Tuesday, February 5, 2008

But father, why did you cry?

Kuldip Dhiman retells the true story of a lovely little girl who suddenly discovers an unpleasant secret about her life that would haunt her forever. 

IT was my 10th birthday, and my family were celebrating it with usual fervour. My parents, my two elder sisters, and my brother were all busy decorating the house with balloons, ribbons and other festoons. I wore a lovely yellow frilled skirt, a gift from my family. Everyone said I looked like an angel.

At about six in the evening, my school friends started to arrive. And as usual, they brought lovely little gifts for me, although I had told them not to bring anything except cards. But did they ever listen to me?

I was having such a wonderful time, but little did I know that soon things were going to change forever.

Being the youngest child in the family, I was everybody's favourite, especially my father's. And although I loved my sisters , brother, and my mother, I literally adored my father. In fact, in my opinion, he was the best father in the world. He, too, was proud of me, proud of my being a bold girl, proud of my school record. "She is actually my son," he would often say. Being the object of attention of the entire family, I often took things for granted. I fought with my sisters and brother, and it is they who had to "surrender" in the end, even if I was in the wrong. Life was wonderful, but how long does it take for dreams to shatter?

That fateful evening, as I was unwrapping the gifts along with my friends, I overheard something that some of my aunts were saying.

"Nikki's is such a lovely child," said one of them. Since they were sitting within hearing distance, and as they were praising me, I could not resist the temptation of overhearing them. They went on for a while about how well my parents had brought up their children, and how they adored all of us, especially me. Then one of the aunts said something that stunned me.

"Yes, Satinder (that's my father) adores her. O! How much he loves her, and yet this is the same man who had cried when she was born. He did not even go to the hospital for two days."

"I have heard about it, but is it true?" asked my younger aunt.

"Of course. He also cried when the first two daughters were born. They never celebrated the girls' birthdays until a son was born. The fourth child was unwanted, but since it was too late to do anything about it, he wanted it to be a boy."

I froze where I sat. A feeling of numbness took possession of my entire person. I sat motionless for what appeared to be an eternity. My friends were speaking with me, but I could hardly respond. Suddenly everything appeared to have changed.

Father had cried when I was born! I just couldn't believe it. How could that be? There he was, right in front of me, greeting guests, playing with my friends, joking with them. Then I heard him say, "Where is my Nikki? Ah, there she is. Nikki betey . . ." He came up to me and picked me up.

"My birthday baby. Why is my angel so quiet? Has some one upset you? How dare any one upset my lovely angel," he said in a mock angry voice and showered kisses on me. I looked at my father and said to myself. "No, it is not true, my aunt is lying. But why would she?"

Then the party began, and we started playing all sorts of party games.

Don't ask me how I managed to maintain a smiling face that evening. When they cut the cake, and offered other cookies, I hardly had any appetite left. That was one day, when I wanted all the guests to leave. But the party went on and on, late into the night. Father, ever sensitive, did notice that something wrong with me. He sat next to me and tried to humour me as only he could. I did manage a smile as he hugged me.

"Oh, my Nikki is 10 today. She is a big girl now."

How right he was. That day the child in me died forever.

At last the party was over. Everyone was tired and soon retired to bed. But that night, I kept rolling and turning in my bed. Tears that I had been holding back began to roll down my cheeks. As I cried, I looked at my father who was sleeping blissfully. I wanted to shake him up and ask, "But father, why did you cry when I was born?" But I didn't. I kept crying and many hours later sleep overcame me.

When I awoke the next morning, I found myself in my father's arms. He stroked my hair as usual, said nice things to me. But I knew, the world had changed for me.

Later I pressed my mother to tell me the truth. After a while she admitted that father had cried; that he had not gone to the hospital to see her; that he had not spoken to her for weeks after I was born. I thought about my poor mother. Did the poor woman have any choice in getting pregnant, or in choosing the gender of her child? How she must have spent those long days and nights in hospital all alone, feeling guilty about producing a third daughter.

"Mother," I cried, "you should have gone for an abortion." My mother hugged me." Don't say such things Nikki, don't we love you now. Does not father adore you? You must forgive him. Often men behave like that because of societal pressure."

But no amount of reassurance helped me. Not only did I feel guilty about coming into this world, I also felt guilty for having hurt my father by being born. I did forgive my father, but I never actually forgot. Whenever he said, "My Nikki, is my son," I thought, after all he wanted a boy. You do manage to get over life's shocks, sooner or later. As time passed, I appeared to be as normal as possible. Father loved me as usual, although he guessed I had become a little quite. He took that to be the result of the process of growing up. How wrong the closest to you could be.

You might say, I was making too much of a trifle. Newborn girls are often unwelcome in Indian families, so why was I being so emotional about it. I don't know how other girls take it, but I just could never reconcile to the fact that my arrival in this world was unwelcome. Yes, once I was born, I was a privileged child, and was smothered with love, but that did not change the fact that I was unwanted in the first place..

Time is a great healer they say, and I began to come to terms with life. I sailed through school, and did well at college, but I could never get over the feeling of hollowness in me. The fire inside me had gone out. As a child, I often dreamt of becoming an astronaught, or a nuclear scientist. But I did nothing like that, and got married like millions of other girls.

When I left home, on the wedding day, you should have seen the way father cried. There was a blank look in his eyes as he managed to say, "Nikki, you are finally leaving me . . . . ." he could not say anything more. As I looked back through the car window, I saw him standing among other guests, helpless and alone. When I came home after a couple of months, I knew father had finally begun to age. He actually never get over my absence.

Last week, I got a call saying that father had suffered a massive heart attack. He was in the ICU for three days, and then moved to a special ward. Mother, sisters and my brother and some of my nieces and nephews were there by his side.

Father was so happy to see all of us.

He looked at me and smiled, "Nikki, beta . . . ." I moved closer to him, and he held my hand.

"It is the journey's end my child. Forgive me if I ever wronged you or any of the other children." Then tears rolled down his majestic face. "I hope I never failed any of you."

"No father, you never failed any of us, you are the best father in the world," I managed to say holding back my tears. As we all cried, I wanted to ask him something more, but could never muster enough courage.

Well, it is too late now to ask him anything, because that very night he died in his sleep, leaving a bigger void in my life. 



Gargi Arora said...

Yes ,the father must have definately cried...but yes...this is a relationship of convenience..the father probably accepted the gender of he child....he had no choice....but not to forget his first choice..........was a Son!!!!

Baljeet Singh said...

I am shocked ! but it is so true ! How hard it would be to realize that the very existence of yours was unwanted and was a compromise. Kuldipji, Has this story been published in Punjabi?