Simon & Schuster India (non-fiction/memoir)
Rs 350, 232 pages
Love is complicated. Being a parent sometimes brings out your own parent in you. Families share unspoken codes that only their hearts can decipher. And marriage is a strange beast that consumes, confuses and consumes you at the same time.
These are the all-too-real truths that Natasha Badhwar’s latest book Immortal for a Moment reflects back to you. The title is inspired by lines from the 1986 poem On Death, Without Exaggeration by Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska.
Short and still very satisfying, the essays are taken from Badhwar’s column My Daughter’s Mum in Mint Lounge. This is the second volume of her newspaper columns and, like the first, is written in her signature style: simple and profound. The themes are also similar – love, marriage, children, families, life, travel and death – all based on her own experiences as a documentary filmmaker, television journalism coach and mother of three girls.
And yet there is still much to learn and discover in this second book, and you will find yourself slowly turning pages, rereading paragraphs, underlining different passages along the way.
Every scenario Badhwar paints from her own life somehow resonates in the corridors of your own memories. Interestingly, even if she makes you remember the horrible moments — the moments of frustration or loneliness or devastation — that ruin your intimate relationships from time to time, she also shows you the light at the end of the tunnel. “You know you have a good marriage when everything and everyone seems to be constantly changing. Change is growth. It needs space. And security,” she writes in a chapter titled “When does a marriage really start to become itself?”
With courage she exposes her own journey – with all her wounds and joys in plain sight – and with deep compassion, as you struggle with your own memories, she lets the light sink in. “I look back at the mess. Have I just lost my temper with a four-year-old trying to please her six-year-old sibling? I sit down,” Badhwar writes in the chapter “When we were too distraught to reach each other.”
She continues, “Honey, Natasha, I think you misunderstood your role a little bit. The older kids don’t want you to traumatize their sister. They say, ‘Be sweet-dovey and cootchie-cooey and weird with us the same way you are with the little one.’”
Every difficult situation is turned into a self-learning moment, and even the nuanced, icky details carry a touch of grace. In addition to the personal and intimate spaces, there is also a greater commentary on social structures, religious differences and the need for acceptance, tolerance and embracing diversity.
“Mom, children in my class ask me, if your father is Muslim, what is your mother?” begins the chapter titled “Are You Great, Do You Contain Multitudes?” Being in an interfaith marriage and its attendant complexities are recurring themes in the book. Badhwar uses her unique personal and social position to make a political statement, and her real life experiences lend credibility to her point of view. “I want children to learn that they can invalidate other people’s questions,” she continues in the same chapter. “We don’t participate in narrowing down options; we will expand them.”
This touching collection of essays will essentially open your heart if you let it. As Badhwar explains in the afterword, “Even if I can’t always articulate the motivation behind personal writing, I shouldn’t doubt its relevance.”
In her story we see our own reflected. And when enough of us wake up to the reality that our stories aren’t that different from each other, our society becomes more human and our connections more meaningful. One story at a time.
Aekta Kapoor is the founder and editor of eShe magazine.