Weeping My Way Through ‘Secret Daughter’

Do you hear that sniffling? That’s me, ugly crying* after reading Secret Daughter. It’s been on my to-read list for two years but somehow the library never had it when I was between books. Luckily,  a dear friend lent it to me–without my even asking!

And let’s be honest: any book that’s about adoption and India is sure to tug at my heart. And a book about a blonde-haired white girl married to an Indian man? Forget about the dishes, I have a date with this book. Secret Daughter follows several individuals in the US and India from 1985-2005. Broken hearts, troubled marriages, adoption, infertility, poverty, motherhood, family and identity are beautifully woven together to create a gripping tale.

Gowda’s description of India is mesmerizing–she writes of the complexity, beauty and troubles of India through the eyes of someone who loves the country, but who has also lived much of life in North America. As two of the characters encountered India and wrestled with their own identities, I felt like I grew a little too.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book (quotes are in blue, my comments are in black):

Someone in India: I met a guy…He’s smart and funny and so good-looking. And he’s got these deep brown eyes, you know?

Someone who fell in love with an Indian: Yes, I think I do…(they laugh together)

(Can I get an Amen?! Those deep brown Indian eyes…get me every time!)

“What do you think of [India]? It’s a five-star pile of contradictions, isn’t it?…Some people like to demonize India for her weaknesses, others only glorify her strengths. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.”

After being scolded for wearing inappropriate clothes, an American girl thinks:

“Somer thinks back to the mid-calf length skirt and the T-Shirt [she was wearing]…’Not appropriate’?…She tries to fight her growing resentment of this country, the feeling that everything here is tainted: that the biased adoption process, the opaque cultural rules, and the oppressive weather, all are wrapped up with India as a whole. She expected to feel at home with Krishnan’s family, not so utterly out of place.”

(Somer’s fears and feelings when she visited India as the American wife of an Indian man resonated deeply with me. Written down, they seem selfish and ugly, but they are true. Inextricably intertwined with love and respect for my husband and his culture are roots of confusion, dislike and fear. It’s not a pretty part of me: but it is there)

My family. People [she] had never met and barely spoken to just one year ago, who have fetched her from the airport in the middle of the night, taken her to tourist attractions they had no interest in seeing again, taught her how to wear a lengha, fly tissue-paper kites, eat all kinds of new foods. She was not born into this family, she did not grow up with them, but it has made no difference. They have done everything for her…Through the flickering flames, she sees the faces of her cousins and uncles. My family…At some point, the family you create is more important than the one you’re born into.

(If you know my Indian family, you know this is incredibly apt. Late night airport runs, patience in cultural faux pas, generosity in linguistic mix ups…They have accepted me part and parcel)

Okay, well now that we’re all sufficiently weepy, let’s talk about your thoughts. Have you read Secret Daughter? What did you think about it? Do you have a favourite Indian author or novel?

*P.S. This is the best ugly cry ever


This Is Why My Sister Wins

Because she sent me this in response to my most recent post about learning to be Canadian.

Sour Gummy Worms, One Sleeping Bag Too Few, and Awesome Friends

Last Friday. On the phone. (Packing for camping)

Varun: Flashlight? Matches? Lighter? Hatchet? First Aid kit?

Me: Yup.

Varun: Ground tarp. Lantern. Propane. Tents. Tent Pegs. Tent poles?

Me: (Browsing Facebook)  Mmhmmm.

Varun: Sleeping bags. Pillow–we don’t need pillows. Mat. Do you have mats?

Me: Yup. Two yoga mats. Okay, seriously. We have everything! I’m packing the car and I’ll be there in half an hour to pick you up!

And you know, I don’t even have to tell you and you know, we did not have everything.

We braved Labour Day weekend traffic and drove to Toronto to pick up our friends (He’s from Mumbai, India and she’s from Canada). There, we filled the car with two families worth of tents, food, clothes, lanterns etc. I mentioned that I had meant to buy sour gummy worms but had forgotten. This, of course, made Sarah, who is 8 months pregnant, desperately long for gummy worms. The guys did not want to go on a candy scavenger hunt, but Sarah pulled the “I’m pregnant and I NEED gummy worms NOW” card. So we stopped at Walmart while the guys grumbled about sunset and pitching tents in the dark and why North Americans use the word “need” instead of “want”.

By the time we arrived, there was no sun to be seen. Amidst my protests of carbon footprints and car batteries, we set up our tents with the headlights on. As I grabbed our bags out of the trunk, I had a horrifying realization:

Me: Umm. Varun. We have a serious problem.

Varun: What?

Me: Well. I brought one sleeping bag. Only one. Not the other.

Varun: (Probably ranting about how I wasn’t paying attention when he read his downloaded-from-the-internet packing list). Hmm. Okay. It’ll be okay.

Me: [Insert 20 minute long freak out here]

Thankfully, our friends were gracious enough to lend us their towels, since I had the genius idea of not bringing two towels. (Hey, we can share, right?)

Our evening went a little something like this:

Remember how I told you that buying a King sized comforter was a marital necessity? Amazingly, we managed to share a single mummy sleeping bag unzipped. And instead of fighting over it, we kept waking up and making sure the other was covered. Marriage therapy, right there.

Thankfully, the rest of the weekend went a bit more smoothly, with Sarah and I laughing as Varun and Yohan bonded over growing up in India, the trials of being married to a white girl, singing Hindi songs and practicing Manly Camping Skills.

The guys did a great job of building a fire. And fanning it into roaring flames with the lid of my tupperware. (That lid will never be the same)

They were also a great breakfast crew. When I exclaimed the it was time to add the eggs to the onions ‘now‘ they replied that they would break the eggs in “in tandem”. Go Team India.

We spent the mornings in our pajamas, eating greasy breakfasts and playing Pandemic. In the afternoons, we sat on the beach, played bocce ball and consumed copious amounts of snacks.

And we talked. So. Much. We talked about in-laws, retirement, financial stewardship, life calling, violence in movies, children, books, missionaries. And then we dropped into bed onto yoga mats exhausted.

I am so thankful for Sarah and Yohan (and their towels, let’s be honest).

And I’m super thankful for my gracious hubby. And for his excellent skills in wood chopping, fire building and sleeping using only 1/3 of a sleeping bag.

[Because it’s my birthday, and you can do anything you want on your birthday, I am going to re-post a blog for the second time (gasp). So, while I go eat my peanut butter cupcake, you can read My Favorite Varun Moment of 2007]

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