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Of Mothers and Others is a beautiful collection of short writing about motherhood, which will make you laugh and cry – sometimes at the same time.
By Unmana Datta
I picked up Of Mothers and Others, a collection of essays, stories, and poems about motherhood edited by Jaishree Misra, with some trepidation. Would the book be full of tales of changing diapers and applying salve on bruised knees? Wasn’t it an unlikely book to please someone like me, who has only a cursory interest in motherhood?
Thankfully, I was wrong. Not just mothers, but also us others can enjoy many of the pieces in these books. Smriti Lamech’s ‘Determination’ lured me in. In a country where sons are almost invariably preferred to daughters, Lamech’s strong wish for a daughter – even unto the initial rejection of her son – was refreshing, poignant, and funny. Anita Roy’s delightfully-named ‘Eating Baby’ is a detailed look at her infant son’s eating habits – and contrary to my misgivings, I was drawn in and found myself smiling along.
Jai Arjun Singh’s essay on mothers in Hindi movies, ‘Milky Ways’, is typical of his writing: full of laugh-out-loud lines and unexpected insights. ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ by Sarita Mandanna made me shudder at the cold-bloodedness of the fictional mother.
Huma Quraishi’s ‘The State Can’t Snatch Away Our Children’ is a welcome look at human rights abuses in Kashmir, but I found the abrupt narrative shifts from personal anecdotes to societal justice with long quotes from activists jarring.
Urvashi Butalia’s ‘Childless, Naturally’ explores the state of the childless woman in a society that reveres mothers. It’s a welcome perspective, but I found it somewhat cliché-ridden, and the proclamation at the end that the childless state is “a good place to be” seemed obvious and somewhat defensive.
My very favourite is Andromeda Nebula’s ‘Blankets in the Sky’, a heart-rending account by a mother of her two little adopted daughters, sisters by biology as well as relationship, who cling to each other as they eye the world around them, including their adoptive parents, with mistrust. Bag packed so that they could run away, they presented a united front against the world. The story of how they slowly somewhat loosened their ties to each other as they dug in their roots in their new home made me tear up.
Many of the poems are beautiful too: I especially liked the ones by Tishani Doshi.
Whether you are a mother or not, you’ll probably find something in Of Mothers and Others to delight or touch you.
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