“Mrs. Kale, we need to talk. Your daughter has been held up in the principal’s office for beating up a boy from her class. Please, could you come down to the school?” Sunita kept the receiver down with a sigh. Why was her daughter behaving this way? Such a sweet, loving child she was otherwise! Pondering over what could have been the reason to beat up the poor boy, she got up awkwardly from the sofa and grabbed the car keys. She heaved a sigh as she settled into the driving seat and adjusted it to accommodate her growing belly. Now that her pregnancy was in its 7th month, her husband Samit had warned her not to use the car. But this is an emergency; he’ll understand since I’m avoiding him the trouble of leaving office at this time, she thought as she drove to the school.
When Sunita was ushered into the principal’s office, Mrs. Pande rose from her chair with an apologetic smile and rushed to make her comfortable in the chair facing the table. “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience Mrs. Kale. However, I wished to discuss a few things about Nishi on an urgent basis.” All this while, 4-year-old Nishi sat in a corner of the office. If she hadn’t looked around, Sunita would not have realized that her daughter was in the room. “Beta, why did you beat up your friend? See, I’m not going to tell Daddy about this, but you have to stop making trouble, child. You know how much tired Mommy gets already …“, Sunita started reproaching, when Mrs. Pande signaled her to stop. However, Nishi had already stood up. “This is all so unfair. I only punched Nakul because he kissed me on my cheek. I hate all boys! They are all so stupid. Even daddy is stupid. He won’t let me play with you. And you also don’t love me anymore! Only because of that stupid baby in there. Why don’t you just get rid of it?!”, she screamed, all red in the face, and then ran out of the office in a huff.
Sunita was too stunned to react. Mrs. Pande summoned Nishi’s class teacher to go after Nishi, “And look after her for a while, till Mrs. Kale and I are done talking“, she instructed before turning to Sunita. “Mrs. Kale, how do I tell you this? Nishi, as we all at school have known her, is an intelligent child, and has never thrown any such tantrums. However, over the last few months, she has stopped responding during lessons, and become very moody. It’s like she has withdrawn into a shell. I summoned you to school more due to this reason than that of her punching the boy. Also, losing her temper like that is just not her character. I don’t wish to intrude into your family life, but I hope everything is going smooth at home.”
“Of course, everything’s fine“, asserted Sunita indignantly. “It’s just that with the pregnancy, Samit’s office schedule, and managing the help, I tend to get so tired! Samit is also stretching his work limits to get the promotion since it would be better with another child coming. I don’t want to sound like a bad mother, but Nishi’s being really difficult in this phase. She was always such a patient child; never created much issues even as a baby. And now you see, she hates me“, she ended with a sob.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Mrs. Pande offered her a tissue before continuing with a motherly flair “She doesn’t hate you of course. She just misses you. She’s used to being the apple of your eye, and suddenly with the baby coming, she feels her position is threatened. Happens to all of us, doesn’t it? Just try to spare some special time for her; something that assures her that she’s not going to be forgotten. She calls you her best friend. Make her feel involved in all the excitement of the coming baby.” Sunita nodded, wiping her nose, “I understand that. We were so excited when we broke out the news to her. However, her face darkened when she heard she was going to have a sibling. I never thought my sweet Nishi would need to be prepared for accepting another baby in the family.” “Don’t worry. She just needs some time. Also, please stop admonishing her for being what she is … just a child! Tell this to your husband as well“, said Mrs. Pande as she got up to help Sunita out of her chair.
In the meanwhile, the teacher had found Nishi sulking in the playground, and had tempted her with a glass of lemonade. Nishi had turned the glass upside down and was licking off the last drop of lemonade from the rim when she saw her mother approaching. She handed the glass back to the teacher, thanked her politely, and held the fingers that her mother had extended towards her. She kept mum throughout the ride home, stealing side-way glances at her mother and her rotund belly. Why is mommy’s nose red? Did I make her cry again? she pondered with a hint of guilt. I hope daddy doesn’t get angry again. He’s not like he used to be before that baby came inside her; he’s always busy. I’ll be a good girl now. But, I DO hate that baby so!
After that incident, Nishi kept to herself for days together. Samit, acting on Sunita’s instructions, made an effort to read out bedtime stories to their daughter every night, no matter how tired he’d be. Sunita let Nishi lie next to her during afternoon naps and held her close to her belly. Nishi on feeling the baby’s movements and kicks, would seethe on the inside. Yet, she kept it to herself, knowing that her parents were trying hard to keep her happy.
One month later, on a Sunday morning, Nishi woke up and called out to her father to pick her up from bed as he did on Sundays. “No school, daddy!” she called out to hear no response. The silence confused her, and she let out a wail. She got down from the bed and went to the kitchen, wailing. The domestic help, Banabai, was boiling milk on the stove. She wiped her hands in a hurry and picked Nishi up, rubbing her back to calm her down. “Hush hush beta, mamma-pappa have gone to the hospital to get the baby. Don’t you want to see it? That’s it, that’s it! I’m here with you. Do you want some chocolate syrup in your milk?” So they left me alone to go get the baby, thought Nishi and wailed louder with rage. Banabai transferred Nishi’s weight on one hip and holding her secure with one arm, rushed to the landline and dialled the number written on a chit by the phone. When Samit answered the call, she shouted over Nishi’s wails and asked when he’d be coming back home. When he said he’d be there shortly, Banabai let out a sigh and cut the call.
By the time Samit reached home to pick up Nishi, Banabai had bathed her and fed her some milk. Nishi, tired from all the wailing, was fuming silently and sat with her arms folded across her chest. Samit went up to her, cajoled her into smiling with kisses and tickles, and picked her up in his arms. “Let’s go to the hospital to see mommy and baby! And then, maybe if my little princess wants, daddy will take her out for some ice cream. What do you think? Good idea?” “Hmmm,” came Nishi’s muffled voice as she snuggled in his arms, “I definitely like the idea of ice cream.”
As they arrived at the hospital, Nishi mutely followed Samit into a private room. There, on the bed was Sunita, looking tired and yet radiant. Nishi rushed up to her and climbed into her lap. “Awww, you missed me when you woke up, didn’t you? Won’t you look at your baby brother? He’s been waiting to see you, crying for you ever since he’s arrived.” said Sunita as she cuddled Nishi. Nishi just uttered a “Hummphf” as she threw her arms around her mother. Samit and Sunita exchanged cautious glances just before Samit was summoned by the nurses to complete a few formalities to get the paperwork done.
Nishi told Sunita all about Banabai’s badly made chocolate milkshake, and played with her hair when Sunita nodded off to sleep. Nishi hugged her mother and gazed at the lump in the blankets visible in the small baby cot beside her bed. As she looked on, it squirmed a little. The baby seemed to be stirring from his sleep. Curious, she got off the bed. A peep when no one’s looking won’t hurt, she thought when she tiptoed to the side of the cot. Suddenly, the baby which seemed to have got the blanket up over his face, let out a squeal. Nishi threw a scared glance towards her mother, who feigned sleep to observe what Nishi would do next. Nishi grabbed the annoying corner of the blanket off the baby’s face, and tucked it under him. The baby, with a reddened face and tiny jet black eyes, sighed and settled back into his blanket. Nishi involuntarily stroked his velvety cheek, looking on in wonder at his tiny, pink fingers. Their eyes met, and the baby bestowed upon Nishi a toothless smile and let out a gurgle. Nishi giggled at this, and looked over him fondly.
Sunita observed all this from her bed with relief and satisfaction. When Samit came back into the room, she hurriedly motioned him to not order Nishi to stay away from the baby. However Nishi, noticing her father’s presence, turned around and announced, “I think I’m going to call him Ranbir.” Sunita giggled and pulled Nishi into an embrace while Samit looked on in stunned silence. After gathering himself, he acquiesced “Of course, honey. You get to name him whatever you want to.” “Oh, is it? Hmm“, Nishi said with a thoughtful glance at the baby in the cot. “Then let me take some time,” she said as she went and held her father’s hand, “while we fetch me and him some ice cream. I think I’d like to even consider Amitabh Bacchan as a name for him … what do you think?” She mused on and on while she dragged Samit out of the room.