LOST IN CUSTODY

Found roaming the streets, Lakshya was adopted by an industrialist family in Delhi four years ago, only to be returned to his biological parents after a long-drawn custody battle. The Sunday Express catches up with him as he tries to adapt to a new life, a place he barely remembers as home.

Six-year-old Lakshya Jindal loves ice-cold mango frooties. And if you ask him what his favourite snack is, he'll scream, "burgers". Growing up in a sprawling mansion in West Punjabi Bagh, like any child from an affluent family in New Delhi, he was raised by parents with a readily disposable income to meet his every need and fancy.
Then one day, Lakshya's mother, Vandana Jindal, and father, industrialist Anil Jindal, a cousin of MP Naveen Jindal, took him on a drive to the Uttam Nagar police station. Here, they introduced him to Babita and Dinesh Kumar Sharma. Quick as lightning, Lakshya was handed over to strangers he was told were his "real" parents; biological would be too difficult to explain.
With this exchange on March 11, 2008, four long years of courtroom drama came to a close: the Sharmas were granted legal custody of their son, Lakshya—or Prateek as they named him at birth. And the Jindals, who had adopted Lakshya—lost in 2004 and deposited by police at the Bal Vihar Orphanage Centre in Palam—and raised him for four years, returned home without him.
Within minutes, Lakshya was transported back to lanes, long forgotten, where he once played; to his new home—a solitary room, which his parents rent for Rs 800 a month, in a crumbling, rudimentary brick house on a dusty track off Peepal Chowk in Mohan Gardens.
The contrast to Jindal House could not be starker.

···

SITTING in the corner of a dimly lit room, Lakshya is looking down, resolutely, at the floor. Almost two months after he was returned to his biological parents, he is struggling to adapt to a family and life he does not remember.
"As a baby, Lakshya would play peacefully for hours. But now he's very naughty," says Babita, 23, who flits between the names Prateek and Lakshya, admitting she quite likes the name the Jindals gave her son; Dinesh, however, will only use Prateek.
When first relocated, Lakshya's erratic behaviour—throwing pots and pans, shouting, rude comments, fighting with cousins—was frequent, says Babita. "He's beginning to listen now that I scold and slap him ever so often," she adds with a grin, "he's learning more manners here."
Mood swings still offer Lakshya an outlet for the anger and confusion over his displacement.
Slowly, however, he is adapting. "When he first got here, he was scared to use the toilet," says Babita.
Provoked into self-defence, Lakshya breaks his silence, quick to interject: "It's dirty and it smells!" But faced with a traditional Indian toilet, he soon learned to squat; a change of water, leading to looser motions, meant he was forced to learn fast.
Accepting his new family is more difficult. Mummy and Papa, for Lakshya, are still Anil and Vandana Jindal.
Babita, meanwhile, is relegated to 'Rani mummy', coined by her cousin to ease his transition home. "It doesn't bother me. I'm glad my son is loyal," Babita says wistfully.
But, at the same time, she seems worried about Lakshya. "He talks about the Jindals 24 hours a day. He can't hear a word against them," says Babita.
"Sometimes he cries. And once he told me, if we both go back, mummy will look after you too."
Dinesh loves his son, "or else he wouldn't have spent so many years fighting for him," says Babita. But his alcoholism and the occasional violence at home have not escaped Lakshya's eyes. "I'll tell her about it," he threatens his mother, alluding to what he's seen but can't understand, before Babita explains for him.
"Sometimes, in some ways, I think it's better for him to live with the Jindals," she muses. "But my husband would never allow it. And he's our only son. I'm so much happier now that we have him. If I had another son, perhaps, I could have given him up."
Lakshya, however, is clear, when asked where he'd prefer to live. "I want to live with the Jindals," he says, mumbling something about "Prateek bhaiya" (one of the Jindals' two other sons). "There I don't wear ripped clothes," he says pointing to the tears in his jeans. "And I have more toys. A toy car," he begins, before drifting, once again, into silence, desperately avoiding eye contact.
Knowing her son has spent four years in opulence can be tough, says Babita, but she's been trying her best to meet his demands. Yesterday, they ate Chinese food, and today she's just stocked up on Maggi noodles, another of Lakshya's favourites.
But without a regular job, Dinesh, a driver, draws only about Rs 7,000 a month. "If we can't give Lakshya something he asks for, I feel bad," says Babita.
The Sharmas have started looking at schools for Lakshya where he'll be enrolled after the summer vacation.
It won't be a premium private school like he attended in the past-Mother's Pride or Anil Jindal's own school, Jindal Public School—but Babita is adamant that neither will it be a government school.
Given his "high-fly" schooling, she is surprised at Lakshya's dependence on her. "He can't do anything—I wash him, change his clothes. For that he had servants. But he can't even write his name! What has he learned during four years with these big people?" she asks.
To this, Lakshya responds: "I've forgotten everything."

... contd.

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