‘Your mother-in-law called this morning. We had a 40 minute conversation,’ said Kriti’s mother.

‘What did she have to say?’ asked Kriti.

‘She just wanted to chat. Said that from the way you’re carrying, you will definitely have a daughter. She is hoping though that the daughter will be good looking as it’s so important. As parents, both of you are good looking but there are relatives from your father-in-law’s side who aren’t the best looking in the family. She’s worried that your daughter might take after one of them.’

Kriti felt exasperated, ‘oh ma, it’s best to ignore my mother-in-law’s bickering at times. No one (including us) know if I’m carrying a daughter or a son. As long as I have a healthy baby I don’t care about it’s sex or looks!’

Kriti married Shantanu, elder son of the Sen family in 2006. Her brother-in-law, Soumitro was six year’s younger to Shantanu and it was evident to her, immediately after the wedding, that he was his mother’s favourite. A bigger piece of fish, an extra dollop of ghee was always reserved for him. She would go out of her way for him even if it added to her work load. Like the rest of the family, Kriti came to accept this as normal since it never impacted her in any way.

Trouble began when Soumitro married Radhika in 2009. It was common knowledge that the boys were like chalk and cheese and to an extent complimented each other within the family scenario. But after their marriage, her mother-in-law began openly comparing their different personalities, how they managed their lives, their wedding expenses, gifts or jewellery that the daughter-in-law’s got etc. Although their earning potential was equal she insisted that Shantanu contribute more to the family as he was the eldest son.

But life carried on as no one made an attempt to stop the comparisons and it was accepted as a natural extension of her mother-in-law’s liking for her younger son. Such things do happen and since neither of the boys allowed this to impact their sibling relationship, Kriti took it for granted that she too had to ignore it. Then one fine day, Radhika confirmed she was pregnant and for the first time, Kriti knew that things would change forever. They too had been trying and although there was nothing wrong with them physically, Kriti just never got pregnant. Then, all that mattered were Soumitro and Radhika’s well being. The birth of their daughter was celebrated with much fanfare.

Today, when Kriti was pregnant, she tried to keep a low profile. She knew that many people within the extended family, especially from her mother-in-law’s side were unhappy with the news. Somehow she felt like she had to protect her child from their evil eye. Her pregnancy was one of nature’s quirks which happened just when she had given up all hope.

Her mother continued, ‘she’s also been telling Soumitro that they should now begin planning for their second child and this time it should be a boy. They already had a girl, so didn’t need another one. A boy is important to carry on the family name. I tried to reason with her saying that a healthy child is what is most important. She said, all that is fine but a son was needed now. I don’t know what she was expecting me to say or where the conversation was heading but it made me very uncomfortable.’

‘Don’t worry ma, don’t think about it. It doesn’t matter,’ Kriti tried to calm her mother.

But she was devastated. Kriti knew exactly what her mother-in-law feared. It was all about property! Carrying on the so called family name had more to do with how the property would be divided. If she had a son then obviously it meant that he would have more right to it in comparison to Soumitro’s daughter. But if Soumitro had a son, then of course, the property would be equally divided or perhaps her mother-in-law would somehow ensure that he got more. Kriti felt sad.

Why did it matter so much?

Both Shantanu and Soumitro were her sons, then why this demarcation? What was the point of insisting that Kriti would have a daughter? Why negate the fact that Kriti’s son could equally carry on the family name? Was it her mother-in-law’s way of convincing herself that the situation wouldn’t arise? And, in case she did have a daughter, then would her mother-in-law extend her feelings of favouritism between the two grand daughters now? Was voicing her fear about how Kriti’s daughter might look, only the beginning?

Where would all this end? Would it ever?