Finding Love Amid a Custody Battle in India
Imprisoned under the waters of the Niagara Falls, I sat feeling the waters that descended 167 feet from above. Thump, thump, thump upon my 130-pound body is exactly what life has felt like for me while living in India for the last two years. I am unlike most expats who have had the luxury of choosing an adopted homeland. Fate, I would like to think, took ownership of my innate right to geographical mobility.
But, actually perhaps, the genes belonging to my African and Indian ancestors whose innate geographical freedom was violated had gone unnoticed for too long. Now, they demanded audience. Now, they wanted me to experience their painful rebirths.
Fate, I would like to think, took ownership of my innate right to geographical mobility.
June 2013 marks the genesis of my life in India. It began with a bailiff arriving at the Goa home of my now estranged husband, whom I had met in India six years ago. After reading the papers the bailiff presented for me to sign, I came to know that I was to appear in court because my husband had filed for custody of our newborn child. Utterly shocked, confused, and terrified, I looked at my husband who sheepishly said, “You have to sign.” That event hurled my life into completely new directions. Choosing not to leave without my child, India became my new home and surprisingly, my “love supreme.”
Wanting to appear as a fit mother in the eyes of very patriarchal judges, I took to wearing sarees to my weekly court hearings. I opted for cotton sarees, worn by most Indian women over the age of 50 to avoid appearing too glamorous. The moment, however, the sari kissed my body, I experienced freedom.
My body image no longer had to hide in shame. Caught in confusion between the black world that celebrated big butts and a white world caught up with looking like twelve year olds, my body, fitting with neither image, struggled to find belonging. In the sari, my body unabashedly displayed its round belly, its ample bosom, and fleshy arms. In the sari, which is now the only garment I now wear, I began accepting my body.
As I waited and waited for the wheels to turn on India’s painfully slow judicial system, I got cured from the condition of loneliness which I have suffered from since the age of 10. My physician was a Sindhi woman who ran a clothing boutique in Bandra, a trendy Mumbai suburb. Every day for a year and a half without fail, I awoke to her voice. “Coming?” she would ask, and then tell me what she had prepared for lunch.
Every day from Monday to Saturday, I got dressed and took an auto rickshaw to her boutique. There, I not only shared meals, but I also shared sisterhood. Geeta, her shop girl, daily gave me updates about her life living with her mother-in-law. The partner of her shop and sister-in-law, whom I called Bhabhi, soon began taking me out every Thursday night to see a Bollywood movie.
Shorty after, her elder sister, who I called Sushi, also began calling me daily. “Aj kwa program hain?” she would ask. Sushi, a stay-at-home wife, loved to roam and found in me a willing companion to explore the city. These women became my family away from home. They held me close to them as I waited and waited and waited to see my son. They chased away my loneliness.
Relief finally came on February 2015, when the Supreme Court of India in Delhi restored my motherhood to me. In the office guest room where my lawyers had allowed me to stay during my visit to Delhi, I held my son and kissed him and hugged him.
At the door, I heard a knock. It was one of the office staff. She introduced herself, telling me that she studied in the US. Then she said, “I understand that you do not know me but I would like you to come and stay at my home. Your son maybe a bit more comfortable in a house rather than in an office.
I have a maid who does the cooking, and a dog.” I could not believe it as I was just wondering to myself how my son and I would eat restaurant food for the rest of our stay in Delhi. She told me to think about her offer and said that she would be back shortly.
Caught up in my own thoughts and caring for my son who was still in shock from the morning’s events, I did not realize that I had not closed the door when two more people from the office walked into our room. In their hands were boxes of toys that my lawyer had sent! Bertyl, my lawyer’s secretary, said she had taken the rest of the day off and came to take us out for the evening. I said no to her invitation because my son was still in trauma from the morning’s event. Having had the experience of raising three kids, she insisted that going out was the best remedy for my son who by now had started sobbing uncontrollably.
In the sari, my body unabashedly displayed its round belly, its ample bosom, and fleshy arms. In the sari, which is now the only garment I now wear, I began accepting my body.
She grabbed my son and me and pushed us into an auto rickshaw taking us to the zoo. My son came alive. He started running around and asking for ice cream! I could not believe the transformation. Amidst the care and love of my team of lawyers and the office staff was how my son and I re-learned each other. Every one of them contributed to making me a whole mother again.
People constantly inquire, how can you live in a country with such poverty, misogyny, and chaos? I reply, she is a work in progress. India embraced me, accepted me, and nursed me back to health. For her, I do the same. My mark is imprinted in her laws. My case was a landmark one upholding the right of women to have their children. So, I no longer think of her in terms of an adopted homeland. She is mine as I have become part of her. She is my “love supreme.”
Finding Love Amid a Custody Battle in India top Photo By Sandepachetan