Lying in the labour room, with all the nurses urging her to push some more, a thousand thoughts crossed Jasmeet’s mind. Was this what her mother had felt when she was giving birth to her and her four elder siblings? She wanted the pain to end soon. For a second she wished this child would never have happened to her. Was the pain worth it? She didn’t know what dying felt like but it was certainly something better than this. Suddenly the pain stopped and a strange darkness begun to engulf her.
She heard someone whisper nearby “She is exhausted. She is losing it.”
Someone shouted nearby. Her voice seemed to drift like inflated tires on water “Call the doctor immediately. She will die.”
Jasmeet inhaled one last breath of relief. Finally it was happening. She was dying. All the misery would stop. She wouldn’t know anymore what people thought of her. She wouldn’t be at the receiving end of unwanted sympathy. Her pupils closed and darkness completely blocked her mind.
Jasmeet woke up in a room which was strangely familiar. It looked like her mother’s small room back in Bhatinda. But there was an odd difference. The room was completely white, a bright light pouring in from above, the source for which was invisible. The room was also tidy, no scattered clothes, no small stools with large vases of pickled mangos, no aroma of freshly ground home-made spices. It was strangely clean. Something that had never happened in all the years that Jasmeet had spent in her home.
Suddenly a sharp cry filled the air. A woman was yelling for help. Jasmeet looked around and found a young woman lay crying on the floor. She was pregnant and it looked like her water broke. She was alone, crying for someone to come and help her. But no one came. Jasmeet stared at her and soon the face began to remind her of someone. She stared hard trying to remember the face when it struck her that it was her mother albeit younger.
Jasmeet did not know what to do. Was this a dream? Had she been transported to past? Her mother’s pregnancy reminded her of her own pregnancy. She looked down at her tummy but it was flat and despite herself Jasmeet smiled. Her mother moaned again. Jasmeet came back to where she was. Suddenly her mother looked up and their eyes met. Her eyes were filled with tears, her face looked pathetic. In a small, quivering voice she said “Please help me!”
Jasmeet recognized the voice, she had heard a million times before. And she could not shrug off the plea in her voice. Even if it was a dream she had to help her mother. She sat down beside her and held her hand. Her mother clutched her hand tightly, tears still pouring from her eyes.
Jasmeet wiped her tears and in a calm voice said “Take deep breathes. Don’t worry everything thing will be ok biji.” Her mother cried “Help me! I will die. This child will kill me. I don’t want it, help me please.” Jasmeet recognized the loathing in her mother’s eyes as her own and cringed. Suddenly the scene began to change, Jasmeet stepped back from her mother.
Jasmeet found herself in a corner, in the center of the room was a large cot and a woman saton it with an infant in her lap. She was dressed in red salwar Kameez and a few other women surrounded her. The room was still the same but was flooded in yellow light this time. The women around were laughing and singing some song. Someone from the crowd asked her mother “What have you named the kudi?”
“Jasmeet” she replied.
Jasmeet stared at the infant in her mother’s lap. Was it really her? She was surprised. What was happening? But there wasn’t time to investigate because the scene changed again.
It was again the same room, flooded with blue light this time.
A young Jasmeet was quarrelling with her mother “Why don’t I have my room? Everyone else has.”
“You are the youngest and besides you are a girl. What will you do with your own room? You have to leave us one day anyway.”
The scene changed again. The room was again the same, a sharp green light flooding it.
“Biji, let me go to city. I wish to study more.”
“No”, her mother said sternly.” You have had enough of your studies. Learn household work. You are seventeen and you still don’t know how to prepare a makhani gravy. Your books will not teach you this. And if you go to city no one will marry you.”
Jasmeet’s head began to spin. The scenes continued to change but it was always the same room.
Suddenly everything turned red. It was her wedding day. She was dressed in her mother’s old wedding dress. Her parents had found her a priceless catch. Her to-be husband was settled in Canada. They had asked only for twenty lakh rupees in dowry and it wasn’t much in comparison to a son-in-law settled abroad. Her parents had sold some of their ancestral property to fulfil the demands of the groom’s family.
Jasmeet had felt the cold attitude her sisters-in-law had shown and knew that they weren’t too happy about the sale of the land. She was married by the daybreak next day. The scene began to change again. She shut her eyes tight. She knew what was to come next.
Even though her eyes were closed she could hear what was happening around. She could hear herself being thrown out of her in-law’s home after her husband returned to Canada after a month of their wedding. She could hear the doors being shut and she banging the doors, pleading to her mother-in-law to let her in. No one relented and thus with one month’s pregnancy, abandoned by her husband and with nothing to call her own, Jasmeet returned to her parent’s home, back to the room where she had spent nineteen years of her life.
The room was now transforming, becoming the way Jasmeet had always seen it, cluttered with clothes, smelling of raw mangoes and spices, always packed with a woman or two who relished local gossip with a sip of tea and mathris her mother made.
“When is your daughter due, Manjeet?” asked one of them.
“In the second week of November, Parjayi.”
“What do you want – a grandson or a grand-daughter?”
“Who wants a daughter Parjayi? They are only a liability. I curse my fate when my daughter was born. Look what happened. She couldn’t even keep her husband happy.”
Jasmeet felt her blood boil. Was it her fault that her husband was already married to a woman in Canada, that marrying her was only a ruse to get some money for a business venture.
Suddenly a hushed silence fell, the women must have noticed her for Jasmeet heard someone say
“It’s ok puttar, you still have your parents.”
Jasmeet wondered how much of this was true. Her parents, were they really with her? She wasn’t educated much but she knew that her mother and rest of her family had inherited what society had made a custom. She knew that a daughter was just a liability for them. She suddenly felt exhilarated that she was dying. She wouldn’t end up being like her mother.
The room began to change again. She found herself standing in a closed room. There was a woman on a bed and a crowd clad in blue surgical gowns surrounded her. It dawned on Jasmeet that it was her. The doctors were performing caesarean on her, trying to save her baby. Jasmeet wanted to wait now, wanted to see her baby for the first and last time. She stood and watched the doctors work with surgical blades on her body.
It felt like an eternity but the doctors finally delivered the baby, a girl. The girl was not crying and a nurse slapped her back. Jasmeet felt infuriated at this stranger who had dared to slap her baby. The girl began to cry. Jasmeet felt a searing pain in her chest. She looked outside the operation theatre and saw her mother waiting and suddenly her daughter’s future life with Manjeet flashed before her. Jasmeet did not want her daughter to end up in the room.
She was no longer willing to die. It was too much to lose. Her daughter was precious, not a liability. Jasmeet stepped in front of her body. The doctors were trying to revive her. She didn’t know what to do. How to enter her body again. The nurse holding her baby said “Should I hand the child to the grandmother.”
Jasmeet felt her chest getting heavy and her head spinning. Her eyes closed and darkness fell. She struggled to stay awake. She used all the strength left in her body to open her eyes again. She felt everything go smooth and opened her eyes. A woman smiled at her from behind a blue surgical mask. Jasmeet shouted at the nurse “No. Give her to me.”
The nurse and doctor smiled.
“Yes, it’s a daughter. You have a good instinct.”
Jasmeet did not reply. She was busy cradling her daughter, promising her a secure future, a life out of the room.