Kalki Koechlin’s movie Ribbon, slated for release on November 3, talks about the struggle of a young couple after they become parents for the first time. In this context, Kalki shared a post with her adorable childhood photographs, where she speaks about how her mother, who was a working woman when she was born, handled the pressure of balancing her family and work. In India, it is normal to expect a woman to be able to ‘manage’ everything without complaining, even if that means compromising her own happiness. And if a woman doesn’t go by this set norm she is shamed and made to feel guilty of being selfish.
In her post, Kalki talks about the physical pain her mother had to suffer while giving birth to her because she was ‘a very fat baby’ and talks about how it was difficult for her father to look at the ‘blood and struggle’ her mother was going through at that time.
It was 5 am and the electricity was out. In a small house by the beach in a village called Periamudaliachavadi (10km from Pondycherry) my mother’s labour pains echoed under a kerosene lamp in a dark room. The encouragements of Hilda the Auroville community mid wife at the time could be heard on the other end of the bed. And my father tried to look busy with the kerosene lamp to avoid any chance of looking at the blood and struggle of the scene. Apparently I was a ‘very fat baby’ and did not slip out like ‘a letter through a post box’ which mama claims was the case with my elder brother. She chose to give birth at home instead of a hospital and voilà, after a long night of pushing, I was crying my first breaths along with the first glimpses of sunrise outside.
My mother had a long gap of ten years between my brother and me, she went through a miscarriage before me, and had to take a treatment of injections when I was conceived so her body would not reject the foetus. It was a fight right up to my birth which might explain a lot about my personality! She also admits to the postpartum depression she felt after for a few months, something a sizeable majority of new mothers go through but still isn’t talked about much. “
Like many others, Kalki’s mother too ‘sacrificed’ her job as a teacher at Pondicherry’s Alliance Francaise and joined her husband’s business, only because that way it would be easy to take care of the newborn.
My mother, Francoise Armandie, worked as a teacher at the Alliance Francaise in Pondicherry, but when I was going to be born she decided to give that up and join my father’s hand-gliding business. She made that choice as the office space was a workshop where she could include me and take me around with her. I would be tied in a dupatta that was hung from the ceiling and looking up at a fan turning as south Indian summers started hitting six months after my birth. I have vague memories of when I was 3-4 years old, she would cycle to work while carrying me in a basket in the front. Or me climbing trees and coming into the workshop with dirty feet to her squealing because I was spreading red dust across the clean marble floors. I was basically a little female mowgli.
What Kalki writes after is is extremely powerful and thought-provoking. Kalki writes:
For too long now, all that mothers do to raise their kids, balance work and family — it’s just been considered a given. After I was done filming Ribbon, which was such an intense experience, I remembered what my father once told me. He said that when a woman is giving birth, what she goes through is so intense, that no matter how supportive you want to be as a husband, your best bet is to just look busy as hell to try and get over the sheer guilt of it all! “
She signs off with a request to everyone to share their stories, either about the challenges of motherhood or as a grateful child, who realises all the sacrifices their mother made for them:
I had an unconventional birth and an unconventional upbringing (of course I’m unconventional queen now), but my upbringing consisted of a strong village community, having ample space to play and an organic, friendly environment for my parents to work in while raising me. I also know that everyone is not as lucky, and every parenting journey comes with its own set of challenges. That is why I want to hear all of your stories — I want you to share photographs, videos and stories of how you have made it work. Whether you’re a working mom being guilted over leaving your kid while you jet off to work, or a stay at home mom sacrificing your career for your family’s well being, I want to know how all of you are making this crazy joyride work. Or even if you’re just a very grateful daughter like me, rediscovering all that their mother did for them. “
Here’s Kalki’s entire Facebook post.