Every fortnight as I sit down to write this column, I scan the news websites and social media to update myself on current affairs. In the last few months this process has been accompanied by a sense of foreboding. Some months ago, my husband and I discovered I was pregnant. It was almost immediately after our court marriage and neither of us was prepared! We were prepping for a larger wedding celebration in March, and did not guess that my constant fatigue and gynaecological issues were signs of pregnancy. Once we digested the news, all other concerns were replaced by our anxiety at being clueless first time to-be parents. I, beset as I was with hormonal changes and first trimester sleepiness, began to read books on pregnancy and devour the internet for any kind of helpful information.
My biggest takeaway—one that was corroborated by my gynaecologist and friends—was the simple motto: what affects the mother, affects the baby. This was true not just on food and nutritional consumption but also audio-visual consumption. ‘Avoid stress’ was the seemingly simple mantra everyone parroted.
I tried to take all the pregnancy advice seriously. Along with giving up my much beloved daily coffee, I also switched what I was reading and watching. I decided to avoid non-fiction, or tragic literature, and switched to light comic novels or (safest) Enid Blyton! Next, I stopped watching all the realistic drama on streaming platforms and replaced them with re-watching of romantic comedies that I knew had happy endings, and children’s cartoons! But, at least once a day, my already hyperactive hormones found me getting awfully wound up! The culprits I decided were the Bollywood entertainment sites I followed. The spate of Hindutva propaganda film trailers, announcements and controversies were agitating and depressing me as I witnessed my beloved place of work transform into a mouthpiece for hate. I unfollowed such sites.
I took care not to read any comments on any life update I had posted. But how could I avoid the news completely when I write an opinion piece for a current affairs magazine? And I decided perhaps there is nothing wrong with following the news—surely the foetus should be kept abreast of happenings in the world it will soon come to inhabit.
But the news seemed to be on awful, destructive hormones. Each time I refreshed the screen, there were reports of more shootings and destruction in Manipur. One more hapless Muslim lynched. A dalit thrashed by an upper caste lineman for checking a faulty electrical wire. A video of a man urinating in the face of a tribal, the assaulter a BJP member and aide of an MLA in Madhya Pradesh. Images of Israel attacking Jenin, killing children and forcing thousands of Palestinians to once again turn refugees. Our Army threatening retired personnel on withholding their pension if their social media posts maligns “the image of the Army”. I felt weary and depressed. How do I protect an unborn child from a world that seems hell bent on encouraging the basest and most evil of human instincts and further oppressing the already marginalised? More important, how do I protect my child from the mother’s angst?
I confided in an older friend I trust and respect. She started with a disclaimer, “I don’t have children but I think it is more important to raise a courageous child who can stand up for what is right, than a well-meaning coward who has been shielded from harsh facts her whole life. The world is in this state because well-intentioned people allow the evil ones to have their way!” It was sage counsel, but I thought of my poor unborn child, blissfully ignorant of the cruelty that persists in the human race, and I began watching heartwarming animal videos.
Let the little one have another few happy unaware months in the safety of the womb—it will have an entire life to deal with the realities.
The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.