Patricia L, author: ‘I never considered myself Indian; I was always a Frenchy’
The French journalist and TV presenter, who was abandoned by her birth mother and adopted by a Franco-Belgian couple from the Mother Teresa Foundation in New Delhi, speaks about growing up in France, and raising daughters who understand the burden of being born from an abandoned child
French journalist and television presenter Patricia Loison was born in India in 1971. Abandoned by her birth mother, she was adopted by a Franco-Belgian couple six months later from The Mother Teresa Foundation in New Delhi. In her book, Je Cherche Encore Ton Nom (I’m Still Looking for Your Name), published by Fayard, a Parisian publishing house, Loison explores the turning point of her life and writes about the experience of visiting India in search of her birth parents and roots.
In an email interview, she speaks about her life growing up in France, becoming a prominent figure in television news, meeting her husband, and raising two daughters who understand the burden of being born to an abandoned child.
How old were you when you fully comprehended that your ethnicity was different from that of your parents?
I remember my early childhood; I see myself sitting on my mother’s lap and her reading to me from the family album, or I’d better say, my arrival photo album: my parents waiting for me at the Orly Airport, the Indian lady who had “chaperoned” us handing me over to my mum, my grandmother holding me in her arms, smiling, and our car stopping by at some friends’ place to introduce the newborn, etc.
I have always been told that I was not born from parents, but that I had landed here. The airport was my nursing home, in a way. And I have always noticed our skin colours were different, but this never bothered me because, for my parents, it was natural.
What were your growing up years like? What did you study?
I loved school. Did I know from early on, deep inside, that it was a blessing to study; that my destiny shifted in such a dramatic way that I had to embrace this opportunity? Maybe it’s easy to say so now.
School, high school and college were some of my best years and best memories. Friends, friends, and friends. I did my major in humanities. Then I graduated from a journalism School in Lille, north of France, and then went on to do a Masters in International Journalism at the Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
Did you ever face discrimination at school, college or at the workplace for your ethnicity and skin colour?
It might be hard to believe but the answer is no. My explanation today is that I felt French from head to toe. I was not carrying with me the sadness; I was not mourning a culture, a family out there. What struck me is one day after a party at a friend from my journalism school is this story: he had talked about us, his close friends, to his parents. We went to his place one night, and when we left, his mom said, “Hey, you had not told me Patricia had Indian origins”. He had never mentioned it. He explained he had thought about it and came to the point that it was not what defined me. I kind of liked that.
Later, while writing my first book about adoption, I started feeling the suffering of not belonging to India at all. Adoption also made me a total stranger to my birth country.
How did you become a journalist / news anchor?
Becoming a journalist was the path I chose. My childhood story meant a lot to me. I always thought talking about the world would have an influence on my own life. My parents knew about India, poor children, Mother Teresa etc. It’s the same for my brother who was adopted in Lebanon.
Journalists were reporting about war, of families torn apart. I had landed in a country at peace, with food in my beautiful house, a loving family and friends only because somebody had listened to what was going on out there. I needed to keep looking out through this window.
I like to think about friendly figures looking over my career. One of my bosses just asked me to get out and prepare a live shot. And that was it. From live covering, to reporting and anchoring… Here I am, 25 years later, a senior anchor at French Public Television.
Tell us about your shows on France Television – Faut Pas Rêver and Soir 3. What were they about?
Faut Pas Rêver was a wonderful opportunity handed out to me by the show director, Georges Pernoud, who started producing environmental pieces in the 1980s. He literally changed my life. After 10 years of covering international news as a reporter, I was offered the opportunity to travel the world. It was a travel show and we explored Japan, Chile, and Canada. We shot in wonderful places, met the locals. Some of my best memories are from that show.
Soir 3 was the news night show on France Television. The board loved my work on Faut Pas Rêver and offered me the position.
How did you meet your husband?
We were at a nightclub, and he invited me to dance as I was exiting the restroom. He was a good dancer, kept telling me stuff while dancing but I couldn’t catch a word because of the music. It was very funny. The day after, he invited me to explore the Saint-Malo coast in Brittany, and since then, we’ve never parted! It was love at first sight!
Tell us about the experience of raising two daughters who’re half-French, half-Indian. How do you deal with their questions on ethnicity, religion, etc?
My daughters were my first step into understanding who I was as a whole person. They could not hide behind forgetting their skin colours or mine. They saw me and they saw beyond me, and I am so grateful for that. They accepted my roots, took them for granted.
I never considered myself half Indian and half French, I was always a full Frenchy. And I will challenge anyone saying anything different.
My daughters reconciled me with being Indian. Very early on, teachers advised us to talk to them openly about adoption because they felt something was different. So, I told them my story when they were three years old. The question is not really about their identity but about bearing the burden of being born from an abandoned child. Why, and from whom? That is a nuclear wound. This question, this fear of abandonment flew from me to them. Finding my birth family would have calmed down these feelings.
Why did you take a break and go to Japan with your husband and daughters?
My job takes a lot of time, and it has been a priority for many years. Journalism can be a bit like being a doctor. When news breaks, you must go. My husband knew I was 100% dedicated to my job when we met. My daughters had to live with it, adapt to it. I was working night shifts and I came to a point I felt like my job was stealing my family away from me, therefore, I wanted to make amends.
When the Japan opportunity knocked on our door, we didn’t hesitate a bit.
Tell us a little about the years you spend in Japan. What did you do there, what were the difference experiences like?
Japan offered us a new life. For three years we lived in a new country, a new home, made some new friends. It was nourishing, astonishing, questioning. The major change for me was being a stay-at-home mum. I became involved in our school, the Canadian Academy in Kobe city. I loved our community house which was so welcoming. We now have friends around the world. And we miss life which was at the same time so relaxing and fulfilling.
When did you decide to take a trip to India and visit the Mother Teresa orphanage?
Rebuilding my broken relationship with India has never been easy. First, I was in denial about belonging to this country in any way. In the 1980s and 90s, everything I got back from this country was miserable: Movies like The City of Joy, famine, poverty, Third World etc. I looked Indian but that was all.
In the 2000s, I went back to New Delhi for the first time to cover the then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s trip to India. I needed this professional context, a kind of justification for my being there. I took a few hours off to order a cab and pay a visit to the Missionaries of Charity, the orphanage I was rescued from.
As I write in the book, I was kind of split into two halves. The actual me was walking down this sad memory lane, wondering if my mother belonged to these crowds of women begging with their newborns. The old me was trying to remember how I felt in those very first days of my life.
It took a book to start to reconcile these two sides of myself.
What information did you find there? Did they help you out?
The sisters were warm and welcomed me with open arms. They were always happy to welcome back one of their children, as they said. They kind of knew it would be too late to get some information about my birth mother. One of them went looking in the archives but it had been more than 30 years, and there had been flooding, documents put to trash, etc. They later sent me a very nice note assuring me that it was for the best and that God has chosen for me, given me a wonderful family in France.
When I started writing my book in 2016, I picked up on the research and other doors appeared. It was like a new dynamic was emerging. That’s how I found out that one of the nuns that took care of me in Delhi had retired in a community house in Paris. We eventually met and she was certain there was more to dig up. But since the book came out, I have stopped inquiring.
When did you realise that you want to document your journey in a book?
I think the first motivation was to write. I have always loved to write, and I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true! It’s often the case for journalists. Japan offered me this opportunity. I had quit my job. I had plenty of time ahead, and a cosy office with a view of the Pacific Ocean.
In this office, my adoption file was on the shelves. I had taken it with me from the missionary. It contained all the letters my adoptive mother had written around the world, desperately looking for a child to adopt, including her exchanges once she had found me. How I slept, ate, what was my first name etc. A gold mine of information. I had the desire, I had the story, the right timing was given to me. That’s how it started.
When was your book published and by whom?
My book was published in 2019 by Sophie de Closets, head of Fayard at the time. I remember this first email I sent her from our holiday house in Brittany. And the green light and trust that came out of our first meeting. She trusted me and the story. This is a turning point in one’s life. I would have never done it without two friends of mine: my friend Sarah who is also a journalist and a writer, and my friend Nadine who helped me through the process of organising and deadlines.
Is the book going to have an English translation soon? Have you spoken to publishers in India?
It was a great honour to come to India as part of the French Literary Festival in May 2022, and I must thank the culture department of the French Embassy here in India for that. They showed interest in my story and I had the chance to meet some publishers.
My publishing house Fayard is now talking to some Indian publishers, and I hope they will come to an agreement, fingers crossed!
Do you think you would like to do the English translation, since it’s a memoir and it would make more sense?
Being translated in English or Hindi in my birth country would be an amazing accomplishment and an emotional turmoil. It would be like Mother India welcoming me back. Telling me if I’m worth it after all, you know? Being abandoned by one’s family is a pin that will never go away but it does not make you any less. You need to find another source of love.
What’s next for you? Are you writing another book?
I do have another story in mind. Each time I come back in India, it’s like spiritual food for the mind. I’m connecting to imagination, and some deep roots that are whispering into my ears. Now that my professional path is clear for the next TV season, I might go back to writing. I can’t wait to start!
Arunima Mazumdar is an independent journalist. She is @sermoninstone on Twitter and @sermonsinstone on Instagram
The views expressed are personal