SUNDAY MAGAZINE

The factor of motherhood

REFLECTIONS

SUDHA MURTY

The factor of motherhood

RECENTLY I attended a seminar on motherhood. It was well attended and people from different walks of life participated. Some were doctors and some were from orphanages, adoption agencies, NGOs, religious groups, young mothers and some successful mothers (their definition of a successful mother was one whose children have done well in public life and financially).

There were stalls selling baby products, books for mothers, books of how to handle adolescent children... There were great speakers and most of the time they talked from the heart about their experiences.

When my turn came, I narrated an incident, which I had a witnessed. Manjula was a cook in Dr. Arathi's house. Her husband was a good-for-nothing. She already had five children and when she became pregnant for the sixth time, she wanted to get it aborted. She was weak and tired. She had not wanted this pregnancy and wanted a tubectomy operation.

Dr. Arathi had a different idea. Her sister was rich but childless and wanted to adopt a newborn baby. Arathi suggested: "Manjula, you have this baby and irrespective of the gender, my sister will adopt it. She does not stay in this place. So, you won't need to see the baby. She will also offer money, which will help with your other children's education. Since you don't want this baby, you assume that the sixth baby was not born at all. But decision is yours and I will not insist."

Manjula thought over the idea for a couple of days and then agreed. She began taking extra milk and fruits and good food, so that the baby would be healthy and strong. She delivered a baby girl and Dr. Arathi's sister also arrived that day.

When the time came to handover the child, Manjula refused to give up the baby. She started crying, "Madam, I agree that I am very poor. Even if I get a handful of rice, I will share that with this baby. But I cannot part with it. She is so tiny and dependent on me. I have gone against words but without this baby, it is difficult for me to live. Please pardon me."

Though she had five other children, suddenly this baby became very dear to her. Aarthi and her sister were upset because they had been ready to welcome this baby into their home. But they understood.

I concluded my talk saying that in course of my work I had seen a mother ready to sacrifice everything for her children. There was much applause. I was satisfied, for my speech had come from my heart. I was about to step out of the building on my way to office when I saw Meera.

Meera teaches orphans in a school for the blind. She had come on behalf of her school to attend this seminar. I knew her fairly well. I asked her, "Meera how are you?"

She was quiet for a minute. "I am fine. Madam, can you do me a favour. Ahmed Ismail is supposed to drop me at school. But he just called to say he is stuck in a traffic snarl and will take more time. So can you drop me off?" Ahmed Ismail was a kind-hearted Trustee of the school who does lot of charity work.

Meera's school was on the way to my office; so I agreed. In the car, I noticed that Meera seemed a little dull. "Meera, how was the seminar today? Did you like my lecture?" I was expecting a positive answer.

But Meera answered, "I didn't like your lecture. I'm sorry to say that but life is not like that."

I was taken aback, not because she had not liked my lecture but at her comment. I wanted to know the reason behind it. "Tell me, Meera. Why did you say that? I have narrated a true incident. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction."

Meera sighed, "Yes, Madam. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. I will also tell you of a true incident. There was a five-year-old girl who was half blind. Her parents were both coolies. This little girl would complain that she could not see clearly. They would say that she wasn't eating properly or that they would take to a doctor when they got some money.

"At last, they took her to a doctor. The doctor told them that the child needed an expensive operation or she would go blind, as she grew older. The parents talked to themselves and then took her to bus-stand. There they gave her a packet of biscuit and told her, `Eat the biscuits. We will be back in five minutes.'

"The child felt very happy at having a packet of biscuits all for herself, for the first time. She was jumping with joy and with her little vision she could see her mother's torn red sari. Time passed and it was getting cold. She could sense that the day was getting darker but her parents never turned up. The packet of biscuits was over long back. She was alone, helpless and scared. She called her parents and searched for the torn red sari. She went from pillar to post and there was no reply."

"What happened later?"

"After sometime, the child slept wherever she found some place and her search continued the next day too. Still there was no trace of her parents. A kind-hearted man understood and took her to the blind school. But he was unable to trace her parents. The child waited for her mother, for several years, every evening, for a lady with a torn red sari. But no one turned up"

I turned to Meera. She was crying. "Meera, how do you know all these details about that child?"

Sobbing, she said, "Because I was that child. Now, tell me madam, how could my mother leave me like that? I was deceived by a pack of biscuits. What happened to the motherhood that you spoke about? Is it not valid even for my mother? Is poverty more powerful than motherhood? Answer me, Madam."

I did not have any answer for her but held her hands trying to comfort her.

Even today, whenever I see a lady in a red sari, I think of Meera.

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