Gems In the Garbage By Arun Gandhi


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About The Author: Arun Gandhi is one of nine surviving grandchildren of Mahatma Gandhi. He currently lives in Rochester, New York, and is founder president of the Gandhi World-wide Education Institute, Wauconda, Illinois. See: and

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Gems In the Garbage By Arun Gandhi

  1. 1. GEMS IN THE GARBAGEBy Arun GandhiBetween 1975 and 1983 my late wife, Sunanda, and I rescued and rehabilitated123 abandoned new-born babies found on garbage dumps around Mumbai, anIndian megalopolis. Tragically, this is an on-going phenomenon and even todaybabies are found abandoned on the streets by unwed mothers or her relatives. Whythey choose to abandon these babies on garbage heaps is a conundrum I have notbeen able to resolve. Perhaps, they think the result of an illegitimate relationship isnot just an embarrassment but garbage that must be disposed off.Whatever, this is the story of one, scrawny, little baby girl out of the 123, who waslater named Sonali, was days old, malnourished, wrapped in a piece of white cottoncloth and left besides a garbage dump in Byculla, a suburb of Mumbai. Afterrescuing so many finding Sonali no longer shocked me. I called the police andtogether we took her to the Government Remand Home nearby where the doctor wasskeptical about her chances of survival. But, Sonali was a fighter. Within weeks sherecovered and reached her normal baby weight.While Sonali was recouping at the Remand Home, we received through a friend arequest for a baby from a couple who live in Paris, France. We were a bit skepticalfor several reasons: first, the couple was unable to communicate because they knewnot a word of English; second, we had decided to keep in touch with the families.However, because of the mutual friend we relented and decided to send Sonali toFrance after all the legal formalities were done and the Mumbai High Court approvedthe adoption.Just as we had suspected, we lost contact with them and Sonali. There were noletters, no photographs. Years passed and in 1987 we came to the United Statesand decided to settle here closing yet another chapter in our myriad life.Sunanda and I soon established the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, nowlocated at the University of Rochester, New York. In February of 2007 Sunandapassed away and in January, 2008 I resigned from the Institute to lead a quieter life.Often in the loneliness of widowed existence I muse over the highlights of our 50years of wedded life and, of course, the lives of these rescued babies are always onthe top of the list. They are now in their early and late 20s, and some write to me tosay they named their first-born after Sunanda or me. In this pensive mood Isometimes wondered about the little girl that went to France. Was she happy? Whatwould she be doing?
  2. 2. Early in July, 2008, I received a call from the Gandhi Institute telling me that a Frenchwoman from Paris had left a message asking me to call her back. The name did notring any bells in my foggy 75 year old mind. I told the Administrator to give her myhome number if she calls back.Two days later the Administrator called back: “The French woman has left anothermessage. She sounds desperate.”I had no idea whatsoever that this could be Sonali or her parents. Twenty-six yearshad passed and rivers of water had flowed under the bridge. Butt, I relented.“Are you the person who gave a baby in adoption to a couple in Paris?” a sweetFrench voice asked in quaint English.After a moment’s hesitation, I said: “Yes, it was a long time ago.”“Well, I am that girl,” she said with a tremor in her voice. “I want to know who am I?Where do I come from? Who are you? And there are a hundred other questions.”Although I detected a sense of relief that she found the man she was desperatelylooking for, there was also the suppressed emotions that were threatening tooverflow.I tried to answer her questions as best I could. I told her how I had found her and howwe had struggled to save her life.“So, I am an Indian from India?” she asked.“Did you not see all the adoption documents we sent to your parents?” I asked.“No,” she said. “They refuse to tell me anything and I found no documents.”She could now hold her tears back no longer. The floodgates had opened and shesobbed on the phone muttering in between: “You have no idea what this means tome. You have given me a new life. I feel so relieved.”Evidently she had struggled to get some answers from her parents but, for someinexplicable reason they decided to lock her past in a vault that they had nointentions of opening. She persisted, threw tantrums, didn’t speak to her parents forweeks, but they refused to budge.In April, 2008, Sonali’s father suffered a heart attack and while he was in hospitalSonali was asked by her mother to sort out his papers. This was when she found aone-page affidavit authorizing me to represent the family in the matter of adoption oftheir baby.This opened a window to her past. She assumed I was her biological father who gaveher in adoption. She spent weeks searching for me in the telephone directories of
  3. 3. France until some friends told her it might be easier to Google my name. She founda lot of information but no contact number or address. After reading all theinformation she was still not sure if I was the right person. Then she linked me to theInstitute and found the telephone number.We talked for more than an hour and I sensed a calmness descend on her. “Can Icall you tomorrow?”“Sure,” I said.This time she wanted to know more about me. “I have seen your photographs on theinternet but now I want to meet you in person,” she said.“That is going to be difficult,” I said. “You are in Paris and I am in Rochester, NewYork. I have no plans of visiting Paris in the near future so you will have to comehere.”“Let me check,” she said. “I will call you back in a few days.”What happened next was, what one might call, Divine intervention. The nextmorning, I received an email invitation to visit Scotland and speak at the EdinburghFestival and the Scottish Parliament. I would have to be there for the entire firstweek of August.I quickly accepted the invitation. Two days later when Sonali called to dejectedlyconvey her inability to fly to the US because of the exorbitant airfares I gave her thegood news and invited her to join me in Edinburgh. We decided to meet at my hotelfor dinner.When I returned to the hotel after my speech at the Scottish Parliament I found ahuge basket of flowers in my room with a card saying “With love from Sonali.” It wastouching and intriguing. I still had a couple of hours before meeting her. I rested fora while and fifteen minutes before our appointed time I came down to the lobby. Itwas a nice evening so I decided to take a walk outside.How will I recognize her? I wondered. As I aimlessly strolled down the street deep inmy thoughts my eyes fell on a beautiful, young, dark-haired lady walking toward me. Ijust stood rooted. Our eyes locked and a voice deep inside me said “This is Sonali.”Involuntarily my arms opened and she ran and we embraced for a long moment.“Thank you, father.” She whispered. I did not know if she was praying or speaking tome. I decided to let it ride. After dinner as we chatted in the lounge she asked: “Willyou be my spiritual father?”About The AuthorAbout The AuthorAbout The AuthorAbout The Author: Arun Gandhi is one of nine surviving grandchildren of MahatmaGandhi. He currently lives in Rochester, New York, and is founder president of the
  4. 4. Gandhi World-wide Education Institute, Wauconda, Illinois. and