I am born

Toborrow from Charles Dickens:

WhetherI shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will beheld by anyone else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning ofmy life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) onthe thirteenth day of October. It was remarked that soon after my motherbrought me home, a white owl appeared before her on the terrace, glistening inmoonlight. 

It was Lakshmi Puja day, when Hindus worship the goddess ofprosperity, grace, and charm. Lakshmi has a white owl by her side and the birdhave come to be known as a sign of good luck. 

Mymother was then convinced she had done the right thing.

By thatI mean that she had picked me up only days earlier at an orphanage in theManiktola neighborhood of Kolkata. I had been left there, on the doorstep,hours after my birth.

Manypeople I have known in the course of my life have asked me why my naturalparents abandoned me. I do not fully know the answer to that. If and when I do,perhaps I shall write more.

Butwhat I do know is how lucky I was to have been left at that particularorphanage, run by American missionary Helen Benedict.

Mymother had just met Benedict at a luncheon at the Indo-American Society, whereshe was hoping to improve her spoken English. She told me she was attending afashion show. I never quite figured out what a missionary was doing at afashion show, but I am glad that Benedict went that day. 

Shehappened to be seated next to my mother, who lamented that she had not hadsuccess in having children. My parents had been married 10 years by then.

Benedictperked up.

A childwas left on her doorstep, she told my mother. Would she like to come and look?

Mymother went the next day with my grandmother. Many years later, I would see thegate through which she entered the day and meet the caretaker who greeted her.

I wasonly a few days old. Apparently, my mother agreed to take me home the momentshe saw me. 

Benedictadvised her that she ought to first consult my father. Isuppose there was a chance that he might not have agreed — as much chance asthere is of  snow falling in Kolkata.

He hadalready picked out a name. Monimala. Garland of jewels.

Atseven days old, I was taken home. To an old house at 206 Barrackpur TrunkRoad on the campus of the Indian Statistical Institute. The banisters werewrought iron, the floors, marble. The courtyard was shaded by tall coconutpalms.

Mymother told me when I was much older that she had gone up the narrow stairs, upto the roof and seen the white owl. She felt unfiltered joy and relief, likemonsoons after a searing May.

Manypages of my life are yet to be written.

But thefirst chapter begins with my great fortune — a child left at anorphanage who came into the home of a brilliant mathematician and his beautifulwife. That child might have grown up in slums, might not have been educated.Instead, she traveled the world and grew up to write about it.
I tellyou this story on my 49th birthday.

Manypeople still ask me about my natural mother and father. But I tell them I hadonly one set of parents. They are long gone now but they gave me a life forwhich I will be eternally grateful. Yes, I an adopted child. Their blood doesnot run through my veins. 

But Ihave something much more potent — their love.

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13 thoughts on “I am born

  1. Thank you for sharing your life story with us. At this late time in my life, I am enamored with all things Indian. Mostly through BBC documentaries, which started with my fascination with steam locomotives. I don't remember how I found your blog. I suspect it was because of your war reporting.I look forward to the next chapter.

  2. Ohh, Dear Moni! This has got to be one of your most moving stories! Anyone who knows you, knows that you have written stories that have moved people to action but this one moves the spirit. It is a reminder of how things we don't understand (like why your parents left you, or why the American missionary was at the fashion show – although I think I know the answer to that last question) don't really matter. What matters is how we respond to each other as humans, how we follow the direction of our spirits and soar like a majestic, white owl. Happy Birthday, Moni. Cheers!

  3. Thank you Moni for this, perhaps the first chapter of a longer story. Though we met briefly up at Ft. Drum on Sept 11, I have enjoyed your postings. And Happy Birthday! (I'm a Libra too…Oct. 14)

  4. I still think your baby picture is the most adorable ever! And I would have picked you up and taken you to Kenya with me if you had been left at my doorstep. But be glad I didn't … :-)

  5. Oh my goodness, how beautiful. how could she not have taken you the second she saw that darling face and those incredibly soulful eyes? the purest case of love at first sight. wonderful story, dink…

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