Who will play with the dolls?

“Mangoes? Check. Saffron threads? Check. Turmeric balls? Check. Kohl? Check. Sandalwood bars?…where are the sandalwood bars? Listen…..!”

“I’m here, in the backyard.”

Mahalakshmi could not contain her excitement. Her younger son’s wife was pregnant. For two generations there have been no daughters in the Kondavalli household. Her elder son has two sons. Her husband Kondavalli Prasad Reddy’s brothers have sons too and their children are again sons. Mahalakshmi hopes that her wishes and fancies to dress up a little girl in colourful lehengas, a variety of hairdos and jewellery shall come true. She has already pictured her imaginary granddaughter’s wedding and her children too. She pestered her husband and filled a room full of dolls, soft toys, pink coloured floral dresses and a kitchen set that had miniature sized stove, utensils, plates and tumblers. She got a cradle prepared with a special teak wood that came from Karnataka.

She rummaged through the shelves and all the shopping bags. Frowning and muttering under her breath, she scurried towards the backyard. Her husband had a keen interest in gardening. Taking care of the saplings had become his full-time occupation after retirement. He prepares his own manure by laying a vermicompost pit. Mahalakshmi hated the sight of the worms which added to her frustration. Her anger was very evident in the pitch of her voice.

“Reddy garu, where are the sandalwood bars I bought near Govinda Raju Swamy’s temple? You know how costly they are? 600 Rs per kilo! Where have you misplaced them?”

“Your age is acting up Mahalakshmi. These days you can’t remember anything. You refused to buy them because they were costly. We never bought them.”

“Oh yes, I remember now.” she says still trying to recall. “What are you doing with those disgusting worms? Chinnabbai and Chinnakodalu must be on their way. Fresh up and change your panche.”

“All good things are not pleasant to the eyes. You will never understand the importance of natural things.” muttering in an undertone, he slowly folded up his panche and walked into the house.


 

Krishna and Radha were on their way in their car to visit the elder couple. Radha lost her mother to cancer many years ago. Her growing years were mostly dominated by the presence of her aunts and uncles. Her father was a man of few words and a total workaholic. She missed her mother the most during this crucial period. Lately, she has been worried about two things- the delivery of the baby and her job. Everyone in the family wanted her to quit her job. It had been her lifetime ambition to become a game developer. She was working on a project which created gender neutral video games for children. She had already rejected two onsite offers due to objections from her husband and in-laws. She was not very fond of her mother-in-law. Krishna insists on leaving Radha with his parents until delivery. After all, they didn’t have much of a choice.

“You know how excited amma is? She must be the only mother-in-law who wants a granddaughter. Ha ha..” Krishna joked with Radha while driving on a busy road.

“There’s nothing progressive in that Krishna.” said Radha a little annoyed by his boastfulness. “ In your house, typically a son is brought up like a son and daughter is brought up like a daughter.”

“Well, it’s the same in every house, isn’t it?” Krishna was sensing Radha’s discomfort on the mention of his mother.

“If it is going to be a girl all of you will kill her happiness with your over-protectiveness.” Radha retorted with a frown on her face.

“Kill her happiness? Why would we do that? She will grow up like a princess! She will be the most loved.” Krishna tried to cheer her up.

“And also the most restricted.” Radha was not impressed with Krishna’s explanation. Or rather Krishna could not guess the exact reason behind her agitated mood. The rest of the journey went by silently. Radha fell asleep in her seat.


 

Four months later, to everyone’s disappointment, Radha gave birth to a baby boy. Mahalakshmi was depressed for many days. Slowly she started throwing tantrums on Radha for trivial reasons. Radha had expected her in-laws to take care of her child while she continued to work. All her female colleagues got enough help from their parents and in-laws. But, after disappointing her mother-in-law she was not sure if she could keep her job anymore. Krishna had asked her twice in the past twenty days about her resignation.

“We spent so much money on decorating the room with the dolls. Now who will play with the dolls? I have been so fed up of seeing those cars, toy trucks and guns all over in the house.” Mahalakshmi could not stop grumbling.

Amma, I didn’t know you hated me and anna so much.  We’ll leave in the evening to our house.” Krishna was fed up with his mother’s constant muttering since many days.

“Stop your drama both of you”. “Radha, you don’t take anything to heart, these people are a little obsessed with wanting a girl, you both still have a chance and the room full of dolls will be there till then.” Reddy garu tried to lighten up everyone with a smile on his face.

“The wait is never going to end”. “Both of you should go back now. Radha is going to resign anyway. She can take care of the child by herself. When you have a girl, she will grow up in my care and love.” Mahalakshmi sounded mean and kind at the same time. Radha almost lost her cool.

Athamma, my son will play with the dolls and I will keep my job. My husband and I are not having another child. I don’t want anybody to interfere in my decisions from here on.” Radha declared in a loud rebellious tone leaving Krishna surprised and Mahalakshmi shocked.

“A boy playing with dolls?” questioned Reddy.

“All good things are not pleasant to the eyes Mamayya.” Radha had finally turned around things for herself and her child.

Glossary:
garu-suffix for respect in telugu
anna-brother
amma-mother
panche-doti
Chinnabbai-younger son
Chinnakodalu- younger daughter-in-law
Athamma-mother-in-law
Mamayya-father-in-law

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