May a good source be with you.

I Have Relived My Childhood Through This Book, And I Am Sure So Will You: Ravish Kumar

Natasha’s India and Natasha in Today’s India| Foreword to the updated edition of Natasha Badhwar's book, My Daughter's Mum.

‘Love jihadis are sneaky. They are experts at love. They can adore you even if you insist on hating them.’

You arrive at this sentence on page number 216 of this book, My Daughters’ Mum. And these words come back to stir you exactly 37 pages later, after you have turned the last page of this book.

Natasha Badhwar’s grandparents were uprooted from their home in Lahore during the partition of India in 1947 and she has grown up listening to their stories from her mother. In 1984, she witnesses a home in her neighbourhood being looted and burnt in the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi. In 2002, as a video journalist, she goes to cover the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and finds herself filming the remains of a home plundered by rioters. Her own buried memories awaken and clash with each other.

2002 is also the year when Natasha Badhwar from New Delhi and Afzal from Adilabad village in Ghazipur decide to get married. In 2017, Natasha Badhwar writes that love jihadis are Professors of Love. You may give them hate, but they can still offer love in return. She writes, ‘Love is hated. Hate is loved.’

Sahar, Aliza and Naseem’s childhoods don’t just inspire one to listen carefully.

At some point in her childhood, Natasha had stopped writing after being reprimanded for it. After the birth of her second daughter, Aliza, she starts writing an anonymous blog. Over the years, she finds the courage to write about her attempt to commit suicide as a child. First she writes to belong and be understood. Next she writes to create a nurturing space for love. She writes to be able to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. To erase hierarchies. To bring alive the inner child in everyone. She writes to be forgiven, and to heal others.

Also Read: Explain It To Me Like I’m A 10-year-old

This book is a personal journey to discover oneself in a new way, along with getting to understand her growing children, Sahar, Aliza and Naseem. And yet, this journey is incomplete unless it is viewed alongside dateline India.

This book is of no use for parents who search for parenting tips online, or those who rely on CCTV cameras in bathrooms and classrooms to keep an eye on their children. You can watch their every move through cameras and know that they are safe, but you cannot listen to your children through them.

However, as parents if you do turn to this book for an inner dialogue, a new world will begin to unravel before your eyes. I have relived my childhood through this book, and I am sure so will you. I am also certain that this book will make us better grandparents. This book is bound to give us new insights into how to participate in the childhood of children. How to restore the joy of our own inner child.

Sahar, Aliza and Naseem’s childhoods don’t just inspire one to listen carefully. It also inspires one to tell stories. We need to talk about the aunt who is harsh and impatient with her own daughter, and yet so loving towards Naseem. The child expresses her dissonance and we must understand what she is telling us.

In this book, a mother shares guilty secrets of her own childhood with her daughter—about how she had once schemed to cheat in her Sanskrit exams. How petrified she was that she would get caught. How would her mother deal with this betrayal if she got caught and shamed? The daughter nods in agreement. She has a confession to make. She also worries about her mother’s reaction if she were to make a mistake. How effortlessly Natasha relieves herself of the burden of childhood guilt, and how easily she helps her child become aware of her own conscience.

Also Read: Married To A Muslim — He Fasts, I Feast

Natasha writes that raising children may not be child’s play, but it is like a game. She inspires the reader to play the game too.

Each chapter of this book will open a door within you. Playing the game of parenting is like negotiating a complex web. The blueprint of parenting—how you want to raise your children and what you want them to become—comes from your deep subconscious. In the process of parenting, we often repeat our own childhood patterns, inadvertently forcing it on our children.

“The greatest gift you can give your child: Self-esteem.”

Raised by authoritarian “tiger parents,” we often fall into the same pattern of behaviour with our own children. Natasha warns against this and exposes this tendency in her own self. She talks about Amy Chua, the Chinese American mother who pushes her daughter to excel in both music and academics. As an immigrant, it had been critical for her to succeed in America. She doesn’t give her daughter the permission to fail at any cost. The Tiger Mom loses out on enjoying the game of parenting.

Natasha has also been raised in a similar, strict household. The children had to succeed, there was no other alternative. As a child she cut out an article from a copy of Reader’s Digest and stuck it in her diary. It was titled, “The greatest gift you can give your child: Self-esteem.”

One moment this book belongs to a mother, in the next moment, it is owned by her three daughters. If this book were a home, in its courtyard, you will see many diverse childhoods playing together. On one such afternoon in a village in Ghazipur, cousins from Karachi, Delhi and Lucknow are watching Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi together. The child from Karachi is excited to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah on screen, a man she knows as Quaid-e-Azam. The girls from Delhi are riveted by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. As the children watch the violence on screen when India is partitioned in 1947, the mother revisits her own personal history and how it is tied to the nation. Actually Natasha isn’t just a mother. A professional cameraperson, she is trained to look at life through a clear-eyed lens. Just as a camera would reveal a scene as it is. This chapter ends with a final thought from the children, ‘Mamma, in this world there are many different worlds like India, America, Pakistan, but everywhere there is the same sky.’

‘I am a Muslim, a Hindu, an Indian and I love Harry Potter’, Aliza had written in her diary once. When a hairdresser asks Aliza if she is a Muslim, she nods a yes. Her younger sister Naseem elaborated, ‘We are Hindu and Muslim’. The barber insists that they cannot be both. Natasha responds, ‘May be in your family you cannot but in our family we can. We can be whatever we choose to be.’

When Mohammad Akhlaq is lynched by a mob in his own home in Dadri, the news reaches Natasha’s home— which is 10 kms away—before it is even reported in the newspapers. Despite herself, she is assaulted by fear. Can this happen to them too? She is shamed by her own thoughts, yet she cannot stop imagining how she will react if a mob attacks her family. Who will they call? How will they escape? She is thankful that her husband, Afzal, is not at home and they can be anxious in their own separate spaces. This moment was not just about a mob lynching one man. The idea of India itself had been attacked.

In the chapter, ‘Papa As the Nation I know’, Natasha reminisces that her father-in-law had got their wedding invitation card printed in three languages—Hindi, Urdu and English. On the card were printed the names of the Hindu parents of his new daughter-in-law. Years later, Natasha writes about caring for her ailing father-in-law, and this paragraph in particular deserves your attention.

This man, lying sick in bed, is the India I was born in. He is the India that I care to live in—an India that honours my choices and meets me where I am; that listens to each opinion; that reinvents itself to make place for my children.

You cannot read this book without connecting it to the state of the world today. This is not a guidebook on child-rearing. This is a book on how to raise a nation. You will come across several flowers when you pass through the flower bed of Natasha’s delicate and beautiful sentences. Sharp, jagged questions won’t push against you here. Yet you will feel shaken. People who are looking for a list of top ten tips on parenting will also benefit immensely, and more, from this book. There is a strong chance that the author’s ten tips will open a hundred doors within you.

Also Read: So What If I Am A Muslim? So What If I Am A Pakistani?

I haven’t learnt to become a parent from Google. I don’t search for wisdom online. I recommend that you don’t succumb either. Working in television has taken away a lot from me. This book makes me realise what all I have lost on the way.

Just today, I was talking to my younger daughter. She said to me, ‘You are silly.’

‘I am brilliant,’ I said in my defence.

So she asked me a few questions. ‘Tell me what homework Nobita gets in Japan?’

I wracked my brains. Nobita is from Japan, so I guessed that his homework will probably be about some gadget. ‘To fly a helicopter,’ I replied.

She laughed and replied, ‘You don’t know anything. Okay, one more question. How many marks does Nobita get in class?’

‘10 out of 10,’ I said.

My little daughter said, ‘Nobita gets a zero, Papa. You know nothing. That’s why you are stupid. And that’s why I ask you to not read books, but to watch cartoons.’

It does take a village to raise a child. To raise your inner child. Choose your village.’  

The mother in this book isn’t anything like the one Bollywood films have popularized. She isn’t overflowing with tears and maternal love. She is not a self-sacrificing goddess. In the chapter, ‘My husband is not fond of husbands’, Afzal accuses Natasha of behaving like the husband in their relationship. It’s funny to overhear them bickering over roles, trying to disregard stereotypical expectations and create a space for their own whole selves. A word of caution for aspiring supermoms looking for a book to guide them: You may be disappointed. Natasha isn’t raising her children to be prodigies. They don’t seem like children being raised prematurely in a coaching centre, preparing to take IIT entrance exams.

As she raises her children and herself, Natasha is also exploring how to be a responsible and happy citizen. How to be part of the kind of civil society that has been imagined so creatively in the Constitution of India.

The beauty of this book lies in its sentences. You will find small sentences playing with each other on these pages, as if they are toddlers. Sentences that are childlike and innocent, that seem to stop to catch a breath after making a short, quick run. Sentences that seem to be in their own childhood.

We were one.
Aliza was born.
We were free. World-view things.
I consoled her.
Aliza was unconvinced. Ears are useful.

Love is hated. Hate is loved.

I don’t want to create a sample of all short sentences here. I enjoyed them very much, and I have collected some of them together for you. They are proof that one can communicate perfectly well without resorting to long-winded sentences. The shallow political discourse of our times has confused our expressions and articulation. This book shows us how to simplify our language, and ourselves.

Pulwama

There are so many stories with deeper connections here. Gandhi used to dress simply because he knew that the world listened to him. Today, so many leaders deliberately dress extravagantly, as if to say, it is more important to look at me, it isn’t necessary to listen to my words. In Aliza’s life, when she feels she is not being heard by her mother, she demands to dress up like a fairy princess. When she gets her mother’s attention and feels connected again, she returns to wearing her simple everyday clothes.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that this is a memoir about an elite family. You won’t be able to forgive yourself for being so presumptuous. In the experiential world of Natasha and Afzal, the village is as significant as their location in Delhi is. Just think about this one sentence. The markets that sell top ten parenting tips may not have the wisdom of this one sentence: ‘It does take a village to raise a child. To raise your inner child. Choose your village.’

RAVISH KUMAR

*Ravish Kumar is a broadcast journalist, poet and author of Ishq Mein Shahar Hona (A City Happens in Love) and The Free Voice.

(Translated from Hindi by Anu Singh Choudhary)

अब आप न्यूज़ सेंट्रल 24x7 को हिंदी में पढ़ सकते हैं।यहाँ क्लिक करें
+