23 March 2012

Lost and found

Namrata was not sure which emotion she felt most strongly: Betrayal? Abandonment? Shock? Disbelief? Anger? Anguish? Sadness? Why had they told her today? Did they have to tell her at all? Who was she really? Up to this point in her life she had identified herself as Namrata Venkat, daughter of Sujaya and Vijay Venkat. She knew who her parents were; she could trace the family history back to its roots before they migrated from Thanjavur. Importantly, she knew she had an Amma and Appa - an integral family unit to which she belonged. But today she discovered that Sujaya and Vijay were not related to her by blood and genes; she was adopted. As that word echoed in her head, she convulsed again into loud sobs.

All Rukmini could do was hold her close and allow the tears to flow. A warm, unquestioning embrace was her response to Namrata's  tear stained face when it showed up this evening. Sensing that Namrata wanted some privacy, she took her to the office and with a box of tissues, planted her on a chair, allowing her to vent her feelings. The story came out piecemeal, as and when Namrata found the courage to hear it aloud herself.

Appa had been diagnosed with a heart problem and needed to undergo surgery. They discovered this last week and the family was still coming to terms with the news. It was difficult to accept that Appa, who never fell sick and who always played nurse in the family, was seriously ill.  The surgery had been scheduled this week and for it they required blood. Today, Amma was going to the blood bank and Namrata, gripped by the urge to do something, anything, for Appa had insisted on accompanying her.  Amma protested, and now she realized why. At first Amma had told her that she shouldn't miss work for a task that she could easily do alone. She added that Namrata would take leave for the surgery and Appa's convalescence so she should not miss work. When that logic failed, Amma became adamant, agitated even and sharply told Namrata not to accompany her. Like all children, Namrata's response to a denial was to crave to do it even more. Since Amma was unrelenting, she decided to go to the blood bank separately, knowing Amma's dislike of making a scene in public. She reached it just as Amma's turn came on the till.

When Amma passed the slip provided by the doctor to the receptionist,  she was informed of  the blood bank rule: for every unit given out, another unit had to be deposited. Typically, the unit was collected from a member of the family that required the blood. When she heard this, Namrata was glad she joined Amma and thought that Amma must be pleased as well. However, Amma's face turned white upon seeing Namrata and then she did something unexpected. She told the receptionist that no family member was available besides her and she was a diabetic, so she could not donate blood. Namrata was shocked by this. Amma, look at me, I am standing next to you, she wanted to scream out. Amma just looked straight ahead and her stare was met with equal consternation by the receptionist who said, "Rules are rules madam. Bring a friend then. Anyone. We must have a replacement unit before I can reserve the unit for you."

Namrata could not stand this any longer and blurted out, "I am his daughter. I can donate the replacement unit." Used to witnessing family drama, the receptionist motioned for them to see the nurse to confirm that Namrata could be a donor. Meanwhile Amma had waited in the lobby, absolutely silent; her face expressionless. Preliminary screening confirmed that Namrata was healthy enough to donate and she was taken to the transfusion room. When she emerged an hour later, Amma was no longer at the blood bank. Namrata had never had a stranger experience with her mother. When she called Appa he confirmed that she had already reached home and asked her to return immediately. When Namrata reached home, her parents were in their bedroom, with the door shut - she assumed that they probably did not want her to see them distraught or were taking a nap.

Later in the afternoon, she prepared the evening coffee and hollered across the shut door for them to join her. They both appeared on the table with puffy eyes and sipped their coffee quietly. Finally finding a voice, Appa had told her that they had something to tell her. Amma started to cry mutely and Appa was the one to break it to her. They told her she was adopted, brought to their home when she was 2 months old. She came from a home for abandoned children and they did not know or try to find her biological parents. She was found as a newborn in a crib kept outside the home. He cried freely while telling her this. Amma was afraid that she would discover this at the blood bank and that's why she didn't want Namrata to accompany her. He then told her that while the news may be shocking, to them she would always be their child, their kanna. They had talked about telling her this when she was younger but with each passing moment of her life they lost the courage to bear the consequences of the revelation. They didn't want to lose her. Namrata had listened to this open-mouthed and when Appa had tried to reach out to her hand, she had fled her house. 

This was an occasion where Rukmini did not offer a drink. She let Namrata cry away the pain, and talk. Many rhetorical questions followed. Namrata minutely examined her life for incidents when she may have been treated differently, because she was adopted. Rukmini said nothing. When at last Namrata had sat quiet for five minutes Rukmini gently nudged Namrata's chin so she would look up. Then, when she had locked her eyes with Namrata's she spoke in even tone, "Namrata, the pain you feel is real. It will not go away easily. But, you are confident twenty six year old today because you have grown up in the security of your parent's love. As much as you would like to imagine that you were treated differently, tell me, when you discussed your childhood stories with your friends, at that time, did your experiences really feel different? Yes, not knowing your biological parents is an issue you will struggle with, but can your parents be held responsible for a decision your biological mother or parents took? Don't you think you should talk to them about this a bit more? I will also advice that you discard this feeling of being a victim.  At this juncture you can make a choice - to accept and nurture the love that you share with your parents, or to look for ways to put you all through emotional upheaval. It's a choice; not fate, not God's work, not particular to you. There are plenty of adopted children out there and you aren't alone. The pain you feel now, your parents probably feel double fold. Grow with this awareness Namrata, don't let it turn into a bad thing. Go home and make reconciliation. Life is too short."

Namrata looked in disbelief at this lecture. She had not, till this point, considered how her parents would be feeling. She had the maturity to realize that she could not live out her life as a victim. Although unable to respond immediately, she got up, kissed Rukmini and said, "I am going home."

Rukmini watched Namrata's back as it receded through the office door and waited the few minutes it takes to hear the tinkling sound of bells as the door of the bar was opened. Now, she really needed a drink. With a glass in hand, she stood by the window and observed Namrata take out her scooter, put on her helmet and start her vehicle. She saw her ride away and allowed an indulgence: she wondered what became of the child she gave up.