Yet again I am so proud to introduce the author of this guest post in the “what it’s like to…” series. I first met Sheva’s family in 1999 in a North Indian City. I’m delighted that Sheva agreed to put into words her experience of growing up in an Indian orphanage. So here it is:
What it’s like to grow up in an Indian Orphanage
Imagine being born into a large family, and that you are born different. You’re born an alien…and in this alien body, you’re weaker than your siblings. Imagine that your siblings get to decide if they accept you or not? That you wake up every morning wondering if today will be the day that you’ll be able to impress them. Wondering what you can possibly do to become a part of them.
That almost grasps what it felt like. Born to parent’s who ran an orphanage in northern India, I remember my prayers at night as a young child. I remember the desperation, the begging and pleading for God to change me into one of them- into a boy.
After a day of preparations, a night of music, personal testimonies, words of thanks…and now the countdown to New Years is finally beginning. I rush to find Dil and Sanjeev, wanting to make sure I hug them first. Everyone yells out ‘Happy New Year!’ and then the hugs are dished out. I feel so full of happiness as I walk through the ‘hug maze’ and receive jolly pats on the back. The night continues with dancing around the fire as the music blares from the amplifiers. Everyone starts drifting away and soon the party dies down to a small group of us huddling around the fire. Dil, Sanjeev, Alekh and some of the other boys around my age are the last ones. The chatter goes on, with story telling and memories recited…. and I sit in silence, observing and taking it all in. All my life I have wanted to be family with these boys. And now here I am, years later….feeling like one of them. I want to engrave the moment on my heart. I’m so busy ‘engraving’ that I don’t notice when someone calls my name. It’s one of the boys asking my why I’m so quiet. Before I can answer Alekh speaks up “it’s because no one is speaking in English.”
I never knew that such blissful happiness could come, so easily, crashing down. Just when I’m thinking about how I finally felt connected to the boys, a part of this family…how can a few simple words suddenly dig a trench so deep, separating me from them once again? I feel injured, choked. I’m annoyed at myself for feeling so broken by such a light seeming comment. Yet there it is. Someone’s taken out a ruler and drawn a thick dividing line between the boys and I. I smile through the heart wrenching pain and mask the vulnerable me. I wait several minutes before I get up and leave. I don’t have the strength to look at them…not even Dil or Sanjeev. I stare at the ground and walk towards the dark trees. I don’t hear them calling goodnight. I refuse to think of anything as I walk the path that I’ve walked a thousand times before. I refuse to stamp loudly to scare the snakes away with the vibrations. I don’t care. I reach my destination. Using the windows and ledges, I climb the two-story empty guest house and scale the roof. My lifetime place of refuge. I lie down on the hard concrete and stare at the stars. They’re so clear and beautiful. I breathe deep, refusing to let myself cry. I can feel the hollowness in my throat and its a few minutes before I realize that I’ve been grating my knuckles against the concrete in frustration. I can’t cry… that would only add to the list of differences. The boys don’t cry and I won’t either. Another deep breath, but it comes out shaky. Why do I try so hard? Why does it matter so much? Why did it take so little to bring down something so big? I know that they love me…so why? Why oh why? An hour later, I haven’t moved, I’m drained of any fight left in me. Then I accept IT. It doesn’t matter that I have all the same memories as them, speak the same language, or that I spent practically every moment of my childhood with them…I would always be the ‘white-foreigner-girl’ who hung around.
Currently residing in Toronto, Canada, 25-year-old Sheva works at a job she loves, at a mental health residential unit for at-risk teenagers and young offenders. When not working she is studying, playing the drums, or dancing as part of a swing dance troupe. She moved to Toronto in 2006, to pursue further education. In time, she plans to head back home to India, to the place and people she loves.