Over dinner at their father’s home six months ago, Malika Bowling and her brother Jonathan Harricharan were recounting how fortunate the two of them were to have been adopted.
Both of them had been abandoned at the Child Care Center in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Malika was 6 weeks old and near death. And Jonathan, adopted years later, was 3 weeks old. Now much older, they held no illusions about how blessed they’d been. Thousands of children are abandoned at Indian orphanages each year — many for much of their lives.
But for as long as the siblings could remember, they’d enjoyed all the trappings of a middle-class upbringing — nice home in a nice Marietta subdivision, great schools, and loving parents in John and Mardai Harricharan.
Eating dinner that night, they decided it was time to “pay it forward” — not adopt themselves but clear the path for other orphans to be placed in loving homes, too.
“I feel like, I’ve been so fortunate,” said Bowling, a 37-year-old author, food blogger and social media consultant. “I would’ve died in that orphanage, but my life was saved.”
And so early this month, Bowling, her father and her brother Jonathan, a 34-year-old network engineer living in Denver, boarded a flight to Mumbai for a 14-day expedition trip to assess the needs and hopefully fulfill them.
“India can be a brutal place for these millions of abandoned babies and children, the majority of them girls,” Bowling said. “But I remember the many times my dad quoted the late Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, who said, ‘It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’ This is my way of lighting one candle, of providing as much quality of life as I can to children who have so little.”
Their first stop, they said, would be the Child Care Center, where both Malika and Jonathan were abandoned. After that, they planned to scout out places to, perhaps, build additional orphanages.
“Our small team will be buying much needed basic housewares, clothing and food to take care of the babies and children living at the orphanage I was rescued from,” Bowling said. “The rest of the time, we will be scouting locations for new orphanages and meeting with potential partners and donors in India. If I can encourage people to adopt as well, that would be wonderful.”
John and Mardai Harricharan, both natives of India, made that decision first in 1977, when they decided the time was right to raise a family.
But instead of trying the old-fashioned way, John Harricharan said they decided that since there were so many needy children in their homeland, they wanted to give a child a home “who would not live unless we appeared on the scene.”
A colleague, he said, told him about the orphanage in India.
John wanted a son. Mardai wanted a daughter.
One night, he said, he dreamed of a grandmotherly figure who came to him and said, “Get the girl first. If you get the boy first, you will never ever have any peace on Earth.”
Soon thereafter, John Harricharan said he and his wife received a telegram that a baby girl was available.
“We hadn’t even seen a picture,” he said. “We knew nothing except she’d been abandoned on the doorsteps of the orphanage.”
Before they could make the proper arrangements, John Harricharan said he had “this great urge to go or else we wouldn’t see this little girl.”
The very next day, he and Mardai were on a plane. They were over Africa, he said, when he finally relaxed.
At the orphanage, he said, officials suggested they look at another infant because their daughter was near death. She was malnourished and covered with sores.
“I looked at them in anger and scorn and took her to the doctor,” John remembered recently.
Five weeks later, the little girl the Harricharans would name Malika was strong enough to fly home to New Jersey, where the couple lived.
A pediatrician assured them that all Malika needed was a proper diet and love.
“We were able to give her that,” John Harricharan said.
They gave her much more. Indeed, just three and a half years later, they gave Malika a brother, Jonathan, from the same orphanage.
“Without my adopted mother, father and sister, I would not be here today,” Jonathan said.
The siblings spent the first several years in New Jersey before moving to Marietta in 1985, but sadness struck the family when Mardai died of cancer three years later in 1988. She was just 39.
“She was the light of our family,” John Harricharan said.
Malika graduated from Pope High School in 1994, before earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Kennesaw State. Jonathan followed in his sister’s footsteps, graduating four years later in 2002 with the same degree.
A few months ago, they created the Mardai Harricharan Foundation Inc., in memory of their mother, and are awaiting 501(c)(3) designation. They said the time seemed right to finally pay their good fortune forward, especially since neither sibling has children and can devote the time to the effort.
Last week’s trip was their first visit to the orphanage since the siblings’ adoptions more than three decades ago.
“I felt so good that they wanted to do this,” their father said. “I support them 100 percent.”
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