The doctor wants to know how long we have been married. She wants to know the date of my last period. Not regular, it is as moody as I am. She prescribes birth-control pills. My husband freaks out. “We are trying to have a baby. We want a baby. Do you understand?”
The doctor remains calm. “This is to regularise her periods. She cannot conceive unless her calendar is in place.”
He remains defiant and asks her to find a way where I don’t have to take these tablets. “Hormones never did anyone any good.” So, the doctor amicably opts out, and sings the virtues of multi-vitamins and folic acid. Having a baby is only a matter of discussion between the doctor and the husband. The woman does not ask me if I want a baby, if I am ready for a baby, if I am happy with my husband, if I have any problems that I might want to discuss. She asks him to take me to a medical centre for a scan so that she can decide the further course of treatment.
Violence is not something that advertises itself. It is not written on my face – he is too careful for that, of course, aiming his fists at my body. As long as a woman cannot speak, as long as those to whom she speaks do not listen, the violence is unending.
My mother on the phone:
A child is not a bad idea. He will become more gentle when he is a father. I’m a mother. Babies have that effect, they can tame brutes.
When you have a child, try to move back to Chennai. There will be an element of control. We can intervene. He cannot carry on in this fashion here. Right now he is on an ego-trip. He will eventually climb down. When he looks at the face of a child, he cannot beat the mother as he pleases. When the child grows up, it will tell him to get lost if he raises his hand against you.
Anyway, if he’s beating you, it only shows he has run out of arguments. Just be patient, dear.
Buy yourself time, bring him here. Please do not lose hope. Do not act in haste. Take care.
The man’s fluids form the bones. The woman’s fluids form the flesh. This is the belief of elders in my ancestral village. This is how they think life begins. I do not think they have got it wrong at all. They just do not know that when a child forms inside the womb of a sad, broken woman, its little heart will be made up of her tears.
Mangalore’s oppressive heat at noon. A heat that will not subside until the sky tears itself into a thousand pieces and begins to rain down.
I reach the medical centre. I have had the recommended two glasses of water. When I meet my husband in the waiting room, he presents me with a tender coconut, full of milk. It is not a gift but a precaution. My name is called for the pelvic exam and the doctor positions me under the machine, but after several moments of button pushing and sighing, he sends me back saying the quantity of the water in me is still insufficient for the machine to light up my insides.
My husband is furious. He calls up my father and weeps to him. “Your daughter has new-fangled ideas. She thinks she is Miss World. She wants to maintain her figure. She does not drink water. She does not want to have my children.”
He fetches a two-litre bottle of water from the reception and orders me to drink it. I put the neck to my lips and tip the bottle. “Faster,” he orders, lifting the bottle to a sharper angle. “Faster.: Halfway through I wrench the bottle away, gasping for air. I tell him I cannot take it anymore, that I’m going to drown. He slaps me in front of everyone. The people in the waiting room either watch or avert their eyes. To them, this is just an overexcited man eager to be a father. They do not know what I live through. Or maybe they all know, and everyone takes it for granted. Or everyone believes, like I sometimes do, that the next day would be better.
I put the bottle to my mouth again and drink. Almost immediately, I feel nauseous and before long I’m vomiting water down my chest. He is disgusted.
“Imagine this is a literary festival. Imagine this nurse is Arundhati Roy. Imagine these people are some of your fucking writers. Will you throw up then? Hold it in. Behave yourself.”
“You have no responsibility. You have no intention of being either a wife or a mother. Thousands of women have scans every day, but the only one making a scene is you. You want to keep your size zero frame. You are a zero yourself. You do not want my children. You will be out of business as a whore if you become a mother. Why do you torture me?”
He is right. I do not want his baby. I cannot bring a baby into a world in which I have no love. I do not want to bring into the world a son who will watch his mother being beaten up, I do not want to bring into the world a daughter who will be beaten up.
When my scan is over, the doctor compliments me on having such a loving husband; on being married to such a devoted, doting man, the lecturer who takes a long lunch break so that he can be by the side of his wife when she is undergoing an ultrasound of her pelvis.
At no time does he give me an opportunity to talk to him. At no time does he ask me how I am. Even if he had, how could I open up to strangers who buy the fiction performed for their benefit?
We appear helpless in front of doctors and they heal us.
They protect us. Perhaps there was a part of me that had believed that doctors would protect me, would stop this enforced fertility treatment, would come to my rescue.
It is only now, finally, that I realise that if I want to be rescued, I’ll have to do it myself.
My skills in the kitchen are summoned forth in my secret plan of foiling Project Baby. The breakfast chutneys for the dosa that I make no longer contain only groundnuts, green chillies and onion, but I toss in a spoon of white sesame seeds. I follow the whispers of teenaged years, when girls with delayed periods, girls who had sex without condoms, girls who were married early kept motherhood at bay with kitchen ingredients. In my fish curry, the tang comes not from tomato or tamarind – I introduce the pulp of raw, green mangoes into the spicy gravy. My grandmother’s recipe, I maintain to my husband, rejoicing in the forbidden knowledge that the heat-inducing mango will forestall the possibility of conception. Every dish is destiny. Even fruits I choose for a post-dinner snack are not innocent. I serve diced papayas sprinkled with black salt and paprika, slices of pineapple with brown sugar. These are the fruits that are kept out of reach of pregnant women for fear of miscarriage. This is how I turn my kitchen into a combat zone, making sure that my cooking secures my and my womb’s liberty.
Excerpted with permission from When I Hit You, Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, Meena Kandasamy, Juggernaut Books.