India: Calcutta Calling
American girls explore their roots
BY Sasha Khokha
January 17, 2006
Sasha Khokha was born to an Indian father and an American mother in Los Angeles. Her first film, Uprooted: Refugees of the Economy, aired on KQED TV (San Francisco) and was nominated for a Northern California Emmy. She currently covers California's Central Valley for KQED FM's The California Report, a statewide public radio program. Her radio stories have also aired on National Public Radio and PRI's The World.
Move over country boys, here come the country girls.
In the wake of FRONTLINE's broadcast last week of David Sutherland's film Country Boys, about two teenagers coming of age in rural Kentucky, FRONTLINE/World presents Sasha Khokha's video Calcutta Calling, about three teenage girls growing up in Minnesota.
This week's Rough Cut video is a more modest affair -- a 20 minute online story, as opposed to Sutherland's six-hour epic broadcast. But both trace the lives of young people in America's heartland struggling with who they are and what they might become.
The twist in Khokha's story is that the three girls -- Kaylan Johnson, Anisha Pitzenberger and Lizzie Merrill -- were all adopted as infants from an orphanage in Calcutta, India. Their Midwestern American parents raised them in loving families as all-American girls who sing in the choir, play soccer and shop at the mall.
Still, the girls know they are different. If nothing else, their brown skin sets them apart in Minnesota. People are friendly, but sometimes look at them as outsiders.
"I think of myself as Indian background, but I think I am completely American -- I'm just brown," says Anisha.
"I love Indian food," gushes Kaylan. "If I could, I would eat it all the time."
"I kind of identify more as white, but I'm not quite as materialistic as a lot of Americans are," Lizzie comments.
Khokha is allowed to accompany Anisha, Kaylan and Lizzie when they go back to India with their American parents. This is the first time they have returned to the land of their birth. It is a chance for them to learn more about their origins and to explore their dual identities. Surprising, honest and poignant, Calcutta Calling follows these bright-eyed girls closely as they venture into a country that both delights and disturbs them.
Opening with Indian music playing over shots of snow-covered farm fields in Minnesota, the film plunges us into a raucous, unruly India where beggars, including young children, surround the visiting girls. "I'm really scared to get off the bus," says Lizzie. "I know -- I want to stay on," agrees Anisha. But before long they venture out, only to find themselves at a modern Indian shopping mall eating pizza and McDonald's fast food and drinking milk shakes. The difference is that they are tailed by hungry kids. "So now I feel bad standing here eating in front of them," says Anisha. "It's not my fault, I don't think." Slurping her drink, Lizzie decides to offer her half-finished paper cup to a shy but grateful child.
Later, an Indian tour guide takes the girls to an orphanage. She tells them that their mothers probably gave them away thinking they would have a better life in a developed country. "It is all because of your karma in your past life," she contends.
"Our mothers had to have been really sick, or poor, or desperate," whispers Anisha.
As they walk through exotic back streets, ride in rickshaws and have an emotional reunion with the Indian nuns who say they cared for them at the orphanage, the three girls experience culture shock and a sense of dislocation.
"I can't fit in at home, and I can't fit in here," worries Lizzie.
But it's clear that the three teenagers, who had never met before the trip, are bonding with each other, recognizing their shared experience and forming friendships that last beyond the visit to India.
Back home in Minnesota, Anisha admits, "I didn't want to go on this trip ... [but] this was probably, like, one of the best things in my life." Turning to Kaylan, she blurts out, "In the end, I met you!"
There is nothing pretentious or heavy-handed about this film. Not a single false note. That's a tribute to the young filmmaker's skill and honesty as well as a reflection of her own sensitivity to the nuances of dual identities and mixed backgrounds. Born in Los Angeles to a Punjabi father and an Irish American mother, Khokha undertook Calcutta Calling as her thesis project at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She's now a radio reporter for KQED FM in San Francisco, covering California's increasingly multicultural Central Valley.
The style and content of Calcutta Calling are a bit of a departure for FRONTLINE/World. It is a cinema verite story, rather than the usual reporter-narrated journey that is our trademark. And as an international television program and Web site, we don't normally cover stories that begin in the United States and focus on Americans. But that's why we named our program of online videos Rough Cut. It's an opportunity for us to try something different in our search for the most intriguing "stories from a small planet."
Or as these teenage girls from Calcutta like to say, "Whatever."
Sunnel MacLeod - Minneapolis, MN
Thank you for this documentary. I found it while researching a paper. Interestingly, the professor had our class watch Country Boys at the start of the semester. I was an IMH baby in 1980. I have always wanted to see my home. It brought tears to my eyes to think about how lucky I am to be here. I am named after Sunil Prakash, and my mother has pictures of me with Sherry Clark. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion as I listened to the girls talk about being that one baby. I am the replacement. My mom's baby died, and I was the next to come in. Thank you for sharing this story!
Crystal Goolsby - Waco, TX
I was adopted from Calcutta through the International Mission of Hope, and it gave me chills to see images of the building where I was kept as a baby! I've wanted to know what it looked like for years. I only wish a larger version of the video were accessible. But it almost brought me to tears.
Karuna Janet Scire - Saugus, MA
I can relate to these three girls as I too am adopted by an American family. I have two other sisters also adopted by the same American family. We are all from Calcutta, India, living in Mother Theresa's Orphange. I have not yet been able to visit India which I would love to some day. My youngest sister did find out she had siblings and visited them and it was quite different and shocking to her to go back to India. I myself never looked into finding out about my biological family as I was very contented in the Orphange I was in with Mother Theresa and able to travel with her to visit her other places. She helped the lepers and kids in the street who were begging for food. I have been in America now for 30 years, married to a great guy. I am trying to get some information in wanting to adopt a 6-month to 4 year-old girl from India and I am having trouble connecting someone. If any one is reading this, please give some guidelines in how I can go forward in getting information.Thank you, and I am proud to say I am from India and was raised by Mother Theresa's Orphange.Thank you
Karuna Janet Scire
Gayle Ober - Saint Paul, MN
Thank you for sharing this short video. We took this same Ties Homeland Tour in 2007 with our daughter who was also adopted as an infant from IMH in Calcutta in 1995. She was 12 when we took the trip and had many of the same reactions that these three girls did. It was a wonderful, overwhelming and very, very special journey. One that was life changing and affirming at the same time. Our daughter also feels like she lives in two different worlds, belonging fully to neither, yet somehow belonging to both. It was reassuring to realize that her feelings are shared by others who have a similar adoption story. Thanks to all three families and Anisha, Kalan & Lizze for sharing their words, emotions and experience with all of us. Again, many thanks for this video keepsake.
Hillsdale, New Jersey
Bravo! I would not have been able to handle all those emotions as well as the girls did. Hats off to them!This movie was very unique and interesting. As Mohini/Satinder said, an adopted kid's world has never been captured. I hope that more people will be encouraged to adopt children from India.
chennai, Tanil Nadu
It is a nice piece of documentation work and I really loved reading the reactions to the documentary. I am a writer so it is a lot of info for me.
I too was adopted from IMH. This documentary helped me sort out my feelings and come to a realization that these feelings aren't "bad" or "wrong." I also want to thank the three young women, who took great personal risks, for agreeing to be in this documentary. I think you are all very couragous to face this other side of you, and put it out there for the whole world to see.
Kayla Anderson - St. Paul, MN
My best friend was adopted from India and seeing this documentry really opened my eyes to their culture and also the beauty of India. I think that it was wonderfully done!
I watched the film because I too am adopted from Calcutta. I was surprised and comforted after watching it because the film encompassed my feelings about being adopted from India. I view myself as American first but the fact that I have links to another country can raise feelings of confusion. The film has helped me realize that I'm not the only person who feels conflicted about connecting to the country I'm from. Also, for 16 year-olds (I too am 16) I think the girls in the videoy dealt well with the culture shock. Everyone reacts to situations differently.
Sachin - Medford, MA
I had stumbled across this today and I wasn't able to look away. I was adopted from the very same hospital to my knowledge in Calcutta. I was sad to hear that it is no longer there. I have yet to visit India. I was wondering if anyone knows of websites or something similar to keep in touch with people from Calcutta and that were adopted as well. Hopefully there is someone out there that can help me. Feel free to send me an email.
Valley Center, Ca
I was in search of information about IMH in Calcutta when I came across this website. We have a 24 yr old young man who we adopted through IMH. It was interesting to read all the feedback about this video which I will be purchasing. I know our son has had a challenging time at times of being a person of color who does not "match" the looks of his parents. I am happy to say he is a happy, well adjusted young man but I know he still grapples with his identity of being of Indian heritage but being very American in a very white America. I look forward to seeing the video and making sure our son sees it and am sure it will stimulate dialogue. Thanking you in advance.
I just came across this, and didn't actually watch the documentary, but I was an IMH baby. I had the most amazing opportunity to go back and see where I lived, where my culture and background came from. I had the opporunity to go with my mother, she adopted me from Calcutta when I was 3 months old. I brought along pictures of me when I was a baby, and told them my IMH name, and one lady was my social worker...she remembered me. She took me to the actually birthing center, where she picked me up, 18 years earlier. I was standing in the same building my birth mother gave birth to me. It was such an amazing experience. Words cannot describe my feelings. When we flew into Calcutta, I felt that my heart was home. I am so blessed to be a U.S. citizen but my heart was touched by this country. It is so neat to read about others who came from IMH. Thank you for this!
Anthony - Falcon Heights, Minnesota
Very nice story, I actually read this b/c well, I was curious, I am too, an adopted boy from India. And my mother (adoptive mother) recently passed away from cancer, so now I live, with me and my brother (younger) (also adopted) here in Minnesota, where I grew up. I was talking with my cousin the other day and she told me things about India that my mother told her when I was being adopted back in 1985. A lot of it I had never known, and made me rather upset, not at my mother, but at all the hardships and struggles both the kid had to go through as well as the parent to get kids here. But I do not regret my mother not telling me this, she was the best mother in the world, b/c of her I have absolutly no interest in meeting my real parents, to me, she IS my mother. Thank you for sharing this it is much appriciated.
A J - Houston, TX
While this was an interesting and informative documentary, does anybody find statements like, "I basically see myself as American, but with brown skin" or "I don't see the color of Kaylan's skin" problematic. The land that we know as the United States has ALWAYS been diverse and I am SO TIRED of this notion that the "American" identity is a white one. Seeing Kaylan's skin color and being aware of her heritage could be a positive thing for their adoptive parents. Further, when individuals of ANY background adopt children from another culture, shouldn't they take on some responsibility to educate themselves about their adopted child's original culture to be able to give them informed perspectives as they may grow up and have questions. In this day and age, many adoptive parents recognize and do this. While these adoptive parents should be commended for rescuing these girls from lives spent in orphanages and poverty, I think it is important to point out that they need not have been rescued from their culture.
Janet Hoffman - Vista, CA
I have two daughters that I adopted from IMH India. I visited the orphange in 1999 when I went to pick up my second daughter. It was so sad in the film to now see the rooms empty. I am so glad that I filmed the orphange when I was there so that my girls can see how it was and see the place full of life and love. There was usually a ratio of about four babies to each massi, and they cared for their little ones with great love. Anyway, I found that I could order this film, Calcutta Calling, through the Center for Asian American Media. Go to www.asianamericanmedia.org and go into the CAAM store. This film cost $24.95 plus shipping, but it is well worth it. On the DVD that I ordered there is additional footage of a fourth girl on this TIES trip who was only 13 at the time of the film. The one problem I had in viewing the film with my girls was the Indian Social Worker's insensitive comments regarding the birth mothers. I would recommend parents watch the film first before viewing with their children so that they are prepared for areas that may need further discussion.
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Thank you for your comments and for pointing out that a somewhat longer version of "Calcutta Calling" is available for purchase through the Center for Asian American Media.
Karuna Janet Scire - Saugus, MA
My comment is already out there but I wanted to add my email address to having anyone giving me ideas or direction to go in getting started in wanting to adopt Indian children age 1 to 4 years old. My email address is "email@example.com".
Karuna Janet Scire
James Richard - Los Angeles, CA
The looks of their faces as they experienced Indian had me laughing. What was interesting, was how quickly these girls realized they were not Indian and were American. Other than skin color they didn't have anything in common with the Indian population.
Reeti Roy - Calcutta, West Bengal
I think that it is true that some of us have to live in horrific conditions but that is only one way of looking at the situation.A lot of us are very comfortable,then there are the extremely rich,then there is the middle class(who have the benefits of education and to which I belong)..and then there are the very, very poor. I think the gap between the rich and the poor needs to be diminished but to say that there should be no gap is idealistic and very utopian and absolutely not workable.I am an eighteen year old student pursuing my degree in English from Jadavpur University,Kolkata and our basis for selection was purely based on merit,thereby integrating all sections of society.But this is not a very common situation in India,where the rich can pay their way through while the poor are denied justice and the system that is supposed to protect them,fails them at every opportunity.
Andrea Adams - Tucson, Arizona
Kimberly Maheu...I read your post and thought how wonderful to have located you and Tara! I have wondered for many years how you were. My name is Andrea Adams and I met you both in Arizona.
Jeanne Patterson - Shelby, NC
My daughter was adopted from IMH, Calcutta. I watched the film online. She's hearing impaired and wouldn't be able to follow that small screen without captions. Does anyone have an idea how I could get a dvd of this film. I was really touched by the film. I especially like the part where the massi thought she remembered the girls. And she kept pictures of the babies she cared for! I'd really like for my daughter to see this film.
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
The online version of this story is all we have at FRONTLINE/World. You can try contacting the filmmaker, Sasha Khokha, directly. She works for KQED-FM public radio in San Francisco. Try kqed.org to get her e-mail. Thanks for your interest.
My parents founded IMH, so it's an amazing experience to read your stories. The IMH building was my home too, and all of the IMH staff were my family.
Manmohan John - New Hyde Park, NY
It was a great documentary,and hats off to the mom and dad who had the courage to adopt a child from India and give them a new life. I salute them for their compassion and kindness. I have lived here in USA for many years now and visited many places. There can be no comparison between USA and India. India is a country of 1 billion people , deeply religious, having people of all races and religions . To people who do not know, India also has white and african races . It has made tremendous strides in the last few years . I remember when I bought my first cell phone in India it cost me 500 dollars but today it costs 10 dollars and service is 6 dollars a month. Internet is again cheaper than America .While there are poor people in India , some of world's richest people live in India. It's a land of contrast in all respects. USA is more technologically advanced and it also has its own problems. India is poor, at the same time rich in culture , religion, and diversity of its people. India is also now becoming advanced nuclear nation. Just a few days back I read on internet about the sucess of ballistic missile defense by India. So guys everything is not bad about India , it may be poor but situation will definately improve, after all it a country of 50 years and Usa 300 years , so there is no comparison at all.Usa is great in its respect and so Is India in its own terms. So those of you who want to visit India , I say go ahead and enjoy , the land of tiger, lion , cheetah , elephant , cobra , and a billion people and ther billion Gods. Hats off again to the parents of adopted children, mom and dad to me you are the real heroes.
Elissa Webster - West Seneca, New York
My mom urged me to watch this video around the time of my airplane day, the day I came to America, from Calcutta, India. I finally "got around to it" and I was absolutely moved after viewing it. I was adopted at 5 months old, and I am now the daughter of two wonderful parents and the sister of a younger brother and 2 younger sisters who are not adopted. This video was deeply moving to me. I felt relieved from reading other people's reactions and from the video and from the video itself, that I am not alone when I ask the questions that I do. I wish I would have came upon an experience like this, perhaps I will. But for now, I just want to say that I am so glad to hear that there are teenage girls that are adopted form India that have the same thoughts and feelings that I do. I think that any person who is adopted should have the pleasure of watching this emotive documentary. I can't even imagine the feelings that would surface if I ever visited Calcutta. Being adopted from India or from anywhere at all raises so many questions, and as a 17 year old it was good to hear that I can relate with so many others.
Sarah Leland - Waynesboro, PA
This movie definitely hit home for me. I too was an orphan at the IMH orphanage, and have yet to go back. However, I was in India this past summer with a group and it was amazing. I know how you girls feel not being able to fit in over here, because it's the same way for me. Here, you're looked at, especially being in a small town that's not used to seeing a colored person, differently and even looked down upon, and you have this idea that if I go back to my roots, I'll be able to fit in. I went with that mindset, and it was unbelievable how much more awkward I felt. I may look brown, but I'm so white on the inside. I'm really glad that people went back to the orphanage, and were able to go inside and see what their life could have been like. Thank you very much; I have benefited so much from watching this.
Swathi - Fairbanks, AK
As a sixteen year old girl, who was adopted from the same orphanage, I would bet there was a lot more emotion going on than was expressed. I think the cameras would probably have made me feel a bit nervous to express such feelings, so please don't judge so harshly. When you don't know who your biological parents are, that brings up a lot of questions. You wonder who they were, what they were like, if you carry a part of them that's recognisable (eyes, certain favorite foods, personality, soul?). Other questions come up that are taunting and sad: why was I given up? Out of Love? Convenience? Both? They don't go away. I feel extremely lucky to be in America and have the life I have, but there is a sadness at being an outsider to the two cultures (American and Indian). I agree that we don't fit in, but perhaps that's the regular teenage angst? What are the chances, I always think, of me ending up where I am, and as a result, who I am? Fortunate indeed...It was a lovely documentary and I am proud of India's culture, and though I don't feel adequate enough to think of myself as representative of such a culture, I am glad to be Indian. I hope that this documentary inspires people from different nationalities to explore their ties to different countries or India if they desire it. And I am glad to find a documentary so close to my heart. Thank You.
Neelesh Deolalikar - West Lafayette, Indiana
Good documentary but I do think the girls could have been a little more sensitive. I find it a little hard to understand the total absense of a sense of belonging to the orphanage and the people even though they were really small when they were adopted.
I am a white mother of two half-Indian girls. All of my husband's family lives in India. I (we) are raising our daughters to be Americans first. Although we mostly eat American food and do "American" things, we make sure to visit the temple a few times a year and explain small things about the culture. When we go to India with our girls, they are not seen as Indian and not really accepted as such. They are called ABCD: "American Born Confused Desi." They are between worlds. I suppose as they get older they will see our visits to India as a fun adventure akin to camping with all the bugs, dust, and such. But it's also moving to visit 2,000 year-old temples and to just be a part of the culture for awhile. My second child's name means "has deep roots" and she does. But it is the wish of my husband and I that they try to see beauty in everything, not judge a book or a country by its cover. Most importantly they should not depend on their roots to form their own sense of identity. Because really, we are all unique and race or culture does not define who we are. We can identify with a culture but we should not base our whole being on it.
Sue Johnson - Walnut Grove, MN
I do not know if any of the people who have written comments about Sasha's film come back and read newly posted comments, but as Kaylan's mother, I felt I needed to respond to the comments by the person from Chicago and others who were not happy with how the girls handled being in India. You need to realize that we were in India for two weeks. Sasha recorded more than 54 hours of our time there. She had to condense that amount of film into 20 minutes! She wanted to center her film on the girl's reactions to being adopted girls going back to the country, city, and orphanage in which they were living until they were adopted. The girls are being judged on just those twenty minutes! The viewers of the film did not witness the whole story. We did do most of the things the person from Chicago accuses us of not doing. We went to a mosque, to Ghandi's cremation site and museum, we went to several palaces and learned about the history of India from our tour guides. We visited a "typical" school in New Delhi as well as a school conducted on a rooftop of a home in the slums. We spent two evenings as guests in middle class homes. We visited some orphanages, including Mother Theresa's in Calcutta. We visited some businesses such as a carpet making business and a business in which they worked with marble. You also need to realize that these girls were 16 years old at the time we went to India. They had never been out of the United States before. They were reacting as teenagers - not as adults. Please don't overanalyze or criticize these girls for their honest reactions to what was a very busy and sometimes overwhelming visit to a completely different country with different customs and lifestyles along with the stresses of dealing with all of the emotions that went along with the issue of being adopted. (We had two social workers with us to help all of the families through those emotions.) Our trip to India with the Ties Program was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has had a profound i! mpact on
our family. We were pleased and thankful to have had Sasha and Brent along to record our experience. Sasha's documentary, along with several hours of film not used in the documentary that she has given us, are going to be a lasting memory of that very special trip.
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Thank you very much for writing. Sasha Khokha's film has stimulated a fascinating and heartfelt discussion on our Web site and we are grateful for everyone's opinions and responses. But we completely agree with you that everyone should remember that "Calcutta Calling" is a portrait -- a very honest portrait -- of three 16-year-old girls experiencing a foreign culture for the first time. That is one of the video's great appeals -- that the girls are so open and unfiltered. We wish Kaylan and her friends the best.
We are also delighted to report that the South Asian Journalists Association just honored Sasha Khokha and "Calcutta Calling" as an outstanding online media story.
Shreya Sanghani - Calcutta, West Bengal
I am a 16 year-old girl. I missed the movie but I came across this page, and was intrigued. I am writing a play script about Calcutta for a school production. Calcutta has been my home all my life and though it is true that there's a lot of dirt, squalor and poverty here, people tend to forget the positive aspects. There's also more kindness and more cultural richness here than any metropolitan city in India. The economy might not be picking up but there's a huge middle class which lives comfortably enough. I should know, because I'm one of them.
Ashok Dwarkanath - Chicago, IL
It is amazing to see that so many people have applauded this documentary. In my opinion, this is one of the worst documentaries I have ever seen. How can anyone who has lived in the west for a major part of their lives rationalize the complexity of India, and more so Calcutta which is known to be the filthiest metro with a failed local economy due to the Marxist leadership? I was surprised to see that the girls did not meet students of their age, visit a middle class family, see the pioneering educational institutions, share experiences with some educated people in Calcutta. Why did they not visit other cities like Bangalore and Bombay which are so much more developed? How could the filmmaker present only the poverty which is certainly a stark reality of India and not give the girls to meet other aspects of modern India? How in the world are they supposed to rationalize the presence of thousands of graduate students and researchers in US universities who were born and brought up in India? How would they reason out India emerging as an IT superpower? India is a diverse country and a bus tour of the shantytowns of Calcutta is certainly not representative of India as a developing country. You have duped them of things they could have been proud of and I am sure they would realize these aspects of their place of birth later in their lives. The filmmaker has done total injustice to the subject and it is clear that the girls have walked away with a bunch of half-truths. Try sending this documentary to Link TV. I bet it would even fail the screening.
I wonder how we would have felt about this story if the girls were older, with a little more insight into themselves, or, if they came from more diverse communities. Would they have reacted the same way to the suffering that they saw in India-would they see their connection to India more closely? This documentary made some subtle suggestions regarding political apathy of non-resident Indians.
I agree a bit with Hasina and Delray. Simply seeing the conditions of the children in the documentary made my heart break. I hope these girls, as they grow older, invest more of thier time and effort back into other children. Some of the things the women said were absurd. How can you compare a possible rape victom to an animal? Not everyone who has a child out of wedlock does of thier free will.
The story of the three girls was interesting,however reflecting on how there are still so many children out there in the world that need better health care or simply someone to talk with was more important for me. As the child of Pakistani parents, it was interesting for me to listen to the children in the background talking and smile at their wonderful spirits, despite what we'd call less than stellar living environments. I think they made me smile and brought tears to my eyes at the same time.
The documentary was great. It very well depicted real people dealing with real emotions and having real reactions. This is life. So what if it made you cringe, made you happy, made you cry... the point is that you were allowed to experience a once-in-a-lifetime journey with Lizzie, Anisha, and Kaylan, unmarred by "Hollywood-esque" refinement. The issues embedded in cross-cultural adoption cases, the complexity of finding one's own identity, the "good intentions" addressed by all parties, all of this beautifully highlighted the seriousness of cultural sensitivity. In the end, its thought-provoking story line and the enthusiastic feedback is fantastic as it is enabling positive debate. Bravo!
Rani Katrina Clark - Atlanta, Georgia
I was very moved by this documentary. I was definitely able to relate to what the teenagers were feeling.I was abandoned on the streets of Agra 34 years ago. I was told that I was close to starvation. I was found and taken care of by Mother Theresa's organization, Missionaries of Charities. I was then adopted by German parents, who never flew to India but had a close friend pick me out of a lineup of children. My adoptive parents already had three kids of their owns. Growing up in Germany, I was never concerned about my race, but living here in the USA, for the first time I really had to think about my race. All my life, I grew up around white people till I moved here to Atlanta 17 years ago. My parents never taught me anything about my Indian culture. I always had a longing to get to know more about my culture so I watched a lot of Indian movies and ate at Indian restaurants.There was even a point in my life where I was ashamed to tell that I was adopted.I thank Jesus Christ now for saving my life and I have made a life mission, along with my husband, to share how Jesus loves us all so much. He saved me and now my life belongs to Him. Although we may have endured identity issues, we are so blessed to have been given a chance at a better life. With that in mind, if you have the opportunity to visit or give back to India in some manner, please do. Later this year, I will be launching a website where other orphans from India may share their testimony. If you would like to be updated about this project, you can contact me at RaniKClark@aol.com
I have to say I laughed out loud during most of what I was able to see of this video (the first half). I could COMPLETELY relate to the girls' reactions to India. I'm ethnically Indian -- my parents were born and raised there -- but I was born and raised in America. We made many trips to India to visit relatives, and my siblings and I had all those same reactions. The dirt, heat, bugs and poverty are hard to get past. But somehow in the midst of all of that, a love for India grew and blossomed in me. My husband, who is white American, and I, wanted to experience living in India. So here we are with our two small kids. And I'm going through culture shock all over again, as I adjust to actually living here -- not just visiting relatives. It's quite an adjustment, and sometimes its really hard. But of course the truth is that there is good and bad in both countries. We're thankful that we, and our kids, have the opportunity to experience the richness of both.
Hasina Markson - Denver, Colorado
Well, while Sasha Khokha is obviously very talented, it is sad that it appears these girls only took away a friendship from the whole experience...It always saddens me when fellow adoptees who return to India treat Indians like "others". They seem horribly detached from people who look like them, and curiously out of the teeming masses, one of which had given birth to them. It seems that there should've been an emotional counselor or someone who is more experienced in adoptees and the cultural shock and other things that would help them digest and truly learn from the experience. If anything, this documentary has motivated me to action to organize adoptees and have informative talks to educate people and help other orphans.
vani munni - hyderabad, andhara pradash
Really this is a good story.
(anonymous) - Richmond, VA
Wonderful documentary. Thank you to the adoptees and their families for their willingness to share this amazing experience with us. Although I am not an adoptee, I am an Indian who was born in Calcutta and raised in the states since I was 6. Watching this documentary helped me to realize how lucky I am to have the cultural connections to India that I often take for granted. In some ways I feel sad for the adoptees and the total cultural disconnect they have with India. As others have commented, I too cringed at some of the running commentary provided by the girls during the film. Honestly, none of us should be surprised by their reactions. I think this film, whether it intended to do so or not, does a good job of depicting the cultural insensitivities that are inherent in our attitudes toward the rest of the world, particularly the non- European world. I think its a function of living in a nation that is so vast, yet relatively culturally homogenous, that is central to our lack of drive to try and understand foreign cultures.This lack of cultural sensitivity is evident even amongst some of the previously posted comments such as, "I do have a desire to adopt a child from India. I want to be able to give a child an opportunity to live in a loving home." The implications and assumptions in this simple comment are mind-boggling in the judgments they pass on the indigent population in the third world.Some of the previous comments have protested the way in which third world nations are depicted in the media, and others have retorted that the media is only reflecting what is real. I think the filmmaker does a good job of letting us experience things without a filter of any kind. But I have to agree that the media is quite stereotypical in its depictions of poverty stricken nations. When people describe America, the first thing out of their mouth is not a commentary about how extremely violent a society we live in (which is unfortunately true), or how the disparities between the haves and the have nots grow on a daily basis, but it is rather depicted as the land of opportunity where one can realize their full potential in life. To be consistent, the media should define India, and other third world nations, not in the context of the great poverty that is part of day to day life there, but rather the great potential for positive change that exists in what is a vastly complex society.Again I thank the three adoptees and their families for sharing such an amazing experience with us, and of course Sasha Khokha for making the film.
Fiona - Mount Gambier, South Australia, Australia
Wow, what a great documentary. Like many others who have commented on this web site I found myself often cringing at some of the comments about India made by the three girls. Then I think back to our first trip to India in 1998 to pick up our elder daughter whom we adopted from Kakinada AP and remember how different and often scary India seemed to this particular westerner. Our trip to pick up our second daughter from Pune in 2002 was so much easier than our first. We got to see India through the eyes of our elder daughter who was aged 6 at the time. We also had a better understanding of India, its culture and people - in fact we had come to love the place. I have often heard it said that as a tourist you can't wait to leave India while you are there, but once home cannot wait to return. I think that when you decide to adopt a child from another country, you should also take the attitude of adopting the country as well as the child. We as a family look forward to more trips in the future to India. This will provide us the opportunity of exploring India's beauty as well as giving our daughters the chance of discovering more about their cultural heritage. I congratulate the makers of this documentary on making a fantastic and thought-provoking film. It certainly has reaffirmed to me the importance of our daughters keeping up friendships they have made with fellow adoptive children. I hope that these three girls will again travel back to India as I am sure from personal experience that India will be better for them second time around.
Delray Beach, FL
A friend sent me a link to this documentary. I recently went to India after not visiting for close to 15 years and it was an amazing experience. It was interesting to see these girls' perspective on their heritage after being adopted and raised in America. I will have to say that I am somewhat appaled about how they acted and treated the people they visited in India. Maybe they are young and really have no understanding, compassion, or scope to what living in a third world society is like. From watching this video online it seemed like these girls had no compassion whatsoever. It seemed as if it were like a joke to them when they went back to the orphange they came from. I thought it was also absurd to hear one of the Indian women saying it was because of their karma these girls were able to come to America and lead the lives they are living. Watching one of the girls give one of the orphans her left over drink as if it were some sort of great gesture -- I think it really dosen't get any lower than that; the nerve. These girls come off very shallow and narrow minded. I was born and raised in America and have traveled to many different countries. After watching this video, I can understand why people from other countries sterotype us as being ignorant and narrow minded to other people's way of life.
Michelle Hughes - Chicago, IL
I missed the film but enjoyed reading the comments. I will be sure to follow up with the film & pass along this site to the numerous adoptees ( and parents) I know. As an adoption attorney and educator with a specific emphasis on transracial adoption at Bridge Communications, I am happy to see a movie that highlights the identity issues. As with all children who grow up in a multiracial family and all adoptees, their identity forms slightly differently than other children. It need not be bad, (although it can be if parents ignore realities) just different. I am also happy to see that friendships were formed and increased by the travel experience. Travel is a great way to see how human we all are in this world; how American we all are even those of us with brown skin who are made to believe sometimes we are not; and how amazing all cultures are in the world. I hope adoptees continue to share their experiences with future parents so that the next generation has a smooother transition to a positive self identity.
Kalinda Ferguson - Kennebunk, ME
WOW! I am taken by surprise; that was so amazing and interesting. I am so happy I came across this video because I too was adopted from the International Mission of Hope when I was 4 months old. I was abandoned at birth in Calcutta and was adopted in 1986. So, seeing this video was a journey in itself. Thank you.
Debra Skoglund - Tracy, MN
I was Kaylan's daycare "mom" for her preschool years. Kaylan was always very inquisitive about where she came from and her birth family even as a little girl. I am so happy for her that she was able to visit her birth country and meet other girls from there with similar experiences. They will be "sisters" forever. I wish them all the best in the future.
Kim Maheu - London, Ontario
I haven't seen the documentary, but just happened upon this site. My biological sister and I were adopted from Bangladesh when we were 8 and 7 respectively. I struggle with my identity daily. Our adoptive parents did not want us to speak our native language in order to fit into Canadian life. I am now almost 35 and am on the verge of starting a family. It's refreshing to read that there are others out there who are thinking the same thoughts, having the same identity issues and feeling disconnected in a white society.
Melanie Chung-Sherman - Dallas, Texas
Absolutely beautiful and moving. Well done, Sasha. It is always refreshing to see a documentary that reaches into the complexities and wonder of international adoption with candor, truth, sensitivity and conviction. This will be a great resource for international adoptees, families and friends. My brother and I were adopted from South Korea and raised in America. This piece resonated deeply within me. It took me back to my first journey to my birth country many years ago. Every adoptee's experience is so unique, personal and profound. Hats off to Lizzie, Anisha, Kaylan and their families for sharing such private and personal moments. This will continue to touch many more. Thank you as you continue your journeys.
I'm really glad that Anisha, Kaylan, and Lizzie were able to see Calcutta. I enjoyed hearing their story. I was born in Calcutta and adopted when I was 2 months old from the IMH. I'm 21 now, but recently visited Calcutta, the IMH, and the Moonlight Nursing home. It's great to see stories of adopted girls from India because the BCC estimates that over 10million female births have been lost in the last 20 years. Once again, thanks to Sasha and to the girls for sharing their story.
Bonnie Feldman - Van Meter,, Iowa
I am the great Aunt to one of the girls in this video. What a great story on the three girls. How lucky they had the opportunity to visit their homeland. We are so happy Anisha joined our family. Love you much.
Sara Rose - Royal, AL
Tears are streaming down my face. I am so happy for the 3 young women who found each other. Such a homecoming. What a joy it is to finally "belong." My prayer is that my nephew and 2 nieces, born in India, raised in the southern US, will come to their own understanding of who they are and where they each belong. It is a life's journey, sometimes, to discover that sense of belongingness, an answer "who am I?". I must comment that the woman who explained that the birth mothers were like dogs had no business being part of the adoptive children's return to India. Her comments could have been psychologically damaging. I pray that the children had some assistance in sorting through her explanation, putting it in context of possible cultural or religious beliefs held by that individual, and not necesarily related to the adoptees birth mothers.
Such a deep film for so short a time. Thanks.
This is a powerful documentary that highlights many aspects of cultural identity and the process of reconnecting to our roots. These stories are often hard to find told from the teen/adult adoptee perspective as Indian adoptees. Thank you Anisha, Kaylan and Lizzie for sharing your journey with us. It's amazing the immediate connection that can occur among adoptees when they meet face to face. I am also an Indian adoptee, living in the United States and grew up in Minnesota. I was from the Missionaries of Charity and I have an adopted sister from International Mission of Hope.There are now several groups formalizing for adult Indian adoptees, including Indian Adoptees International (planning a return trip for adult adoptees to India) and Desi Adoptees United based out of the United States (who meet face-to-face in various cities yearly).It is so important to know and recognize that the adoptee journey is an amazing one. There is also an Adoptee Empowerment Project through the MAVIN Foundation that is exploring cultural identity and self esteem among adoptees ~ so we are definately not alone in our journey. Thank you Sasha for your time, efforts, personal investment & vision for such a documentary. It raised many thought-proking questions and issues that will undoubtedly spark many discussions for adoptees and the adoption community.
India will always be something that I cherish and carry within my heart. Best wishes to you Anisha, Kaylan and Lizzie on your journey!
Amelia Tummalapalli - Little Rock, AR
Well done! I felt myself caught up in how one might feel if she was a foreigner in her own country. And because I am an American who feels somewhat "Indian" on the inside, I understand what it is like to feel I belong in one place, when my skin says I belong in another place.As a frequent visitor to India, I think the film didn't protray India with the "beauty" that she eludes to those who love her. But first impressions are powerful, and I can see that the camera's eye was going on first impressions, and perhaps so were the three adoptees.I am also an adoptive mom to three wonderful kids. My 9 year old son who has been to India in the past, is "taking" me to India later this year on the SPICE/ICHILD India Adoption Heritage Tour, and I can't wait to see India through his adoptee lens.Perhaps Sasha Khokha will be able to meet up with these impressive young ladies in 5 years to return to India for their second impression of their birth country, to see if their views are the same, or changed.Kudos to all involved, from the young ladies, to Sasha, the film crew and of course the adoptive families who stepped WAY out of their comfort range for the sake of their daughters!
I am a white American mom who has adopted a daughter from India and I am married to an Indian national. Even though there are comments in here that make me cringe --misconceptions about India and very insensitive, inaccurate statements about birthmothers -- I am so grateful it was made. I was happy to see the bond and kinship grow between these girls. Thanks to all of them; their insights will help me as a mother as my daughter grows older. It made me doubly thankful we have been able to visit India since her adoption and are in a support group where she knows other children with a similar circumstance.
Sowmya Nair - Freehold, NJ
A very well made documentary as it relates to explaining the ambigous nature of identity confronting many Indian Americans. The documentary did however suffer from its willingness to include the vile, depraved comments of the social worker. In terms of portraying poverty in Kolkata it cannot be disputed that unbelievable poverty subsists yet the impetus of some Indians to deride its reduntant, valueless portrayals stems not from irrational nationalism but an anxiety of perpetuating a "white man's burden" narrative that never accomplishes anything. Any discourse considering poverty in India or in any other country for that matter should run parallel with a critique of colonialism, privatization, and neocolonialism.
Carol Burns - Mankato, MN
I am Kaylan's aunt. Each time I see this documentary it brings tears to my eyes. They are tears of joy that she is a part of my life and family because imagining not having her in my life is not possible. It seems like yesterday that she arrived in a little basket on an airplane and began bringing her own brand of excitement to everything. They are tears of gratitude that her mother gave her up to us. They are tears of thankfulness that she had this chance to explore her roots and the culture of her heritage. She has always been curious and this experience has allowed her to grow. She knows that I love her but I probably have neglected to tell her about the richness she brings to our family. We would not be complete without her.
Reena Kapoor - Redwood City, CA
A great documentary and very poignant in that it raises tough questions about identity that these three girls must struggle with. As the mother of an adopted daughter I was inspired to see how the girls, despite the "brown" skins were so secure in the love of their adoptive parents and pretty much saw themselves as American. But this journey was so important because it allowed them to see where they came from and where they do NOT belong (instead of wondering all their lives), even though they were born there (and I don't mean to trivialize their questions on identity in any way...). The prize of course was that they found each other -- that brought tears to my eyes. What a gift!What was quite shocking were the comments of the insensitive, so-called social worker in India in that she completely lacks any empathy and understanding of what kind of desperation drives mothers in India to give up their children. Ironically her vacuous and cruel comments were made standing in the middle of abject poverty that Calcutta is well known for. Again as an adoptive mother, I was horrified to see and completely reject her contemptous view of these girls' birth parents. In my house, my daughter's birth mom, whom we do not know, is remembered with respect and dignity. Shocking!Some people have also objected to the depiction of Calcutta/India's poverty. I really don't understand that. That is India - to deny it and hide it only reeks of disingenous jingoism and insecurity. It is what it is. No one, particularly people who live in it, like it but if it bothers you so much then do something about it instead of trying to convince the world that it does not exist. Disappointing that so many Indians see it as their moral obligation to take this sort of stand!
Karthik - Queens, NY
The gritty realism with which the filmaker portrays Calcutta only serves to reinforce stereotypes and cliches in a Westerner's mind. Though the subject matter is highly interesting, its potential was not lived out by the same old tired depiction of a major Indian city.
I just happened to run across this on the PBS web site. I think that this program is one of the best tools that will eventually help us to understand ourselves and each other. I am so happy for the three girls who learned alot about their native country (like the fact that people in India don't walk the streets naked even though they are poor) and the fact that they made lasting friendships with each other. They finally can honestly say that they do belong and that people like me do exist. The only thing that I really did not like was their attitude towards their country before they got there. I think it reflects the narrow mindedness that we, not just Americans, are capable of showing and regardless of the circumstance, that should never be acceptable.
Manohar Gudavalli - Lafayette, CO
I am from India and lived in the USA for almost 20 years. I admire the parents of these three girls for adopting them and raising them so lovingly. I think that it takes a great heart to adopt a baby and raise it lovingly as their own. It is one of the great deeds that a human being can do and not everyone is capable of it. Thank you Ms. Khokha and everyone else behind this project for a great job. It is very well done.
This is so interesting. My niece is white and lives in Silicon Valley in an apartment building with mostly Indian families. Her elementary school is predominantly Asian. Her best buddies are Indian. So the "meme" of Indians out of context in the frozen fields of Minnesota is simply a reverse image of what has happened in some American enclaves. What must be borne in mind is that all of us have equal human rights. It's a harder problem to extend those rights throughout the whole world. We must however begin at home, and we must not backslide as we have been doing here.By the way, it would be nice for those girls to know their birth mothers' stories. Imagining them destitute must not be pleasant. I hope they aren't. There are many reasons for relinquishing a child, not the least of which is family emotional support. It is possible to be proud at a distance of the child you had to give up, and feel a bond for life, even if they are out of sight.
Geeta Maharaj - Eden Prairie, MN
I am an Indian living in the US for over 20 years and have daughters the age of these girls. They have never seen India and I am not sure they recognize the vastly different lives they lead compared to even mine when I was growing up in India. How lucky these girls are to have the lives they have -- loving parents and community. But when I think of the thousands who remain there and the brutal challenges they face, it's heartbreaking. I salute these families for having the love and courage to adopt girls from India, and to Sasha for letting us visualize what we only hear about in passing. Stories like these do inspire us to take steps, however small, to reach out to others in need instead of always being focused on our own lives.
Lalita Cole - Reno, NV
I too am an adopted child from India. I came to America when I was three and a half. I was born in Bombay almost 28 years ago. Watching the video brought back memories of how I wanted to fit in. Since I was a little girl, I've always felt that I am white with brown skin and I still feel that way today. I got teased a lot because I had brown skin and my parents had white. I felt so out of place growing up socially. I look back at all the teasing, and the insecurity and realized that I was a fortunate child even though I got the cruelty from others. I am very lucky and very grateful for my adoption. I can't imagine who I would be if I wasn't adopted. If I grew up in India, I probably wouldn't have the luxuries and education that I have now. I think my biological mother did me a great service. I never blamed her for abandoning me. I am more grateful that she did. I was blessed to go into a family that could give me all the care and love. I can't ask for better parents. I was raised like I was biologically their own. How could I blame someone for giving me this life? I look at my adoption as my second chance of life. I am curious about my biological parents, but I have never felt the urge to find them. If I did, I have no information to go by. I was left on the steps of the orphanage right when I was born with no information. I have always had curiosities of what traits I got, medical history, biological siblings, etc.If I went back to India, I would feel so out of place. I would like to see the orphanage that I was in both in Bombay and Delhi. 27 years later, I don't know if anyone would remember me. I too would have doubts if I encountered someone. It is like the girls said, "The woman may just have wanted to feel good about herself because she made a child's life better." I see my friends having babies and remembering stories about their first walk, words, what they were like etc., and I have no information. I feel left out that I can't go by stories when I was baby/toddler. I learned to accept it but it still bothers me a little bit. Would I ever want to go back to India? Not by myself or even with my husband. I would like to go as a group, like the girls did or with family friends who are from India. To me India is pretty scary! It is a beautiful country but I would feel very intimidated. I love Indian food, the colors, and clothes, but from the documentary, India looks very depressing. I do have a desire to adopt a child from India. I want to be able to give a child an opportunity to live in a loving home. The girls and their family were very brave to take the opportunity to go back to India. I salute them!
This documentary was well done. The girls in this documentary had a great life-changing event and they had an opportunity to meet people who had similar struggles/strengths of being adopted into a different culture. Personally, it would be nice to meet other woman my age that have been adopted into a white family and hear stories about their upbringing. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to watch a great documentary.
Hari - Plymouth, MN
I was born and raised in India. I am impressed with the three for their decision to go and explore their roots. Kudos to Sasha for capturing their experience.
Marilyn Steiner Sano - Los Angeles, CA
What a charming, pure, honest, unpretentious and intimate portrait of a profound experience in the lives of three young girls! In its simplicity it captures the complexity of the "global identity" that one way or another is the fast approaching reality for all the children of the world. Congratulations to this remarkable young filmmaker, a global child herself.
Marcia Pitzenberger - Claremont, MN
I am the mother of one of the girls in this video. Sasha was there to capture moments on tape from preparation for the trip, through the once-in-a-lifetime journey to India, and then afterward while the girls "processed" things and reflected on their feelings and emotions. This turned out to be not only a wonderful documentary for all international adoptees, but also a priceless keepsake of memories for my daughter that she will treasure forever and hand down to her children and grandchildren. The three girls are now best friends, and will have a lifetime bond. We thoroughly enjoyed having Sasha, Dan and Brent in our home and in our lives during the sometimes emotional journey to Anisha's homeland. In the words of T.S. Eliot,"The end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
Mohini/Satinder Mullick - Corning, NY
This movie captured the inner thinking of adoption across the ocean. A normal person who migrates across 10,000 miles goes through a big transformation -- but an adopted kid's world has never been captured. Sasha 's subject was unique and I am sure of interest to many adopted kids/parents.