2014 was an unusually bad year for me. I was battling depression even as January overwhelmed me with new possibilities, but that huge tidal wave that promised to wash away the remnants of depression only drowned me in it. A lot of people have been speaking up about depression lately. I read about Deepika Padukone’s experience, I watched Girl, Interrupted and To Write Love On Her Arms. I was struggling to relate and to be reassured I wasn’t the same.
There is something about depression that makes me want to desperately feel like everyone else and at the same time reject them because I like being the weird one. I was on a downward spiral that year and while it started off like every other time for no reason at all, I felt myself drowning with a significant change in my life. I was at the top of the class, loved being in college, had an unbelievably great relationship with a great guy and had come out of the shell I was encased in my whole life. But the emptiness came nevertheless, out of nowhere and then it carved a deeper pit when I lost what was keeping my neck above the water. My highs got higher and my lows got lower. I would dress to party on one day and find it difficult to crawl out of my bed on another.
I was cutting myself, strategic cuts high up my thigh and my pink shiny blade was always in my bag. I let myself sweat it out everyday till I felt like I would drop. I did not sleep or eat for more than a month. The idea of sleeping was a painful experience as I writhed and convulsed on my bed trying to crawl out of my own skin.
Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse they did, in ways I never imagined possible. I wanted to drop out of college with two months left to it, but I managed nevertheless. The only thing that kept me sane all my life was my writing and I wanted to jump and feel a free-fall every time I sat in front of a blank page with words that refused to form. But I still wrote a research paper and completed a writing project. I graduated top of my class, but I went back home to Bangalore and spent day after day doing nothing as my friends took up jobs and went to college.
It was no rut: I simply did not know what to do to keep the pain at bay enough to get out of bed and speak. So, I didn’t. I did not speak with anyone. It was around this point that it happened. I had an almost toxic relationship with a man I was in love with, but we weren’t together any longer. We still spoke and every time we met we had sex. We did not kiss, there was no foreplay, but the sex continued nevertheless. We would get drunk — at this point, I was pretty much an alcoholic — and we would have sex. We did not speak much when we did and I simply went back home after. My great year could only get worse and so it did. I started feeling weaker than usual, nodded off to sleep at odd times and places and I had just missed a period.
No matter what or where I am — big city, small town — it takes a lot to go up to a pharmacy and ask for a pregnancy test in India. I walked up and down little lanes and main roads, I hid behind walls to make sure a pharmacy was not crowded or there was a woman at the counter. I went to big ones and small ones in the blazing sun, knowing I would collapse any second. I talked to myself, convincing myself it was okay. I rehearsed the scenario a hundred times in my head, I wondered if they would only give me a dirty look, I wondered if they would ask for my age, I wondered if they would say it out loud and everyone would stare at me, I wondered if a mob would emerge with torchlights and pitchforks. I hoped they wouldn’t flat out refuse to sell it when they noticed I had no signs of a married woman on me. I tried looking taller, older… and finally walked up and asked for it. I could feel a panic attack coming on and the palpitations getting worse even as I tried standing upright. The man behind the counter simply nodded and got it for me. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had gotten past stage one.
I couldn’t take the dreaded thing home, so I walked on till I found a place where I could use the restroom. I felt the world coming down on me as I shut the door of the cubicle. There was a part of me that knew I was pregnant, while the other part said it couldn’t possibly happen to me, things couldn’t possibly get any worse. But of course it did. For the first time, the urine created a second pink line and my heart sank. I looked at it in desperation only for a minute and knowing I couldn’t will it away or change the outcome, I wrapped it up carefully and threw it in the dustbin. I walked out.
I was pregnant when I walked in and I was the same when I walked out, but now I felt it in me; like the foetus took shape because I took the test. I did not want to call him or let him know, I should be able to do this myself, he owes me nothing, I thought. But I was in no shape to feel like the strong woman and so I did call. The rest of the afternoon was a haze, we arranged to meet. I wanted it done with that very day, I couldn’t go back home with it in my stomach. I walked and walked, my lips trembling and my face crumbling as the auto driver kept glancing at me. I waited in a café and made a phone call to a gynaecologist I found on Google. It was close by and I made an appointment. She asked me what happened over the phone itself and I told her. I hated having to say the words out loud and I was afraid of hearing the same disgust in her voice or even complete denial to help before I said it. But she simply fixed a time and I drank my watermelon juice as I waited.
He picked me up. He joked and laughed about it all and my face joked and laughed with him. All I could hear was a silence that felt deafening inside me. We went and he waited outside, my face said it was okay, because I had no choice. This wasn’t the heroic man in the movies who held your hand and sat with you. No, this was something I had to do on my own. And so I did.
She talked to me, asked me how long it’s been, smiled, chatted and asked me to get an ultrasound and come the next day. I asked her how much it would cost and she said Rs 12,000. I was thankful I had the money, but it still was a lot. I wasn’t earning and that was a part of what I was hoping to save up for college. But everything at the moment seemed like just desserts for being…well, me. I didn’t know what that meant, but by this point it felt like a gigantic joke I had to play along to. Because what else was there?
He offered to pay the whole amount but somehow it only disgusted me, like the sex I had was a transaction. I felt unclean. That was what I remembered the most, I felt unclean through it all. Like I was wearing another person’s unwashed clothes and the clothes had become my skin. We debated consulting another doctor and decided we should. It would be a whole other ordeal for me to say it out loud to another person and be asked all the same questions again. But I had to. It was like buying a new phone, we had to get the best deal we could because it was pretty expensive. We had lunch, he had biryani and I stared at the oil on my tomato soup. We then went to get the ultrasound. More people I had to confront, more people asking me questions, more accusatory looks. I wrote down the wrong age, I even wanted to write I was married. I wanted to ask how long they’d maintain these records. I was worried they would recognise my name and call my parents.
I knew the receptionist could tell I was younger than the age I had put down. She gave me a long look, but all she said was that I better drink some water, my bladder had to be full. We waited in the last row of seats despite all the empty ones in front of us. No one else was pregnant that day, just me. Then came the hardest bit. I was nervous about the ultrasound all the way there, I’d seen too many dramatised movies where women changed their minds after seeing the foetus in the x-ray. I wouldn’t look, I was determined.
The male doctor spread the familiar translucent gel on my bare stomach as he asked me if I was married. “No,” I looked away. The nurse on the other side stared at me, almost daring me to look at the screen. I didn’t, even as he pointed to it and determined how many weeks it had been. What was that about toenails in Juno? I looked up almost involuntarily, it was a dark patch, almost amoeboid in shape. I looked away. It was done.
Now for the other doctor. By this point the deafening noise had become so unbearable that the pain seemed a part of me and all I felt was a numbness. All my life I would wear a mask. I would consciously decide to play a role, of a happy girl, of a confident girl, of a daughter, of a sister, of a girlfriend. It would always be me playing roles and I could see myself acting through what others lived as reality. The numbness helped me play another role, of a girl who was getting an abortion and she didn’t care what the world thought. So she waited while the doctor seemed like she’d never come. She waited as the sun set and she knew she should be getting back home soon or someone would notice she wasn’t at home and ask questions. She waited and watched the pregnant lady’s husband sitting next to her fuss over her. She waited and stared at the women sitting across her. She saw their wedding rings, the phone calls to their husbands explaining where they were, she watched as they complained to the nurse about having waited so long. I watched as she sat quietly and did not complain. I was protruding out of the mask as my helplessness threatened to betray my role.
Finally I walked in and sat down, blurting out almost instantly, “So, I need an abortion.” She seemed like she’d be very business-like about it, she asked me if I’d taken a test and I said I did. She asked me if I was married and I said I wasn’t. “Do you have an ultrasound?” I did. She looked at it and confirmed I’d be able to get the MTP.
MTP, I had only Googled it today. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act that made it legal to have an abortion in India.
“I’m not supposed to be doing this, it’s illegal you know.”
She looked at me in annoyance, like she was obligated to break the law on my behalf.
“I thought it was legal?” I couldn’t shut up and look grateful, I had to ask even then.
“No, why would you have sex without a condom? This man will not get married to you.”
Again the mild annoyance. I shrugged, I couldn’t explain what I couldn’t explain and I didn’t want to say I didn’t want to be married.
She told me she’d have to take a pap smear. I pulled down my pants and was worried I hadn’t shaved. She looked at the deep brown scars on my thigh and asked me about it. I shrugged again, “A long time ago…” She finished quickly as I pulled up my pants. She took out some pills from her drawer, filled a glass of water and handed it to me. “Have this now in front of me and take the other one tomorrow morning.” I quickly swallowed the pills and pocketed the other one.
She reminded me this was illegal again, and asked me to come back in two weeks for a check-up, I would need another ultrasound. The prescription was only written down for a consultation, the MTP would not be mentioned. I went downstairs to pay Rs 57 and walked out.
He was waiting outside and I handed him back the wallet he’d so generously given me, I hadn’t needed any money, I told him. The rest of the ride home I imagined the ruptured dark patch inside me, I wondered how quickly it would die, I didn’t believe it would hurt. It might hurt me.
He kept talking about how the first doctor would have cheated us of Rs 12,000 and how much we saved by being precautionary. He asked me not to answer any of her calls, he told me how relieved he was, he said he didn’t think I would have to go back in two weeks, maybe I could take another pregnancy test? He was angry she said it was illegal.
When I got off the bike, I handed him the prescriptions and the x-ray to be disposed off and walked the rest of the way home. My mum would have coffee waiting for me and then I’d go to bed early. Another pill tomorrow, I set my alarm in case I forgot.
I stayed in the next few days. It was gone before that.