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An Orphan’s First Birthday Wishes

4 min read

While India is filled with beauty and unique traditions, 2.5 million children will never receive the chance to experience it. Orphanages fills up more and more each year, and most are underfunded and poorly managed. Many orphans experience hardship prior to becoming institutionalized, and afterwards deal with severe sexual, psychological and physical abuse, as well as a lack of nutrition and education in orphanages.

Only 5% of orphaned Indians complete even a minimal level of education. “My First Birthday Was In An Orphanage” illustrates the impact of an encounter with an Indian orphanage when I was a 1-year-old child. Through the style of a tucked away memory briefly reopened, the narrator tells my story through two points of view: mine and a young orphan. This poem draws on societal differences, friendship in unlikely places, the distinct experiences of growing up as Indian versus an Indian-American immigrant, and the condition of Indian orphanages.

[Read Related: 55 Years Later-A Comprehensive Look at the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965]

My First Birthday Was In An Orphanage

Last week I split the               ocean in half.
Cupped                the waves and fed its limbs to the sand
Muddy paste molded like                wet clay
I chiseled a boat.                Sailed 8000 miles
Where dust kicks up the road with                more sand and
Gentle persuasions                are decoys for
Rapacious                hands and
Loose                pockets.

From house enclothed                in weightless jasmine buds
Made to douse dark hair                in moonlight
Enough to appease                the Gods
We arrived                in flock.
Half jeans                half saris
Single                purple fuzzy onesie
I was swaddled                in heat.

A sewage tan                seeped through the wood.
The window cracked                open;
Eye                peeked through
Smelled of                burnt sugar and
The stench of forgotten                love.

Eye                cloistered when we noticed
Enveloped                itself in guilt for curiosity
Seen what curiosity                dragged across the highway

My mother’s arms weighed                with cake and discomfort.
Downtown is foreign when her kind                only travels up
Heaven a pit stop                to the ultimate goal.
Children                prayed to Atlas-
The sky weighed                on their shoulders.

And their hands never                embraced water.
“There’s a                drought”
My country is famous                for loose lips and limp lies.

The cake                slipped across the wooden expanse
A solitary                pink rimmed candle
And they clustered                before the pink blended with cream

When the world                weakened
(It’s bones                heavy with stardust)
Children laid on                beds of sod
Nightmares almost sweetened                to dreams

But eye still                darted

Lady Macbeth was finally                blood-free
Only six                but aging rapidly
Her eye peered                into my crib
Pulled                back wool
She whispered a                promise
And                her name

“Deepa”

One star faltered                as her heart wrenching wish rang through its core

“I hope you have a better life                than me”

And I mended                the waters
Tucking my birthday                back into the dust

[Read Related: How Immigrants and Refugees Use Music for Survival]


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