RADHIKA: THE RESILIENT
What does being given away for adoption mean when you’re still aware of who your biological parents are, in fact when they happen to be in the same family? You’d think of it as a situation laden with bitterness and heartbreak. But Radhika’s life wasn’t as melancholic as it may seem. She lived a content and happy life in Mumbai with her adoptive parents who loved and pampered her like their own.
Losing both her father and mother at a young age within a span of a few months while she was still in college brought a painful silence in her life, one that she’s still learning to live with. But she isn’t ready to replace them with her birth parents in any capacity whatsoever. Such was her bond with the parents who raised her to be strong, independent and resilient.
It was her friends though who stood strong as mountain for her to never feel alone. Refusing to let her spirit stumble and fall, she drew her strength and rose to face the world. She did what needed to be done, completed her education, stepped into her father’s shoes to continue his social services in his village, established a career and even found a companion in a whirlwind affair and got married.
I had several questions for Radhika. Her story stirred several emotions in me – of joy, tribulation, poignancy and jubilation…, but above all hope! It is a story of survival and resilience.
Read her story narrated beautifully in her own words, straight from the heart.
BORN TO BE ADOPTED
I was born in Mulund, to my biological parents who I refer to as Mama and Mami (my birth father being my adoptive mother’s brother). I do not refer to them as Mom Dad. My mom and dad are my adoptive parents.
“I was born to get adopted and I’ve heard that I was brought home by my mom on the tenth day of my birth itself.”
I sometimes heard stories of my adoption from all the gossip that would go around in my society. I always had so many questions but I felt awkward to be the first one to start the conversation because I really loved my Dad and just didn’t care enough for the fact that I was adopted. I felt if I confront him it might damage my bond with him and may be, he would start thinking that I look at him differently.
“I loved the fact that I had a great dad and I shared a space with him that’s too important to me and so I didn’t want to risk that by talking about something the world wanted me to address.”
Every time someone asks me how I felt when I got to know I was adopted, I always felt that the world thinks, it’s imperative to feel something about adoption but frankly I couldn’t force a feeling that others thought should be a normal reaction.
“I could sense my parents walk on eggshells when people started conversations in family gatherings. I would leave and pretend I didn’t hear them talk.”
I didn’t think it was important to me where my parents got me from because I was their choice when they decided to be my parents.
“What really mattered to me was may be the perception of people that not being their daughter by blood is a taboo which would cause a feeling of othering in mine and my parent’s heart. I didn’t want the world to force us to feel uncomfortable.”
Growing up was very normal. My father was a very friendly man, he was the chairman of our housing society, the founding committee member of Ganpati mandals and an active member of his workplace clubs and associations. He had so many friends everywhere at work and in the society. I was loved and pampered by them as his only daughter.
My mom had many friends too. She was passionate about food and travelling. She had lost her job to textile mill strikes of Mumbai. She was a union leader back then. So she became a homemaker.
I made good friends at school and still love them dearly. I had some bullies too but it wasn’t really a different childhood than anyone else.
“My mama mami were not a support system. They were always there as part of the family who I occasionally visited during vacations.”
I never went to seek any explanation from them. I have spent my vacations with my brother and sister (I was their third child, the youngest). Beyond that I never really thought about asking questions. I like my birth mother. Sometimes I think about her. I wonder if she thinks about me.
LOSING THE TWO CLOSEST TO HEART
My dad’s health was my biggest challenge. He was hospitalised at least two times a year since 2009. I was studying engineering at the time. This was okay to manage until my mom was detected with cancer in 2012.
I would visit two different hospitals and go to attend lectures in between. But thankfully, I had very nice professors who stood by me and a couple of college friends who would come visit the hospital at odd hours to hang out.
“They normalised my life for me. They made it a space where I could survive and work things through.”
“In my last year of engineering, I lost both my parents in a span of 5 months and then everything suddenly went silent. My parents gave a great fight to live for me. The most challenging decision was when doctors asked me if they should take him off the ventilator.”
He had returned from a ventilator three times before, I said. We lost him the next day though. I lost my mom to a heart attack at home. She had undergone six chemotherapies. She was the first to go.
“The next day after my dad passed away, I realised I didn’t have to go anywhere. No doctor was calling me, no hospital admin was reminding me to clear the dues, no nursing staff to tell me to light candles and have faith in god. I was alone.”
LEARNING TO LIVE WITH THE GOODBYE
“The passing away of my mom and dad wasn’t a shock. I had walked through their pain in hospitals for years before I finally had to say goodbye but I guess I’ll never be okay with the goodbye.”
“I learnt eventually that I wasn’t okay, I am still learning. The strength to whatever I do is eventually the need to stand up and show up.”
My dad was the eldest amongst his brothers and the first one in his family to seek higher education. He had been donating land for schools and contributing for civil work in our village in Konkan. People looked up to him and after him eventually the hopes were on me. From the 13th day of his death, I started attending family and village meetings, resisting unlawful sale of land, attending meetings for temple work.
“I navigated spaces dominated by men. It was challenging but there were a few men who didn’t feel emasculated by my voice or look down upon me for my origin and then there was the rest of the chaos.”
“If you ask, what gave me strength to do this, well, if I didn’t, no one else would do it for me. I had to maintain my father’s hard work and grow it further.”
“I didn’t have a choice, time or space to wait for myself to catch up to reality.”
NO SPACE FOR BITTERNESS
“I have no bitterness. I never did. But when I say it doesn’t bother me who I was born to, my family gets offended.”
For me, I was always my father’s daughter. After he passed away, I still choose him as my father. He hasn’t left anything for me to complain. My birth father dislikes that about me but it is what it is. They are not my mom dad. They are alive but they hardly speak to me. I am okay with that really.
“Some relationships are better left undisturbed.”
I have been fortunate to have had a great school, good teachers and even better friends.
“My mental health rests on the mighty shoulders of my friends whose presence was enough for me to survive.”
The most memorable thing is a little dark but I think it deserves to be mentioned.
“I performed the last rights of my parents which is frowned upon by Hindus. It was 12am after I returned from the cremation. My family members told me they couldn’t stay with me for the night or else they would have to stay for 12 nights, as per some blind belief system. I was alone. Two of my best friends pretended to leave and returned at 1 am with a bottle of Thumbs-Up and we pretended nothing really happened.”
Later, I got to know they had to fight with their parents to stay the night with me. These are the same friends with whom I had so much fun in parties, we have lived through crazy boyfriends, stupid fights, late night bike rides, first cigarettes, first wine and times when we didn’t remember our drinks the next day, nasty breakups, funny breakups and loads of memories.
DEFINING HER OWN LIFE – CAREER AND LIFE PARTNER
I studied Biomedical Engineering which was a truce between my father and I. I wanted to study Economics or Political Science, while dad wanted me to do engineering so I settled on something I could learn to love.
It was followed with a Master’s Degree in Public Health specializing in Health Economics at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
I met my husband through my best friend. We met on a trek and twice after that. In their excitement, his friends told his dad about us. His dad didn’t approve of us dating and he asked me if he can speak with my guardians. This happened in a span of one ridiculously speedy month. Somehow, I got some senior uncles in my family involved and I realised I lost control over the decisions. They brought up the issue of caste and everyone started calling me for different reasons such as heirloom, finance, land and kanyadaan rights.
“I somehow held it all together, discussed finances of the wedding with my father in law and managed to piss off umpteen members in my family and got married.”
My in-laws wanted a grand ceremony but my father in law and my husband adjusted according to my needs and financial capacity. My friends took the lead of my wedding ceremony. Some of them flew down from different countries. They shopped with me, for me, for my family. My wedding was a memorable day. I call my engagement the best party I’ve thrown till date.
TAKING LIFE AS IT COMES
I have had days when everything just felt perfect and peaceful. I look forward to having more of those often now.
“Little short term goals help me navigate and transcend easily into safe spaces of thoughts and build a character that helps me take decisions for when life changing situations just surface.”
Radhika is currently happily married and will soon join National Health Systems Resource Center after working at Tata Trusts. On special request, I have changed her name to protect her identity.