Motherhood is one of those life experiences that transforms the women who opt for it, changing the perfectly balanced person into a lunatic given to sudden fears and a bizarre interest in her beloved progeny’s bodily functions. At once comic and terrifying, new motherhood compels a woman to be constantly inventive while keeping a tight grip on her sanity. It’s also usually a time when women used to the camaraderie of the workforce have to contend with the social isolation of their new status as stay-at-home moms. For the generation of Internet savvy Indian women who had their children in the mid 2000s, blogging was the best way to recreate that sense of community and a profusion of blogs dealing with the joys and terrors of motherhood sprang up. Plenty of them including sunayanaroy, madmomma, Mamasaysso and boosbabytalk are still active and a few later arrivals like mommygolightly have also appeared but the scene doesn’t seem as vibrant as it was in 2005.
“From medical to parenting advice and attitudes towards raising children, blogging has been helpful,” says writer Kiran Manral whose seven-year-old karmickids blog connected her to other mothers. “There isn’t always an older person around and the first few years of raising a child gets tough in an urban setting,” says Manral. Madmomma, the anonymous former journalist too drew some comfort from the online community. “Blogging gave me the opportunity to interact with people who didn’t cringe when I began talking about my kids,” she says reminiscing about the virtual baby shower that other mommybloggers threw for her before the birth of her daughter. “There were hundreds of posts dedicated to me and the baby and each person uploaded a picture of what they would have given me if they were there,” she says.
Inevitably, though, there is an unsavoury side to the scene. “Mommybloggers can be extremely nasty,” says Madmomma recounting how “some of the nicest mommybloggers would dig up stuff” about the identity of her investment banker husband whose privacy she jealously guards. There was also abuse to contend with. “People don’t like a mommyblogger to have opinions,” says Madmomma recounting how posts on the Bihar floods and on reservations got vicious reactions including a comment from an anonymous handle that read: “I hope your brother dies and your kids become beachbums”. Ironic posts or even those that don’t express an outright adoration of some childhood behavior also come in for flack.
“People consider it sacrilege to poke fun at mommyhood or god forbid, babies!” says Lalita Iyer whose mommygolightly blog has led to a book deal. Apart from an absence of a sense of humour, blogs by Indian mothers, unlike those by women in the US, have rarely been able to bring about real change. Where, for instance, are bloggers like Erin Kotecki Vest (queenofspainblog.com) who has written about her struggle with lupus and made references to her son grappling with OCD? Exceptions like Manral who wrote a heartfelt early post about her son’s Pervasive Development Disorder that meant his developmental milestones were initially delayed, do exist, but few Indian mothers are willing to be as open. Possibly, as a result, Indian mommyblogs have not been as wildly profitable as Heather Armstrong’s.
“As a culture, we hesitate to put ourselves totally out there. To be a mommy blog that is truly profitable, you have to be completely accessible, all of you, your family, friends, universe, everything. Plus our commitment to blogging is much weaker,” says Iyer.
Perhaps a combination of that lack of commitment and the ascendence of social networking has leached the energy out of the Indian mommyblogging subculture. Unlike the early-to-mid noughties when many new mothers blogged to express themselves, younger women now seem to prefer Facebook and Twitter.
“A lot of people have moved on to other things. Blogging was a phase in their lives. Some couldn’t deal with the intrusiveness of readers, others had pressure from family members to stop discussing matters online while still others simply got caught up in the business of living,” says Sunayana Roy.
Riti Kaunteya who blogs at itchingtowriteblogs contends that every sort of online medium goes through a life cycle: “Mommy blogging was at its peak in 2006. Orkut was around six years back. Now, fb and twitter are hot.” She believes the perceived decline of the Indian mommyblogging scene could be attributed to a generational shift. “The children have grown up and therefore there are fewer milestones to blog about,” she says.
Sociologist Zainab Bawa points out that apart from the low internet penetration in the country which means Indian mommybloggers enjoy nothing like the influence of their US counterparts, studies by Anja Kovacs of the Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru, have shown that advocacy on the Internet in India has been stunted. Indeed, India has been ranked 33rd on a list of 61 countries in Tim Berners Lee’s new web index that measures how effectively countries are using the Net to change lives. Will the Indian online world look back at mommyblogging as the transitory phase of a generation or will a new set of mothers take to blogs and make them a powerful medium for change? The answer to that question possibly lies with the tech soothsayers of the future.