The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dumped baby girl savours first bite amid saviours

Six months ago, she was lying helpless by the road in a red-light area of central Calcutta. Abandoned by her mother, the infant kept crying till she found a saviour — a rickshaw-puller, who picked up the tiny bundle from a pavement on Premchand Boral Street.

On Wednesday, Shakuntala — as baptised by the nurses of Lady Dufferin Hospital, home for the six-month-old — was all smiles at her annaprasan, with nurses, policemen and residents of the area in attendance. She seemed to enjoy being the centre of all attention, as the hosts and the guests for the ceremony couldn’t stop fussing over her, feeding her payesh and showering affection on the once-abandoned baby.

“Till the girl finds a home, she is in our custody,” explained former Muchipara officer-in-charge (OC) Timir Bhattacharya, during whose tenure the infant had been found. Transferred to Jorasanko about a fortnight ago, Bhattacharya made it a point to remind his former thana about fulfilling the “duty and special responsibility as custodians of a parentless daughter”, on February 26.

Almost the entire Muchipara police station — led by the ex-OC and his successor, Nasim Ali — showed up for the function. Bula Pal and Banani Das of the thana had prepared the all-important payesh that the baby girl gulped down with glee. Sub-inspector Niladri Ray had bought Shakuntala a bright red-and-yellow dress, with a matching red cap. The stone-faced sergeants were all smiles and the tough-as-nails constables were carrying chocolates for their favourite girl. Mithu Das and Sanchita Ray, living opposite Lady Dufferin Hospital, were also there, with new clothes for Shakuntala.

Hospital superintendent Shikha Adhikari presided over the ceremony like a proud parent and regaled guests with anecdotes of how “naughty” Shakuntala was growing up to be and how much of the nurses’ days revolved around the little one.

But the uncertainty over Shakuntala’s future cast a shadow over Wednesday evening’s spirit of fun. “We would have been happier if Shakuntala had found a home by now,” said Timir Bhattacharya. When the girl had first been found, she had few takers. But after Lady Dufferin Hospital took her in, the city slowly started showing interest in the infant. The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court now has around 25 applications from couple keen to adopt Shakuntala.

The decision about a home for the girl continues to hang in the balance, but for a few hours on Wednesday, Shakuntala and those who care for her had something to smile about.

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