The Last Conception
Passionate embryologist, Savarna, is in a complicated relationship, with two different women, when she is told that she MUST have a baby. Her conservative East Indian American parents are desperate for her to conceive, in spite of her "not being married". They insist that she is the last in line of a great spiritual lineage. In the process of choosing her lover and having doubts about her ability, or desire to conceive, Savarna begins to question the necessity of biology and lineage within her parents' beliefs and becomes forever fascinated with the process of conception and the definition of family. Threads of Dan Brown (DaVinci Code), Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Sister of My Heart) and The L Word (TV series) flavor this colorful tale of awakening, romance and mystery.
Savarna tried another yoga pose. “Damn,” she said, losing her balance, just as the phone rang. She picked up her cell and answered.
“Hi, Sis. What’s up?”
Savarna’s sister, Chitra, had married Mike Nolan, an architect. Savarna loved him like the brother she’d never had. He was easy to get along with and always up for a joke or two, even if the joke was on him. Chitra and Mike were the same age. Their parents, Mira and Davidia Sikand, had been hesitant at first, since Mike had been raised Lutheran and wasn’t, as they said, “from quite the right background.” Her parents quickly came around when, after being married only six months, Chitra had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. They saw their son-in-law lovingly and devoutly stay with their daughter through the horrendous but successful surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. If it hadn’t been for Mike’s determination, energy, and positive attitude, they were not sure Chitra would have fared as well as she did. “Savarna, could you stop and pick up some drinks for Mom’s party? It’s the only thing I forgot.”
“No problem. I’ll get some juice and chai. You know how much she loves her chai.”
They both grinned, certain the other was doing the same. Their mother could drink a gallon of chai and keep guzzling if more was offered. Then she would always complain that she had to go to the bathroom so often. It was a lifelong obsession that her children made fun of at every opportunity. When they were younger, some of their friends accidentally called their mother Mrs. Chai, having heard the girls calling her that themselves when she wasn’t present.
“Well?” Chitra questioned.
“Well, what?” Savarna replied.
“Are you going to tell them?”
“Maybe. Don’t make it a big deal, OK?”
“But it is a big deal. I think Mom knows anyway. You know how she likes to live in her dream world.”
“Don’t we all?”
“Starts at seven, so don’t be late.”
“Why would I be late?”
“Just drive for once, OK. You don’t have to ride your bike everywhere, and don’t start in on all that environmental stuff with me. I already get it and you know it.”
Savarna laughed. “I guess I could use the car and show up on time.”
“Well hello! Why get a car if you’re never going to use it anyway?”
“I’ll be there at seven sharp.”
“With the drinks.”
“With the drinks.”
“And Mom’s present.”
“Present?” Savarna paused. “I thought she said she didn’t want any presents, only donations to that religious group she and Dad belong to.
“She doesn’t, but I thought we could chip in and buy the airfare for their yearly pilgrimage.”
“They’ve managed to do that on their own ever since we were born.”
“Yes, but it hasn’t been easy, and it’s not like you and I are poor. Don’t you think it would be a nice gesture and show of support, even though we know it’s all hogwash?”
“Point taken. How much were you thinking?”
“A thousand. If we each pitch in that amount, it will almost cover them both for a round trip.”
“You’ve got it.”
“See you later.”
* * * *
“Happy fifty-eighth, Mom!” Savarna exclaimed, as her mother and father came out of the kitchen. They hurried to their daughter and gave her a big hug and lots of kisses.
“Hold on here,” Savarna said, stepping back for a moment. “It’s your birthday, not mine.” Her parents grinned and hugged her some more.
“Let me put these drinks in the kitchen, before I drop them.”
“You didn’t bring any chai, did you?” her mother asked.
“Of course not,” Savarna replied. “Why on earth would we? Everyone knows you hate the stuff.”
“Of course I brought some, and it’s freshly made.”
“Hello!” Chitra yelled, as she and Mike came in the front door. They put down their pots and bowls and greeted her mother and father.
“Is Savarna here already? I can’t believe she got here before us.”
“You saw her car in the driveway,” Mike said, with a few laugh lines rising next to his blue eyes.
“I know, but it’s hard to believe she actually drove it.”
“Is it that electric one she’s been talking about?” asked Savarna’s father.
“Sure is,” Mike said.
“You want to take a look?”
As Mike and Davidia went outside to evaluate the car, Chitra and her mother joined Savarna in the kitchen.
“I’ll put the naan in the oven while you heat up the chai,” Chitra told her sister.
“Here,” Mira said, grabbing the pot out of Savarna’s hands. “Let me do that.”
“No way,” Savarna said, reclaiming the pot and placing it on the burner. “It’s your birthday, let us do it for a change.”
The girls playfully tried to push their mother out of the kitchen. She protested and tickled them. They tickled her back until all three women were giggling like young schoolgirls.
“Stop! Stop!” Chitra squealed in between rolling rounds of laughter. “You’re going to make me pee my pants.”
“You’re wearing a dress,” Savarna laughed, brushing her hand over her sister’s short jet-black hair. “How can you pee your pants?” She and her mother ganged up on Chitra and tickled her again.
Chitra slid to the floor. “If I had on pants, they’d be soaked.”
Savarna and her mother stopped tickling Chitra and helped her up off the floor.
“If anybody is going to pee their pants, it’s going to be Mom,” Savarna said, “after she drinks all that chai!”
Their mother slapped Savarna’s shoulder and said, with mock surprise, “How could you ever say such a thing?”
Once they regained a modicum of composure, their mother said, “I can see that you and Mike are happy. Your union has been such a blessing for all of us.”
“Absolutely. You picked a good one, Sis,” Saverna replied.
“Which reminds me,” their mother interjected. “There’s something we should talk about.”
“OK,” Savarna replied and glanced at her sister, who smiled back. “There’s something I want to talk about with you too.”
“I’ll leave you two at it,” Chitra said. “I’m going to look at your latest technological marvel. Where are the keys?”
“In the side pocket of my purse. Help yourself.”
“I’ll bet those guys didn’t even think of getting the keys so they could turn the damn thing on.”
As Chitra left to join her husband and father gawking at the vehicle outside, Mira took Savarna’s hand and led her to the living room couch. The couch was old but in perfect condition. They’d picked it out twenty years ago, when they decided to “modernize” their home furnishings.
“I’ve found the perfect man for you. He’s bright, handsome, well off, and wants to marry an Indian girl like you, and before you say ‘No,’ he’s also a scientist. He works at the Berkeley Labs with energy alternatives, or something like that. You both have a lot in common. He’s different from anyone else I’ve ever told you about.”
Savarna sighed deeply and calmed herself before she replied. “Mom, first off, I’m not an ‘Indian’ girl, I’m as American as they come.”
“You know what I—”
“Second, I don’t care if he’s the smartest man in the world or looks like a movie star.”
“Thirdly, I’ll bet my ever-loving mother that you’ve never even met this fellow and only heard about him from your matchmaker friend, Mrs. Padhamasa, right?”
“Well,” her mother said, shaking her head side to side in defeat.
“Mom, you and Dad have been trying to get me married off since I was sixteen. If it hasn’t worked after all these years, why do you think it will now?”
“It’s not a matter of ‘thinking’ or ‘wishing.’ It is an urgent and necessary step which we will never stop pursuing until you are wed and have children.”
“Mom—” Savarna hung her head— “believe me. It will never happen.”
“Why not? I know you’re older, but you’re still pretty. Any man worth his salt would want you for his wife.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I’m not dumb. Is there something I should know?”
The front door burst open. “I’ll be,” exclaimed Mr. Sikand. “That is really something.”
“It’s amazing!” Mike piped in. “We should get one of those.”
“I’m with you, dear,” Chitra replied. “I smell something. Did you check the naan Savarna?”
“Oh no.” She bolted towards the kitchen.
“The one thing I ask you to do and you forget all about it,” Chitra said, as she followed her sister towards the burning bread.
Davidia looked at Mira.
“No,” Mira said, standing. She adjusted her orange-yellow sari over her shoulder and pushed back her braided gray hair. “She wouldn’t even look at the picture.”
“We’ve got to do something,” Davidia said, embracing his wife of forty years. “We might have to take drastic action.”
“Like what, kidnap her and marry her against her will?”