By Girija Madhavan
Newspapers carried a story last year about film actor Tushar Kapoor, fathering a baby boy through a ‘surrogate’ mother. Now the media and even an ‘ad’ for butter reports that Karan Johar has become the father of boy and girl twins through a surrogate mother “who will always be in my prayers,” he avers.
I remember an instance of a surrogate child-birth in Delhi in 1995. Residents in high-rise buildings needed domestic labour. Soon “Jhuggis” or thatched hutments, came up in vacant sites nearby. Near our home lived families, many from the Salem district of Tamil Nadu huddled together. They needed courage to earn a living so far away, facing language problems and the Delhi winter. Sometimes, they were victims of an anti-encroachment drive, when their huts were torn down and they stood forlorn in the rubble.
Chellamma was one of those feisty women. She and her husband Muthusamy had worked their nomadic way up from the deep south. They had run an illegal Still in an area where liquor was prohibited. His sister was staying with them. Policemen who came to collect their “hafta” berated her: “Why don’t you help your sister-in-law by starting a brewery for her too?”
Chellamma made her home in the trans-Jamuna area of Mayur Vihar in Delhi. Muthusamy worked as a mason while Chellamma found household jobs in the apartments sweeping, swabbing and washing pots, pans and clothes. People liked her as she was honest and diligent.
She came to work with us too. A plump woman, quick to smile and ready with sharp retorts, she was a strong personality. But there was an unfathomable sadness in her eyes, a pensive look on her face at times. One day she asked for leave to go home to Salem after many years. I missed her and was happy to see her when she came back. I saw behind her a slight girl, eyes demurely downcast. Chellamma said that the girl would help her with domestic chores. “What name?” I asked.“You can call her Chinna Ponnu” [Small Girl], she replied. The girl’s real name was Papathi, but locally she was only known as Chinna Ponnu. A Tamil friend teased Chellamma, calling her “Peria Ponnu” or “Big Girl.”
She had no children, neither prayers nor medical procedures had helped. Seeing small kids laughing and playing, tugged at her heart as she went home to her silent house. “I decided one day that there must be a child in this house,” she said. She and Muthusamy went down to Salem to work out a solution.
Adoption was not feasible. They knew of a poor couple in their native village, whose young daughter Papathi was facing marital problems. The parents were in debt to fund her wedding. The groom turned out to be alcoholic sadist who often beat his wife. Papathi was desperate to escape the torture. Chellamma made the proposal that Papathi should come away to Delhi and live with them. She would be Muthusamy’s second wife and bear his children. Chellamma herself would no longer live with her husband.
The two women seemed to get along well. One day Papathi whispered to me, “In our home we treat Akka like a Goddess.” Later Chellamma gave up all her jobs to stay at home in anticipation of the long-awaited arrival of the baby.
I got news of the birth from her neighbour. She saw Chellamma rocking an infant to sleep. It was a girl child. The woman asked Chellamma whom the baby looked like and she answered sharply, “Naturally she looks like me”!