A slow and silent social change is unfolding in the homes of elderly childless couples in rural Haryana and Punjab. To save their property, farmers are turning to a gynaecological procedure, becoming parents in their late seventies and early eighties. HT news editor Yojana Yadav profiles some couples who took the shot and now face the challenge of raising children amid failing health. Their longing for an heir also lays a fertile ground for in-vitro fertilisation clinics to thrive.
Naveen, Lohans’ new start
Rajo Devi, 78, stands tall in the private school corridor, proudly awaiting her seven-year-old daughter Naveen Lohan’s arrival from Class 2. The little girl, who looks more of a little boy in her uniform, runs to her, squealing in surprise. Normally, the bus takes her home but today her mother has come. An excited Naveen plays with her mother’s dupatta as she smiles indulgently, the wrinkles on her face folding further. She tries to help the little one with the heavy school bag but lets it be.
Back home, Naveen bangs impatiently at the door, calling out for her elderly father. Clad in a dhoti and white sleeveless kurta, Naveen’s illiterate father, Bala Ram, 78, looks on patiently as she sits on his thin, frail lap, tugging at his sagging cheeks and talks about her day at the school. Within a minute, the Nokia mobile phone on the bed catches her eye and she gets busy in her world.
“Manga ladka tha par ladki mili. Abhi toh ladke se bhi pyaari hai hamein yeh (We prayed for a son but got a daughter. Now she is dearer to us than a son),” Bala Ram says, lighting up a beedi. One of five brothers, he says he owns 5 acres. He took a loan of Rs 70,000, sold his buffaloes and the cart to fund Rajo’s IVF treatment and Caesarean section in 2009. He admits the surgery has taken a toll on Rajo’s health. She has undergone two more operations at the PGI, Chandigarh, since Naveen’s birth. She had to be operated upon for intestinal obstruction twice and was diagnosed eventually with cancer.
Ask them why they chose to become parents at such an old age, Bala Ram says, “Kyun? Sabke 8-10 bachche ho sakte hain, hamara ek bhi nahin? (Why? People can have 8-10 children and we can’t have even one?)” Rajo, however, sees hope in her younger sister who stays with them. Naveen also says she has two mothers. Aware of her “senior status”, she jokes, “My best friend is my niece who studies in Class 10.”
Twins at 70 give her celeb status
In her seventies, Chameli Devi is a celebrity of sorts. The village of Budain and those surrounding it in Jind district know this mother of eight-year-old twins Mansi and Manish.
Locating her house is easier than finding a non-descript street on Google Maps. “Oh! Aap Kapoora ke ghar jana chahte ho jiske teeke se bacche hue hain (Oh! You want to go to Kapoora’s house, the one who got children from an injection),” says the village karyana store owner, beating away flies as a herd of buffloes makes its way past his shop. He points promptly in the direction of the end of the street. Another villager down there offers to lead the way to the house with a door larger than the rest in the neighbourhood.
A lethargic air hung over the dark room as Kapoora Kandola, 84, and his wife, Chameli Devi, chatted, while their twins Manish and Mansi played in similar clothes under the watchful eye of their aunt.
A servant in his teens sat watching from a distance as the room opened into a bright courtyard with buffaloes tied on a side. “Dilli se hain? TV channel se? Photo utaarne wale se?” she asks and continues that her children are being clicked since the day they were born at the Hisar hospital. “Gore bhi aaye se,” she says, referring to the foreign media.
Technology plays god
Kandola was not keen to divulge much about the family’s land holding or property, while his wife fielded questions with the confidence of a pro. “Manne chorra aur chorri ek se laage (For us, the son and daughter are equal),” the mother says, adding that her daughter is calm and quiet, while the son is naughty and loves cycling.
A relative in Hisar told Kandola about the IVF technique for childless couples. He conveniently terms the birth of his twins “Bhagwan ki maya (God’s gift)” before slipping back into a snooze.
Sangrur couple knows joy after 35 yrs
Ask anyone at Kheri village of 600 families, 8 kilometres from Sangrur, the way to the house of farmer Darbara Singh, and they’ll say. “O Darbara jinha daa late bacha hoeya cee? (The Darbara who was blessed with a child at late age?)” The villagers from neighbouring Laddi had joined the celebrations two years ago when Darbara’s, wife Jasmail Kaur, had delivered a girl 35 years after marriage. They remember how thrilled the farmer was to hold the bundle of joy in his hands.
Darbara’s daughter, Manwinder Kaur Sandhu, arrived on January 17, 2014. Now 55, the man spent Rs 5 lakh on the IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) treatment from a Hisar centre. “Four years ago, we heard about a Hisar village woman of 75 who had given birth after this treatment, and doctors told us if a septuagenarian could succeed, then we were a lot younger in comparison,” says the farmer.
“There was repeated testing, monitoring, injections, and medicine course for up to two years but we kept a positive attitude that God willing, we’d have a child. We had been childless for 35 years, so it wasn’t easy for us but it was our last chance,” says Darbara, who shares a 10-killa land with his younger brother, who has two sons aged 22 and 24. “Of course, we were worried that if we remained childless, my nephews would take the land. I want my lineage to survive also,” he says.
Taking care of an infant, who requires 24-hour attention, is a challenge at any age, but the grand old parents have battled all the odds. “Two years ago, when my daughter was a fragile infant and my wife advised rest for six months, I’d work in the field, do all the household chores, including feeding the animals, and still change the nappies of my child happily. My sister, who is settled in Bathinda would come over and my mother was there to assist; still, many a time, I’d wash my own clothes make my own food,” the farmer recalls.
Darbara Singh doesn’t find late parenthood awkward. “We never faced public ridicule. The entire village rather is with us. During the IVF treatment, villagers would offer us ride to Hisar. I feel lucky to have them in my life,” he adds. Yes, it is difficult to run after and play with his two-year-old but he enjoys that as well. He gets back from fields and she asks him to pick her up and take her to the fields to play. “My arms, legs, and back get sore when I lift her, now that she is 2,” he says, “but spending time with her tranquilises all my pain.”
The couple worries for the child after they are gone. “But then God is there, and she will be 22 when we turn 75; and our relatives, her cousins, are all there for her,” says Jasmail Kaur. 55, who became mother at 53. She never wanted a son. “Just prayed for any child. I have her, age doesn’t matter,” she says.
Worried when childless, worried when blessed
The lone white Fortuner parked in the narrow village lane reveals the clout Deva Thekedar, 63, wields. He owns 25 acres and has let out 12 shops on the Hisar-Delhi highway. Thanks to the fertility treatment at a private hospital in Hisar, his wife Bhateri Devi, 63, had triplets in 2010.
“We were blessed with two sons and a daughter on May 29 that year. One of our sons died 20 days after birth. I spent `6-to-7 lakh on the IVF treatment,” he recalls. Why did he choose to be a father at 57? “Property ka maalik chahiye tha. Dekhiye, paisa rishtedari khatam kar deta hai. Samay bahut kharab hai aaj kal (I needed an heir for my property. See, money ends relationships. Times are uncertain),” he says.
He admits he is a worried man still. “Chinta toh rehti hai par ab hum apne bachchon ko settle kar ke ya unki shaadi dekh kar ke hi jaana chahenge (Yes, I am worried. But now we want to see our children settled and married off before we go,” Thekedar says.
Son Bhupender Singh Poonia and daughter Esha now study in UKG (upper kindergarten) in a private school. “Manne dono bahut achche laage se. Kya chorra, kya chorri (They are both dear to me, what boy or girl),” he says. Bhateri is the disciplinarian at home. There has to be a balance, she says, else they’ll be spoiled by their dad. “Bhagwan ki marzi hai sabh. Sochte kuch hain hota kuch hai (It’s all God’s will. We hope for something and something else happens),” she says, amid a bout of coughing. One of her knees seems to be giving her trouble but she takes care of the children and the household.
Bhupender smiles as his dad adds, “Aadhe se zyade gaon ka yeh dada lagta hai (He is already the grand old man of half the village)”.
(with inputs from Aneesha Sareen)