Where are the children?

“What should we watch tonight?” Tamira asked Avinash as they were setting up the dining table for dinner. “I was thinking we could skip that tonight, we could chat instead” he responded. “Actually, that’s a good idea! I had a discussion with my manager regarding the company paying for that certification I wanted to get” she said getting settled in to have a long discussion about her chaotic work in a startup.

Avinash and Tamira had been married for 5 years and dated for 2 years before the marriage. They were a typical busy couple living in a crowded metro in India. They loved trying different restaurants and going to the gym together. Tamira was a HR in a startup while Avinash was an architect at a big firm.

They had tiptoed around the idea of having a child but it never materialised. Parents on both sides were constantly pressuring them that they were getting older and wanted to see a grandchild before they passed. Colleagues and friends asked them about it on and off at social events. They felt awkward each time they attended a relatives wedding and distant family members would say “you still don’t have kids?!” and friends at birthday parties of their kids would say “you’re next!”

It was during their vacation in Ladakh that Avinash brought it up finally. “I think it’s time we try for the baby. We have the savings we need and it’s risky for you to have the baby later. What do you think?” he asked her anxiously. “Ummm I already told you Avi, I have no interest in having children and that has not changed over the years”. “Babe, you told me that when we were dating which was 7 years ago. People change with time!” he responded surprised at her. “I have not changed since then” she responded calmly. “I did not want children back then either but we are older and well settled professionally now. I’m only interested in having 1 child” he said putting his arms around her.

“One child is a lot of work and I don’t see myself looking after a child for 18 years until he/she goes off to college and in India we take care of our kids until we are in our 60s which is not something I ever want” Tamira explained to him. Avinash’s concern grew, “So we are going to be alone during our old age while everyone else has families, is that not something that troubles you?” he questioned. “Not really, we stay in a different city ourselves from our parents and you’re expecting the next generation to take care of us when we are old? I can rather check in to one of these fancy old age community apartments that we’ve been seeing lately. We could save up for retirement. Also, having a child just because others have larger families is not exactly a reason to have one”.

Over the next few days of their trip, Avinash brought up the subject many times. Over the years he realised he wanted to experience the joys of fatherhood, playing with his friends’ children and being the fun uncle to his nephews and nieces instilled a paternal instinct in him and family for him had evolved to mean a loving wife and a little one to take care of whom he can help shape into a responsible adult.

“Does Covid, the war, the terrible state of the world and climate change not scare you?” Tamira asked him. “Of course it does. But that does not mean we are going to be in a Snowpiercer situation in the next 50 years, infact many studies suggest we will suffer from a lack of population in the future. We just have to ensure our child gets the best medical care and I am open to moving abroad for a cleaner environment” he responded pondering over his answer. “Well, it scares me. I can barely take care of myself let alone a child in this world. And in case you didn’t notice going abroad does not solve the issue. Life is more expensive and there is no help available abroad” Tamira responded gently touching his hand.

Over the next few months, Avinash convinced Tamira that they needed a health check-up and that she should get a clearance from her gynaecologist for any general problems. After all their reports looked satisfactory, Avinash was relieved that they didn’t need to visit a fertility clinic. An alarming majority of them were scams that trapped vulnerable people.

It was Diwali and they were at Avinash’s parents’ house when her mother-in-law was making small talk with her in the kitchen. “I like the green Banarasi saree better on you, this cream one looks so dull,” she told Tamira. “Well, Avinash gifted this to me this year so I had to wear it” she responded. “That boy never had good taste. Even during the wedding he selected a boring mustard coloured saree for me and I refused to buy it!” her mother in law told her rolling her eyes. Tamira burst out laughing, her mother in law loved to gossip about everyone who had bad taste in fashion. She noticed every last detail down to their nail polish and then decided if she deemed them fashionable or trashy. Committing a felony was fine but wearing tacky clothing was not acceptable!

“Tamira, Avi told me that the both of you are going to start trying soon for the baby. It’s good to finally hear this piece of good news. I was starting to get worried that it would never happen” her mother-in-law told her. Tamira was taken aback that Avinash had informed his mother of a plan that she was not onboard with. “Mom we will keep you informed when there is some actual good news to share” she said ending the conversation.

Tamira mulled over what had happened over the past few months. Avinash had been acting differently lately, he was keener on talking about the future, taking an active interest in looking for work in the Middle East and was not as strict about using contraception as he was in the past.

It was Christmas when she decided to confront him. “Avi, I think we need to have this discussion,” she told him while ensuring their phones were away to avoid any distractions. They argued back and forth about the same science reports, future predictions, current savings when Tamira ended the conversation with “I have already made up my mind, I knew back then and I know now, I do not want a baby. I’m sorry but you chose the wrong person to spend your life with if this is what you want for your future. I am okay to let you go if your happiness and dreams are connected to having children”. There was nothing more to say after that. There was just silence, a very heavy silence.

In the next few weeks, they attended marriage counselling with a psychiatrist that a close friend recommended. They tried to work out their one problem through exercises and communication methods their counsellor suggested which helped them understand each other better. After the sessions Tamira felt she was letting her husband down in some way and that living with her for the next 30 years of their marriage would be a compromise on his part. Avinash felt although he had known his wife so well, he had changed as a person over the years and what he wanted for his life was different at this stage.

They announced their separation to their parents together, 1 year after the counselling had ended. There were tears and blaming Tamira as the cause of the separation including her own parents. They felt she was such a nurturing person and being a mother would come so naturally to her. Avinash took her side and clarified that it was a joint decision and nobody was to blame as each person has the right to live life according to their beliefs and that they were not angry at each other for this. Tamira was grateful for the support he lent her during this tumultuous time.

Avinash moved out soon after their announcement to their parents. They had not yet bought a house so there was no significant asset to divide between them. The house felt a little too big for her now that he was gone. She didn’t need the large refrigerator, the king size bed and the extra closet space. They reminded her of Avinash on a daily basis. She moved to a smaller house which was meant for 1 person and that gave her a sense of belonging. Hanging pictures of her friends and family, no couple pictures, buying a lavender couch, filling the shoe cabinet with just her shoes and using up the entire kitchen cabinet with her extensive coffee mug collection helped her connect with herself again. The house certainly did not look like her previous apartment which was immaculately designed thanks to Avinash’s design aesthetics but she didn’t mind. ‘Nothing like one’s own company’ she mused while watering her dying cactus plants.

It took therapy and the support of her friends to help her overcome her grieving phase. It was painful to see everyone happy with their spouse while she was alone at home on a Saturday night. It was worse to attend events and hear comments like “You still look good, you can get married again”. She put an end to attending family events until she was 60.

She kept track of Avinash’s activities well after the legalities were completed. He had graduated to design corporate offices in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East. He had always wanted to work for foreign clients and it had finally become a reality after many years of hard work.

She spoke to him once every few months. He seemed happy, he was progressing at work and he was seeing someone that he had met online. Dating in her 30s however, was a different equation in comparison to dating in her 20s. Her parents shared profiles of men in their community who were not interested in having children. She had no inclination towards marriage any longer and definitely not an arranged set up. She often wondered if Avinash had taken as long as she did to let go.

Avinash re married 3 years after their separation. His wife was someone he had met online through a dating app. Tamira was not invited to the wedding along with their mutual friends. It was a private affair, and he informed her via a casual Whatsapp message. It seemed nosy to ask for more details so she limited it to checking his Instagram to see the pictures. “She looks average, you are better looking,” her best friend told her with a smirk. It was difficult to look at his wedding pictures and not feel a rush of her wedding memories swirl by.

Avinash had a baby boy soon after his marriage, he invited their mutual friends for his 1st birthday party. “He’s a cute baby, Avinash was dutifully helping the wife with the baby, he was quite hands-on,” their mutual friends told her during one of the get-togethers they had. She was happy for him. He got to be a father and live the life he desired.

She lost track of Avinash over the next few years. He was travelling often and she was advised by her therapist that maintaining no contact helped in the healing process. When her career became stagnant, she decided it was time to switch to something else. She discovered a passion for baking and started a home baking business. She adopted an adorable puppy called Silver. Her days consisted of baking, handling the new orders on social media, playing with Silver and spending time with her parents.

It was 8 years after their separation that she received a call from Avinash on a rainy July evening. He wanted to visit her to say goodbye. He was moving to Dubai after he had secured a long-term work contract from a reputed construction company. His family was moving with him. “Congrats on everything! Sure, I will share my address. I’ll see you tomorrow”.

The next day, Tamira made a conscious effort to ensure the house was immaculately clean. She was dressed in a pink kurta and not in her usual flour-stained apron and old jeans. Silver was thankfully taking a nap and not begging for attention. When Avinash arrived, he looked tired, he had not aged well. He still had his slim athletic body but his face had more wrinkles than necessary and he had bags under his eyes. She could smell the same perfume that he had always used.

“You look nice, pink always looked good on you,” he told her with a smile. “Thanks…you look tired” she commented. “I have a 5-year-old and I’m relocating, 2 of the worst combinations!” he answered. “Yeah, that’s gotta be stressful…..So how is Atharv? And how is your wife managing everything?” she asked. It felt strange to say wife to a man whose wife she used to be. “He’s a very naughty child. He’s a lot of fun and he’s also very smart. His teacher’s think he’s a little too smart for his age with all his complicated questions. We have a nanny to help us out so my wife is able to manage her work and him” Avinash responded with a smile.

They chatted about how their lives were now. Avinash had followed her baking page on Instagram, she had no knowledge of that. He had ordered a large batch of cupcakes for an office event as well. “Did you like them?” she asked nervously. “I loved them! They were delicious! I never pegged you for a baker but life can be so unpredictable” he exclaimed with a shrug.

When it was time to leave, Tamira gave him a box of brownies. “It’s for Atharv, it’s a low-calorie version since he’s too young to be eating like us,” she said handing it over to him. “Thanks. I will end up finishing these before Atharv gets to them” he said winking at her.

“Also, good luck with everything in Dubai. I know how long it took to get here, 40s is the new 30s so there’s plenty of time to achieve much more” she added gently touching his shoulder. She was not sure when she would see him again. It felt strange to say goodbye to someone she had known for so long and who had always been around.

“You know Tamira, I always thought after our separation, I was clear regarding what I wanted. I knew what I wanted from my career and personal life and I worked towards that. It was almost like I had blinders on, just keep looking ahead. I know now, you always think you know what you want and you have to achieve that but, you don’t look at what you already have” he said, his voice sounding melancholic.

“I felt the same way for a long time, that I had something good and I lost it” she responded looking into his eyes. “Sometimes, you need to take a step back and remember how much someone means to you before you make any decision,” he said as he gently touched her shoulder in return. They bid their farewells and reflected on their conversation in the many years to come.


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