"OF MOTHERS AND OTHERS": Launched at Jaipur Literature Festival, 2013

EDITED BY Jaishree Misra
Published by Zubaan for Save the Children
Foreword by Shabana Azmi

Within hours of the launch, the book made it to the Forbes list of 13 must reads

Within hours of the launch, the book made it to the Forbes list of 13 must reads

About the book
A little over a year ago, the wheels were set in motion by Jaishree Misra when she pledged her support to Save the Children by undertaking the book.
India continues to hit the headlines because of our shameful record of maternal and child health. The UN statistics indicate that in India, a woman dies in childbirth every ten minutes.

We have the highest rate of child malnutrition among all middle-income countries and the second highest rate in the entire world. A tenth of women in our country are undernourished themselves, and this is being passed on to their newborns from the womb as they start to develop, and on it goes.

The reality is that we are stuck in a vicious cycle. But with political will and increased social awareness, we believe it is a cycle that can be broken. Taking care of our women and children builds not just a generation but the nation itself. We neglect mothers at our own peril, at the peril of society. If we are to lead as a nation, we must put our women and children first.

Save the Children and author Jaishree Misra teamed up with Zubaan to make this idea a reality. Shabana Azmi who needs no introduction and has been one of the leading champions for the issue readily agreed to write a very poignant foreword where she talks about the issue without mincing any words.

The book is an attempt to appeal to the middle class sensitivity and sensibilities and draw them to the larger challenge that millions of poor women face. Rooted in fatalism and despair, a problem that can be easily solved, becomes a reality beyond human control. The book aims to jolt us to a reality we are either oblivious to or do not bother about enough as it is happening to ‘someone else’. It is this ‘otherness’ surrounding the as outlined above that we want to break.

We hope it would startle people out of their complacency – and tell them that motherhood isn’t always the comforting, ‘cuddly’ experience we like to think it is.

Not that we want to upset cherished notions but this is one way to help readers to glance for a moment into the abyss that some women stare at every day.

With poems, essays and short fiction from some of the country’s leading writers, Of Mothers and Others looks beyond the clichés to reveal the mysterious, fraught, life-affirming, hilarious, creative state of motherhood in all its complexity.  It brings together 21 authors and 21 different perspectives.

In editor Jaishree Misra’s words -
“It started with an event organised by Save the Children where I found myself promising to edit a book that would highlight the problems some women face in caring for their children. Rash, yes, but I had been staggered to find that, in India, we lose a child every nineteen seconds to easily preventable diseases and it seemed worth trying to help the organisation employ more health workers to assist struggling families. In such instances, books are my preferred currency because they are more likely to change perceptions than all the money in the world.

Typically, on reflection, I found myself in a state of panic. Publishers have good reason to shy away from ‘worthy’ books, which are usually considered unsaleable. However, there are fortunately still a small handful of publishers around, like Zubaan, who, despite the many difficulties, find ingenious ways to continue producing material that pushes boldly at all such boundaries. Zubaan came up with an enthusiastic offer of publication which was accompanied – almost like a good portent – by an excellent ready-made piece on the relationship between food and mothering by editor, Anita Roy.

As we excitedly pooled names of writer friends at that first meeting, I could start to see an anthology that would overturn all those glib presumptions about motherhood that are churned out by commerce and advertising. Yes, of course, the subject would be celebratory for those whose experience of this gift has been positive. But – if I were to stay true to my original promise – this would also be a book that would startle people out of their complacency, even if only to have them accept that motherhood isn’t always the comforting, ‘cuddly’ experience we like to think it is. Not that I enjoy upsetting cherished notions but this is one way to help readers glance, for a moment, into the abyss that some women stare at every day.

Synopsis of the stories

1.    Smriti Lamech’s unexpected take on sex determination is thrown into sharp relief when read alongside Kishwar Desai’s story ‘The Devi Makers’.
2.    Jai Arjun Singh’s erudite essay on the Hindi-movie Maa across the ages throws light on the mothers of the silver screen.
3.    Shalini Sinha’s own experiences of bringing up a child with Down’s Syndrome is a message of hope for anyone in a similar situation, as well as a love-letter written in mourning for her own mother.
4.    Manju Kapur’s heart-wrenching tale of loss is a startlingly honest and fearlessly written description of grief, in all its stages.  
5.    Bulbul Sharma writes a characteristically exuberant celebration of the joys of grand motherhood.
6.    Writing under a pseudonym, Andromeda Nebula’s beautiful essay highlights the challenges and joys of adoption.
7.    Urvashi Butalia asks – what does it mean to be childless, naturally?
8.    Humra Quraishi’s cri de couer on behalf of the mothers of children gone ‘missing’ from the Kashmir Valley resonates throughout the book.  
9.    Shashi Deshpande’s examination of mothers in literature – from Jane Austin to Tilly Olsen – challenges the idea of the ‘naturally self-sacrificing’ mother.
10.   Prabha Walker unflinchingly and sensitively uncovers the human story behind the media headlines about abusive mothers.
11.   Namita Gokhale returns to the fertile ground of the Mahabharata in her prose-poem, ‘Kunti’.
12.   Shinie Anthony’s story about a woman despairing over never being able to have children, an experience many readers will identify with, here undercut with unexpected humour and alife-affirming ending.
13.    N. B. Sarojini and Vrina Marwah’s scholarly article brings out the pain of surrogate mothers whose wombs are hired out to wealthy childless couples, one of whose stories is starkly unveiled in the work they do with SAMA.
14.    Under the nom de plume of Prabha Walker, the author examines this difficult and rarely-discussed subject of abusive mothers with unusual compassion and empathy.
15.    Mridula Koshy’s short story takes a bold and unusually ambivalent view of the adoption of a baby, pointing at some of the lows, while a true-life first person account came in from someone (given the pseudonym here of Andromeda Nebula) who, in adopting a sibling pair of older children, reveals the patience and hard work that goes into earning this sometimes difficult love.