Personal History

From Calcutta With Love

My dad would say, “We adopted you out of a trash can in Calcutta.”
And my mom would say, “We’ve never been to India.”

Why my dad thought it was funny, appropriate, whatever, to tell tall tales of rescuing babies from trash cans in an impoverished, post-war city…

Why my mom only responded that they’d never been to India…

But those are adult thoughts. As a kid I always knew I was my parents’ child. “Don’t listen to Dad,” mom would whisper with her good-night kisses, “I know you’re mine. I have nine months to prove it.”

Come to find out, years later, I am not actually my parents’ child.

This was a lovely family dinner tradition until I returned from a summer study abroad in Germany. Where I lived with a family who did adopt a child from a trash can in Kolkata and had the paperwork to prove it.

I had lived in their home for a few weeks, and my German was coming naturally. In the strangeness of it all, life was normal. Every morning for breakfast I would have two slices of fresh-made bread: one with cheese and one with Nutella. Nutella before Nutella came to the U.S. It was heaven and the Müllers kept me in supply until I found a source stateside. Then Katerina and I would ride our bikes to the bus station, take a bus to the train station, and take the train to the station four blocks from school. Katerina would go to class and I would join the other Americans at the café. I was supposed to go to class. We were all supposed to go to class. We went to class when our teachers were there.

At lunch, a school lunch hour with considerably more freedom that any lunch we were accustomed to, the group of new friends–study abroad students and their student hosts–met at the local student bar for afternoons which may or may not have included a human pyramid in the street and dancing the Chicken Dance through three square blocks.

Dinner in Germany with my German family was not unlike dinners back home, eventually. We fumbled through the first week as I searched for words. They refused to cave to English. Shopkeepers resorted to English. The second week the immersion was working. By the third week I was dreaming in German. Dinners with the Müller Family were jovial.

It was long ago. The lead up to this dinner conversation has long been lost to a mis-led lifestyle. But Vater shared that Katerina and her brother Karl had been adopted in the same day and were likely only months apart in age.

Vater and Mutter Müller couldn’t conceive, so they completed the process to adopt from an orphanage in India. They were selected for Katerina. They traveled to Kolkata, found the orphanage, signed the papers, and met their daughter. Vater and Mutter Müller walked down the stairs from the building to the sidewalk and walked to the corner to went for their bus back to the hotel, cradling their infant daughter, cooing and loving and beaming as new parents.

Then they heard a sound. It was the kind of sound you don’t hear, until you do, and then you can’t unhear it. Their bus came and left and still they stood there cradling their infant daughter, listening to the sound.

Time passed and the sound was real. It was real and it was coming from the trash can. It was in the trash can. The broken bag was moving. The broken bag had a child inside. The child was bones. The orphanage had no room for another child. The Müllers were granted an instant certificate of adoption for Name: Unnamed, Residence: Trash Can.

Featured Image from De Wikkellkinderen (The Swaddled Children), 1617, Public Domain

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5 thoughts on “From Calcutta With Love

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