A girl like me and a girl like her.

Maine shaadi naheen ki hai. Maine yeh bachcha gode liya hai.

Geet Oberoi stepped back from the counter and raised her voice.

“I have never been married. I have adopted this child.”
This is the passport office in Bhikaji Cama Place in New Delhi. It is nearly time for the counters to close. Geet has been here since 9 in the morning, her fifth visit since August 2011.  9 months later, there is still no clarity. This time, she refuses to leave till she gets a commitment that the government will issue a passport for her seven-year-old daughter, Indya.

“But, madam, the application form is not complete. What is the father’s name?”

“There is no father,” she repeats. “I have never been married. I have adopted this child. The adoption deed is attached with the application.”

“Adoption deed. Ha! Anyone can get an affidavit made,” says the Officer. How do we know you didn’t just pick up the child from anywhere and get a false affidavit made? I want the court order.”

“The court order is also attached with the application,” Geet says. “Here is the original.” The order from the Tis Hazari Court clearly states that she is a single parent adopting a child.

“Oh, this is a legal adoption?” the officer says, looking at the papers, as if for the first time.

He sends her to another desk, then to another room. She is told to wait till they call her name. Then asked to return another day. Everywhere, the same line: “But the father’s name is necessary. He is the guardian.”

I was in my car on the long drive home from work earlier this week, when Geet called me. She has two little children, I have three. Sometimes months go by before we connect with each other.

I first saw Geet on our first day in college. B.A. Psychology Hons., Indraprastha College, DU. She was sitting on the teacher’s table in our small classroom. Big hair. Big voice. Big painted nails. Talking to many girls at the same time.

Bossy, attention seeker, I thought in my head. And put a cross on her. Fortunately for me, she didn’t rule me out. I was right about her being bossy. Despite my I’m-too-good-to-make-friends-with-common-people snobbishness, she made sure we became friends.

Geet made me do ludicrous roles in college skits, playing Michael to her Teja. When I said Library, she wanted Canteen. I would go for Debates, she’d drag me to Fashion Shows.

I used to spend pocket money on second hand books. I hardly ever ate. She would splurge on the moment. In Geet’s company I learnt to eat bread pakodas and sev puri. I cannot pass a gul-gula street vendor, without remembering Geet. Don’t ask me what they are, they are something round one eats with chutney and filed radish. We learnt to take lifts together, in the hot Delhi afternoons.

What is a girl like me doing with a girl like her, I would often think.

I asked Geet about her father. He had died when she was five years old. Her two younger sisters, who are twins, had been two years old. Their mother is an international-level athlete who had held the India record for shotput and discus throw. She became a sports professor in Delhi University. That there is no father is a matter of fact in this family. Nothing more, nothing less. Their youthful father’s photographs are part of every living room they move to.

We finished college and moved on. Higher studies, careers, love lives, homes and travels. (The in between stories of these years is another book. Finding Harleen, attecding her wedding, nursing Rachana to recovery, picking me up from sickbed to attend my own wedding, building homes and businesses…)

Six years ago, I was in my office when Geet called.

“I have brought Indya home,” she said to me.

She was on her way back from the Welfare Home for Children in Delhi. Geet, her mother and her 10 month old daughter had come to a temple nearby. I went to meet them.

All these years later, Geet was in a Khadi kurta and salwar. I was wearing a business suit. Geet was holding Indya on her hip. Tears streamed down my face. Someone has to do the crying bit too, I consoled myself. I took photos.

“It was as if they could not hear me,” Geet is saying to me after her day at the passport office. “I kept thinking that these guys just don’t understand what I am saying.”

“Oh God, I know what is going on here,” I say. “They are just harassing you unnecessarily. We’ll have to find someone who can influence them from above.”

My trained Indian brain scans my memory for “contacts”. Who can we call? Getting a passport made for one’s child is a perfectly legal, simple procedure. All we need is some “influence” to get it done.

“Help me find the word for what I am feeling,” she says to me. “It’s not outrage, not even humiliation. It was as if I was being pushed into a corner and made to apologize for my choices. As if I have done something wrong by adopting my daughters. I just feel very sad.”

Soon she will reach home to her children, Indya and Maya. I didn’t realize it till I started writing this, but in all these years together, Geet has never called me for help before.

A slightly shorter version of this was published in Mint Lounge here. http://www.livemint.com/articles/2012/05/25211422/A-mother8217s-big-passport.html

About Natasha Badhwar

"Because I'm a Tinker. That's who I am. Tinkers fix things. But I can't do it alone." (Pause for lots of action. Group Action......) "You did it, Tinker, you saved Spring!" I also have three children, one marriage, a million friends and one life.
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3 Responses to A girl like me and a girl like her.

  1. Banno says:

    Natasha, I can completely identify with what Geet is going through. Our authorities are crazy when it comes to the father's name. It is so frustrating, humiliating, and demeaning. I've been through this on several occasions, from school admissions to passport for my daughter. On another note, Geet has 2 beautiful daughters. Nice pictures, Natasha. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Natasha, I loved this post on Mint and I love the longer version too. I see the evolving story of friends, and how we never know who will be that special person you go to many years in the future.You have a gift for delicately combining anecdote and insight. Your words and images make the world a more beautiful place to be. I nominated you for a Beautiful Blogger Award. If you decide to participate, you can find out what to do here: http://nurturingandnature.com/2012/06/17/beautiful-blogger/ Love, Kat/@BeingMama

  3. Natasha your write beautifully and Geet is one of the lovely people that I have come across, child like, bossy, warm, transparent.Good luck to you and the lovely people you write about in your posts 🙂

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