The hottest new movie doing the rounds of Cannes at the moment is We Need to Talk about Kevin which is based on the disturbing book of the same name, by American author Lionel Shriver. For years now, I have been trying to get my fellow mothers to read it, but with little success because it’s not a book for the fainthearted. This is a book that will blow all your cosy fantasies about motherhood to smithereens, and will make every mother whisper, if only under her breath, “Yes, I know what she means.”
Eva, a successful businesswoman, is ambivalent about motherhood, but ends up being persuaded to take the leap by her husband. She never takes to being a mother, and eventually her son Kevin ends up committing a school massacre.
Kevin is the embodiment of evil from the get go, but Shriver’s skill lies in making him and Eva relatable. We can all recognise shades of Kevin in our children. The refusal to sleep at 2:00 am, the stubborn resistance to potty training, the rude teenager who rebels against everything and everyone. Eva’s initial fear of becoming a mom, and later visceral anger as her son refuses to do anything she wants, is also immediately recognisable to many — maybe even most —mothers.
Shriver’s book came out in 2005, after being rejected by over 30 publishers. Since then, there has been deluge of “bad parent” writing in the US. Novelist Ayelet Waldman kicked off a massive controversy, and was invited on Oprah, when she admitted to loving her husband (Michael Chabon) more than her children in the New York Times. Michael Lewis’ recent book, Home Game: The Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, charts – in his words – “this persistent and disturbing gap between what I was meant to feel and what I actually felt. I expected to feel overcome with joy, when I actually felt bored.”
Today, ‘bad parent’ stories are no longer the preserve of literary writers. Parenting website Babble.com gets 1.8 million visitors a day, mostly due to its popular column “Bad Parent”, a section in which parents confess their sins, everything from letting their children eat too much junk food to forgetting them at the babysitter’s. Another website, True Mom Confessions, gathered more than 500,000 confessions from real life mothers, spawning a best-selling book.
Like so many things American, the “Bad Parent” movement has gone a bit over the top, and become a little too obsessive, self-indulgent and unnecessarily provocative. But at the very least, moms in the West have an outlet to vent about the hard parts of parenting and recognise that they are not alone in being sick of entertaining their children all day, or in being desperate to go back to work.
We Indian mothers have no such luck. This is the land of Bharat Mata, fanatically devoted to the cult of the good mother. The ideal Bharatiya naari is always a mother, but not just any mother. She’s a smiling martyr who adores every minute of motherhood from changing dirty diapers to spending hours on homework, always puts her family first, and would never, ever think of going out to work. It’s this perfect mother we see everywhere from Bollywood movies to TV soaps and Horlicks ads. Meanwhile, children in the movies are always cute, perfectly behaved, impeccably dressed angels who sing, dance and help the aged. Nobody talks about the hours of pacing trying to get a cranky baby to sleep, the nerve-wracking tantrums of a five-year old, wardrobe spattered with puke and pee, or the absolute mind crushing boredom of being a stay-at -home mom.
Our real life role models are usually Bollywood mothers with a convoy of maids, and with none of the usual problems of balancing careers and motherhood. So it’s no surprise that we usually get saccharine quotes from the likes of Kajol, “I was born to be a mother because motherhood is my exclusive niche in life.” Here’s Farah Khan on the subject of motherhood in Mid-Day. “Having triplets isn’t difficult at all.” This would be so much more believable if the story wasn’t accompanied by a picture of Farah out and about, carrying a yummy mummy handbag, while each of her triplets is shouldered by a separate nanny.
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