It was raining heavily. For the past three days. Streets became rivers and cars became boats. Tropical cyclones are not uncommon in southern coastal parts of India, but every year three days of cyclonic storm provides water to the community for the complete year. This year, the storm is accompanied by recurring lightning and loud thunders.
Kumar was standing outside the corridor starring at the empty streets filled with dirty water. He carefully pulled a pack of cigarettes from this pocket and lit one of them using a cheeta fight match box. Under the dimly lit entrance of the government maternity hospital Kumar's face can be barely seen. A bright lightning filled the dark village street when he exhaled the first puff of smoke.
His face can be barely seen even under brightest of the lightning. He is only a five feet tall man in his mid thirties, weighing 80 kilos. Adding to that, his skin colour was as dark as kajal. In South India, there is always an obsession with the colour of the person and people with darker complexion are considered inferior. Another obsession in most families is having a son to ensure continuity of the family after their time is over. Also, at the time of marriage, a son is considered an asset while a daughter is a liability.
Kumar was puffing away cigarette after cigarette. He had been in the same position a couple of times in the last five years. His thoughts went to the day when he became a dad for the first time. When the nurse showed him his first daughter, he was disappointed on more than one count. He not only was unhappy to become a father of a girl child, but also was unhappy that her complexion was exactly like his own. If a daughter is considered a liability, a darker one is a double liability.
Kumar puffed away another cigarette when he heard a faint voice by his side. When he looked down, he saw an old beggar asking for either food or money.
"It has been 3 days since I had anything to eat" she begged.
Kumar wanted to chase her away. He was too nervous to confront anyone at that stage. He pulled out his wallet from his pocket and gave her two rupees.
The beggar then thanked him for the money and left. Kumar didn’t utter a single word. When he was about to place the wallet back in his pocket, he closely looked at a photograph in this wallet. The photo contains a nice looking, smiling, white complexioned woman standing next to him. He touched her face in the photo. Another lightning filled the place with bright light while his thoughts wavered to the time he was in the hospital the second time.
"Congratulations Kumar! You are blessed with a girl child" the beaming nurse said.
Kumar was disappointed, yet again.
"And she looks exactly like you. Isn’t that great?" she exclaimed
Kumar was almost in tears. He was utterly disappointed twice in two attempts. The least of his expectations was to have a daughter who looks as beautiful as her mother. Every clause of his prayers was unanswered.
Third time in five years, he was standing at the end of the corridor, puffing away smoke. This time, he had a clear plan to avoid disappointment. He knew that he had no control over the gender of the child his wife is giving birth to. But, he thought he had a lot of control over what could happen afterwards.
When he puffed his last smoke, the same nurse appeared with the same beaming smile.
"Is it a boy this time?" he asked with great anticipation, not even caring to ask about the state of his wife. According to him, three daughters are too much to handle.
"No" The nurse replied. "But, she is gorgeous just like your wife. I have never seen a newly born child as beautiful as she is"
Kumar stood motionless. It does not matter to him how beautiful she looks. It does not matter to him, as long as she is not male.
The nurse took him to a dark corner and said "There has been only one boy in the whole of today. All others are girl babies"
"Did you manage to..." he asked with some hesitation.
"Yes. I have exchanged your girl with the boy from room 23 in the first floor" she said.
"Thank you" he said. "You have no idea how important this is for me"
He opened his bag and gave a small parcel to her.
"This one has the remaining 50 we talked about" he said in a hiss. She slipped the small package under her skirt and disappeared quickly.
Being constantly pricked by his feeling of guilt, he assured himself that he had done the best possible thing for him and his family, even though it means that he would be bringing up someone and pass on his values, traditions and wealth to someone who does not belong to his bloodline.
He opened his wallet again and saw the beautiful eyes of his wife in the photograph. His eyes became moist yet again.
"They have for a separate room in the first floor. It means that they should be reasonably wealthy and so she would have a better quality of life than living with him" he assured himself.
On his way to the second floor to see his wife and 'son', he stopped in the first floor. It still was raining heavily outside. He looked at his wife's photo once again. He was unable to control his urge to see his daughter, who is as good looking as his wife.
He knocked on room 23 saying "Hi, my wife is in the next room. I just happened to see your child from outside and she looks beautiful" while stepping in. The kid’s mother was still unconscious. He saw a middle aged woman with excessive makeup on her face, sitting by the side of Mom and daughter. She was wearing a silk sari and was wearing a couple of gold necklace to go with golden bangles and rings.
Kumar felt happy for the first time that day. His feeling of guilt slowly started leaving him as he thought her new family would give her all the comfort to lead a quality life. He saw his daughter from a close range for the first time. He froze for several moments as he fighted tears from falling onto her.
"Mahalakshmi" he said. "She looks like a Mahalakshmi and she has a beautiful eyes"
"Yes, she has. Isn’t she?" she exclaimed.
Looking at her happiness, he asked "Are you her Aunt?"
"Not exactly. But I take care of both of them now"
"Are you not unhappy that you have a daughter instead of a son?" he asked.
"Unhappy? You must be joking. Look at her. She is the prettiest I have ever seen" she said with joy and pulled out a lipstick from her handbag.
Looking into the small hand held mirror, she smiled and said "And in some years, she will be the rockstar in my business"