Terminated Abortion

October 4, 2014


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.

(From Delhi-return)

(From De


The Royal Enigma

October 2, 2014

Nepal is an enigma to outsiders but a new novel opens a stunning window into the country and its society.

It is a story of the life of Nawin spanning many decades, with him shifting between Nepal and India often; and jobs, in search of a stability. Because the life around him he discovers to be exploitative and violent. The wide spread corruption and political violence was particularly unsettling.

He withdraws almost from it, unable to fit in. To find a solace in very occasional meeting with one of his colourful friends. Nawin violently spits out his venomous feelings to Dilip, his journalist friend, who is finally making a living out of his profession, whenever they meet. Dilip has grown wiser than Nawin, in his middle age, to make the best of the things as they exist. Nawin feels betrayed by Dilip.

It brings the conflict between them, which was not there earlier. Nawin almost abuses Dilip with his talks, whenever they meet, more recently. But it does not make him feel any good later.

Among all this Nawin also feels remorseful, for his inability to look after his very old step-mother and her son with mental invalidity. His second way of finding a solace, apart from abusing Dilip, is in visiting his step mother and her son once in a while. For the emotional pressure of living with them once again makes him run away to his banal life in the city.

This shifting of place or life between different people has defined Nawin’s world. Every time things look more complicated than before, whenever he returns to them. There is nothing much else of importance than his own circumstances for him. It is a solace that the world around too is in no lesser turmoil. The Maoist war and political assassinations do not perturb Nawin. He knows it is a logical outcome of the things as they are. They could have been different but they are not.

The Nepalese life is described authentically both in urban and rural parts. Particularly when the Maoist war was engulfing it, in the aftermath of the royal massacre. This novel is an interesting native voice.

White alphabets and numbers

August 16, 2014

Slates and chalks were rare during those days. Notebooks and ink pots were allowed only in the second year of the primary school or later, when one had already become familiar with the alphabets and numbers.

The mornings were busy. A small writing board of wood with a handle was needed to be rubbed with black colour. The filling of a worn out dry battery was mixed with water to make the paste to put on the board. It was black enough. Or one used the dying colour instead. Eveready or Jeep were the brands of batteries available, small or medium sized. The board with a handle was than left in the air or sun to dry. Then with the bottom of a drinking glass or a bottle it was rigourously rubbed to shine. One used both the hands to do so if father was not available on some days to help.

In a small metal container, may be an emptied can of condensed milk called milkmaid, was dissolved in water the white soil or chalk called ‘Khari’. It was frequently available local product, just like the red clay soil. There were made two holes on each side of this white ink pot, into which two ends of a thread were tied.

A student had a cotton bag on his shoulder. The Blackened and shined board was there in it, along with a neatly cut small stick of bamboo. One end of the bamboo stick was turned into a pen. In one hand of the student hung the white ink pot. This ink had to be stirred often while writing, else the chalk settled at the bottom.

The Bell held in one hand was being rang through a hammer, held in another, by the monitor of the school, calling open the school day. The student ran up the climb, which was paved with stones; at the top of which was the monitor, in front of the school, was ringing the bell. The student was careful not to spill the white ink from the pot hanging from his hand, else it will soil his dress or the bag.

Once he lost his balance while running on prompting of the bell, managing the bag on his shoulder and the white ink pot in his hand. His head hit a stone and blood oozed from the wound, while his ink got spilled on the stones paving the way, and its pot lost in the fields down somewhere. He was taken to the hospital which was very near, and the doctor applied dressing on his wound. That smell of medicine lingered in his mind for a long time.

Classes ran in open during winter. It was why his father was happy, that he will remain warm in the sun for the whole day. ‘Ka’ Kha’ ‘Ga’ Gha’…. the alphabets came alive shining white on a shining black board. They dried in sun soon. Now on the other side of the board number had to be noted, which the teacher was shouting.

‘Ek… Do….Teen…Char…’

Oh what a shit! One had lost the thread needed to dip in the white ink and than use it to draw lines by holding the thread soaked in white ink with his both hands and then touch it on the other side of the black board at regular intervals. Then from the two other ends of the Black board or ‘Pati’ the thread put lines on it, to make almost even squares. After drying those squares were filled with the Numbers ‘Ek..do…teen…char.’

Watching a documentary of Tony Hagen on Nepal’s Bajang district brought those memories alive.

Bipolar Disorder

July 16, 2014

BD is a good tool to have to deal with the world. So far I have only developed a split-personality. I hope to evolve.

A literary death

June 27, 2014

Typically a British literary affair. An immigrant author given a literary prize for also making other than literary achievements. To be an activist of any cause is the death of a writer. Salman should take it as a warning of his waning as a writer. People have started writing his obituary and his books could be mentioned only as an after thought.
But he has had a windfall too, in terms of marrying slim women always taller than him, and holding them by their thin waists like a trophy, while being photographed in his bow ties and a wicked smile. He was perhaps not as ugly as people thought he was. It all evokes a sharp pang of envy, to think about his career in those terms, except his work.
But he has always been so loved one of British literary establishment. He has even won a booker of a booker. One remembers his interview to BBC, appealing the power that be at it, for one thing or another. He made some really shrewd career moves to be.
So it was a career worth learning from.


On in-laws

June 25, 2014

Tulsis were a hilarious lot as in-laws of Mr. Biswas. It looks as if his life was spent defying the domineering Tulsis. The family being almost Matriarchal, every son-in-law joined it, to render his services to further the name of Tulsis. Being a rebel, Mr. Biswas suffered Tulsis but walked out often, unlike other sons-in-law.
In ‘The mystique messieurs’, Pandit Ganesh nearly bargains every penny out of his would be father-in-law as dowry, and does not dedicate his only book to him, many years later. The book answers the Hindu religious questions in a matter of fact way, and helps in establishing Pandit Ganesh’s political career. But he was to migrate to London.
Naipaul does well to deal with the Hindu in-laws he knew. But he spared his own English or Pakistani ones.
The in-laws have made a fortune while escaping malaria or diarrhea. I mean the beginning was as humble for them. But the father-in-law dies in a car crash. It was a trendy Japanese SUV he was driving on the highway. Dilip says his father-in-law must have looked upon his death with satisfaction, from the heavens, for his humble beginning. The bonus was a few column centimeters of news in the national daily, his car accident also secured, with the brand of the car also mentioned.
In ‘The royal enigma’ it was a disappointment, that his father-in-law could not begin a political career, for Dilip, as he might have liked to die in a crash of a private jet….

Smart writing

June 22, 2014


Literary Hatchet buried?

June 21, 2014

It seems this reviewer or columnist is so at peace wit the literary world that he is almost a pacifist. And he thinks his laziness or lack of competence or knowledge in literary matters is that of everyone in The USA or elsewhere.
This kind of complacency you expect from a magazine feature-writer, which has become so venerated that no one is surprised by its content recently and so has ceased to care what it publishes.
Even a casual look at literary forums is enough to discover how thriving a place it is to be.
If you consider Goodreads as one, I can assure you it has trashed more NY bestsellers than any other forums. Almost all the popular books of Vampire fiction, mommy porn or young adult genres have been obliterated to pieces for their not being a true literature.
So ignorance is not a bliss. Reading public is more critical than many think, and it is reading more diversely than ever. The Hatchet was never buried. Readers are out there to skin the feable writers or critics in the literary world.

Faking emotions

June 18, 2014

His work was like faking emotions, to calm or create the anxieties of the society about it. Just like a woman faking an orgasm, to manipulate her man.

Words saturate the world

June 15, 2014

It seems more words are useless. The world has enough of them.
Probably we have so much around that even if all the reading people try to make a conscious effort at finish them reading together, they might not succeed. It is so while people are reading several times more the number of words each day, than they used to say a decade back.
Still people have not given up producing words or reading them.
May be the importance of the words the readers look for has been accentuated by the absence of them.
Good writers will always be in demand.
Bad ones can not hide behind their words for ever.