It is February 29, and the maternity ward of the government-run Gauhati Medical College and Hospital was milling with people from all parts of Assam: anxious fathers waiting for a glimpse of their newborns, relatives with utensils of food and new mothers cradling their hour-old babies. That it was a special date hadn’t registered for most.
When new father Pranab Saloi realised, he said, “I am aware this date comes once in four years! But I forgot. This is actually very lucky for my daughter.” Saloi is a 30-year-old carpenter from Chaygaon, about 80 km from Guwahati. Carrying his daughter outside the labour-unit, he laughed and asked the nurses, “Can you tell us when we should celebrate her birthday next year…should we do it on February 28 or March 1?”
A businessman from Pathshala town, Lachit Das’s wife, Deepamoni, was scheduled to have her baby on March 7. “Only yesterday they told us that the surgery would happen today — on February 29. For a second, it did cross my mind that it was a rare date but then I didn’t think about it much as long as our baby is healthy,” he said.
Along the corridors, that function as the ‘waiting room’ for families, Das’s newborn girl was surrounded by his aunts, cousin and grandmother. Archana Talukdar, Das’s sister, smiled and said: “We will celebrate her birthday according to the Assamese calendar. So for us, today is not February 29 but the 16th of ‘Fagun’ month.” Another aunt piped in: “And when February 29 comes four years later, we will celebrate in a big way.”
In another part of the ward, 25-year-old Bhanita Barman Deka, lay next to her baby boy, born at around 3 in the morning. “I feel lucky that he chose this day — it is definitely special,” she said.
The Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal registered nine births till noon. Of all the parents, H. Karnajit Singh, 28, a resident of Thoubal Khekman, felt he was luckiest of all the parents. At around 8.40 am his wife Nirmala, 24, gave birth to their first child, a son. What makes today so special for the couple is that despite the fear of being born prematurely, the child is healthy.
According to Singh, the doctor earlier fixed the due date on April but his wife had to be admitted on Friday following a complaint of sudden labour pain.
“I was really worried when doctors told me that the baby had to be delivered prematurely. I didn’t know what to do. But all my worries were gone when I learnt that the delivery was successful and both the mother and child were safe,” said Singh. Even as the child weighs just 1.45 kg, doctor said the child was fine.
“I feel blessed that on such a unique day I got my first child despite of all the odds our family have to gone through,” said Singh.
A senior staff-nurse on duty, who was doing the rounds, suggested Singh throw a big party as he won’t have to do one for another four years.
Nearby, Y. Pritamkumar (38) and wife Linda Chanu (26) of Meitram Makha Leikai of Imphal West district welcomed their second child at the private Imphal Hospital. “We believe in a small family and having a second child was our dream to make our family complete. With our first born being a son, having a girl child on a leap day makes our family more than complete,” said Chanu.
In Tripura, 11 leaplings, including six girls, were born at Indira Gandhi Memorial (IGM) hospital at Agartala on February 29. Director of Family Welfare Dr. Radha Debbarma said total figures of leaplings across the state haven’t been enumerated yet.
First-time parents Prem Paul and Srikanta were overjoyed at the birth of their daughter Jireh Prenitha Prem at Bloom Fertility and Healthcare Hospital in Chennai’s Velachery Saturday morning. “It is a special day for me and I think God is doing something special in my life. We are planning to celebrate her birthday as per both Tamil and English calendars,” Prem told /Indianexpress.com/. His plan is to celebrate Jireh’s birthday every year as per the Tamil calendar and with much fanfare and Biryani as per the English calendar every leap year. “Our daughter’s first name is Jireh which means mean ‘God will provide’ and her middle name is Prenitha which means ‘Gift from God’. Her middle name is also a combination of mine and my wife’s names,” gushed the new father.
“We had prayed to God and knew that he would bless us so I am overjoyed that Jireh was born a leapling,” said Jireh’s grandmother Noor Jahan.
K Veeramma and Siddhu had their third son today at 12.42 am at the government maternity hospital in Hyderabad’s Sultan Bazar. “We missed a normal birthday for my son by 42 minutes. We are actually shocked,” laughs Veeramma, flanked by her sons and relatives at the hospital ward. Veeramma, who was expecting a girl child this time, forsees a problem going ahead: “How will I convince my son now about his birthday when his two older brothers are going to have birthday celebrations every year.”
The government maternity hospital at Sultan Bazaar is one of the busiest government maternity hospitals in Hyderabad. On an average day, about 40 deliveries are recorded here. “Till 3.30 pm today we have had 15 deliveries. The numbers usually go up by late evening, ” said RMO Dr Dayanandaswamy.
For the so-called leaplings, or those born on February 29, the Leap Year calls for a bigger celebration. In Chennai, 88-year-old Leela Kumar has seen the advantage over the years. “When something is out of the ordinary, you feel special. Since my birthday is on a leap day, everyone in the family remembers to wish me.”
Born on February 29, 1932 as one of eight sisters, Leela was always special. A tabla player, she was just 15 when along with her sister she performed at the very first Thiruvaiyaru aaradhana at Thanjavur. Even after losing her hearing in later stages, she continues to remain passionate about performing arts.
Leela still remembers the one incident that made her realise she has a special birthday. “One day, while I was washing my clothes, my father saw me wringing the water out using my left hand. He then exclaimed, ‘You are left-handed and a leapling’ and that’s when I realised that I was born on a leap year.”
Sharing her birthday with Mozart, Morarji Desai and Rukmini Devi Arundel, Leela said her family always celebrated on February 28 the other years. “At 88, I owe my healthy life to my family who ensure that I have a loving environment and take care of all my needs.”
Leela’s son, Sriram joked that his mother is turning 22 today instead of 88. “Although we celebrate her birthday every year, the leap year is special. We keep celebrations low-key because she likes it that way. My mother was a gifted musician and cook and even though she has lost all her hearing, she loves arts and is a voracious reader.”
(With inputs from Rahul Pisharody and Debraj Deb)