“Why don’t you wear make-up when you are married?” Kajal asked me.
“Just like that.”
“I don’t want to get married, but for the make-up. I love it but Amma says don’t touch it till you get married,” she replied.Kajal is 13 and has just taken her Class 7 exams in Anangpur village, Faridabad.
“I don’t know what to do with these chicken pox marks,” she pointed to the small dried blisters on her face. She is still convalescing. “What should I put on my face to get rid of them?”
“They will go slowly. Give it some time.”
“But if they don’t go, I will have to put on make-up to hide them, no? Amma won't let me. Everyone now tells me that with these marks, no one will ever want to marry me but who wants to...”
“What's the reason for that?”
“What didi! As if you don’t know,” she said, with an irritation in her voice but a smile on her face.
“No. How would I? Didn’t I tell you I am married. What mistake did I commit?” I teased her.
“Oh! Yes. That is a complication,” I agreed.
“Who is your favourite actress? I like Katrina Kaif. Her face is so clear, no?”
“Yes.” I smiled.
Kajal and I were having this conversation while she was taking me to Anita’s house in the village. Anita is an anganwadi worker.
While we were settling in the house, Kajal sat in one corner and asked me to sit in another. Anita and Pushpa, the two anganwadi behenjis, sat in the middle.
“What happened with her mother was very wrong," Anita said. "It is the doctors who are careless and we have to suffer the consequences.”She was referring to Kajal’s mother Santosh and her failed tubectomy at the government-run BK Hospital in Faridabad.
“She was also told to not go near the husband a week before the surgery,” Pushpa added.
“You are right. But when do the husbands listen? When they want to do it, they do it. Who can stop them,” Anita replied.
“True. But then she should have said that she went near the husband,” reasoned Pushpa.
“They are so desperate to get the operation done that they don’t want to delay it. So they don’t tell usually,” said Anita.
“Hmm. And the doctor should have found out whether she is pregnant or not before the surgery,” Pushpa said.
Kajal, meanwhile, was staring at the ceiling. I turned to look at her. “Have some biscuits, Kajal,” Anita extended the plate to her. Kajal was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be acknowledged in the middle of this conversation.
Anita and Pushpa were discussing how Anmol, Kajal’s youngest sister was conceived in the middle of Santosh’s tubectomy operation. She was born eight months after her sterilisation. Santosh had filed a complaint and asked for compensation, but the Gujjars in the village opposed it. Santosh is a Jatav from the Dalit community.
On our way back to her house, I asked Kajal, “So these are the conversations that bug you?”
“Yes. I don’t want to listen to all this.”
“I am tired of listening to what Amma and Papa do. How I was born and how Anmol was born,” she replied, anger in her tone.
It reminded me of the time when I had discovered that there was more to my parents than meets the eye. I was seven- or eight-years-old and I could not believe my parents did "dirty" things. For days on end, I insisted on sleeping between them. I don’t know if the anger in Kajal’s tone was for the same reasons.
At home, she emptied a yellow plastic bag to show me the documents for Santosh’s sterilisation procedure. “Amma did not have her periods for two months after the surgery. That is when she discovered that she is pregnant,” she said and paused. “Now, Amma locks the room from inside while sleeping in the room.”
Kajal is the one who has organised all her mother’s papers since Santosh is illiterate.
They live in a one room house. Her father Sant Lal sleeps outside. “He does not listen at all. Drinks a lot. One day, he got on top of amma when she was pregnant. I pretended to stay asleep,” she said.
I didn’t tell anyone except my best friend in school. She started explaining to me what they were doing. I said, “What will you tell me. I know it all. How kids are born and how to stop them from being born too.’”
“So you know how to fix make-up and make the children problem go away,” I said, playfully.
“Uff, didi. You got caught, so you want all girls to get caught?” she grinned.
I was embarrassed and ashamed. I answered, “Sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
“And Katrina Kaif is also unmarried but she wears make up,” she added.
“Also, I don’t like men. Amma told me to stay away from them when I started having my periods. “I told her, Don’t worry, I am not like you.’”
“But she is not the only one responsible.”
“That is why I will neither get married nor do these dirty things with anyone. As far as make-up is concerned, I will start a beauty parlour when I grow up and allow all married and unmarried girls to wear it on their faces.”