The care that lasts a life­time

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - HE­LEN MA­HONEY GREENSLOPES, QUEENS­LAND

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: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. 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.

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