To borrow 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 mother brought me home, a white owl appeared before her on the terrace, glistening in moonlight.
It was Lakshmi Puja day, when Hindus worship the goddess of prosperity, grace, and charm. Lakshmi has a white owl by her side and the bird has come to be known as a sign of good luck.
My mother 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 the Maniktola neighborhood of Kolkata. I had been left there, on the doorstep,hours after my birth.
Many people I have known in the course of my life have asked me why my natural parents abandoned me. I do not fully know the answer to that. If and when I do,perhaps I shall write more.
But what I do know is how lucky I was to have been left at that particular orphanage, 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.
She happened to be seated next to my mother, who lamented that she had not had success in having children. My parents had been married 10 years by then.
Benedict perked up.
A child was left on her doorstep, she told my mother. Would she like to come and look?
My mother went the next day with my grandmother. Many years later, I would see the gate through which she entered the day and meet the caretaker who greeted her.
I was only a few days old. Apparently, my mother agreed to take me home the moment she saw me.
Benedict advised her that she ought to first consult my father. I suppose there was a chance that he might not have agreed — as much chance as there is of snow falling in Kolkata.
He had already picked out a name. Monimala. Garland of pearls.
At seven days old, I was taken home. To an old house at 206 Barrackpur TrunkRoad on the campus of the Indian Statistical Institute. The banisters were wrought iron, the floors, marble. The courtyard was shaded by tall coconut palms.
My mother told me when I was much older that she had gone up the narrow stairs, up to the roof and seen the white owl. She felt unfiltered joy and relief, like monsoons after a searing May.
Many pages of my life are yet to be written.
But the first chapter begins with my great fortune — a child left at an orphanage who came into the home of a brilliant mathematician and his beautiful wife. 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 tell you this story on my 49th birthday.
Many people still ask me about my natural mother and father. But I tell them I had only one set of parents. They are long gone now but they gave me a life for which I will be eternally grateful. Yes, I an adopted child. Their blood does not run through my veins.
But I have something much more potent — their love.