- By M.J. Aslam
Falcon was established eight decades ago in city centre of Sun City as hairdresser’s for cutting, combing and curling of kids’ & men’s hair by men who were, then, only employed, besides the owner, at the shop. After that, the times changed, so changed the dimensions & ownerships of businesses, and socio-economic mores of people of Sun City, too, underwent upheaval. In changed business scenario of tough competitions & long term profitability only objective of businesses, it wasn’t possible for Falcon to continue unchanged. So, just two decades before, its new proprietor, Yosofghani, with his fine faculties of forecasting, planning & organising, and wherewithal to expand, went for expansion of Falcon business by removing its gender biased tag when he inducted as many women as men in its employment & opened up new branches of unisex Falcon beauty salon with the latest tools and techniques of beautification of hair, face and body in all posh localities of Sun City. The new idea picked up robustly in Sun City with the newest services & products offered by the Falcon beauty salon whose business progressed & profits increased by leaps and bounds.
One Wahtara of Gardens, a posh locality in uptown of Sun City, was a brash and rash woman of mid thirties working as a hairdresser-cum-beautician in a Falcon beauty salon’ s branch, several miles away from her home. In view of existing social conditions & accepted moral traditions of the Sun City community, the beauty parlours operated between 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening, dividing equally the total 12 hours’ duty into two shifts of 6 hours each of day & evening. At night the beauty salons remained closed, thus. Wahtara’s duty hours were diurnal but it was a matter of daily routine with her to reach home only when it was dark & dinner time. It had been annoying & enraging her husband & in-laws, many a times, so much so as raising a rumpus within household: that was, however, a business as usual for Wahtara to handle with beautiful art of equivocation.
She owned a car in which she wanted to travel across the world, but many a human desire of desirer being wish-fulfillment, so she would roam around, after her duty hours ending at 3 pm, & drive leisurely through the streets of Sun City, searching & looking for the latest designs of dresses, footwear, perfumes & a variety of foodstuffs in the stores of the malls of Sun City. She was born as free as a bird, but for the cage of matrimony she was put into by her parents, her flying-wings seemed a bit clipped, and she pinioned to the wedlock.
For fear of multiple changes that pregnancy brings to a woman, & to retain her pre-nuptial girlish figure, she had fought to keep her pregnancy at bay, as she was still on the pill, though recently she had crossed & celebrated eighth anniversary of her marriage with a docile, gentle, college teacher. But then, pressure began mounting on her from all directions of her own parents, husband & husband’s parents for conceiving about pregnancy, which was already few years overdue, and she had, ultimately, to submit to their idea of allowing conception by going off the pill. She became pregnant, and her baby bump became noticeable early in her first trimester. Just for her proper gestation & pre-natal convenience & comfort, Falcon beauty salon managers transferred & placed her in another branch of their business within Gardens, purposely very near to her residence. Her new workplace was equidistant from her two homes–parental & in-laws—a walking distance of not more than five minutes from each home. She used to spend quite a good deal of time with her parents, too, who were non-working retirees over 60 years age, at their home, not far away from her in-laws’ home in next lane, and as being their only child.
She, her parents, husband & parents-in-law all had in unison mistold the locals & neighbours of both the localities that she was an officer in Falcon’s registered office dealing with & updating its bookkeeping. At her new convenient job placement within Gardens, not one percent less than 100 percent clientele of that Falcon branch were locals of Gardens to whom the true nature of her job, which was previously unknown, became known, rather miserably got exposed, as she had to ensure & extend nice services & good quality of Falcon products to them all: the Falcon customers. Cutting, trimming & styling of hair of men & children, and shampooing of hair, shaving-threading of faces of young-men, of the area & beyond, were key features of her job assignment at her new Gardens posting. At times, she would also perform eyebrow threadings, facials, bridal make ups, nail manicures and pedicures. During marriage seasons when footfall increased, her demand as a good mehendi artist of Falcon beauty salon would also go up. So, her real job was all over Gardens in a flash.
All jobs are dignified, but one brings disrepute to one’s job by lying about it, in any manner, to hide its truth. It’s precisely what she & her homes had done. As majority of customers hailed from her own residential area, it earned her huge publicity, in the quickest possible time, in the whole area of Gardens, in & around, as a highly skilled barber-cum-beautician of Falcon. She wanted a high life but she, her parents & parents in law, for bizarre type of thinking, didn’t like her coming into the limelight.
A profession consciously chosen requires its performance to its fullest, unhesitatingly, in a dignified manner. But, she was playing coy, and “pretending shame” in performance of her professional duties “within her own locality” which act of her was, undoubtedly, the meanest hypocrisy on her & her relations’ part. The vile & strange thoughts about placement & performance within her home-area, Gardens, were definitely gnawing at her heart. Her head was always buzzing with accumulating load of disturbing thoughts at the workplace while receiving and dealing with local customers and it made her restless, sleepless & nervous. So, keeping in mind her carrying-condition, & the circle of anxiety she had got in because of her near-to-home placement—-the thing she detested most secretly inside her heart —Falcon managers at her request transferred and placed her back at her previous branch of Falcon miles away from Gardens & its residents. A co-worker lady at previous branch of Falcon, one day, casually asked her: “forgive me for asking, why you have preferred this far branch over the branch nearest to your home?”
“Oh, yes! …..What to tell you, the thought of being always within the easy reach & observation of my two families, parental & in-laws, made me behave not only unnaturally, but I was also getting suffocated as inwardly as awkwardly I was positioned. I wanted to break the fetters of familial observation by getting my placement away from them back here at my previous posting…..Not only that, I’m not a woman to allow herself to be trapped or enslaved by local traditions ….I don’t believe in them”.
“Hah a hah, very clever, you evil Wahtara! You wanted outdistance immediate family reach and avoid future child rearing, breastfeeding ……….,” said the co-worker. Wahtara nodded in yes &, then, the two ladies slapped each other high fives in gales & shrieks of laughter.
When she restarted her day job at her original posting, she was in final trimester & so, within few days of her reporting for duty there, she delivered a lovely baby, a boy, at her parental home & had to be on maternity leave for some months. Under the local tradition, after 40 days postpartum period, she took a hot bath to clean herself of remnants of puerperal impurities before her return to her husband’s home. Even after such purification-bath & resumption of conjugal nexus, after 40 days’ postpartum hiatus, with her husband’s home, she continued to breast-feed the newborn baby that initially seemed stirring deep maternal instincts of love & care inside of herself for her baby. But those motherly feelings soon proved shallow & died down.
She was still feeling weakness of 9 months pregnancy & pain of several hours labour, as such unable to resume her duty, post-delivery, for quite some time. But once she showed the signs of physical recovery, regaining her pre-pregnancy strength, her motherly responsibilities towards her baby started exhibiting the symptoms of fatigue of staying-at-home & suckling the baby. She didn’t want the baby continue latching onto her making her feel totally consumed by his round the clock breastfeeding as if “she was a helpless mute cow”. She told this very thing to her mother-in-law one day when the baby yanked on making her feel one second weepy, other second cry piercing the silence of the room.
“You aren’t the only mother who breastfeeds her baby….In our times, even today, mothers breastfeed their babies but you seem to be doing it as thrust upon you…….,” returned the mother-in-law.
“Yes, it’s a thrust…….the times have changed. Breastfeeding is now safely taken over by formula feeding which is equally healthy & effective. I have decided to put the baby on it right from today……,” Wahtara said bluntly in a changed tone of voice.
Behind the veil, her maternal feelings had become greatly overrun with her inbuilt tendencies of looking evergreen, everlasting, and ever free. The baby would, now, pull off from her breast every second as she tried to breastfeed him only “lackadaisically” as if the little angel knew that his mum was going to snap the bondage of love & care, that was established through breastfeeding with him, soon by shifting him from the breast to the bottle.
Wahtara was counting every second, she wanted to reclaim her body which she felt she had lost in pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding, nursing & sending the baby to sleep in her arms after a lullaby or head massage for some good days & nights. She wasn’t ready to whip out her boob anymore for feeding her son even in privacy at home. Just after two months of delivery, she wasn’t ready to breastfeed him before or after her working hours nor during night, even, as she suffered battered woman’s syndrome. Pumping wasn’t acceptable to her either. The baby was yet to be weaned off her milk, when she succeeded in changing direction of his only nourishment from breastfeeding to bottle feeding & his “co-sleeping” with her to crib sleeping.
Under the local tradition, she had to breastfeed the baby for 02 years which she thought was mere slavery to the custom. The boy was left for everyday’s caring & nursing to his two grannies, alternatively, who assumed the duty of bottle-feeding, nursing, cleaning, rearing & singing him to sleep.
She was on six months paid maternity leave and there were no financial hiccups faced at home. Though the gynecologist had advised her to breastfeed the boy at least for 06-12 months for health benefits for him in the long run and for her in the short run, however, the “disgusting idea” of acting as a “milk-tanker”, her own words, for the boy for long one year was making her feel sick. Wahtara resumed her job of barber-cum-beautician at new posting just after 2 ½ months of delivery. The infant was left for early feeding & rearing at the mercy of grandmothers by his mother. In fact, she wanted to resume her most prioritised thing, her job, as shortly as possible & be as happy, free & enjoy her work & life as before.
Wahtara was always happy at her workplace with her mind in her work only. She had abruptly blocked the breastfeeding of the infant just in second month of delivery that itself had blocked milk in her breasts that built-up of milk caused their mastitis. In her obstinacy, she would bear its consequential inflammatory pain & swelling, taking antibiotics to treat it, for some days. But when pain became unbearable, swelling & redness in them enhanced, disturbing her normal course of functioning at Falcon salon, she re-consulted her gynecologist who after examining & listening to her, said to her:
“Certain things I’d like tell you, madam….. There is a natural course of things in which they work as a stream, for example, flowing from high, if we block its way of coming down, it will scatter & damage things around. After childbirth, the breasts of a woman start producing milk. For what? For feeding the baby!….. It is baby’s right & mother’s duty to….. By not letting it go in baby’s mouth, when there is natural built-up of milk in them, this….this conduct of women usually results into more harm than good to them. Your mastitis is the outcome of such abrupt stoppage. …….”
“But Doctor I’m regularly taking antibiotics, anointing & pumping…….. at my workplace in strict privacy, though……”, intercepting the gynecologist, Wahtara said to him.
“But medicines & artificial methods don’t always work & help the patients……. In your case, I fear, if you don’t re-start natural course of breastfeeding your child for some months, your problems will get augmented & very complicated……”, informed & warned the gynecologist.
“What complications, Doctor?, asked Wahtara.
“In medical sciences, there are many serious problems in which women find themselves in these conditions…. For you it is enough to follow your Doctor’s advice & take medicines as recommended….So, you re-start breastfeeding your baby regularly at least for six months, proceed on maternity leave …… & take these prescribed medicines & report to me after a month…….”, the gynecologist smiled and handed the prescription letter to her.
“How can I feed my baby from my affected …………Won’t it harm him?, asked worried Wahtara.
“Not at all. It’s perfectly safe & will relieve you & your…….of the trouble…..”, assured her the gynecologist.
Wahtara was still very anxious when she left the Doctor’s clinic as his alert message still rang in her ears. She went on leave & re-started breastfeeding her son by taking off the bottle from his mouth. Co-sleeping & suckling him restored her motherly feelings inside her heart, besides son sleeping calm. Within a month she was astonished to see her breasts no more swollen & sore as swelling & redness around them had completely gone like goose bumps vanishing with fear going away & pain replaced by pleasure of breastfeeding her little angel. She had realised that her selfishness & callousness had momentarily fogged her mind to understand her natural duties of a mother like parenting and caring for her son, at least during initial stage of his growth.
At her next appointment after a month, when she met her Doctor, she was more relaxed than at her previous consultation. The gynecologist could easily gauge her recovery from her last pale painful face, & immediately without physical check up congratulated her first for following his instructions &, then, after, examining her again, told her:
“Nature has set certain rules for our own welfare & goodness & medical science fully corroborates it. People by going against these rules bring only problems to themselves & the others…… Hopefully I’m looking up to you adequately understand your natural maternal obligations, now, towards your child as much as you love & appreciate your job obligations…………. No more medicines, ma’am…..you can leave now.”
“Thank you, doc…”, happy Wahtara bidding him adieu left his clinic.
Wahtara, then, by getting herself re-connected to her baby no more had any guilt as she had been ‘wrongly’ having following his birth and breastfeeding. Now, she was a proud mother of a little boy of whom she was, thenceforth, willingly determined to do good parenting.
Note: It’s a allegorical piece with social & moral theme.