In 2013, David began a search for his birth parents that culminated on November 23, when he finally met his mother, Dhanalakshmi.

David with his biological mother Dhanalakshmi
news Human Interest Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - 18:51

“For 40 years you haven't seen your mother. And one afternoon when you’re sitting at home in Denmark, you receive an email with the photo of the woman, the one who you’ve been looking for your whole life,” says David Kildendal Nielsen, as he defines a life-changing moment from July 2018.

The woman he is referring to is his birth mother, Dhanalakshmi, who David finally saw in the flesh just a few days ago after years of searching.

40-year-old David was adopted by Danish parents when he was about 16 months old from an orphanage in Chennai. His birth name was Santhakumar. In 2013, David had an urge to find out about his past. And thus began the search for his birth parents that culminated with David finally meeting Dhanalakshmi in Manali near Chennai on November 23. The eagerly anticipated meeting was beyond emotional for the two, and even now, David finds himself at a loss for words when asked to describe the turn of events.

“I have been longing for that moment my whole life. It was very emotional seeing her, talking to her and feeling her touch. It is difficult for me to put it into words. But it was exactly how I expected it to be,” he shares.

A young David while growing up in Denmark

Finding his brother in 2013

David began the search for his roots in 2013, and travelled to India in February that year. “I sent my adoption papers to a friend who was staying in India at the time, and she started digging. When I came to see her in February 2013, we went to some of the addresses we had, but we quickly realised we needed help from someone who knew Chennai,” David begins.

He then got in touch with a local lawyer who had done legal work for adoptions from Chennai during the 1980s and ‘90s. “She started working on my case and found from court papers that two brothers were given for adoption from the orphanage I was in. I didn’t know about it, the adoption agency didn’t know about it. After spending my whole life thinking that it was just me in Denmark, I found out in the spring of 2013 that I had a brother! We met him a few months later,” he says. Martin Rasmusch, whose birth name was Rajan, is David’s older brother by two years.

David with his parents in Denmark

While David was 16 months old when he came to Denmark, Martin followed him six months later, aged a little over three years. When they found each other again, the siblings took DNA tests to verify their parentage.

Having grown up in different parts of Denmark, Martin and David have little in common. But David hopes that having found their mother, they will now spend more time with each other. “We meet once in a while but we do chat on social media. Of course I found my mother, and now we will probably get to talk more,” he says hopefully.

A life changing photo

After 2013, a few years went by without much progress. But not one to give up, David eventually approached Against Child Trafficking (ACT), an NGO that fights child trafficking through inter-country adoptions, and has helped many adoptees in search of their birth parents. ACT’s co-founder Arun Dohle and his colleague Anjali took up David’s case in the fall of 2017, and six months later, asked him to come to India.

On his second trip to Chennai in June 2018, David says that he could feel a stronger bond with the city. “I felt at home instantly. I really like being here. When I leave, I can sort of remember the smells and senses from Chennai.”

While no major leads came out of this second trip either, David was in for a surprise when he returned to Denmark.

“The daughter of the pastor who was in charge of the orphanage David was at, reached out to us after seeing the news reports,” Anjali tells TNM. “She was able to track down the photos and shared them with us. This gave us a lead. In most cases, the adoption agencies and orphanages close down and finding leads becomes very challenging. David was more fortunate.”

And this photo was life-changing for David. “I could see where I got my lips and nose from. I know it sounds like a simple thing to say, but I can't look at my family in Denmark and say that. So those features mean a lot to me,” he says emotionally.

An emotional reunion

Armed with the photo, Anjali and Arun were able to do more with their search. “I came back once again in September this year and we visited Ammapettai in Thanjavur – there was an address there that was mentioned in one of the adoption papers. We had a lot of media attention this time and Kalaignar TV did a short documentary with me,” says David.

The documentary helped a relative of his mother’s reach out to Anjali and Arun, but David was back in Denmark by then. “Had I stayed a few more days in September, I might have met my mother then,” David adds.

David with his mother and relatives

Back in Denmark, David first connected with his mother on a video conference call, facilitated by Arun and Anjali on October 11. “A few minutes into the call, she fainted! She was very delighted to finally know about her son. She never wanted to give us up,” says David.

He finally learnt what happened, and how he ended up in Denmark.

Dhanalakshmi and her husband Kaliamoorthy were living in Old Washermenpet in the ‘80s. Dhanalakshmi was forced by her husband to send her sons to the orphanage in November 1978 and soon after, her husband deserted her.

While she would regularly visit them, one day, she was shocked to find that both of them had left the orphanage. “She wanted us back and didn't know what to do. It was a relief for me to hear that story from my mother. And to be able to tell her that I have had a good life in Denmark. I’m just glad she's alive and well,” David tells TNM.

David, who works as a trader at a bank, is married and has twin boys. “My next step is to bring back my wife and children so they can get to know their grandma. They can get to get to know about their Indian heritage and to get a sense of Indian culture. Not just for me, I feel it is also important for my children to get to know their Indian roots,” he shares.

David with his wife and children

He now hopes to be able to rebuild his Indian identity. “I am slowly trying to rebuild my Indian identity. In a way, you could say, my identity was taken away from me – I was given a new name, religion and language. My goal now is to recreate my identity,” he says.