DAUGHTER OF THE GANGES by Asha Miró. Translated by Jamal Mahjoub. Memoir. ATRIA Books. September 2007. Paperback. 274 Pages. $14
“Twenty years after that first journey—which brought me from Bombay to Barcelona—I am aboard a plane that will take me to where I hope to find the answers to a huge number of questions, to shed a little light on the uncertainty, to fill in the missing pieces of my reality.”
With these thoughts in her mind, Asha Miró boards a flight for India—the land of her birth, a land to which she feels she must belong. She embarks on what will be a journey of self-discovery, her only memory of her native country that of an orphanage in Bombay.
Miró was six years old when a Catalan family adopted her from an orphanage in Maharashtra. Leaving behind a life of poverty, Miró made that first journey from India to Barcelona, where her adopted family waited for her eagerly.
20 years later, with butterflies in her stomach and hope in her heart, she decides to visit India to find out more about her biological family and rediscover the country that she may have never left. Asha joins a volunteer group that will be working with an NGO in Mumbai behind.
As she walks through the airport in Mumbai and makes her way through the city, Miró is struck by the poverty and squalor, the smells and sights, all so strange to her now. Her first impressions of the city in which she had spent her early years makes her wonder what her life would have been like had it not been for the twist of events that led her to new parents and a privileged life in Barcelona. As she struggles to adapt to this unfamiliar India, Miró resolves to set aside her prejudices and accept the country the way it is, without finding fault in things like the smell, heat, and food.
This attitude helps Miró settle into a routine that revolves around working in the school, exploring the city, and spending time with her host family. She also begins to notice and appreciate the color, beauty, and warmth that India has in abundance.
But questions from her past gnaw at Miró, strengthening her resolve to discover the missing pieces of her life. She begins with the orphanage from which she was adopted. When she meets with Mother Adelina, a nun who had seen her as a child, bittersweet memories of her childhood come rushing back to her. Miró remembers her friends, the frugal meals, the strict rules, and the routine that each of the orphans had to follow.
In her quest for answers, Miró also visits a convent in Nasik, a small town in Maharashtra, where she had been abandoned by her biological family. She seeks out her former caretakers, explores the sacred city in which she was born, and finds answers to long held questions about herself and her roots.
But what to make of these “answers” to her questions? Eight year later, Miró returns to Mumbai to make a film about her journey. Retracing the steps of her first trip, she finds that not all the stories she had first heard were true. The woman she’d been told was her mother is not her mother after all, and her father didn’t simply abandon her as she’d been led to believe. This poignant section of the book is aptly titled “Two Faces of the Moon.”
Photographs of Miró at various stages of her life and diary entries by her adoptive mother are woven through the narrative. The memoir draws the reader into a journey of self-discovery, while Miró’s mother’s diary excerpts present a glimpse into the emotions of the adoptive family as they waited for a little girl from across the world to walk into their arms and lives.
Throughout the book, Miró, a former music teacher who now works with adoption organizations in Spain, urges adopted children to embark on similar quests, to see for themselves what their lives might have been like had they not been adopted.
Daughter of the Ganges, now translated from Spanish, is an honest and compelling take on one woman’s relentless search for her past. Miró’s story encourages all readers to think about the families that we have grown up in, the parents who have nurtured and cared for us, and the comforts that many-a-time we take for granted.