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‘I am still struggling to find my identity'

K.C. Deepika
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An adopted girl strives to come to terms with life's journey

THE RETURN: Melanie Sangwine now wants to introduce her Indian family to her Norwegian husband, Espen Brunborg. — PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR
THE RETURN: Melanie Sangwine now wants to introduce her Indian family to her Norwegian husband, Espen Brunborg. — PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR

“A part of me said my biological family could have kept me.” This is someone who met her biological mother and siblings for the first time when she was 20.

Five years on, Melanie Sangwine's story is filled with similar emotionally charged instances springing from the complexities of being an adopted child.

Born Lourdu Mary aka Preethi in Harobale, Kanakapura taluk, poverty forced her biological parents to put her up for adoption. She was the 15th and youngest child of the family. Four of her older siblings had died young.

It was the 1980s and British couple David Sangwine and his wife were in the country as volunteers for an organisation. Dr. Sangwine, an adopted child himself, decided to bring Preethi into the family and rechristened her Melanie. From the St. Mary's Convent in Harobale, Melanie went on to live in Singapore for a while before settling down in the U.K. with her adoptive British parents and their son.

Difficult childhood

Her childhood was never meant to be easy. Though she was only two when she was adopted, the awareness of “not belonging” crept in early. “They were white while I looked very Indian,” she says.

With the realisation came the feeling of estrangement, of the conflict between gratitude for the opportunities gifted to her, but at the same time the knowledge that her life's course was decided by someone else. “The sense of worth is missing. I'm still struggling to find my identity,” confesses Melanie.

By the time she reached college, she was dying to visit her home country, but was apprehensive at the prospect of meeting her biological family.

But opportunity did come while she working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2006.

Surreal reunion

“As my adoptive family was forthcoming with details of my Indian connection, I got leads on my biological family. While waiting at the bus-stand in Kanakapura on the way to Harobale, I met one of my sisters. I then went on to meet my mother and 11 siblings with their respective families,” she narrates.

Though the puzzle was complete, the reunion opened a can of worms. She has no words to describe the feelings she experienced. “It was surreal, overwhelming and intense. But due to the language barrier, a lot was lost in translation.”

Melanie now wants to introduce her Indian family to her Norwegian husband, Espen Brunborg, whom she married last December. “I have not been in touch with them. I don't think I can handle the burden of expectations right now,” says Melanie.

Shattering assumptions

Her story, she says, shatters assumptions that adoption is a charitable action. “People are deluded into thinking it is easy. But there are so many issues. Different people have different experiences; but there is always a sense of something missing.”

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