London 1989

Walarmathi was a girl of two and a half years who speaks the words ’mama, papa’, beautifully. Her faltering steps and falls seems as if they happened only yesterday. She now refuses to sit in her walker. She is full of childish enthusiasm and activeness.

The doctor who examined her growth at two years said that she is a very active girl and she will grow up to be an intelligent girl. But her weight was less than of an average two year old. Therefore her mother Malathi was advised to take more care with her diet.

Although Walarmathi was an active girl, Malathi was worried because her daughter was not more fairer in complexion.

“ How can our child would be fair, you are dark as a crow”, snapped Malathi’s husband Chithambaram.

He was not happy with the child being born just a few years after his marriage with Malathi. They had planned to save some money first and then have children.
But the contraceptive pills did not agree with her. She only had them for two weeks and during that time she was throwing up and feeling dizzy every time. Birth control pills do not agree with some women. Malathi tried the pills for two weeks and then had to stop it due to the effects it caused.
The doctor had advised her to either have a ‘coil’ fixed in her womb or to have Chithambaram wear condoms.

When she made inquiries about fixing the coil in the womb, she heard various stories from women. A curl shaped plastic coil would be thrust in the womb and it would prevent the pregnancy. This coil might scrape the womb and result in excess bleeding and pain in some women. Sometimes it could cause an infection and a serious effect – even life threatening. Malathi did not use a coil. The plastic equipment which the doctor showed as the coil scared her out of using it.

Pills could not be used. Neither could coils be used. The doctor suggested the ’diaphragm’.It was a shield which protects the feminine part from the womb. The doctor handed her the diaphragm. Malathi had a very difficult time trying to fix it at the right place.

Should women be the only ones to take all the responsibilities?
She let out a sigh. Should she ask Chithambaram to use condoms as the doctor suggested at the clinic?
The women at the clinic took the free condoms distributed by the clinic. A nurse handed over a packet to Malathi with a mischievous smile. Malathi stared at her blankly. The nurse at the clinic was a black woman, she might be an African. She spoke in rapid English.

It had been only two years since Malathi had arrived in London. The loan taken to pay the agency was not yet paid off. Chithamparam was keen on bringing his brother to
London this year.
How could it be possible to have a child amidst all these? Chithambaram stared at the Condoms she took home as if seeing a ghost.

‘What things you have to undergo for being in London? Bearing the language and lifestyle of the Londoners were a different matter. Now you have to use a condom to make love to your wife..!’

Chithambaram went away silently. She could not advise him. He muttered something about them being careful. How can you be careful in this intense cold. The heat from the central heating was nothing compared to the warmth you get in your wife’s embrace.

“Beautiful child”, said the nurse laying the child wrapped in blanket near Malathi.
Beautiful child! And a female at that!
“Why do you look for beauty in London? We all are blacks anyway”, Chithambaram consoled his wife.

Malathi looked at the dark girl who was sucking it’s finger. Malathi was the third girl of a large family. A big family not in the sense of wealth but the number of children. Who used a shield for their manhood in those days? Malathi was the third girl. By the time her elder sisters got married she was past the age of thirty.

She got married to Chithambaram, by parting with all her parents possessions, and coming to London and having a baby, she was now thirty one years of age.

“ If you have a wish to have children have them now – you might get too old to have them otherwise”, said an ’all knowing’ old woman in a wedding she attended in London.

Malathi named the child as Walarmathi. She received a letter from her village informing the name should me starting with ‘v,w’. “Why don’t we name her ’Vasuki’?”, asked Chithambaram.
“Will the English pronounce that name correctly?” asked Malathi. This angered him. “If you want a name that would go well with the English, name her as Margaret Thatcher”, he scolded.

At last, Walarmathi was agreed upon. The mother called her ’mathi’ whereas the Irish woman taking care of the child during the day called her ’matti’. Her children called the baby ’maatti’!

The Irish woman took care of the baby while Malathi worked at an Indian shop. She started working after three months of the child was born. Family responsibilities were exceeding.

If Chithambaram’s brother got here, Malathi planned to bring her brother as well. Chithambaram was going behind an agency man with the cash he got from a chit fund. They had to pay the chit fund premium every month. When the girl who works with Malathi does not come, she does over time to cover the girl. She uses the overtime pay to buy provisions for the house.

Nowadays she does not have time to play with her daughter Walarmathi. Once she gets home she had all the house work and the cooking to do. It would be past nine by the time she gets all the work done.

Chithambaram worked in a petrol shed from morning eight to evening eight. It would be past nine-thirty when he got home. As soon as he gets home he flops down in the chair. All the tiredness and family problems made him increasingly bad tempered. When she starts to say something about the family matters, he looses his temper and snaps at her.

One of the girl who works with Malathi, in the Indian shop went on holiday. The Gujarathi boss did not like to hire an another girl to cover the girl on holiday. Malathi had even more work to do and she worked on weekdays as well as weekends. she had a day off on every other Sunday.

The boss is not going to sack her if she does not work during the weekends but she wanted to save some money.

She could buy a washing machine if she worked like this for two months. She had already ordered a washing machine for installment. Next week it would be delivered to the house. Hereafter she did not have to take all the clothes to the laundrette. Chithambaram did not like her working without a break but the family situation demanded it.

Walarmathi has been ill for the past few days. She looked very dull when bringing back from her nanny. “The child did not eat properly”, said the Irish nanny.
Walarmathi was sleeping like a dull flower. Malathi gave the child some medicine. She did not have a proper nights sleep that night.

It was very cold outside, a strong wind was blowing as well. She checked on the child several times during the night. Usually the child has a full bottle of milk before going to bed. But she hadn’t had a drop of milk that night.

She fed some baby food to the child next morning. The child managed one or two spoons with difficulty.

“Children get sick during this age”, said Malathi consoling herself and took the child to the Irish nanny.
“Didn’t you take the child to a doctor?” asked the nanny with surprise.
“No, she had something to eat in the morning and looks better today”, answered Malathi.

Malathi glanced at her watch hurriedly and the clothes she had to take to the laundrette weighed heavily. The company had informed that they would be delivering the washing machine tomorrow. There won’t be any need to carry all these clothes then, muttered Malathi to herself.

“Caring women should be staying at home”, it was difficult to tell whether her strict boss was teasing or concerned. He was short with all encompassing eyes. She received a glare from those eyes.

A little while after she had been to work, the telephone started ringing. It was the Irish woman asking Malathi to get home as the child was very ill.
Malathi did not care about the bosses anger. She wanted to to her child immediately.
“If you start to take days off like this I would have to hire another person to work”, muttered her boss, Patel.

After phoning her husband Malathi took the child to the doctor. After a long examination the doctor announced that he would give a letter for the child to be admitted in the hospital. He explained the importance of admitting the child into a hospital as soon as possible.

She did not understand any of the doctor’s explanations. He asked her if she knew anything about virus meningitis.
The poor girl was only used to counting and stacking onions in the Indian shop and no understanding of bacteriology!.

The doctor was patiently explaining to her of the two different kinds of bacterial and virus meningitis when the child started to have a fit.

The next two weeks was spent in the hospital for Malthi. The child was saved, but the infection had affected the brain and caused a brain damage and the child’s growth was a questionable matter, informed the doctors.

Walarmathi did not run around or play. She just kept staring at the world. Would she say the words ’mama’ and ’papa’ ever again? Malthi looked at her daughter with tear filled eyes.

Walarmathi was curled up like a lifeless plant.
A new washing machine was fixed at the house. Would this have happened if she hadn’t been working so hard to buy a washing machine and taken more care of the child instead? Poor Malthy was an average woman with all the normal wants and needs.

She needed the washing machine more than ever now because Walarmathi wets her dress very often. She would not have proper growth hereafter.

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