Just got back from Sweden where I had a reunion with 32 of my 132 grandchildren! Sounds goofy? Maybe, but it is a fact. In another life, when Sunanda and I lived in Mumbai, India, and worked for the poor and oppressed while raising our family we learned that scores of little, new-born, babies were being abandoned by their unwed mothers because the mother’s could not face the stigma that is often ruthless.
My 132 Grandchildren
Some of these babies died of exposure and trauma – after all, they were just two-three days old. Those who were institutionalized did not fair better. The infant mortality rate in orphanages in India was very high. More than half the babies would die before the age of 5.
Over a period of 10 years during the 1970’s we were able to find loving homes for 128 babies (we have four biological grandchildren!) who were condemned as “unwanted”. I protested vehemently. “There are no babies who are unwanted. There is always someone in the world who wants a baby.” Many of the 128 babies were given to families in Sweden and in 1994 when most of them were in their teens we were invited for the first reunion. Over a weekend we stayed together as one big human family and I tried to address many of the concerns of the children. Their main request was that we should help them find their biological parent.
This, of course, was impossible. Almost all of them were abandoned in the streets without any documentation. Even their birth dates had to be medically determined. I told them all of these facts and then asked them why were they so eager to find the biological mother.
Their answer was poignant. Ever since they started school, they said, they would hear all their friends talk about whose eyes, whose nose or whose hair they had inherited. These Indian children did not look like any of their adopted parents. So, finding this important information became an obsession with them.
I apologized and said that Sunanda and I had to take the decision to give them to Swedish families since they were too small to decide for themselves. We did it with all good intentions after realizing the Swedish couples were indeed loving and sincerely wanted a baby.
“If you think we made a mistake and messed up your life,” I said. “Then please forgive us. We did what we did with good intentions because the alternative was too grim to even contemplate.”
There was a moment of silence in the room and then in a chorus all of them said: “We no longer have a problem. We can now tell the world that we look like our grandparents.” They pointed towards Sunanda and me sitting in the midst of the circle. There was not a dry eye in the room.
(Read more about this experience in subsequent blogs.)