Chapter 1: Adoption
Being a mother is a privilege, a great honour but it doesn’t come with any handbook or guidance. We mostly learn on the job, do our best and impart all we can to ensure the little ones will lead a better life and have a better future. There are women who yearn to have children but cannot, there are women who are unable to carry on with their pregnancy for various reasons and there are also women who give their child away in the hope that the child will have a better life. There is no right and there is no wrong. In life, we make decisions and sometimes without much of a choice, but one day, we will all have to face the consequences of that decision.
Sometimes, we take for granted the family we have. A mother’s love is an endless devotion. It helps to nurture us and shape us.
This Chinese song “妈妈好” best describes a mother’s love.
世 上 只 有 妈妈好 Shì shàng zhí yǒu mā ma hǎo
有 妈的孩 子像 个宝 yǒu mā de hái zi xiàng gè bǎo
投 进 了妈妈的怀抱 tóu jìn le mā ma de huái bào
幸 福享 不了 xìng fú xiǎng bù liǎo
没 有 妈 妈 最 苦 恼 Méi yǒu mā ma zuì kú nǎo
没 妈的孩 子像 根 草 méi mā de hái zi xiàng gēn cǎo
离开 妈妈的怀 抱 lí kāi mā ma de huái bào
幸 福哪里找? xìng fú nǎ lǐ zhǎo
In this world, mother is best,
Having a mother is the best treasure one can have,
Into the warm embrace of a mother,
There will be endless bliss and happiness.
Without a mother, life is such sorrow,
A child without a mother is a like a wild grass without love,
Leaving the warm embrace of a mother,
Where can you find bliss and happiness?
Life is never fair and never will be. She was adopted; that much we know is true. The story thereafter is full of twists and webs of lies, so tangled that no one will ever know the entire truth. This is just one version, but it is our version.
Penang, Malaysia circa 1956
When Vineeta found out she was pregnant, she was already 6 months into the pregnancy. She was only sixteen at the time, far too young to have a child or to sustain a family. She was still in school. She knew that her family, a rich influential Indian family in Malaysia would surely force her to abort the pregnancy. Her high school sweetheart, Krishna was about to leave for university in Great Britain, and she could not bear to tell him the news for fear that it would ruin his future. He was going to Medical School at Imperial College in London. The plan was that Vineeta would finish her high school and hopefully join him the year after. A baby would throw a real spanner into the works. She was torn and scared.
She could only confide in her housekeeper, Lakshmi. Lakshmi had been working for the family since even before Vineeta was born. Lakshmi had always kept Vineeta’s secrets and covered for her especially when she was late home. She knew she could trust Lakshmi. Lakshmi hugged Vineeta so tightly like she was her own when Vineeta confided in her. Lakshmi suggested an abortion. Vineeta could not bear the idea of an abortion, so they had to come up with a plan soon as her belly would soon start to show. She knew her family would not want anything to do with a little child for fear of tarnishing their family image. As it was coming up to school holidays, Lakshmi, as the trusted housekeeper, asked the family permission to visit her family in Taiping along with Vineeta for a few weeks. Vineeta tried to convince her parents that it was important for her school that she did some travelling this holiday with Lakshmi so she could write and they would take a trip to the newly opened zoo in Taiping. Through much persuasion, Vineeta managed to convince her parents and go with Lakshmi to Taiping. In Taiping, Lakshmi settled Vineeta in her house and looked after her well. The child was soon born and although a little premature, she was a beautiful and healthy baby girl. She had the most beautiful brown eyes, black curly hair and a cute little button nose. Vineeta held on tightly to the little baby girl. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. Labour pain was soon forgotten when she heard a little whimper from the baby. How beautiful is this creation of God, she thought to herself.
Vineeta knew she would regret it one day, but the little baby girl needed a real home and parents who would love her and treat her as their own. She didn’t have much of a choice. It had to be done. She looked into the eyes of the beautiful child, “Aakanksha, you are my wish, my desire for a better future, a better tomorrow for us all..” Vineeta cuddled the little baby tightly onto her bosom.
She kissed Aakanksha for the very last time as tears rolled down her cheeks. The Chinese couple in their late forties who had struggled for years to have a child were so pleased to see the little girl. They promised to love her like their own and give her a good life. They called her Anna.
Anna and her papa were very close. He was a martial artist. From the time she could walk, Anna had started her own training in martial arts. It was a way for her papa to protect her, to toughen her up for the world, to ensure that Anna would always be able to protect herself should anything happen. It was almost like he could predict the future.
Anna’s most treasured photo was that of her and her papa; taken when she was barely 3 years old, balancing on his palm with a beaming smile and her beautiful locks of curly black hair.
Although it was tough, she loved her training with her papa, it was how they connected. Anna was well loved and living happily with the Lee’s. She didn’t know she was adopted. It all felt very natural and normal.
As fate would have it, happiness didn’t last long. Her papa was performing when he suddenly collapsed. He had a stroke; a brain infarct so severe that he died almost instantly. Anna was only 7 years old. She was with her father at the time of the incident, she saw it with her own eyes, her papa collapsing. She ran as fast as her little legs could carry her to her papa.
“Papa..papa..wake up..” she cried.
There was no response. Someone tried chest compressions.
“Papa..” she wailed.
She shook his body as hard as she could to wake him up. The paramedics came what felt like half an hour later, and her papa was pronounced dead at the scene. She would not let go of him and had to be gently pulled away. Anna felt her whole world crumbled then. She knew things would never be the same again.
The death of her papa changed almost everything. Her mama had always relied on her papa especially financially. Unfortunately there was no life insurance and his sudden death led to the loss of their property, a small but adequate house.
Anna was very upset but she knew she had to put a brave front on. She found her mama quietly weeping away when she thought Anna was asleep. The loss was devastating to them both. Not only had they lost papa, they had lost their home. Fearing that they would hurt each other by talking, they decided to quietly deal with their loss and sorrow; each in their own way.
Her mama, Mei was from Hong Kong. For her and her papa it was love at first sight. He was performing when their eyes met and locked for a lifetime. He was the son of a middle class family in Hong Kong, destined to take over the family’s business. However he rebelled against his family and went on to perform martial arts, left Hong Kong and married Mei. She ran away from home when she met Lee. She was madly in love but only 17 at the time. She had never worked and didn’t have much of an education. Now he was gone. She felt completely lost after 30 odd years of marriage and being totally dependent on one man.
Her mama loved her papa dearly. She vowed that she would never re-marry and would try her best to bring Anna up on her own. Staying on was too painful. So she took the decision to leave and move to Singapore. She had a friend from Hong Kong, now in Singapore working as a housekeeper who could possibly find her some work.
They didn’t have many possessions, just a few bags and Lee’s ashes. Anna took her favourite and only photograph taken with her papa and packed her bags with a heavy heart. The two lonely souls made their way to the old Butterworth station and took the night train to Singapore. Nothing was said but they held each other’s hand tightly as the train pulled out of the Penang station to the mournful sound of the steam whistle. Tears rolled down Anna’s cheeks as she looked back at the lights of the town and whispered goodbye to her papa. She knew she would never return.