A lady of leisure, Leela spent most of her time reading novels and literary magazines. She sat on the terrace, gazing at the white sailboats in the sapphire waters of Bay of Bengal, drying her long, lustrous hair in the bright sunshine, bantering with her sisters-in-law. Leela never went downstairs for breakfast until after nine in the morning—she needed her beauty sleep. When she did arrive, in a crisp cotton sari and her hair neatly braided, she was usually greeted by one her giggling sisters-in-laws. “What! Ho! Leela, another late night, huh? Poor thing. You must be worn out after all that…”
Leela was not unaware of her mother-in-law’s consternation. That she failed to get pregnant. That she failed to produce an heir. Even after four years of marriage. That she might be barren or something. That the clan might not progress beyond the eldest son.
Seeking divine intervention, the matriarch dragged Leela to a few famous temples in the South to pray for a child. Astrologers and purohits, seers and swamis were consulted, and pujas and homams performed. Anything to boost Leela’s fertility. Though she mentally scoffed at such superstitions, out of respect for her mother-in-law, Leela went along.
During those tense times, Leela blithely ignored the matriarch’s tedious barbs—about people who had too much free time, people who did not fulfill their duty, people overly concerned with their looks.
The mother-in-law—Kamala, as fertile as the Godavari delta, got pregnant at the drop a hat, not once or twice, but six times. Leela shuddered at the thought of what such frequent fecundity might do to her shapely figure. She was in no hurry for the ugly stretch marks and the pendulous, milk-filled mammaries.
* * *
Kamala said, “We tried everything—well, almost everything, nothing seems to work. Leela, wear this bangle, you must wear it all the time. This is not just any regular bangle, it is The Blessed Bangle. This bangle was blessed by a famous seer in the foothills of Himalayas and shipped all the way to the South. I just got it, delivered by courier. The wearer is assured of spiritual wellbeing and prosperity and will banish all the evil spirits that seem to prevent you from conceiving. Let’s hope that this bangle will do the trick.”
Leela wore it dutifully, day and night. Every day, during the morning puja, under Kamala’s strict supervision, Leela slipped the bangle out of her dainty wrist and placed it in front of the gods and goddesses.
During the tension-filled weeks (the tension was all Kamala’s, Leela was very cool, cool as the waters on the sandy beach), Kamala’s prayers became more and more fervent. Many cups of “Tension Tamer” and “Calming Chamomile” tea did not live up to their name.
* * *
Kamala was ecstatic when Leela, at long last, got pregnant. It seemed as though her prayers finally bore fruit. Now that her dreams had finally come true, there was nothing to curb her enthusiasm. She anticipated the arrival of her first grandchild, her eldest son’s first baby, which she hoped would be a boy, with great anxiety.
The bangle’s fame was known to near and dear and far and wide. It was only a matter of time, requests to loan the bangle to infertile women across the state came pouring in. Kamala charged a nominal fee to cover the shipping costs. If a woman got pregnant she was requested to donate generously to Kamala’s favorite temple. If a woman did not get pregnant, Kamala took no responsibility, wrote it off as one of those cases where the blessed bangle could not override Saturn’s evil eye on the unfortunate woman’s fertility. Each woman was given a month and then the bangle should be sent back, ready for the next woman in line. When not in transit, the bangle was placed in the puja room, under the watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses.
* * *
Sitting on the sunny terrace, Leela contemplated her baby bump and enjoyed the fuss everyone was making about the imminent arrival of the scion (yes, a boy, as per ultrasound). She knew very well that Kamala would be horrified that the bangle had nothing to do with her pregnancy.
Leela simply stopped the Pill.