Ever since I met Padma 14 years ago, she has craved to be a mother, going to the extremes of prayers and technology only to be disappointed month after month, the vacuum in her womb eating its way into her heart. Until this month, she was blessed with a little girl who fell into her lap straight from the heavens. From a Mumbai orphanage, to be exact.
Born in Kolkata of the mid-1970s to a scientist father and his homemaker wife after a couple of sorrowful miscarriages, Padma and her sister were much cherished daughters. Brought up in Mumbai, theirs was an atheist home environment – even commonplace Bengali rituals of baby showers and naming ceremonies were shunned.
She had a rational arranged marriage to a rational lawyer in Mumbai, and proceeded to live a rational homemaker’s life like her mother before her. Her husband Suresh had lost both his parents, and Padma gradually took over the role of his mother, pampering him, suffering his bad moods, fussing over him. She’d refuse all my pleas to go on a lunch date: “Suresh is going to be home early today.” As a homemaker, she had no life outside of her husband’s routine.
After five years, they decided to start a family but it turned out Suresh had a rare fertility disorder called azoospermia. Then began Padma’s trauma of assisted conception and intrauterine insemination. They went through several painful, expensive IUI cycles over four years. After each procedure, the doctor would tell them to go home and have intercourse to better the chances of conception. “I’d imagine all the doctors and nurses standing around us and cheering every time we had sex,” she says, illustrating how clinical lovemaking became. Like her mother before her, miscarriages left her bleeding literally and metaphorically. Unlike her mother, there was no happy ending with a real baby at last.
The barrenness of their conjugal relationship eventually ripped their legal bond apart. Ten years into their life together, Suresh fell in love with a colleague and discarded Padma like an old shoe. Her soul tattered and her self-esteem ripped to shreds, she let him go, guided by an inner impulse to move on and find her own space in the universe.
She prayed. She got a job. Two years later, she remarried, once again an arranged, rational decision. At the time of dating, Jai told her, “I’d like us to adopt a child.” She indulged him with a smile, not asking him why, perhaps unwilling to know the answer. But soon after the modest wedding, it became clear: He was incapable of fathering one. And poor Padma’s longing for a baby rang itself hollow through bitter tears that flowed through the night, her anger at her ‘karma’ boiling over until it settled into some sort of resentful acceptance of her destiny.
But Jai kept his word. A marketing professional-turned-social worker, he got them registered at Goregaon’s Bal Vikas adoption home and the couple prepared for the expected five-year wait. “Someone told us to go to Chattisgarh or Bihar, and some agent would help us buy a baby earlier,” recalls Padma, “but neither of us wanted to start our family on such an unceremonious note.” So they played it legal, even though it took the mickey out of them.
“There are piles of paperwork involved; every document from the time we are born is required in original. No-objection affidavits from my mother; sworn commitments from my sister that she’d take care of the child in case of our death; surprise home visits; interrogations of our neighbours; references from our former employers… It was gruelling. But Jai did it all.” He even gave up his swanky job at a private foundation and settled into a routine at an NGO near home so that he could devote more time to the family’s needs once the child came. “I was never convinced about adoption. I was afraid I would not be able to love the child as much as my own. Who knows what genes the child comes with?” Padma admits. “But Jai was extremely keen for this to happen so I went along.” Going through the documentary Forget the Past based on their orphanage convinced them they were on the right path.
After all those years of desire and disappointment, the clouds of Padma’s karma suddenly cleared up to a bright Mumbai morning on February 7 this year. “Just six months after registering, we were called to the orphanage to see a little girl. It was a miracle that we got our turn so soon,” says Padma. She had called me the next day to narrate what she saw. “It’s just so terrible,” she’d said between sobs. “The kids are all on their best behaviour. Their hair is combed, their clothes are ironed. All want to be selected, to be taken away. Even the little toddlers seem to know what’s going on; they reach out to be picked up,” she had broken down crying.
She’s still emotional when she recounts the food the children are fed. “Parle biscuits and watered milk for breakfast, khichdi for lunch and dinner. No vegetables, no proper nutrition. Our country is so wealthy; we have the richest people in India in this city. Then why can’t we feed our children?” she mourns.
A girl child was brought out for Padma and Jai. “She stopped crying the minute she saw me. She clung to me for half an hour. How could I resist?” she recalls in wonder, insisting that the baby looks just like her. At one-year-old, the child weighed just six kg, and looked half her age. The couple decided to come back and take her home a few days later. “It was all so sudden. We weren’t prepared, emotionally or even physically. We had no baby equipment, no clothes or bedding for her.” Finally, a day before Valentine’s Day, they brought Maitreyi home.
Within days, the child is calling Padma ‘mama’ and Jai ‘dada’, waiting at the door when they’re due home from work. She throws tantrums when she wants something; she makes funny faces; she seems completely secure and at home; she’s even started walking. “It’s got to be some kind of karmic connection; she’s settled right in. I can’t believe it’s just been a week,” says Padma, sending me a picture on Whatsapp of the two of them. Maitreyi is reaching out for the phone naughtily, like any other entitled, technologically savvy middle-class infant.
“It began as a spiritual quest to see if I could just be a mother without physically becoming one,” Padma says, “but it turned into a very hands-on, touchy-feely experience of love, labour and attachment. We went to the mall the other day and I saw our reflection in the glass…” Her voice trails off.
What did you see, I nudge.
“We looked like any other normal family,” she says. “Mother, father, child.” Then she adds, “It’s funny how no one realises it. But normal is just so special, isn’t it?”
First published on Wonder Woman blogs