• (Written more than a decade or two ago by a woman to share her experience of adopting in the early 70s.  She went on to adopt again several years later, and inspired many others to explore ways to be family without the biological bond taking precedence)

1

I am in the city’s Town Hall to see one of the senior medical officers.  I have already met her some months earlier with my husband.  Though business like, she is courteous, and looks quite sympathetic.  The local foundling home is under her administrative control.  She had interviewed us, helped us to complete some forms and had granted us permission to visit the home with a view to adopt.

Thereafter, we had been to the home and had selected a baby girl of about six months.  Ritu was a bonny infant, healthy, alert and as with other infants in the home, her antecedents were unknown.   Unfortunately for us, she had been found abandoned by a policeman on patrol duty and had been officially sent to the home by his police station.  To have her released, the clearance we had obtained from the Town Hall was not enough; we needed one from the First Class Magistrate of the city.  We took turns at pursuing the matter but the magistrate was elusive.  Only those who have had to deal with courts in India would know how dilatory our procedures can be!  We finally pinned the Magistrate and got the hearing.  He said he was not certain of the provisions under which he could issue the order we needed nor was he willing to fix any date by which the clearance could be given after resolving the matter.  When I pleaded that Ritu was at a critical stage on development, and time was of essence, he dismissed me with the remark that as Magistrate he had more pressing things to attend to than the fate of an illegitimate baby and resolutely turned to the papers for the next case.

I wrote to the press, and later, to our Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi.  One of her secretaries answered promptly and referred me to a senior official in the local administration.  But even a favourable response from the PM’s office could not help one to cut through red tape. Given our form of bureaucracy, the fulfilment of set procedures seemed more important than the preservation of human life.  Time was slipping by and Ritu was growing up.  I felt responsible for her and kept visiting her regularly.

On every visit, I found some or the other crib empty, not because its occupant had been adopted but because she had been claimed by death. The fatality rate at the home was alarming.  Had Ritu fallen a victim, say to pneumonia, it would have posed no administrative problem for the fondling home.  But handing her over alive and well to prospective parents, anxious to take her home, seemed to generate an insurmountable challenge.  And to top it all, yesterday I had been denied admission to the home and had been referred for an explanation to the Town Hall office, which had initially given the permission for adoption.

So here I am to find out why in the fight for Ritu, instead of being supported by those who run the home, I was even denied access to the baby.  The medical office is somewhat late but she arrives and calls me in.  She places me readily enough and when I start on my problem, assures me that she has been in touch and the staff has been in its rights to deny me admission.  She pauses, takes a long look at me, and asks – “Are you not in the family way?”  I nod in the affirmative for this is indeed the case and by now it is obvious enough. “Then how can we permit you to see our babies?” she continues. “You can no longer be serious about adoption!”

I explained that when we applied at her office, we had at no point implied that we could not have biological children.  A long stay abroad had made us put off starting the family.  We had every intention of having one biological child and we were equally determined on adopting one.  But I suddenly sensed that my words are making no impression on my listener and that I am being regarded with a kind of curiosity with which we look on at an aberration in nature.  As I fall silent, the medical officer clinches the issue by informing me that under the regulations of their foundling homes, no infant can be given to a couple who has a biological child.   By becoming pregnant, we had forfeited the right to adoption!

2

As I slowly step out of the town hall, my mind goes back five years.  It’s a dull October evening in Cambridge; the sky is overcast and there is a slight drizzle.  We are invited to the home of our Chinese friends from Singapore, who arrived in the UK only that summer.   Also invited are an officer from the Royal British Navy and his wife – both recently back from a posting in Singapore.  It is there that they had met our hosts and had become friends.

This evening is to prove the most memorable one for me, and yet as it progresses, it seems so routine, so undistinguished.  Is it not strange how in life an event or a meeting which is to prove a turning-point may seem quite commonplace at the time of its occurrence?  Today if I had to describe the appearance of the English woman, I would not even be able to tell about her personality.  Infact, I cannot even recall her name though we had been properly introduced.  The conversation that evening drifted from one subject to another until I heard the English woman remark that the greatest sorrow for them was to have to give up the Chinese girl they had adopted.  There was a legal impediment and they had leave the child with her relatives.  Infact, they were so upset that one of the first things they did on getting back to their homeland, was to apply for adoption.    They had been already interviewed at length and had been visited by the placement agency personnel for an evaluation of their ability to provide a suitable home to the adopted child.  Their application was finally approved and they were now waiting for a year or more to get an infant in adoption- the waiting period for adoptive parents being long in the UK.

The conversation turned to other subjects and then our host asked the couple about the welfare of their two sons.  “They are fine”, the parents announce, and “are quite happy to be back in the UK.  But they miss their sister left behind in Singapore!”     My ears perk up on this bit of conversation, initially taken aback by the discovery that the couple wanted to adopt inspite of being able to have biological children.  I gave my curiosity a free rein and asked the English woman what motivated them to adopt when they have children of their own.  There was a pause, a fleeting look of embarrassment, and then she picked up an old thread of conversation and bypassed answering me.  I naively returned to it a little later and she circumvented it just as deftly.

The unanswered question steadily takes hold of me; the four years of my time abroad in UK and USA are spent trying to find an answer to it.

3

(Edited)

4

Motherhood is a wonderful experience and I have been blessed with a bright and beautiful baby girl.  She has become so much the centre of our lives that those around us wonder if we could still be serious about adoption.  But I have made a promise to myself and it must be honoured.  Now that Ruhi is beginning to take her first steps and mouth her first words, it is time to think about our second daughter.

At last, the fateful day arrives.  I am at the infants section of a children’s home, outside my home city.  The regulations here are somewhat more liberal and Mrs K, who accompanies me and is in overall charge of the home, knows that I am already a mother.  I am shown a baby girl who is 3 months old, alert, healthy and pretty.  While waiting for the paperwork, I wander inside, and notice another girl who looks twice as old.  I go upto her, smile and try to coax her.  She stands in her crib, holding on firmly to its side.  She has the sadness as of a hundred lifetimes in her eyes.  Never had I thought an infant’s eyes capable of such an expression!  I pick her up, she neither responds nor resists.  I went up to the office and asked if I could adopt this baby instead.  They agreed.

When I returned home with Juhi, there was one question that confronted me repeatedly from family and friends alike:  why her?  Juhi was old enough to walk and run but her legs were too weak to permit her even to stand up without firm support, her belly distended and eyes dull.  Hunger with her was not a condition of the body but a state of mind – no matter how much food she ate, she always yearned for more!  Instead of crying, she had a strange way of throwing back her head and howling.  From time to time, she moaned softly and her face contorted with some inner discomfort.  She was evidently quite ill. Seeing how frail she was, people wondered how long she would survive and even if she did, could she ever grow into a healthy and happy child?

5

All this was a very long time ago and I have had to take the aid of old photographs to retrieve the past.  The girl who flits about me from room to room today full of song, represents an unbelievable metamorphosis of the sickly infant I carried across my threshold years ago.  “Love”, says a contemporary Indian poet, “is a journey that only knows a beginning”, for it has no end.  It is a journey in which one never passes the same bend twice and in which each twist, each turn of the road unfolds new vistas and prospects.  The decision to embark upon it was mine and in its initial stages, it demanded a lot of effort.  But once begun, it gathered its own momentum and has continued on its own steam.

Under the happiest conditions, parenthood is a challenge.  Bringing up Juhi in a society which accepted adoption only if one could not bear children, had added more challenges.  However the richness and fulfilment of parenthood of which I speak are something to be experienced, not described.  But there are four important truths about life and parenthood that I would like to share:

A. Life’s power to overcome handicaps is truly miraculous

B.  A parent’s love for a child is as much a reflection of the child’s love for the parent as the other way about.

C. The most compelling bond which holds parents and children together is not that of the flesh but of the joys and pains they have shared.

D.  If life is a journey, be prepared also sometimes or at some stage to learn to let go.  Our children’s lives may not follow the path we expect them to take.  They have to decide about their own journey.

It was two or three years ago that I heard the popular ABBA song that begins with “Take a chance on me, take chance on me!”  Even as its opening line was repeated, my eyes dimmed and there before me I saw with my mind’s eye Juhi as I had first glimpsed her in her crib in the children’s home.  The song had no relevance to my situation but its words articulated something I had been unable to clarify for myself and in the process answered the question which had once troubled everyone around me: Why her?  I had hardly realised at that time that I was seizing on the chance of my life which brought us together!

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Graceful Living

Plato says that philosophy is training for death.  This is so true.  We should be able to die with grace and dignity and at peace with ourselves.  It is important to die well.  But it is equally important to live well.  For we cannot die well, unless we live well.  Philosophy thus should be a training for life.  What does it mean to live well?  It means to do justice to our evolutionary potential.  It means to experience consciously spiritual aspects of our life and to allow these aspects to blossom.  It means to contribute to the well-being of others.  It means to have a good trail behind your existence and, if possible, to leave a positive trace of your existence.  It means to live in peace with yourself and with the world.  In brief, to live well, is to live life in joy, gently celebrating your humanity.

Henryk Skolimowski in Philosophy as a Training for Life as quoted in Speaking Tree