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The child God took away

Last updated on: October 26, 2017 19:38 IST

Sherin Mathew left her hometown in Bihar in late 2015 for a new home in America.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel tracks down her tragic story.

Sherin Mathew

IMAGE: A photograph of Saraswati, later Sherin Mathew, taken in 2015 in India before she was adopted.

Wednesday, October 25, saw a simple but poignant prayer ceremony take place in a children's home in Nalanda, a small town southeast of Patna, Bihar.

On a table, covered with a bright red and white floral cloth, a photograph of a toddler was placed and a mala (garland) of marigolds was draped over the picture.

Two plastic-wrapped teddy bears, one of them electric pink and the other saffron, flanked the photo.

Seven or eight people paid their respects with more flowers, agarbatti and a diya.

The baby girl in the picture had short black curls, twinkling eyes. She wore a bright pink top and a beautiful little smile.

Remembers Babita Kumari wistfully, who speaks Hindi with a sharp north Bihari accent and had once took care of this child, "Bahut pyari ladki thi (She was a very lovable child).

 

Three-year-old Sherin Mathew, who died, tragically, far, far away from her hometown, across the world in Richardson, Texas, spent six months of her early life as Saraswati in Nalanda, before she was sent for adoption to the United States of America.

Saraswati/Sherin's short life was haunted by sadness right from the start, it would seem. She was found "khoyee huee (gone astray)" in Gaya, 72 km from Nalanda on February 15, 2015.

Saraswati was just a few months old at the time. "She was judged to be six months because she was able to sit and halka phulka khattee thi (she could eat light food)," recalls Kumari.

It was also quite apparent that Saraswati was abandoned. Not lost.

Kumari has no details of what the girl was wearing or if she had any bangles, threads on her wrists or religious markers on her little person when Gaya's local child-line services found her.

Within a few days the child-line staff -- and the Bal Kalyan Samiti who took Saraswati in temporarily -- figured out that the baby now no longer belonged to anyone.

When a child gets lost, Kumari explains, there are usually enquiries for her/him at local police stations or the missing's child photographs are circulated.

But no one seemed to be looking for Saraswati.

Prayer ceremony for Sherin Mathew in Nalanda

IMAGE: A prayer ceremony was held for Sherin Mathew/Saraswati in Nalanda, October 25, 2017, the day before Chhath. Photographs: Kind courtesy Babita Kumari

The forsaken child was sent later that month in 2015 to Nalanda and to Kumari's Nalanda Mother Teresa Anath Seva Ashram, the nearest agency for housing orphans, to join 15 other parent-less children.

The Nalanda ashram has been in existence since 2003. Kumari, who adores kids, had a wish to care for destitute children ever since she saw an infant being brutally taken away by a stray dog when she was younger.

An admirer of the legendary Calcutta nun, the Nalanda social worker started up the ashram 14 years ago and named her facility after Mother Teresa.

In 2009 she received a license from the local government and in 2011 she started receiving funding to take care of "lawarais bachche (orphaned children)."

Saraswati, who received her new name from the child welfare department personnel who found her in Gaya, spent from February to November 2015 in Kumari' custody.

"She left at around Chhath in 2015," recalls Kumari.

"She made lovely tutli (baby talk). She was not a quiet child. Bahut chanchal lakdi thi. Hasti, khelti, daurti thi (She was a lively child. She laughed, played and ran about)," remembers Kumari fondly.

The child appeared totally normal except for the fact that her left eye was mildly smaller than the right, says Kumari.

Saraswati, shortly after she arrived in Nalanda, as per government procedure, was put up for adoption and her details circulated online.

Her tiny defect made her eligible for international adoption. Children with even barely imperceptible disabilities, explains Kumari, are given wider possibilities for adoption so they are not "left on the shelf".

This complex process finally threw up Sini and Wesley Mathew -- she a nurse and he a techie -- as possible candidates for parents.

The Mathews were looking to adopt a child as a sibling to their elder natural born daughter.

While the Mathews, who hailed from Kerala, could have adopted a child from their home state, the process doesn't work that way, points out Kumari, because adoptive parents have to choose from the pool of children available at any given time and that brought the Mathews all the way to this sleepy town in north Bihar.

Kumari remembers that Wesley was in touch with her first. Sini and Wesley came to see Saraswati in mid 2015. "The father and mother came to Nalanda to see Saraswati. Bahut acche the (They were very nice). They seemed like decent people."

"The mother could not speak Hindi and only spoke English, but the father communicated with me. They seemed like a good family."

After they left, and the adoption was still being finalised, Wesley would call and ask Kumari to put Saraswati on the phone so he could hear her charming baby talk.

Later in 2015 the Mathews took Saraswati to America, where the one year old began a new life as Sherin Mathew in Texas.

Kumari heard nothing more of Saraswati. Not how she was faring in America. Or with her brand new family till a heartbreaking call came in October 2017 from the Central Adoption Resource Authority, New Delhi. to say that the tot had gone missing from the porch of her home on October 7.

"On October 12 I got a call from CARA that bachchi miss kar gayee (that the child has gone missing)."

Wonders Kumari, "What kind of system is this that a parent would leave a child outside the house at 3 am! I then heard more details from (a reporter from) the Times of India. I requested that someone should put me in touch with the parents. But I did not hear anything."

Meanwhile Kumari was wrestling with her own issues. Abruptly September 7 she had gotten a notice from the local social welfare department requesting her to close her adoption agency and transfer the eight children she had in her custody by September 15 to another facility.

Kumari is baffled as to what could have gone wrong because if her home did not meet the standards of the orphanage inspectors she would have known, but no inspectors had come by.

"Today (Wednesday) I heard today that bachchi expire kar gayee (the child had died)."

Kumari decided October 25 to have a puja for Saraswati, a lost daughter of Bihar, fatefully nearly three Chhaths after the little girl left Nalanda and more than two weeks after God took her away.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com