Back to Mumbai
We had been in Panaji for several weeks when Kayla announced that she was going to move to one of the beach resorts. She told me she had found a villa. So, she and her babies, her nanny Riah and her mother, who was still with her, moved to Candolim, half an hour’s drive away.
Candolim was a small town, right on the shores of the Arabian Sea, with wide and unspoiled beaches a stone’s throw away. I was beginning to look like a beach bum, with my tan and hippy T-shirts, so I decided I might feel more at home on the beach than in the city and began to think about moving there too.
Kayla’s landlord was a charming British man of Indian origin, who liked to pop in for a cup of tea and a gossip with Kayla’s mum. He didn’t have another property for me, sadly, so I looked around and found a small apartment. I took it for a week, after which I would either stay at the beach resort or go back to Panaji.
Bharti and Lalit, the babies and I moved into the apartment. We were unpacking our cases and putting things away when I stepped into the small kitchen to get a cold drink. As I did, I heard a cracking sound and looked down. The floor was tiled, and the tile I had stepped on must have been a bit bowed, because it had cracked. A moment later the tile next to it cracked, and then the one next to that, in a chain reaction. As I watched, horrified, the entire kitchen floor became a maze of cracking tiles, snapping and popping like fireworks as the damage spread and pieces of tile leaped into the air and smashed back down again. In the end the whole floor had more or less exploded.
Bharti arrived and stared in amazement, shaking her head. I felt guilty, even though all I’d done was step into the room. It was an unfortunate accident, no-one’s fault (except perhaps the chap who laid the tiles). But the whole floor would have to be replaced so we clearly couldn’t stay there.
Bharti’s son was visiting for a holiday, although not staying with us, so he went to get pizza for supper, because we couldn’t use the kitchen to cook with the floor in shreds. At Bharti’s urging I phoned Ramesh, the owner of the apartment we’d rented in Panaji. He had a villa in Candolim and it was free for the next few weeks. It was expensive compared to the apartment, but we needed a refuge and two days later we moved. Ramesh was waiting there for us, I had to pay him in cash, and as I counted out the piles of rupees he sat, his eyes fixed on the money, literally rubbing his hands together in glee. A performance of such blatant greed that I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel offended.
The villa was much bigger than what became known as the ‘exploding tile apartment’ so we enjoyed the space and settled down for a couple of weeks at the seaside. Candolim beach was wide and unspoiled and during the days that followed Kayla and I explored all the other beaches in the area. We enjoyed the laid-back beach bars on Sinquerim and the hippy chill style of Baga, avoided the lager-lout vibe of Calangute (although there were few tourists around at that time) and finally agreeing that our favourite was Anjuna, north of Baga and still a fairly hippy place, with a beach bar where we would enjoy an ice-cold bottle of Indian Kingfisher lager. It was one of the few beach bars that remained open even in the off season. It tended to be frequented by uber-chilled expats and it wasn’t unusual to meet one of them relaxing there with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other.
All of the beaches were the haunt of small crowds of local children, many of them begging or offering wares for sale or to give the tourists manicures. Kayla would pay one to do her nails, and end up with dozens around her, all hoping for a few rupees.
Throughout this time, I had the strange feeling that life was on hold. I was still just waiting and nothing appeared to be happening. I would make my daily call to John in the afternoon – evening for him – and discuss options and possibilities, fanning the flames of hope, but in reality, there was no option but to wait.
In the evenings I would sit on the villa’s veranda watching the night sky, the stars and moon no longer visible behind the blanket of the monsoon’s low cloud. I would picture John watching the same moon almost five thousand miles away, and wonder how long it would be until I could take the girls home to him.
To pass the time Kayla and I took another short trip, this time to Delhi for the weekend. She had found us a house to rent, so off we went to see the Taj Mahal. And yes, I sat on the bench where Princess Diana had sat in the famous photo, looking so reflective, and yes, I did ponder for a while on where I was and what our future would hold.
I was still very keen to be biological father to a child. I had already been in touch with Doran, the Israeli we had met at the Lakeside Apartments. He worked for Tammuz, a surrogate agency, and he said that he could arrange a surrogate for me in Bangkok, Thailand. India was now out of the question, after the legal clamp-down on surrogacies, but Thailand was still in business.
Doran worked regularly with the South African organisation whose egg-donors had been staying at the Lakeside when we were there. He suggested I get in touch to arrange for an egg donor.
I found their website, and saw Sophie’s name on the contact list. She and her girlfriend Lauren had been at Lakeside, where Lauren was mother hen to the group of women there to make egg deposits. Sophie had been a nice woman, very caring and friendly. I hoped she would remember me. I emailed her to say hello and she replied almost instantly, asking how I was and how the girls were doing. I replied that we were all well and asked her for the password to the website. Once I had logged on, I scanned the faces – and very quickly recognised Rene.
I told Sophie I would love to attempt another pregnancy, with Rene as egg donor. She said that could be arranged and recommended a clinic in Thailand. She said she was often there for egg-retrieval with the egg donors, and she could meet me there in mid-August. I contacted the clinic and booked an appointment and so the plan was set. I was delighted. India might have closed its doors to us, but Thailand had not – I still had the chance of fathering a child.
In early July I was notified that I would be required to go for an interview with the British Consulate in Mumbai. They also wanted to see the girls’ surrogate, Rehanna. None of this was necessary for the passports to be issued, but I was told that we had been randomly selected for interview. Who knows whether this was true? I wasn’t particularly keen to meet Rehanna, but we would have to go for interview together, so I had no choice.
A couple of weeks later we headed back to Mumbai, hopeful that, once this interview was completed, the passports would be issued. Kayla went too, as the waiting period for passports was, theoretically, over, and although there was no word from the authorities, she too was hoping they would soon be through. As we both made travel plans and packed up our Goan houses, I was painfully aware that all the new parents of other nationalities that we had met at Lakeside would have long since returned home, their children with them, able to carry on with their family lives. Only the British – Kayla and I – were still there, still waiting. Our presence, and no doubt that of other Brits in the same situation, was a shaming indictment of our government and its slow, heartless and unnecessary procedures.
Kayla decided we would all move into a nice apartment in Mumbai together for the next couple of weeks. She flew back, but Bharti’s mother was too frightened to fly, so I had to hire a car and we drove the 700 miles back. Bharti’s husband Sanjay had come down to join us, and he drove the car, with me beside him in the front and Bharti and her mother with the girls in the back. We set off at 6am and finally reached Mumbai at 8 that evening. The journey was picturesque, we passed paddy fields and villages and some stunning mountain scenery, but inevitably it all began to blur as the hours passed and by the time, we had been on the road for 14 hours, all we wanted was to eat and sleep.
Apart from loo breaks we’d only stopped once for a meal, but at that stop I had a special moment with Tara. Holding her I began making baby noises – ooh, ahh, boo, boo when she suddenly replied, with a perfect imitation of ooh, ahh. I grinned, my little girl was starting to talk! ‘Very good talking to you Booboo’ I said. And from that moment on she became Booboo and Amritsar was Baabaa.
Kayla, her babies and her parents were all installed in the apartment – in a building called the Oberoi Splendour – when we arrived. Bharti and her mother went home with Sanjay, the girls and I settled into our cool and stylish apartment and after that Bharti would come each day to look after the children. As a second nanny, this time she brought her daughter-in-law Priti, daughter of Geeta, to help her look after all four children.
Soon after we arrived, I went for my interview at the British Consulate. With Bharti and Tara and Amritsar in tow, I set off in a Rickshaw, which then went around in circles for some time before we found the Consulate in the middle of a business park in central Mumbai.
When we got there, Bharti was refused entry and told by security guards to wait outside, while I went in with the girls. The two officials who greeted us were called Daisy and Zubin, they seemed pleasant and chatted as they escorted me to a small waiting room.
Somya had arranged for Rehanna to join us there, and as I sat and waited for her, a baby in a car seat on either side of me, I was full of apprehension. Meeting at all had not figured in our plans, and nor had allowing her to see the girls again. We had paid her well for her services, the equivalent of four years’ income in a good job, and we had believed that was an end to her role. Now here I was, sitting in a grim, sixties-style office with a bare wooden table and plastic chairs, waiting to meet her.
Minutes later she was ushered in by Zubin. Rehanna, who was wearing a sari, came over to me and the girls. She reached out to pick up Tara, who screamed, so she turned instead to Amritsar. There was nothing tender or motherly about Rehanna’s interaction with the girls, I could see that she felt no special connection with them and this I found reassuring. I said thank you to her in the local language, Maharati, for what she had done for us, and she smiled.
Zubin, whose name I recognised as someone who had already been in touch with Kayla over her application, was very friendly. He showed us to a cubicle and introduced us to the British Consular official who had come down from Delhi to conduct the interview. It was straightforward, a list of standard official questions, and soon over, after which we were shown back downstairs to where Bharti was waiting. She took one of the car seats from me and muttered, ‘Mr Andi you must give Rehanna some travel money.’ Startled, I fumbled for 2000 rupees, around £20, and gave it to Rehanna, who thanked me and then left. I hoped, fervently, that we would not need to meet again. A hope that would soon turn out to be foolishly naive.
A couple of days later I made a flying trip to Bangkok to visit the All IVF Clinic there and make my deposit. Sophie was there to meet me and the staff there, admin assistant Nancy and a nurse called Natmanee, were welcoming and efficient. Sophie told me they would attempt a pregnancy immediately, before the sperm was frozen, as that might give the best chance and I couldn’t help but be excited.
I did wonder if I was being selfish. After all, we had two healthy daughters. But I couldn’t help longing for a child that would have my DNA. John and I had agreed we would gladly have three or even four children. I refused to let myself think about the potential problems in getting any future children back to the UK, the problems we were having in India were largely a result of the change in the surrogacy law and in any other country it would be far more straightforward. We had simply come at the wrong time, it was bad luck, but it couldn’t happen again.
I was in Bangkok for just two nights, having left the girls with Kayla and her parents and the nannies. I would hear within two or three weeks whether the attempted pregnancy had been successful, so I left Thailand filled with anticipation and hope.
When I returned to India, I discovered that the passports for Kayla’s children, Millie and Max, had arrived. Kayla was euphoric and I couldn’t help but be happy for her. At the same time, I wondered why her passports had come through, with no need for an interview, while mine had been held up. Was there something I didn’t know? Or was I just being paranoid. That day I came close to tears. Would Kayla soon be off home, leaving me on my own in India?
I didn’t have much time to brood on this because we had trouble at the apartment. Our landlord had discovered that the nannies sometimes stayed the night and he erupted with fury, demanding a lot more money and screaming at us so aggressively that Kayla’s father, Daniel was shaking and close to collapse, his hand on his chest. I was alarmed, and I had to insist that the landlord leave and stop frightening an elderly couple. He backed off, but he did not give up and in the end, we decided to leave after only 12 days. Kayla, with her parents and babies, went back to the Lakeside Apartments. I couldn’t afford to go with her, so I rented another apartment across the road from the one we were in, in a building called the Lalco Residency. While it was a stone’s throw from the Oberoi Splendor, inside it could have been on another planet. The apartment was dated, with flaky paint on the walls, dreary lino floors and bars over the windows. Added to that we were right over a road that was heavy with traffic, the drone was loud and the pollution dense and smelly. And the young boys who came to mop the floors used filthy water. We had to ask them to go and find some clean water, or not to do the floors. I hated it and I hoped, passionately, that we wouldn’t have to stay there for long.
Within days Kayla called to say she had got her children’s exit visas. She had been advised by her lawyer in India to use an agent, a third party who, for a significant fee, could talk to the right people and speed things up. She had been asked for additional documents by the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and Daisy from the British Consulate in Mumbai had supplied them, at which point the FRRO granted the visas. Kayla was on her way, and I was going to miss her.
On Kayla’s last night in India I went out for a meal with her and her parents. We ended it with hugs and tears and when I got into my rickshaw to go back to the Lalco Apartments I felt very dejected indeed. How long was it going to be for me and our girls?
The following day I called John, who said he had good news.
‘Remember that Spanish au pair my sister used to have?’ he said. ‘She was called Manuela and she was great with the kids?’
I did remember, vaguely. I had met her in London when she had stayed with us in our apartment. I recalled that she liked football and Martina Navratilova. She also liked to speak her mind and had been rather opinionated, but it was true that she was very good with John’s sister’s children.
‘Well,’ John went on. ‘I’ve been in touch with her, she’s free at the moment and I’ve hired her to come out and help you. I thought it would cheer you up to have a friendly face there with you.’
I knew John was doing his best to make up for the fact that he couldn’t be there with me. And perhaps he was right; Manuela might be good company and help to fill the void that Kayla and her family had left.
A week later I went to the airport to meet Manuela’s plane. I spotted her across the concourse, before she saw me. A tall, fair-haired and heavily-built woman, she stood out among the crowd as she made her way through, looking nervously around for me.
I hoped that Manuela would make life easier over the coming weeks. More than anything, of course, I hoped we wouldn’t be in India much longer. By the time she arrived it had already been almost five months. So, it was reasonable to expect that it could only be another few weeks at most. And with Manuela to keep me and the girl’s company those weeks would fly by.
Except that, unfortunately, things did not go smoothly with Manuela, almost from the start. She was dismayed by the apartment, the heat, the crowds and the food. She insisted she must work only an eight-hour day and then stop, so that everything had to be fitted around this. She wanted to take the babies out, and I wasn’t keen, because of the crowded, dusty, dirty artery of a road we lived on. It was the through road to the slum areas, so the rickshaw drivers all went that way to get home, and they would regularly stop and defecate at the side of the road, when the urge took them. So, walking anywhere was hazardous to say the least.
For a short while Manuela did her shift during the day, while Bharti came to look after the babies in the evening and at night. This arrangement bumped along reasonably well – until Manuela accused Bharti of theft. I suspect Bharti was probably stuffing a couple of the babies’ disposable nappies into her bag for her grandson. And honestly, I would have been happy to overlook it, Bharti had been a wonderful help to me for several months and I needed her. But once Manuela, trembling with indignation, loudly voiced her accusations, that was it – Bharti was off.
‘I cannot stay here with this woman Mr Andi,’ she said, her voice filled with outrage. ‘I love you like family. Amritsar and Tara are my beautiful girls, but that woman is BAD.’
What to do? I would rather have had Bharti than Manuela, but I had no choice. Bharti left that day. I was heartbroken. I had been genuinely fond of Bharti, who managed the girls with calm efficiency and had been a great support. Her departure left Manuela, with her eight-hour day, and me, with the girls for the other 16 hours, both sharing the small apartment and neither of us very happy about it. I was concerned about Tara and Amritsar too. They had become used to Bharti and the unsettled atmosphere could not be good for them.
Over the next few days both Manuela and I suffered from upset stomachs. And she was convinced it was my cooking. The apartment was not particularly clean, it always smelled rather musty. The apartment was serviced by young Indian boys who cleaned were enthusiastic and thorough, but they used the same bowl of water for the whole apartment block, rinsing their cloths in increasingly filthy water as they worked their way round. Because of this I was very careful about food preparation, never putting the food directly onto the counters and washing utensils very carefully. I knew the food was not picking up dirt. But the meals I made were Indian, and this didn’t suit Manuela.
Actually, nothing about India suited Manuela. She would go off on solo tourist trips, disappearing for hours and then arriving back in tears because she felt that everyone had tried to rip her off and treat her like an idiot. She thought of herself as a tough woman and a feminist and being taken for a fool, as she saw it, didn’t fit with this. I tried to explain to her that India was a country where women were second class citizens and where, with such widespread poverty, everyone was keen to make money and tourists were often seen as easy prey.
I did sympathise. She felt uncomfortable and unable to find her footing and it was perhaps not surprising. India was a different world and it took a lot of adjusting to settle into life there, especially in the apartment where we were living.
Still determined to take the girls out Manuela tried to get me to buy a double buggy so that she could walk the babies to a park. Except that there wasn’t a ‘park’. There was a small play area in the next-door apartment complex, with two broken swings and a derailed roundabout. And despite Manuela’s repeated requests, I was not about to let her disappear out with the girls, the three of them totally vulnerable. In the end, exasperated, I shouted at her, ‘This is the bloody Jogeshwari Link Road, not a leafy park in London. The babies are not leaving this apartment.’
By late August I had been in India for five months and I was staving off moments of near-despair. Kayla had gone, Bharti had gone, Manuela was a nightmare and John was no closer to getting his visa.
And then John called to tell me that the girls’ passports had arrived.