Suruchi and Suniti are not yet aware that their thick dark hair and brown skin stand out in this colony of Parsi families. The five-year-old twins became permanent residents of the New Khareghat Colony in south Mumbai when their mother, 52-year-old Nilufer Mistry, adopted them in 2008.
The girls are hooked to their mother’s PC and her digital camera, delighting in the new things they find in them. Mistry also takes them skating to a rink nearby almost every evening. The community, enclosed in a sloping cul-de-sac next to the Babulnath temple and overlooking the Queen’s Necklace, is more than 50 years old.
Worth the wait: (left) Sushmita Sen with daughter Renee. Hindustan Times; and Nilufer Mistry with her twins, Suniti (left) and Suruchi. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Mistry’s life—which centred around her ageing mother, who lives with her, and her two jobs, as a government of India tourist guide and a Japanese interpreter—has changed after her daughters came home. “When I’m not travelling for work, often my mom and I would sit around in the house and not have anything to say to each other. Now the walls are scribbled and there’s a lot of happy noise. Although I have them to look after and be responsible for two daughters, life is much less stressful,” Mistry says. The unpretentious home where she grew up is undergoing renovation, making it, as she says, “even more chaotic”.
Mistry is one of a small but growing number of unmarried or divorced professionals who are choosing to adopt children. Actor Sushmita Sen was a trendsetter. Choreographer Sandip Soparrkar also made news when he adopted a child before he got married last year.
New amendments to outdated laws now make it easier for unmarried or divorced people to become parents. The Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill 2010, on its way, may soon legalize single parenthood by allowing unmarried couples and single persons, including gays and lesbians from India and abroad, to have children using ART procedures and surrogate mothers in India. In May, the Maharashtra government issued a circular to schools, instructing them to accept the middle and last name of a single mother in a child’s records from the new academic year. Suniti and Suruchi are soon officially going to be Mistrys in school; at the moment, they don’t have a last name.
Adoption is not an easy choice, but as Najma Goraiawalla, vice-president of the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare, a Mumbai-based voluntary organization, says, in Indian cities it is becoming a choice for unmarried and divorced people, mostly for financially independent working women. “In the last 10 years, we must have got about 10 cases, but more women are coming to us with enquiries now.” According to the latest figures of the Indian Council of Social Welfare, a non-profit organization that documents the number of adoptions in Maharashtra, eight children were adopted by unmarried people, mostly women, between 2007 and May.
These statistics don’t lie. Adoption agencies require additional paperwork and insist on more scrutiny regarding a single parent’s support network such as family and friends. Goraiawalla says: “We prefer that a child goes to a home where she has both parents. The role model of a father, together with the mother, will allow for a child’s overall development.”
Around a decade ago, when Mistry sent out applications to around 10 agencies in Mumbai and Pune, some of them refused to accept her application. Some asked for three letters from family members younger than her, vouching to take responsibility for the child in case of the mother’s early or unexpected demise. Mistry does not have siblings of her own, and members of her extended family were not willing to give her that letter. “I was heartbroken, and gave up. For about three years I immersed (myself) in work and forgot about it.” Around that time, she met Usha Pillai from Child Adoption and Orphan Childcare in India, a non-profit organization based in Pune. “They were encouraging, and I again started the process. In April 2008, I got a call from them saying there are two abandoned girls in Bhawanipatna, Orissa. Their mother had passed away and their father gave them up to the Nehru Seva Sangh, an orphanage in the district. I went there two days later with all my papers. They did not ask for more than what I had, and after a few days I was on a flight with Suniti and Suruchi.”
It was a day-long trip—a flight, a train ride and then a drive to Bhawanipatna, the headquarters of Orissa’s Kalahandi district—an area devastated for years by drought and famine, whose people are the subject of journalist P. Sainath’s book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought. It took them a week to stop missing their “didi” from the orphanage and take to their mother. “A couple of weeks after they came, I had to go to Europe on work. On the phone, they called me ‘mummy’ and asked me when I was coming back. It was the turnaround.”
The twins don’t yet have their birth certificate, but they are cushioned in their new life in Mumbai. They are fluent in Hindi, Gujarati and English.
Without birth certificates, Mistry initially found it difficult to get them admission in schools. “Being a single mother was not a problem, but not having the birth certificates was an impediment.” She went back to her own school, Girton High School on Grant Road. Suniti and Suruchi got admission. “They are doing well in school. I used to think I will change their names to something fancy like Shirley or something but they have an identity now and I would not like to change that.”
Very soon, says Mistry, she wants to introduce them to their biological father, who still lives in the village where Suniti and Suruchi were born.