The Orphan Keeper by CAMRON WRIGHT 08-30-16
WDEF CBS Chattanooga, TN
Coffeytalk - Homeward Bound
The poet Maya Angelou once keenly observed, “The ache for home lives in all of us.”
For me, it was an ache that started early, at the young age of seven, when I was kidnapped from the street near my home in southern India, driven hours away, and sold to a Christian orphanage. Despite my insistence to the orphanage owner that I already had a home and family, he wouldn’t listen (or didn’t care). I was adopted by a family in the United States and by the time I’d learned enough English to tell my new and unsuspecting parents the truth, it was too late. When all their attempts to find my Indian family failed, America became my new home.
It was a strange country and the transition was difficult. Their customs, housing, food and language were all peculiar. It didn’t take long to realize that in order to survive, I had to forget my past and focus on my future. And so, I turned my back on India, my family, my memories—my home.
I adapted to my new country, did my best to fit in, and as time passed, I grew accustomed. I excelled in sports, school, and scouting, and was even elected student body president of my high school. In fact, I almost convinced myself that my home in India no longer mattered, that I didn’t need to look back. There was just one problem: deep inside my head and heart was a voice that whispered otherwise. Despite my best efforts to forget India, I learned that India wasn’t about to forget me.
As a youth I went to England and there interacted for the first time with large groups of Indians, people who looked just like me. As first I was terrified, but as I ate their curry, and listened to their music, and observed their colorful dress, long suppressed memories began jumping up and down in my head waving their excited arms. In England, I even drew a map of the village where I’d remembered living as a child, and I secretly vowed that one day I would return.
That day came just a handful of years later. When in college, I met (through astonishing circumstances), a girl from southern India named Priya. She was such a change from the blond, Caucasian girls I’d been dating, that when I brought her home to meet my parents, my excited mother pulled out her scrapbook full of articles, letters and photos, many related to India.
Years earlier, when looking for my family in India, my mother had written to anyone in the faraway country who would listen. Now, as Priya studied one of the replies, she commented that the handwriting looked familiar. When she turned the letter over, she gasped. It was written by her father, a man who’d actually been friends with the orphanage owner in India years earlier. What were the chances?
Priya and I married and a year later, headed to India to attend her brother’s wedding. It was my first time back since coming over as a child and I intended to make use of the trip. I had the address of the orphanage from my mother’s letters, but when I arrived, I found it was closed down. Worse, the orphanage owner had passed away. I was devastated. It was my only clue.
Let me pause here to say that most of us spend our lives searching for home. You don’t have to have been kidnapped as a child to feel the need to belong, to want to believe that your life matters, to hope that one day you’ll grasp your place in the world. It’s a yearning we all inherently share.
For me, the search was reduced to riding around in a hot and muggy rickshaw, in city after city, looking for familiar landmarks. In a country of a billion people, the odds were overwhelming.
After a multitude of setbacks and successes, on the last day I had to spend in India, I found myself on the outskirts of a city called Erode, standing in front of a hut that I believed belonged to my older brother. They’d sent for his mother—perhaps also mymother—who was down bathing in the river. As I waited, I remember seeing an old woman racing up the hill weeping profusely, begging that we tell her everything we knew about the boy who’d disappeared as a child, the son she’d never forgotten.
As we all try to find some semblance of belonging and connection in our lives, our search is seldom easy—yet we carry on. Why? I’ve learned that if we’re both patient and persistent, if we never give up, we’ll occasionally glimpse miracles.
We are all homeward bound. Good luck in your journey.
Kpcnews - What are you reading?
The Orphan Keeper,” by Camron Wright, is one of those books that grabs you right from the first word. You want to race through the pages, chapter after chapter, to see how the story unfolds.
The novel is based on the true story of Taj Rowland, born into a poor family in India, kidnapped at age 7, and sent to live with the American family that adopted him as an “orphan.” As an adult, Taj’s deep rooted need to understand his past allows him to reunite with his beloved birth family in India.
Right from the beginning of the book, we get to know 7-year-old Chellamuthu, who was later renamed Taj by his adoptive family. Life in Erode, a small, poverty-stricken village in India, was difficult. His parents worked hard, but struggled to provide food for the boy and his siblings. His mother put in long days, walking 3.5 miles to the fabric dying factory for her 10-hour shifts. His dad, when not working, drank to drown his frustrations of not being able to better support his family. Both parents were concerned that Chellamuthu was spending too much time on the streets and falling into in bad company. But there was little they could about it except scold him.
One day, their worst fears came true: their beloved son disappeared without a trace. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. In Chellamuthu’s case, he was sold to an orphanage with falsified family papers, to be adopted by an unknowing family abroad. The majority of Indian children who disappear, forced into the unknown, never make it home.
Chellamuthu was torn away from his family and taken to a foreign land where everything was dramatically different from his life in India. With love and patience, his adoptive family helped him through the difficulties of learning English and to adapt to a new life. He changed his name to Taj.
As Taj grew up, he excelled at school and sports, but he also repressed the painful memories of his childhood and lost family.
The memories started to emerge when, as a college exchange student, he lived with a British family of Indian descent. As a young adult, Taj could not have been more American, but knew that he would have to face his Indian roots and understand more about his birth family.
With the support and encouragement of his wife, Priya, Taj learns about his childhood and birth family. He begins to unite his past with his present, and starts a long-overdue healing processing for himself, his Indian birth family and his American adoptive family.
“making the best choices” for a child. It is a reminder of how important deep family ties are, and how they can consciously or unconsciously shape our lives.
“The Orphan Keeper” will be available on Amazon and through other booksellers as of Sept. 6.”
“The Orphan Keeper” is fast paced and riveting. It is a tragic story with a good ending. But, it also touches on serious problems such as poverty, child abduction and what constitutes.