- By Sudha Menon
- Published by Penguin Random House India
As a business journalist and a young mother trying to keep my job while simultaneously raising my only daughter in the nineties, I followed the lives of very successful women leaders, desperately seeking inspiration and some hope from them…
Innumerable relatives and well-wishers described in detail the joy they felt when they saw their babies take their first baby steps or say their first words; they wagged their fingers in admonishment, telling me how those moments with my child were more important than my need to work. I am glad I did not succumb…
During the writing of my new book, Devi, Diva or She-Devil, I had intense conversations with amazing women who have all made their mark in the space of their choice… There were sparkling moments during this conversation, when we exchanged notes on what motherhood and chuckled over shared experiences of being mother. Presenting a few of my favourite moments from these conversations.
‘There was not a single day when there wasn’t some drama’
Honey Irani, child actor turned script writer
“I remember this one time I heard Farhan crying in his room, but I couldn’t find him. He was almost on the ceiling! I have no idea how he got there... all he said was that he was being Spiderman.”
Honey Irani was in her forties when she made her fondness for writing stories into a career in screenplay writing. What made it doubly hard for her at that time was that she was divorced and raising two children – actor Farhan Khan and director Zoya Akhtar – and had to fit her career into her main role as chief nurturer of her kids.
“It was tough at times raising my children by myself. Sometimes I had to also be a father to them. Especially for my son, Farhan, who was very naughty. There was not a single day that there was not some drama. One day I entered the room and I could hear him crying, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. He was almost on the ceiling! I had no idea how he got there and he had no idea how to get down. All he said was that he was being Spiderman.
But I was very lucky. I had my sisters, my niece, Farah and my sister-in-law, who always rallied around me. When I had to be on outdoor shoots for a month, they would come home to be with the kids so I was never stressed about what was happening to my children while I was away.”
‘When a child comes out of your body, I am convinced a guilt chip enters your soul’
Farah Khan, filmmaker and choreographer
“You can either use your motherhood as an excuse to not go out and compete in the world or you can learn to take it in your stride and get on with your new life.”
Farah Khan met me at her home in Mumbai a couple of hours after she had sent off her triplets to school and enjoyed her cherished alone time… reads a newspaper or book and has a cup of tea before she gets into work mode.
“When a child comes out of your body, I am convinced a guilt chip enters your soul and there is nothing you can do to dislodge it. There are only 2 ways to deal with the situation: You can either use your motherhood as an excuse to not go out and compete in the world or you can learn to take it in your stride and get on with your new life.
“When he was younger, my son cried when I went to work and I felt so terrible that I stopped going to parties and toned down my social life so I could spend time with the kids. But when I have work to do, I just have to attend to it.
“I’ve worked too hard to give up on my career now and so, I often sit down my kids and explain to them why I have to go to work. Sometimes this means… telling them that if I don’t work I can’t afford to take them out on that promised vacation! Believe me, that last line always helps. Motherhood has made me softer, more sensitive about the feelings of other people... Sometimes I feel that this new person is not me at all…”
‘I did not want to give up on my dream because I had given birth’
Mary Kom, boxer and Olympic medallist
“I enjoyed the break with my family when I was pregnant the second time. The kids loved that I was there when they returned from school. But I was happy to plunge right back into my work after my son turned 1.”
Mary Kom was training for the Rio Olympics when we met in Pune. Over coffee on late evenings after gruelling training sessions during the day, Mary talked to me about her extraordinary comeback.
“Returning to the boxing ring leaving my one-year-old twins back home was one of the most difficult phases of my life. I missed them terribly and wanted to be with them. I was torn between the pull of the ring and the wails of my babies and so I drove my husband and the family crazy by calling up repeatedly from wherever I was… to give them instructions on how to take care of my kids.
“But I had also spent my entire life wanting to be a boxer – even after a difficult C-section delivery… I did not want to give up on that dream because I had given birth. At one point the insurgency in Manipur resulted in continued blockade of the national highway for 3 months so no supplies were reaching our home town. I was away at a training camp in another city but my mind was constantly on the fact that the family was running out of baby food for the twins. In the end I appealed to my sponsors who somehow managed to get tins of baby food delivered to my home. It was only when that happened that I could go back to training, with my mind at peace…
“It is possible for a woman to have all of it – a career, kids, home maker. I have proven it. I enjoyed the 2-year break at home with my family when I was pregnant the second time, after my 2012 Olympics win. I was happy to do the cooking cleaning, washing, bathing the kids, making their lunch and sending them off to school. I left nothing undone. The kids loved that I could play with them, that I would be there when they returned from school. But I was happy to plunge right back into my work… after my son was a year old… Giving up on a dream has never been an option for me.”
‘It’s not about what books and newspapers tell you. It’s about what you want’
Nisaba Godrej, executive chairperson of Godrej Consumer Products
“Once your choice is made, have confidence in that choice and stand by it.”
I met Nisaba on a mild December evening… and we spoke about her work , motherhood and her then 2-year-old son who occasionally accompanied her to work.
“I am very happy to leave my son with a nanny, or in playschool, or with my mother- or father-in-law because I want to work. Will he (the son) benefit from having me around 100 %? Yes. But I don’t want to do it 100% because even though he is the most important thing in my life, I’m also very passionate about my work at Godrej…. I have learnt to take motherhood month by month. It is for each woman to balance those decisions about work and career. It is not about what books and newspaper articles tell you. It is about what you want… and once your choice is made, have confidence in that choice and stand by it. Also, remember to not judge other women for the choices they make.”
‘My two children are my best productions’
Lillette Dubey, actor
Lillette Dubey met me at her apartment in Mumbai and what was supposed to have been a short interview turned out to be a marathon interview as she talked about how her parents influenced her life and how she herself perceived her parenting role.
“I love children and always knew that when you give birth, you have to commit yourself to raising them. Everything else comes later.” The young mother slowed down her acting career, taking up other interests such as designing clothes and making short ad films, as she spent time with her children and it was only when her elder daughter was in her teens that she picked up the threads of her career, going on to make memorable plays and taking up acting in films including a few made by Hollywood directors.
“I might have made some great plays but I like to think that my two children are my best productions. When I see the two good human beings that they have grown up to be, I think they are my best work till date.”