Nandita Das

Our juggling act

  • May 1, 2012

Motherhood has changed many things in my life and me. One of the less significant but amusing things is the kind of questions I get asked these days. “Will you get back to acting?” “How will you juggle between mothering and work?” Simple answers-“Yes, I will get back to acting, and I will juggle like all jugglers, I mean, all women!” Despite often feeling that interviews are inherently corrosive, I am grateful for the occasional ones that trigger reflections on things that I haven’t thought about before. Recently, a journalist asked, “Does feminism undermine motherhood? Have you stopped being yourself after motherhood? Does it impinge on your feminism-is it easier to just be a self-sacrificing mother than to retain one’s sense of self?” 

These were some of the questions I hadn’t asked myself before, as I didn’t quite see feminism and motherhood at loggerheads. Motherhood is not the only challenge that ‘being oneself’ faces. There are enough instances when we are not ourselves because of fears, complexes, guilt or simply the lack of space to be oneself. I think if you are yourself then no new role can take that away from you. In fact, motherhood has helped me discover yet another side and has added to the constantly evolving and changing self. But this is my story and needn’t be that of every woman. Neither is motherhood the defining factor of femininity nor does it undermine feminism. It is a choice that a woman needs to make and the world needs to respect that choice. 

To know whether my motherhood impinges on my feminism, I will first have to define what it means to me. An abused word and a misunderstood concept, it has many connotations. Often I have been ‘accused’ of being a feminist. I would have preferred to be a humanist, that is, if labelling is inevitable. But just as there would have been no environmentalists if the environment was not abused, there would have been no feminists if women were not so disrespected. In my definition, feminism is not a fight against men, and certainly not against motherhood. It is about the rights of women and the freedom to exercise those rights. Motherhood is problematic when it is not a choice, but an imposition, and an expectation, when it is meant to be the ideal of womanhood.

Often motherhood brings with it a self-sacrificing role as society wants all other aspirations of the mother to take a backseat. She is often made to feel guilty if she thinks even remotely about her well-being. To my surprise, I realised how deep my own conditioning was, despite my education and exposure. Just after Vihaan, my son, was born, I felt guilty if I did anything that wasn’t about him. Thankfully, my feminist side kept reminding me that it was okay to share with others my fatigue, my sleep deprivation, my desire to do many creative things. But I was always lauded for working out of home and for extending my maternity break. I am sure those women who are forced to step out to work early are made to feel selfish, uncaring and less motherly. 

I continue to fight my conditioning. Once you are aware of it, how can you not do something about it? I am writing this piece on my way to a shoot where, for the first time, Vihaan will not be with me. Nothing unusual for millions of women, but many ask me how I can do this to a 21-month-old child. As a child, having seen my mother work, I have only had respect for her talent and independence. And so I hope Vihaan, too, will not process this as neglect, and will see the merit in having a mother who can wear many hats, including that of an actor and a mother. And I think this juggling will make me neither less of a feminist, nor less of a mother. 

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11