By Ranjini Banerjee
Does wearing a cross on your neck make you a Christian? Does a baby belong to any religion?
Ashutosh walked out of the doctor’s clinic, holding Sudha’s report in his hand. Dr Malhotra’s words were still ringing in his head, “I am sorry Ashutosh, but Sudha is not medically fit to give birth to a child. But do not lose heart. Nowadays, various treatments are available …” When Ashutosh had found out that the problem was with Sudha and not him, he had felt a twinge of satisfaction (the male ego at work!). However, in a moment that satisfaction was replaced by intense grief. Ashutosh and Sudha were extremely fond of children and were planning to start a family. Dr Malhotra’s announcement had just shattered their dreams.
Ashutosh sat inside his red Maruti Zen but could not gather the strength to move. What would he tell Sudha? And what about his parents? Maa and Baba were eagerly awaiting the news of Sudha’s pregnancy. Normally confident and arrogant – Ashutosh Chatterjee was a broken man today. A staunch believer in God and a true Brahmin at heart, Ashutosh wondered why God had punished him! Had he not followed all the rituals religiously since childhood?
Once the report was out in the open, the Chatterjee household was in turmoil! Ashutosh rushed to console his mother, who was beating her heart and wailing at the top of her voice. Sudha’s father-in-law, more reserved in nature, walked out of the room with a sigh, “My family line has come to an end! No one to carry forward our name!”
In the chaos, only Sudha was controlled in her reaction. She walked to her room and closed the door. Lying on the bed, Sudha’s quiet tears wet her pillow. The biggest blow had been dealt to her but no one heard her silent tears.
By the time Ashutosh came to the room to retire for the night, Sudha was once more her composed self. When Ashutosh pulled her into his arms to offer his support, Sudha softly made a suggestion. Knowing that her husband had also wanted children as much as her, Sudha felt guilty about depriving him of fatherhood. Now she suggested to him, “I am sorry I cannot give you and the family a child to carry forward your name. But, Ashutosh, there are so many children in this world who do not have parents. If we could give a home to any one such child – it would solve both the issues.”
Sudha’s in-laws would hear none of this nonsense about adoption. If a child was deserted at birth, could it be born of good parents? Sudha argued that it was not the child’s fault that its parents had deserted it – but logic did not hold against superstition. Ashutosh could not stop his parents from leaving for their home in Jamshedpur. His mother could not live under the same roof with a barren and argumentative daughter-in-law. Ashutosh was secretly glad to see them go – at least it restored peace at home!
Sudha finally convinced her husband to at least consider adopting a child – and he relented. The next Monday when Ashutosh Chatterjee returned home he had a surprise waiting for him. He found Sudha excitedly chatting to a child of about four years. When Sudha noticed him, she introduced him to Smriti. Sudha had visited the orphanage nearest to the city and completing the initial paperwork, had brought Smriti home. It was on a trial basis for two weeks. Another family had already kept her for two weeks. Now the orphanage authorities would judge both the families and their behaviour towards Smriti. The child would then be given up for adoption to whichever family suited her best.
Ashutosh was immediately attracted to the child and her endearing ways – the way she pouted her lips when about to cry, her dimpled smile, and the toss of her curly hair when she dismissed a toy for another one. Then his conditioning took over. Disturbing thoughts filled his mind. Maybe she was the child of a prostitute or possibly a rape victim. The father might be a drunkard who had forced his wife to give away the daughter. His mother’s words rang clearly in his ears, “A child from a good family bearing good blood would never be given up for adoption! An adopted child always has a suspicious background.” At the beginning of the second week of trial, his worst fear came true!
Smriti had been given a thorough bath by Sudha. When the child was being towel dried, Ashutosh walked in and looking at the child, stood rooted to the ground. Dangling from the child’s neck was a silver cross. Smriti was a Christian! Ashutosh rushed in and grabbed the cross roughly from Smriti’s neck. The child started crying and Sudha gathered her in her arms. Sudha was expecting this to happen but had hoped Ashutosh would not find out until the adoption proceedings were completed.
If earlier Ashutosh had doubts about adoption, now he would not hear a word in favour of Smriti. The child was a Christian and could not be accepted. Smriti returned to the orphanage and was happily adopted by the other family.
A month had passed after Smriti had left, but Sudha had not forgiven Ashutosh for his injustice. The relation between the couple became strained. Ashutosh started working late in office to avoid any confrontation with Sudha.
One evening when he was working late, his secretary announced a visitor. The account head from the advertising agency in Delhi had come for the meeting. Ashutosh had forgotten about the appointment! He asked her to be shown into his office.
When Anubhuti walked in through the door and their eyes met, Ashutosh received a jolt! Anubhuti was his girlfriend from college, who he had dated even after college until he was engaged to Sudha. The separation had been mutual as Anubhuti also felt that their relationship did not have a future.
Gradually, it was time for Anubhuti to leave – she was taking a flight back to Delhi that night. When she was about to leave, suddenly she asked Ashutosh about his children. Ashutosh informed her about Sudha’s infertility. Sadly shaking his head, Ashutosh said, “I can never have a child of my own.”
Anubhuti flashed her dimpled smile and let him on to a secret – “Oh no, Ashu, you have a child – a daughter.” Ashutosh stared at Anubhuti in disbelief while she continued, “Remember the last time we met? The parting had got emotional and we had made love for the last time. Well, you made me pregnant and by the time I found out it was too risky to have an abortion! As you were about to get married I did not feel the need to inform you and wreck your life. Neither did I want an additional burden to curb my independence. I gave up the baby to the nearest orphanage from the city.”
Ashutosh held his head in his hands and tears were streaming down his face. Anubhuti continued, “You know Ashu, when I was leaving that tiny bundle at the doorstep of that orphanage – I felt the pain of motherhood for a moment. In that weak moment, I thought that our child should have at least something belonging to her parents. I had the pendant around my neck – remember the one you had gifted to me on the annual day of our college? A silver cross – in mock appreciation of Christianity! Oh, how you used to hate them! I placed the silver cross around the neck of our daughter.”
“Anyway, I guess this does not make sense after all these years. Somehow, seeing your grief about not having a child, I felt you should know the truth. Goodbye Ashu!” – saying this, Anubhuti walked out of the office with a toss of her curly hair.
Ashutosh Chatterjee was left alone when the door was shut on his face! Looking down at the religious, high-caste Brahmin, the gods smiled. Justice had been done!
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