(Yet another unselected entry for TOI story contest!)

Doubly Strong
'Are you sure, Rhea?' asks my mother.

'Of course I'm. Survival of the fittest, mother. I'm not going against Darwin. Also I don't want unnecessary scars on my body.'

It's a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don't understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. "Save A Life. Donate!" they shout.

For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother's womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It's so rare - literally one in all humankind - that they didn't even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea's Heartsawesome but the doctors aren't thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?

An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate - are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?

I am resolute in my decision and I have declared it in no uncertain terms. There ends the topic. I refuse to allow it to spoil my delightful enjoyment of the scrambled eggs in my plate.

From across the breakfast table my father beams an assuring, approving smile. 'I fully agree with you, my little girl! Ignore the clamouring crowd outside our house. I shall send them away discreetly.'

That is my dear father. He has always been my best friend and supporter. I cannot help wishing my mother came out of her old-fashioned concepts and customs.

Mother's ideas of womanhood are pathetically unrealistic and outdated in our modern world. She has very crazy notions about a woman's duties as a wife, mother and all other roles.

I have heard her consoling our servant maid who suffers hell in the hands of a drunkard husband. Mother advises her to be patient and submissive and to hope for his reformation. The wretch, the maid's husband, does not support his family. Actually the rogue beats her up to snatch her hard-earned money to buy liquor. The irresponsible beast deserves to be put behind the bars. The stupid woman lacks the guts to avail her rights for getting legal help and protection from such endless domestic violence.

I simply can't understand why women, whatever their social status is, refuse to become aware of their legal rights and moral powers. Well, it is virtuous to have a sacrificing nature, I agree. But do the persons for whom the sacrifices are made deserve them? It is odious to see women who are devoid of self-respect. How can they prefer to live in squalor enduring all kinds of injustice and brutality and not seek emancipation? But it is heartening to see slow changes in this sordid scenario.

As I finish my hearty breakfast I can plainly see mother is disappointed with my decision. 'What these people are demanding is atrocious!' I reassert.

'They are only appealing to your softness towards suffering humanity, Rhea!' mother gently argued.

'I am tender-hearted, I do want to alleviate the sufferings of underprivileged people. I am charitable enough to donate food, clothes and money which fortunately we have in abundance. But giving away an organ, even if it is extra, is completely a different matter, is it not? Money can be easily earned but not the God's gift of an extra heart! I am going to jealously guard it as my precious treasure! There is no rethinking to be done on it!' I stand my position.

Hearing Sushma honking her scooty's horn for me I start running to the gate after a hasty goodbye to my parents. With me in the pillion seat Sushma carefully weaves through the small crowd gathered in front of our house. We both love our daily morning routine of going to the swimming pool. On the way we usually stop at the book store, visit a friend or do some other errand.

After a few minutes of vigorous swimming we take a break to have a little chat. I know Sushma is curious to know about the commotion in front of our house. She lives in the same street and has been with me in the same school and college. We are thick friends and there are no secrets between us, not even the love affair between me and her brother Suraj who after finishing his higher studies in the United States has come back to help his father in the management of their family's business empire.

After listening to my account of the incident of sick people demanding me to donate my extra heart she pats my hand with empathy, 'It is your personal choice, Rhea! Nobody has the right to pressurise you to do anything against your wish. Don't fret over the miseries of other people unnecessarily.'

'I cannot for a moment think of donating my heart to these people, Sushma! Certainly not! Doctors may be obsessed with saving the lives of their patients. That is their profession. Their concern. Not my calling. Not my mission.'

Not wanting to dwell on the subject we plunge again into the pool and enjoy the activity joyfully like two carefree fish. Life is wonderful. It is a gift to be able to live it to the full.

After reaching home I leisurely go through the regular ritual of of pampering my skin and hair with the proper nourishments. My next programme is browsing. On my way to the computer desk I momentarily stop near the new books bought in the morning. They can wait till the night, I decide. I first check my mail and then jump into my favourite strategy games, word games and sudoku all of which never fail to invigorate my brain.

When I am about to log out I hear mother setting the table for lunch. I enter the dining hall with a healthy appetite inhaling the aroma of the hot, spicy dishes mother specialises in. I give her a bear hug wanting to make up for the disappointment I caused her in the morning.

Father walks in calling cheerfully, 'Hello, my pretty girls! I am famished!' Mother waits on us filling our plates with tasty, wholesome food. Mother's culinary skills are extraordinary. Father and I retire into the hall with a large bowl of ice cream in hand.

Mother's favourite magazine lying on top of others on the small table near the sofa catches my eye. 'Surrogacy flourishes in India' flashes the cover story. 'Ouch! That is another sanctifying service of woman - lending her womb to pompous childless couples bent on bringing forth heirs with their genes!' are my words of exasperation.

'My dear child, often it is not the money but a noble sense of service which motivates the surrogate mothers,' comments my father. 'Noble! My foot! Adoption is nobler, is it not, father?' Father nods his head in affirmative clearly indicating his not being in the mood for debating the topic.

'Well, it is time for my beauty sleep. I must get up early and spruce myself before my tennis match with Suraj in the evening,' I announce and after a light peck on father's cheek I run upstairs to my room.

In the evening Suraj greets me with his usual charming smile, 'Hi, cutey pie! you look gorgeous!' I accept the compliment with a gracious smile.

'What was the racket in front of your house in the morning that I heard of, sweetie?'

'Heart patients have an eye on my extra heart!' I reply with a sigh.

'Why don't you give it to them if they want it, my sweetheart?' he asks winking mischievously.

'I might if it were a hairpin I'm wearing on my head is what they wanted!' I shrug my shoulders in disdain.

'Ah! I think you are scared of the operation theatre and the masked surgeons with scalpel in hand! So, you are chicken-hearted and not double-hearted as everybody thinks!' he teases me. I glare at him angrily.

'Oh! Come on, baby! You are clinging to your toy, you mean kid! No sharing! No caring!' he continues his banter.

I turn my back and begin to walk away. He pulls me back, 'Don't leave me, my little piggie! I shall perish without you!'

'Why do you want a heartless girl, may I know?' I gnash my teeth.

'Heartless? Oh! My darling! You have two hearts, my awesome girl!' he exclaims with eyes wide in awe and adoration.

'You decide one heart is enough for me, you male chauvinist pig?' I hiss looking straight into his eyes.

He gently takes me into his arms. 'I decide to be the luckiest man on earth who can proudly show to the world how three hearts beat as one in two bodies!' he whispers softly in my ear.

I melt at his sincere words. I know very well that he is the last man on the planet to assume he can order about his wife or any other woman for that matter according to his whims and fancies. An ecstatic moment it is to know I have found my soul mate in the tall, naughty, young man standing beside me looking into my eyes with ardour.

Being doubly blessed is the overwhelming emotion I find myself reeling under - not because of my awesome gift of double hearts alone but also the realisation that the heart of the most awesome man on earth is ready to throb in unison with my two hearts. As I take the tennis racket in hand I feel a doubly strong joie de vivre rushing through my body and soul.