by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Somer and Krishnan have it all. Meeting in med school he was drawn to her American optimism and drive, she to his British accent and exotic Indian homeland. Marrying to improve their chances of being assigned a shared residency program, they set out (as most do) with the dream that their perfect professional lives would blend seamlessly with their perfect family life. But several years into their marriage and several miscarriages later, that dream is fading. The waiting list for adopting a baby is crushing–then, in what seems like a perfect solution, Kris suggests they travel to India where his family has ties to an Indian orphanage. Female newborns are often abandoned because families value boys and the child would look like Krishnan. I had a real problem with Somer’s reluctant response, which didn’t seem to jib with the social conscience of the late eighties. But the need for a baby overcame Somer’s ojections and a few months later they are back in the States with beautiful Asha.
Parallel to the story of Somer and Krishnan is that of Kavita and Jasu, Asha’s birth parents. Still mourning the loss of her first daughter, torn from her arms and killed by Jasu’s brother, Kavita vows that if her second child is a daughter, she will travel to a Mumbai orphanage so that at least the child will live. So the day after her baby girl Usha, meaning Dawn, is born, Kavita and her sister journey to the orphanage, Kavita’s sorrow palpable in her weeping. Kavita and Jasu’s life is one of poverty, hardship, and abuse; Somer’s and Krishna’s one of privilege and comfort … and both families find happiness or peace of mind elusive.
It was easy to fault Somer for her discontent; her reluctance to embrace the culture of her husband and daughter eventually drove a wedge between mother and daughter and wife and husband. But I did like watching Asha’s own homecoming, living in India for a year to internship at The Times of India.Asha grows to love India and her lively aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Though perhaps a bit too pat, a tragic event brings Somer and Kris to India, where they attempt to mend, and Asha, which means Hope, lives up to the name they gave her.
Secret Daughter was not overly demanding and provided enough of a glimpse of Indian culture to make it satisfying. A good read overall.