September 22, 2020

Review of Momspeak by Pooja Pande on Mums and Stories

Mom Speak- The funny bittersweet story of motherhood in India by Pooja Pande, published by Penguin books is not a biography or a regular parenting book but truly moms are speaking on their real life experiences and what worked and what didn’t. Pooja who has been a mum, editor, author writes the narrative through her own parenting experience and with that of several others. The style in writing addresses questions like was it a normal delivery or not, or wishes like hope mother and baby are fine bring the humour element when one looks back at pregnancy, post pregnancy-childbirth phase in hindsight.

There are select chapters like Selective Badhai ho, Ain’t it funny bring those instances that most of us have lived through.

What stands as highlights is the experiences of well-known authors and writers like Natasha Bhadwar, Nisha Susan, eminent personalities like Kamla Bhasin their stories narrated in their own voices.  Also the liberal use of Hindi and English in conversational style makes it as though these personalities are standing in front of you and talking about their motherhood experience.

However the stories that make you pick the book or read it as an e-book again and again is the chapter written with the story of Kamla Bhasin who loses her grown up daughter to suicide or her journey of not wanting the child and then taking and owning the decision of being a mom to her own. Motherhood in her case took different twists and turns sometimes destiny acting wicked when her parenting journey continued with her second child to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Another story is of Manju Iyer talking of being a mom to an autistic child. Manju talks about how from denial to acceptance and later in charge to help many parents in similar situation, she has been a proud mom to Lavanya. It is these diverse stories and even bolder voices of  many more like the moms who work as sex workers and many more facets that truly bring the essence of the book.

There are also other chapters like Motherhood as Calling where Sarita a full time stay at home mum who left her job takes her mom role quite seriously and even identifies herself as I am Sarita, mother to two kids. These are chapters that make you as a reader and parent want to read it again.

Mums and Stories definitely recommends this book for all parents, especially moms. Also if you are a bold and courageous mom who has been through a phase which is mothering a special child, a single parent, you are likely to find your own voice here.

Mums and Stories has always been encouraging to read physical books than e-book formats. But this one stood out during the pandemic and it brings in all the relatable moments of motherhood. We give it a 4 on 5

Here is a short excerpt of the book

And so it is evidence of our limited imagination alone that ‘normal’ defines us so rigidly. Even a divorce, when we do swallow it, must adhere to some semblance of this normal. As Priya puts it, ‘The concept of sole custody is alien. I have to carry my divorce settlement and flash it in everyone’s face.’ This is a situation she faces in every mundane transaction, which she sums up in good humour, ‘There’s the practical aspect—school admissions, passport renewals, Mahindra holiday lucky draws—basically everything, where you’re asked for your husband to show up. If he’s dead, you’re off the hook. If you’re divorced, it’s like they don’t understand and can’t assimilate the information. Surely he can come for school admissions; he has to sign off on your child’s passport papers.’ And then there is the social aspect, ‘It is assumed that since I have a child in tow, there must be a husband somewhere. When I say I left him a while back, I get many different reactions. There will be some who’ll say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” in the tone you use to pay condolences to the dead. Some will immediately start talking about how divorce is becoming so much more common in India and it’s largely due to the split up of the joint family system and women wanting to work and have independence.’

The single mother syndrome haunts Priya in downright absurd ways. When you hear her talk, you find yourself really listening to the sound of our collective cultural shame. Like when she deconstructs the single-mother-as-hunter trope, ‘I find that people often think single mothers are on the lookout to get their babies new fathers. That is usually far from the truth.’ Or an attempt at sympathy gone madly askew. ‘Another strange thing I encounter is that women often start telling me about how they are also almost single mothers, because the husband is so busy. This really annoys me, because they have no idea what single parenting entails. No financial support, no emotional, moral or physical support. You’re a friggin’ one-woman army.’

But nowhere does the gender imbalance affirm its ugly head as when single mothers are compared with single fathers—the men in Priya’s situation. She minces no words, ‘Single fathers are seen as poor stray puppies that need to be looked after and taken care of. They aren’t expected to do it all alone; they need to find a partner to take care of them, and their children need a mother. This might have nothing to do with how the single father himself behaves or wants things to be, but it is how society mostly responds to them.’ This connects with the ‘inequity in parenting’ that’s prevalent in any case, Priya feels. ‘Over the years I have been astounded by it time and again. The mother does it all while the father’s life goes on as usual. In the few cases that that’s not true, the father is nearly applauded as a superhero for being so involved. The burden of parenting is rarely split evenly. And hence, I do feel this image of perfect motherhood is glorified everywhere so women can fall into the role and keep the show running. I feel like it’s definitely a patriarchal construct, the ever-loving, ever-sacrificing mother. And women who do motherhood differently, or also take their own needs into account, face a fair amount of judgement.’

Pooja Pande –Photograph courtesy-  The Hassanwalia Sisters).

The book can be purchased here

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