The story of the Secret Daughter, as the title already implies, revolves on the theme of mother's love. In this novel, it is shown through two very different mothers—Somer, an American, and Kavita, an Indian. The story opens on a night in 1984, in a small village in India where Kavita, a woman from a poor family, gave birth to another baby girl. To save her child Usha from having the same fate as their first daughter, Kavita forced herself to set out to Mumbai, and leave her daughter in an orphanage. This event further marred the relationship between Kavita and Jasu, her husband. Meanwhile, in America, Somer, a confident and career-driven doctor was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. With a nil chance of having a biological child, she and her husband, Krishnan, decides to adopt a child from an orphanage in Mumbai. Having no natural ties to India and to their child, Somer feared alienation from her own family so she diverts her energies from her career to being a faultless mother. She resolved to build a secured environment for their adopted child, Asha, almost banishing the past and the Indian culture from their family.
Jasu and Kavita’s relationship healed when Kavita gave birth again, this time to a son whom they named Vijay. Concerned about Vijay’s future, Jasu decided to move his family from their village to Mumbai in hopes of a better life. But Mumbai was a city where, “people here live like animals: packed into small spaces, fighting over every necessity of life.” Faced with worse living conditions, Kavita’s resentment against Jasu was reopened. Throughout the novel, readers will find Kavita constantly struggling to keep her loyalty in Jasu while yearning for the daughter she lost.
The novel spans twenty years and we see glimpses of Asha as she grows up in America She persistently questions her identity in both personal and cultural viewpoints. When Asha won a journalism fellowship to Mumbai, she took advantage of the opportunity and tried to reunite with her lost past. In her nine-month stay in Mumbai, Asha discovered more than chai tea and intricately designed saris, for she saw the city through the eyes of an aspiring journalist. Through Asha, readers are introduced to the two worlds of Mumbai-- the wide gap between rich and poor, and India’s preference for sons over daughters. At the end of her stay, Asha‘s meaning of family and mother’s love was changed.
Secret Daughter is a story full of contrasts: from America’s sterility against Mumbai's littered surroundings; America's “bland food” against India's spicy dishes; then to Somer’s joy in raising Asha against Kavita’s longing for her children. The disparities were presented through short chapters (with seven pages at the most), switching in Somer, Kavita and Asha’s stories. In simple narration, Shilpi Somaya Gowda successfully evoked the emotions of loss, fear, hope and anger, proving again that such feelings transcend race and culture. Personally, it was the ending of the story that moved me into crying as it gives another heartbreaking contrast between Kavita’s life in India and that life Asha gained in America.