And I was born
Twenty-eight years ago, on an overcast day, an astrologer, sitting at the porch of our ramshackle house, had predicted that my mother would never give birth to a male child. The moment the words escaped from the astrologer's mouth, the sky had tumbled upon my mother, or so she felt. A deep crease formed on her forehead and her brows were wet with sweat. She couldn't meet the gaze of the astrologer, so she looked beyond the horizon, where no one could read the pain in her eyes. My father, who was sitting beside the astrologer, got restless. His wife would never have a baby boy? Who would he call his son?
The astrologer collected his materials and put them inside a bag with many tears. As the astrologer was getting ready to leave, he beckoned my father, and my father followed him to the pond near our home. Mother remained sitting on the ground.
It had been eight years since my parents were married. They had everything between them—love, understanding, cooperation, and all that are required in a good relationship. But they haven't had the fortune to call one a 'son.' After not being able to secure a male child for so long, my father had chewed over the suggestion of one of the relatives who had advised my father to consult Chandra Prakash, the well-known astrologer, who lived in the next village. But even Chandra Prakash's astrological knowledge could not come in a great cause as he declared there was no way my mother could bear a male child.
Some women were standing in the queue near the pond to fill their pots. The astrologer wanted to talk in private, so my father and Chandra Prakash walked uphill to reach a hillock. As they both sat down on the ground, the astrologer said, "A son is not possible from her. You have to marry another girl to have a son."
Father's face darkened and his lips trembled. The sun was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. A sunny day had turned into a gloomy one. Father's face looked like the dark clouds hovering around the sky. Chandra Prakash patted my father's shoulders and went on his way.
Meanwhile, my mother wept like a child; her whimpers shaking the entire house. When the astrologer took my father away, she presumed that the astrologer might suggest that her husband marry another girl. The pain of not being able to bear a son was unbearable enough. To add to her misery, the fear that her husband might marry a second time was too much. How could she cope with the situation? The house, poor as it was, was her only home. Could she share it with another woman? And if the other woman bore a son, she would be kicked out in no time. A fresh bout of tears fell from her eyes.
After the astrologer had left, father sat staring into the jungle for a long time. He asked himself many questions, yet he could not answer any of them. Would it be appropriate to marry another girl just to have a son? He did not feel like going home; he could not think of his wife who was left alone at home.
Dusk had fallen. As the birds were returning to their nests, their chirpings filled the air, my father got up from the ground. Instead of going home, he limped towards Chautari, where a swarm of people would always talk about one thing or another. If Bhakte Ba were present there, they would talk about politics, development, and the airplane that flew over the hills of Kathmandu. Bhakte Ba had once gone to Kathmandu, and he had seen the airplane there for the first time in his life. "If skinny people approach the airplane, its blades sweep them away," he would say, and the crowd would laugh in the admiration of Bhakte Ba. Though they were not sure if Bhakte Ba's stories were true, they always enjoyed listening to him. Bhakte Ba was a man with a rich heart who would help the poor with money, and he also never stepped back from giving advice to villagers. If someone in the village was going through any sort of crisis, it was Bhakte Ba's door they would knock on in the first place.
When my father reached Chautari, Bhakte Ba was speaking, as usual, his hands swaying in the air. Father pressed his hands together.
"Oh, see, who is here!" Bhakte Ba said, looking at father.
Bhakte Ba would guess anyone's mood reading their faces. Father was looking dejected, his face weary.
"Anything wrong?" Bhakte Ba was concerned.
Father looked around, and he decided not to say anything in the presence of the crowd. If he spoke in front of the villagers, his grievance would be the talk of the village for the next few days. The only person he could confide in was Bhakte Ba. After everyone left, Father confessed everything to him.
"Cheer up!" Bhakte Ba laughed. "An astrologer is not a god. And you know what, good things often come late in life. You'll be blessed with a son. Don't worry. And even if you become the father of a daughter, it's fine. What's wrong with daughters? Women are no less than men."
Father had been worried that he might wrong his wife of eight years. Now as he listened to Bhakte Ba, a huge weight was lifted off his chest. So, he chose not to look at another girl. Instead, he would console mother by saying, "Good things come late in life." And eventually, after a few years, I was born.
It has been 22 years since the day my mother held me in her arms the first time. These days she is anxious about getting me married while I ward off the conversation, saying," I'm not old enough."
Finally, she says, "I know you're not old enough, but I want you to get married soon."
"Why's that?" I ask.
"I want that astrologer, who had said I wouldn't ever give birth to a son, to attend your marriage. I fear that death will claim that old man before you marry," my mother replies with a smile.
Sugam Gautam is a young writer from Nepal.