Click to see photograph “Woman begging while breastfeeding, New Delhi, India.” Copyright © Bonnie Gruenberg.
At noon, on an April day in New Delhi, the weather was like a fever, hot on Rebecca’s brow, where pearls of sweat glistened and remained, because the air itself was so pregnant with its own sweat. Rebecca was sitting on an airport bus with her 18 month old on her breast, her husband next to her. The boy was thirsty, and restless after the long night flight from Johannesburg. They were traveling to another terminal so that they could board their connecting flight to Chennai.
Rebecca’s first image of India was through the smudged and scratched window of that bus. What she saw would remain more lucid in her memory than any photograph could ever capture. A thin young woman, poor, but nevertheless beautiful in her vibrant and colourful sari, held her baby in one arm, whilst it suckled, and at the same time she walked, holding her other arm out to beg. She approached anybody that she could, but most of them did not give her anything.
The sultry sun, the lack of sleep, did not hinder Rebecca’s mind from reflecting on what she was seeing. Her own life, she thought, was easy in comparison, but in its easiness it was hard. She was reminded of the times when her little boy was a baby and how she used to get up at the deadest hours of night, because she had not gotten it right to lie down and breastfeed him in bed. To while these quiet hours she used to watch documentary films on television.
On one of these nights an image of India would become indelibly etched in Rebecca’s mind. The documentary film in particular featured women in India working in a stone quarry. There was a woman, also thin, young, and poor, bashing stones with one hand, while the other hand held her baby, which was suckling as the mother toiled; hard physical labour. Rebecca was seeing this from an armchair with a cushion here and a cushion there, all arranged just so; so that she could get the geometry for breastfeeding just right. Success was the suckling sounds of her baby snug at her breast. And from this vantage point Rebecca watched a woman in poverty, who knew how to do it, this breastfeeding, and who was getting on with her work, with life, with no cushions, no maternity leave, and no time to catch up lost sleep. The most important thing, Rebecca thought then, and now—is for richer or for poorer, that a baby should be in its mother’s arms and drinking mother’s milk.
Copyright © Quirina Roode-Gutzmer 2012. All rights reserved.
This is a completely true story, where Rebecca is me, and the little boy is my eldest son, who is now 12 years old.