Incoming University of Michigan student Om Pattabhi shares his story on being left on the streets of India at age 6 and the hardships he faced while finding a place to call home.
By Om Pattabhi
First SEEN on The Indian Scene
I don’t know why she did it. I was too little to remember; I just know that she did. She left me in the middle of nowhere, with no money, no belongings and no one to turn to. At the age of 6, I had been abandoned by my own biological mother, left on the streets of India, all alone. It took me a few days to realize she was not coming back. Fear, hunger, anger and incredible loneliness are what I remember today. I starved for days and sometimes weeks. Getting a meal became very challenging. Finding a safe place to sleep was never easy.
I lived on the streets, begging for food. Some people were kind. Some were violent and angry. A good day would be a street vendor taking mercy on me and giving me some fruits or finding a tree in someone’s yard with fruits. I would steal the fruits and run and hide. Sitting on a sidewalk next to a giant water fountain and eating sweet mangoes is an image I remember so vividly, because it was one of the things that gave me a lot of joy. I was beaten by a street gang and left bloody and bruised. With no access to medical care, I limped along and still have three dysfunctional fingers on my left hand. I see them every day, as a reminder of where I came from. From then on, my only concern was making it out alive another day. Weeks went by until a woman took pity on me and decided to give me shelter in her little hut in the slums. She gave me rice for meals and a roof over my head, even if it was just a tin roof secured by thin wires. I felt safe and cared for by her, and for me, that was enough.
Then one day she took me to the home of a couple and left me there. I was there for several months. The man of the house was a very heavy man. He left every morning and came back in the evening. The woman gave me chores and asked me to leave in the mornings and come back in the evenings. In that time I saw many men visit her — it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how she made a living. Often, the couple would go to festivals and things, leaving me right outside the home, bored and with nothing to do but to wait for them to come back so I could go inside and rest. I did everything I could for the family. I had a home and food to eat and a place to sleep, most of the time. After some time, the couple could no longer afford to take care of me and took me back to my original caretaker.
I was then taken to another home where a mother and two sisters lived. This mother hardly ever gave me food. She had a huge vegetable garden, but she would force feed me flower petals. At night she made me sleep by the gate of the house on a concrete patio with no blanket to keep me warm. The sisters put peppers in my eyes and hit me with a stick. There were many such things done to me by the three of them. I didn’t understand why. I still have scars from injury to my scalp. At one point I had a deep cut, six inches long on my right leg, eventually developing into a severe infection that almost took my life, the scars from which still exist. The caretaker found out about the infection and all of a sudden I found hundreds of people surrounding me. I was taken to a doctor who stitched me up without anesthesia. I screamed in excruciating pain while all these people stared at me. In front of these people, all of a sudden, the mother and three sisters were so sweet to me. That day she gave me the best meal that I had ever had in her home. I was then again taken away by my original caretaker.
My caretaker promised to take me on a train ride to a city. I was so excited for my first time on a train, to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. She told me to wait in my seat while she got off to get some water. I waited for what seemed like forever, but she never returned. This could not be happening to me again. I was so shaken I didn’t even realize when the train left or where it stopped. Once everyone got off, I sat there without a clue what to do. I told the ticket collector what had happened. Thankfully, he took me to the police station in New Delhi, my apparent destination. My next stop was an adoption home somewhere in the city.
The orphanage had hundreds of kids. It was a safe place where we were given two meals a day, clean clothing, and a place to sleep, but not much else. If we asked for more food or did something wrong, we would be taught a lesson. But they did make sure we were healthy.
While in the orphanage, I saw couples come looking to adopt a child. Almost always it was the little babies who were chosen. Every time someone came, I prayed that I would be chosen next. At some point, I lost hope and resorted to believing that I would spend most of my life in the orphanage. Thankfully, I was wrong. A year or so later, I got news that a family was interested in adopting me. When I was shown an album with photos of my adoptive family, I burst with joy knowing that soon I would have a mom, dad, and two sisters to call my own. In the album, my little sister to-be looked so cute and chubby. I was so excited to play with her. The older one looked just as old as me. I hoped that she would like and accept me as her brother. Looking at that album everyday is what kept me going for another year in the orphanage, until my adoption came through.
To read the full story, visit theindianscene.com.