Pallavi Aiyar Brings Much‑Needed Nuance to Motherhood Memoirs
Don’t let the chick-lit cover of Pallavi Aiyar’s Babies & Bylines: Parenting on the Move fool you: Aiyar’s keenly analytical and honest take on motherhood, working and otherwise, is more than a beach read.
Aiyar, perhaps known better for her journalism, brings the same investigative take to parenthood while humanizing it with plenty of first-hand experiences. Part memoir of her early years as a parent, part thesis on all of the possible permutations of parenting philosophies, partnership and childhood ailments, it balances research and reality in a way that keeps readers thinking and relating.
It’s difficult to pinpoint favourite parts out of our dog-eared and heavily underlined copy. If anything, what we appreciate most is Aiyar’s honesty, which infuses every anecdote and statistic, from hitting her son, to women leaving the workforce. Without hesitation and at every turn, she cuts through the eulogized glory of motherhood to reveal it for what it really is: Complicated, messy, demanding, confusing, demeaning, surprising, often lonely — yet joyful.
Joy — rare but intense, blissful but not without pain — drives Aiyar’s story forward. At many moments, readers (alongside Aiyar and most mothers) may wonder what she has gotten herself into, why she decided to have children, where is her husband amid all of these struggles. Then a joyful moment — a doctor’s care, a friend’s conversation, a baby’s touch, a toddler’s funny question, a work success — carries us onto the next challenge and cogitation.
It is this ebb and flow, this lifelike unfurling of experience, knowledge and perspective, perhaps, that allows Babies & Bylines to sing, where so many other parenting memoirs (where they exist; as Aiyar points out, in India, such narratives are rare) fall flat for us. And while that is no doubt due to Aiyar’s self-awareness and skill as a writer, she gives a hat-tip to her publisher (HarperCollins) as she recounts her initial difficulty in finding a home for a non-judgmental, non-didactic book on motherhood. As she writes toward the end:
I wanted therefore to write the kind of book that I didn’t have access to at the time, but would have clutched at raft-like had it been on my bookshelf. What I’d needed was something free of exhortations to breastfeed or sleep-train or rush back to work or bake cookies. […] I wanted to write an anti-theory book. Something that was about the compromises that women and men make and argue about; about imperfect feminism and the politics of the quotidian; about ideals meeting reality and reality being shaped by ideals; about the particular as much as the universal.
Luckily for us, Aiyar managed to do just that.