It was a cruel joke, and some kin would always poke and jest, saying, “You were adopted.” I did not know the meaning of the phrase or the procedure, and yet an insect would fly in my heart as if, I comprehended, it meant severance from my family tree, being a pariah in the foggy plateau of patriarchy. I must have understood that those words were aimed to make me bleed the wrong blood. Why would one crack that joke with a three-year-old, unless the general accord considered child-adoption as taboo, and that a child subjected to adoption belonging to a caste outside all those castes they had created?
So I vowed to adopt a child myself, whenever I would have my own family. It was the 1980s. Guess how mainstream middle-class society chose to ignore the sparkles an adopted child might bring to a certain gene pool!
The history of famous personalities who were adopted, and who went ahead to make the name of their adopted family shine, passed through the minds of the mass who registered the narrations, respected and disregarded en masse.
Near my youth’s end, I met my wife. She nursed similar ambitions originating from similar impulses. By that time, adoption—of a child, a tree or a tiger in the zoo—was already in vogue. We decided that our first child would be adopted, and then, near the sunset of our biological efficacy, we should try to birth one song together. The idea was a roadkill on its way to realisation.
I reminisce about the office of the orphanage I visited. I remember the gatekeeper and the gate, dim passage and bright rooms, the air that had an almost-winter quality, and the ground that wore a shawl of white Nyctanthes. I had become a full-time writer by then. Our plans were dusty and mislaid, or half-hearted and at tasting-the-water stage. These details have no stake in the main subject, but I grasp at these fragile plants before the deep fall into reality.
I learnt the first three requirements for adopting a baby from this particular institution were:
a) You had to disclose your last three consecutive years’ tax returns as proof of your financial stability. My thoughts went to the often thoughtless way a child is ushered into the world. Be responsible, I whispered, Plato has banished me from his ideal Republic.
b) You had to give access to two sets of your relatives who would swear to rear the child in case of the untimely death of you and your partner, or if your family faces any financial fatality. My toes dug the inner sole of my shoes. The concept of mortality was not a Masonic skull on my table then. We desired a child to carry on our lives. What would happen to him if we left everything unfinished? I agreed with their logic and concerns. The process was not magic but science.
c) You must produce three character certificates, and that was no surprise.
d) (Did I say three requirements? Well, mea culpa. There’s one more.) The cost of gardening to keep the flowers at the institute alive. The donations.
I called my wife from under the shade of a banyan tree in their courtyard. We sighed as one. I had gone there as a window-shopper and companion to my friend, a lawyer. The friend was high-strung; his palms were slippery; his hair a mess. He recounted his history before the warden; his wife’s pregnancy was smothered inside the womb of hope.
He stood up to every requirement and eligibility. The queue for a girl child his wife desired was too long. The man in charge told us it might take a year or more. Demand was high, and supply followed the dictum: ‘first come, first served’.
My friend returned that day more determined. His colleague, another childless person, tried to word him down. That lawyer would not utter his prejudices, and yet clouded my friend’s heart with his negativity. We confronted him, asked him point blank why he was so cynical. He could not answer because his education and his circles would never allow him to use words like ‘blood’ and ‘pedigree’. We knew what he could not utter. We snapped our fingers. He phoo-phooed us.
Three months later, my friend surprised me with the news that he had made it. He went to the extent of obtaining a recommendation from the then President of India, which launched him on the fast-track.
Now, there were (and are) plenty of institutions from where adopting a child would have been easy. His daughter looked similar to his wife. The girl arrived with the superpower of being a wallpaper, until she had measured the people she met and the air she breathed. Even at the age of two, she had her way with things, and later, became an artist. Had she been my friend’s biological child, he would have insisted she pursue a career in law. My friend and his wife valued their adopted child and were bound by the fear of losing, as if their love must prove itself everyday. It was for the best.
I told my cousin this story with all anecdotes. Their marriage was 15 years old and barren. By this time, a nephew of mine and a sister of my wife had successfully adopted children. Ironically, on a monsoon-end morning, my wife emerged from our washroom with two lines of joy on the pregnancy kit.
I told my cousin what he already knew. He was silent. The silence held a hilt-less sabre in his bleeding hands. He knew about Kaju, my nephew’s son, the storm of light-hearted mischief in our family. Both of us had attended enough family functions and found no anomaly in the heady concoction of joy, anger, jealousy, love and sadness that flowed in those events. I felt ashamed that one should observe and seek a sign of aberration. Would one have done that in a family gathering if the adoption was not foreknown?
Kaju had the natural chatoyancy, not unlike other children in the family. After a while, I began doubting whether my cousin wanted a child or not. The asterisk is that he practised medicine. I should not be banal and nosy.
Late that night, some thoughts dawned on me. Some couples wait forever for their own child. Some opt for IVF, IUI or surrogacy. Some avoid the child because of some decisions, choice or troubles in their lives. Most remain private about these affairs.
At another level, some couples avoid the sacred act of adopting a person, because in their minds, this equals a tacit admission—we can’t procreate on our own. Both genders suffer the truth. One gender or the other endures more, depending on their respective ego, position in society, financial liberty and status, nature of education and ideology in the family, etc. Truth is not a flat earth; it orbits its subjects; now it idles in front of the observer—a sunrise; next moment, it’s somewhere in the back of his head—a sunset.
Imagine a child adopting its parents. The trust exercise is not instant. At birth, one has his ignorance as his support. An orphan doesn’t even have that. You know what I mean. You know that lawyer, this cousin, Kaju and the nephew, that sister, the colleague of the lawyer.
There is a balcony a man smokes in, and behind him sways curtains revealing his partner staring at the TV. At the end of every lane stands a brick building hosting children adopting a situation and some hope. If there is a pure bloodline, it is dangling from nowhere, like a sawed-off vein.
(This appeared in the print edition as “Adopting, the Light & the Black”)
(Views expressed are personal)
Kushal Poddar former editor of the words surfacing magazine, he has written eight books that have been translated into eleven languages