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Book Review | The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants To Tell

A promising author, Zehra Naqvi, nuancedly articulates how the multi-layered and complicated processes with its intense emotional pressure leave mothers completely burned up in her book, 'The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants to Tell'.

Book Review | The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants To Tell
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Much -revered and almost deific motherhood sprouted by religious injunctions, social practices, cultural prescripts, and ethnic sensibilities - goes well beyond its well-defined boundary - being a place where all love begins and ends. Motherhood symbolizes self-effacement and denial.

The status of the hyped-up emotional and domestic pivot of the family pleasantly prods a mother to relinquish her existence to her offspring. These popular assumptions offer a deceptive and naive simplistic view of a far more complex and intriguing relationship between a mother and child than we perceive

The idolized representation of motherhood has a long tradition in literature, but it did not mirror in some highly acclaimed literary texts such as Hamlet, Madame Bovary and Lolita. Queen Gertrude, Emma Bovary and Charlotte Haze present a repugnant image of a mother who poses a constant psychotic and physical threat to the children.

The mothers, refusing to stick to subservient roles stipulated by the society, fire the imagination of non-conformist authors. These sorts of mothers continue to subvert the dominant narrative of the world that mocks normativity and moral policing.

Here Christina Crawford's memoir, "Mommie Dearest" (1978), comes forth that tears apart all that is traditionally associated with motherhood. Her mother, Joan Crawford, emerges as the grandmama of all socially ambitious and figure conscious women who find pregnancy, birth and rearing too exasperating.

Indian cultural ethos adores motherhood, and hardly any authors treat it with disdain by equating it with "motherdom". A promising author, Zehra Naqvi, nuancedly articulates how the multi-layered and complicated processes with its intense emotional pressure leave mothers completely burned up in her book, "The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants to Tell" (Hayhouse,2021). Far from a misery memoir, the book written in a diary format narrates a tantalizing and equally agonizing story of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.

Contrary to popular perception, her reluctance is not restricted to the early days of motherhood, but it seems to be a festering emotional wound that refuses to heal. Not overly dramatized but reasonably pitched entries of the diary covering four years provide a shifting glimpse into harrowing and fascinating maternal experiences.

Zehra's observations, wrapped in lucent prose, are funny and bittersweet. She seeks to upend the dominant notion that hardly recognizes a mother more than the deliverer of the child. The author who joined the company of prominent Muslim female English writers such as Rakshanda Jaleel, Rana Safavi, Ainee Zaidi, Nazia Erum, Sami Rafique, Ghazala Wahab, Reema Ahmad, Tarana Khan, Huma Khalil, Saba Bashir and the like, astutely refutes that only function of the mother is to breed.

Diary writing closely resembles fiction as intense creative outpourings spruce it up. It is a less formal and intimate medium of stitching up a warm and immediate rapport with the reader. Zehra's intriguing, placid and tearing entries set a pulsating debate on the nature of the life of desire, individual space, possessiveness and socially bred sense of sacrifice.

At the onset of motherhood, the author hardly feels exulted; contrarily, it produces annoyance and irritation instead of euphoria. The moment of ecstasy leaves her completely downcast:

"I had always seen in movies that women break into tears of joy and men swing their wives up in their arms on kerning that they have a new life coming. I do break into tears. But they are tears of shock, of dread, of dismay.

And they are the tears of wrath- wrath that I unleash on the man that I love the most in the world. Wrath of having my dreams washed over, having my carefully magical universe destroyed. ". p13.

For her, marriage is not meant for procreation or extending the family. It is an intense companionship through which both can explore the unrealized potential of their lives. The child adds an extra presence to intimate companionship. It sounds selfish, but it affirms Jean-Paul Sartre who defines hell as the presence of the other.

The author, after initial reluctance, gets herself prepared for caring, but it cannot be taken for love. She has a point here, but love does not happen in a vacuum and caring is the place where it is born.

Nuancedly written divergent entries make it clear that Zehra strives to perform different but equally significant roles with the same sense of devotion and impeccability. To abandon one role is an affront to womanhood as her epilogue reads," I am not a mother above everything else. I am a mother along with everything else that I am . It is an integral part of me. And I should not have to denounce all other parts to acknowledge this one."

It is a refreshing and insightful read that spells out new contours of motherhood in graphic prose with occasional sloppiness. Zehra deserves accolades for not regurgitating the traditional aspects of motherhood.

(Shafey Kidwaiis a bilingual critic and teaches miscommunication at Aligarh Muslim university.)

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