Of course, she could not imagine telling Girish now. Listening to him describing the meeting with Panditji to Nitin and Kathleen a couple nights ago, mentioning the miscarriages as if they had been routine business failures that simply needed better planning rather than magical protection, her secret had burrowed deeper. She was sure that if he found out, he would make a scene. There would be yelling in rapid-fire English, which she had never been able to match. Once, when she had tried, he had stopped in midstream and laughed at her accented, halting attempt until he could hardly breathe. Never again, she had promised herself, preferring to absorb the bullet-like words he hailed down on her when he had his stormy fits.
For Girish, wherever it was that sorrow and hurt ought to have lived inside him, those places had died too, taking along all the possible words he could have said to Amita to soothe her cloudy despair. They had gone to some counseling sessions per their doctor’s advice. The counselor, sitting before a wall of framed photos of herself talking at various podiums, asked about their postmarital courtship memories to help them “get back to their happy place.” To him, it was like stirring up scummy pond water and surfacing inexplicable things that were best left lurking beneath. Better to be happy with muddied, unclear reflections of ourselves instead, he had told himself. Anyway, this time, they were both more optimistic: it was the third trimester and the ultrasounds had not thrown up any worrisome signals.
[NOTE: You don’t necessarily need a kindle to read — you can buy on amazon.com (only $1.88 at the time of writing this post) and read it on a kindle app on iPhone or iPad. UK readers, go here. India readers, go here. Do consider subscribing overall to the journal as well.]
This is my longest short story yet this year and took me the most time to write of all my short stories thus far. So, I am thrilled that it has found a terrific home with a wonderful editing team who gave it the necessary polish and finish.
A brief story description:
Amita and Girish, an Indian couple living in the United States, are on their third attempt to have a baby. Desperate to make it to full term, Amita convinces her husband to visit their local Hindu temple. But she can’t persuade him to pay for a blessed golden amulet or to let the oily salesman of a priest conduct the protective puja ceremony. Unable to reconcile her deep-seated Eastern values with her husband’s evolving Western sensibilities, she decides to go through with the ceremony without his knowledge. Now a secret lives within their marriage. And when Girish uncovers it, the consequences could propel their relationship into a tailspin that no one can undo.
And, this is from the editor’s note:
This week’s story, The Golden Amulet by Jenny Bhatt, is a wonderfully American tale about an immigrant couple from India. Girish and Amita, new to the United States and trying for the third time to have a child, struggle to reconcile their deep- seated Eastern values with their evolving Western sensibilities. Still coping in their own ways with two previous miscarriages, the couple must negotiate their changing relationship. I was touched by the honesty and relatability of this story and the way it captures grief, love, and love in the face of grief.
Finally, a couple of excerpts from the detailed interview included with the story:
How did you come to write this story?
After I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I could not stop thinking about its premise: how immigrants to any new place bring their gods/spirits with them, but their belief systems weaken, and new gods representing new obsessions with things like media, celebrity, technology, drugs, et cetera, take their place.
I did not want this to be yet another story about immigrant assimilation. It is also about a couple dealing with ongoing grief and negotiating their relationship. And I wrote the scenes with alternating points of view—wife, then husband, then wife, and so on. This choice was not just made for literary entertainment. I wanted to show how different they were in how they coped.
I want to add something that is not in the interview. When I gave this story to a friend to read, one of her responses was that Girish came across as a bit of a jerk. Yes, he is a product of an Indian society and culture where men tend to express their annoyance and anger toward women in worse ways than I have shown here. Even the educated ones who happen to be startup founders in Silicon Valley, as you can see from this specimen who, despite everything he did, is still courted by the industry as if he’s a terrific guy. Google him further and you will know that he’s not just another celebrity victim/target as he claims to be at the end of that article.
Still, in the end, I did not make Girish’s character in this story anywhere as bad. I simply wanted to point out that Silicon Valley is filled with Indian immigrants who have Ivy League degrees, own big expensive homes and cars, and still treat women no different from how a patriarchy-influenced farmer in rural India might treat his wife. Speaking from my own seven years of working in Silicon Valley, I know there are many more real-life stories of such startup whizkids and they will emerge slowly when the wives have strength enough to speak out.