Names changed to protect identities
It’s 8.30 am on a Monday morning and all the young people in the Chatterjee household are running about getting ready to leave for work. The older daughter-in-law, Pia, will take a little longer than the rest, given her giant 8-month baby bump. And then there are those congratulatory messages to answer on FB – she’s put up pictures of her baby shower, na? It’s been a long time coming.
Pia is a doctor and has been married to Arijit, a banking professional, for over 10 years. They live in a joint family in upmarket Bangalore. They were childhood sweethearts, and when they got married after a courtship of eight long years, everyone assumed a happily ever after.
Of course, happily ever afters must have babies in the picture. But much to people’s dismay, Pia and Arijit didn’t have a baby immediately after shaadi, or after two years, or five, or after Arijit’s younger brother brother got married, or even after the younger brother had babies. Pia and Arijit continued to live their version of a happy life, both secure in their jobs, travelling often, gymming, clubbing on the weekends, and dodging the perpetual questions and unsolicited advice about having babies.
The couple was never really keen on having children. But none of their accomplishments in life seemed to ever be enough when weighed against that one thing.
Not that they hadn’t tried. After a time, they had accepted Pia’s gynaecological troubles, which meant she could never successfully carry a baby to term. And they didn’t persist. It didn’t seem worth the trouble. Until now.
Pia calls out softly to her aunt. She is having trouble with the bump this morning and needs her aunt to tie it firmly to her flat tummy. Aunt Asha is among the few who know this big secret. Pia isn’t pregnant at all. She’s been sporting an increasingly large bump, first made with cloth and gauze, and now a prosthetic one ordered from China. Each morning, behind closed doors, Pia starts this elaborate charade, which ends at night with the taking off of the bump. The removal of a cast of lies, as it were.
Some days, in the middle of the day, Pia can feel the bump slipping off and has to make an emergency dash to the loo to fix it. If it weren’t so tragic, it would actually be funny.
But social pressures are not funny. Pia and Arijit succumbed to it, and decided to opt for surrogacy to finally have that prized trophy baby. The surrogate mother is about eight months into the pregnancy now, and this parallel play is being staged for the zamana at large. Only Pia’s parents, Arijit’s mother, and aunt Asha know. They are playing along, and threw Pia a traditional baby shower party too, to let the junta know that the elder bahu is finally pregnant with the heir to the Chatterjee family. There are celebrations now and there will be more celebrations when the fake labour and the fake delivery happen.
“These people in our colony will never understand,” says Pia. “I don’t want this child to be treated different, when s/he, say, goes out to play,” she adds. “People will talk… they’ll wonder if the child is mine, if we reveal this is a case of surrogacy,” says Arijit. It was, in fact, his idea for Pia to sport the fake bump. They had their arguments in the beginning. What self-respecting, educated woman would agree to sport a fake bump in real life like in some terrible B-grade ‘70s film? But Arijit’s persuasions prevailed. Since then Pia has been complicit, and so have their families.
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It’s hard to argue with their logic, and with their need to protect their child from bullying and alienation.
One can extol the virtues of truth and pride and respectability, but one cannot live other people’s lives. Here are two well-educated, financially secure, urban individuals grazing middle age, and even for them, truth does not seem like an option.
So what if Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Tusshar Kapoor, or even Karan Johar had children through surrogacy, and had the media fawning over them? Pia and Arijit are no celebrities. Their only truth is the the middle-class universe with a great appetite for gossip, prejudice and judgement, and yes, great ‘respect for tradition’. And this is the very universe they must live in with their child.