“Shhh, it’ll be okay,” I’m consoling the bawling woman, “be strong. You’re brave.” Till 30 minutes ago I didn’t even know she existed and here I am now, playing Big Sister to her in the air-conditioned confines of a Delhi hospital. It’s neutral ground for us both—she has come from a coastal Indian town whereas I have travelled from a Himalayan city. Both of us are undergoing IVF procedures, and the same gynaecologist will shortly implant artificially-inseminated embryos in our bodies. It’s her first time; I’ve been there before. Her eggs have produced a lone viable embryo and the doctor has just informed her that her chances of conception are low. As she walks into the OT, I remember thinking how trite I must’ve sounded to her. It’ll be okay, you’re brave? Unknown to me, exactly a fortnight later, the words will play back to me when I learn that the procedure has failed me again.
Delhi. With its settlers and migrants, its beauty and antithetical ugliness, its big corporate houses and media conglomerates, its stupendous wealth and abject poverty, its historicity and newness, its fume-spewing buses and sleek SUVs, this was where I once lived as a single woman, toiling as a journalist. It’s where I had met my sweetheart. Delhi gave us anonymity even as innumerable clubs and swanky diners played gleeful witness to our wanton romance. Delhi tickled me as we held hands and kissed on late-night drives along the historic India Gate and the spruced-up Connaught Place. Delhi sent me into raptures the day he proposed to me. Now I am his wife, struggling to be a mother, and Delhi is no longer home. I’ve come to resent the city and everything about it. Deep in my thinking mind I know places do not shape destinies; my heart is yet to learn.
It’s Amritsar that I share the closest bond with. This robust city in Punjab is where we set up our first home together.
I never wanted to be a mother. Not until I met The One. As our love strengthened, motherhood suddenly became an ardent, urgent, desperate desire. But as it evaded me month after month, I’d scream my muffled cries in the bathroom, our collective hopes soaring as I passed from one specialist to the higher—poked, prodded and invaded. When they couldn’t understand, the doctors called my state ‘unexplained infertility’. Through it all—my tears and snot, my frustrations and helplessness, my shame and anger—it was my sensitive partner and the shrine at Golden Temple that gave me hope. It’ll be okay.
Then, two failed IVF attempts later, I was robbed of all vestiges of that hope.
We are in Siliguri now, our new home. Owing to my husband’s job we keep moving every two years. Two avid outdoorsy people, we love discovering new things, places, people—and the frequent moves do us good. The Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary is abutting our neighbourhood and late at night one can hear mysterious jungle sounds. We’re quickly falling into a routine in this little big town in eastern India, with its buzzing roadside markets, old-world gentry, mushrooming malls and unexpected sightings of wild beasts. But something niggles. Sitting on my garden swing, I’m ruminating over how places help individuals evolve. Looking out at the tall sal trees, I’m thinking, is it the fault of this town—or Amritsar before that, or Pathankot, or Delhi—that I am infertile?
My fuzzy thoughts are interrupted when my new neighbour’s little daughter comes prancing. “Hello, Saman!” I call out to her. She waves back, ambles forward and peeps behind me. “Aunty, where is your kid?” she asks, looking for a playmate. “Beta (child),” I say without a quiver, “aunty doesn’t have a kid.” Saman looks puzzled: “No? Why?” Stabbed, I don’t have an answer. Overtly I smile and dart inside to fetch her chocolates. “Aunty,” little Saman says when I reappear, “will you play with me?” I nod and give her the chocolates. Deep inside, I am choking.
It’ll be okay, you’re brave, I remind myself.
Perhaps it is here, in this neither-here-nor-there town, that I will finally make peace with my demons.
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