In the beginning, there was a virgin birth. Or perhaps there were many. A hundred, or a thousand years before the man from Nazareth was born, another by the name of Zarathushtra came to be in Middle Persia, some say by “an immaculate conception with a ray of divine reason.” Around the same time, somewhere in South Asia, all five Pandava brothers whose story is held within the pages of the Mahabharata were born of mothers who had only been touched by the loving hands of gods. These sexless unions are the starting point for stories of myth and holy magic.
But I’m not thinking of virgins or births as I sit down to dinner in an upscale hotel in Mumbai, India. I’m thinking of a Kingfisher beer accompanied by papadams. A baby sleeps in a stroller at the adjacent table flanked by a married couple of indeterminate ethnic origins, speaking English with an accent that seems vaguely familiar but which I can’t place. I look at them over my menu, trying to suss them out, playing the default game of the solo diner. They debate fish vs. prawns, and dishes that come with rice versus those that—inexplicably—don’t. They order. They change their order. There is a coming and going of multiple staff people. Knowing I should just keep to myself, but not knowing better, I interject and suggest the Goan fish curry that I had last night. Delicious, rich with coconut milk, and rice comes with it. By this time they already have ordered and say they’ll take note for tomorrow night, but the walls between strangers have fallen, and we begin to converse, tossing out the test questions of identity to each other.
The couple, somewhere around my age, are Americans, from New Jersey, no less. The first of my countrymen I have met on this trip, most apparently scared into staycations due to pesky things like swine flu, terrorism, and/or unemployment. But here is this friendly couple, of Indian descent three generations back, now on their second trip to India in under a year. The accent lingers from their birthplace on a Caribbean island, though they’ve been in the States for many years. They rave about the Taj Mahal and India’s ice cream—the best.
I ask about the child, nodding to the stroller, and they tell me there are two. Two! In there? They’re only ten days old, they tell me. I am instantly confused, or maybe just daft, as I often am. Did they come to India planning on having the births here? Why are they going to the American embassy tomorrow? And my, doesn’t mom look great for a little over a week since giving birth to twins. One word clears up all my confusions. Surrogate.