Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Best of Both Worlds - a short story by Vikram Karve


(a short story)



A middle aged woman watches the sun set from the balcony of her tenth floor flat of one of those ubiquitous residential “townships” rapidly sprawling and proliferating around the once remote suburb of Aundh on the outskirts of the once beautiful and picturesque city of Pune in western India. The doorbell rings. It’s her husband back home from work. He’s tired and aching all over after the long bone-rattling, back-breaking and lung-choking commute on the terrible roads and in the polluted atmosphere.

“Good news,” his wife says exuberantly, giving him his customary cup of tea.

“What?” the husband asks nonchalantly, carefully pouring the precise amount of tea from the cup into the saucer and lifting the saucer to his lips to enjoy his tea in his usual habitual manner.

“Nalini is pregnant,” the wife exults.

“At long last! I’m so glad she found time from her busy schedule,” the husband comments acerbically and noisily sips his tea in his customary style.

“Don’t be sarcastic. She’s a career woman. Aren’t you happy?”

“Of course I’m happy. I’m over 50 now – it’s high time I became a grandfather.”

“I’ll have to go?”


“For her delivery.”

“To Seattle?”

“Yes. Her due date is sometime in November. I better go as early as possible, maybe in September. Poor thing, it’s her first child. You better get the visas and all ready well in time. Nalini wants me to stay for at least three-four months after her delivery.”

“Three-four months after her delivery? So you’ll be away for nearly six months.”

“Yes. I’m her mother and I have to be there to help her. It’s her first delivery. And that too in America!”

“What about me?”

“You also come and help out.”

“I won’t get six months’ leave.”

“Come for a month. To see the baby. In December.”

“I’ll see. But I don’t like it there. It’s too cold.”

“Then stay here.”

“I wish we hadn’t shifted from Sadashiv Peth.”

“Why? Isn’t this lovely apartment better than those two horrible rented rooms we had? And it’s all thanks to Nalini.”

“I know. I know. Don’t rub it in. But sometimes I wish we hadn’t pushed her into IT. We should have let her study arts, history, literature – whatever she wanted to.”

“And it would have been difficult to find a decent boy for her and she would be languishing like an ordinary housewife with no future; slogging away throughout her life like me.”

“And we would be still staying in the heart of the city and not in the wilderness out here. And you wouldn’t have to go all the way to America!”

“Don’t change the topic.”

“I’m not,” says the husband firmly. “You are not going for Nalini’s delivery to America. Let them, she and her husband, manage on her own.”

“But why? She is sending the ticket.”

“It’s not the money. The fact is I don’t want to stay all alone at this age; it’s difficult. And in this godforsaken place full of snobs I don’t even have any friends.”

“Try to understand. I have to be there. It’s her first delivery.”

“Tell me one thing.”


“Don’t American women have babies?”

“Yes. Of course they do.”

“And do they always have their mothers around pampering them during their deliveries? And then mollycoddling their babies for the next few months, maybe even a year?”

“I don’t know,” she said evading an answer, “for them it’s different.”


“Our kobra girls are najuk.


“Delicate. Fragile.”

“Nonsense. They are as tough as any one else. It’s all in the mind. It’s only our mindset that’s different.”

“What do you mean?”

“Thousands of women who have migrated from all over the world are delivering babies in America every day, but it’s only our girls who can’t do without their mothers around, is it?”

“Don’t argue with me. It’s our culture, tradition. A daughter’s first delivery is her mother’s responsibility.”

“Culture? Tradition? What nonsense! It’s not culture. It’s attitude! Our people may have physically migrated to America, but their mental make-up hasn’t changed, isn’t it?”

“Please stop your lecturing. I’m fed up of hearing…” the wife pleads.

The husband continues as if he hasn’t heard her, “What they require is attitudinal change and to stop their double standards. Nonsense! Nobody forced them to go to America! They went there on their own and it’s high time they adopt the American way of life instead of clinging on to roots and values they themselves cast off…”

“Please. Please. Please. Enough! I beg of you. Don’t argue. Just let me go.”

“No. I can’t stay alone for six months. Why should I?”

“Try to understand. I’ve told you a hundred times. It’s our only daughter’s first delivery. I have to be there.”

“Okay. Tell her to come here.”


“Yes. Here. We’ll do her delivery right here in Pune. We’ll go to the best maternity hospital and then you can keep her here as long as you want. She’ll be comfortable, the weather will be good and you can pamper her and her baby to your heart’s content.”


“What do you mean ‘No’? You went to your mother’s place for your deliveries isn’t it? And came back after the babies were more than three months old.”

“That was different. I wasn’t working.”

“Oh. It’s about her job is it? I’m sure they have maternity leave out there. She can take a break. And if she wants to go back early we’ll look after the kid for a couple of months and then I’ll take leave and we’ll both go and drop him there.”

The wife says nothing.

“Give me the phone. I’ll ring her up and tell her to come here as early as possible. I’ll convince her she will be more comfortable here,” the husband says.

“I’ve already spoken to her,” the wife says.


“She wants the baby to be born there. Something about citizenship.”

“So that’s it,” the husband says, “She wants the best of both worlds, isn’t it?”


Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

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