HT Brunch Mother’s Day Cover Story: Tiger mom!
All mothers are tigers in defence of their children. Mandira Bedi was a tiger twice over on April 12, 2021, when trolls attacked her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Tara Bedi Kaushal, on an Instagram post, mocking the colour of her skin.
For TV personality Mandira, the attack on Tara was not only an attack on her child, it was an attack on Indian values and aesthetics. Tara had been adopted eight months earlier, when Mandira and her director husband, Raj Kaushal, finally acted on the decision they had made when they married 22 years ago, that they would have two children: one, the child of their love and the other, a child adopted by their hearts.
Now Tara was being attacked for the colour of her skin – a colour that is totally Indian and utterly beautiful. “Everything about her should be celebrated, including the colour of her skin. We are a spectrum of colours in our family and that’s what makes us so special,” says Mandira.
When Mandira and Tara first saw each other, it was on video calls made every morning at 10. Then on July 28, 2020, Raj went to collect her from Tikamgarh, a town five hours from Jabalpur.
As Raj drove to pick Tara up and file the paperwork, Mandira, nine-year-old Vir Bedi Kaushal, and Raj’s best friend Jitu Savlani waited to board a chartered flight that would land in Jabalpur just as Raj and Tara arrived from Tikamgarh.
“In pre-Covid times, both parents had to collect the adopted child,” says Mandira. “But Vir was a bit overwhelmed as we hadn’t had enough time to prepare him for a sister. I guess some insecurity had crept in. I was overwhelmed too: a new member of my family was to join us and she was a readymade little person with thoughts and beliefs and some ideas, some background and some history and I didn’t know what it would be like.”
When Raj and Tara walked into the airport hand in hand, Tara was reserved. She was monosyllabic and just sat quietly on Mandira’s lap. “But she was fascinated with her brother and kept looking at him,” Mandira remembers. “Even during the video calls she had kept saying, ‘Viru bhaiya kahan hain? Mujhe Viru bhaiya bahut pasand hain’.”
For the first month, Mandira shared Tara’s room. “She would cry a little at bedtime because she’d be missing the folks she had lived with, but as the days passed, her personality started shining. She loves water, loves baths and loves doing puzzles. I got her a lot of Viru’s old toys as well as new little things that would stimulate her,” says Mandira.
Tara’s settling-in process will continue for another year. “We have been told to not hide it from her that she’s adopted and must tell her that families are made in different ways,” says Mandira. “She’s going to have some memories of her life before she came to us and that’s how it should be. But we are bombarding her with love and stimulation to make up for lost time.”
At this point, Tara can’t quite pronounce the letter R and so she calls herself Tala. But she’s picked up some English and got the hang of Alexa, which means the house echoes with the sound of Tara saying, ‘Alexa, play song Dance Monkey’!
The little girl loves Disney princesses; she loves Elsa and Anna. “Her first favourite movie was Frozen (2013), but now it is Brave (2012). The movie is watched on repeat,” laughs Mandira
When Tara had arrived the previous July, she couldn’t understand that a ball could be blue. She didn’t understand the concept of colour because she had never been to school. “Now after eight months, not only does she know all the colours, but she can also count from one to one hundred, recognise and write the alphabet in upper and lower case, and spell her name,” says Mandira, glowing with pride. “She’s probably ahead of kids her age with her desire to learn. We don’t know her exact age – she got to the adoption centre when she was around two – so we are going to celebrate 28 July, 2021 as her fifth birthday. She’s gone beyond blocks and is now playing Lego with her brother. Vir has also started to love her a lot more.”
A little unprepared for Tara’s arrival, Vir has taken time to having a little sister around. “He wasn’t too pleased about Rakhi particularly, but on Bhaiya Dooj, he took me aside and said, ‘I am lucky to have a cute little sister like Tara’. He even showed her off to his class on Zoom! Though he finds her annoying at times as siblings do, he kisses her good night on her forehead,” says Mandira. “Tara loves Raj and especially loves it when Raj feeds them both.”
Like mother, like daughter
Tara loves jumping on the trampoline and is an extremely outdoorsy kid. “In some sense, she has a lot of my qualities: the curly hair, the feisty behaviour, sporty attitude, independence. She’s fearless in the water, so I keep telling her she’s just like I was when I was little,” says Mandira. “She’s very sharp and observant, loves to wear dresses and loves to see me in dresses. I like to come home after an event and show my daughter what I was wearing, because I know she really appreciates it.”
Mandira and Raj had applied for adoption when Vir was six years old. They used the Central Adoption Resource Authority (http://cara.nic.in/), where all legal adoptions happen for everyone, even if you are a single parent.
“It took us nearly a month and a half to collate the documents they needed and two attempts to upload them,” says Mandira.
But years passed and finally in 2020, during the lockdown, Mandira and Raj’s need to complete their family and get Vir his sibling became even stronger.
“I put my foot on the gas and followed up on whatever was delaying the proceedings,” says Mandira. “We were told that we were very high on the list and if we chose to adopt using the ‘from anywhere in India’ option, which had been in the fine print, instead of the three states we had randomly chosen just because that was a question, our name would move up much faster. Tara’s photograph was in our email inbox within 10 days. She looked like a naughty, cute, little imp and we said, that’s our Tara!”
The first time Mandira took Tara to Bougainvillea, their second home, where there is a swimming pool, she was unstoppable, splashing around on her own. But when Mandira posted pictures on Instagram, Tara was attacked by trolls.
“This was unforgivable,” says Mandira. “It was inhuman and uncalled for! It takes a really low level kind of individual to do something like that.”
For Mandira, Raj and Vir, Tara has completed the family. “When I cuddle with her, I can’t believe she’s in our lives and she’s mine,” says Mandira. “My Tara has the love of a family. She will receive the education and care that will allow her to fulfil her potential wherever her dreams take her. As a parent, I have only unconditional love to offer.”
This is what makes Mandira a tiger in defence of her children and she has a message for Tara’s trolls.
“Insulting people doesn’t make you brave, bold, cool or courageous,” Mandira says disdainfully. “In fact, you are the weakest of cowards, craving attention and spewing poison safely hidden behind the shield of anonymity.”
From HT Brunch, May 9, 2021
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