Shalini Ranjan



Shalini Ranjan


The Empty Cradle - Part 1

The Empty Cradle - Part 1

13 mins 733 13 mins 733

The red file.

Ever since Pragya had come back from the hospital yesterday, it had been lying in front of her. It had been there, even as she woke up early morning and got busy with her household chores. Theirs was a big family with a prestigious name in the society. Three years of marriage and two miscarriages later, her routine had been the same viz. take care of everyone and manage the household. Her husband hardly ever had time for her. He had been too busy taking care of his business to notice his wife. Pragya had not bothered much. She had dutifully busied herself in the role of a homemaker.

And then she came upon the red file.

She knew the family had been craving for a baby. Secretly, she too wished to be a mother. And after trying for nearly a year with no success, she had visited the hospital last week to get a checkup done. It was only yesterday that she got the results. It was bound neatly in a red file and ever since she came home yesterday, she had been dreading to open it.

But she could not dodge it anymore.

After serving lunch to everyone, Pragya retired to her room for a catnap. But sleep was the last thing on her mind. She quickly bolted the door and fetched the file from the cupboard. For a moment, she stared at it blankly.

How could a piece of paper had so much power to seal her fate? She caressed her fingers over her name. It read ‘Pragya Mathur’ in bold letters. With a sigh, she remembered the days which led to her marriage to one of the most eligible bachelor in town.

Pragya had lost her father at a very young age. It was with sheer hard work that her mother, Gayatri Devi had brought up her two daughters. Their small family of three had been overjoyed when Pragya was hired by the Arion Consulting as a junior copywriter. Her work required her to seldom cross paths with the founder and CEO, Mr. Rajiv Mathur. She never looked up from her work and even her coffee breaks were restricted to small talks with her colleagues. Even though Rajiv was famous for his bachelorhood status and had girls flocking around him, Pragya always regarded him high for his work ethics and no-nonsense attitude.

That is why she was in for a surprise when the eldest of the Mathur family, Shobha Mathur came to her house with a marriage proposal for her grandson. Garima, who could not believe her stars for getting such a prospective groom left no stone unturned in telling Pragya how lucky she is. So, even though Pragya was reluctant to marry at the age of twenty-two, she wanted to make her mother happy. During the subsequent visits of the Mathur’s, Rajiv had accompanied them and, on his sister - Anjali’s insistence, the family had left the couple alone to talk and get to know each other better.

“Do you want to ask me anything?” Rajiv had broken the initial awkwardness that was looming in front of them. Pragya had instantly looked up and regretted the very next moment. He had been looking at her intently and she felt the heat rise up in her cheeks. She had shyly nodded her head in negative.

“Are you sure?” he had persisted, “I mean, I know everything about you; have seen you at work for the last one and a half years.”

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” she spoke in a low voice.

“Not really. For me, my work and my family always come first. I am a simple man and it should not be hard to keep me happy.”

In her naivety, Pragya had felt extremely pleased at his forthrightness and counted herself fortunate to have found such a mature person as her life partner.

“I will try my best,” she had murmured.

It was only much later that she reflected on that conversation and wondered why Rajiv had not thought about her happiness… won't it be his duty to keep her happy as well? But by then, they had already been engaged and the marriage was just around the corner.

She had been a bundle of nerves during her first night after marriage. She didn’t know what to expect of her husband. True, she had known him briefly when she was working for him. However that was on a professional level. Now as she sat in his bedroom, decked up in her wedding attire, she wasn’t sure how Rajiv would be. Maybe he will be willing to wait until they get to know each other better, until they fall in love. Maybe he will whisper how much he had liked her and confess his feelings. Her heart fluttered like a teenager, which she was for the lack of any kind of experience that her sheltered grooming allowed.

She didn’t have to wait much longer, for Rajiv had entered shortly after and bolted the door. He placed himself next to her on the bed. Pragya shivered inwardly when he held her hand. Maybe he was looking at her. Maybe he expected her to say something, and so Pragya spoke.

“Rajiv ji,” she said in a whisper, although it felt a little weird to address him like that. She was used to calling him sir, just like the rest of the team in Arion Consulting. “I am too tired.”

“Of course. You should change,” he got up and stepped away, “Change into comfortable clothes.”

“Thank you,” she muttered and thanked her stars again for getting such an understanding companion for life. But just when she was removing her ornaments, she felt a tug on her dupatta. She looked up in the mirror. It was Rajiv. He was standing behind her, too close and she could smell the cologne on his sherwani.

“I thought you could use some help,” he spoke as he removed the flowers from her hair, feeling the silky texture, breathing in her scent. With a tug on the dupatta, he pulled it apart in a jiffy. Before Pragya could cover herself up, he had turned her around effortlessly and held her by putting his arms around her bare waist.

“Rajiv ji, I thought…” Suddenly Pragya felt too overwhelmed to speak. She wanted him to stop, to give her time to adjust, but Rajiv appeared to have different ideas. She felt the hardness of his body pressed against her.

“Shh. Don’t think Pragya. Let it happen.”

“But I wanted us to understand each other first.” And to fall in love, her mind silently added.

“And we would have our whole lives for that. But tonight, I want you.” Rajiv uttered solemnly. Then without allowing Pragya to protest, he had lifted her to the bed and switched off the lights. The darkness in the room seemed to mirror her innocent heart, for she felt empty at the moment. She didn’t stand a chance against his strength. So, she simply shrieked in pain as she helplessly laid on the bed while Rajiv claimed her effortlessly.

The ringing phone broke Pragya’s chain of thoughts. She saw her mother’s name flashing on her iPhone. She cut the call instantly. She knew why her mother was calling at this time of the day. But she wanted to collect herself together before she opened the red file.

The report was full of medical jargons and some black and white scans. Pragya breezed through it after shooting a cursory glance. It was the final summary page she was interested in. As she read, a film of tears welled up in her eyes. It was her worst fears coming true. With a shaking hand she dialed her mother.

“Pragya bitiya! What did the doctors say? Everything is alright, isn’t it?” Garima jumped straight into questioning her.

“Amma,” she sobbed through the words, unable to form any coherent thought at the moment, “Everything is over.”

“Why are you saying like this Pragya? What did the doctors say to you?”

“The report says that I suffer from polycystic ovaries and it is near to impossible for me to carry a baby in my uterus,” she spoke, “What will happen now amma? What will Rajiv ji say?”

“No Pragya! You will not tell any of this to your family there. Let me think of something.”

“What are you saying amma? How can I hide such a big thing from them? They are anyway wondering why I am not pregnant. They will find out sooner or later.”

“I said no! You don’t know how Rajiv will react after hearing this. If he decides to divorce you, where will you go? At least think of your sister. Who will marry her knowing that her elder sister is infertile?”


“Look Pragya,” Garima breathed in deeply, thinking quickly, “Let me think of a way out of this mess. Give me a couple of days.”

“Someone is calling me amma. I will talk to you later,” she feigned an excuse to cut the call and forced herself to stay still. She felt hurt. She hadn’t thought of her mother to be so insensitive to her. But who was she kidding? Ever since she got married, Pragya felt her mother had changed. It was as if she was just a responsibility to her which she had gladly fended off by getting her married.

Pragya rested on the couch, with her eyes closed. She recalled how it had been during the initial days of her marriage, in fact her very first morning with her husband.

She had woken up feeling a dull pain in her abdomen. Rajiv was not in bed. Perhaps he will surprise her with an apology for his behavior last night, she thought grimly as she proceeded to freshen up.

But sadly, neither did an apology had come from her husband nor did she receive any surprise. She spent the day greeting their relatives and seeking their blessings. Even her office colleagues had visited and they had gushed about how lucky she was that Rajiv chose her as his life partner. Pragya felt anything but lucky at the moment. She occasionally saw Rajiv but they hardly spoke anything in front of the guests. It was soon night. With a dread Pragya went to her room.

Maybe now he will speak to her and apologize.

Well, Rajiv did speak to her, but it was not quite what Pragya had been expecting. He had again creeped up from behind and gathered her in his arms when she was removing her jewelry.

“Let the earrings be there Pragya,” he turned her around, “You look beautiful in them.”

“Rajiv ji please. Not tonight,” she spoke softly, “it was very painful.”

“Don’t worry. It will stop hurting,” he replied pulling the strings holding her blouse and letting his hands roam on her bare back, “I promise to be gentle.”

Her heart had stopped beating. Her lungs refused to make the necessary moves to suck in air. Every function in her body stilled. Waited. Then Rajiv’s lips covered hers.

She didn't know what she'd expected, perhaps a tentative brushing of lips, or a tender kiss. But she wasn't prepared for the sure, confident way his lips found hers and trailed the way to her ears. He stroked down her neck, tracing the bare skin of her collarbone. It was like an electric shock down her body.

Liar, Pragya thought to herself as Rajiv switched off the lights and claimed her again. As he lay spent on the bed after making love to her, Pragya decided that she could not suffer silently. The next morning, she had called her mother and complained to her about everything that had happened, how Rajiv had forced her despite her refusal.

“Listen Pragya,” Garima had spoken in a stern voice, “He is your husband. It is his right. If he won’t make love to you, then where would he go? And as it is, we are lucky that such a good family had wanted you as their daughter-in- law. Listen to me and stop fussing around for trivial things. At least he is not beating you or anything.”

And that had silenced Pragya. She once expressed her desire to resume her work, but Rajiv had out rightly refused saying that Mathur women don’t work for anyone else. And that had been it. She accepted her destiny and stopped questioning anything. But unlike Rajiv, his family was very loving. They took care of her and looked after her needs, even though her husband hardly had time for her.

She had soon found herself pregnant. The family had been overjoyed. However her happiness was short lived. She suffered a miscarriage after the doctors could not detect a heartbeat. Rajiv had been nonchalant in those days, saying he was anyway not ready for a baby. However after one year, she had conceived again. This time everyone took care of her, including her husband. He started spending more time with her and took her to her favorite restaurants. Pragya started staying happier. Maybe this baby would bring them closer, she thought to herself secretly.

However, destiny had other plans for her. Everything changed when she lost her balance and slipped on the stairs in the eighth month of her pregnancy. She had lost the baby. And this time, it took a toll on her health and their relationship as well. Rajiv started staying aloof and busied himself in his work. And it had been a year since then.

“Bhabhi, tea is ready. Come downstairs.”

Pragya got up from the couch and went to the bathroom to freshen herself. She could not go downstairs with a tear-stricken face. Whatever be the things in their bedroom, she had always kept the appearance of a happy wife in front of the family.

As she sipped coffee and picked at the snacks, Pragya wondered how the rest of the world looks so happy and carefree when her own has shattered to pieces. She put up a happy face and waited for her husband to return from work. She was determined to talk to him face to face, whatever it may take.

It was past dinner time when Rajiv came home. She offered him coffee as soon as he had freshened up. As was the usual routine, Rajiv opened his laptop and seated himself on the couch, but Pragya stood in front of him awkwardly. When he didn’t take notice, she called out to him softly.

“Rajiv ji?”

“Hmm,” he spoke, while still tapping furiously at the keys of his laptop.

“I need to talk to you.”

“About what?” he asked absent-mindedly.

“Can I please get your five minutes of attention?”

“Yes, tell me.” He had stopped typing but still was perhaps going through his emails.

She put up a brave face and closed the flap of his laptop.

“What the hell!” Rajiv, who was not used to such brazen attitude of his wife was taken aback. He clutched the laptop angrily and looked at her.

“This is important,” Pragya said and handed him the red file.

“What is this?’

“I had a checkup done at the hospital. This is my report.”

His expressions guarded, Rajiv moved the laptop away. Her iPhone rang once. They both looked at it. Silence stretched between them. Then it rang two more times.

“What does it say Pragya?”

She had wanted her husband’s attention all this time and now when she had it, Pragya didn’t know how to proceed. She closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Adding an extra punch in her voice, she spoke.

“It says that I unfit to be pregnant again. I can’t give you children.”

There, she had said it. She felt at ease, as if a heavy weight had lifted off her shoulders. Now Rajiv could take whatever decision he wanted to. There was hardly any love in their marriage. If he wished to divorce her or wanted her to leave from his life; well, then…

She put a break on her thoughts and stared at Rajiv. He was looking at her, probably cold with shock.

Then he let out a long drawn sigh, “And?”

To be continued...

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