Book Review: Immortal for a Moment, by Natasha Badhwar
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 only their hearts can decipher. And marriage is a strange beast that consumes, confounds and consummates you at the same time.
These are the only-too-real truths that Natasha Badhwar’s latest book Immortal for a Moment mirrors back to you. Its title inspired by lines from Nobel Prize-winner Wislawa Szymborska’s 1986 poem On Death, Without Exaggeration, this collection of essays captures everyday micro moments in freeze-frame, turning them into a macro study of our times.
Short and still deeply 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 trademark style: simple and profound. The themes are similar too – love, marriage, children, families, life, travel and death – all drawn from her own experiences as a documentary filmmaker, broadcast journalism coach, and mother of three girls.
And yet, there’s still much to learn and discover in this second book, and you’ll find yourself turning pages slowly, re-reading paragraphs, and underlining several passages along the way.
Every scenario Badhwar paints from her own life somehow finds an echo in the corridors of your own memories. Interestingly, even as she makes you recall the terrible moments – the moments of frustration or loneliness or devastation – that wrack your intimate relationships from time to time, she also shows you the light at the end of the tunnel. “You know you are in a good marriage if everything and everyone seems to be changing all the time. Change is growth. It needs space. And security,” she writes in a chapter titled ‘When does a marriage really begin to become itself?’
With courage, she lays her own journey bare – with all her wounds and joys in full view – and with deep compassion, as you struggle with your own recollections, she lets the light sink in. “I look back at the mess. Did I just lose my temper with a four-year-old for the sake of pleasing her six-year-old sibling? I sit myself down,” Badhwar writes in the chapter ‘When we were too distraught to reach out to each other’.
She goes on, “Sweetheart, Natasha, I think you misunderstood your role a little bit. The older children don’t want you to traumatize their sister. They are saying: ‘Be lovey-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-teachable moment, and even the nuanced, icky details carry something of grace in them. Besides the personal and intimate spaces, there is also a larger commentary on social structures, religious differences and the need for acceptance, tolerance and embracing diversity.
“Mamma, children in my class ask me, if your father is a Muslim, what is your mother?” begins the chapter called ‘Are you large, do you contain multitudes?’ Being in an inter-religious marriage and the complexities involved are recurring themes through the book. Badhwar uses her unique personal and social position to make a political statement, her real-life experiences lending credence to her stance.
“I want children to learn that they can invalidate the queries of others,” she goes on in the same chapter. “We will not participate in the narrowing of possibilities; we will expand them.”
This moving collection of essays will essentially expand your heart if you let it. As Badhwar explains in the afterword, “Even if I cannot always articulate the motivation behind personal writing, I must not 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 much different from each other’s, that’s when our society becomes more humane and our connections more meaningful. One story at a time.