As told to ila ananya Nov. 15, 2016
I believe adults owe their adopted children the truth. I found out about my biological mother after my father died, and that’s when the real drama began.
It happened just like it does in the movies.
Close on the heels of my father dying of cancer when I was 12, I found some papers. My mother, who didn’t have much of an education and had always just taken care of my father, brother, and me, suddenly had her centre taken away from her with his death. All these men, my father’s clients (he was a lawyer), were showing up at our house, demanding that their papers be returned. At the same time, a variety of people came to her, claiming that her husband had taken a collective loan of ₹20 lakh from them, which she knew nothing about.
Of course, we didn’t have the money. But as a 12-year-old boy I wanted to help her find these papers, and in the middle of all of them, I found a file. In that file were my adoption papers. Years later, I had two birth certificates. On each, I had different names. On each, I had different mothers.
The drama wasn’t over. In fact, it had just started. Soon after I found my adoption papers, we saw an obituary written for my father by a woman who claimed to be his wife. I think at this time if you’d told me that God was an orangutan I would have believed it.
I never thought when I saw that obituary, that there was some kind of connection between these adoption papers that I had found, and this new woman who had entered our lives. Of course, my mother found out immediately that the ₹20 lakh that my father owed in debt was because he had been trying desperately to secure this other wife’s future; he bought her a house, not very far from where we lived. It became my mother’s only agenda in life to stop her from getting the house. She won, many many years later, but for some reason, she never used the money to pay off the debts.
When I first discovered the papers, I didn’t ask my mother about them immediately. I felt like I’d stumbled onto something I wasn’t supposed to know about or find, and I was confused. I asked her about it later that day, and she yelled at me for finding the papers. But the actual conversation with her happened only days later. It wasn’t even a conversation where she sat me down and told me everything; it all just came out in the middle of a huge argument about it.
I found out that I was the son of my father’s other wife, who even had another son with him after I was born. I also heard another story – that as a baby, my father had taken me to my biological mother’s house, put the adoption papers on a table and me on the floor, and had stood over me with his shoe, ready. He demanded that my biological mother sign the adoption papers. He said that if she didn’t, nobody could have the baby. Just joyous.
My biological mother first asked to meet me when my mother was at home after hospitalisation for a very stupid and brutal UTI.
Anyway, after my father died, my mother never let me leave the house. I studied at Baldwin’s School in Bengaluru, and she would always have somebody dropping me to the gates in the morning, somebody to send me lunch, and somebody to walk back home with me. Why? I later realised it was because my mother lived in a constant state of paranoia that I’d be snatched away from her by my biological mother. I was 15 when she first let me walk home from school alone.
In the background of all these land mines exploding around my life, there was my self-destructive older brother who I shared an immensely fractured relationship with. With this fraught situation at home, I had taken to living in my Maruti 800.
That car saved my life. I spent all my time in it; I would only come home to bathe and sleep. I fell in love with this girl at the Alliance Française, and the break-up, combined with my own preoccupation with my situation at home, led me to cigarettes and pot and spending my time smoking in my car. Once, when I needed money to give the car a major re-haul, my mother gave it to me, and told me to leave “drugs, cigarettes, and nirodh”. I didn’t know what to say. I just left.
My biological mother first asked to meet me when my mother was at home after hospitalisation for a very stupid and brutal UTI. Three weeks later she had an episode of multiple strokes at home. She didn’t make it. When Bio-Mom called, I thought, why the fuck not, this was just… peachy. I had been going to court to get a stay order on their decision to auction our house because we hadn’t paid the loan, my mother was in hospital, I had just spent time fixing the absolutely filthy kitchen in our house, my brother was pissed off and trying to throw glass jam bottles at me. Why not make this party really rock?
When we met, my biological mother told me the story of how my father had made her sign the adoption papers. She also told me that when she was pregnant with me, she would beat her stomach in the hope that I would die, because she knew I would be taken away from her. After this I plumbed new depths in depression. I smoked a lot of cigarettes and anything that would get me high.
My relationship with my mother never repaired itself. She died before I could resolve my issues with her, before I had a chance to get over the fact that I couldn’t trust her again, before I could forgive her for never telling me the truth.
Of course, I know it isn’t easy to have such a conversation with your child, but I think adults should make that decision when they decide to adopt a child. It’s insane that adults think they don’t owe adopted children the truth. The difference it makes in the life of the child is enormous.
My girlfriend, who I’ve been with for five years, is also adopted (of course!), but unlike me, she shares a very confident relationship with her family. She’s been told the truth ever since she was young. For her, telling someone she’s adopted is like telling them where she went to school.
I got a WhatsApp message from my biological mother this year, saying “Happy Birthday, from a well-wisher.” My first thought was, are you fucking running for the local assembly? What the fuck is this well-wisher business? I know she means well. She means to reconnect. She means to tell me that even though one mother may have gone, another one remains. What a glorious mindfuck.
Maybe someday, when this house is finally gone, I might find her.
Or mostly not.