An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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My brother-in-Law Ajit: The Nayak’s Great Family Tragedy

September 10, 2014
Sasmita with Ajit

Sasmita with Ajit

Ajit Nayak is my brother-in-law and he is mentally and physically disabled.

Since I’ve known Sasmita, I have heard stories about her brother who is two years older than me and his disability.

One day this summer, my father-in-law Valentine and I were chatting about life in Village Alligonda. He began telling me about Ajit, referring to him as ‘the great family tragedy.’

The story goes something like this: When Ajit was eight years old he and his mother went to the local pond where his mother usually washed clothes. She was beside him, beating the clothes into the stones, cleaning them and he was playing nearby with his hands in the water.

Suddenly he slipped and fell into the water. Polina, horrified because she could not swim, jumped immediately into the waterhole and tried pulling him out. Thankfully the water was only waist deep. After a struggle she was successful, but Ajit nearly drowned. read more …

We’re going back to India – to marry again.

May 6, 2014

Sasmita and I are traveling to Odisha, her birth state, in Eastern India, from late May to mid-June 2014.

The reason: to be married in a Catholic Mass about 30 minutes away from the village Alligonda where she grew up.

None of her family attended our August 2012 wedding in New Jersey. The plan has always been to return for an Indian village ceremony in the future and meet her family.

The future is this summer. My parents generously provided our airfare expenses and recently decided to join the momentous occasion, so we will be traveling in India together.

The four of us are excited beyond words.

For those that are unfamiliar with our story, Sasmita immigrated to the USA on a K-1 Fiancée Visa in July of 2012. Though we met when I was in India in 2011, while I was interning with a Delhi NGO, I never met her parents, Polina and Valentine. I asked her Dad’s permission to marry her via Skype.

I will be meeting my in-laws, her brother and sisters, their families, and extended family for the first time. I have a whole other family in India, and we are all essentially strangers, but I married their daughter.

The weather this time of year is not optimal for an Indian visit. In fact, it is just about the worst. India will be at the peak of summer, with temperatures hovering around 110 in the shade. Then, by early June, the monsoon rains will begin, bringing further logistics issues.

However, this is the only time that my parents and I can meet her entire family. During the cooler months, the young children of her sisters are in school and unable to travel to Odisha for a wedding.

My in-laws, Valentine and Polina. Polina is in green.

Although her parents, select other family and of course, everyone in our U.S. lives knows we are married, the majority of her village and community in India does not. This is significant, because they never vetted me, nor gave me their permission to marry Sasmita.

Most marriages are arranged in her village. Though we have a ‘love’ marriage, a wedding is not solely a decision for two people in love, it is a community wide event requiring their consent. Being married without the entire village’s blessing is rare and those who do so face village ostracism.

Only after the wedding ceremony can we go to Alligonda together, as by then we’ll be ‘officially’ married by her village priest. Our second wedding will be June 4, in a remote Indian village, nearly three hours from the nearest airport. If we came to Alligonda together before our wedding, it would be scandalous.

We will be staying at the Nayak’s house, named ‘Nivas Chandrapali.’ Chandra is her grandmother’s name on her father’s side and pali, is her mother’s nickname given by her family.

Sasmita's childhood home

Nivas Chandrapali

According to tradition, as the groom I will purchase wedding outfits for all her immediate family, and her sister’s families along with assorted aunts and uncles.

To accomplish this, we are visiting Delhi for a week, connecting with friends, and shopping a lot. While there, we need to buy our own wedding outfits as well: the bridal saree for Sasmita and a sherwani for me.

In return for the clothes I purchase for her family, the Nayaks will gift me a suit (Western business style) and I will receive another wedding band when we marry.

Sasmita will receive gold jewelry her parents have been waiting to give her on her wedding day. The Nayaks anticipate this will be the last family wedding , so our marriage is very important.

It has been quite a crash-course in Indian wedding etiquette for me so far. For example, the bride and groom have hardly anything to do, but buy the gifts for the family and show up. We have not been, nor will we be actively involved in any of the planning.

Her brother in-laws and her father are taking care of all logistics.

Because the village never approved me to marry Sasmita, nor do they know we are already married, I  penned a letter to her village priest saying that I was eligible to marry her and agreed to do so. My parents also wrote a letter to the priest saying they agreed to an inter-denominational marriage (she’s Catholic, I’m Protestant) and our pastor (Anglican) here in DC wrote a note giving his blessing for our marriage.

After the wedding, we will spend five or six days visiting her parents’ house. Day to-day village life will bring its own specific challenges. Because Alligonda is quite remote, electricity will be intermittent. This also means there will not be air conditioning. The house also lacks Western toilets and running water, along with many other luxuries familiar to me.

Alligonda village will be my first extended experience with Indian rural life. Our trip will allow me to glimpse Sasmita’s world before we met and seeing her roots and family together will be special.

View of the main road

View of the main road

Though excited for this journey, I am more than a little nervous to visit her family and village. Thankfully, my anxiety will be tempered by eating Odisha food..

Lastly, only Sasmita, her father and one sister speak English well enough to converse. I  do not speak any Oriya. Therefore, I anticipate smiling and trying to communicate with my hands a lot.

Stay tuned to read more about our adventure of a lifetime, by following this blog. We’ll hopefully post pictures from India when we have reliable Web access as the trip unfolds.


An awesome adoption conference is happening this November. Will you be there?

August 23, 2013

A group that I belong to, The Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) and the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival along with others, are organizing a two-day conference called “Reframing the Adoption Discourse,” in St. Paul, Minnesota this November.

This is the APRC’s first conference and the line-up of presenters is impressive. There is also an ‘after-party’ on Saturday evening the 16th.

Space is limited, so get your tickets today! Registrations are discounted until Sept 1.

Here is the info you need to join us.

My ‘fairy-tale’ narrative in voice: A podcast interview.

May 11, 2013

My first podcast here, in three 10 minute segments. I had returned from my India adventures and was awaiting Sasmi’s arrival in the United States. An interview with Kevin Haebeom Vollmers on the Land of Gazillion Adoptees blog.

Marrying an Immigrant – Part 1

May 1, 2013

Here’s another re-post from Land of Gazillion Adoptees. This was originally published in January. I know many of you read Part I and look forward to Part II. I promise it is coming soon.

For those reading it for the first time, enjoy!
As some of you know, I married the love of my life Sasmita in August of 2012. After a courtship conducted primarily over Skype for more than a year (exactly 380 days), we were re-united in mid-July 2012. Less than one month later, we married in New Jersey.

Wedding Day

Wedding Day

We’re settling into married life; it’s an adjustment, as anyone married knows. But our added complication is Sasmita’s massive culture shock.

read more …

“Joseph, No Last Name”

April 14, 2013

Hi Readers,

This piece marked my March 2012 debut as a published writer.

It’s the story of my 2011 return to the hospital where I was born in Kottayam, Kerela, and more of my personal narrative.

Let me know your thoughts and enjoy!

Where My Life Began

District Hospital 3, Kottayam


Guess who else hates Gandhi?

April 1, 2013

Dear Readers,
Below is a re-post from Land of Gazillion Adoptees as promised.

I’m also in the midst of re-designing this blog.

One of the more surprising revelations after living in India in 2011, was learning that the Dalits, formerly the “untouchables,” are no fans of Mahatma Gandhi. Coming from the United States and Western society in general, the Mahatma is held up as a paragon of non-violence and civil disobedience. I would guess that most in the US consider his life and his work as one of the most selfless, incredibly beautiful and inspiring of the modern world. The belief is less in India.

read more …

From Indifference to Love: How my Affection for India Evolved –Part Two

September 16, 2009

As I discussed here, my Indian heritage was a source of deep embarrassment and shame most of my young life which included my junior high and high school years. Coincidentally India’s stature on the world stage increased, as my love for it grew, from my Senior year of high school in 1998 through the present. read more …

The Narrative Burden

July 20, 2009

It seems like an innocuous question, but for an international adoptee it’s a complicated one.

My typical response, “Madison, Wisconsin via Central New Jersey and I’ve lived in DC for about five years.” Which elicits a frown, or quizzical facial expression of the person asking and their follow up question becomes “where are you really from?” read more …

Lucky is only half the story.

July 10, 2009

Throughout my life, when I discuss my adoption, people always seem to respond with -”A.J. you are so lucky.”

“Lucky;” the word reverberates in my ear, engendering a gamut of emotions, frustration, misunderstanding, mild anger and resentment, but also a genuine desire to explain why that word bothers me. read more …

Why Did I Begin An Adoption Blog?

July 1, 2009

After much hand wringing and contemplation, I joined the blogosphere a few weeks ago. Many of you probably wonder why.

There are numerous blogs about adoption, both domestic or international. Many people blog about identity issues, birthmother conundrums, and the list goes on. Some are cheery reads, while others barely hide deep pain, anger, and disappointment. A few are a mixture of both. It’s a hard topic to write about because it’s rife with deep personal feelings.

I started this blog because I’m a male, Indian adoptee. That puts me in the severe minority. Boys, for the most part, are not put up for adoption in India, or most other places in the world. Rather, families keep males for their contribution to the family through work.

Furthermore, when men marry, families aren’t required to pay a dowry or make burdensome financial arrangements as girls do. This is a noteworthy reason why the majority of internationally adopted children are girls.

Secondly, I’m more than willing to discuss adoption, all of its positives and its negatives. I am completely transparent about adoption, which others view as a private matter. Lastly, I identify strongly as an international adoptee and realize that because of this, my view of the world is quite different from my peers.

Lastly, I identify strongly as an international adoptee and realize my view of the world is quite different from my peers.

But while those are two big reasons why I decided to throw my voice into the world through the internet, they aren’t the biggest.

My biggest passion is reclaiming the voice of the adult adoptee. That’s the subtitle of this blog and one of my great loves. For too long our voice was submerged in the rhetoric of those studying “us,” but our narratives remain hidden, non-existent or clouded.

I’ve grown weary of being invisible.

Before you write me off as just another angry adoptee, let me clarify.

I believe that anyone who wishes to opine about adoption and the adoption community should do so. Whether those utterances are from social workers, adoptive parents, birthmothers, academics, interested parties or just exploring the possibility themselves.

Everyone has a right to share their thoughts on the issue.

But let’s be clear, some voices should carry more weight than others. The adoptee voice is one of them.

To illustrate this further, let me give you a hypothetical. Suppose I told you that I was going to write a blog about women. You might respond, ‘Fine, A.J. probably has some good thoughts as a man, about his perception of women.” But in the back of your mind, wouldn’t you say to yourself, “Interesting that AJ is writing a blog about women, but how much could he really understand them, as a man?”

This analogy breaks down under further scrutiny, but you get my point. When it comes to non-adopted people writing about adoption, their voice can only go so far, because they weren’t adopted themselves.

That last sentence is bound to be controversial, but it’s the truth. My parents love me and my siblings and strived to help us process our adoptions. But even they have limited understanding of what it’s like to be adopted because they are not.

I’m appreciative of all the ways they tried comprehending my hurting, identity issues, fear of abandonment due to adoption, etc. But since they are not adopted, their understanding of my experience as an adoptee has a ceiling. Being adopted is not their life, it’s mine.

I know I’m not the only adopted person feeling this way. Many others share this belief. We want our views as adopted people included in the adoption dialogue. This blog is for them.

When celebrities adopt a child and one scans the news stories, it’s rare to see an adopted person quoted in the account. There might be a quote from an adoption advocacy group, an orphanage, or any other individual or organization. But a person who is actually adopted, voicing opinions is practically non-existent. That needs to change. I’m not entirely sure how, but I know why and hopefully this blog and others like it will reveal how to make our voices a part of the world in a new way and not merely whispers in the adoption arena.

There might be a quote from an adoption advocacy group, an orphanage, or any other individual or organization. But a person who is actually adopted, voicing opinions is practically non-existent. That needs to change. I’m not entirely sure how, but I know why and hopefully this blog and others like it will reveal how to make our voices a part of the world in a new way and not merely whispers in the adoption arena.

That needs to change.

I’m not entirely sure how, but I know why. Hopefully, this blog and others will reveal our voices to the world, not merely as whispers in the adoption arena.

What say you all? Am I right or totally wrong here or a mixture of both? How would you characterize the absence of the adopted person’s voice in the discussion? Comment, please.