It’s nearing 5 pm and Mathura Kamble’s eyes dart frequently to the clock. It is time for her to take Akshay, her foster son, for his physiotherapy session. This is a daily routine she has rarely skipped in the last eight years. It is a routine that has transformed Akshay from a prematurely born, seven-month-old abandoned baby who could barely turn on his side to a lean, shy but hyperactive boy. Once in a while Akshay insists on being picked up and Kamble obliges like a doting mother.
“He is a handful sometimes, especially when he starts pulling at his hair. It’s then difficult to manage him. His behaviour is dictated by his affliction (neurological problems). I have to patiently talk him out of it. I have to feed him because he does not eat food from anybody else,” says Kamble, as Akshay plays with her ears.
She says that letting go of Akshay as and when he is adopted will be difficult, but she hopes, for his sake, that will happen one day.
That is the story of almost all foster mothers — women who take on the care of orphaned or abandoned children before the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption (IAPA) or another such body helps find an adoptive family for them.
Since its inception in 1970, the IAPA has consciously chosen not to set up an orphanage but to start a foster family care service for their children. The thinking behind this, says its honorary secretary Hansa Apparao, is that every child has the right to grow up in a family environment.
Though foster mothers receive an honorarium and support for the foster child, the care they provide makes all the difference in helping the child adjust better in life. The initial lessons in nurturing and caring go a long way, as the following gesture from Arpita, another of Kamble’s foster children, shows.
Arpita, now a 12-year-old girl adopted by US citizens, recently wrote to Kamble, whom she calls Aai (mother in Marathi), that she had donated her long tresses for a cancer patients’ charity. A reward that is more valuable than any other, says Kamble, who has played foster mother to many children in the past 23 years.
Seema Gomes has fostered “over 50 children” in almost the same period and has five albums full of photos of the children who have been in her care in her Bandra Reclamation home.
Four-month-old Muskan sleeps comfortably in Gomes’s arms as she tells me about how she, a widow with four children, became a foster mother. “I needed supplementary income but could not go out and work. Looking after foster children was a good way to earn extra money while doing something good,” she says.
Initially, her youngest son, then only eight, resented his mother’s affection being shared by another baby. “So one day I told my son that I would leave the baby at the IAPA office. I was surprised when he said that he would not let the baby go.” she recalls. From then on, she says, all her children have supported her in bringing up foster children. Gomes has eight grandchildren now and all are fond of the new babies that periodically come into their grandmother’s home.
Once the bond is formed between the child and the family, it is obviously difficult for both to let go. Says Gomes, “We show the children pictures of their adoptive parents and prepare them for their new life. As for us, from the day the baby comes into our home, we tell ourselves that they are here for a short stay. Sooner or later they will go to their adoptive homes.”
And yet, when they leave, it hurts, admits Gomes. Her eyes well up as she tells me about Pranjali, a premature baby with diplegic cerebral palsy, who for the first two years of her life could not turn on her stomach. It took patient handling coupled with medical treatment, botox injections and physiotherapy twice a day to turn Pranjali into the lively young girl of six she is today.
Gomes’s daughter-in-law, Hilda, with two sons aged nine and six, has also taken to fostering children for the IAPA. She, too, faced the problem of sibling rivalry with her younger son. “But now, when there is no baby in my care, my son tells me to bring one home,” she says.
The IAPA provides for all the child’s clothing, food and medical needs. But, says Apparao, “Though we do pay them an honorarium, the service that the foster mothers render is invaluable.”