Focus on mothers

Of Mothers and Others is an anthology compiled to champion the worthy cause of the ‘Save the children’ foundation. “The sad truth is that one’s chances of survival mostly depend on where one is born, and into which strata of society.

For the poor, it is the lottery rather that the right to life that determines their future,” ruefully comments Thomas Chandy, the CEO of the foundation, in the preface.

Shabana Azmi, in her foreword, laments the needless deaths of children in India, “India accounts for one-fifth of world’s burden of child mortality with 1.7 million children dying every year. We lose one child every nineteen seconds: what’s worse, most of these deaths can be easily prevented.”

The anthology has a good cross-section of authors, thoughts and style with a wide variety of themes and approaches. Jaishree Misra, herself a well-known writer, has done a good job of bringing together more than 20 writers who have thrown light on many aspects of motherhood — a first-time mother, grandmother, mother of a special needs child, mother of grown up children, mother of an adopted child, and many more — through fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Sharing space with well-known names that include Shashi Deshpande, Shinie Antony, Jahnavi Barua and Namita Gokhale are quite a few talented new writers as well.

The collection begins with Smirti Lamech’s story about a mother who obsesses over wanting a girl all through the nine months of pregnancy, but ends up with a boy. Her instant disappointment and an eventual unavoidable love towards her child make the rest of the story.

Then there is Anita Roy, a first-time mother, sharing her anguish having to wean her baby of breast milk and start on solid foods. Nothing seems good enough for her boy and she goes on to dedicating her life to the toddler’s fluctuating taste-buds. This is a story most NRI mothers can relate to — they are quite on their own with a baby in a foreign land and the first thing that goes for a toss is common sense parenting.

Shinie Antony is one of the few writers in India who makes you want to read her stories for the inimitable one liners, pithy satire, and deadpan humour. And, at the same time, she also succeeds in making the angst of her characters all too palpable to readers.

Her story in this collection, The First Cry, is no different. Here the protagonist Sophie fails to conceive even after a decade of trying — “copulation by the clock and calendar, the long vigil, the medical onslaught, two feet propped up on a pillow all night....marching in missionary position in the battlefield of their bed month after month, night after night, for ten long years. Left-right-left.

” Then, when she has given up hope and reconciled to being childless, Sophie finds herself pregnant. Rather than joy, she is hit by a complete disbelief that she could actually be pregnant. “She knew hundred per cent that when the time came and they cut her open, they’d find — a) nothing; b) a monster with two horns and a tail; c) a stuffed toy; d) a foetus dunked face-down in its own amniotic fluid. Option d, click-clicked a tongue in her head...” Antony makes you pray that Sophie is wrong for Sophie’s own sake.

The other strong plusses in the collection are Shashi Deshpande’s inspiring essay on how she balanced her writing career with that of motherhood, Jahnavi Barua’s take on pregnancy from a doctor’s perspective, Tishani Doshi’s poems on female infanticide, and Shalini Sinha’s piece on raising a special needs child. Manju Kapur’s piece on the gut-wrenching grief she goes through having lost her 21 year old daughter leaves you shaken.

For all the goodness the book packs, there are some which are not up to the mark, and some, though well-written, are not a good fit into this anthology. Humra Quraishi’s The State Can’t Snatch Away Our Children starts off strong with the author’s strong and sensitive bond with her children.

But then the narrative abruptly becomes more about her angst against right-wing extremism than about mothers. Though she tries to bring to attention the plight of the Kashmiri mothers who have lost their sons to terrorism, the essay reads more like a journalistic report on the militancy in Kashmir and less about the mothers in the valley.

Kishwar Desai’s fiction piece Devi Makers is a tad too plain in both its narrative and theme. Nisha Susan’s Missed Call is too long and abstract. Some non-fiction pieces could have been shorter since the authors end up repeating themselves which tires the readers out. Cases in point — essays by Urvashi Butalia, Bulbul Sharma and Anita Roy — are read best as short blogs than ten-page-long stories. But all in all, the anthology makes a good, one-time read.

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