The difficulty of being Kathalijn Kalawati: finding myself in India

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Losing yourself

Consciously or not, everyone venturing into India is in search of something. Some are searching for a brief escape – or even an extended one (Where better to disappear then in a society of over a billion people?) Others are in a quest to find themselves. Or they seek adventure. Pondering this, I asked my Indian friend: ‘If this is true, then what exactly is it that I am here for - what quest lies beyond the practical projects of my research and internship?’ She looked at me and asked; ‘Seriously? Why are you asking so many questions about your mother country? Why are you breaking your head to understand Hinduism? You are in search of your roots, my dear.’ 



As an adopted Indian child, who grew up in the Netherlands, I have always had certain questions. Some major ones, like: ‘Why did my mother put me up for adoption?’ where already answered to me.

I always saw my adoption as something great that happened to me. I was a lucky one. A realisation that also made me feel guilty. ‘Why me?’, I wondered. The question about my roots - ‘Where do I come from?’ - was also definitely one that was still there, I realised when my friend mentioned it. She was right: searching for this clarity played a major role in my decision to go to India.


The struggle that I always had, growing up as an adopted child was to understand why I was the way I was…. I had a different appearance and different characteristics than the people around me. Of course I copied things and was shaped by my environment but the nature/nurture debate always fascinated me, and still does.


Back to the roots

My (Dutch) grandmother of eighty had one last wish and that was to visit India and go to my orphanage. So together with my mother she came to visit me in the beginning of March. We took a journey, in this little group of three generations. It was a week full of depth and emotions for each of us, which gave us much clarity.


We stayed for three days in the orphanage and the moment we arrived in Amravati - the area I’m originally from - my mother said: ‘I see your nose.’ A few hours later she said: I see your smile and hear your laughter.’ It couldn’t be clearer to all of us that I was originally from this place.


My orphanage is part of a French monastery and I stayed there for a few days together with the nuns. By some great coincidence, one of the other visitors was a young woman, who was the granddaugther of none other than Sister Clementine. As the founder of the day care center, she was the one who had made adoption from that convent possible. Getting closer to the core was almost impossible. The conversations with this special woman, visiting  sister Clementine’s grave together, it was special and we both found so much peace of mind in finding our roots.


Finding yourself

By learning about India, I learn more about myself. By visiting my orphanage, I see myself. By being in India, I understand myself. This week I learned and realised how much impact the power of recognizing can have on oneself. There were so many questions I had but couldn’t define. Many are now answered without knowing what the questions were exactly. I could never phrase them in careful concise sentences, they were in my head nonetheless. The power of recognizing yourself is something special, it gives you more rest and stability in life. It’s perhaps somewhat like a tree: the deeper its roots, the higher it can grow.


The sisters thanked my mother for doing such a great job on raising me and give me the freedom to grow. Something I will be grateful for to my parents, for the rest of my life - because they did and are still doing a great job. Without them, the qualities I have in me wouldn’t come out so beautifully. Without the right nurture you can’t speak of nature. The nature part of you won’t come out. The nature/nurture question is always about the two, and to understand oneself, you have to understand this combination. Because every story has a beginning. And every person has a story.