Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

In the past three weeks, a lot of people have asked me, what happened, why are you touring so many countries together? What is this trip all about? Work or holiday? Are you really travelling solo or you have friends with you? Then there are people who have not asked direct questions but have given me enough indications that they really find it strange that I am travelling and having fun in a year when I have suffered a major personal loss, isn’t this supposed to be a year of mourning?

Well, this post is not any clarification but only a way of expressing myself. First, I have been travelling solo for close to 9 years now, locations may not always be exotic but I have realised, traveling solo is a learning experience. Like many trips before, this too has exposed me to some harsh realities of life and I have embraced them.

But it is not that I have been really planning for this trip for the longest time. I have stopped planning things because foreseeing future is not in my to-do list anymore, I have failed in it badly. I thought of Istanbul because I heard a lot about it; going to another neighbouring country was only a “paisa vasool” strategy for this poor scribe, so it was Greece. And Almaty just happened because of some major visa issue.

Why did I travel now — the whole idea was to get confused about time zones on my birthday! I made the plan in a way that I don’t get the real sense of time — whether I am ahead or behind India time — and by how many hours— when is the midnight for me on the 26th — because I knew, for the first time in my life, the person who loved me the most would not wish me on my birthday! I was not sure how would I handle this pain of not being wished by him.

But on the 25th night before going off to bed, when I sat down in silence and closed my eyes, I actually heard Baba’s voice — he did wish me just the way he wished me before— stressing on “r” and “a” while saying, “Happy Birrthdaaay, ” in a certain familiar rhythm. I can hear it even now while writing this.

Running away from realities don’t help. We need to know, people who love us don’t go away. They are with us, always around.

On the 26th, when I came back to my hotel around 9:30 pm after an all-day walking tour, a hotel staffer came to my room with this beautiful cake. He insisted I cut it.

I would remember this pleasant surprise, always. It was very touching!


P.C — Staffer at Byzantine Suites, Istanbul.


With no real ground beneath one’s feet, all else loses meaning


Images of last week’s mid-air crisis of a Jet Airways flight reminded me of one summer evening when I was flying back to Delhi from Gorakhpur in an ATR carrier (AI 9810) — a small craft running on a twin-engine turboprop. The initial 10 minutes were fairly pleasant. It was late in the evening and there wasn’t much to appreciate in the sky, so I chose to sleep for a while. As I prepared to adjust my head over the tiny tray table, I felt myself flung up for about two seconds. Almost immediately after, I fell back into my seat. Perplexed, I was about to check if my seat belt was still fastened when I was up in the air again. This time, my head touched the ceiling.

By now I could only hear screaming passengers behind me — I was in the second row from the front. My eyes moved around looking for unperturbed faces, I couldn’t find any.

Suddenly, there was an eerie silence. There wasn’t any announcement by the crew preparing us for the worst or trying to calm us down either. I noticed an elderly woman shaking as she struggled to fasten her seat belt. A young girl to my left sat straight, holding the hands of her younger sibling. My gaze turned to the floor beneath and I discovered that my pen, identity card, phone and recorder were all down there.

“My phone, my phone,” I murmured. I didn’t have the strength to unfasten my seatbelt and collect my valuables. My co-passenger, a burly man who looked confident of overcoming the crisis with a Hanuman Chalisa, picked it all up for me.

As I put away my belongings into my handbag hurriedly, I recalled that my mother had warned me not to carry this tote bag without a zipper. It got me wondering for a bit — can mothers foresee things? I could almost hear her saying, “Ei jonyei toh bolechhilam, tora shunish na toh karur kotha… I told you so, but you people never pay heed to anyone.”

For about 10 minutes, there was no up-in-the-air moment but there were sudden drops, jerks, vibrations and swings. Or was I imagining things? As the aircraft kept circling around, the regrets swirled in my head — unnecessary arguments and pending apologies — I suppose, just the way they do in the last moments of one’s life.

From my window seat, I could only see a red light flashing on the wings of the aircraft. Did it mean that the end was near and that the plane would eventually crash? How would I jump off the aircraft at the time of the emergency landing? Why did I never bother to listen to the safety instructions decoded by flight attendants? If the plane crashes, would my colleagues in the media have to cover this accident? Would they be able to locate me in the debris? Would I be able to see my parents ever again? How would my parents cope with this sudden loss? Would this crisis turn out to be a hindrance for my sister who was about to fly off to Singapore, where she had taken up a new job?

As I was battling these thoughts, all at one go, I felt miserable that my Gorakhpur story was only half done and my deadline, two days later. I kept wondering if my sister would be able to access my mail and send the transcribed interview to my editor. That way I would have met the deadline of my ‘last’ story.

I realised this anxiety was making things worse for me. So I started to meditate, trying to connect with my inner self. After a while, a sense of graceful acceptance of the imminent end had set in. “If this is a closure, let it be, I am prepared,” I told myself. My head was not spinning anymore. I was much calmer inside, as if I suddenly conquered my fear. I looked out of the window again — the flashing red light didn’t bother me at all.

I craned my neck a bit to look down. Far off, beneath us, I could see some lights twinkling. On other days, I would have clicked a few photographs. That day, these things didn’t seem to matter anymore. In the meantime, the airplane’s cabin lights had been dimmed — final moments of descent.

The landing was surprisingly smooth. I assumed this was the happy ending to a traumatic flying experience.

I was wrong. Even now, four months later, the slightest air turbulence reminds me of the horrifying experience. But then, I immediately recall how my father was amused to see me scared and hear my presumably “near-death” experience. He simply laughed it off. Surely he didn’t want me to get affected by one bad experience of flying. I remember he said, “Ei rakom hotei pare, kintu eto bhoy pawar ki achhe?… It can happen, but why should you get so scared?

Innovative ways of getting in and out of relationships

Sonia Sarkar

A few weeks ago, a friend conducted a poll on Twitter. The question: If you had to end a friendship, what would you do – ghost or drift or confront or write a letter? To this, 53 per cent said they would like to drift, 20 per cent went with the letter option, 11 per cent chose to confront and 16 per cent said they would prefer to ghost. Ghosting, according to the, is the practice of ending a personal relationship by suddenly and without explanation ceasing all communication. Usage. “I thought ghosting was a horrible dating habit reserved for casual flings.”

Having been ghosted at least once, I could not agree more with the above sentence. But ask the person who ghosts and he or she would say it’s the easiest thing to do. Stop taking calls, stop replying to text messages, mail, stop explaining what went wrong, no hints, just cut yourself off. Easy.

Ghosting is a 21st century dating phenomenon. Since a fair many relationships these days are born off dating apps such as Tinder, happn, OkCupid, where you select soulmates with a left swipe or right, a lot of time is spent knowing each other just virtually. So when things lose their zing, it’s easier to ghost by “blocking” the person.

But if you are nodding and thinking this is a college-goer or a 20-something problem, you couldn’t be more wrong. You could be ghosted by a man in his 30s or 40s – we’ll come to the women in due course. Someone whose profile descriptor reads “progressive and liberal”. He could be a professor who loves to discuss Marxism over a glass of Old Monk or an engineer who is a self-proclaimed poet or a documentary filmmaker who looks genuinely concerned about the rise of young Right-wingers in the country. Then, just when you start to get along, one fine day, he disappears. And you are left wondering why such a “progressive and liberal” man hesitated to tell you that it’s not happening and he would like to move on. After all, you do deserve to know where you went wrong. What’s more, you might also like to hold on to that tiny little skein of hope that he might come back.

A friend who is aware of the trend has a theory. She says even liberal men get intimidated by career-minded independent women and find it difficult to handle them. They know such women will ask for a reason for the break-up and they do not have a convincing reason to offer. Does that mean women don’t ghost at all? No, they do too. The friend reasons, “Sometimes women think informing the other about the decision might force them to stick around longer and get stuck in this unnecessary but unavoidable rigmarole of accusations, counter accusations and sorting out. That is why they choose to disappear.”

Ghosting isn’t an Indian phenomenon either. In 2012, the Journal of Research in Personality, an academic journal focussing on personality psychology and published by Dutch publishing house Elsevier, listed “avoiding/withdrawing from contact with your partner – like not answering texts or calls” as one of the top break-up strategies the world over. Internationally, psychologists say, these days, everyone wants ways for “easy in” and “easy out”. You are most likely to be ghosted the moment you dare to ask, “Where is this going?”

Of course, if you have been there and done this long enough, you will be able to tell a ghost early on – guys who are effusive in private but refuse to even hold hands in public or someone who never makes definite plans to get together.

And it’s not a way to exit “casual flings” alone. Many choose to end steady relationships by ghosting. A friend was ghosted by an ambitious professional she dated for barely three months. The man, however, reconnected with her on several occasions thereafter for work. He follows her on Twitter. Over the past few years, he has sought her help for business contacts, inputs, information on a fellowship she cracked, etc. But not a word on why he disappeared and never replied to her personal messages.

Was he a coward to have avoided a confrontation or smart to keep the professional equation intact, or simply shameless to even ask for help from a person he dumped without any explanation?

So is this breadcrumbing?  if you go by this blog (, “breadcrumbing is essentially exactly what it sounds like: Leaving little tiny fictitious crumbs for another person to latch on to, leading them on even when you’re basically over it.” The writer further adds, ” Unlike ghosting, breadcrumbing doesn’t end all communication. Instead, breadcrumbing is the deceptive practice of giving someone just enough to keep them interested, even when you’re not. Breadcrumbing keeps someone around at your liking, taking the form of a half-hearted Instagram “like” once every two weeks, or even a text once every few months.”

Perhaps, these men who ghost or breadcrump won’t know these terms but they should certainly know that what they do amounts to emotional abuse.
But then, chin up girls…I am sure, by now, you know whom to avoid on dating sites — The phone is aflutter with new notifications and to swipe is but reflex action. Cheers!
( A version of the story appeared in The Telegraph, India. This article is an edited version after being published in The Telegraph)

THE FINGERTIPS of the cobbler have turned yellow and pale. He must has been mending and polishing shoes for years, I assume. For me, the smell of polish and glue in his colourful boxes – black, brown and chocolate – brings a sense of identity and a sense of a home; a home which is not there anymore.

Standing on platform No. 1 of Dhanbad station, suddenly, this smell sparks a flurry of childhood memories – memories of several train journeys from Dhanbad to Calcutta, along with my parents and sister.

  • File photograph of a double decker train at Dhanbad

Black Diamond Express is usually on time. Even today, it leaves Dhanbad station at 4.25pm, as scheduled. As its wheels and piston gyrate over the rugged tracks, my mind begins to ooze nostalgia.

I recall how these five-hour-long train journeys led to endless conversations with my father about many things: the class-divide in our society, the need for civil resistance in a democracy, the roots of the Naxalbari movement in Bengal, many more such and similar things.

When we (my sister and I) were much younger, travelling with him would mean brushing up on general knowledge. Every time the train stopped at a station – Asansol, Andal, Durgapur – there was something new to learn about the place or its neighbourhood.

As a child I felt a certain sense of joy when the train arrived at Durgapur. Suddenly the black, dusty roads disappeared, an indication that we were leaving the coal belt and nearing Calcutta. I loved the fact that the next few days would be different – free of coal dust, potholes and incessant power cuts. We couldn’t imagine our life in Dhanbad without any of these evils though. Over a period of time, we even stopped complaining. In fact, we learnt to laugh at our own miseries like many others who lived in what was still Bihar.

  • File photograph of illegal coal loading in Black Diamond Express at Dhanbad Station

One may remember how the former chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad, coined a metaphor for bad roads that later entered the lexicon of political hyperbole. He said, “Bihar ke sadkon ko Hema Malini ke gaal ke tarah chikna bana denge (We will make Bihar’s roads as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks).”

Needless to mention, that never happened. Taking potshots at him, there was another joke that did the rounds. ” Sadke Hema Malini ke gaal ke tarah toh bani nahin, Om Puri ke gaal ke tarah ban gayi (The roads never became like Hema Malini’s cheeks but they certainly remind us of Om Puri’s cheeks.)” No offence to the late actor though!

Neither my parents nor I live in Dhanbad anymore but I must admit that the thought of potholes and coal dust makes me nostalgic today.

There is something else that is making me nostalgic now. It’s the smell of the scrumptious singara (samosa) served to a burly co-passenger by a vendor at Burdwan station. The man also asks a teaseller to pour him some tea. “Beshi chini nei toh (Hope there isn’t too much sugar in it),” he asks. The teaseller replies, ” Roj sokale morning walk korun (Go for morning walks every day)!” The man is at a loss of words. He probably never expected repartee like this.

While travelling alone, overhearing conversations of others makes a train journey interesting for sure.

If you are lucky, you may get to hear some interesting monologues too. Say for this one by a man trying to sell “air-conditioned” socks. He says, ” Apni hoyto bhabchhen ami bhaat bokchhi, kintu motei na… shei Black Diamond jakhon double decker chhilo, takhon theke ami jinish bikri korchhi (You may think I am talking gibberish but that’s not the case. I have a reputation of selling things on this train for many years, since when it had double decker coaches).”

Now the mention of double decker coaches reminds me of another eventful journey when I had lost my way to my seat. But of that, another day!

For now, it’s time to get off at Howrah with a fresh sense of longing for Dhanbad.

July 9, 2017. The Telegraph.



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A marriage bureau in Gujarat is facilitating gay marriages. What does this trend say about the future lives of homosexuals in India? Sonia Sarkar reports


  • AN EQUAL MUSIC: (Top)The Ahmedabad bureau has gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (below) as a counsellor

After years of dilly-dallying, Vishal, a marketing manager with a pharmaceutical company, decided to get married. The news far from pleased his parents. First, they threw a fit, then dragged him to a tantric. Next, his father brought home a female prostitute – for him.

“All this because I said I wanted to get married to a man,” says Vishal, who is from Mumbai but is currently settled in Ahmedabad.

When he couldn’t convince his parents, Vishal approached Arranged Gay Marriage (AGM), India’s first gay marriage bureau. A couple of interactions later the matchmakers there managed to get through to his parents. “They saw several videos on gay relationships on the Internet; they read about gay marriage on various websites; they sat through several counselling sessions to know how gay relationships work,” says Vishal. Once they were convinced, they started looking for a partner for him.

The search ended with Kartikey, a professor in a Mumbai college. “We are getting married in December,” says Vishal. Maitree Basu, who works for an IT firm in Bangalore, also met her partner Tanushree through the bureau. The two tied the knot last year.

Like Vishal and Maitree, over 23 other homosexuals – gays and lesbians – have found their partners through this Ahmedabad-based marriage bureau since it was founded a little over a year ago. To date, the bureau has facilitated four such marriages in India and 20 abroad. And its Facebook page is perennially flooded with queries.

Unlike Australia, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands and some states in the US, gay marriage is not legally recognised in India. In fact, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits it.

But legalities don’t seem to deter Urvi Shah, the 23-year-old owner of the bureau. “Gays and lesbians also have the right to live a normal life just as any heterosexual,” she says. “Everyone needs a life partner. Moreover, marriage reflects traditional Indian values.” Having said that, she is well aware that in India “coming out” is no easy task, forget deciding to get married. She feels strongly about the social exclusion and psychological distress homosexuals are subjected to and through the bureau offers counselling support to those who want to come out of the closet.

For homosexuals opting or wanting to get married, the idea is to publicly claim their societal space as a married person just as any married heterosexual person. Only last month, Manjit Kaur, a 30-year-old Punjab Police woman sub-inspector married another woman at Pucca Baugh, in Jalandhar, complete with Hindu rituals. Mumbai-based Gaurav Salve, a chartered accountant, married Jake, an American, last year. He says, “I am a religious person and I wanted to get married. For a man in India, getting married to a man was impossible.”

Manvendra Singh Gohil, the celebrity gay prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, often counsels the clients of AGM. He asks, “When heterosexuals have the liberty to marry, why should gays be deprived of the same right?”

No reason, except that among other things it isn’t easy for homosexuals to find partners keen on a long-term relationship and commitment.

“Homosexual men do have a tendency to have multi-partner sex as their stable relationships are not recognised by society,” says gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. “Our first baseline survey in Mumbai in 2000 showed that gay men had an average of 11 casual partners in a month. This figure has now come down to four and even this is reducing,” says Ashok who is chairman of the gay rights organisation, Humsafar Trust. He stresses that as society is getting used to same-sex couples, the chances of stable gay relationships are increasing.

In the meantime, however, the going continues to be tough for Urvi who runs the bureau out of Gujarat, the BJP-run state that supports criminalisation of gay sex. She will tell you it is considered “unethical for a Hindu girl to support homosexuals” and she is used to receiving random threats. Recently, an anonymous caller threatened her with acid attack.

On the home front, too, niggling worries abound. Her parents seem to have got past the initial worry about what people will make of such an initiative. But they cannot stop worrying about how it will impact Urvi’s own marital prospects. Perhaps they worry that no one will believe that she is herself of heterosexual orientation.

Urvi, however, is unbudging. Her steadfastness holds out hope to the homosexual community. Gaurav is thinking of adopting a child.

From counselling and facilitating same-sex marriages will AGM diversify into helping homosexual couples raise a family? It well might, once the trend they’ve floated settles in.

Returning to Bangladesh is like going away to find myself home


DHAKA IS a bit like Calcutta – noisy, chaotic. I connect the Bangladesh capital with traffic jams and those cage-like green auto-rickshaws that give new meaning to claustrophobia. But this time, as I leave the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport behind, on my way to Banani in the north of Dhaka, I cut through an eerie silence.

The city is a ghost town. The autos are missing, and there are no crippling gridlocks. A festival is around the corner, but there is little sign of the joyousness that comes with Eid.

Dhaka is observing a two-day national mourning to pay homage to those killed in a terror attack in an upmarket cafeteria. I land there three days after the attack that killed 20 people, most of them foreigners, in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone, Gulshan.

Chaos on the roads is a sign of normal life in Dhaka; calm indicates that not all is well. When I visited Dhaka for the first time in 2011, all was well: the city was loud and messy. I was on my way there from Jessore – and was surprised to see towering buildings, flyovers and glitzy malls in the capital. Jessore, on the other hand, was the archetypal sleepy town.

Jessore is an hour’s drive from Benapole, the Bangladesh border town which is commonly used as a crossover between Dhaka and Calcutta. I was there to chase a story on child carriers who illegally ferried sugar, urea, bicycles, cough syrups and even country-made pistols to Bangladesh from India.

Unlike Dhaka, there was no “rush hour” in Jessore. There were no newly-paved footpaths or highrises either. There was a time when Jessore had the biggest cinema hall of Bangladesh. But Monihar had been overtaken by multiplexes elsewhere. Jessore, however, now boasts of a technology park, multi-cuisine restaurants and malls.

It is also a treasure trove of heritage. The Jessore Institute Public Library, established in 1851, is Bangladesh’s oldest and largest library, with a huge collection of books, manuscripts, journals and newspapers. And you can’t go to Jessore and not see the massive sculpture called Bijoy, at the Michael Madhusudan Memorial College campus, dedicated to the martyrs of the Bangladesh War of Liberation of 1971.

Going to Jessore was like going home – albeit a home I had never visited. Jessore is the place my ancestors came from. For years, I held up the flag of “Opaar Bangla” and participated in various Bangal vs Ghoti debates, where I left no stone unturned to make the former look superior in every respect (knowledge, food, hospitality and much more) to the latter. So when I reached Jessore, it was like a dream come true – I was in the place that I belonged to. Like a true Bangal, I told myself, ” Aah, amago dash.”

My paternal grandfather, Adhir Kumar Sarkar, a timber merchant, lived in a sprawling two-storey house with long white columns, overlooking a thakur dalan (where the deity was kept for daily worship), in the erstwhile Khashial village in Jessore. Several acres of rice fields surrounded the house, we were told. Middle-aged Nakuruddin Mia used to look after the fields when grandfather shifted his base partially to Calcutta in the late 30s. Even though he visited Khashial at regular intervals, the visits during the Durga Puja were special for the family: gatherings, lunch, new clothes, entertainment, celebrations.

My efforts to locate Khashial were in vain. The village doesn’t exist anymore, I was told. But I traced my roots partially to the ancestral house of the Bengali poet and father of the Bengali sonnet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. At his house-turned-museum in Sagordari, I came across a signboard of the Jessore and Khulna Co-operative Bank, which had an office in the complex. My grandfather was a member of the board. I felt like an achiever to have partially traced the past.

The spiral staircases of the house took me to the room on the first floor, whose walls were plastered with photographs of Dutt, his poems and even some of his answer scripts. At the entrance of his house was his epitaph, a verse of his own. A few days before his death on June 29, 1873, Dutt gave the verse to Debaki, who, some historians say, was romantically interested in him. It read:

“…On the bosom of the earth,

Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep

Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas.”

These words rang in my ears for days.

As I touch the soil of Bangladesh once again this June, I wonder how life would have been if my grandfather had chosen to stay back, like many other Bengali Hindu families. But the thought doesn’t stay with me for long as I quickly recall the words of a Hindu friend from Dhaka: ” Din kaal bhalo na, bujhla. Amra khub bhoye thaktesi” – these are not good times, we live in fear.

Indeed, attacks on Hindus – bloggers, priests and activists – by Islamic radicals are rampant in Bangladesh these days. The social fabric of Bangladesh is changing. Young men from elite families are joining terror outfits. The other sign of radicalisation is the use of veils by women. Hijab or burqa is not mandatory in Bangladesh, yet more and more women are wearing one these days. An old timer of Dhaka tells me, “Even some years ago, if a woman from the relatively conservative part of old Dhaka stepped out of her house in a burqa, the local urchins would tease her with the words ‘Burqe wali bua, tere burqe mein chuha’ (There is a mouse in your burqa, aunt).”

But I decide that for my grandfather’s sake, I will always celebrate Bangladesh. I leave for India after a special Eid meal at my friend’s place. The taste of the shorshe ilish – mustard hilsa – and maachch chorchori – a mix of various kinds of fish – stays with me long after I return home.



The fear of unnecessary cuts and the desire to have a natural and private delivery are prompting women to have their babies at home. Not surprisingly, this has led to a demand for trained midwives, says Sonia Sarkar
Three years ago, when 30-year-old Bincy Shibu Thomas of Cochin went into labour at 2am, she was not rushed to the hospital. Instead, she called a midwife home. The midwife delivered her second child, a baby girl, in the comfort of her own bedroom, with her husband and two-year-old daughter by her side.

“It was a happy and intimate experience,” says Thomas, a homemaker married to a software engineer. “It was so smooth that none in my building got to know that a child was born in my house,” she adds. Thomas opted for a midwifery-assisted birth again for her third child last year.

Kundo Yumnam, a 32-year-old Imphal-based entrepreneur, gave birth to a baby boy last December at home. “Lots of people had been scared of what was going on in the bedroom, not realising it was how birth happens naturally. Some still think I was crazy to have had my home birth without medical interventions, while others have changed their opinion and said that it was brave of me,” she says.

More and more women from middle- and upper-middle class families across India are reaching out to midwives because they say they want the process of childbirth to be natural and safe, and only midwives can ensure that.

“In a month, at least 10 women ask about midwifery-assisted home birth. Four years ago, there were just one or two inquiries,” says Manjari Kawde, a Mumbai-based gynaecologist and obstetrician who runs Beams Hospital.

Independent studies on childbirth second this. In her paper, Childbirth Narratives: Voices of Educated Urban Women, Subarna Ghosh, a researcher with Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University, says five out of the nine women she interviewed for her paper had a midwifery-assisted birth. “Affluent women are engaging midwives who are trained abroad or have come from the West. They keep doctors only as a back-up option,” Ghosh says.
Kanika Aswani with her husband and child
The demand for midwives is also linked to the fact that hospital births are seen as impersonal. “Midwives do their work with love and care. Women need that most when they are birthing,” says Hyderabad-based practising midwife Vijaya Krishnan, a graduate of New Mexico’s National College of Midwifery. Krishnan’s role typically starts around the 12th week of a pregnancy and continues for six weeks after the birth. Charges vary between Rs 45,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh, depending on the city.

Many women prefer having their babies at home because hospitals are too public. “In the hospital everyone is watching me writhe in pain. At home, it was my own space. I felt safe, comfortable, not agonised,” says Mumbai-based reiki healer Kanika Aswani, who gave birth to a baby girl two years ago.

Couples also appreciate the fact that husbands have a more active role to play in midwifery-assisted births. “They massage and encourage their wives. They are aware of all their choices, pros and cons of any intervention, and can make effective decisions without getting into a flap,” says Thomas’s midwife Priyanka Idicula, a certified midwife and director of Birthvillage Natural Birthing Center, Cochin.

But in a country where babies were once mostly delivered by midwives, only a handful of them are trained and registered. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the density of nurses and midwives in India is 17 per 10,000 population, which is low compared to Finland’s 108 and Britain’s 88. The midwives available in large numbers are either traditional birth attendants (such as a dai) or those who have completed a two-year auxillary nurse and midwifery programme. They, however, are not equipped to play an active role in birthing and merely assist doctors.

Childbirth with the help of midwives has been popular among poorer people, but of late the government has been promoting institutional deliveries among them to check maternal mortality rates.

The ones in demand are those who have received advanced training. “Only some of us, who are adequately trained in midwifery, can handle cases holistically like our counterparts in countries such as Britain, New Zealand and the Netherlands which promote midwifery-assisted home birth,” says Lina Duncan, who runs Mumbai Midwife, a private midwifery practice.

These trained midwives, equipped to deal with issues such as vaginal bleeding, irregular movements of the baby, emotional disturbances and mental trauma of the mother during pregnancy, can administer emergency medication during birthing. They also provide check-ups, nutrition counselling and baby-care training later. Some provide services at home and a few run their own centres. There are also foreign nationals, trained as midwives, who deliver the services and often tie up with obstetricians, who support home births.

Another oft-quoted advantage of midwifery-assisted home birth is that midwives are on call 24×7, unlike doctors. Medically too, the benefits of midwifery assisted home birth are plenty. “Post-natal depression is lower among women who opt for home birth. Risk of infection among babies is lower too,” says Ruth Malik, founder of Birth India, a Mumbai-based NGO to promote safe childbirth practices.


Experts also feel that the new midwifery assisted birth options have empowered women to take a decision of their own, in child birth. “Traditionally, in India, even if the woman is educated, everyone else would decide for her, when she is pregnant. At least, home birth options are giving them a ‘better’ or ‘braver’ choice of child birth leading to their empowerment and satisfaction,” Ghosh adds.


One reason why pregnant women are opting for midwives is the increase in Caesarean (C-section) deliveries. Often, hard pressed doctors find it easier to deliver a C-section baby than wait for a natural birth to occur. Delhi-based Divya Deswal, who runs Birth Bonds, an NGO that provides childbirth support, believes that doctors also instil a sense of fear among expectant mothers.

“In most cases, mothers have been told there are problems with normal delivery, so they are forced to go for a Caesarean or an induced birth,” says Deswal, a doula and hypnobirth practitioner. Doula is the term for a birth companion and post-birth supporter, while hypnobirthing is a childbirth process that uses a combination of techniques – breathing methods, positive thoughts/language, deep relaxation and visualisation – to remove fear. A lot of women also opt for midwifery-assisted birth for their second child, because they want to forget their previous traumatic experience.

Thomas recalls how the doctor induced labour during her first pregnancy. She had to lie down for 12 hours before her child was born. “Before the delivery, an episiotomy (surgical cut at the opening of the vagina) was made. It was painful and the doctor never took our permission,” she says.

According to WHO guidelines, only 10-15 per cent of births in India require surgical intervention. Another WHO study that reviewed 1,10,000 births from nine countries in Asia, including India, in 2010 revealed that in hospitals where Caesarean births took place, more than 60 per cent was done for financial gains and not because surgery was required.

“Women being led to agree to Caesarean surgery on the basis of false information, like C-section is safer than vaginal birth or telling them their baby might die without the surgery when the baby is absolutely fine, is a violation of the human right to autonomy,” says Hermine Hayes-Klein, executive director, Hague-based Human Rights in Childbirth, an international NGO.

Gynaecologists, however, are not convinced that midwifery-assisted home birth is a feasible option in India. Renu Misra, a senior consultant at the Delhi-based Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science & Research, says such births are feasible in countries which have a community health service integrated with higher centres. “There, a woman can be transported to a hospital in no time if she develops a complication,” she says.

But women like Thomas are happy with their midwives. For them, the transition to motherhood is less scary and painful.


a shorter version of the story appeared in The Telegraph on June 26,2016.