To my Indian mom on Mother’s Day…

Dear mom,

Happy Mother’s Day, wherever you are. I may not be with you, but you are with me. I see you everyday. I see you in my tiny hands. I see you in my small wrists and my funny looking feet. I see you in my knobby knees and my monkey toes. I see you in my unbearably frizzy Indian hair, in my smile, and maybe even my laugh. Wherever I go, I know you’re a part of me. I’m truly thankful for that. Thank you for giving me life. I think of you always mom. ♥
-pranali

Knobby Knees and Monkey Toes

I finally finished, “A Long Way Home: A Memoir” by Saroo Brierley. I began reading it several months ago, but decided to take a break considering how heavy it was for me to read.

I only had a few chapters left to read, and once I started reading again I wondered why I ever stopped. I couldn’t put it down! Then I got to the pictures at the end of the book, and was mesmerized in particular by this photo:


I went from face to face to face, analyzing every inch of their faces.

It isn’t hard to recognize that Saroo looks EXACTLY like the others in his family.

This is what I’ve longed for my entire life. Somewhere in the world, there are others who look like me. Saroo found his family, the ones who have his facial features and maybe even his mannerisms. Obviously there are cultural differences, but genes are genes.

Growing up I would watch as friends were getting married and having children and trying to decide which family traits the child carried. Maybe it had the family nose, or the family eyes, or the family dimples. These are normal for me to hear about, but when I think of family traits when it comes to myself, it is such a foreign concept. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Somewhere, my family lives and has my eyes and my nose and maybe even my knobby knees and monkey toes. When I someday have my own children and meet my biological family for the first time, I’ll be able to see what traits I received and pass on to them. I can’t wait for that.

Strangers Like Me

I work at a Children’s hospital and interact with children on a daily basis. I often ask them what their favorite Disney movies and songs are. Most of the answers I get are from the movie Frozen. Others were from Beauty and the Beast, understandably so since the new movie just came out and it is fresh in their minds. I mentioned that my favorite Disney songs come from the movie Tarzan. One in particular is the song Strangers Like Me.

It’s not as much of a popular song, but I’m sure you’ve heard it. You’re probably not as familiar with the lyrics, so I’ll post a few excerpts here:

“Whatever you do, I’ll do it too
Show me everything and tell me how
It all means something
And yet nothing to me 

I can see there’s so much to learn
It’s all so close and yet so far
I see myself as people see me
Oh, I just know there’s something bigger out there 

I wanna know, can you show me
I wanna know about these
strangers like me
Tell me more, please show me
Something’s familiar about these strangers like me

Ooo, these emotions I never knew
Of some other world far beyond this place
Beyond the trees, above the clouds
I see before me a new horizon.”

This may sound like a random song to be favored among the others. But if you take a closer look at the lyrics, it truly describes how I feel around other “authentic” Indians.

Those first few sentences truly resonate with me–“Whatever you do, I’ll do it too. Show me everything and tell me how. It all means something to me and yet nothing to me.” Being around other Indians is an awkward feeling for me. I so badly want to feel like I fit in with them. I look like them…it makes sense that I should act like them too. The reality is that I will never be fully Indian. I missed growing up in the culture I was born into. I will always look Indian, but I’ll never be fully Indian. I don’t look American, but I am more American than Indian. Can you imagine how confusing this becomes?

“I can see there’s so much to learn. It’s all so close and yet so far. I see myself as people see me. Oh I just know there’s something bigger out there.”

I truly want learning about my culture to come easily to me…but it just won’t happen. I see myself as an American because that’s the culture I was raised in. I’ve had friends say to me, “I always forget that you’re Indian.” To be honest, sometimes I do too. But then I look in the mirror and remember this dark skin is not American. But there is a world out there that beckons for me to come discover it, and find others who are look like me, yet feel like such strangers because I lack the culture, identity, and religion I was born into. They are strangers…strangers like me.

“I wanna know, can you show me? I wanna know about these strangers like me. Tell me more, please show me. Something’s familiar about these strangers like me.” Growing up I wanted to be as American as I could be–I wanted to be a normal, typical, all-American kid. I never quite fit the mold. Now, it feels like I’ve been living the remainder of my life trying desperately to grasp what I can from that life and culture that I lost. I am Indian on the outside, but am American through and through so growing up I never felt like I quite fit in with Indians or Americans. It can become an isolating and lonely endeavor to try and balance this dual identity.

“These emotions I never knew of some other world far beyond this placeBeyond the trees, above the clouds I see before me a new horizon.” It may be too late for me to truly experience my culture the way any other Indian would having grown into it, but it’s not too late for me to try. As awkward as it may be to be in the presence of people who look like me but act so differently, I truly love learning. My heritage and culture is beautiful, intriguing, and mystic. This song makes me feel as though I am not alone. Talking to fellow adoptees has been so encouraging to me as well as I’ve been finding that I am not the only one who goes through this experience. I wouldn’t change that bond for anything.

 

Disappearing Daughters

If you’ve read my story, you know that I was abandoned as an infant.

If you think this is a rare occurrence, you are sorely mistaken.

In recent years, the war on the girl child in India took off as the ultrasound made its way to my home country. Every 12 seconds, a baby girl is killed. That means 7,200 girls are killed a day in India because of their sex. That is only counting the thousands that are killed…not including the millions who are abandoned.

Gita Aravamudan has been a warrior for our girls and had brought this issue to the forefront as she has written for and worked with Hindustan Times, India Today, and Indian Express. Just today, she wrote an article that was published on First Post. Here is the link to the article:

The Lost and Found Girls of Usilampatti

In 1994, she was in Tamil Nadu in the small village of Usilampatti as she was investigating the issue of female infanticide. For the first time, an arrest had been made but the community had rallied around the accused woman. In this village it was normal to murder the second daughters and third daughters and so on, as more than one girl was seen as an impossible social and financial burden to bear. The more people Gita talked, the more she found out about this horrific phenomenon. One woman she spoke to was the midwife who delivered all of the babies in the community. She spoke about the horror that a girl child brought to families and she was asked to dispose of countless female infants. Many of them she was able to sneak away and give up for adoptions, but there were also families who asked for proof of her disposal and she was forced to murder them and give the tiny bodies back as proof.

Little did Gita know, these girls were not lost forever. Not far away, in the town of Tiruchi, these lost girls were found by social workers who stumbled upon Mose Ministries, run by a man called Pastor Gideon Jacob. These 89 girls knew nothing of their past, and only knew Pastor Gideon as their saving grace. Their parents did not even know of their existence.

“The girls grew up cooking and caring for themselves with no adult mentors. They were visited sometimes by the pastor and his friends. They were often severely punished for minor misdemeanours and sent away to “hostels” for disciplining. There they were severely beaten and forced to go without bathing or eating for days. Many of them worked on the pastor’s farm as labourers as a form of punishment. Others were sent with illegally obtained passports on trips to Germany to collect money for the home. They were made to sing and perform street plays and distribute pamphlets on the streets of Germany. Many were compulsorily taught theology and some were being groomed to become evangelists. There was no evidence of sexual abuse, but they were emotionally and physically traumatised and were in the thrall of the Stockholm syndrome which meant they did not want to leave the home or move away from Pastor Gideon Jacob.”

Another one of Gita’s thoughts hit me hard: “The girls never had the life their parents had imagined for them. How many of the girls who were given away or taken illegally from their parents actually ended up having a good life?”

I struggled with so many mixed feelings reading this. What kind of a life had their parents imagined for them? Many of them wanted their daughters dead. I was one of the “lucky” ones. It is so easy for me to wallow in self pity over the fact that I not only lost my birth family but also my culture. But I know there are other lost daughters like me who lost their entire identity and instead lived a life less than human. That could’ve easily been me had I not been rescued and given a new life. Now the girls had the choice of either going back to their families who gave them away, or living on their own. Many of them chose to stick together, as this was the life they’d always known.

How many more of us must be lost in order for India to realize she’s killing and abandoning her own daughters?

 

 

Letter to my birthmother

When I was young, I used to write letters to my birthmother on my birthday and on Mothers Day. Over the years I’ve lost some of them, but I wrote this one last year after receiving an email from my adoption agency letting me know that a search for my birthmother would not be possible. The heartache that ensued will never go away, and writing this letter helped me to process that hurt.

 

Dear mom,

I’m not really sure what to say. I used to write to you all the time as a kid. Back when the thought of you was exciting and mysterious, as if you were a puzzle I was going to figure out and solve. Now, the thought of you is just plain heartbreaking. Just a far off dream. The email from Holt telling me that there was no chance of ever finding you felt like the last door of any kind of hope slamming in my face. I used to dream of someday meeting you. Not knowing was so much easier. It gave me a sliver of hope – that maybe the police missed something, some piece of information and there’s something or someone out there who knows about you and could lead me to you. Ignorance made me feel better. But now that I know, the mystery is gone. There’s no puzzle, and there will be no solving or discovering.

Every ounce of my being wonders why. What would’ve become of me had you not given me up? Would it really be so bad? I try to convince myself that it’s better off this way. But I can’t help but wonder. What kind of family would we be? Would people tell me I look like you? My father? Whose eyes do I have? And whose smile? People always comment on my smile and strangers have asked if I get it from my mother. It saddens me that I’ll never know.

I’m sad you’ll never know my adoptive mother. If only I could tell you all the adventures she and I had when she came to get me from my orphanage in Pune. You would think this American lady is crazy. And she is! Who else would fly across the world just to bring home a little orphan baby? She is so strong. And she gives great advice. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I don’t think there was ever a time where she gave up on me. Thank you for giving her the chance to be my mom. She poured her whole heart and soul into it. 

I’m sad you’ll never know the love of my life. I met so many bad ones along the way, but they led me to him. He’s wonderful. He makes me smile and laugh like no one else can, and he is the best part of every single day. I wish you would have had the chance to meet him…I know you would love him.

The last time you saw me, you changed my life forever. I like to think that maybe you were saving me. India does not always love its daughters the way it should, and I choose to believe that’s the reason we were separated. So, mama, thank you. It was very brave of you to carry me for so long and then give me up. I don’t think I would have that kind of strength in me to do the same. 

I’m very happy. My life here in America has been so good to me. I hope to spend some of my life back in India, helping other orphans like me who have a whole life of wonder and opportunity ahead of them. Maybe I can help them find it. I still have so much life ahead of me, in part thanks to you. My prayer is that you’ve found peace in letting me go. I pray you’ve found happiness. You gave me life, and I’m going to do the best that I can with it for you. 

-Your baby girl, Pranali ♥

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They sent us that first picture of you from the orphanage, and it was so weird because you can’t touch your baby or hold your baby, but you just know that’s YOUR baby.”

Words from my mother, during a conversation where I told her I was searching for information from my adoption agency about my birthmother. Words I will cherish forever and never forget.

7 months ago I received my adoption file from Holt International, which contained monthly updates given to them while I was under the care of BSSK Pune. I never knew what happened to me during the first year of my life, and after 23 years of uncertainty, here it is unfolding before my eyes in 35 pages. It’s an indescribable feeling.

I am so unbelievably blessed.