Published December 14, 2014
Lillian Marjorie
Lillian Marjorie

In an alternate world, social worker Lillian Marjorie would still have been living with her “Mama,” finding solace in her lap, and safety in her shadow.

“I am 67 years old, but inside I am a child, I am lonely,” a pensive Lillian says.

Sitting comfortably on her mustard couch at her home in Karachi, she sinks deep into her thoughts. Dismayed by the images of the past that come to her mind, though, she snaps out of the moment instantly.

“I wonder where I came from and why my parents left me wrapped in a green swaddle, all by myself, near death. Why was I unwanted? I guess I’ll never know.”

Abandoned by her birth parents, Lillian had to face another betrayal as well...

Her story begins in 1947 when Mary Marian Sen, the director of nursing at the Lady Dufferin Hospital in Hyderabad was making her daily rounds. Sen stopped in her tracks upon overhearing the hospital guard talking about a newborn baby left just outside the premises.

It did not take Sen any time before she decided to give this child a name and make her a part of her family; this baby girl was named Lillian.

Together the mother and daughter spent two beautiful years, and soon after, the Sens welcomed another baby girl to their family; they named her Phyllis Merlon.

Lillian and Phyllis grew up in the same house and were raised as sisters. Mrs Sen made sure there was no difference in their upbringing. The sisters both had distinctive personalities; while Lillian was strong-headed and outspoken, Phyllis was an introvert and kept to herself.

“I was always very protective of Phyllis, to the extent that when her husband asked for her hand in marriage, it was me he had to please first,” chuckles Lillian.

In the 1960s, Mrs Sen decided to construct a house in the name of their daughters, and called upon the bishop to lead a prayer at the house blessing ceremony. During the service, the bishop stepped forward and said, “Mrs Sen is a kind woman, she has built this home for her daughters. One is her natural born while the other one is adopted.”

"I wonder where I came from and why my parents left me wrapped in a green swaddle, all by myself, near death. Why was I unwanted? I guess I’ll never know.

The bishop’s revelations stunned the girls, who were hearing about it the first time. Completely perplexed, they stared at their parents in disbelief, all the while as their mother’s expression changed from contentment to horror.

Wanting to know which one of them was adopted, the girls pushed their mother to tell the truth. But Mrs Sen kept the secret buried for weeks.

After much persuasion, it was disclosed that Lillian was the one who was adopted. Needless to say, the vivacious Lillian lost her spirit, and though she spent many nights crying, inside she knew that her mother, the woman who had raised her, loved her profoundly. Lillian was barely 18 at the time.

“My mama showed me the green floral swaddle she found me in, and the following days I could not help but wonder where I came from. I had countless questions on my mind; who are my parents? Why did they not want me?” recalls Lillian, wiping away her tears.

Her friends and family told her it was a bad idea to go in search of her biological parents, “What if they try to hurt you?” some of them said.

Gradually, Lillian recovered from having her world turned upside down for there was no wound in this world her mother could not heal.

In 1995, soon after Mr Sen departed from this world, Mrs Sen too passed away peacefully, and Lillian, according to her mother’s wishes, had her buried in a graveyard in Karachi. Her mother wrote a will and gave one copy each to the daughters.

But how things transpired from here onwards were to once again shake Lillian’s world. And this time there was no one she could run to.

“My mama didn’t get the will registered as she was unaware of the protocol,” explains Lillian. She says her mother was a simple woman and didn’t think about it much.

Upon Lillian’s return to their family home in Hyderabad, her brother-in-law greeted her at the door and said, “Why are you here? The woman who brought you into this family is now gone, so go live in the graveyard with her, we have nothing to do with you anymore.”

Lillian’s sister, brother-in-law and the rest of the family, all turned against her. The house too was taken from her. Even when Lillian took them to court, it didn’t help at all. In Pakistan, an adopted child has no legal right to inheritance regardless of which religion they belong to.

This episode altered Lillian’s life in ways she never imagined. She did not only lose her parents, but she also lost contact with her only sister. The family she once considered hers was now refusing to accept her.

In her childhood, Lillian recalls, Mrs Sen advised her on several occasions to hold back from being so giving with her sister. She said that when the time came her sister may not be able to reciprocate. After all those years, her mother’s words rang true.

Devastated, Lilian walked her own path and chose not to relive the pain of her past ever again. “I never got married because I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone where I came from and how I was abandoned, again,” she says, clearing her throat and gathering herself.

“I don’t want my children to ever turn around and question my identity. I don’t want them to question why I was unwanted.”

Though Lillian was alone, what she gained throughout these years was the affection of a woman who became her mother. She gave her a name and an identity and for that Lillian will be forever grateful.

Her mother’s love and kind words are what keep her going each day. The other main support systems in her life are her friends.

Lillian was baptized as a Christian, but in her heart she says she is a sufi who has given herself to others.

A nurse by profession, Lillian has dedicated her life to serving the less fortunate. Travelling across Sindh to remote villages, she has worked with numerous agencies and NGO’s providing necessitating nutrition to infants.

She has also served multitudes of people; both young and old, as a home care nurse in addition to establishing her own nursing centre.

“I only have one thing to say to the people who plan to adopt a child. If you make them yours once, don’t ever abandon them.”

As she walks in her garden, she lights a diya (lamp) for Ghaus-i-Pak, the sufi saint she reveres. Above the altar at her house, the four quls inscribed. She gets ready to say a prayer and whispers, “I will die a thousand deaths, just to have your arms around me, mama.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 14th, 2014


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