I’ve been staring at the name board, ‘Labour Room’ for nearly three hours now. The unabated murmurs of the impatient visitors and the pungent smell of Dettol made my head go round in dizziness and a fresh wave of nausea to seep within me. Hospitals had never been my type of place. Ten more minutes and I’ll be fallen like a leech on the mopped floor. I stood up with much effort and staggered away to the nearest wash room. I removed my horn-rimmed glasses, opened the tap and washed my face thoroughly with the gushing water. It tasted more of chlorine and hence exacerbated the queasiness clutching in my stomach. I puked. Finally felt better afterwards. I looked up to the small bathroom mirror hanging over the sink and was taken aback by the wrinkled old woman staring back at me, with cold, insistent and shrunken eyes. She gave a greasy smile and heaved a sigh of deep breath, as if she felt pity for me. Tears welled in her eyes and began to roll down her pale and discoloured cheeks. Then all of a sudden, she began to talk to me in a croaking voice, and intent, I listened.
“Seven decades back you were born to this world like a freshly blossomed white rose, yielding the sweetest scent and covered with the most delicate petals. ‘Angel incarnate’, everybody said. Your mother shed tears of incomprehensible joy when the nurse said, ‘It’s a girl’. She cuddled you close to her bosom and kissed your soft rosy cheeks glowing in the warmth of your new life. They bought you all sorts of gifts in the shades of pink. They took you to your princess room, bedecked in symbols of joy and luck. They called you ‘Our Little Princess’.
Months later they took you to a doctor, not because you were ill, but just to pierce your fragile earlobes. You screamed in pain when they thrusted two tiny gold studs into your pierced ears and exclaimed ‘Beautiful!’.
Time flew to the earliest signs of spring. They put the strap of a small pink water bottle around your neck, pinned a floral printed handkerchief on your left pocket and took you to your new home – The Kindergarten. You screamed when your teacher dragged you away from your mother who was leaning against the gate, sobbing in silence.
You grew up, but along with time, they taught you certain things that only girls should do and respect. ‘You can play, but do not get your skirt get lifted. You can wear pretty dresses, but not above the knee or the neck widened too deep. You should not sit with your legs stretched wide apart or taking them up to your seat, but modestly and properly with them glued to each other. Do not guffaw noisily, but laugh softly, barely opening your mouth. It’s indecent for a girl to behave so. Try to be a lady, or else you’ll be everyone’s matinee show.’
Amidst all restrictions, your childhood was awesome being your Momma’s doll and Daddy’s princess, until one day you spilled red water all over your pure white dress. You were flabbergasted and stood aghast at the sight of so much blood flowing out of your body. You screamed in fear, in fear of growing up. You screamed in pain, in pain of the changes occurring in your body. You shed down tears of unawareness in isolation as they confined you to a room for days, not letting you step out of the door or not letting you run to your dear Daddy or even to look at yourself in a mirror. It was horrible and you wanted this fuss to end soon. You heard voices outside, ecstatic voices and the smell of arranging a grand party to celebrate this jubilant occasion of blood flowing out of your body. You hugged your teddy bear and cried for hours and hours, oblivious of what’s happening to you and around you. Finally, one cold chilly morning, when the sun had barely stretched its arms, you were dragged out from the bed, for an auspicious morning bath. Your head was covered in a ridiculous white towel and you could see nothing until a heavy gush of water drenched you from top to bottom. You shivered and then struggled in keeping the cloth tied around your body from slipping down. The house was teeming with people and there was so much of chaos as you stepped out. People were laughing, cracking jokes and some were staring at you as if you had come from another planet. You were asked to peep into a water basin and see whether you were looking beautiful. Your reflection mocked at you and you felt you looked weird than ever. Then you had to feed mouths of milk rice to the watching audience and then bend on your knees to all the Elders. You felt happy for a fleeting moment when you caught sight of gifts piled up in a voluminous mountain. But, no teddy bears, no dolls – all gold, gold and gold. There was a grand feast on your dining table – devilled chicken, fried omelettes – and you wanted a happy meal to forget this hullabaloo. Just then your mother proffered a plate full of rice topped with a spicy chilly gravy. ‘It’s not good to eat fried things on these days.’ She said. You were baffled with all those silly things. You were exhausted facing every camera and you wanted this mess to go for an end. You had enough gross for five days.
It did end, and you felt triumphed being back to that little girl. Alas! But no, it went on happening every month. Yes, each and every month and of course it didn’t come alone, but with a bundle of other fascinating things – excruciating pains, unbearable cramps, retching, nausea, backaches, discomfort and so much of disgust. All your dancing, your swimming and your playing had to wait until you finish groaning, tossing on your bed, for days.
Teens. It sounded nice at first. You spent hours in front of your dressing mirror preening at yourself with your new curves and soft edges. But, more and more clothes added to your wardrobe and they added more discomfort to your body. You weren’t allowed to ramble across the streets, for at every corner there were hawks glaring with their lubricious red eyes, awaiting for a good prey. You were supposed to keep your head high and never turn back for a whistle. However, you wanted to look prettier and more attractive as you grew to your latter teens and some suggested ‘Beauty Parlour’. Perfect. Every fortnight some horrible lady masked in a pancake, plucked your eyebrows and all your facial hair while you clutch the hem of your dress to fight back your tears. When you feel you can bear it no more, your inner voice knocks at your mind and say, ‘Well, you want others to feel you are beautiful, don’t you. So chill and bear.’
‘Learning only books won’t do for girls. You must be perfect and meticulous in all the kitchen work and the household chores. Unless, it would be me who’ll be ashamed by your in-laws.’ Your mother would chide at you. So, while you scrape coconut, you could hear your brother playing cricket with his friends outside. You had to serve your dear brother with a cup of tea as he enjoys a football match on television. The more you wanted time for yourself, the more your mother dragged you to the kitchen.
Well, in the final verges of Spring, your life turned a new leaf as Destiny pushed in a lad named ‘Soul Mate’ with a rose labelled only for you. You were drawn into a fascinating amorous adventure and romance kept you absorbed for some time. You sought the love, the affection and the protection in him that your father had given you, until now. He loved you and you loved him, but when he asked you out for a movie night, you had to deny saying, ‘No, it’s not nice for a girl to go into a cinema hall with a guy. People will tell tales about me.’
That wedding day! People usually expect the bride to look gorgeous on that day. So you were ushered to a beauty parlour at 2.00 am. You had to bear when they pierced clips into your hair bun, making it heavier than your entire honeymoon suitcase. You had to bear when they swathed six yards of satin cloth around your body, and sorry if you wanted to go to the washroom. You had to tolerate when they tore out your eyebrows, fixed false lashes and apply layers and layers of makeup until you looked unlike yourself any longer. Besides everything, you were dying inside with the thought that you were to leave home. It’s unbelievable how you were supposed to keep smiling the entire day, when it was the bluest day in your life. All your cousins would whisper, ‘Be careful when you walk, your heels are too high. Be careful when you sip drinks, for your lipstick will wipe out. Try and stop not to cry at the last resort, or else you’ll look like Joker with the mascara streaming down along with powder in your face.’
Wine glasses, dancing troupes, booming music – all to say farewell to the beautiful spring in your life. Aunties, fat and loud, wrapped in glittering kanchipuram sarees and uncles in purple ties, all had come to wish you on that remarkable day. You feigned a smile at each of them and swallowed hard when you thought of the hard future ahead.
Spring declined into a long summer’s day. You entered into a strange house, with strange customs and strange people. All you wanted was to run home, cling to your mother and never come back. But rings were exchanged, signatures were stamped and you were done for. There was no turning back. You were miles away from your beloved home and your parents who guarded you, until now. Now you were in the hands of a man who promised to take care of you and expected you to give the pleasure he wanted in return. You shed silent tears behind the bathroom door, daunted by the future ahead, the pain of becoming a wife, a woman and saying farewell to all those preserved vows of chastity and modesty.
Years swirled and you were delighted to hear the news you had been awaiting for. You were going to step to motherhood. At first, you were shocked to see the vagaries occurring in your body. Gradually you lost your colour and your youthful charm. Your soft and slender body began to stretch out like rubber, imprinting ugly scars and lines all over your body. You ached all over as the entire weight of another being resided inside you. The days you had your weight under control, seemed far gone. You retired to bed every night with swollen feet and had sleepless nights due to the discomfort. You felt nauseated every morning. You walked with intolerable pain for nine whole months. Finally the day dawned and you were floundering with embarrassment, fear and pain as everybody present in the labour room peered into your long preserved lady parts and you had to bear the most painful experience on earth when giving birth to your baby. I wonder how men call women weak.
Nights deprived you of sleep and you had to nurse your little baby when it cried out. You sacrificed your entire life for them until they grew up. From morning till you reclined to bed at night, you attended to all the household chores – cooking and washing and scrubbing and cleaning. You never got the chance to sleep as you wished, but wake at the first strike of light and confine to the kitchen to prepare tea and get the breakfast ready before your husband and children woke up. You never had the time for yourself. You gave up all the beauty tips. You had to work, in order to earn for yourself, as you hated the idea of depending entirely on your husband. You come back home exhausted after a day’s work and scurry to the kitchen to prepare dinner when your husband came home. Life was too hard on you, but you had no choice, but get adapted and just smile.
Time flew to an autumn fall and you watched your only son going in hand with a girl, just like you had been several years ago. Though she was not your own, you could see the pain engraved in her face on her wedding day. You knew your son would look after her as his father did for you. Soon, you were left alone, not because you were forgotten, but as responsibilities kept him busy. You watched her smiling amidst all hardships caused, until today.”
I was still staring at the mirror when somebody brought me the news. I wiped my eyes and slowly walked to the labour room, where she was crying and laughing, caressing the new born bud with my son beside her. She caught my gaze and smiled at me, tears glistening in her weary eyes.
‘It’s a girl.’ She cried out in joy.
I swallowed hard and said nothing.
“This story is dedicated to all women who endure all these stages in life with inexpressible strength and determination in them. Scientific evidence proves that women undergo severe traumatic pain and are easily subjected to diagnose with depression due to various physical and mental problems they face. In addition to all these common problems, women are subjected to abuse, harassment and psychological mistreatment. Sexual abuse and rape cases have turned out to be a common problem at present. Hundreds of cases are reported daily where women and children are assaulted by their drunken husbands. Evidential reports suggest that men lose interest in their wives after marriage and hence it leads them to indulge in amorous affairs, which ultimately lead to the breaking of the family. In certain Asian countries, the birth of a girl is considered to bring misfortune to the family and hence they are killed at birth. Further if the husband dies first by chance, the wife is expected to burn alive. There are certain countries where girls are shunned into a separate hut, during menstruation every month, as they are considered dirty and polluting. Why does only women have to suffer all these? Sometimes I wonder it’s all because God is a male too.”
Written by Piyumi Bhagya Nawarathna
Illustration by DRG