From Sweden to Chennai: Mary Christina Rhedin's quest for her family

Mary was adopted from Faith Home in Porur in 1973, and raised by her adopted parents in Lerum, Sweden.
Mary came to Chennai two weeks back. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)
Mary came to Chennai two weeks back. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)

CHENNAI: Ever since she was a child, Christina was drawn to the name Mary. She was adopted from Faith Home in Porur in 1973, and raised by her adopted parents in Lerum, Sweden. Her fascination was such that Christina decided to incorporate the name into her first business.

When she returned to Chennai in 2018, a document from the Madras High Court revealed that her birth name was Mary. The 46-year-old legally changed her name to Mary Christina Rhedin. While the papers gave her some answers, they also raised many questions - about her parents, her extended family and her half-brother, who she didn’t know existed.

What am I?

Seated in Café Mori, INKO, Mary’s laugh fills the air as she recalls the moment when she met her adoptive mother.

“I was flown to Sweden when I was 14 months old. I don’t remember the exact moment, but my mother told me that when I saw her, I screamed in fear. Since I was used to seeing people with dark skin and hair, to see a white woman with silver-blonde hair was unsettling,” she says.

In a Nordic country with a large white population in the 70s, Mary stood out from the crowd with her sun-kissed skin tone. The nine other children flown to Sweden were the only other Indians she knew and the common question she heard was - “Where are you from?”

“When I replied that I am from Sweden, they said, ‘No, no, look at you. Where are you from?’ So then I had to tell them my story, but they didn’t understand the struggle of being adopted abroad. I used to wonder where I belong and I concluded that I’m both Swedish and Indian,” says Mary.

Her mannerisms and language are Swedish, but Mary realised that when she danced, her hands moved in ways similar to Indian classical dance. When she drank water, she used to raise the glass away from her lips. “Since I was adopted at 14 months, I had seen these things and they registered somewhere. I realised that memories are strong...they live in the body,” she shares.

What can I do?

Sweden now has the most number of per capita adoptees at 60,000, but the scenario was different when Mary was adopted. There were not many adoptees, and she describes the feeling as being dropped in the middle of an ocean - feeling lost and empty.

She was told that her mother passed away at birth, and nothing else. “Attachment theory deals with the fact that relations at a young age are important, and if they are cut off, there are problems in future. It was painful, because I thought, ‘Am I not good enough?’” says the mother of two. 

Mary also explains the dynamics of being adopted from an economically poor country into a first world country. “There was a lot of guilt and the need to have gratitude. People used to tell me I should be grateful because things were bad in my birth country. I didn’t know enough about India to counter their argument, so I had nothing to say,” she says.

The voice of adoptees was not heard and Mary had no resources to help her. Most of the available resources in Sweden cater to the adoptive families, and not to the adoptees themselves, she points out.

“Ever since I was seven or eight years old, I knew I wanted to work with people. Now, I give counselling for adoptees and conduct awareness seminars to people about adoption from the perspective of adoptees in Sweden,” she says.

Her four-part seminars for social workers in Sweden, explain concepts of identity, attachment theory, roots and origins, and legislation and policies on adoption with regard to Sweden and the world. She is also writing a book on her life.

Where am I from?

At 27, Mary decided to quit her job and take a three-month sabbatical to India. She arrived in Pune in 1999, and soon reached Kotagiri. She and began living with nine then-recently-adopted girls in Nilgiri Hills.

The girls were adopted by a Danish couple and were under the care of Susheela, a caretaker. During her stay with these girls, Mary was able to finally experience daily life in India.

“They used to help me drape saris and wear chudidars. I learned how to cook Indian food. We used to have dance classes in the mountains. I taught them how to bake cinnamon buns. We are all very close,” says Mary, adding that they have all completed their education and are married. Recently, Mary met them when they came to celebrate Susheela’s 70th birthday.

Who is my family?

When Mary obtained the document on her adoption from the High Court, it revealed the conditions of her adoption. Her mother, Jaya Mary, passed away three months after her birth, not at childbirth. Her father, Madhavan, had passed away too, and her half-brother Ravi, then five years old, was also put up for adoption.

“Faith Home had lost the adoption papers to a flood. This document was signed by my grandmother, who put me up for adoption. But there are more papers - the address proof, identity proof, and others that will be helpful - that I do not have,” she says.

Mary knows a few details about her family.

Her mother worked in a company in Ambattur Industrial Estate and lived in Mogappair. She has the years of her birth and of her mother’s death. She also knows the name of the legal firm that worked on her case.

With her friend Angel Fransz, Mary has spent the last two weeks chasing these leads.“We visited the Rippon Building with her birth records, spoke to officials in the municipality in which her mother lived, spoke to the Mogappair Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association, and asked the law firm for any records. We are waiting for them to get back to us with more information,” says Angel.

Mary leaves for Sweden on Monday. Her quest is now in the hands of others, and their memories of her mother.

Sipping her tea, Mary says, “If I could meet someone from my family, I would just ask them one thing - What was my mother like?”

If you have any leads, you can e-mail Mary at

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