On one of many visits to the building in Chembur, we meet a few of the several dozen kids there. One 8-year-old is all long legs and shy awkwardness, walking around in panties, T-shirt and gap-toothed smile. A bright-faced boy, slightly older, has just returned from a party. He's in fancy clothes and just bubbling over with joyous stories. Others clamber all over us as soon as we sit.
The thought comes naturally: we want to take the whole lot.
Yet when I look back on those weeks, those visits, it always seems slightly bizarre. One day in October 2004, we walked into that building in Chembur. Half an hour later, we walked out with a tiny human being. A little girl we call Surabhi. Just like that.
OK, it wasn't quite that simple. The whole process had taken a year. We had first met the small delight about two months earlier. Several subsequent visits got her accustomed to our faces, and us accustomed to her ready smile and mile-long eyelashes. Yet ... even so, at the time, it was something to get used to: walk in, leave with a bundle of joy.
Adoption, of course. That October, Surabhi came home to an indulgent elder brother and two star-struck parents. Just as Sahir did when he was born in 1999, she has added new meaning to our lives.
But if it was an unusual feeling then, the truth is that with every day of these last two years, adopting her has seemed steadily less unusual. I mean this in the best possible way. To us, the way Surabhi came to our family seems just as normal and natural as when we had our son Sahir, yet at the same time just as special. If you know what I mean. They are son and daughter, sister and brother, no more but no less and certainly no difference in the way we feel about them: two little beings, each of whom brings us joy in their particular ways, in overflowing measure.
Of course we had our worries. Hearing from so many who said we would find it hard to feel the same toward the adopted child as we did toward the biological one, we couldn't help wondering if it would indeed turn out that way. Despite our best intentions, despite the rationality we think we aspire to, would we end up looking at her differently? Is that the lot of every adoptive parent?
The quick answer: no. After all, how often do parents sit and think about how their biological children came to them?
Scratch that. Put it this way. We see the pair of them running around the house, teasing and tripping over each other. Positively the last thought to occur to us is: they took different routes into our home.
And of course we are also aware that there are potential hurdles ahead. While she will always know how she came to us, and we want her always to feel just as secure in that knowledge as Sahir is in his, we also know that other adopted children have had their emotional crises, small or large. We'd be poor parents if we didn't anticipate and plan for Surabhi's moments like those. But we look at it this way: let her believe in the natural normalcy of her coming, let her believe that it's our belief too, and then that time, if it comes, will be just another phase of growing up.
Crises are fine. Years from now, we'd like to feel that adoption didn't make for more difficult ones than, say, adolescence.
The ideal we aim for is for Surabhi (and Sahir) to think of adoption as boringly normal. We want to walk the line that lies somewhere between not telling her at all about it, and going on as if it is a most unusual virtue. Either of those extremes, we think, is a recipe for trouble. She will get teased about it; but we hope that she will treat that teasing like any other.
As I write these lines, one part of me thinks how they are, in a sense, utterly futile. Only because this article demands it, I'm trying to analyze and sift through an experience that we don't much think about anyway. Surabhi is part of our lives, period. Just as Sahir is. Just as their cousins and their aunts are. They listen to the Munnabhai soundtrack together, she scribbles on the walls, there are the occasional squeals of outrage as they scratch each other, he writes little books, she runs to him to complain that her father has scolded her ... ordinary family stuff that I just cannot imagine doing without, that I never want to do without. Ordinary brother-sister stuff that is familiar like the lines on my palm.
And I'm glad it feels like that. Because there are people who occasionally ask us why we adopted our daughter, whereas nobody ever asks "why did you give birth to your son?"
Ideally, nobody would ask either question. But either way, our answer is the same: "Because we wanted our child." We wanted Sahir. We wanted Surabhi. We are blessed to have them.