The room swarmed with dreams incarnate, and the noise of children reverberated. They munch chocolate cake, reached for fried chiken and climbed on the piano bench to pound the keys.

Dark-haired, dark-eyed children clutched at parents' elbows to plead for another doughnut, squealed with delight during games of tag and plopped warm and laughing into parents' waiting laps.

Amid the swirl of the pre-holiday party, adults watched and celebrated the materialization of a dream -- a desire for children, who had been denied for a time to each one of them.

The gathering was the annual party for families who hve adopted children from India. There are about 50 such families in the Washington metropolitan area.

Most of the children came from orphanages run by the Missionaries of Charity -- the Catholic order established in India by Mother Teresa, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The children who are available for adoption, about three-quarters of whom are girls, are abandoned or given up for adoption because of poverty, malnutrition, tuberculosis, handicaps or illegitimacy. Many suffer from a variety of deseases and little, if anything, is known about their history of prenatal care. Few have known birthdates.

The talk at the party was the usual parent talk about children, but with a slightly different ring.

"How long have you had her?"

"We picked her up at the airport last spring."

"Did she have any medical problems?"

"Not really. Just some lice, and the pediatrician thinks she may have had childhood TB."

For the parents, "conception" of their adopted children took place in a Washington living room where they looked at the face in a handful of snapshots. "Gestation" lasted through the months of complicated paperwork necessary for inter-country adoptions. "Delivery" usually took place at National or Dulles airport, where the chilren arrived in the arms of flight attendants who donated days off and free flights to shepherd the children halfway around the world.

"What a funny way to get a baby," said one parent, laughing and clutching a 5-month-old.

"I can't say we perceived ahead of time that this would be the year of the child and the year of the refugee," said Michael J. Remington, 34, an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee. "But maybe we were drifting in that direction on a personal level at the same time the Nobel commission and world leaders were."

Remington and his wife Francoise 32, are the adoptive parents of Anjali Cecile, a tiny, dainty child who is nearly 2 years old. She was abandoned Dec. 23, 1977, on the steps of a Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Delhi.

The child weighed six pounds at birth, but had gained only one pound by the time the Remingtons picked her up at the airport three months later.

The first three months with the Remingtons were difficult because, although the baby was hungry, she could have only very diluted formula while doctors corrected her malnutrition.

Most parents at the gathering had tried to adopt children through domestic agencies, but were discouraged by the waiting and regulations. Many would not have qualified for a U.S. adoption.

Neil and Ellen Alterman of Fairfax suspect they would never have gotten a child through a local agency. Neil Alterman, 35, had been divorced, and he and Ellen are of different religions. Ellen alterman, 33, is confined to a wheelchair by polio. After her marriage, a gynecologist warned her she could not survive a pregnancy.

"He told me 'go in and get sterilized and by the way, realize that no one will allow you to adopt because there are all these normal families'" who want to adopt, she recalled.

Local agencies told the couple they had to be married for three years and that there was a four-year waiting list. By the time they were married for three years, there would be a seven-year waiting list, they were told. They began to look elsewhere.

Through the Missionaries of Charity, the Altermans finally got Sandra Mini, a silky-haired child of 3 1/2 who weighted 23 pounds.

Neil Alterman glows when he remembers the scene at the airport which climaxed a 24-hour wait. Ground crew on duty who had taken an interest in them refused to service planes until they saw the child safely delivered to her adoptive parents.

Dorree Waldbaum, 38 and her husband Eric, 41 of Annapolis, were considered too old to adopt by U.S. standards. Last August they went to India and through a new agency in Poona, called Shreevatsa, adopted Kiran Tara, now 5 months old.

"American agencies find very arbitrary means of excluding people wanting to adopt) without looking into the character of the family," said Eric Waldbaum. "In our society, we pride ourselves on our democratic structure and equal opportunity . . . but there's nothing democratic (about adoption) and there's no equal opportunity. And the agencies defend themselves by saying there are not enough babies."

Joel and Joyce Lang of Cheverly had one adopted son and two biological children when they went to Prince George's County Social Services to ask for a fourth child. They wanted to adopt a hard-to-place child -- older, handicapped or of mixed race -- for which agencies traditionally complain they cannot find homes.

The Langs said they were told there were no children in that category. They suspect they were ruled out because the family already has three children.

They too finally reached the Missionaries of Charity and found themselves looking through snapshots, choosing a child. They chose a 7-year-old named Paula who had had polio.

"These kids are the survivors, "said Joel Lang, a podiatrist. "These are the kids that make it. Internally they are tough kids."

The parents themselves are survivors, said Kathy Shreedhar, who helps prospective parents with arrangements for Indian adoptions.

More than 10,000 people inquire about Indian adoptions each year. But only 300 to 400 persist when they are told what to expect.

The time it takes to complete paperwork varies but delivery of a child takes about six months, once acceptance is established. There is no charge for adoption through the Missionaries of Charity. Parents pay about $1,500 for legal and administrative fees, documents and papers, physical exams and immunizations and transportation.

Presently, 20 children ranging from 7 months to 6 years old are waiting in Missionaries of Charity orphanages to be placed in U.S. homes. Of these, 16 are handicapped.

The Missionaries of Charity stipulate that children under 2 shall be placed with childless couples, couples with one child, couples with children from previous marriages or couples with older adopted children.

Since March, the Missionaries of Charity have declined to place children with anyone who has been divorced.