Review: The Reluctant Mother by Zehra Naqvi
Feminist poet and author Adrienne Rich once wrote that, “We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood”
Feminist poet and author Adrienne Rich once wrote that, “We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood”. Feminist movements and writers, throughout history, have taken issue with the patriarchal discourse surrounding motherhood and the reproductive rights of women. The conversation surrounding the possible upturning of Roe v Wade in the United States has brought this to centre stage. Zehra Naqvi’s The Reluctant Mother, a memoir which comes from a place of brutal honesty, sets out to renegotiate the often problematic popular cultural representations of mothers and motherhood. Laying out her own journey as a young mother, Naqvi’s book is a no holds barred exposition of the ways in which social pressures shape the experience of motherhood, particularly in a South Asian context.
Full of pop culture references to motherhood from the 2000s including Twilight’s Bella, Morticia Adams and even a nod to Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, these diary entries become a way for the author to also highlight a tangible transformation in the very fabric of marriage as an institution in India. “It is a moment suspended in time”, the author writes of her memoir in the introduction. Rightfully so, the narrative describes a coming-of-age of marriages in modern India, a negotiation with the past and a leap of faith into the future. Naqvi’s book is as much an exposition of motherhood as it is of the need for an equal partnership in marriages. Through personal experiences, the author notes how strenuous the experience of raising a child might be for women in long distance marriages. The absent father figure opens up spaces for in-laws to comment on how to raise a “mard bachcha” and toxic masculinity unveils itself at every painful moment. “The effects of patriarchy are never as strongly manifested as when you become a mother,” writes Naqvi.
Simar Bhasin is an independent journalist. She lives in New Delhi
The views expressed are personal