Friday, February 04, 2011

Shortage of Shame ....

A hot summer morning two years ago. S. , my house hold help of 25 years was away at work at the two-three houses she goes to everyday. She, her 3 sons, 2 daughters-in-law, 1 daughter and 1 little grandson (around 2 years plus) lived quite peacefully in the 1.5 room set up, with creatively made lofts, a spic and span functional kitchen, and a sense of trying to be happy with what they have .

One daughter in law, was pregnant for the second time, and was alone in the house, waiting for the other younger daughter-in-law to return from some errand, when a lady with a file and a sling bag landed up at the door. She smiled, asked about everyone, and introduced herself as a health worker.

They got talking about the older one's pregnancy, and the health worker starts a spiel about how her child and the forthcoming one were too closely spaced. It was yet two months, and maybe she could help do something (abort) about it. She gave a bunch of facts on how it's not good for the health of the mother to have pregnancies so close together. Besides the government gave you a money grant if you underwent these procedures when and as advised.....

Soon the other (younger) daughter-in-law returned and heard all this. The older one thanked the persistent health worker, but said that she would consult her ma-in-law on such matters. And only then decide .

The health worker lady, left after painting a alarming picture of health for the pregnant lady because her 2 pregnancies were too close. Besides she , the health worker, had just lost out on a monetary incentive from the government (for motivating folks to use family planning measures).

S. told me about this when it happened. Urging someone to abort , when another school of thought said, this way the two children would grow up together, and the mother could always get sterilization done after her delivery. The older one would be more than 3 years by then ! There were many folks in the house to help, and the only reason the health worker lady was saying what she did, was for her incentive commission from the government.

(Aside : In stratas of society where no incentive is required and folks are materially secure and overinformed, I once knew someone 20 years ago, who simply went to a fancy place and got an abortion done, because the older child had just started school and this was SO inconvenient....She never got a second chance.....)

Not all health workers are like this. Some have great understanding , knowledge and empathy. But wonder what would have happened if the household was not as enlightened and united as S.'s. Planning children is one thing. Giving misleading information to someone already pregnant , might even endanger lives.

But then it's all about quick earnings.

Very recently, the other daughter-in-law got pregnant . (S. had worried about some gynaec treatments, and asked me and I had blogged about her).

She was rushed to hospital for her delivery 10 days ago.

S., her entire family, and the girls parents all took turns being there while attending to household matters. This was a municipal hospital near the suburb where we live, and S. had registered her second daughter-in-law's name there for pre-natal checkups and delivery. The entire thing was free of cost. That it was close by, would save on transport costs.

Post the 26/11 carnage, when one of South Mumbai's Municipal Children's Hospitals was attacked, security at these hospitals has been increased. Stories about babies disappearing from hospitals still show how bad the security is, but S. is someone who abides by rules.

So when they told the entire family to wait outside the hospital (almost on the roadside), while only the daughter-in-law in contractions was taken upstairs, S. asked people to stop cribbing, and have patience. Rules were rules.

They stood there for a couple of hours with no news. Talking amongst themselves. Then suddenly, their name was announced on the P.A system, and one person was called to the door. Her son went, and came back to announce the birth of his son.....

They still weren't allowed in. And while they all breathed a sigh of relief at everything going off well, and celebrated the new addition to the family, two attendant ladies (ayahs) came to the door.

Did they want to see the child ? They would have to pay 200 Rs to these ladies. Then they would bring the child , swaddled in the first clothes of his life, to show them.

And S., who had given birth to 4 children herself years ago, educated not only her kids, but also daughters-in-law after marriage, decided to splurge. They would scrimp on something else. ( She had requested me last year for a loan of Rs 500 to pay the fees of one of her daughters in law for some computer course, which I had gladly helped with).

But this was about welcoming the latest member. Without much thought, they all emptied their pockets, organized those 200 Rs, and once these were pocketed by the attendant ladies, the grandson was brought out to be admired in his first hour or more on earth.

What an introduction to life , as it exists in Mumbai.

Doors are locked for security, but open for as little or as much as Rs 200.

There is really no difference between the health worker, and these ayahs. The former gives misleading and incomplete information to presumably uneducated folks, and is paid for it , by the government, once someone has an abortion or sterilisation. The latter, untrained but street smart, give real time correct information, and extract unofficial money from worried family members.

S told me this story last week. And we thought how it was all about making money any which way one could. And playing with peoples emotions and aspirations.

All you needed was an immense shortage of shame.........


  1. I'm totally impressed with S. Didn't get fooled by the so-called health worker, and seems to have given adequate importance to education. Shame on the health worker and the aayahs for being selfish and greedy and disloyal to their real duties!

  2. des things rele put me to shame as a mumbaikar!

  3. Money overrides all emotions.. we live in an age whee trust is a scarcity.

  4. Sigh! All that people do for money :(
    S is an inspiration!

  5. Disgusting and so shameful! With crimes like changed babies, I personally feel one family member should always be there with the patient in every hospital anyway. (Just like it is necessary for a female patient to have another woman with her (a nurse, ayah etc) as a precaution against molestation by the doctor/male hospital staff.

    And I wonder why media can't do a lot more campaigning for health issues - this health worker was greedy and shameless, I wish it was possible to question her and maybe suspend her.

    Underprivileged people get exploited and I can't understand how can someone take away from someone who has so little - some people have no conscience. I hope the babies are doing fine now.