The care that lasts a lifetime
I was 10 years old the last time I was here, feeling hot and bored and wishing I were somewhere else, until my aunt, who lived in Chennai in eastern India, took my mother and me to the “babies home”.
The sight of the abandoned little ones, all brought to the nuns by the police, who knew the women would take special care of them, had been etched in my memory for more than 50 years.
A couple of months ago I was charged with taking other Australians on a short tour of Chennai. The hired tour guide suggested that we journey to St Thomas Mount where St Thomas the Apostle was believed to have been martyred.
There was a visit to the church planned, but I felt as if I had been here before. Somewhere around here was that “babies home” I had visited five decades ago.
Suddenly there it was, an old wooden sign above an iron-gated entrance.
As I opened the gate I noticed that half of my group was following me, thinking I was leading them to somewhere of significance. The journey into the home threw my memory into chaos. I was 10 years old again looking for the newborn babies and their stories of survival.
Sister Leema greeted us with a huge smile. “Come and see the babies,” she said. So small, so helpless, so deserted but cared for and loved by such gentle beings.
We spent about 30 minutes speaking with the nuns and sitting beside the small cots and, when it was time to leave, Sister Leema took us out to the terrace that led back to the gated entrance.
As she led us outside, we saw a young, fine-looking Indian gentleman sitting on the terrace. “Ah, Jacob, come and say hello,” Sister Leema exclaimed. “Tell them your story.”
Jacob had been an abandoned baby; the police found him on the side of the road when he was just three days old. He was now 26 and living with his adopted family in Belgium.
Today he had returned to the home in Chennai to see Sister Leema for the first time since he was adopted. He was back to say thank you and to pay his respects to the women who had so carefully secured his life. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: email@example.com. Columnists will receive a hardback copy of New Zealand Wine by Warren Moran, a guide to key winemakers and wine regions; $75. More: hardiegrant.com.au.