My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

Sign up for my newsletter: The Internet Personified

24 December 2017

An open letter to the man who thought he was being supportive but really wound up sounding patronising

(This appeared as my F Word column in March 2016)

Dear Man At A Recent Event I Was Speaking At Who Stood Up To Say, “I think mothers are the epitome of power and we should respect mothers,”

And when I said, “And what about those of us who aren't mothers?” you said, “Obviously I'm talking about the rule not the exception.” and then I rolled my eyes but it was quite clear that everyone wanted me to not Go Into It, because I'd been Going Into It all afternoon and the audience just wanted their cake and tea.

So I shut up.

But I thought of you later. You're obviously someone's son, and you're probably a dad as well. But when did your conception of women become narrowed and defined to just Woman As Mother?

Let me explain to you why your words made something cringe inside me, like you were scratching nails down a chalkboard. It was as if you were saying, “Women exist to give life, and it is that we should respect, and none of the rest of it.” It's as if you were standing in for society who has been looking askance at me as soon as I hit 25, wondering when I was going to stop faffing around and do what nature created me to do. It's also like you were saying women who are mothers don't count for anything else, their greatest role in life is basically producing their children. Who, if they are girls, will have their own greatest role to play and so on and so forth, until we're all Russian nesting dolls, our charm lying in the fact that our tops can be snapped off to reveal the generations that lie within us. 

I have not one hundred per cent decided that kids are not for me. I thought I had ruled firmly anti-child when I first hit my thirties, but now coming up on five years in this decade, I'm wondering if this is an option I should reconsider. Unfortunately, my decision rests not on any altruistic reasons to have children—Looking to the Future and Love of Small Creatures but on very selfish things: a) I'd like everyone to get off my back and b) I don't want to die alone. These, I'm sure you'll agree, makes me the opposite of Woman As Strong Mother and basically makes me one of those people who is so scared by her own mortality that she's thinking of ways to prolong that.

Like you, I too have my own personal mom. She's great, totally awesome, totally strong, kick-ass in many ways, and has done many things to shape me into the person I am today. But while my mother may have grown into her own personal stree shakti as it were during the time she was my mother, I like to think that she would have grown and evolved and become this person without me in her life as well. To put it more succinctly, even though she may say this out of love, I do not think her biggest achievement in life was to bring me into this world.

In fact, while I'm thinking of my mother, I'm also thinking of an old friend of hers who never had children, and who was around my whole childhood. She was the person who gave me Little Women when I was seven and told me that while the small print might be intimidating, I would love it (I did, and when I visited Louisa May Alcott's home when I was eleven, I was the only person shown into the writer's private writing room, an honour accorded to me as the youngest reader on that tour.) She treated me as a small adult, I can't remember a time she ever talked down to me, and that shaped the way I thought of myself—your parents don't count, because your parents are duty bound to love you and listen to you—as well as the way I speak to children now.

In many ways, I think of the older women I met, my mother's friends who didn't have children and yet who knew how to connect with a child. Would you call their lives pointless? Some were in my life only very briefly, but I remember them all so strongly. One friend I remember gave me a set of two carved combs shaped like a man and a woman. “Oh, a man and his wife!” I said, delighted and she looked at me and said, “Why not a woman and husband?” Why not indeed? That's the first time I ever thought about that, and it may have been a throwaway conversation, but somewhere in my head it took root.

What about the mothers who lose their children? What about women who can't have children? What about more like me who don't want to? What about the women who produce terrorists and murderers? A blanket statement like yours is so harmful because it brushes everything else under the carpet, because it airily dismisses everyone else as “the exception.” Why, I bet even the woman you're holding up as this ideal of Motherhood has mixed feelings sometimes about her own kids.

All this to say: sometimes you need to think before you speak. #notallmothers

With love,

A Not Mother But A Woman Nonetheless

1 comment:

  1. This is a superb piece! Thank you for writing it. It needs to be said, especially because all people want is their cake and tea even when attending an event where these things are/can be brought up and deliberated on. :(


Thanks for your feedback! It'll be published once I approve it. Inflammatory/abusive comments will not be posted. Please play nice.