Immortal for a Moment (2018) – Natasha Badhwar

I began reading Natasha Badhwar’s column for The Mint Lounge every Saturday before my marriage. Since, I began, I have got married and have become a father. The best way to write this review is perhaps to quote her to explain her writing. I don’t think I can do any justice writing it myself.

As usual, I am getting the reading all wrong. I am reading her last book first. Immortals for a Moment (Amazon Affiliate Link) is her second book after My Daughter’s Mum (Amazon Affiliate Link). It took me about two months to read the book starting on January 3 and ending on March 4. Some of the chapters are overwhelming and the depth of the matter leaves you thinking for quite a few days after you reading. Her writing made me observe my wife and my relationship with our daughter.

Let’s start with the title of the book. This quote comes towards the end, in between the last and the penultimate chapters –

Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.

Tennessee Williams

Most of Badhwar’s writing is routine, day to day happenings. But, as they progress, they somehow catch a glimpse of the eternal laws. She writes somewhere:

Stories trick us. A story that starts off looking like it’s my story turns out later to be everyone else’s story.

Natasha Badhwar

She talks about how writing helped her create a record of happenings that let her look back at her life and spot trends that she would have missed otherwise in her conversation with Amit Varma. In the book, she writes:

Writing connects the stories. The writing brain is usually not the social self. It is slower and smarter. Writing forces me to understand and unravel, rather than judge.

Writing makes us read better. I scour words by others, looking for sentences that say what I have also felt. I look for worlds that are more honest than the one I am stuck in. I am forced to become honest to deserve entry into a better world.

Writing can be a pious activity, like a prayer after a bath. It has to be done with a clean and honest intent. Its purpose is to focus our own mind so we can draw on our abilities.

Natasha Badhwar

Reading the book during a particularly troubled times in the backdrop of the CAA-NRC protests, I found some of her writing reflective. Especially since some of the arguments are with people we love.

I have given up on arguments without bothering to engage. But I am holding on to the belief that people are more than what they say they believe. It’s a waste of time to take them personally.

Natasha Badhwar

One of her observation made me learn about something I experienced in my past life as a bank clerk. Each document with a different spelling of the same name. But, only in the documents of the poor. It seemed that so many updates to the names that I made makes sense in light of this sentence:

‘We are poor,’ she said. People get offended if we have good names.

Natasha Badhwar

I’ve never felt particularly attached to any home that I have lived in so far. However, this definition of a home that she provides, makes me reconsider my own definition of home:

Home is a place you create inside yourself, we discover. It is a landing ground whenever we need to touch base with our own selves. The further we travel to immerse ourselves in an unfamiliar world, the closer we get to ourselves.

Natasha Badhwar

Her insights into parenting alone will require reading the book and her pieces in Mint Lounge. But, this is the crux, according to me, or my interpretation of her work:

One of the biggest lies of parenting is that the parents are always right. The second lie is that it is the children’s responsibility to make their parents happy when they grow up.

Natasha Badhwar

A passage of the book that I stayed with for a really long time was this:

Perhaps the greatest delusion of my life has been the belief that the world in which I was a child may have been the dark ages, but the world in which I have grown up to be an adult has to be far more enlightened and equitable than before. Social norms and attitudes that perpetuate injustice have remained tenacious. The news remains the same. Questions that had remained unanswered when I was a child still demand answers. If I do not want my daughters to internalise that violence is the inevitable fate of women in our society, I have to find a new language to speak to them. ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,’ Audre Lorde wrote in her book of essays, A Burst Of Light. The first time I had read this sentence, it cut through my cultural conditioning like a sheath of light. It demolished the notion that putting everyone else’s needs before one’s own is a virtue to be extolled.

Natasha Badhwar

Listening to people like Naval Ravikant speak, it seems to me that each generation is improving. This is the sense I’ve had. I do not reach a similar conclusion as she reaches reading the words of Audre Lorde. But, having a daughter and thinking from the point of view of my wife, I can see the pulls of social norms and attitudes affecting their thinking. It left me with the question of this difference in the way of looking at the world between men and women.

I’d just like to end to let you think through this thought near the beginning of her book:

In the beginning, we love like our life depends on it. Then we learn to live, because our love depends on it.

Natasha Badhwar

Her writing is simple, her observations are mind blowing and I think reading her work, whether in Mint Lounge or this book is worth your time. These are themes that we don’t think about in the course of our day.

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