Debarati Chakraborty: The Surrogate
She chided herself every time she had the urge to check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about a week now. She hated herself for constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. It was beyond her control to stop looking at the phone. Streams of agonizing thoughts flashed through her mind one after the other, and she felt worse and worse with every passing hour.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart beating nineteen to the dozen, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?
The message read… ‘You need to choose between the two of us… you cannot have both.’
Anaya remembered the first day she met Aditya. The old lift at the radio physics department cracked and swayed sideways while taking on its long journey up and down the old building. The students said there were two kinds who preferred the lift over stairs. The brave hearts and the ones who had an eternity at their disposal… as it took about that time for the ride to end when one was aboard the huge crane with a human size mirror as one of the walls, and with a quaint old time décor. Anaya was late for her practical paper that day and somehow had the incredible idea that the elevator would save time. The moment the metal doors creaked to a shut, she heard loud and heavy footsteps outside and a human hand propelling inside, just in time to stop the metal flap from hitting the door bolt. He was panting vigorously and while catching his breath, amicably eyed Anaya as if marking a prelude to a more eventful string of events.
He held out his right hand and introduced himself as Aditya… ‘My friends call me Adi…’ He gave a coquettish grin while holding Anaya’s thin bracelet-adorned hand in a strong grip and held it for a while. Anaya by now was an expert at comprehending such gestures and could predict the next series of actions with the poise of a professional. Given her sharp features and attractive demeanor added to her elegant personality, she was already a head-turner at college, and there was no dearth of such suggestive happenstances in her twenty two years of life.
‘Do you want to drink some water ma’am?’ Anaya was jolted back from her world by the nurse’s voice. She mumbled a faint gratitude, held the glass in both hands while quenching her thirst. She was indeed thirsty and did not get a chance to camouflage the agony which the past few minutes had churned out. She asked if the doctor was on time, and the nurse nodded in agreement while signaling her to an empty couch at the corner of the tastefully done up lobby. She checked her watch. There was still time for Rakhi to arrive. Rakhi lived in the nearby slum, and had to complete her evening chores before she could make it to the clinic. It included preparing the family meal and tending to her two children for whom she struggled to provide basic education at a local school. Her husband was a mason and visited their shack only on select occasions which had a stark coincidence with his running out of money. There ensued a brawl, where the husband demanded equal rights over the wife’s income and then there was the clichéd ending with the wife relenting to part with most of her hard earned meagre savings to call an end to the scuffle. There was not much of a change in the milieu even as Rakhi was expecting.
Anaya checked her watch once again. 7 pm. Still half an hour was left for the appointment. It was December in Kolkata, and the half-open glass panes behind her carried the chill inside, which somehow resonated with the iciness inside her. She drew her scarf closer over her ears in an attempt to keep warm; however, no external stimulus was enough to embalm the emptiness in her heart. Southern avenue, where the doctor’s clinic was located, used to weave pleasant memories once upon a time for Anaya… a time when she walked hand in hand with Adi through the by-lanes, discovering tastefully done-up boutiques perched at the bend of non-descript roads, the smell of fresh fabric and the smooth touch of linen, all adding up to form a lush thalamus for the mind in love.
She had proposed to Adi on a similar cold and wintry December evening, and contrary to her present state of mind, five years back the same nip in the air had acted as a catalyst to her soaring emotions. Yes, she had fallen for his machismo and the irresistible charm in his persona. However, contrary to her expectations, Adi’s response had left her disconcerted for a while, as she was certain beyond doubts that he loved her but only shied away from popping the question.
Adi bleakly said he would need to seek permission from his mother to get married to a girl from a different community.
Aditya Singh Rathore was a Rajput by origin, and though there was nothing left of the old glory and valor which once saw them as rulers of certain estates in northern Uttar Pradesh, the old customs and traditions seemed to die hard. One that allowed a Rajput to be tied in nuptial alliance to only a Rajput woman. Anaya on the contrary was the convent educated, freedom loving demure Bengali daughter, fathered by a broadminded lawyer who had never found a reason to constrict Anaya’s ways. Hence it was a mountain to surpass in one family, whereas just a dinner table settlement for the other. Adi’s family had finally relented, in the process casting some strong reprimands upon the lawyer family, however a daughter was way too precious to be made unhappy, and Anaya’s father shrugged them off with the professional air of a defense lawyer, knowing he had burnt bridges for good.
Anaya found herself a misfit in the surroundings of Adi’s fastidious royal mother, but, given her nature, tried her best to adjust. However, with each passing day she grew more and more convinced that living in constant disagreement with one’s principles and beliefs was a colossal task and one who repeatedly questioned her conscience and left her perpetually unsettled.
It was not very long before there were suggestive signals from the elders in the family that it was about time to usher in an heir to the Rajput family. Anaya loved kids, and wanted to have her own someday, hence she was in no way opposed to the very idea. However she gradually discovered it was not as easy as it seemed to her. She was unable to conceive on her own and needed to seek assistance. Adi was initially confused as he had little knowledge or interest in this area of medical science; yet with Anaya taking the lead, he followed suit without much deliberation.
Anaya found herself in a very different setup a few days later, amidst women from diverse social upbringings, and varied circumstances with a different story to tell. There was Pratima who had been married for two years, pressed by in-laws for a dowry, her poor father once promised to offer, and still intended to keep his word… the day he would be able to make a fortune from selling all the fish he had been rearing in his pond. She was here since her mother-in-law wanted an heir to the family as she was supposedly getting too old to risk a chance of not meeting her grand-child.
Nasima Begum was of the more talkative kind and was here after being unable to mother a child after 12 years of couple-ship. She had aborted her first, thinking she was too young to play a mother then, and complained of being too old to bear one naturally, now.
Anaya met Rakhi for the first time at the gynecologist’s chamber. She had a huge bump and was in for a scan. Young, demure and reticent, she kept to herself most of the time and opened up very rarely. From her demeanor and other physical aspects she did not seem to radiate wealth and affluence; however there was a certain innuendo of elegance about her, which Anaya found appealing.
Anaya came to know from others, she was here for being a surrogate to a childless couple.
‘Do you have children?’ Anaya asked Rakhi on another chance visit to the clinic, while both were taking a stroll on the carefully manicured lawns outside, waiting for the doctor. Anaya was aware this was a pre-requisite in the protocols of surrogacy.
‘A girl and a boy,’ replied Rakhi… they made sure of the fertility quotient of the eligible surrogate mothers. Anaya was not sure if anything was done to evaluate the emotional quotient too; however she remembered the kind gynecologist’s words on the very first day of their visit to her chamber. We select the best eggs, the best medicines and the best mothers.
With each passing day, Anaya grew closer to Rakhi. She was amazed at her dignified ways of dealing with life’s chaos, as it was well evident that life was unquestionably generous with Rakhi when it came to her share of woes and misgivings. She had her plate full, yet never seemed to wince perceptibly even on one occasion. She kept battling the blows with unmatched fervor.
Anaya decided if anyone was to mother her child, it would be Rakhi.
Discussions with Adi were useless, as the poor fellow had never learnt to decide anything on his own, be it his lunch menu or be it the clothes to wear for a party. This was a far cry and too much of stress for him. The mother-in-law cringed at the suggestion. ‘A baby without a bump? What would the relatives say? Neighbors would frown even at the thought of it.’ A marriage without a horoscope match would evidently result in such a disaster, she had already prophesized long back. But who was sane enough to give an ear to such pearls of wisdom, when there was still time?
The doctor hurriedly walked in. She switched between her patients and the operation theatre like it was no big deal, and Anaya felt motivated to the core whenever she came to visit her. Rakhi would be in any moment. All tests were positive and Anaya had happily shared the news with Adi, who had in turn passed it on to her in-laws. She was too happy to think of any grim repercussions to this incident, and waited with bated breath for Adi’s reactions. How happy he must be on getting the news that they would soon be proud parents. She imagined Adi’s face, his arms half open to embrace her in a tight hug, and the tears of joy. Until she got his message this morning.
Rakhi walked in through the front door. She looked radiant and confident with the baby bump protruding before her. Anaya made up her mind. Of her choice. She would go with the child. All alone.