Tag Archives: pregnancy

5 Decades Of Desire: The 30s

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I am often assailed by longing for the woman I was at the cusp of 26, neither too young to know nor old enough to know too much. Not only was I free-spirited and passionate, but I was also met by what I sought. Except, as I sensed even then, I could not keep them: those entanglements, that exhilaration. And so, I am also often assailed by compassion for the woman I was at the cusp of 26.

This year, I will turn 32. But right now, I am 31 – “a viable, die-able age”, as Arundhati Roy unforgettably wrote in The God of Small Things. I prefer to focus on the first word. There is so much that is viable about being a never-married woman in her 30s.

It is true that on any given day, I am likely to feel more lucky than lonely. The blessings of being unburdened are easy to count, and I have the luxury of counting them often. But it’s not all lovers and solo travel and disposable income and possibility. It is also, more often, practical thinking and responsibility and the weariness of combat. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

But why is it that I feel lucky? More than anything else, it’s because I’ve outgrown so much conditioning about what a woman’s life should look like. Even, in fact, what a wild woman’s life should look like. I’m more interested in what it is. Do I believe in Love with a capital ‘L’?  I’ve found pondering the question a waste of the imagination, when I now much prefer the small ‘l’, the verb, the everyday extravagance of being and feeling instead of waiting.

This life that is neither tragic nor in need of rescuing is anomalous, and I recognise why it’s necessary to not present a unidimensional version of it. So here is another truth: that there is melancholy. Last year, I climbed into an autorickshaw wearing an empire waist tunic and the driver gently suggested that I move to the middle for a less bumpy ride, as I appeared to be newlywed and “carrying”. I struggled not to cry on that ride, not because of anything as inane as mistaking concern for body shaming but because those things are not true for me, and may never be true. I am soft and never-wed and I carry memories, desires, legacies and scars, but only and all of me.

But the beauty of being this age, of having arrived here tenderly, toughly, is the sincere acceptance that it’s alright. All of it – melancholy, uncertainty, anger, hunger and even moments of bitterness – is perfectly alright. They are balanced by laughter, courage, wisdom and – yes – pleasures little and large. We are all every age we have ever been. And sometimes I am already all the ages I will ever be. The great moral challenge of my decades to come, should they come, is whether I’ll be able to hold on to both: unyielding principles and petal-perceptive heart.

An edited version appeared in The Indian Express on International Women’s Day, 2017.

Book Review: Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua

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There are books that blow one’s mind open. There are books that leave one shaken, altered, destabilized. Those books are easy to talk about, their effects easy to describe in superlatives. And then there are books that wander in without bells on, as quiet as the comfort that fills the heart while watching the day’s first or last light from one’s own window, alone but for the succor of a cup of tea. Perhaps that is the analogy that comes closest to expressing the peace that Jahnavi Barua’s Rebirth brings. This profoundly intimate novel is one of the most beautiful books seen in Indian fiction in many years.

We are held for a time and then we are released imprinted, as though from within a womb – a testament to Barua’s impeccably crafted narrative voice, for this is exactly what the novel is about. Kaberi is a homemaker in Bangalore, pregnant with a longed-for baby about whom no one – not her estranged husband, not her parents in Guwahati, not her few friends in her adopted city, not her domestic help – knows, except for her gynecologist. Her second trimester has begun, and before long she will not be able to conceal her expectant state. Rebirth is her monologue to that child who begins as a secret and an uncertainty, then turns into the pivot on which she will renew her life itself.

Of all the psychic locales that writers over millennia have explored, there are none as complex as a woman’s interior landscape, a landscape so fascinating that long before feminism put pens into women’s own hands, male bards sought to emulate their voices. There is no dearth of the first-person female voice in the genre of the contemporary novel today, but Barua’s contains an unusual timelessness – it has a curious but highly successful lack of urbanity and modern neuroses, thus delivering the sense that, as with some of Kamala Markandaya’s work, it could be set anywhere within a span of decades. This is one of the book’s strengths: chiseling Kaberi’s experience down to her most private sphere, influenced solely by her own emotionality.

What emerges is delicate: we are not subjected, for example, to melodramatic outrage about her husband’s infidelity, or unmitigated grief about the deaths of loved ones, or even self-consciousness about Kaberi’s own promising work as a writer. It is only much later into the novel, when the pregnancy is no longer a secret and a salvaging of the marriage is being negotiated, that Kaberi begins to regard the unborn baby as an entity to whom stories must be told, and a sort of rhetorical distance emerges. Until that point, the baby is but an extension of her psyche, and her single source of solace. Over the course of her pregnancy, she acquires the strength to support both her child and the needs of her own evolution. Barua traces this journey with a fine sense of nuance.

Rebirth is a deeply compassionate novel, consoling the reader the way Kaberi’s baby consoles her for many months – gently, with tenderness, and with neither demand nor plea. The tranquility it offers lingers similarly: this is not a novel in which characters haunt, petitioning us to find absolution for their unexplained futures and unanswered questions. Instead, one is content to leave them where they leave us, carrying forward the perfection of the brief time we have spent with them. With extraordinary intimacy and understanding, Barua has found a way to echo gestation itself: holding the reader safely, but just long enough so that they reenter the world calmed, soothed, deeply moved.

An edited version appeared in today’s The Hindu Literary Review.