I was brought up in a household with not one but two sets of parents: my mother, my father, my abbu and my chhotoma. It never occurred to me, until I was much older, that the latter were actually my uncle and aunt. In fact, they get pretty irritated whenever I call them my uncle and my aunt. They insist that they will never be anything else but abbu and chhotoma for me. The concept of a child being an orphan, to be without both a mother and a father, was alien to me…until I began to interact with the world at large.
|Ashotmi Before Sunrise. A picture I had clicked in 2011. The lights had fascinated me.|
It was when I first read the fairy tale, Little Match Girl, that I began to realize not everything is rosy in our world. As a teenager, I read the novel, Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster but found myself unable to connect with the protagonist Jerusha “Judy” Abbott’s confusion about her own identity. She had grown up in an orphanage and her surname had been picked from a tombstone. When I asked my mother why the protagonist felt that lost, she told me something I will never forget.
Close your eyes and imagine you have no idea who your parents are, who your family is. You know nothing about yourself. Not even the day you were born.
That is the scariest thing I have ever imagined. And believe me, I imagine things and write them down for a living. I went back to reading the book with a fresh perspective, and this time I could empathize with Judy. She wanted to protect other little orphans from the fate that had been meted out to them. So she writes to the man who had given her the second chance at life, Mr. John Smith aka Daddy-Long-Legs:
“I think that every one, no matter how many troubles he may have when he grows up, ought to have a happy childhood to look back upon. And if I ever have any children of my own, no matter how unhappy I may be, I am not going to let them have any cares until they grow up.”