When his wife gave birth to a second daughter within two years of his first, Sohan and his wife became worried. They knew that Sohan’s parents wanted to see the face of a grandson, before – as they said it – they died, to open the gates of heaven for them and to continue the name of their family. The latter a girl could not do, as she had to take up the name of the family she is married-off into. No one could confirm however, about opening of the gates of heaven, on account of the birth of a boy in a family, for his departed grand-parents.
These days, however, some of the women retain the family name of their parents as well, along with that of their husband’s, after their marriage. They typically have two second names after their first, like Sumita ‘Pradhan’ ‘Manandhar’, or Rasika ‘Joshi’ ‘Adhikari’, or Mira ‘Pandey’ ‘Tripathi’. It happens more often if the marriage is not arranged, and instead is a ‘love-marriage’ – where the boy and the girl themselves select their life partner, with or without the approval of their parents.
Such marriages are noticeable and become a matter of discussion among the people, as they may cross the limits of caste or even community, at times, and are considered an act of rebellion against the practices in the society. Obviously, they may not entail a ritual donation of a ‘kanya’ (a virgin girl) as in an arranged marriage, to a groom, selected after gathering enough information about him second-hand; along with a dowry. The parents painstakingly collect dowry to marry-off their daughter to a good boy–who is educated, employed, and pliant enough to submit to the wishes of his elders in the family, to accept an arranged marriage; begrudgingly: because they have to make sacrifice of many of their comforts and hobbies, to do so, all their lives. Someone with a son instead of a daughter has a life free of the worry about collecting a dowry. Finding a suitable boy or girl for a marriage is an industry that employs many people, and sustains a few newspapers, those that publish thousands of such advertisements seeking suitable marriages, in a special supplement every week-end. Those newspapers and jobs could disappear, if most of the people here went for a ‘love-marriage’.
As if the element of ‘love’ remains absent in an arranged marriage and choosing one’s mate, as in a ‘love- marriage’ amounts to taking the final leap into freedom and finding an ever-lasting love in a marriage. Some ‘love-marrying’ couples elope at times, saving everybody in the society the rituals of kanya-donation, to later return to the family of the boy, where they are generally accepted back with a little remorse. But in some societies, both the elopers are killed for dishonoring the name of their families. The newspapers, including the ones that survive on arranging marriages, term such murders as “honor-killing”, in which often no one is convicted, for the lack of a witness or evidence.
The women having two family names after their first name are considered modern and emancipated. Yet, there are people, not fully convinced of this type of women’s-lib, expressed in their double second-names, like Sohan’s parents, who prefer to have at least one grandson, to continue their family’s name, after them.
Within a few years after the birth of their second daughter, Sohan’s wife, Pragya, was pregnant again. Though she looked emaciated due to the frequent pregnancies and the stress of child-rearing, she was unable to resist the pressure of her in-laws, and the other elderly relations – mostly the women – to bear a son. Everybody in the family dropped hints to her in this regard, to which Sohan tried to protest, at times. Pragya always restrained her husband, whenever he did so, saying this is how the society is. She was amazed to find that the women in the society were the most concerned or critical of her, for not mothering a son; as they were of another woman also, who did not become pregnant, soon after her marriage. Proving a barren was even more feared, than bearing multiple daughters, by the married women.
Now, since she was pregnant again, the pressure on Pragya was immense to bear a male child. To release it she used to scold her two daughters, who have started to go to the school by now, for being unlucky, and asserted to them that this time it finally would be a son – who would bring her luck. Such episodes of arguments her elder daughter ignored, as she had begun to understand the matters a little; while the younger daughter appeared more concerned for her mother’s well-being.
Pragya was properly, ritually-donated by her parents to her husband with an adequate dowry, through an arranged marriage. She thought she would live happily ever-after, as Sohan worked as a clerk in a department of the government – a job for life, with a pension at the end of it. His wife was expected to fit into the role of a traditional housewife for life, never mind the university degree she had earned. In most cases such degrees for women were an additional qualification to get married-off into a putative and well-to-do family, like a good dowry. Joining the workforce to earn a living was still considered not very reputable for the daughter-in-law of such a family. After giving birth to two daughters, things turned out very differently than Pragya had expected.
In her heart however, she was very worried if it was once again a daughter, developing in her womb. Sohan found out that, in the neighbouring town, on the other side of the border – which was next to the Pragya’s parents’ village – a private hospital was there, where, by the ‘video X-ray’, the doctors could tell early in the pregnancy, if it was a boy or a girl. Abortion services were also available in that hospital, which was still illegal on this side of the border. Also, no questions were asked there, about the legitimacy or otherwise of the fetus, which was being aborted. So, most of the unwanted pregnancies were terminated there. If a couple from this side of the border were seen at that hospital, everyone knew what was going on. Through rumours, people guessed which woman of their neighbourhood had recently received an abortion.
In fact, Sohan has read in the papers that most of the women in jails of the country were convicted for receiving an abortion and were mostly from poor families. Not a single man was ever reported to have been booked for causing a pregnancy that needed such termination – or a doctor who performed it – as if becoming pregnant was the sole mistake of a woman from a poor family in this country; and the affluent people never had unwanted pregnancies in their marriages. Some people in Sohan’s village offered abortion services clandestinely. They were not well-trained however, and often landed their patients into problems.
Sohan remembered it well that, one of his neighbour’s young wife died a few years ago, a few days after receiving an abortion in the village, during her third pregnancy, by one such practitioner called Sudeni – leaving her two young daughters motherless. That incident attracted the attention of the authorities as well. Somehow, Sohan’s neighbour managed to avoid any serious inquest. People said it did cost him dearly, to bribe the police and the health department officials, and rendered him a destitute, later. Also, the loss of his wife was too much for him to bear, and he could never get on with his life, afterwards. He even declined a few proposals he received for his second marriage. These days, one hears that his daughters have turned to prostitution, while he went insane and found a refuge in a mental asylum in the capital.
Sohan finally decided that they should find out the sex of their expected baby beforehand, even if they would decide about the abortion later. He took his wife to the hospital in the town. The doctor, after the ‘video X-ray’, confirmed that it was once again a girl, and, if at all, they would have to undertake an abortion immediately. Sohan and Pragya felt very dejected at this news. They decided that they should abort the birth of yet another girl. Sohan asked the doctor to admit his wife in the hospital for terminating her pregnancy the next day, before he went alone to the hotel they were staying in.
During the night, the thoughts of his neighbour’s wife, who had died after receiving the abortion, came to Sohan repeatedly. He loved his wife very much, and now he became worried for her, in case the abortion went wrong. After all, she was physically weak due to the frequent pregnancies and the emotional burden of bearing two girls. He could not sleep the whole night. By the morning he had made his decision. He went early to the hospital and told the doctor that his wife will not undergo the abortion. The doctor and the other staff at the hospital were surprised and tried to convince him to let the abortion take place, as earlier planned. They even agreed to reduce the fees. They reminded him that if he came later, for the abortion, it would be late and will be more expensive. Sohan remained adamant on his decision, however; overruling the protests of a confused Pragya. He was very angry with his parents for keeping him under pressure to father a son, though he already had two daughters, which had endangered the life of his wife now.
He and his wife returned to a home where Sohan’s parents were totally unhappy at the turn of events. They scolded Sohan for not allowing the abortion to take place. Sohan was not in a mood of reconciliation with his parents on this matter anymore. He told his parents that his wife would not risk undergoing an abortion, even if it was a third girl. He also told them that, she would not bear a child anymore. Also, if they were so interested in having a grandson, they could have their second son get married. Maybe, his wife will give them their grandson.
Sohan remained indifferent, when his parents told him that people marry many times in the society, if they do not have a son. He thought himself a modern man, and was happy with his daughters. He wondered why he remained so much under pressure to have a son, earlier, from his parents or other relations.
His parents stopped persuading him anymore, to get his wife receive the abortion, and instead started accusing Sohan’s wife of bewitching their son, and for taking him away from their control, apart from blaming their Karma. The days passed slowly. No one now talked about the pregnancy of Pragya in the family anymore. The undercurrents of the disagreement in the family were palpable however, even to the casual visitors. Sohan’s parents discussed in length the issue of their expected third granddaughter with almost everyone, at the slightest provocation. They lamented if they would be denied the entry into the heaven after their death, if they did not see the face of a grandson in their lives. Some visitors empathized with Sohan’s parents, while others privately congratulated Sohan and his wife for sticking to their resolution. Every day was an emotional high and low–for everyone in the family.
Pragya lost her cool at times, as her inwardly festering hysteria broke. She cursed her karma for making her bear yet another unwelcome daughter. In her heart, however, she was grateful to Sohan, for supporting her, and did not care much about the rest. At times, in presence of her parents-in-law, she needlessly beat her daughters – as if they were guilty for being born as girls – and then wept alone in repentance. Secretly, she and Sohan had made plans to go to a distant city, and build their lives separately, after the birth of their third girl.
Finally, she had the labour pain and was taken to the health-post in the neighbouring village, where a trained nurse delivered the babies. The nurse was an expert and had a record of delivering upside down or obliquely placed babies successfully. Pragya’s delivery occurred without any complication; but there was a surprise for everyone: She delivered a boy.
Sohan’s father was exhilarated by this news. He asked one of his neighbours, the one who kept a double-barrelled gun, to fire his (licensed) gun into the air for five times, to celebrate the occasion – assuring him that he will pay for the cartridges later. The wife of Sohan suddenly became a more desirable and respectable lady, for everyone, for delivering a son. Her daughters were surprised at the reception their brother received on his arrival.
Sohan, however, was shocked at the turn of events. He was dismayed to recall that they had nearly aborted the son his wife has now delivered; that everyone felt so proud of, in his family. He guessed that, in that private hospital, on the other side of the border, probably most of the pregnancies got terminated, to make the money. Since abortion was illegal here, no one could complain about it later. He thanked god that, even unknowingly, he made the correct decision and saved his son.