pushing office desks out through your vagina

Ho, hum. Another day, another entry. We are doing data entry and cleaning with the intimate secrets of the lives of teenage brides all across Marathwada and vidarbha, and the process promises to be interesting.

And nerve-wracking, and gut-wrenching, and sometimes-nauseating, and eye-opening. And sobering. Did I mention sobering?

So yesterday there was a girl in the list. Lets call her Kunti. Not because that’s a near (or far) approximation of her name, but because there are so many kuntis out there, staring at me from in between SPSS/STATA outputs, that its difficult to keep track of names…

Besides, I guess my apostate soul does take some vicarious pleasure in naming my representative MAG (Married Adolescent Girl, u ken?) after Indian mythology’s most famous teenage mom.

So kunti’s here, with details of her life, her background (farming, two room house), children (one- a boy), her deliveries, her abortions, her still births, her uterus, her vagina (no pain, no discharge, no ulcers), her menses (regular, three days), her views on wife-beating (its ok if the wife makes a mistake (like a long hair in the dal, f’r instance), but my mard doesn’t hit me, no sir- eyes suddenly cast down) on the 14-odd sheets in front of me.

Something was amiss in Kunti’s data. She is 16 now, its been two and a half years odd since she had gotten married. She has one kid now, so far so normal (yes, I did mean to use that word, so go figure), but she had become pregnant once before. Her son is just five months old, she’s just given him his third DPT/OPV immunisation shot a few weeks back. Her previous pregnancy had been a stillbirth or an abortion. But because the investigator had not been too careful in taking the answers, or perhaps had not checked the concordance of the girl’s response with the facts, both answers were reported in different parts of the questionnaire. We were stymied. Where do we put the previous pregnancy? So we did a little detecting work:

Her son was a full term delivery, and was 5 months old: she had turned 16 a short while back, about one month back. So lets say she was 14 years and 11 months when her son was conceived (5+9 months back; her age now about 16 years and one month). She got married when she was 13-and-a-half, and she conceived about 4-5 months after she got married, so lets say 13 years and 11 months? So was it a stillbirth, or an abortion? If it was a stillbirth and a full term, as one part of the questionnaire assured us, then that meant she gave birth when she was 14 years and 8 months. After this exhausting process, she got a break of abt 3 months before she conceived again.

Again, if it were an abortion, and induced, as the form assured us, why did she abort at all? If they were so keen to have a kid, then why did they abort the foetus at this stage? (note that I use “they” with care; abortion in a 13 year old girl married and living at her in-laws place is very unlikely to be primarily her own decision) It can’t have been concern for her health, as evinced by her almost immediate conception and successful delivery. Could it be that the stillbirth hypothesis was true?

“Well”, a colleague piped up, “what if the first foetus was a girl? Then they may have wanted it gotten rid of immediately, that would also explain the hurry to get pregnant soon.” It is to the credit of our cultural conditioning that noone questioned this possibility as being too absurd or macabre, but instead nodded in agreement and said that this is probably what happened, you’re right.

Yet there were detractors. An event like a stillbirth has a profound effect on the psyche of a girl; she would be unlikely to misreport such an event. It is more likely that the investigator would have reported it wrong, mistaking a stillbirth for an abortion. So stillbirth, thrown out the door, made a surreptitious re-entry through the window. There was less supplementary information about the abortion (how many months, where, etc), that sort of pointed to the possibility of a stillbirth.

I think it was at this point that one of us saw the precariousness of our discussion. We were calmly discussing figures, forgetting that kunti was standing at the other end of the column of numbers that detailed the inmates of her uterus over the last 2-and-a-half years. In case u didn’t know, dear reader, when a girl conceives, at the point of conception, her body stops growing physically. So there was kunti, forever stuck at 13 years and 11 months, spawning children through the next 10-odd years of her life, and then waiting to become a powerful mother-in-law or a proud grandmother, whichever came first (the first is for the sons, the second for daughters). Babies grow at more or less the same rate no matter how old the mom, perhaps better fed if they are known to be boys. So you have a 2.5 kilogram bawling mass of flesh and bone, all writhing limbs and bulbous head, pushing and straining at mom’s pussy, chin-to-breast, shoulders-at-right-angles…phew. Like pushing a desk out of your vagina, to quote Rachel from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Only, of course, that it’s a 14 year -old- cunt, innit? That’s when most girls in upper class urban India go to the ninth grade, think of what subjects to major in eventually, and argue with their parents about grunge music and the right to stay out after 8. Kunti, meanwhile, is busy, either lying on her back and getting laid by a 21 year old youth eager to experiment the moves he’s seen in the x-rated vcd he rented from his friend, and also to prove he’s a man by knocking up his bride before the year is over. And after his splattering ejaculate has impregnated her super-fertile uterus, there she is, nine months later, in roughly the same position, pushing desks, a la Rachel.

Then at 35-odd, there she is, a grand old woman, perhaps with a uterus so bruised and torn that she has a prolapse, or perhaps with a uterus removed by some kindly doctor who murmurs “youre done with it after all, we might as well knock it off” (please translate into vernacular), with such a world-weariness and brusqueness about the sex thing that her husband, scarce 7-9 years older than her, decides to seek it elsewhere, maybe in another wife, maybe with an accommodating lady in the village/next village/market town, or with one of his nieces/daughters in law.

Do you wonder why I feel a faint sense of revulsion and distaste when people swear by our old culture, and how the villages are pure and true, and how western influence and modernity has sullied our great heritage?

Then again, maybe I’m being melodramatic.

Amen.

marathwada on my mind

So here I am in Pachod, a tiny mofussil village on the border of Aurangabad and Jalna, on the highway to Beed, a mere 60 kms from the town of A’bad. I have been here for the past week-odd, trying to make sense of the first set of figures to come from the married teenagers that dot the villages in Marathwada and vidarbha.

For those who came in late, that means the areas to the south and centre of Maharashtra and to the east of Maharashtra. Think cotton farmers, think families eating poison like it were so much dessert, think myopic government policies and lower support prices, think evil sharad pawar (with the wax face that’s melting slowly around the edges and falling off) routing all taxpayers money (and irrigation water) to baramati, then maybe somewhere vidarbha will ring a bell.

Marathwada is worse. Considered by many maharashtrians to have the most patriarchal, parochial, claustrophobically chauvinistic society in the state, it is a fermenting petridish of teenager-marrying, wife-beating, son-loving, daughter-avoiding, hierarchy-ridden farmers: hard, silent men and women with leathery skins and squinty eyes staring into the blinding glare of the noonday sun. The terrain is harsh and unforgiving, the land dry and dusty, and everyday a struggle against the elements. I spent most of last summer roaming these arid lands, my mouth parched, my lips cracked, and the jeep I was travelling in as hot as an oven. Every time we stopped the vehicle, the heat would hit us like a furnace, the searing screaming wind whipping dry sand against our skin. It would hurt to even look out at the landscape, the light glinting off the naked black rocks, the dust storms in the distance emitting hot zephyrs across the distance, to reach you and suck the moisture out of ure body like so much fruit pulp from an alphonso mango.

Ok, bad metaphor, maybe that’s a cue for me to move on.

ahem.

Hello, everyone!

Every once in a while when penning a blog, there is this moment of great discomfiture, this moment of insecurity, when you wonder who your audience is, and what among your random musings it is that they read. Do they skip over the details and pay attention only to the titles and the first 40-odd words? Do they read your outpourings with the reverence that you have accorded them, or do they read, permit themselves a little smile, and move on in search of more grassy pastures to roam upon and to feed?

More importantly, is there a they at all?

So it is with a sense of self-consciousness that one begins the process of addressing, clearing one’s throat and muttering the syllables to oneself first before shouting it out to the still night air, to hear its echo bounce back across the ages.

You can be sure that I deliberated for quite some time over where the comma would be in my rather unhingedly bright salutation, and certainly cringed as I put the exclamation mark at the end, so cheery and how d’you?

Ugh. Definitely contrived. I feel as if I have a plastic smile and black mouse ears glued on my face, in a horrible parody of gaiety and bonhomie, when in reality I am all sweaty palms and mashed insides, my stomach host to brightly coloured, gossamer winged insects, twitching their probosces and dreaming of life in pupo.

Still, how are you, reader, and how have you been?

I have been away for a while, and in the splendidly self-obsessed presupposition of humans, I shall assume that you have been away as well. What’s good for the goose, is for the gander, etc etc, I guess.