Shilpi Somaya Gowda gives us her first novel with “Secret Daughter.” This novel of two families and their losses is a great first for Gowda. Taking place mostly in India, the story begins in a small village outside what was once Bombay. Kavita is giving birth in a small shed behind her home. She is alone and keeping as quiet as she can, fearful of discovery. When her child is finally born, she holds her dearly, knowing she has to hide her. After all, this is India, only sons are welcome, and she has already lost one daughter. She can not chance such a fate for this already beloved child. So, on the third day of Usha’s life, her mother travels on foot for miles upon miles to an orphanage in the bustling city of Bombay, where she relinquishes her sweet child for adoption. Upon arriving home she tells her husband that the baby has died, was weak, didn’t survive.
In America, there is a young couple who are both doctors, but have not been able to have a child. Krisnan is an Indian-born man, his wife Somer, American all the way. They travel to Mumbai, used to be Bombay, and adopt Asha. Usha’s name has somehow gotten changed in translation.
I didn’t realize that India had the same feelings about girl babies as China and Japan. Now, mind you, this was the 1950’s, but still, modern day. To think people are still scared to give birth to a girl child amazes me. So, this story gave new meaning about adoption to me. And the behind the scenes lives that continue. You are shown why and how this child was given up. Always, it’s been just the side of the family receiving the baby that we see. But here we meet the birth parents.
Kavita and Jasu are the birth parents. They are married. No need to hide an unmarried pregnancy. But the dictates of their lives do not have room for a daughter. They need a son. They are not alone. But it is Jasu who is the real culprit here. Kavita already loves her baby girl. It is Jasu who she fears will destroy the life of Usha. After all, he’s been known to do it before.
Krishnan and Somer met in university where they fell in love. Krishnan also fell in love with what he thinks is the American dream. He wants it all. His trips to India to visit with his parents become fewer. His relationship with his wife suffers because she fears their adopted daughter will wish to return to India to find her birth parents.
Most of us are not strangers of the slums of Mumbai. If you haven’t seen “Slumdog Millionaire” or read stories of the slums, you’ve surely heard of their horrors. So, when these slums become the new home of Kavita and Jasu as they bring their new son to begin a new and better life, we know what’s coming.
There is a fine balance between the relationships of mothers and daughters. This heartfelt story bends your thinking and gives you great insight into who you are and why it matters. Beautifully written with heartfelt prose that melts your heart.