Dreams, Fears and Secrets
It was springtime. The mellow rays of the morning sun played hide and seek with clusters of white clouds in the blue sky. The distant rolling mountains radiated a magical charm. The chirping of the birds on nearby trees was rhythmic. There was romance in the air.
This scenery would have delighted anyone but not Ramya. The 25-year-old woman was inspecting the paddy crop she and her husband had raised in their two-acre field in a village near the South Indian city of Thanjavur. She was not happy with their farm operations, as the returns they got were just enough to make their both ends meet. She had a mother-in-law and a one-year-old boy to look after. Besides the farm land, a small tiled house was all they possessed. She was a middle-school drop-out.
Ramya was ambitious. She longed to live in a palatial building with an elegantly-tended garden. Her lifestyle should be the envy of everyone around. She looked forward to doing something novel and ground-breaking to realize her dreams.
She kept a watchful eye on the people in her village. She noticed that some of her neighbours had overnight become rich. What was their secret? Like them, she would also like to strike gold.
Ramya’s elder sister Preeti was lucky. She was ravishingly beautiful. Captivated by her looks, a rich businessman’s son had married her. A chartered accountant, he was a partner in a leading auditors firm, which had offices in all major business centres of the world. He headed the Dubai unit and took her there with him.
They lived in a swanky residential suite in Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 2,723 feet. Preeti’s letters and photographs of her lavish lifestyle added fuel to the fire of Ramya’s aspirations. When she invited Ramya to spend a week with her and arranged for her travel documents and tickets, her joy knew no bounds.
For the first time in her life Ramya boarded a plane. From Dubai airport she was driven to her sister’s home in a six-door limousine. En route the sight of innumerable skyscrapers in incredible shapes made her feel she was in a world of fantasy.
She spent a full day savouring the delights of Burj Khalifa. Its 160-plus storeys, extensive architectural embellishments, classy shops, posh restaurants and azure swimming pools amazed her. The high-speed elevators of the tower were themselves marvellous. As she entered one and moved up whisper-free, its floor-to-ceiling glass walls all around enabled her to take an awesome view of the city’s landmarks, the desert and the sea. At the observation deck at level 124 she walked along its entire perimeter and felt she was on top of the world. The dancing fountains in pools below around the tower sent her excitement soaring.
Preeti and Ramya spent the next few days sight-seeing. Burj Al Arab, the super luxury hotel with its unique sail-boat architecture, was picturesque. Shopping at the “City Centre” mall, Gold and Spice Souks was a memorable experience. The night cruise on the Dubai Creek, a major salt water channel that divides the city, in an ornately-crafted sturdy Arab boat with dinner thrown in, proved a fantasy trip. The “Desert Safari,” a roller-coaster drive in a four-wheel land cruiser up and down steep sand dunes, was spine-chilling.
On return to her village, Ramya became doubly determined that she should do something to re-write her own fate. She wanted to uncover the secret behind the riches of her neighbours, but they would not oblige her. She turned to her close friend Leela living a kilometre away, who had also minted money within a few years.
One evening Ramya walked to Leela’s house, an architect-designed compact but elegant bungalow. After sipping tea in a gold cup Ramya broached the subject. Her friend was helpful. “It is all simple. But you should have grit, determination, patience and confidence.” Moving closer to her, she whispered a lot in her ear. Ramya was flabbergasted. Regaining her composure she exclaimed, “Fantastic. It looks like a modern mantra to roll in riches. I will also do it.”
A few days later Ramya told her husband: “I intend to go to Delhi on a lucrative job, suggested by my friend Leela, who has recently become affluent. Let mother-in-law take care of our child till I come back.”
The man was aghast. She did not disclose to him her actual plans. She just told him, “I will let you know everything once I settle down there. I seek your co-operation. No questions right now, please.” The next day Ramya left for Delhi carrying a letter from Leela.
In Dubai, Preeti and her husband led a happy life, each caring immensely for the other. Every now and then they went on a holiday. Preeti could not have asked for more.
However, one problem tormented them. Though they got married several years ago, they were childless. They consulted a leading lady doctor of Indian origin specializing in fertility issues. Tests and scans disclosed no physical abnormality in either of them. She referred Preeti to a psychiatrist. After some attitudinal tests, he subjected her to psychoanalysis. During the session, when he was making a suggestion, she screamed, “Oh, no, I don’t want to conceive. I hate getting pregnant. I am mortally scared of carrying and the process of delivery. That is why I have been skillfully avoiding the advances of my husband during those few vital days in a month. I love him alright.”
The psychiatrist’s report provided details of Preeti’s confessional outbursts on her attitude towards pregnancy. It shocked her husband. “How can she do it to me? This is betrayal of the first order,” he lamented within himself. But heroically he kept his cool.
The two sought the lady doctor’s advice. She told them, “You don’t have to despair. You can have a baby biologically born to you two. Preeti does not have to conceive. The baby will be carried and delivered by another woman called a surrogate. It is a sort of outsourcing pregnancy.” It was an incredibly mystifying piece of news for Preeti and her husband.
The doctor explained, “This is one of the miracles of modern medicine. Surrogate pregnancy can be brought about in several ways for different reasons. The first surrogate birth, a baby girl, was reported in the United States in 1986. Since then thousands of similar births have taken place globally. In India the first one was in 1994. In recent years the country has witnessed rapid progress in this field and is now the most sought-after destination for couples worldwide looking for this procedure. Anand, a town in Gujarat, has acquired the reputation of being the surrogate capital of the world.”
She, however, warned them: “One should be very careful in choosing a clinic for the purpose. Bogus advertisements and touts are aplenty. There have been dreadful failures and untoward developments. If you are interested, I can refer you to a renowned hospital in Mumbai, where the doctors and the staff are really capable and truly devoted. Without hassles, you will have your own sweet baby literally delivered to you. But be prepared. It is expensive, though significantly cheaper than elsewhere in the world.”
The doctor’s advice appeared refreshingly different and temptingly promising. Preeti jumped at the idea.
Soon the husband and wife visited the Mumbai hospital recommended to them. A senior doctor, after going through their medical reports and subjecting them to new tests, told them: “In your case it is going to be what we call gestational surrogacy. Under this procedure, sperms of the husband will be fused in-vitro (in the lab) with the eggs extracted from the wife. When a fertilized egg becomes an embryo, it will be placed in the womb of a surrogate, who has already been screened and prepared for the purpose. She will go through the full course of pregnancy.”
The doctor explained further: “The surrogate mother will stay in our residential complex for better monitoring. She will get necessary food and medicines, including vitamins and nourishing supplements. Her own children can stay with her and her husband can also visit her periodically. She will sign an agreement that after the delivery, she will hand over the baby to the biological parents.”
The Mumbai doctor went on: “We have on our register about 100 would-be surrogates, all medically and psychologically screened. You can meet and choose any one of them. If you agree, we can also suggest the best woman suited to you.”
The doctor took them round the hospital and showed them the various state-of-the-art facilities there. They also had an opportunity to talk to a few surrogate mothers waiting to deliver babies in the next few days.
Preeti and her husband opted for the most expensive package of Rs.15 lakhs, which would cover all expenses. Half of it would go to the surrogate mother. They left to the doctor the choice of selecting the most suitable surrogate. She could belong to any religion or caste. Even after the delivery, they would take care of her interests. Money was no constraint for them. They would meet her at the time of taking delivery of the baby. Preeti’s husband was particular that the matter be kept a closely-guarded secret, as he did not want to expose his wife’s eccentric reservations on pregnancy at least for a while.
They stayed in the hospital only for the days of the procedure involving them and then rushed back to Dubai. When they received reports that the entire implantation process went off well and the surrogate mother was making good progress they felt jubilant. They sent expensive clothes, sweets, flowers and other gifts to her.
Two days before the projected delivery date, Preeti and her husband arrived in Mumbai. Early in the morning on the predicted day, they received a call that a baby girl was born to them. “The infant is very healthy, cute and charming. The mother is also doing well. She is waiting to meet you both.” They felt they were in heaven.
The two rushed to the hospital. The Resident Medical Officer led them to the room where the surrogate and the baby were resting. It looked like a suite in a five-star hotel. They entered the inner enclosure and what they saw there stunned them. The surrogate mother was none other than Ramya! She was also shocked.
For a few moments they kept looking at each other in utter disbelief. Then smiles lit up their faces. Ramya lifted and kissed the baby a couple times, as tears swelled in her eyes, and handed it over to her sister. The little one appeared to smile oblivious of the mysterious ways of the world around.
The next day Ramya disclosed to her sister what all happened. “In my anxiety to become rich at any cost at the earliest, I applied to this hospital’s branch in Delhi to be a surrogate mother. After extensive tests they accepted me. They also called my husband and got his consent. I stayed in the capital city waiting for my turn. Within a fortnight the chief doctor asked me whether I would be interested in moving to Mumbai for a surrogate pregnancy. I was their choice because medically I met all their requirements. I accepted the offer as the terms were very attractive. Immediately I shifted here, though my own child remained in the village. My experience here has been very pleasant.”
Soon, at the invitation of Preeti and her husband, Ramya and all members of her family relocated to Dubai. One day, while fondling the baby, Ramya crooned, “I am very lucky. My dream has come true sooner than expected.” The baby smiled back as if refuting her claim. The little beauty appeared to convey, “I am the luckiest. I am enjoying the care and love of two mothers!” (Ends)