Uncle,” asked Shanta “ What is all this fuss about?”
Shanta was bubbly teenager full of questions. She knew of her uncle’s frugal spending habits and was surprised that he had agreed to shell out so much money for a prayer ceremony. He would haggle over the price of coriander leaves and travel by bus rather than take a taxi to save money.
‘This must be a very special puja for them’ she thought.
“Your aunt consulted an astrologer regarding her chances of having children and he had suggested that she should get people to help her make a lakh shivlings out of clay and offer special prayers to them to be blessed with a child. She also has to feed twentyone Suhasinis, give them gifts of sarees, bangles and what not. She has been making arrangement since yesterday getting all the ladies from the neighborhood to help and all of their families will be dining at our place. It’s going to be a long day so let’s hurry.”
“Why on earth did he suggest such an expensive affair?” Shanta found the whole thing preposterous.
“According to him I had killed a cat in some previous birth. The cat cursed me and therefore I’m destined to be deprived of children” said Sundaram trying to suppress a smile.
“This is absolutely ridiculous, and I find it strange that you have given in to the manipulations of a conman.” Shanta could not believe her ears.
Sundaram continued but on a more serious note.
“Your aunt has known no pleasure ever since she married me. I had my own set of worries and denied her simple pleasures like going out for a movie or eating out on special occasions. She has never grumbled or complained. When the astrologer laid the blame of our childless existence on me she was distraught and wanted to atone for an act unknowingly committed by me in a so-called previous birth. The thought of my being further punished in future births is not acceptable to her. She feels that we have enough responsibilities and with all of you around she does not really miss not having a child of her own. This prayer ceremony is her investment for my future! Tell me now, was I wrong in giving in to her?”
“I do not believe in astrology but I do hope Rajam aunty is blessed with a child of her own” said Shanta.
“Unfortunately that is not to be” said her uncle “hers is a rare medical condition in which the ovaries do not ovulate. This occurs in about one in ten thousand women. The hormones produce signs and symptoms of puberty but she is infertile in the real sense of the word. So children of our own are out of question. Your aunt is unaware of her physical condition so keep it to yourself”
Shanta took a long time to find her voice.
Does Amma know of this?” she finally asked referring to her grandmother.
“Of course she knows it.” Laughed Sundaram “ In fact the idea of consulting an astrologer was hers. The whole story about the cat’s curse was your grandmother’s idea. Sometimes her imagination does run wild. She paid the astrologer a tidy sum and got him to repeat the story. She did not want anyone to point an accusing finger at her daughter in law. Moreover, your aunt being innocent and naïve easily believed the story and never bothered to ask for the doctor’s report. Nor did she wish to go for second medical opinion. She feels that with the performance of this puja the matter has been settled once and for all. Now let’s go back fast.”
Sundaram returned and sat down by his wife’s side and performed the rituals with utmost sincerity. They prostrated at the feet of elderly ladies the Suhasinis who represented the Goddess of fertility and sought their blessings. His mother spoke to each one of them and asked if they were happy with the arrangements.
“Bless these children. Your heartfelt blessings will grant them a string of children” she pleaded.
Shanta watched them from a distance. Her uncle and grandmother were putting up such a superb act! The trio seemed happy enough. Children might have had a distractive influence on them. Here they were! Destined to remain children all their lives. Maybe it was appropriate that large hearted people like her aunt Rajam be allowed to spread love to a wider range of recipients rather than be tied down to their immediate families.