Kids Corner


Chandigarh Soap Opera



Life is a bed of roses but for her tonight it seemed as if it was raining roses. All her favourite things were lined up and Mrs Khullar had been roped in, it seems, to transform their room into the Botanical gardens at Kew ... very filmi!

Karan, it looks like, has prepared their room as if they were consummating marital bliss for the first time. She stifled a giggle, it all seemed corny to her, all these attempts to welcome her; honestly it resembled a 'B' grade movie, she thought hysterically.

Maybe, it was her nerves but she didn't understand all this fuss. The pomp and glitter, the stringing of lights outside the kothi resembled an x'mas tree, the 'dhholi' belting out Babbu Maan's new chartbuster and the people ... It resembled a pre-wedding party, everyone decked out with the newest creations from Mintu matching with the oh! so correct jamavaars, decadent solitaires.

Didn't they understand that she needed her space?

She, had just come back from Delhi with the baby, Kudrat, the new maids and all the luggage. She still needed to get her bearings right.

Karan had the whole seduction scene planned out, and his mom had her dragon club brought together to show-off the baby ... physical proof, you see.

And her coterie of well-meaning friends were all huddled in a a corner and all she wanted was to curl up and cry, but grinning and smiling she said ‘Sat Sri Akaal!‘ and ‘matha-tekoed‘, the first of many back breaking of the evening.

*  *  *  *  *

Pushing aside the attendants and mentally noting the décor of the beautiful, well-lit room, Mrs Parkash Kaur, the proud ‘daadi' (paternal grandmother) picked up her grandson. The joy of holding one's grand-son surpassed everything. The stigma of being barren - in the sense that one is yet to bear a son - has passed the ‘parvaar' (family) by.

Rhea watched her mother-in-law - this sophisticated matron who ruled the elite, select echelon of the families with an iron glove - melting at the sight of her progeny. It didn't matter that Kudrat was the first born, cynosure of everyone's eyes. She would have to fight forever. From the moment of conception, the suspense of what sex the baby would be. The girl child has to even fight for the right to be born from within.

This strange dance between the x and y chromosomes determines destiny in every household of Punjab striking at the heart, crossing all boundaries of wealth, caste, creed.

Shrugging and quashing these philosophical thoughts, Rhea thought mercenarily of the shagun (gifts) Mama had brought. Would it be a diamond ‘n emerald set from Suhaas or a polki one from Suranas?

Well, she knew she had hit the jackpot.

*  *  *  *  *

The blue chikankari georgette suit had been stitched and delivered to coincide with the birth, the conveniences of planning and delivering a child had made life so much more orderly. One could choose the date, time and voila! Have a baby with the best of ‘rashees', according to the hindu pundit.

This influence of hinduism and rituals was rooted deep in our psyche. And, by the way, the blue was chosen deliberately, not even the Fates could cross the line with her today.

Words had failed Mama when she had gazed upon her son for the first time. He was beautiful, as all babies are; tears had fallen from her eyes. Her mind wandered and started reminiscing when her own Karan was born and ‘Vadey Bibiji' (her authoritarian mother-in-law) had acquiesced to her as the bahu. Her position and her identity were cemented after 8 years of barrenness, sly remarks and the gazillion powders and mixes, each one of which guaranteed ‘100% conception‘.

Why is that when we talk about equality of women and revival of Sikhism, free and compulsory education and all sorts of projects started by the so-called custodians of power, Punjab is passing through its darkest times?

Are we the custodians of the future or the mute murderers of humanity in the name of these dogmas which inflict us?

Mrs Prakash Kaur took out a bundle of crisp notes from a matching blue Aigner clutch and ceremoniously vaaroed it and gave it to the nurse on duty. The nurse gasped, but thought - strange are the ways of these Punjabis ...

*  *  *  *  *

Rhea delivered the "heir" to the zameen, finally in the most exclusive birthing clinic in Delhi which resembled a five-star hotel more than a hospital. Honestly, the receptionist was botoxed more than the page 3 babes of the social circuit.

Giving birth to the much-awaited waaris of the khaandaan relieved her troubled stressed-out mind. Rhea had realized that a woman in Punjab is known by the sons she produces and not by any other qualifications. This ailment affected the strata of the society from top to bottom and was weakening it like termites ...

All this so-called modernity and advancement in equality was a hog-wash. Surrogate mothers were being roped in and were the nom de guerre these days. Mrs Prakash Singh's entry, enveloped in a cloud of Allure, was followed by the retinue of maids who were carrying the congratulatory thaals of laddoos (to be touched by Kaka ji ) and distributed among the people in the pind of qadoville!

*  *  *  *  *

Rhea's dilemma: What every mid 20s to thirty-something faces in the so-called modern cities of Punjab. How to produce the rightful heir? The pressures to reproduce/procreate the ‘waaris' are insurmountable. There is an impasse between the old and the new where one is stuck at the thresh-holds of having a healthy child versus a male child.

The constant pressures, the taunts and the mutterings and the not-so-subtle comments had reached a level that made Rhea yearning to run away. Kind phrases, slight hints of doing it in a particular way and at a particular time of the month, or eating an apple a day in the morning as it ensured a male child, were sound-bytes that had been droning her ear ever since Karan and she had celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

Damn it, she said to herself as she adjusted her pale blue chikankari dupatta that had been starched to perfection by Weldon aunty ji, simultaneously invoking a prayer to Guru Sahib, urging him to take care of her whenever she would be dragged away to meet the local sant, a favourite of all mothers-in-law, since he guaranteed a ‘100% conception'. The appointment was not far.

Carrying a huge basket of fruits, including Californian apples and Chinese pears and a silver thaali laden with Nathoo's mithai covered by a co-ordinated pink tissue and a cloth pouch filled with an offering (minimum Rs. 10,000, Sheela had said) Mummy ji steps into the car shouting for Rhea as ‘sant ji' was said to be very punctual.

God! This girl, she must be applying her sun screen. Her obsession with being white ... If only she would produce a male heir, all my problems would vanish after which I can die in peace, thought Prakash Kaur, doyen of the ladies club Sector 9.

Who will look after Lalji and Rhea in their old age? Hai, mera munda! ...our family name, zameen ... izzat!

In a silence thick enough to be cut with a knife, the duo move to Zirakpur with the tenacity of an Indian general leading his troops to fight against the Pakistanis. The move to the battle post - sorry, the dera of Khuwasianwala Babaji - where women from all over flock to be blessed with the golden child!

Forget the fact that it's got to do with sperms or - heaven forbid! - the laadla munda! Never ever suggest this to a mother-in-law, thought Rhea. She a product of the finest schools and the best college of the country had no choice over this; just produce the rightful heir and all systems were go.

Babaji, sitting in an opulent gaudy room with temperatures freezing (enough to freeze off all body parts), thought Rhea with a giggle. SShh!! Mummy ji glared at her and shoved her forward to get blessed by his liver-spotted podgy hands.

Babaji, giving her the look over, instructs her: "Beta, mix this in Kaka's milk at night".

The sachet which is a miracle drug equivalent to apni ol' little blue pills.

Babaji's success rate has all of Chandigarh under his sway, so Rhea goes along with it and placates Karan to try the holy powder. The night gives away to the morning and success is guaranteed; there is nothing called failure in Prakash Kaur's house. She waits for the door to open and mentally promises an extra offering to bhaiji and a gold kara to baba ji nine months hence.

*  *  *  *  *


December 6, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Sanmeet Kaur  (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), December 07, 2009, 9:12 AM.

If "Rhea" wants to, the buck can stop with her. The question is, what will she do?

2: Parveen Kaur Dhatt (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), December 10, 2009, 8:33 PM.

Yes, I agree with you Sanmeet ji. The buck has to stop with us. Unfortunately some of the educated ones who are born and raised in Canada celebrate the birth of a son with laddoos and akhand paths. I personally don't know many people who jump with joy at the birth of a daughter. This is disturbing to watch. The scenario in the story seems to be a biographical account of many Indian women's lives! Guru Nanak said: "Why call her bad, she who gives birth to kings?"

3: Zubin (Chandigarh, Punjab), February 01, 2010, 10:55 AM.

The sad part is it happens even in highly educated families. The first expression after geting to know it's a girl is of disappointment. It's sad. Celebrate the birth of a girl. Do celebrate it with dhol and laddoos.

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