Written By: Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter
Stephanie is a dear friend who just met my mother in India days after my trip to see her. The following is her experience of meeting me and my mother.
My mother and Kripa
Pushpa and I met through an online yahoo group, South Asian International Adoptees Talk, on May 6, 2005. I remember her post vividly. Pushpa had responded to a thread about child trafficking by sharing that she had been taken from her mother without her knowledge and consent and taken to America for adoption. I think it was the first post Pushpa had ever written there. As I read her brief post, my heart immediately went out to her and I responded to tell her, she was not alone. After exchanging e-mails off-list, we arranged to speak together and on June 3, 2005 – I heard her incredible story over the phone. Pushpa was one of the first Indian adoptees to come to America in 1968 at age six. What was remarkable about her journey was that she remembered her family in India and was strong enough to return to India (25?) years later as an adult to search and reconnect with her family. Pushpa shared she had written her story, and wanted to have it published. I told her she mustn’t give up on her dream – so many adoptees could benefit from the story of her struggles and triumphs – as most of the Indian adoptees I met and knew were like me, with little to no information on their Indian families. Hearing Pushpa’s story brought tears to my eyes – especially as I realized and heard in her voice how isolated and alone she felt as child and into adulthood – Pushpa had never met an Indian adoptee in person before in her whole life! At least I had grown up with a younger sister who was adopted from another city in India than I. And having an even younger adopted sister who is African-American, being adopted within the walls of our home was considered normal.
As Pushpa and I talked on the phone, we realized we each had something the other was looking for – I had always wanted an older Indian sister to confide in, and she had always wanted a little sister. So on that day, Pushpa became my Indian “Didi” and I, her little sister. After hanging up, I prepared a package to send to Pushpa in the mail that represented three things, a card – thanking her for sharing with me, a bookmark – representing her story that would one day be published, and a photo album – to hold pictures of her family in India from the past and trips yet to be taken in the future to India. In less than ten days from our phone call, we began looking at our schedules to coordinate the opportunity to meet in person – I’m sure our husbands thought we were “crazy” as we explained our plans to them, but they supported us regardless. Pushpa and I met in the beautiful North Carolina Mountains and talked for hours sharing about our childhoods, relationships, marriage, parenting, and many other things. I was really struck that I was the first Indian adoptee Pushpa had ever met in person in her 43 years of life. Although I was 32 at the time, we had many things in common – both married, mothers to daughter’s a year apart – and both desiring to make a difference in adoption, in our own ways.
Pushpa left India on December 10, 2009 – the very same day I left the United States to return to India with my family. In a way it was as if symbolically Pushpa had gone before me to India, as any big sister would, to prepare the way – and I, the little sister, was to follow in her footsteps. Without explaining all the details of our journey prior to leaving – we realized upon our return that we ended up traveling to many of the same places in Delhi, Agra and Kolkata on our separate – yet spiritually connected trips. On Day 10 of being in India my family and I arrived in Kolkata and went to Shishur Shevay. Dr. Michelle Harrison had graciously arranged for Pushpa’s mother, Shanti, and her granddaughter, Pinki, to meet us later that afternoon. We talked and laughed with Dr. Harrison, ate lunch together, and then went upstairs, to watch the girls of Shishur Shevay rehearse for their dance performance the next day. When Shanti walked into the room, I knew immediately who she was – it was as if Pushpa was standing there right in front of my eyes! My heart skipped a beat – Shanti carried herself with such beauty and strength – the same beauty and strength I had seen in Pushpa on our multiple visits together over the last five years. My daughter, Courtney, and I exchanged glances amazed at the power of biology – after knowing Pushpa, we had now met Shanti. I understand intellectually and now from experience that children look like their parents – as my son and daughter reflect parts of me. But seeing Shanti in front of my eyes – and knowing that her daughter grew up thousands of miles away – and yet still retained parts of her mother comforted me. Both Shanti and Pinki had heard many stories about me from Pushpa. Shanti turned to me and asked, “You know my Pushpa?” And I said, “Yes, for five years.” She then asked, “You know my Kaliyani?” And I said, “Yes, both Courtney and I know Kaliyani, too.” I could see a sense of relief that the person in front of her knew her family and about their life in America.
However, the first order of business was to tend to my son Nicholas, who in his excitement playing with the girls had bumped his forehead on a door which was beginning to swell. Shanti wasted no time in expressing concern for him, applying ice, and stroking his hair. Once a mother, always a mother – I noted to myself as I saw Shanti’s nurturing instinct for children immediately kick in. Once my son had been cared for – we talked together on the couch. Pinki helped to translate at times when our emotions made talking hard. My eyes overflowed with tears as I heard Shanti tell her story of how she looked for Pushpa every day, asking “Where is my Pushpa, where is my Pushpa?” She told me the love a mother has for her child; especially her first, is always special. And that no mother could ever forget her child. Hearing Shanti, an Indian mother, speak from her heart about her love for her daughter was so powerful. I thought about all the years that Shanti had been alone – without her daughter – unable to hold, touch and care for her. Missing Pushpa’s school years, her marriage and the birth of her daughter, Kaliyani. In my humble attempt, I tried to share with Shanti that she should be so proud of Pushpa – when I met Pushpa the pain she held inside was so great – but that today, she was so much more at peace with her journey, because of how their relationship had evolved grown since their initial reunion.
At this point, Shanti had been gently holding my hand and arm and caressing it. The conversation then turned to my family, as Shanti gently asked, “your mother and father?” I told her, I didn’t know anything. The look on Shanti’s face was perplexed. As I turned to Pinki to help translate, my tears again began to surface. I tried to explain when I left India I was just a baby: I had no memories, names, or anything from my Indian family or trace of my mother. Shanti paused and I could tell she was visibly upset with what she was hearing. Then with conviction she said, “Then I will be your mother. Next time you come to Kolkata, come to my house and stay with me. I will cook for you.” I was astounded that this beautiful woman, who had been through so much herself and had so little, by America’s standards, was so willing to open her heart and home to me forever. I could tell there would be no way to argue or protest at such a gift with someone who had such a spiritual purpose. “Ok, I will come,” I said. “You promise, you promise?” Shanti asked. “I promise” – I responded. “Then, I will always be your mother, too,” Shanti replied.
My understanding of family now means something deeper than ever before. A simple gift of a card, bookmark and photo album – five years ago had turned into the gift of family. This is one reason why I know I will return again to India in a few years – I have family to visit.
© Pushpa Duncklee and Pushpa’s Blog, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pushpa Duncklee and Pushpa’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.