Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Aparna looked at her Mother exasperatedly.
“ Amma, please be reasonable , I don’t want to get married again, I am happy on my own and I am going to adopt a child. In Sydney, no one bothers about how you live or who or how many sire your baby or if you have a live in relationship. I am fine there away from prying Indian eyes.”
Saraswati Amma wiped her eyes. She had to admit that her daughter was right. She was tired of all those questions of why her daughter stayed alone in Sydney, why didn’t she get married again, how had her husband died so soon after marriage , hadn’t they matched horoscopes, in fact some even wondered if he had really died as everything had happened in Sydney! These Indians, specially the Indian Brahmin.. ever nosey and ever doubtful. She sighed again, in fact in her heart of hearts she was happy Aparna was away from the past..the past…
Immediately after the wedding the bride and groom had left for Melbourne where Arjun had a job. Within weeks Aparna had also got a job and they had settled down. But Arjun had become a victim of the so called but not believed racism and succumbed to injuries. A shocked Aparna had returned to India but returned immediately in spite of protests from everyone. She would have lost her job otherwise and she did not want that to happen.. She was glad she had done that because it kept her busy and calm. Her’s had been an arranged marriage,she couldn’t say that she had loved her husband, not that there had been anything wrong with him, He was as was normal among Kalpathy Brahmins an IT and MBA, very well placed and a great catch. Aparna had agreed as she had not been in love with anyone at that time (was that true, hadn’t she felt something for one of her seniors, Karthik Surya? sigh..) and wasn’t too ambitious either so Arjun was “it”. But soon she had realised that kuch kuch bhi hota nahi tha. Both of them were not passionately in love and would not be. It was at that time she had realised that Arjun loved another girl and he had married Aparna because of family compulsions. And very soon the accident at the station.. And Aparna had got a better job offer in Sydney.This had been two years ago.
Two years later.
Saraswati Amma shushed her grandson Ayaan as he whooped excitedly in the park. He was a good-looking boy and Saraswati Amma wished for the umpteenth time that he had been a natural baby and not adopted..
She wished she could take him to India but the onslaught of questions was too much to face. But she was proud of her daughter Aparna. How well she had taken to motherhood,and her life.
Six months later.
Aparna was a worried woman. Her son was suffering from some strange ailment and the Doctors wanted his family history. She could give hers but not his father’s. What she hadn’t told her Amma was that she had not adopted Ayaan. She had been artificially inseminated using donor sperm . She had gone ahead and done it and the baby had been born the natural way. She hadn’t told anyone this in India but all her friends in Sydney knew. Of course she had all his details ,some strange fetish had made her use an Indian male’s sperm. It had been healthy sperm. She had made sure that the donor’s semen was screened and tested as safe for various infections such as HIV, Hepatitis and other Venereal Diseases. Of course usually only safe donors are used. But the doctors warn you anyway. She had been so happy, Ayaan was a perfect baby. Of course she had felt terrible not telling Amma but in the long run it was better she felt. And now this. In spite of all precautions he had some genetic disorder. A rare thing, it may not even be a disorder but the doctors wanted to be sure. In fact they even felt that Indians wouldn’t even have it but still to be on the safe side..
When she had used a donor sperm and got herself pregnant she remembered that the clinic had asked her to verify the donor’s credentials. But she had just taken the word of her friend Doctor Maple that everything was great ,he was Indian, educated and above all ‘healthy donor’. That was all that she had cared for at that moment. Now she wished that she had been a little bit more diligent. Her son was in trouble. Information regarding his blood group, physical characteristics and professional background was of course taken into account. She had also undergone a blood test in her second trimester of pregnancy that could detect if the baby had problems. This test, called maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein screening would tell if there would be any complications. The test had been done, so no problems at all. Then what was this? She burst into tears.
What was the genetic disorder again? NF1. The disorder is caused by a mutation in a gene on chromosome 17. The gene codes for a protein called neurofibromin. This protein regulates the activity of another protein called ras, which promotes cell division. When the NF1 gene is mutated, it usually leads to a shortened version of the neurofibromin protein that cannot bind to ras or regulate its activity. As a result, the ras protein is more active. Cells are told to begin dividing and never told when to stop, causing the formation of tumours. She had nodded blankly when Dr Maple explained all this.
How do people get NF1?
In about half of all cases, a person inherits the mutated gene from a parent. The disorder is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means that only one copy of the defective gene has to be inherited for a child to get the disorder. Each child of a parent with NF1 runs a 50 percent risk of getting the disorder.
Most of the time, the NF1 is diagnosed by its physical symptoms (tumors or café au lait spots), or by a family history of the disorder. The café au lait spots usually appear within the first two years of a child’s life. It resembles freckles. And Ayaan had suddenly developed them, lots of them. She hugged her little boy to her heart, he was so dear to her she couldn’t bear it if anything happened to him. Why was she suffering so much,she wondered aloud. And collapsed in Dr Maple’s arms. Dr Maple wiped her eyes and ‘tche tched’.
“ C, mon don’t give up hope , we have to find the father and you have to be brave, it might just be a scare, in fact I am sure it is as Indians don’t really run the risk…” she said hoping against hope it was true.
The clinic was very helpful and all the details of the donor were soon on the table. Aparna read out his name. Mr K Surya, healthy Indian male. Resident New South Wales, oh my God he was right here in Sydney. She would have to meet him. She asked the clinic if any photographs were available but was disappointed. “We are only concerned with his semen not him ,”they joked . And for the first time in months, Aparna smiled.
Dr Maple called her the next morning to say that he had been located and briefed. “He just couldn’t believe that he had a baby through some stranger. Now don’t let me raise your hopes he could be 18 years old or 80. Be prepared for the worst.”
For some reason Aparna was suddenly scared and excited. He could be a monster or he could be a married man with a family of his own. She could be causing him complications. She told Dr Maple about this. “Relax, it will be done in absolute secrecy”, she was assured.
Dr Maple went ahead to meet K Surya. Aparna was asked to wait in the car. But when Dr Maple shook hands with K Surya, Aparna stole a glance at him and reeled in shock. It was Karthik from college. She stuffed her fist in her mouth to stop screaming. It couldn’t be. Maybe he was leading the doctor to the person concerned. But the name. K. Surya? OMG!
Seven years ago.
It had been her first year in college and she was being ragged. Scared and weeping she had fainted only to be revived in the senior’s common room. A lot of faces looked down at her. “Sleeping beauty has got up let’s us make her into a frog,” said a few of them unkindly. In fact she resembled a waif as she lay there all heaving bosom and wide eyes. She burst out crying again and heard a deep voice say, “Vidde da enna chumma bhaya piddaththe. Avel oru papa”( Leave her alone why are u scaring her, poor babe”) Grateful at hearing her mother tongue and grateful at being rescued she looked up at the brownest pair of eyes she had seen.
He helped her up and led her out. “Ohh, our Karthik has lost his heart,” hollered his friends . After that whenever she saw him in the corridors or campus her heart would thud painfully. He would wave or nod and that was that. But she felt a lot of things she couldn’t explain. Not the smart city bred girl, Aparna of Kalpathy Gramam was a quiet,obedient girl who did not want to hurt her widowed mother by refusing to marry as soon as she had graduated. And she had.To Arun who fate had taken away. But here she was now in front of her gallant hero and her heart still thudded.No wonder Ayaan had brown eyes, she thought suddenly. And for no reason blushed.
Dr Maple was beaming when she returned. “Very nice human being and has already made arrangements to get his family history but says no way does he or anyone have that gene. He’s very sure about it.”
“His children are ok?” asked Aparna and held her breath.
“Hasn’t married, actually if he had children it would have cleared all our doubts but no he isn’t married, hey listen why don’t you two meet?”
“No,”, Dr Maple raised her eyebrows at Aparna’s vehement answer, but did not say anything.
Next morning the doorbell pealed loudly and Aparna ran to open it. She was wearing spaghetti tops and three fourths which was everyone’s dress in Sydney. Her long hair was open and she was flushed with the morning’s chores, She picked up Ayaan as she opened the door.
“Yes”? she asked and then couldn’t say anything else. Karthik stood outside with those killer brown eyes and all the kuch kuch that hadn’t happened with Arjun was happening now and how.
“Whoa,don’t faint now or I will do what I had wanted back then, pick you up in my arms and walk away..” He said and Aparna fainted. When she came to she was lying on the couch and he was talking to his son. They made such a lovely pair that Aparna felt a lump in her throat.
When he heard her stir, he looked at her and said, (oh, that beloved voice)..“ I almost fainted when Dr Maple showed me my son’s photo with you. First I couldn’t believe it when she said you were the biological mother. It was like a dream Aparna .” They stared at each other and then like a homing pigeon she went to him. So much kuch kuch was happening that she couldn’t breathe. “I love you Aparna, right from that moment in college, in fact Appa and Amma were going to propose marriage when we heard that you were married and gone. This is destiny, me becoming your donor.” He smiled and kissed her again.
“Karthik our son, he will be safe na”, she presently asked.
”Don’t worry he’s just reacting to Sydney’s sun , freckles and all, this was God’s way of uniting us , you just relax”, said Karthik and Aparna was glad to let him take over.
A year later.
Saraswati Amma was all in a whirl. Her daughter and son in law were coming today with Ayaan .She could show them off to Kalpathy Gramam and shut all the wagging tongues.
The author Padmaja Menon, 56 years of age is an Indian National.
Vide da, enna chumma bhayapedithede, aval oru papa: leave her alone, why are you scaring her, poor babe.
Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)
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