I watch as the child wails, yanking her lungs, out of its confines. The mother puts her best foot forward to pacify an adamant infant who is headstrong, in letting the world know the shortcomings of my stand-up comedy. Whatever joke I have cracked, dissolves in her feminine shrills. The crowd enjoys the paradoxical situation of my comedy leading to tears of joy in the baby.
On normal occasions, I would have wanted to toss the baby out of the window, for having spoiled my virgin effort. But not today.
Actually, for many days, a warm fuzzy feeling crept over me, whenever I witnessed parents caressing their children. Especially, when mothers cuddled their bundles of joy in parks or when a father ambled after a toddler who was embarking on her walking journey. I brushed aside these emotions considering them to be hormonal play. But no, they didn’t seem to understand my hostile approach and stayed overdue in my system.
‘Why do you loathe these god-sent angels?’ Amma several times has tried reasoning out me. Well, not children per se but I hate those obnoxious humans, on whose goodness I will have to rely to bring the angels into this world.
MEN! Maniacal Effete Nerds!
Not one but two men have abandoned Amma and me. Amma’s father and Amma’s husband. No, I can never coax myself to call him my father. Never ever.
The show ends and Abhi, along with his wife, is here to meet me.
Abhijeet, my childhood buddy. We grew up in the small town of Dhule. Our youth flourished in watching movies in one-screen cinema houses, eating cheap, orange-coloured slippery, schezwan noodles, and secretly smoking Gold flakes cigarettes stolen from his father’s closet. We were never the Karan Johar type of friends who ultimately fall in love with each other. I could never bring myself to love Abhi but I love his wife and the love that envelopes the two.
‘Hey, Maddy, how was the show? I tried very hard to push myself up for your first failure but I just couldn’t do it. So, here I am after the disaster ended.’
I am in no mood to react to Abhi’s stale antics. ‘Whatever.’ I just shoo away his sarcasm with a puff of cigarette smoke.
‘Mona, why are you making a tandoori of your lungs?’ Sujata, Abhi’s better, half snatches the fuming butt from my lips and discards it.
‘Lady, do you know how much this Marlboro costs!?’ My retort doesn’t seem to upset her. She is busy in knotting and unknotting her dupatta. Abhi, too, after the initial sarcasm, now sobers up. A pensive breeze shuffles my short, brown hair.
‘C’mon guys, get the cat out of the bag! I can’t stand this serious Jaya Bachhan look of yours, anymore.’
Sujata walks up to me with watery eyes. Abhi drifts away and stands at a distance, lighting a cigarette. She speaks. I hear. His back can predict our emotions. Surprise. Grief. Anticipation. The breeze has slowed down to make way for mutual understanding to seep in. I can’t take Sujata’s pleas any longer.
I plod away from them, and their helplessness.
‘I’m an independent woman!’ The crowd cackles like crazy hyenas fed well on leftovers. The opening punch itself is welcomed with no seriousness at all. Yeah, it is only my second stand-up comedy act but in declaring my economic, relationship, and mental status in that one line about my liberty, I didn’t expect a roar. I re-emphasize, ‘Dudes, seriously, I’m an independent woman!’ This time around the crowd is in frenzy.
‘A woman, who depends on a bunch of idiots like us, to pay her bills through stand-up comedy, calls herself independent! You crack such realistic jokes.’ A young man ejects his opinion. ‘With that, you have a great career in comedy!’ Another joins the bandwagon.
‘I’m fiercely independent !’ My canines shine. I clench my teeth, half-growling, indicating that my dental appendages are regularly sharpened by an able dentist, and when the need arises, they can dig into bread, a beast, and badly raised men, alike. For a full minute, I continue grinding my teeth on the mike, until the organizers realize this is no script unfolding, but an angry woman making her displeasure clear. The organizers’ lot, I have from years of experience gathered, are much better species than our weather forecasting guys. The former tribe can foresee storms, ugly weather, and disastrous hurricanes well in advance and then, they immediately fling into action.
‘Chalo, chalo there is a raid on the dance bar next door.’ One creepy guy, who is poised with an air of authority, whacks the floor with a bamboo rod. My teeth grinding has stopped till then, and nail-biting moments arrive.
In a bid to quit a full-time corporate career and do something ‘hatke’, I enrolled in a local club for a comedy act. Not knowing the type of audience and ambience, I was dressed in an off-shoulder blouse paired with lilac trousers. My lips resembled a rosebud, deep red and attractively dark. The face was clear of blemishes, whiskers, and pimples. A flabby chin did jut out like the cuckoo of my grandpa’s clock when I tried pouting for selfies. My curly hair on Amma’s insistence was straightened to fall on my shoulders. With this kind of attire, I could do a Marilyn Monroe but I was hell-bent on stand-up comedy.
I thank my stars profusely that good sense had prevailed over me and I am wearing a new, just separated from its other two siblings, fresh from a pack of three, Jockey panty. If at all I am to die in the stampede followed by the raid and my body is sent to post-mortem, the investigating doctor must not lose his faith in the ‘beautiful outside and beautiful within’ dictum.
This is what my forties are doing to me. Wanting to do stuff that doesn’t fit my vocation as a lawyer. I can eat a horse, neigh on its behalf, and the very next day attend a workshop on vegan cooking, leaving no tail of my previous meal on the head of the next. Gosh! This is complicated and confusing.
Things change with time. On some days, I wish to be discovered by the world and party like there is no tomorrow while on days when the world seems like a Halloween party gone wrong, I yearn to wear Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and disappear. Alas! I can never be on the extremes of the spectrum. I am always dangling like a string of nasal mucus that refuses to detach from its bearings.
Though life is all about uncertainties and mood swings, I am independent in my thoughts, actions, and decisions. This state of mine doesn’t change. Come what may. Another fact that is thoroughly rooted in my psyche is that men are good-for-nothing idiots. In the past, I have used men for sheer acts of gratification but never felt gratitude towards them. Men and Maggi, beyond the two minutes of intense play, nothing cooks between us. So, marriage, men, and Maggi have never really sustained my attention for long. But these days, I feel a need for a child, like my Amma has. Someone who keeps her occupied even when she is approaching forty. Not Amma, but me!
Amma says marriage is the solution to my needs. Can’t blame her, she is after all Amma! But there is a solution brewing in my mind. It is rather an offbeat solution yet I want to try my hands at it. After rehearsing my presentation of how I can beget a progeny, without literally sleeping with a man, I approach Amma.
‘Amma, you see I have landed upon an exceptional idea that ticks all the boxes of my conditional pregnancy, fulfils your desire for a grandchild, and completes our family.’
I am trying to be the best solicitor for my case. Amma listens attentively.
‘I want to try sperm donation.’ Amma is still listening, a very positive sign, or else she would have by now got up and plunged into her culinary emergencies. The nation might go on a lockdown or a surgical strike be called upon, Amma will continue tempering her curries with a gusto like never before.
‘So, an unknown man’s semen specimen will be injected into my vagina. Lo! Behold! I will get pregnant!’
There is half an inch of wrinkle that adorns her smooth forehead.
‘Okay. If that is what you don’t like, we can get my seed and his to unite in a test tube and then plant your grandchild in my womb. Lo, behold! I’m pregnant!’
Amma starts clapping her hands, blows a loud whistle, and cracks up displaying all her thirty-two. Yes, she has them all intact. I join her. I’m indeed the best solicitor for my case.
‘It is going to be a super hit! I like the script. Where will you be performing?’ Amma marvels in between the chuckles.
‘Performing the procedure na?’
‘Nah, na…this act! A fabulous script, I tell you Mrudhangi. People will love it! As such these days, they like to hear unrealistic things!’
She thinks otherwise. What an infertile way to convince her!
‘Amma I’m serious!’
‘Yes, Muru, so am I.’
The mother goes back to her world of ‘bhaiya, put some extra coriander and chillies’ where things are simple, straight, and practically clear. But I beg to differ! I have made up my mind. I will be going to the infertility clinic that promises hassle-free artificial insemination.
Freedom Fertility Clinic- your cultivation centre.
The large fonts, with led lights glowing over them, catch my attention. Cultivation centre, as in seriously, I already feel like a bovine to be used for breeding purposes. But given my determination, I can’t moo and don’t want to move away from this step.
I read the board again with a fresh mind.
‘Madamji, go, go. Very badiya doctor inside. Your husband will learn to stand on three legs!’
A woman who walks out of the clinic whispers enlightenment into my ears. Without waiting for a response, she happily departs.
The reception area is a comfortable ensemble of sofas, chairs, a centre table, and a water filter. Patients, expectant mothers, and a few medical representatives, all seem to be in a state of slumber. A gaudy-looking female sits across the reception table. She is trying to read from Vogue magazine. Trying because people who bring up an act of reading, resemble donkeys who claim to understand Newton’s formulas of gravity. Nevertheless, this girl who appears to be reading Vogue notices my arrival. Quickly bringing a smile to her face, she quips. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Actually, hmm. Huh. I’m looking at getting pregnant without a partner.’ I bit my tongue. Did I actually say that?
The sleeping poppy heads, I mean people’s heads, perk up on hearing my request.
‘As in getting pregnant using a donor sample.’
I lower my voice and pride to make myself clear to the receptionist.
‘Okay, then you must wait. Our manager will soon guide you.’
I flip pages of a magazine on reproductive health. Yucks! A few of the pages are sticky and filthy. Have the masturbating men touched them directly after an act? A wave of nausea rises in my throat. With great difficulty, I manage to control the tide.
That is when a manager-like man walks in and motions me to follow him.
‘Ms. Mrudhangi. Ms.’ I emphasize.
‘Haan Haan. I’m Sudhanshu Mishra, the manager here. So how can Freedom help you?’
I choose to ignore his ignorance over my relationship status and put forth my case.
‘We can definitely help you Ms Murugandhini.’
‘You can call me Mona.’
‘Haan haan, Ms Mona, so what kind of sperm sample are you looking at? We have samples from the Brahmin caste, Kshatriya clan, etc. Also, samples ranging from fair, tall build males, to dark-skinned, average-build males.’
What is this fellow talking about? I believe a non-infectious specimen must suffice. I decide to have fun with this guy.
‘What would you suggest, Mishraji?’
I lean back in my chair and watch the commercialization overtake human emotions.
‘Okay, so we will customize it for you. Though the charges will be added separately I know you won’t mind. Looking at you, you seem to be an educated Brahmin.’
That is evident in the form I filled out online. Yet, I gave the magician manager a benefit of the doubt.
‘Wow! You are very intelligent!’
He glows like the LED lights outside.
‘We can use a Brahmin specimen for you, the one with dark features. No one will ever know the patronage of this child.’
I don’t wish to hide it either but who will argue with this LED bulb?
‘Charges will be extra for a Brahmin sample.’ He emphasizes, bearing no shame in saying so. If ever my future child wishes to see a naked Dodo, stripped of all its dignity, I now know where to get her. The last specimen smiles.
I have not mentioned my profession as this would have deterred the Mishra manager from opening this can of worms or spermy worms! Dah! He enthusiastically goes about talking about the reproductive miracles his clinic has achieved. ‘A tailor-made, customized child’ he keeps repeating.
Can I do this? This is more dangerous than the organ trade! But who am I to comment? In the hindsight, this is a market selling dreams to eyes that have not slept in the anticipation of a child. A huge populous of the country survives in the grey areas, neither white nor black. To each his own.
‘Munni badnam hui…’ my loud, boisterous ringtone announces my state of mind.
‘Hello, Abhi.’ I receive his call after what seemed to be aeons.
‘Mishraji, let me think about it and come back to you, later.’
This is what I promised Abhi and Sujata. Now is the time to complete the thread of half-baked conversations and long-ago-made friendship promises. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Whoever said that didn’t know friends like Abhi existed.
What is the biggest invention man has ever made? Rockets? Spaceships? Robotic devices? Nah! Condoms! Yes, the rubbery sheath that deters a parasite from kicking your insides and then tearing your eardrums with her not-so-melodious cries. Whatever, I felt, thought, or believed about motherhood stands mortified with me getting pregnant. Gagging, retching, and then ultimately vomiting, only to begin the process all over again is no fun. A bloated face, baggy eyes, and belly that reaches the door long before you have made it, is in no way a wonderful feeling. Yeah, I did this to myself.
I wanted to be a mother but luckily I’m not going to be the only one with this frizzy ball in my belly. I’m playing a peek-a-boo with motherhood. Two men played tug of war, where my pregnancy was concerned. Mishraji tried to pull me toward his money-making clinic while Abhi pulled me towards his apathy. One sat nearly on my head while the other begged at my feet. Who was Krishna to please? This Krishna allowed his heart to rule over his intellect.
I swirl down the vine of memories. There was no man in my childhood to protect, guide, or even love me as a father or brother does. There were no masculine hands that patted me for my school achievements or tickled me playfully on a lazy afternoon. A sturdy grip that would hold the cycle’s carrier as I juggled down the rough terrain was terribly missed. The feminist world may talk about being happy without a man but I was not.
That was when Abhi taught me to be my own man. Sensitive, caring, and with humongous respect towards my feminine side, Abhi never tried to be the man in my life but encouraged me to be one for myself. He taught me to play cricket, smoke cigars, abuse liberally, and sit hunched up like a man. The poor boy then didn’t realize how unmanly all this was. Being a man is more than smoking, playing cricket, and even fathering a child.
Similarly, I too, realize for being a mother I need not have my eggs invested in some frothy lassi whose manufacturer I am not aware of. Motherhood can be achieved by helping another woman to achieve the same. I am pregnant but with Abhi’s child. Okay, with Abhi’s and Sujata’s child. Thankfully, now I can enjoy the perks of being a mother without having to attend to it full-time. Ahaa, a lousy, lazy mother.
Amma says, ‘You have proved me right! I can never expect anything normal from you. I knew you would land up doing something unusual.’
Now, she is Amma after all. Like all mothers of the world, who in the end, boast of being acquainted with the future even before the dawn of the present. Amma, too, relinquishes the fact that she had seen this coming. Then why the hell, did she not tell me about this strange feeling that envelopes during pregnancy?
To which, she slams my favourite statement on my face, ‘You are an independent woman! You must find out for yourself.’
Arghhhh, don’t you dare laugh. This isn’t a joke anyway.
Author’s note: This piece of writing, though, an art of fiction has deep roots in reality. It is infringement of privacy to reveal the identity of the donor. But the malpractice of revealing the caste and creed of a donated sample is practised to lure a vulnerable couple into fertility treatment. I earnestly hope that my reader doesn’t mistake it to be a case of creative liberty. Happy reading.
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