Shweta is pregnant after years of issues with infertility. Her husband, Rahul, and his parents force her to consult a doctor who will illegally reveal the gender of the child. When Rahul finds out their child’s gender, Shweta faces a harsh choice–should she save her marriage or her child? Meanwhile, the unborn child hears a voice resonate within.
She asks–who are you?
Child, I am God, comes the reply, and a conversation begins.
With elements of magical realism, this poignant novel is an unflinching portrayal of a woman’s innermost struggles in her journey to break free.
"A poignant, gripping read that brings to light the sad reality that gender-biased sex selection is still prevalent in many parts of our society. A story also of hope that with support, education and courage, as Shweta and her unborn child found, often through dialogues with each other, real change is possible and true equality will hopefully prevail, where the gender scale is not tipped in either direction, neither favouring boys nor girls, but balanced. After all every child is unique and special."
- Tara Sharma Saluja, Actress, Entrepreneur, Creator Co-Producer and Host of The Tara Sharma Show and a Devoted Mum
"Through a conversation between the divine and the unborn, Rupangi Sharma’s debut novel touches your heart, while raising important questions about gender violence that begins right at the womb. A compelling read."
- Kiran Manral, Award-winning, Bestselling Author
"To think that a book like this needs to be written, on the subject of gender inequality, in these so-called modern times, is a sad reflection on our society. The author has done so with such tenderness and truth, that it will resonate with every reader, male or female. An enthralling read."
- Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, Veteran Actress, Director, and Producer
"A young girl's desire to protect her unborn girl against a boys-only-culture makes this novel difficult and delightful. ‘What if it’s not a boy…’ simple words that like a dragon breathe fierce fire in this novel about families like ours."
- Deepa Narayan, TED Speaker and author of the revolutionary book, Chup
An Excerpt from Chapter 1 - A Life of My Own
The heat in the kitchen felt oppressive. Shweta stood wiping the sweat off her brow, mixing the vegetables. It made her feel nauseous and frustrated, but she couldn’t take a break from cooking. Rahul would be home any minute, and he liked the food to be laid out piping hot on the table.
Her mind was echoing a question she couldn’t ignore anymore. What if the baby growing inside me isn’t a boy?
She pressed her aching temples. It all seemed so meaningless to her. What mattered to her was that someone was growing within her, her someone. She smiled as she patted her stomach. Whenever her in-laws had spoken about their dream to be grandparents, her mother-in-law had always added that a cute grandson would be perfect. It was as if they were collecting a set of toys, and they could choose whether they wanted a Barbie or Ken.
Rahul remained quiet when his mother spoke of her desire to have a grandson. That’s why she hadn’t paid any attention to these comments all along.
She remembered how Rahul had reacted last week when she had told him that she was pregnant. ‘We are going to have a baby,’ she had gushed, rushing to open the bathroom door after taking the pregnancy test. He had looked at her and asked, ‘Really? How can you be so sure?’
They had been trying for a baby ever since their first year of marriage. Then they had found out to everyone’s woeful dismay that she had fertility issues—something called endometriosis. The doctor had categorically stated that it would be challenging for them to conceive a child. They frantically sought multiple opinions but were always met with the same metallic response. They had tried many times to conceive naturally and later through IVF, but every attempt had turned out to be unsuccessful. Rahul’s disbelief had a dull ring to it like it was the truth.
The bell chimed. She wiped her forehead and went to open the door. He stood there with a distant look in his eyes. He walked in and placed his bag on the nearest chair in a single, careless movement. ‘I hope food’s ready,’ he said and went into their bedroom without waiting for her to reply.
She started laying the table. She brought out the casseroles, the plates, and spoons and set them on the table in proper order. She called out to Rahul, letting him know that dinner was ready and then sat down, waiting for him to join her. When he came to the table, she asked a few questions about how his day had been, and he answered in monosyllables. Her mind grew uneasy.
‘I went to the gynaecologist today. She said that I’m already twelve weeks along. I saw the growing baby move during the ultrasound the doctor took. I heard the heartbeat, too. We’re going to have a child, Rahul. Isn’t that exciting?’ she said.
‘It is,’ he said, smiling as he took another helping of dal.
‘I was thinking about how Mummyji always talks to us about having a grandson. What if it is a girl?’ she asked.
‘It will be a boy.’
The finality in his voice rekindled her fears. Scared of what she would hear him say next, she stopped herself from asking any more questions.
After dinner, they settled inside the bedroom. Shweta looked at him, her gaze following his movements, watching him as he unbuttoned his shirt and walked into the bathroom to change. He completely ignored her presence in the room. Theirs was not the comfortable silence of a couple in love, she thought. She stared intently at the pattern on the bedsheet. For a moment, she immersed herself in its vivid colours, its swirling shades of deep red and blue. Why couldn’t she see their beauty? Why did she feel so blank and strained of strength?
She felt overcome with a sense of disappointment, an ache in her heart to which she had become accustomed. She had been married for six years, but there were only a few moments of happiness that she could remember. He had lived up to none of the promises he had made to her.
She thought about the first time they had met. In search of a suitable bride, he had come to her house along with his parents. Ma had found out about him through distant relatives. Their relatives had said he worked with a large MNC as a chartered accountant. They mentioned his age was 27 years old and confirmed that he had a good family background. Ma had nodded her head, muttering her approval.
As she had walked into the living room where he sat, her 23-year-old self had felt little butterflies in her stomach, a shy smile lighting up her face. She had been anxious to meet him; the much talked about Mr. Rahul Kumar. She had worn her favorite green salwar kameez embroidered on the edges with silver. He was wearing a black suit with a blue, checkered tie. She remembered her first glimpse of him. She had thought he looked as handsome as he did in the photographs his parents had sent to Ma. He had deep-set brown eyes, a strong jaw, and soft dark brown hair.
When they spoke alone later, he had held her hand and said, ‘I will give you all that I am capable of giving.’ He had caught a twirl of her hair that had broken loose and tucked it behind her ear. It was at that moment that she had thought he would take care of her. She had believed his every word. Now, here they were. Undeniably, the only time she had been happy was before the marriage took place.
She forced herself not to think about their sex life. After all, wasn’t that his right as her husband to pleasure himself with her body? It was one of the duties of a good wife. She had read online about orgasms, but she had never experienced one. When he was inside her, she felt like he used her body as an escape.
Before Rahul rolled into bed beside her, she sent a text to her mother.
Ma, I have some exciting news for you, it read.
She had decided to wait until her doctor confirmed her pregnancy before breaking the news to her family. She thought of how far away Ma was, all the way in Delhi. Ma lived with Shweta’s younger brother, Varun, and his wife, Sonam. When Varun’s job had required them to transfer, they had shifted to Delhi from Mumbai. She put the phone aside and gestured to Rahul to put the lights off. She felt drawn to the edge of weariness. Her eyes closed as she fell asleep.
She was walking in a dark room that seemed to have no end. Her face scrunched up in fear. She trudged on in the darkness, measuring each step. She had to feel her way ahead. She put her hands out and tried to grope around, but all she caught in her hands were fistfuls of nothing. She sobbed and crumpled down on the floor.
‘Where am I?’ she said, but her voice did not have an echo. She buried her face in her hands. Her thoughts merged and crashed into each other. She didn’t know what was going to happen. She didn’t know if she had the strength to take it. She lay on the floor for a long time with her eyes screwed shut and her head in her hands.
At some point, she felt a change in the temperature. It felt warmer. A vision formed in front of her. It was a vision of light, full of vibrant colours. The rainbow of colours soothed her, and the last of her troubling thoughts evaporated. She felt a gentle presence within. And then everything blacked out. She smiled as peace descended over her.
She was smiling when she woke up and then she realized that Rahul was already awake. She gathered herself. It was time to get his things ready for office. His tiffin had to be fresh and hot. She stood up and got to work.
It was dark, warm, and slushy.
All of a sudden, everything was shaking. Tiny trembles of pleasure tickled the child, and it jumped up and down in pure bliss.
What was happening?
As the waves of joy receded, the child felt restless.
What were those little trembles that it had felt? What was this place?
- You felt happiness, my child.
The child was alert at once. What was that sound? It did not understand the words. They seemed to resonate from within its being.
- Fear not, my child. You were feeling happy.
There it was again. This time the child understood the sound and what the voice was saying.
- I am here to answer your questions.
The reverberations comforted the child, and it felt calm. Then, the child asked its first question, the first of many.
Where am I?
- You are in your mother’s womb. You will be born into the world soon.
It tried to comprehend what this meant, but could not entirely understand. It was troubled with too many questions.
- Calm down, my child. You will understand everything in time.
Who are you?
- They call me God.