Those six months were hard for Mrs Rajora. She prayed for good news, made all kinds of promises to the small goddess in her bedroom.
Five and a half months passed without any sign of a pregnancy.
'I have found the name of a fertility expert,' Ishita said to her mother. 'Will you come with me? Just to see what my options are. And keep this to yourself.'
The fertility expert was Dr Suhashini Guha. She listened to Ishita's story. Had she ever had an abortion? A miscarriage? Ever taken birth control pills? Or used internal devices? Ever experienced a major illness? Ever had TB?
Ishita said no to everything.
An HSG test was suggested, a hysterosalpingogram in which dye was injected into the uterus. This would give an accurate picture of the state of her fallopian tubes.
The doctor would do it herself. There would be a certain amount of discomfort involved so she would need to take painkillers, she might also experience heavy cramping for the next few hours. To prevent infection, she would be put on a course of antibiotics.
'And if all is not clear?' cried Mrs Rajora, appalled by this information.
'Then a laparoscopy will follow.'
'Then we will see.'
In the car the mother said slowly, 'I wonder what TB has to do with anything.'
'Why?' demanded Ishita. 'I never had it, did I?'
'Don't think so," said Mrs Rajora cautiously.
'TB is hardly a disease that goes unnoticed.'
'Beta, as a child you were ill for a long time. But then you grew out of it.'
'Maybe I am damaged goods after all.'
'Don't be silly, and if you had TB, so what? It affects loss of people.'
'So,' said Ishta slowly, 'that's the story.'
The mother was silent.
'How am I supposed to keep this information from my in-laws? My husband? I don't keep secrets from him.' The strain of keeping her voice down so that nothing reached the driver's alert listening ears drove tears into Ishita's eyes.
'And the test? It's invasive after all.'
'Am I saying you should not tell? But let's find out first. What is the point of worrying other people for nothing?'
When his anxious wife related the details of the visit, Mr Rajora declared the doctor had to be told about Ishita's TB. Otherwise there was no point consulting an expert.'
But what would this mean for their daughter? Would she be taunted, would her position become vulnerable, would there be pressure on the husband to divorce her? It needed no great experience of the world to inform them that the answer to all these questions was yes. As for Surakanta's love, could they set store by that?
The father thought they could, the mother knew they couldn't. If the couple were living separately, perhaps, if it had been a love marriage, perhaps, if they had been married a long time, perhaps, but with the husband an only son, living at home with an infertile wife – no.
Surayakanta had been brought up to understand his role so far as the greater good of the family was concerned. Mrs Rajora knew he would not put his own feelings in front of those considerations.
Let us see what Ishita has to say, said the father. She knows them better than we do.
'I told him about the visit to Dr. Guha,' said Ishita to her mother soon afterwards.
'You foolish girl,' snapped Mrs Rajora, 'what was the need?
'I am not like you,' snapped Ishita back. 'What kind of lies do you want me to go on living? If I can't trust my husband, it is no marriage.'
'He is still a child,' returned the mother.
'He is my best friend', said the daughter, immune to her mother's fears. The night she had told her husband was particularly sweet. She had cried, he had held her, he had said she was the queen of his heart, he would die without her, of course he would come with her to the doctor, of course they would explore all possibilities. They were married and every problem had a solution.
Mrs Rajora was left speechless. Had Ishita no sense? Didn't she understand the family she had married into? Young love was fine in the bedroom, but outside that door its imperatives ceased.
'And what is more,' continued Ishita triumphantly, 'he is coming with me to do that test. Mummy, this is our problem, we will manage.'
The test that would reveal TB in infancy, that would result in accusations about the girl's health, about having hidden things in order to get the daughter married – that test.
A few days before the test Suryakanta suggested they tell his parents.
'Didn't you say it was our problem?' demanded his wife.
It turned out that 'our' meant the collective us of the joint family, for his parents must neither feel excluded nor ignored. Besides, how could the responsibility be his alone? He could no more think of only the two of them getting such a major test done than he could contemplate flying. And what about the side effects, the pain, the nausea, the cramping? A woman was needed in these situations.
For the first time Ishita felt annoyed with her husband. He was twenty-seven, had he never done anything without his parents' permission? Finally he agreed to say nothing for the moment, which meant that when the day of the HSG test came, the emphasis was more on the favour SK was doing her than on the trauma of the procedure.
Ishita lay down on a narrow hospital bed and stared gloomily at the glaring white lights overhead. As the dye was injected, a sudden hot feeling overtook her, followed by the most severe cramp she had ever known. Despite the air conditioning, sweat filmed her face. After a few minutes the doctor showed her the screen, and pointed out her faulty tubes, sealed irrevocably.
Helpless tears ran down Ishita's cheeks, soaking the neckline of her white gown, as the words 'severe blockage' drummed in her mind. What would happen to her now?
On the way back the husband was silent, and Ishita in the corner of the car was too depressed to say much. By the time they reached GK, hatred towards her body filled her. It had let her down in this most basic function and she had to live with the knowledge for the rest of her life.
'Papa and mummy will know what to do,' said SK at last as the car neared home.
'You are going to tell them?'
'Of course. Don't you think that is best?'
'They will hate me.'
'Naah. They are not like that.'
She dared not contradict him. Already clouds were entering her soul, and shedding heavy drops of unworthiness, and such was the weight she couldn't even hold his hand and tell him that she loved him more than life itself. They never exchanged affection in public.
SK told his mother that evening. He was closeted in her room for a long time, leaving Ishita tense and nervous. 'Bhabhi, what's the matter with you today, why aren't you paying attention?' asked Chandrakanta, as Ishita fought to keep the sick feelings at bay. 'Do you have some good news?'
Oh, how far from the truth. At that moment Ishita thought it easier to commit suicide than to live. From the day of her wedding she had thought of this family as hers, revelling in the togetherness, sharing and companionship. Now instead of love all around her, there would be rejection.
That evening Ishita scanned her mother-in-law's face for signs of disgust as she said, 'I will come with you, beti, to this fertility expert. Men don't really understand these things.' There was no reproach in her voice, but Ishita felt it all the same. The knot in her stomach, squeezing her insides, tightened its grip.
'I want to understand exactly what is wrong, and what to do,' she went on. 'I believe there are options. But Sukku did not give me a very clear idea of what they were. But then I always say, he is just a boy, what does he know'.
On the morning of the second appointment with Suhashini Guha, Ishita discovered that SK was not coming. 'Mummy said there is no need.'
'You said we were in this together.'
'Why are you getting so emotional, yaar? My mother wants to understand the problem, and I have already been.'
Fearfully she looked at SK, who smiled back reassuringly.
In the car, her mother-in-law reached over and plucked the HSG report that was lying on her lap, and scanned the papers. Ishita waited for her to say something, but she didn't.
In the reception, when she gave her name to the nurse her voice sounded hoarse. She couldn't even pick up a magazine, for her mother-in-law's hands were empty. In the twenty minutes of waiting, Ishita got up three times to ask how long it would be.
Finally they were ushered in.
Smaller than the ants on the ground, smaller than the motes of the dust in the sunlit air, smaller than drops of dew caught between blades of grass in the morning was Ishita as she sat in the gynaecologist's office with her mother-in-law, watching as the doctor sketched out the message concealed in her body. Here were the tubes, here the eggs, here was where conception occurred. The loss of normal anatomy meant fertilisation could not take place without intervention. Fortunately, the couple had youth on their side. Often people turned to alternative methods only after years of trying, by which time age had reduced their chances.
They could first go in for IUI, intrauterine insemination, a simple procedure, with a minimum of discomfort. It was a comparatively cheap, less invasive alternative, and the success rate ranged from 5 to 40 per cent. It all depended on the quality.
'My boy is young and healthy,' said the mother.
If that did not work, they could go in for IVF. Including the cost of the embryologist, the package worked out to 60,000 rupees, with a fifty-fifty chance of success. Other clinics charged less, but had a lower success rate as well. If that didn't work, some people went in for a surrogate womb. She gestured to the pictures behind her: look at all those newborn infants conceived with our help. Here were some pamphlets on the subject.
'Beta, just wait outside for a minute,' instructed mother-in-law finally, after she had followed everything the doctor said with the attention of a hawk, lazily circling the sky, alert to the movement of small innocent creatures scampering below.
Ishita got up. She could hear the shuffle her feet made as she left the room and despised her leaden legs. As she sat on the well-worn chairs she noticed she was trembling. She knew why she had been sent out. Her mother-in-law wanted to know all the long-term prospects, all the financial implications, before she decided to get rid of her daughter-in-law. They called it the sword of Damocles. Its tip was now grazing her hair, she wished it would fall and slice her in two without further ado. Hopefully the doctor's information would hasten the process, because she didn't think she could live in suspense for very long.
'Mummy says we must go in for the IVF,' said Surayakanta that night.
'I told you she would be supportive.'
Nobody had mentioned how painful the procedure would be, how tedious, how embarrassing. At the start of her menstrual cycle she was injected with fertility drugs to stimulate her follicles. The more follicles, the more eggs, the more chances of retrieval, the greater the chances of pregnancy.
Every two or three days she visited the doctor, with hope in her heart. Her blood had to be tested, ultrasound taken. Are things going according to schedule? Are there enough follicles?
More injections. More hormones.
When it was time to harvest the eggs, she was given an anaesthetic. Once they were retrieved, she could go home, pumped full of antibiotics.
For six days the baby lay in the IVF lab. Days of tension, days in which in the deepest recesses of her mind she allowed the faintest of hopes to flicker. She whispered to herself, my baby.
Back to the embryologist, back to the doctor, back to lying on her back and having a catheter inserted into her. The catheter which contained her baby. Three in fact, out of which one might develop.
Prayers, prayers, more prayers. Please stay, please grow. You are my only chance of happiness. So many people to love you, just come into the world. I beg you.
But it wouldn't. Even with more hormones it wouldn't.
She hate this baby, hated it. Even living for a few months was beyond it.
Ever since the fertilised egg had been implanted, Mrs Rajora had been asking every day, how do you feel, how do you feel? In her desperation Ishita had begun to feel nauseous, though she had yet to throw up – too soon, opined the mother, but God is with you, the biggest thing is not to worry, stress is very bad for pregnancy.
'Never talk to me of miracles again, Mama,' cried Ishita when she gave the news. 'This is my karm. Nothing will break it.'
'We can pay for another attempt, after all, these things are not so easy,' said the father breaking his heart over his daughter's despair.
'There is no guarantee, Papa, you know that. What is the point?'
The point is your happiness.'
'Which is doubtful in this case. And why should you lose everything you have saved? No, if they really want to try, they should pay themselves.'
'They have paid. Now maybe it is our turn?'
'We didn't explore every option. We didn't go in for frozen embryos. That would have made it easier the second time round.'
'Why didn't you?'
Because the mother-in-law hadn't wanted to waste endless time and money trying, because the doctor might have told her that repeated attempts don't increase the chances of success, each try remains at fifty-fifty.
to be continued...