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.
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
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
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