Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The profane side of motherhood

Via Amit, a link to an excellent piece by Mrinal Pande: Busting the myth of the sacred mother, about the very one-sided portrayals of motherhood (as an unequivocally hallowed and rewarding experience) that have been handed down through human history. Well worth reading for a number of reasons, and I find Pande’s views on women writers interesting since she herself is the daughter of the renowned Hindi writer Shivani, who balanced her personal and professional lives at a time when this was much more of a struggle for Indian women. (Incidentally Mrinal’s sister Ira wrote this wonderful book about their mother.)

Very pressed for time just now, but I’ll try to update this post with accounts of some of the discussions I’ve had with women friends (both those who are mothers and those who never intend to have children) on the subject. Meanwhile, here’s an old review I wrote of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, a very powerful book about a woman who just can’t bring herself to love her firstborn child.


  1. It is always a one sided potrayal in such cases , however I have come across many females who too do not want to have children.

    Another example is Helen Mirren , great actress as she is , she has been notorious for appearing nude in many movies including a farcical caligula. She has also been quite famous for her quote about not having any Maternal instinct whatsoever.

  2. I don't think Mrinal Pande's article is deep or thoughtful in any way. Forgive me, but it sounds like a puerile attempt by a teenager trying to impress his teacher by writing an abstract essay in class. Two points are worth considering :

    1.Where is the article headed ? agreed that the points are relevant but where is a proper reasoning? Confused rants about balancing work and children are nothing new. The vague reference about a woman murdering her child is again an odious tribute to false notion of saintly motherhood.

    2.What are the writer's views on the matter ,the viewpoint presented here is neither against or in favour of "societal" motherhood. This piece reminds me of Pankaj Mishra's quote on the Moor's Last sigh. " It seems Rushdie is evolving a new form of Anti-Literature".

  3. the viewpoint presented here is neither against or in favour of "societal" motherhood

    Shwet: I don't see why there has to be a definite "for" or "against" view. In a topic as complex as this one, I would probably not have much respect for a writer who had a definite view. Nothing wrong with just making a few observations about a topic that usually doesn't get discussed, especially in a country like India.

    I agree that the article seems a bit teenager-essayish in places, but it would have been even more so if Pande had given it a tidy conclusion, or "headed" somewhere definite.

  4. I won't argure the merits of the article, the writing style, or whether it takes a stance against societal motherhood, etc.

    To me the article was thought provoking and made a clear point.

    The point is not whether a woman should have kids, whether she should work, or juggle both or do neither :) ...

    The point is whether our society has been conditioned to "expect" a certain behaviour from a woman. The point is whether the woman has the freedom of choice to make choices that we take for granted. The point is, whether there are repurcussions if a woman chooses to make decisions considered outside the expected "norm"


  5. Glad to see the Shivani reference. I spent more time in my teens reading dog-eared Shivani novels rather than the rampant Mills n Boons..the Shivani novels were definitely spicier, and ahead of their time.

  6. Hi Jai,

    To an extent you are right in thinking that a "for" and "against" view in this kind of a discussion is an exercise in futility. However I would have been satisfied if at least the writer had expressed her feelings about the issue, which again were not expressed lucidly. Being a working mother herself she would have been better suited to at least having a viewpoint . In writing; this is what impresses me , when the writer himself has experienced what he is writing about. The whole spectre somehow is visible in the writing rather than any imlicit or tacit references.In other words you get a flavour of opinion. Here to me it was just opinion presented as an article , I am not criticising the article just expressing my viewpoint.

  7. although it may be familiar theme it is still extremely relevant. While children may be a wonderful experience for some...for others they become the obstacles that prevent a person from achieving a sense of peace and fulfillment in work or in marriage...but I feel this is the case for both father and mother...for if a woman's body becomes changed drastically, altering her self confidence in her sexuality, while taking from she and her husband most of the precious alone time moments where they might be intimate...and possibly fostering a sense of resentment towards the husband and his seemingly more unfettered life...then both parties suffer. There are few things less appealing than a mother launching a guilt trip at her husband or children...and even if a distressed mother does not launch her unhappiness at others and produces an appearance of grace and forebearance...she creates for her children a model of marriage which they ultimately discover is a disguise for a life of bitter sacrifice in exchange for a respectable, outward show. Children , I feel, only deserve parents who not only want them deeply, but who also have strong enough marriages that can endure the difficulties that parenthood brings with it; less time, less money, less space. But still in India is considered fairly standard that little girls must wish to grow up and raise families...even as they listen to their aunties and mothers complain and sigh...I'm not terrifically certain that I can even entertain the possibility of children. The question shouldn't be "why aren't you" but "why ARE you having children?" and people seem more ready with an answer why "not" than why they are....childbearing then becomes nothing more than a habit than a choice...and it would be awful to realise you had been born into the world "out of habit"