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

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10 August 2013

And then, come the children

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an unmarried girl in her 30s will start becoming an aunty.

I'm an only child, as you know, and you may not know, that the Good Thing is an only child too. Which means we lack the siblings to block the ever shining parental attention we both still get and also, that we lack the necessary means to be biological aunties. (Or uncles in his case.) My cousin-in-law is pregnant, but they live far away, and I'll probably only see their baby on their next trip to India, besides, my cousin's brother (and my other cousin) and his wife live close by, so there are aunts and uncles already in this baby's life.

While the Good Thing is a much nicer adult only than I--very good about sharing!--we do have one thing in common and that is the need for our Space. And, yes, that is capital S-space. We get along best when each of us has had a chance during the day to be alone with our thoughts, to be quiet, and relax in ALONENESS for a bit, before we're fit for company again. On long holidays, when we travel together, we take this time by carrying along books and spending together time separate in our own books, or one of us will take a walk or something. It's one of the bigger reasons why, as I get older, I am more and more loath to share hotel rooms or flight times with other people, if I haven't been in their company for extended periods of time before. If you can't let me be alone and meditative then I will be VERY grouchy and/or sullen.  However, given time to recuperate after a busy day with other people, then I can be the life of the party. These things are important to me.

Where do kids come into this? I guess they don't? I mean, you can't have space from your baby until your baby is a little older, so that's two years of being totally bonded (if you're lucky and your kid is smart) and even after, you have to keep an eye on them, be around for their shit till they're old enough to mostly handle their own shit. (I don't mean literally, although I imagine toilet training is quite a.. hurdle.) I have not completely made up my mind where I stand on kids of my own. I thought once I hit 30, the answer would be revealed like magic from the ticking of my biological clock, but either I don't have one or it's permanently set on snooze. I don't want children right now, I like my independent life with no one depending on me, but I also don't want to wake up at 40 and realised I've missed something important.

Time goes by as it often does. Wedding invitations get fewer and more and more, you congratulate people on Facebook for their new baby. Adorable podges most of them (come on, some babies are trolls. Cute trolls, but still trolls) and your friends look radiant and happy. The Facebook pictures make babies look so easy--but they also have time on a clip, so one minute there's a newborn photo and the next, the baby is sitting up and smiling and then in two minutes, it's standing up, it has a personality, it's the new generation.

Some of my close friends have babies now. I haven't met any of them in real life (but have had two delightful Skype encounters, when these kids grow up, we'll say to them, "Remember me? I saw you on Skype when you were a month old!") but I love them, because they are an extension of my friends. One is still incubating, and I can't wait to meet him or her. I want to snug them in my arms, coo into their ears, "Hi baby, I'm your Aunty eM." I'll be cool Aunty eM also, because I couldn't not be, at 4, I'll buy them books, at 6, we'll talk about imaginary worlds, at 14, I'll take them out for the day. I'm looking forward to being an aunty in real life, not just on Skype, and being a part of a whole new person's world.

But I recognise that this is very different from a maternal instinct. I have no desire to have one of my own, to rock a cradle, change a diaper or feed it. I think the willy nilly need to reproduce is still kind of selfish, a narcissistic urge that is no less than the urge to write a book or paint a picture, a desire to leave something in the world for when you are gone. You might argue that the need to be a parent is the very opposite of selfish, but if your kid is an extension of you, by protecting him or her, you're essentially protecting yourself. I'm not saying you don't love your child immensely, more than you could ever fathom loving anything or anyone, but it's still a bit selfish. Let's not deny that.

This is also not my rant about people with kids feeling like the world owes them, because even though I've come across those people on the internet, the people in my life are thankfully, still human.

I bombarded a pregnant friend with questions when we had lunch.

"Do you love it already?"

"I guess?" she said.

"But you don't know it! Sorry, him or her, you don't know the baby."

"I talk to the baby," she said.

And then the conversation moved on to different things, but it made me wonder how I would write about parenthood and THAT love, the love they tell you about, without having experienced it firsthand. A writer's life is about experiences, already I find my writing about siblings is a bit flawed, because I don't have an inside insight into what EXACTLY your feelings are for this person. Will this be a whole new range of something I can only guess at?

I can write about being an aunty though. The first time I saw a close friend's new baby, emerging pixel by pixel on my laptop or swaddled and sleepy on my Skype screen, that rush of love for them and for him (they're ALL having boys), that's a feeling I've never had before. I already love them and I don't know them at all.

Is that a thing? It should be. 


  1. Maybe the urge to leave something behind and reproduce is selfish, just like writing a book indeed, but I think not having children because you're not willing to give up your space or independence is the epitome of being selfish.

    For the record: I don't mean to say that not having children for your own (selfish or not selfish) reasons is bad. Everyone is completely allowed to make their own choices without having to justify them. It's just that saying that having children is selfish sounds contradictory, because it is a fact that parents are willing to give up basically everything in order to have those children.

  2. I have been married four years and I don't have children. The husband and I have found ourselves faced with this question of why should we even have children, what's the whole point? It is just because we selfishly want to see a little bit of us in them "Oh she/he has my dimples", or "she/he loves orange marmalade just like me". I have discussed this with friends who have children and those without children and I'm yet to find an answer. I'm almost thirty and the pressure to have a baby is enormous and I'm always constantly warned of my "ticking biological clock", but I don't want to have a baby just because I'm getting older and other people want me to have a baby. Caitlin Moran says having a baby is like buying a heavily discounted coat, you may not need it then, but what if you feel the need for it at a later point in your life? I don't want a baby right now, but a part of me wants to experience motherhood and all that goes with it. Maybe being a mum will make me more patient and less selfish. Who know? Sorry for this long-ish comment, maybe I should do a blog post on my own dilemma :)

  3. Just sharing my thoughts on siblings and then how that relates to babies. It is absolutely amazing to have a sibling once you get older , especially if the age difference is more than say four years. Its like having a best friend except what's better is that there is a guarantee that you will see them at least a few times a year even if you live in different countries, because they are family and you inevitably end up seeing them. Being practical, the problem with my best friends who are not my sibling is that I haven't seen them in 5 years because they are oceans away. I would travel to see them, sure..if its like between Bangalore and Mumbai maybe but its harder to justify the cost of travel when they are in say Alaska. So yeah, having a sibling is great because it means you have a guaranteed best friend for life.
    Now moving to babies. I am not much of a baby person either and therefore relate to your sentiments. I don't just not want them, but I am also jealous of my niece getting more attention from everyone, and how she takes up my sister's time completely. I don't seem to be able to connect with the baby that much, maybe I will when she is older but now it is just extremely boring, so I put on an act of being enthusiastic when she is around because you don't want to piss off other family members. So yeah, I don't like babies and I wish people were born as adults so the world could function more efficiently.

  4. I am single right now but I have always wanted to have children - simply because I love the whole bringing up the child part - more the baby bring up part( still the baby becomes the child makes it so much easier to love them).

    I dont see that being selfish. I mean people adopt too.

  5. Any more selfish than living for yourself? Your parents sacrificed for you, astonishing you call this selfish.

    And I thought you were maturing, silly me.

  6. Same anon as above ("any more selfish" etc). The desire to have a child is similar to that of having Good Thing (as you put it), you want to share your life with someone, because there is greater meaning. No one wants an extension of themselves.

    My guess though is that ppl have kids because that remains one last challenge, once job+partner is settled. For those ppl who derive "enough" joy from either or both job+partner, the need to have a kid just doesn't exist,their fulfilment of need is already taken care of.

    This is basically the entire reason why most of science fiction exists:we are terrified of loneliness, but also scared by commitment.

  7. When we got married at 26, I thought I was ready for the responsibilities it entails, and it would be a good thing a couple years down the line. At 32, we're still not thinking about having kids. My perspective is that I do not feel that burning urge to procreate, my clock isn't ticking, and I can feel maternal enough when required (meeting friends' kids) without pining for one of my own. So the current state of mind is that if and when we feel like extending our family, we'll happily look for someone who needs one, and bring him/her/both home and nurture them. There's a whole different set of experiences involved there, but we're not longing for them right now.

  8. First of all, nice article and a healthy set of comments. And what I think: Life is about give and take. We give up A to get B because we think B gives us more happiness than A. That way, whether you trade your 'everything' for 'children' or you don't is just the same. You are equally selfish either ways because you ultimately turn towards the choice that (you believe) makes you happier. And there is no right or wrong choice, just a personal decision.

  9. At 41 Iam too old to have kids. I never wanted any, and more than ever I feel I have made the right choice. But I do believe in giving back. Which is why, my home is full of animals, I care for them and nurse them back to health when they are sick. If ever I have the urge to have a baby, I will adopt one. There are far too many neglected unwanted children in this world. It is indeed selfish to think about bringing another, into this already overcrowded world.

  10. Okay, I think I am qualified enough to share my experience. I am glad you brought this up, because just a fortnight back I had a mini-argument with my mom about this. Mom beings mom and a grandmother endorses parenting. She believes that people without kids lead empty lives. I hadn't read this blog until now and but I am glad that I didn't need to read it either...because I said exactly what you have right here. Life is about the choices you make and how you live with them. It is no crime (or honour) if you choose not to have babies. It is because choose something that is important to you. You ‘me time’.
    For instance I didn’t want to get married. In fact, we didn’t want to get married. We were so busy with our careers that living together sufficed our needs in every possible way. But we did eventually, because it mattered to a few people in our lives. Having a child however was not a plan. Not until we were both ‘ready’. Yes, you shouldn’t have babies if you don’t want them. Because they are like sponges, drawing out qualities that even you don’t know you had. They demand more than any parent, partner or boss ever will. Is it easy being a parent? Is it easy being selfless? No, it isn’t. So don’t I crave for the moments that you talk of? I do…everyday. I haven’t slept in 2 years. I haven’t read 10 pages in a row. I haven’t taken that solo trip yet. And I haven’t lost all the weight.
    Is life then a list of disappointments? Well no…at least not yet. Because I look at life on hold. On hold till I am ready to reinvent my life. To find newer dreams, challenges and destinations for me and us. So don’t worry…you are not alone. Just that we are both happy and content with the choices we made. 

  11. First, I love your blog.

    Second, I have written about parenthood - and I believe it is really selfless IF the parent does indeed continually extend him/herself to be the perfect parent (I believe you hint at this when you speak of giving something up). While I completely agree that procreation has become more narcissistic than ever, there are parents out there - full-time moms and dads - who choose parenthood over careers/ ambition/ etc.

    And yes, as you said - parenthood is definitely egotistical as well - esp. when observing desis in the U.S.A., to whom reproduction is part of their checklist of accomplishments...after which they go right back to work and scale the corporate ladder, leaving their children in the care of babysitters and the daycare from as young an age as 1 month (!). Sure, my mom had a blazing career as well (in the I.A.S.) but in India of the 80's and the 90s, there were always grandparents, and extended family around when mom wasn't at home to personally care for us. That doesn't happen in the U.S.A. where to my horror, I recently heard that some of my female desi contacts actually tell their 9 year olds to hop off the school bus at 4pm and wait alone at home till mom or dad returns at 5pm. I consider that child endangerment, but what can you tell people who will come up with any justification for their money making strategies?

    So as you say, there are those parents who equate or even prioritize making money over caring for their children. But then, one can't ignore those devoted parents who chuck away their jobs/ career options for their kids (who will move away at 18 - at least that's how it is in the U.S.A.). If the latter were truly narcissistic, they would force their kids to follow their dictates...and yet, I know so many in my parents generation who were so loving and accepting of their kids...surely, they were not narcissistic.


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