Sipping a glass of fresh lime soda in a small restaurant on JM Road, Germany-based Shireen Alpa Potthast is gripped by myriad emotions as she tries and absorb the dramatic events that took place in her life less than 48 hours back.
That was when she met her biological mother, whom she had been searching for over 15 years. “When I was 15-16 years old, I started searching for my roots. I grew up in Germany. My mom is Indian and my father is a German. They never hid anything from me about my background and always supported my search for my biological mother. For years, I kept contacting the adoption agency in Pune, SOFOSH, asking them to share information about my mother’s whereabouts, but they never gave me an answer. I couldn’t accept it and kept my search on. Then I contacted the organisation Against Child Trafficking (ACT) and the root search done by their representative led me to my mother,” says Potthast, who works as a social worker in Germany for an organisation that works for refugees.
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On Monday, she met her mother (identity withheld on request) for the first time. Potthast’s mother told her under what circumstances she took the decision of giving her away to an orphanage. Since she was an unwed mother, she moved to a centre for women near Daund, where she gave birth to her.
Though she was willing to stay in the centre and bring up the child, fear of the society forced her to leave the child in an orphanage and come back to her village. She later got married and had a daughter. Her husband died a few years ago. The mother and her daughter stay in a village near Nashik.
The mother also told Potthast that in the last 30 years, she didn’t forget her first child and was always praying for her well-being. “I couldn’t meet my half-sister, but I did meet a few cousins of mine, my mother’s brother’s children. It was great to connect with them,” says Potthast, with eyes welling up with tears.
It’s not easy for Potthast to talk about her first meeting with her biological mother. After every few words, she takes a pause, holds her tears and then continues. “When I reached the place where I was to meet her, I first saw from the car the woman who gave birth to me 30 years back. She was beautiful. First, I just held her hand and then I burst into tears. She wiped my tears with her saree. After that, the ice was broken. Though there was the language problem – she doesn’t know English and I don’t know Marathi – there was an instant connect. Our lingual background may have been different, but emotions were same. I had dreamt the same dream year after year. For it to come true was a miracle for me,” she recollects.
“After so many years, it seems I have found a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Finally, I am at peace,” says Potthast, adding that she now plans to learn Marathi so that she can converse more often with her mother. Even her parents and her elder brother back in Germany are happy with the latest development, she says, adding that she would love to plan a get-together of both the families.
“The ‘Root Search’ section of the 2011 Central Adoption Resource Authority guidelines recognise an adoptee’s rights. However, it comes with a clause that only the adoption agency can carry out root search and that the third party cannot participate. I feel it the right of the adopted child to decide whom to select for root search,” says Anjali Pawar, the director of NGO Sakhee and consultant to ACT, Dutch Foundation. It was Pawar who helped Potthast track her mother.
When SOFOSH was contacted, an official said they would need to check all the records related to Potthast’s case to comment on the issue.