come into the family and they desisted it, looked on the prospect with distaste, not with the girl but with the turmoil she was about to bring.
She had been asked by his aunt to abort the child. She had said no. Abortion was and is a sin, she knew that.
Rohit was torn into two. He was in the same situation that Sonia was two and a half years ago. Torn between his family and his wife. But he loved his family as much as he did Sonia. He could not sacrifice his family just for the sake of her. He loved her but did not truly realize the depths of his love. And he was also blackmailed into being so.
Sonia could understand. She knew that men cannot truly make sacrifices like she had done, like the women did. She wanted Rohit to be happy and she knew he would happy with her family. But she also wanted her baby to come out, out into the open and enjoy the world like she had done in her younger days.
So, one day, she left Rohit. Rohit could find no other way out. He tried to reconcile, to negotiate, he said, "well let's abort this child. We can always have another and another. Let us give birth to a son and then a daughter, mind you, we won't have these troubles again."
"What if the other child is a girl? Will you ask me to abort her too?" she had asked.
"Now be positive, Sonia…"
"What's so negative about a girl child? Aren't you married to one?"
She had stormed out of the house then and never returned.
…She was in her own house now, the house that she had played in as a child. Over the years, her family had reconciled with her and had taken her in.
Her mother had said, "If only you had listened to us, you wouldn't be facing this."
She still sided with Rohit. "Who would know that the family with whom I would be married off to would not be the same as this one? We cannot know all certainties not can we predict them. There are always probabilities."
…Tears still slid down her eyes. And at that time, a knock sounded on the door and its knob turned towards the right. A small trotting boy with black curly hair and with a cute roly-poly face walked slowly towards her. She quickly wiped off her tears and smiled. But soon, her face became blank because behind the small toddler walked a man whom she knew by her heart. The toddler's father, Rohit Raj.
A short scowl wore on her face and she turned backwards, picking up the baby in her arms.
Rohit walked slowly; his heart was heavy.
"I know you are angry. You have a right to be so. And I beg your pardon, Sonia. I know I have faulted but men make mistakes and forgiveness is the best policy right? Please, Sonia, pardon me."
"Who am I to pardon you, Rohit? You asked me to do the impossible and so I fled. Even now I bear no grudge against you and so there is no question of forgiveness."
"And so have I asked my aunt to do the impossible, Sonia. They have all understood."
"What have they understood? Your aunt would understand nothing."
"She has, Sonia, and she has begged her pardon."
"Wow! An unfathomable change!"
"Yes, unfathomable. Her daughter married and got pregnant soon. I forced my aunt to get a sonogram test done and found that it was a girl. I then applied the same logic to the case. I asked my cousin to abort the child just because she was giving birth to a girl."
"And yet you had asked me to abort the child. Why?"
"Understand me, Sonia, please, I was torn into two. I loved my family and I did not realize the true depths of my love for you then. I could never make the sacrifice you made with your family. And they were tormenting my mother. I had to wait until my cousin got married and pregnant. Try to understand."
"If I had not understood you, I would have already been divorced with you. You could have done so, with me having around."
"I could not, Sonia, I could not. I had to seclude you and had to wait."
"Ten months, Rohit, ten months we have stayed apart from each other. What if the cousin had given birth to a boy?"
"Then I would have still waited."
"What if she never got pregnant again?"
"Then I would know I have failed and would have sacrificed you for my entire life knowing that you would be happy somewhere else, or maybe as years pass by, I could learn to make the kind of sacrifices you made for me and come to you."
"And what if I had already been married to someone else then?"
"Then I would have been happier still, thinking that you are happy and well off."
Sonia could not stop her emotions from swelling inside her anymore. Without a moment of hesitation, she forgave Rohit and embraced him. And the happy couple stood and hugged each other, baby in their arms.