GROWING up in a Swedish village, Jyothi Swahn would often dream of an unknown Indian man riding a horse. On October 24, her search for the man ended as Jyothi met her biological father Dasharatha, a health worker with Bengaluru city corporation, after nearly 22 years. Jyothi, who was on her second trip to India looking for her parents, says she recognised Dasharatha the instant she saw him. “It was like 20 years of pain ended,” smiles the 27-year-old. “He told me he used to ride horses with us children seated behind him.”
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Jyothi and younger sister Gayathri were adopted from a Bengaluru orphanage in 1994, when they were 5 and 4 respectively, by a Swedish couple. Jyothi remembers crying inconsolably as the two of them were left at the orphanage by a woman she imagines was her mother.
At their village in Sweden, Jyothi says, she and Gayathri were the only brown children. They were always aware of being distinct, and Jyothi says this feeling of alienation drove them to find their own roots.
In 2013, accompanied by their Swedish parents, Jyothi and Gayathri first came to the Ashraya orphanage in Bengaluru from where they were adopted. After a lot of persuasion, the orphanage revealed their biological mother’s name as Kamala Bai, and said she was recorded as a single mother.
“The orphanage also told me my mother had come back to look for us in 1996. Ashraya did not want to cooperate any more,” says Jyothi, a writer.
In the third week of October this year, she approached Pune-based child rights NGO Sakhee and its founder Anjali Pawar. Soon, she arrived in Bengaluru with a film crew that was keen to document her search.
This time, seeing her determination, the orphanage provided Jyothi access to the entire adoption files. The papers showed that Kamala Bai had a husband called Dasharatha, and that she was from Marulukatte village on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
With the files indicating that Kamala Bai lived in Chamarajpet in Bengaluru at the time she gave up her and Gayathri, Jyothi went there first. “People said she must be dead. There is no Dasharatha, they said. It felt like I was chasing a ghost,” Jyothi says.
Pawar suggested they go to Marulukatte village. Soon, a woman there told them she had a classmate called Kamala Bai whose father had died due to asthma. That tied in with something Jyothi remembered. Villagers started directing them to other places they could try.
On the night of October 23, Jyothi arrived at Susivegunte, a village near Marulukatte. “Here, we found my father’s elder brother. Without us saying anything, he told us Kamala Bai and Dasharatha had two daughters, Jyothi and Gayathri.”
The uncle called up Dasharatha in Bengaluru, and he told Jyothi to come the next day. On October 24, Jyothi set out for a small, first-floor house in Kumaraswamy Layout in Bengaluru, on the last leg of her journey.
On meeting each other, Jyothi and Dasharatha broke down. Dasharatha told her Kamala Bai had left home with her and Gayathri and never returned.
Jyothi also met Maruti, a brother she didn’t know about, who lives with Dasharatha. Dasharatha also has another daughter from his second wife.
DNA samples have been taken of Jyothi and Dasharatha to confirm their relationship. But Jyothi has no doubts. “There is a resemblance in the face, the way he talks.”
Pawar said when his children were young, Dasharatha plied a tonga, on which he used to take them for rides. These memories probably kept appearing in Jyothi’s dreams, says the activist.
Jyothi believes finding Dasharatha will help her find peace. Talking of facing racism, she says being adopted in a foreign country is not always easy on the children. Parents say “we have given our children everything”, she says. “They forget we have a family in the country we came from. You cannot erase it.”
Maruti, who has a daughter, told Jyothi he had been in touch with Kamala Bai till around 10 years ago, and that people later reported her dead.
However, Jyothi won’t take anybody’s word for it. “We are still looking for Kamala Bai. I will not believe it till I see a death certificate,” says Pawar.