Editor's note: Writer's Room is a new books column, curated by Krupa Ge along with 15 writers across India. The column seeks to introduce new works as well as allow a peek into the writer's studio, accompanied by recordings of book readings.
Sathya Ramaganapathy is the author of It’s a Mom Thing: Kickass Parenting (Rupa) and writes with great humour about her triumphs and tribulations as a mother of two daughters (9 and 11). What sets Ramaganapathy apart from other bloggers at the outset is her pithy, wry humour. And the fact that she is writing about bringing up slightly older kids. There are also no product placements or endorsements. She is not an ‘influencer’ in that sense either. She is just a woman, trying to tell her story. Her own story and journey as a person while she negotiates motherhood. I am not a mother, but even to me, Ramaganapathy’s book is a sort of assurance. If you are a new mom (or not), and would like to look forward to something, the years beyond the diaper changes and the long hours, It’s a Mom Thing should possibly be your next read. It’s not that Ramaganapathy’s writing paints a rosy picture. It is messy. But it’s precisely the kind of messy that assures you of the fact that you will be able to laugh at it in hindsight. It is also terribly relatable.
In the chapter, In Which We Talk About Something Embarrassing, she writes:
When I visit their school, I watch their friends like a hawk. Who is scratching their head? Who is spreading the lice? Who is the culprit? Not that I plan to do anything once I find out. But it is good to know such things. I look around. I catch another mother’s eye, and start to smile, only to suddenly stop short. It only just occurs to me that she is, in fact, giving me ‘the look’, for she has seen my daughter scratching her head.
What was I doing reading a mom blogger’s book even though I wasn’t looking for advice? It was Ramaganapathy’s humour that first drew me to her work. Motherhood as a topic is a hot potato. It doesn’t help that society places an unimaginably large amount of pressure on mothers. “Being a woman, being a mother in India is taken far too seriously,” Ramaganapathy says when I point out to her that finding humour in mother-ing is in itself such a fresh departure from the discourse on our bookshelves and screens. “There are all these stereotypes that you grow up with too and somewhere along the way I felt this is not how I want to be. When my kids were younger there was very little around me I could draw comfort from. For example, right now diapers are taken for granted. But when my kids were infants, there were still expectations from me. ‘Oh she’s using diapers’, that kind of thing. The traditional way of doing things are staring at you. And at every point of the way you are trying to argue and figure out your own way of doing things.”
These sort of expectations on how you have to parent or be a mother, isn’t unique to our culture of course, because if it was, books on tiger moms and the wisdom of French mothers wouldn’t be topping bestselling lists. Ramaganapathy too read a lot of material on children, parenting, etc which she says helped her deal with a lot of questions.
In the very first chapter of the book she writes:
I’m scared. You know, the stomach churning, finger wringing, wish-I-had-studied-more kind of feeling you get just before the exam. When you know you haven’t prepared well enough and it’s too late to do anything about it. That kind of scared. It is a theatre, after all. One has to be prepared for some drama. ‘What’s the matter?’ asks the gynecologist. ‘Doctor I read every chapter of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Except the one on C-sections. I can’t believe that the one topic I did not study is the only one I am being tested on.’
While these books on parenting are great and offer parents who are looking to do their best, who want to break the old ways; they have almost come to define the parenting book genre — as mere how-to guides, especially in India.
That’s where Ramaganapathy’s book stands out.
“When I am asked to describe the book I actually call it parenting humour. Then people ask me if it will give them ‘tips and tricks’ about raising kids. It’s not a self-help book. It’s not a how-to book. It is my journey and it just happens to be about parenting. Sometimes it is a bit hard to explain to people what it is. I didn’t set out writing to sell a book to an audience actually.” Ramaganapathy started off with 140-word tweets (back when that was the limit) with whatever pithy comebacks her kids had for her and sent these to her husband who was working out of town. “He soon moved on from Twitter but I enjoyed documenting these little conversations. So I started my blog, Things My Kids Say,” she says.
What is also refreshing about Ramaganapathy’s writing is that she says what she wants to. Like, “… And so it goes most mornings, bickering back and forth, till we deposit the kids in the school bus. I do not know what happens after that and I do not want to know either. It’s not in my job description.” And, “I hate any kind of school holiday. Period.”
Her observations about other parents and the things modern parents in cities have to worry about too make for hilarious reading.
Like this one:
At my daughters’ bus stop, over the years, we have been privy to a lot of high speed, James Bond style chases. A boy wearing one shoe running to catch the bus. His mother running behind him, with his other shoe in one hand and a sandwich in the other. A mother in a car, screeching to a halt right in front of the bus, just in time for her kids to scramble out of the car and into the bus. Yet another father racing behind the school bus. His little hatchback bravely chasing the big yellow bus all the way to the next stop. A mother run-walking to the bus stop to make sure the bus doesn’t leave without her son (this was in the pre-WhatsApp era). The son strolling in languidly, as teenagers are wont to do, with his iPod earphones glued to his ears. In all this, the children seem to be cool. It is only the parents who are stressed.
Now if you know anything at all about birthday parties, you would know that the most important part of the party is the return gift or the party favours. Kids act like they have ants in their pants till they get them. Or maybe that’s just down to all that soda. Hosts spend sleepless nights trying to come up with interesting return gifts. This time it’s a — drum roll please — fish. A fish!
There’s also a lot that is heartwarming. As Ramaganapathy watches her older daughter grow taller than her, borrow her clothes, and as her younger daughter expresses an interest in wanting to inherit her things as she thinks her mom has good taste. Throwing sleepovers for girl gangs, watching Tom Cruise movies and playing UNO with them…
In a world that is unkind to daughters and hostile to women, as mothers and women, we often feel a sense of dread, a sliver of anguish and a lot of anger, as we think of the futures of little girls and our own daughters. Ramaganapathy’s voice comes as a calm, cool balm in these distressing times. Here’s a mother writing about the absolute delights (and the hair-splitting despair) of bringing up two daughters, and wondering if she should adopt a third one. Or maybe she won’t because it’s a lot of work. That’s up to her. But just the fact that she’s put it out there in her book, in her writing, being vulnerable, while also being in control of the narrative, is immensely noteworthy.
Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 16:07:53 IST