Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Does anyone truly know the circumstances of their own birth? Even if you look exactly like your parents, and even if your DNA test confirms they are your parents, you never really know how your parents reacted to their first realization that there you were, eight or so months before you made your entrance.
I knew a woman who came from a loving and stable family, where she was the youngest, and was always spoiled and adored. After her mother died, her much older sister informed her that actually, she’d been a ‘mistake’ and their mother had been shocked to discover her pregnancy, most unwelcome.
With some glee the sister explained that their mother had informed her that she was always to make her baby sister feel welcome, that they all would make the child feel welcome, as though she was planned and expected all along. As the grandmother in Secret Daughter tells herself, “One’s actions must proceed the emotions one hopes to feel.”
But to have no idea who your parents are, neither mother nor father, nor what their circumstances were, that must be the hardest. Whether you’ve been adopted by a loving family or not, questions must linger.
In Secret Daughter, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl under terrifying circumstances. She is married, and even goes on to have a second child with her husband, but the baby girl cannot be kept at home. Keeping the female child alive, and giving her what she can nearly kills Kavita, but she endures. Naturally the baby girl never finds out how she came to be in an orphanage, although she eventually finds the orphanage from which she was adopted.
I thought of this book when I met a young Indian woman in Leopold’s Café, in Mumbai. She was apologising for her Swiss accent, although she spoke beautifully. She told me she was in Mumbai to find her birth mother, or at least information about her. Her quest was unsuccessful, although she seemed content and cheerful, and happy to at least acquaint herself with her mother country.
Where birth records allow, there are people finding their birth parents, and sometimes the meetings go well. Sometimes not.
I know another woman who was surprised by an email from her eldest brother who had been given away at birth, although his parents eventually married and had many more children. Her mother was quite unhappy that he had tracked her and her family down, and exposed the secret. His siblings welcomed him, and the mother eventually relented, and welcomed him too.
In every case, a mother’s reason for giving up her child is painful. Asha goes through the hell of hoping her mother is a saint, a hero, a martyr, then a cold and callous creature who simply couldn’t be bothered to keep her.
This novel tracks both Kavita’s journey and Asha’s. They actually cross paths at one point, but naturally they have no idea, no suggestion of recognition. Asha will never find her mother, although she learns a few details about her that only bring her more pain. Even so, the search benefits both mother and daughter, eventually.
If you’ve lived this story, it might be therapeutic to read this novel. If you’ve come across other novels that have helped you, please drop me a line.