Shankata­hara Chathurthi: auspicious day dedicated to Ganesha … is observed … on the fourth day of … the waning lunar phase …
– Internet

Sarasu had just come back from the temple.

Thank god! It is a miracle. If the events I am going to narrate to you now had been shifted one minute this way or that I would have been dead. And my baby. But, as I have said, yesterday being the Shankata­hara Chathurthi, and my father having left for his evening stroll to buy me biscuits and tea, I had sent Sarasu to the temple to do pooja for all of us, and she had just come back from the temple. Now mark the order in which these events take place and tell me if it is not a miracle: five minutes before Sarasu had just come back – the nurse rolls in an oxygen tank to my bed and asks me to put the pipes to my nose so even a whiff of oxygen won’t go waste and I refuse. She has asked me to do this before. But I have never refused. And fortunately–or unfortunately–she does not have the time to argue with me because the nozzle of the tank which is a new tank won’t open. She calls the nearest man–bed no. 15, Nandini’s husband: the military man–to lend a hand. And precisely at this moment Sarasu has just come back from the temple. I get up. I haven’t ‘got up’ in eight months. Only in the morning I have had my scanning done–another girl baby–and the doctor–Lakshmi Kumari madam–has just told me I can sit up for food from today. So, I get up. Sit at the edge of the bed. Sarasu tacks some neriums to my hair (unwashed in eight months). And undoes a sachet of the temple caste­marks. Now, it is 5:30 in the evening. Visiting hours. There is a general burr. And just as I scour a short line of white to my forehead and Sarasu asks me to go back to bed – in fact precisely when she asks me to go back to bed – at my right where the oxygen tank is – there is a detonation.

You can imagine that for at least a good fraction of a minute–the door of our special delivery ward being always shut–there must have been absolute silence. Perhaps it is this silence that makes me feel it so distinctly. My baby has gone berserk. It is as if she is running inside my belly. Churning. Like a wet grinder. I am completely blank. Eighth month again. It is always the eighth month and my daughters die. Sarasu begins to cry. She sits down squat on the floor. The nurse tousles my hair and asks me if I am hurt. She is bleeding in the thighs. The humidifier has burst. And then, as if the tension of staying at a still point in a turning world has suddenly been released, the entire ward, first the relatives, and then the ladies–even Vasundra who like me has lost three children and Esther with the low uterus who has to have her feet always propped up–all of them come running in and huddle around my bed and start crying. I ask the ladies to rush back to their beds – our feet mustn’t touch the floor – no emotional stress – those are the instructions. A few of the relatives start lambasting the nurse. But the military man owns up all responsibility and practically chaperones her out of the room. In about five minutes the entire hospital– even the watchman at the gate–starts to trickle in and the nurses scream at them to scram – so I can have some fresh air. They scrape a chair towards my bed and an attender brings in a new mattress and it is when–with the help of a few of the male relatives–the nurses lift me up like a piece of cake and place me on the chair so they can change the mattress that I notice, at the dip of the pillow where my head was – there is now a handful of half­ an inch thick glass shards. The plastic box to the right of it where I would keep my tablets: piece ­piece. Sarasu scans my body and finds that beneath my right wrist and above the bangles – there is a small scar. She says ‘Thank God. It is a miracle.’

Miracle? Now prepare yourself for another: two hours back my father leaves to drop my mother. (She has spondylitis and she cannot move her right arm and has only come to calm me down after yesterday’s roiling up.) And after her 5:30 check­up Lakshmi Kumari madam has said we might have to do an operation, even tonight, if the churning does not stop. My baby might get clapped out and–given my history–we cannot take chances. As you can imagine, my parents not being with me for support, I begin to weep, and then, remembering that emotional stress is deleterious, I begin to chant the simple prayer of my childhood–ka’ka ka’ka: I don’t know how many thousand times I might have chanted this since my father left last night to keep off the painful thoughts that welter in the nights: the ill­use I have been subjected to: the losing of three children: ka’ka ka’ka–and that is when, at the wall between the beds of Vasundra and Esther (Vasundra: 11, Esther: 12) I have a vision–or shall we call it the product of my febrile hallucination–of lord Vishnu standing at the cusp of two green hills. It lasts five seconds. No more. But–no mere febrile hallucination–an hour later, the churning stops. Afraid, I ask Sarasu to fetch the nurse. She presses the horn to my belly: movement normal – she rings for Lakshmi Kumari madam and she comes–in one hour: from CIT colony to Luz corner–: the baby is normal again. No operation. But I mustn’t sleep a wink. My father comes back with dinner and is so glad he begins to weep like yesterday when he had come back with the biscuits and tea. (I haven’t told him the nub of it though: the Vishnu scene: I doubt he’ll believe. )

February, 1990

Kartik Seshan

Kartik Seshan is a short­ story writer and high­ school English teacher based in Bangalore. This story by Kartik is a part of a finished novel that Kartik is willing to have published. Kartik has degrees in Engineering and English linguistics.