by Anura Guruge
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People get confused as to why I call myself adopted and make references to my adoptive-father and adoptive-mother. It is because I too was “The Other Son“, the Ceylon version; “The Other Son” a very powerful Israeli movie about babies accidentally swapped (i.e., mixed up) in a hospital shortly after birth.
So that is what I am, a hospital mix up.
How do I know?
Because ever since I can remember, say around age five onwards, I would be told AT LEAST once a day, usually many times more, that I was a ‘mix up at the hospital‘ and that my REAL FATHER was a ‘GAMBLER’. Wow. Doesn’t that explain it all? I later worked out that ‘gambler’ in 1950, still very Victorian, Ceylon meant that my real father, my biological father, was a rake (in the British sense). A playboy. Yes, Yes, YES. It all adds up. The very boring, teetotal, academic, with zero interest in sports, who was afraid of dogs, could NOT have been my father. It all made sense. Yes, it would be my adoptive-father who told me, daily, that I was ‘mix up at the hospital’ and how much he regretted that he never got his real child. But, my adoptive mother would also tell me the same thing, as did other relatives, and sometimes even the servants. I was the MISTAKE. And I am proud of it.
Why they did NOT fix it when they discovered the mistake — which was pretty obvious since I was nothing like my adoptive parents — is a mystery. I never asked. I guess I thought it was outside my control. Plus, I guess, deep down I did NOT want to be taken away from my “Ambili Amma” — Moon Mother — my adoptive mother’s mother, the person who brought me up.
My adoptive parents did NOT have much to do with me when I was growing up in Ceylon, 1953 – 1967. It was very Victorian. But rather than a nanny, I had my Ambili Amma. She is the one who brought me up from the time I came home. She is the one who made sure I had food, clothing, care and some amount of love. My adoptive parents were very busy. My father was a hot shot with multiple VIP jobs — Assistant Secretary of Education, Vice-Chancellor of a Buddhist university, a famous author etc. etc. My mother taught Pali at a Baptist Girls School. But they had a beyond hectic social life. They had engagements every evening, every day. They were part of the creme de la creme of Colombo society. So every day around 4pm my adoptive mother would start getting ready to go out. My father would arrive from one of his many jobs around 6pm and then they would be gone. Did not matter. Ambili Amma was always there. The house, a BIG house, was never empty. My adoptive mother’s youngest sister lived with us, as did a female cousin whose father had died. Plus we had servants and on top of that, at any given time, we might have another distant relative, usually male, living with us.
I saw my adoptive parents on a strict schedule. They would take me to school. That was when I mainly saw my adoptive father. 75% of the time we would pick me up, at 1pm, from Ananda College. We would then pick up my adoptive mother and her sister and come home for lunch. Those two car trips was when I mainly had interactions with my adoptive father. The rest of the time he was gone or working. Between 2 and 4 my mother, a teacher, would TEACH me. It was formal. That was basically the time I spent with her. The rest of the time she was gone or getting ready — and ‘getting ready’ was an elaborate process with lots of make up, getting hair put up etc. Think Victorian Britain and the Lady of the house. That was our house.
Then, when I was about 18 my adoptive father came up with a new line. He would tell people, most people, referring to me: “the devil looks after his own”. Nice. He was making it very clear that he was NOT my father — not that anybody needed to be told that. He, a very religious man (though 40% was for show because it helped with his politics), was disowning me and assigning my parentage to ‘the devil’. Yes, remember that gambler? I was always confused as to which devil was my real father — whether it was the rather ineffective Buddhist devil or the more, potent and interesting Christian devil. I was just glad that it just wasn’t the real devil that made my life a daily hell, i.e., my adoptive father.
So that is the story. I am a hospital mix up.
I should have done this earlier BUT I am now going to try and find out who my biological family was. It would be neat to meet the ‘real’ me! I assume he must still be alive, if not my biological parents. If they are alive I would love to meet them. Thank them for making me what I am. My real father has to be a character. I owe so much to him. He gave me the DNA that in the end, despite all the hardships I endured at the hands of my adoptive father, allowed me to lead a life where 99% I had a grin on my face.
Yes, one of my four kids, as is somewhat plain to see, is adopted and I made sure that I would try and be a good father to her because I knew, at first hand, the misery of being brought up by a father who hated you because you were not his — a hospital mix up.
I, Anura Guruge, the very proud and grateful son of a gambler that, alas, I have yet to meet.