In her debut novel, Secret Daughter, Toronto-based author Shilpi Somaya Gowda takes you on a journey of contrasts. On one hand, there is a North American Doctor, Somer who has been handed down her fate of not being able to conceive; on the other hand is Kavita, a rural Indian woman who is struggling to keep her newly born daughter a secret as she knows that her husband would not leave her alive, after he finds out that the second child too is a girl.
As destiny would have it, the tiny little ‘unwanted’ soul, Usha finds her way to the welcoming parents abroad but not without having had a stop at an orphanage. Usha becomes Asha and has a smooth life abroad, unlike what she would have had with her impoverished parents back home. But this does not stop her from getting restless about knowing her ‘real’ family.
The daughter’s urge to find her biological roots makes her American doctor mother restless. The fear of losing a daughter is evident in her actions and changed behaviour. It is especially difficult for her considering she has been someone who has not left a single stone unturned in rearing Asha.
Not paying much heed to her mother’s opposition, the resilient girl embarks on her maiden visit to India, with the aid of a journalism fellowship. In Mumbai, she gets acquainted with her father’s family residing in the city and becomes successful in creating bonds with them. Asha is also secretly harbouring an agenda to find her biological parents who had abandoned her. Whether her quest to meet her parents gets fulfilled, can only be known if you pick up and read this book.
The author seems to have taken up much pains researching the way of living of impoverished merchants staying in the rural backdrop of Dahanu, a coastal town located in Palghar district, near Mumbai. The details about the routine spats deeply associated with life in Mumbai’s chawls are easily woven into her book.
Gowda has written with equal ease about the desperation of the American doctor for having her own child and the corresponding ups and downs in an Indo-American couple’s married life. However, the author has not given voice to Somer’s parents or the other family members of Kavita’s home. The author has also not depicted in detail Kavita’s third child, a boy.