“The connection with our roots will always stay, even if we are miles away”
I know there are thousands of adoptees who are out there. Looking for a part of their identity. Looking for answers. Looking for family. Looking for information. From my personally experience I understand that this search journey can be very emotional.
And the thing that hits the most is that often questions are replied by more questions. Not always necessarily by answers. Which in my opinion can be very frustrating. In my case, I have been searching for 40 years to find out from which region in India I was coming.
Only after 40 years I got my answers. I can’t describe the peace of mind this has given me. That is why I understand why it can be such a hustle, the searching, the waiting. And therefore I am happy to share my own personal story.
I hope you will also be able to find the answers you are looking for and I hope you’ll be able to find happiness in your life.
My roots journey to India, the end of a search journey
Honestly, I never thought I could write this blog. But look, it’s here now. My motto to “never give up” has brought me where I am today.
Regardless of how you look at it now. The entire roots event is a huge roller coaster of emotions. While I can otherwise quite easily put things into perspective, this is a completely different story.
Once you are in that flow of such a search for your roots. Well, actually you don’t know what you are looking for or what you are going to find and everyone answers that question in his or her own way.
But once that train has departed, it is not always easy to deal with it in a balanced way.
Those emotions, it grabs you by the throat. You are completely taken in by it and before you know it you are completely swept up in it. And all you can do is trust that it will all work out, one day.
The start of my roots journey
While my adoptive parents thought I came from the slums of Kolkata and was a foundling, “my story” turns out to be completely different.
In the meantime I have been organizing roots trips to India since 2015 now and I have guided many adoptees on the journey of a lifetime. It is logical that by being busy with these special emotional journeys on a daily basis, my work has also inspired me to get started and to finally make that last part of my own roots journey. Or what I thought would be the last part.
When I was about 16 years old I started browsing through my adoption papers. Ok, my identity card obviously shows my supposed place of birth. But getting information back then was a lot more difficult than it is now. I am convinced that this section is a lot easier today. I didn’t even have internet at home, let alone I wasn’t even able to look up my hometown.
But at that time I bought an atlas, that was still very popular back in the days, so I bought myself a very detailed atlas of India so that I could look up my hometown. However, there turned out to be several cities in India that had the same name, so I wasn’t completely sure yet.
But after checking with the adoption society, I found out I came from the state of Madhya Pradesh. The city listed as my birthplace is now in the state of Chhattisgarh.
2005, my first visit to Shishu Bhavan in Kolkata
It wasn’t until 2005, my 3rd trip to India, that I was ready for a “roots search”. When I look back on it now, I notice that the different places I’ve been to in the context of my search have also caused different emotions.
For example, I experienced the first visit to Kolkata as especially painful and it brought me a lot of sadness. In fact, you cannot really be prepared for what you will hear. But when I heard that my real parents had died, yes then it seemed as if time stood still.
Now the data showed that I was not a foundling. I walked out of there with mixed feelings. I did come from a family, I wasn’t just left behind on the street. Had I had know this in my childhood, would it have made a difference? Probably.
Strange feeling too. Because even though I only just got that information now. When people used to ask me how I ended up in Belgium, I told everyone that my real parents died and that is why I was adopted. That sounded less painful to me than being unwanted.
I sat there with my husband, in a dusty office. I still remember it like it was yesterday and it’s been almost a few decades. The shady paper, a standard form, contained only little information. Exact dates. My mother gave me my name. When I arrived in Kolkata and from there I realized that I had only lived in Kolkata for about 3 months and lived in the orphanage of Raigarh for almost a year.
The information and dates on my papers are quite detailed, so we suspect that the information is correct. So if my parents are deceased, is a search still useful? What information could still be found? But is it also true? These were questions that kept running through my head.
I think the rest of the conversation just passed by to me. That one sentence alone had such an impact. What was I supposed to do with this now? There was no hope, no chance of ever finding my real parents.
We visited the orphanage at the beginning of our trip. The rest of the trip I was just lived. It was one of the few times I was happy to be back in Belgium after an India trip. Now that doesn’t really happen to me anymore.
How your roots will always stay connected with you
In the year 2000, I went on a trip to Kerala for my work. It was my second India trip. After my first trip I was already a fan of India. But this trip was completely different. My stay gave me a strange feeling but I didn’t really know why. I thought it was a very beautiful region and thought it made me so happy.
But it’s only since I started my own travel organization for travel to India and I started travelling to India frequently that he same question kept coming back.
Indians do migrate a lot for various reasons: work, family, etc. So every time I traveled to India I was regularly asked where in India I am from and of course they also wanted to know if I moved with my family to the West etc.
And each time I replied, according to my papers I am from Raigarh. While many Indians looked at me doubting how on earth that could be possible. They said that I looked typical as someone from the south of India and whether I am sure that I am not from the south of India.
No, of course I’m not sure. I can only go by what’s on my papers. And is that correct? No idea. So doubt again. But once always has the feeling to believe what is written on paper. As we believe in our minds it is proof of what we have believed for many years. But is that really true?
And then again I travelled in 2018 for work to Kerala. I left with a completely different feeling than on my previous trips. And yes, I can’t describe it any other way but it felt like coming home. I have travelled to India so much in recent years, but nowhere have I felt such a connection with my native country as there, it felt so at home. But there, that journey, was magical!
And then of course it came. The numerous questions whether I was sure I am not from Kerala? And not 1 time that question, but really 100 times. No one believed I was from North-India. Were all those people so wrong and was my paper with proof more credible? Even more doubt.
For obvious reasons I started thinking, what if those papers are not correct? When I got back in Belgium, I started surfing the internet. I started to look at distances. Is that realistic? How did I travel such a distance back in the days, when transport was not so extended as it is today? It seemed that traveling was clearly in my blood from an early age!
But this is also something that comes up very often when I talk to adoptees after their travel experience to India. The feeling of coming home. And that doesn’t always match, as you might expect, with what’s stated in their papers.
Time for the last part of my rootsjourney
The many questions, the doubting. In the meantime the numerous questions made me think. Because my work was has so much to do with India it was very confronting each time.
All of this together ultimately prompted me to completely change our travel plans and to finally work on that last part of my roots journey. I am super happy and incredibly grateful to them for my family following me in this.
The reason why I waited so long to visit the orphanage in Raigarh was partly because it was quite an undertaking to get there. First take a domestic flight and then sit in the car for another 5 hours and of course travel the same route again to return.
But on the other hand, what if the orphanage were to close? Then I might not get the chance to visit the orphanage. So I followed my gut feeling and intuition and we went for it!
And then the time had come. Ready to leave. The last weeks before departure I started to get a bit nervous about starting my own roots journey. While otherwise I’m not at all nervous about leaving on a trip.
A journey of a lifetime, a unique life experience
We left for Delhi to make a stopover before continuing our journey to Raigarh. While in Delhi we took the opportunity to visit some friends. A very nice experience.
And then it finally happened. We took the plane towards Raipur. I expected to be quite emotional. But actually I was mostly happy and very curious.
The journey went smoothly and the ride from Raipur airport to Raigarh was also an experience. Our driver spoke very little English which made communicating a challenge. Ok, I can speak some Hindi but that is still quite limited.
On the way we stopped at a roadside restaurant. They were clearly not just tourists there. With a menu only in Hindi it was a bit difficult. The adventure had begun.
When I arrived in Raigarh, I really felt that connection, one that I had never felt when I arrived in Kolkata. It felt very recognizable and yet a bit familiar, it was immediately clear. I once lived here. But it didn’t feel like coming home like I have when I go to Kerala.
Once we arrived at our hotel, the staff was very sweet and helpful and of course they were curious about our story.
With the few words of English they understood and the words of Hindi we could speak, we managed to communicate. They thought it was special that we had travelled there especially to look for my roots.
Visit to Shishu Bhavan in Raigarh
On Sunday we had a day to relax and on Monday we went to visit the orphanage. Even though we had the address, Raigarh is quite a sprawling city, but again not a metropolis. We turned out to be standing at a church (later it turned out to be the wrong church) instead of at the orphanage. A few phone calls back and forth with my team in India, some research via google maps (thanks to the good internet connection in India) and some help from friendly Indians who showed us the way. Barely 15 minutes later we were at the right place.
It was a strange feeling to walk into that gate. Once we walked through the gate, we entered a spacious domain. It was neat and clearly well maintained. Various buildings are scattered throughout the domain.
Soon we were kindly received by the sisters. Who were only too curious about our story. In no time at all the other sisters present were called in. And if I could tell my story and we were served cake and tea.
At the moment they take care of children in the orphanage, who come from poor families, but since it was Christmas holidays, almost all the children had left to spend that holiday with their families.
In the end I did get the chance to ask questions to the sisters. How it used to be. And of course I was curious to find out if I was from Raigarh or if my roots are somewhere else. The sisters were unanimous. You are definitely 200% not from Raigarh.
One of the sisters from the orphanage has lived in Kerala for years and also thought I looked like someone from Kerala. And for sure she said to me you are not from Chhattisgarh. By the way it was easy to see that the locals there looked very different.
When it was time for lunch, the sister asked me to cook with her. What a surprise, yes of course I wanted to. Once the curry was ready, it was time for the sisters to pray.
My husband and I went to explore the domain and after walking around a bit we sat under the big tree, while we had our eyes over the domain and we just sat there next to each other, there was one building that attracted me incredibly
No idea why that was. But there was something that kept me watching it. The square looked deserted, except for a few employees. A little later I asked the sister what that building used to be. And then she told me that this is the Shishu Bhavan, the place where the children used to sleep.
After lunch and the photo shoot at the request of the sisters, it was time to say goodbye.
This visit was so much more than I had hoped for. It has brought me an incredible sense of peace. This was the moment I’ve been waiting for so long. It is difficult to describe in words how you experience something like this. Knowing that I was there in that place exactly 40 years ago.
On my way home, to Kerala
Because we wanted to rest on the beach after visiting the orphanage, we had already decided in advance to link the roots part to our stay in Kerala. Since I was already pretty sure that my roots connect me to Kerala, I wanted to introduce my family to this beautiful state as well.
And yes once there. It felt so familiar, like coming home, finally. The nice compliments I received about my roots, no doubt, just extra confirmations of where my roots are.
This concludes my search for me. My wish to know where I come from has come true. And even though I don’t know my exact place of birth or how or why I ended up in Raigarh.
Knowing that I can go back to the place where I really feel at home in India is enough for me and worth so much more. I can accept it. And I also know that this is not the end but a new beginning.
I was particularly pleased to hear that my family has also experienced Kerala as coming home, while they have also travelled to India a number of times.
It was a very special journey. In so many ways. Above all, we experienced a lot of hospitality, met friendly and understanding people. Who have a warm heart for our search and special journey. Who fully understand that looking for your roots is so valuable.
Finally, my search started in 2005 in the slums of Kolkata and brought me to the beautiful, beautiful and green Kerala.
It is without a doubt the most beautiful trip I have ever made to India. I wouldn’t want to take this journey with anyone but my family. We have each experienced it in our own way. And above all it was very intense but for me it made us even closer as a family than we already were.
But in addition, that journey has brought me the missing piece of my life puzzle, which is invaluable. I am very glad that I never gave up.
It was a fantastic way for me and my family to end the past decade and the ideal way to start a new chapter in our lives.
Then 2021 came
Then 2021 came. I got contacted by an organization. They had received my file from the orphanage in Kolkata where I had asked for some more information on my family. Which they didn’t share with my but they gave my file to this organization.
Only a few weeks later they contacted me. They had received the full name of my mother, the place she had lived and they went to this small village and found some estimated family members from who they took DNA.
Now here comes the next part, I had already taken a DNA test long ago. There seemed to be a match but it was unclear. It did look that the family members found could be nephews or something. I have no idea how accurate this online DNA tests are.
Then next I was given some pictures from my so called relatives and also a weird story with a lot of question marks in about how things turned out. I decided to stop my journey there.
And after this
Of course I felt very sad that due to the pandemic I was unable to travel to India for more than 2 years. I never imagined after such an amazing travel journey, I would have to wait for so long.
So in March 2023 I only had the chance to return back to Kerala. Which I felt was a very different experience from all my previous trips to India. For sure I had received some peace of mind.
For me the search is over. My only wish now is to be able to go to Kerala once a year. I love the simplicity of this.
So whatever search you are making right now, I hope you will find the answers you are looking for.
Luxury Travel Ambassador @ Jasmine Travel & Events
Luxury Travel Writer @ Jasmine Travel Stories