Our Dream Girl

I can never forget October 20, 1962 in my life. We were in Calcutta at that time. It was an eventful day in the history of India as well as in my personal life. On the personal front, a girl child was born to my wife that night. My wife was 33 years old that year. Sapna was our third child and born after a gap of eight years. It was a cherished moment and time to celebrate.

The other historical event was in the life of our country. It was on the same night that the Chinese attacked India. The Chinese attack was sudden. Hundreds and thousands of Chinese soldiers came down from the Tibetan heights and advanced into the Indian territory towards Assam in the east and Ladakh in the north. India was unprepared, under-equipped and outnumbered. The Indian soldiers fought valiantly but there was no way to stop them in the east. The Chinese, after a few days and after occupying some of our territory, declared a unilateral ceasefire.

I was posted in Calcutta as the Director of the Government of India Tourist Office in the city which had the responsibility of promoting tourism to eastern India – including Assam, Bihar and Orissa. I spent the next day studying various atlases and maps trying to figure out how and where the Chinese could advance further. The invasion shook the Indian nation because it was seen as sheer treachery on the part of the Chinese. We were used to slogans of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ coined by none other than our Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. We were under the impression that China was committed to eternal friendship with India - we helped China to come out of international isolation.

At the Presidency Hospital, where my wife had been admitted for delivery, I saw my daughter for the first time – I saw in her a calm, quiet and a pretty baby who seemed to be looking at me with large unblinking eyes. I was quite impressed and thanked God for this gift. We instantly decided to give her the name Sapna (a Dream) because she had such dreamy eyes. In Bengal, it was a common name for girls though the Bengalis pronounced it as “Shopna”. The name was not so popular in the North but my mother also liked it. It was easy to pronounce.

Three days later, when my wife was discharged from the hospital, I was asked to sign a paper stating that we were taking the child in good health. However, before signing the paper, I asked the doctor why the baby looked so weak. She rarely cried unlike the other children and she was so light-weight. The doctor picked up the girl, tossed her around and found nothing wrong. He said, “My friend, you are lucky. You have a very sweet and quiet baby who cries very little. She is like a little goddess” he added. I smiled and was reassured.

We took her home. But her growth continued to be slow and her crying too was feeble compared to other children of her age. As Calcutta was still warm, we took her to Darjeeling along with the rest of the family so that she could pick up some weight in a cooler climate. It was a good trip and the child seemed to be growing gradually but still made little noise in the house which worried us. On returning to Calcutta, an older lady in the neighbourhood visited us. On seeing Sapna she suggested that my wife should get her examined by a good child specialist as she was not growing fast enough.

In a day or two, a local well-known paediatrician was called home to examine Sapna. He was a very friendly medico and laughed a lot. Looking at the girl, he immediately picked her up and kissed her. She did not cry as expected but seemed to give a welcome smile to the doctor. He too tossed her around. “Yes”, he said, “she has not gained much weight but it is not unusual. She was born under-weight, not more than four pounds. It will take time. But she is mentally alert though a quiet child.” “What more do you want?” he asked. “I will prescribe some vitamin drink. Let her drink it along with normal mother's milk,” he advised. “She is only four months old as yet. She will gain weight in the course of time and will be like other normal babies,” he added. He fondled the child once again and kissed her and laughed.


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