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Dissenting with Hope

by Debleena Majumdar

This is an unlikely story of motherhood, by Debleena. What happens when a mother doesn’t feel like one? Does motherhood bring further dissent into her life or a glimpse of hope?

BEFORE:

In a few weeks, I will become a mother. Not if I can help it. Mihir has been treating me as if I were a piece of Swarovski crystal, tagged and priceless.

“Such a perfect husband.” The apartment ladies stare at us as Mihir joins me religiously for the evening walk.

“Come Rupu. Else the blood sugar….” He coaxes me gently even as I hardly look up from the pages of the just-to-be-committed murder in the book I have borrowed from the library.

“Damn the blood sugar!”

Of course, they don’t know what Mihir knows. That without his perfect company, I would rather sit at home and binge-read crime stories and binge-eat jalapeno cheese balls with dollops of pepper sauce. Mihir’s jaw is set, his eyes determined, his shoulders squared. All he needs to do is to roll up his sleeves and don battle armour. Battle it is.

I know Mihir will fail. Just like the last two times. Two miscarriages already. I am sure that my body is not the motherhood receptacle God meant it to be. Only the slight trembling of his lower lip gives away his fear. I join him for the walk. After all, we know what will happen. Let him continue the battle as long as he can.  He seems to be a born father, waiting for the moment his kid will burp on his face and vomit all over him. He thinks I will be the perfect mother foil to his perfect father dreams. But I don’t fool myself for even a minute.

I somehow feel that the last two times, the could-have-been babies just understood my non-motherhood feelings. I kept reading them crime stories so that they know how horrible the world is. Better not enter it. This one will also understand. And then I can stop trying this motherhood game. Even Mihir has to agree and give up trying after this.

We keep walking around the apartment, Mihir keeping a strict watch on time to make sure we complete a full hour of the prescribed walk while snatching adoring glances at the small children playing in the sandpit or hanging from the metal rods; their parents or their ayahs dancing anxious attendance behind them. All the while, of course, he ensures nothing that can make me fall down. I turn towards the road instead. Choked with traffic. It’s fun to watch people’s expressions when they are at a standstill; no way to either move ahead or move back. Most of them look utterly and completely bored. Bored. I guess that’s what I am too.

AFTER:

Mihir wins. This one just doesn’t listen. It is born. I suppose I should call it by its name now. Mihir has named it Arohan.

“Perfect name, don’t you think Rupu? The rising notes, bringing tune to our lives.” He leans in to kiss my forehead and brush back my hair as I lie still on my hospital bed, my back feeling like someone has set it on fire. I cannot complain. I was the one who wanted C-section to avoid suffering through the forced labour of what the doctors term “normal delivery.”

“Did he mean our life was tuneless before this?” I swallow, a smile pasted on my face. Mihir is fielding congratulatory messages and calls expertly as if it has not just been born but been granted double admission to MIT and Harvard and written a book on experimental psychology.

It. Arohan. I roll the name around my tongue. I feel nothing.  But I have to face it. The nurse wheels it around to me, for its first dose of the magical mother’s milk. Nothing. The nurse tries and coaxes but there is no magic mothers’ milk that springs to action. She gives up and takes the baby outside to get him the substitute, formula milk. Mihir looks concerned. I groan, touching my back. Mihir forgets about the milk and rushes to help me, propping up the pillows behind my back.

After we return home from the hospital, the neighbourly visits start.

“You mean Mihir can feed the baby?”

“And give him a bath?”

“And change the baby’s clothes?”

Mihir has already hired a nanny. If I could suspect him of meanness, I would have thought it was because he felt I was an inadequate mother. But even in his most unguarded moments, Mihir feels that I am the perfect mom. I do my bit; protesting against the increased expenses.

“We cannot spend so much, Mihir. I can manage.”

“You need to take rest, Rupu. Expenses are nothing for our… our Arohan.” His voice breaks. Tears threaten to flow out. I feel embarrassed. But his face is just naked with love. So, I gracefully give in. Anyway, when the nosy ladies come knocking, all I have to do is to summon the maid. She dutifully places the kid in my arms for a few minutes; hovering around to claim him once the clucking and baby noises are over.

“So cute.”

“Such a happy kid.”

It has been a few months already. The admiration brigade still keeps coming. I have to hand to him. Arohan. I have stopped calling it, it now. I still can’t call him Aro-baro like Mihir does; sweeping him in his arms, throwing him into the air and catching him back while the kid erupts in uncontrollable peals of baby laughter. Arohan doesn’t cry when he is handed over to me, for five minutes of the admiration torture. That would have been a tell-tale sign of my lack of motherhood skills. But just like I switch on my charm and hold him to be admired, he brings on his seemingly endless supply of laughter.

I have never seen a baby that can laugh so much. This, after I read him crime stories all nine months of pregnancy. I mean, what is so funny in this world? He touches an old shoe. Giggle. Hears a nursery rhyme. Giggle. Sees his father walk in. Giggle. Sees me. Giggle. Yes. He actually giggles when he sees me and holds out his chubby arms which smell of milk and baby lotion. To be held.  So the guests can find no chink in this happy charade and walk off to their own lives, a little bit more dejected, even as Arohan’s laughter echoes behind them as they leave.

Sometimes, when the maid, Asha, is not looking, I try pinching Arohan quickly to see if he will cry. I mean, it could be some unknown medical condition, you know, this inability to cry? But he doesn’t. He thinks it’s some new game. He pinches me back, his baby fingers just causing a tickle. And the maid returns, on cue. She seems to be unable to leave Arohan alone even for a moment.

“Arohan is such a lovely baba.”

“Here Aru, your favourite mashed potato.”

“Aru. Where are you hiding now?”

She follows every movement he makes. Even when he sleeps in the cradle, she sits beside him, rocking him gently, staring at him; letting go only when Mihir comes to the room.

Sundays are the maid’s weekly holiday. The baby is with me and Mihir. Perfect mother that I am, just when it is time to change Arohan’s diaper or feed him his mash of the day, I stay glued to my laptop as if averting the third world war with my keystrokes. Obviously Mihir changes the diaper. Mihir knows how to divert Arohan’s attention with tuneless songs while feeding him the tasteless mash. I know Mihir won’t peep into my laptop to see that I am actually playing Criminal Case.

I would have fed Arohan chocolate ganache probably and given up when he pursed his mouth and refused to eat. Mihir is made of sterner fatherhood muscle. He does not flinch.

I watch the two of them as if they are strangers, not people whose dreams are entwined with mine. Arohan finishes the meal and Mihir carefully wipes his mouth and picks him up. And then they roll on to the carpet to play another game.

I sometimes see Arohan staring at me, his brows knotted in deep concentration. Almost as if he is trying to figure out what games I would like to play. Not as if he wants my approval or my acceptance. I don’t think he cares for that. And if a smile stains my face at one of his new antics, he repeats that, again. Strangely, I don’t find him boring, yet. I don’t think I’ll ever end up being a good mother to him. But something about Arohan’s deep-set eyes that sparkle with curiosity and a hint of naughtiness tells me, maybe, one day when he outgrows the diapers and the lullabies, he and I could become friends. Maybe, there is still hope.

A Bangalore based storyteller, Debleena is the co-founder of a storytelling company, Kahaniyah, where she uses stories to improve both learning and business outcomes. She loves the comfort of words and the music of words and spends her days swimming through the highs and lows of both; resorting often to her lifeboat – uncontrollable peals of laughter. Her stories waver between the dark and the funny because she feels it’s at that intersection where life is most real.
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