Rediff Logo Movies Find/Feedback/Site Index
December 17, 1999


Western Union Money Transfer

Send this story to a friend

'Manoj will be her foster-father'

Shobha Warrier in Madras

With Vidyakar The litte girl is now big and strong enough to run around and play with the other children at Udavum Karangal (a home for the helpless). But when Vidyakar (who runs the home (see right)) first found the newborn baby in a dustbin, her umbilical cord was crudely cut and she was barely breathing.

Now, after as year, she is a chubby, adorable baby. She is wearing a beautiful dress and a small red bindi adorns her forehead. With her big black eyes, she surveys all strangers suspiciously. Once she stank of rotten garbage, now she smells of talcum powder.

She is too small to realise she was abandoned by her own mother in a dustbin. She doesn't know what it is to live with one's own parents in a normal home. But, like many of the other children at Udavum Karangal, she fought the circumstances and survived.

She is too small to know that fate has, instead, given her a foster family and her foster father is a very famous man. Who goes by the name of Manoj Night Shyamalan. When she grows up, she will know that her foster father has named her after his own daughter who lives far, far away from her 'home.'

You must be wondering how a baby abandoned in a dustbin became Manoj Shyamalan's foster daughter. It is all because of a kind woman called Dr Jaya Shyamalan, who happens to be Manoj's mother.

Dr Jaya has been a constant visitor and a great supporter of Udavum Karangal for the last decade or so. She makes it a point to visit the place every time she comes to Madras. On one such visit, she was accompanied by Manoj, his wife and daughter.

Shyamalan's adoped daughter As they were talking to Vidyakar, there came an SOS call about a female baby abandoned in a dustbin. Vidyakar excused himself and rushed to the place to rescue the newborn. When he returned half an hour later with the baby, little did he expect Dr Jaya and her family to still be there, waiting for him.

As he washed the baby clean of the dirt and garbage, Dr Jaya noticed the baby's umbilical cord was not even cut properly. Immediately the doctor in her took charge and she cleaned and tied the cord properly. "Dr Jaya was teary-eyed," recalls Vidyakar. "Perhaps it was her first experience of seeing a newborn covered with garbage."

Manoj's aunt, Alli, says, "Manoj was so upset by what he had seen that he took out all the money in his pocket and kept it on the table. Then, my sister asked Vidyakar if she could name the baby after her granddaughter? 'Manoj will be her foster-father,' she told him."

Vidyakar agreed happily, even though he didn't know anything about Manoj Night Shyamalan. He only knew Dr Jaya, who had always been Udavum Karangal's well-wisher.

"I know Dr Jaya very well. She has been associated with us for more than a decade. She just came here one day. In fact, her whole family has been very supportive of Udavum Karangal. She is such a kind-hearted lady; she would spend a lot of time with our children. She has an exemplary relationship with them.

"Sometimes, she would call me from the US to enquire about the children. She was the one who persuaded her son Manoj and daughter Veena to help underprivileged and abandoned children. In fact, she is the foster mother to seven-eight children here. She has even named one boy Manoj and a girl Veena after her own children. Whenever she decides to sponsor a baby, she names the child after her children or grandchildren."

A few months ago, Dr Jaya took her daughter's family to Udavum Karangal where they became foster parents to a boy and a girl. They have named the two little ones after their own children. Veena's children are very excited at the prospect of having a foster brother and sister. Every time they call their aunt Alli in Madras, they have a lot of questions about the two babies.

"Both of them are waiting for the babies to grow up so that they can communicate with them through e-mail. My sister feels that it is difficult for children growing up in the US to understand the harsh realities of life in India. So, every time she comes here with her grandchildren, she sends them to a slum near our house.

"They call the children from the slums to our house and feed them and give them gifts. And both of them are below 10! But my sister is of the opinion that they should grow up knowing there are many children in the world who are poor, hungry, lonely and not as fortunate as they are."

Vidyakar says there are many people who prefer sponsoring a child by giving Rs 2,400 a year. But there are some like Dr Jaya Shyamalan who prefer sponsoring children for a 'lifetime.' In this way, they make the children a part of their lives. Such foster parents can communicate regularly with the children through the phone or through e-mail. The children, who have been abandoned or orphaned, find it reassuring that there is someone in the world who will take care of them and love them.

"I will say one thing about Dr Jaya's family," says Vidyakar. "They are so caring. It runs in the family. Everyone in her family supports deprived children and less privileged people. And it is Dr Jaya who is the motivating factor."

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

Do tell us what you think of this feature