A beautiful morning in Delhi and we set for a stroll. While on our way we meet a woman with her two kids enjoying the last bit of winter sunshine. After a few minutes of waiting for the ice to break, we ask her what does she do and her name. She says, I am a writer, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, a lover, a friend, politically incorrect, spontaneous, opinionated, no fence-sitter, non-conformist-with-streaks-of behenji (!), voracious reader, music lover, hard-worker, brutally honest, baby-squeezer. Whoa! Stop stop! Is your name as long as this? She smiles and says, People call me ‘The Mad Momma‘. Impressed, we wanted to know more about her and here is what our conversation was all about.
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
I was the first among my friends to have a baby and so after I had him I was sitting home bored. No other mommy friends, no job and nothing at my disposal but an internet connection and the will to use it. I mostly read American mommy bloggers and had a sort of vague notion that there couldn’t be too many Indian moms blogging anyway. I began to blog about the Brat in 2006 just as a way to record my thoughts. A few friends were blogging already and they helped me get started – Diligent Candy and Diptakirti among them. I’m afraid I got rather carried away and emotional about him and now I cringe when I look back at the naked love in those posts. I’m glad I closed that blog to public some years ago!
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
I used to blog on a lot of current issues but realised that people are incapable of accepting a woman talking about breastfeeding and BJP on the same blog. A lot of women split up their interests and run 2-3 different blogs. I could never juggle that – primarily because I’m the sort of scatter brain who forgets my password at the best of times. And because I see no reason to divvy things up to keep others happy. Soon, however, the nastiness began to get to me and people who disagree with my views on maybe, dowry death or even smoking, would begin to abuse my kids and family. Yes, there is such scum trawling the Internet! I realised I have Facebook to air my political opinion on and interact with civilised people who I know in real life and who won’t try to get in a nasty jibe under the guise of anonymity. So I do that there, and I stick with less controversial topics on the blog.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
Sometimes. Mostly though, if I get up while writing a blog post I never get back to it. I have scores of drafts lying neglected, never to be completed.
Q: You started with WordPress, then a fellow blogger Lavanya, helped the technophobic you and hosted your blog on her domain, then again you shifted to WordPress. Many readers want to know about this. What was the reason for this temporary shift?
Actually Lavanya is the task master. Every couple of months she takes out a whip and cracks it and tells me to get my own domain and get advertising and make some money. I usually yawn, stretch, scratch my chin and roll over and go back to sleep. Finally, I bought the space but the darn host couldn’t handle the traffic and it kept crashing. Long story short, she hosted me until I bought more space to move. I don’t think either of us thought it was a big deal. It’s only a blinking blog! But then I kept getting email from people calling me Lavanya and I was worried that someone would bomb her house thinking she was The Mad Momma so I moved back to WP. Zimble. Now I’m too lazy to make the shift again. Maybe someday when I’m very rich and can afford to have someone fetch and carry for me and handle the domain, I’ll do it.
Q: There are many people out there who would want to know Mad Momma’s real name. The Google search suggest feature also supports this! Do you get offended when people want to know your name? How do you handle these curious souls? And the age old question, why is Mad Momma an anonymous blogger?
I get annoyed when people want to know my real name – I think the fact that I don’t want to share it, should put an end to the matter. But not everyone has the breeding to let it alone! I realise information on the Internet is free and people have their own set of ethics, but personally I don’t think much of people who want to ferret out information. It’s nosy, invasive and says that they don’t have much else going on in their lives by way of entertainment. I am a journalist and even I draw my lines at paparazzi harassing celebrities and to my mind, this is harassment. There may be bits of information lying out of my control and I don’t respect people who try to connect those dots. It’s like saying, you robbed someone’s car because they left the keys in the ignition by mistake. Dude! They may have jumped out of the car and rushed in with a puking kid or a bag of broken eggs. No one deliberately leaves a car open. But what does it say about you if you took advantage of that moment of vulnerability, and robbed their car? Might seem extreme, but I have a strong opinion on this.
I have people checking my Facebook profile and wanting to see pictures, and it makes me feel sad that they want to invade my privacy even while enjoying my writing. I don’t think they are worthy of my time, friendship or respect.
Why am I anonymous? I don’t know. Everyone was anonymous when I began blogging. It’s fun to have a funky nick and an alter ego. It’s no state secret and plenty of annoyingly nosy people do dig around and find out. But I like it this way. It keeps my work byline and my personal opinions separate, which is how it should be. And this was never about wanting to get advertising or use my blog’s popularity to get a book so there’s nothing to be gained by dropping the nick.
Q: You recently quit your job after 3 years of juggling between mommy-hood and having a career. How difficult was it to balance raising up two kids, spending time with The OA, blogging and doing a full-time job? Were there any time management techniques that you tried to adhere to? How are you using the free time in your hands now, if any?
I was rather stressed out during my working years and I’m happy to be on a break. I want my kids to be a little older before I step back into the rat race. I was fortunate to get very flexible hours and fantastic bosses after the Bean began school. I also had a maid who I trusted with the kids and had trained well. Inspite of that I left office at 2pm and worked the rest of the day from home. But I moved to Gurgaon and no longer have those options available to me. So career, money, independence and the company of adults must take a back seat until my birdies fly the nest. I don’t know about time management. I barely slept, multi-tasked like a maniac, lost my knees and acquired bad skin. Clearly no one with any sense should be taking time management tips from me!
In the last three months (the ones that people imagine would be free time!) I’ve moved into a house, had two chicken poxy kids on my hands, travelled, cooked, freelanced my butt off and set up home. I am currently working on resurrecting the garden in my new house. It’s back breaking labour in the sun and I’ve actually burnt my skin enough to have to apply medication. I am reading a lot more – in the park, on the pot, in the kitchen, everywhere. I’m living it up and I realise that I am not a happy employee. I love working at my own time and on my own terms. Don’t know if I will ever go back to work!
Q: I realise I am done – that burning urge to get up and share my life with the WWW is over. You said this in September 2011. Were there any specific incidents that made you say so? How has blogging been thereafter?
I think this was after that crazy Madrasan tamasha. And I use the word tamasha advisedly. At some point we all blogged to share our thoughts and find like-minded people – be it on books, movies, parenting, whatever. Now it seems to just be the quickest way to get a book deal or get famous. Say something outrageous, build up a frenzy, get it on twitter, have some half-witted journalist pick it up as their piece of the day, and then just build it up from there until you get your 15 seconds of fame. Of course, this also means that the readers who come in are not always like minded or looking for meaningful interaction. You end up getting some readers who are greedy for scandal. Who will see what is trending and show up there. Who are waiting for you to slip up so that they can pelt you.
Years ago when I announced that I was pregnant with the Bean, a bunch of virtual friends did the first virtual baby shower for me. Women from across the world celebrated my baby. I feel my eyes well up with tears when I think of the goodwill that was doing the rounds. How can I, having experienced something like that, want to share my life with the same readership that is making racist comments about their fellow countrymen? This is after all, my family and life I talk about, not something general like books and movies. It’s not easy to talk about your family with people who are busy googling to see what you look like. How does it matter? What matters is that I take the time out each day to share my life with you and you are betraying my trust.
Q: Has The OA or your family ever objected to writing everything about your life publicly? There must have been times when comment left by some readers might have made you furious. How do you deal with them? Share one such incident with us.
Nope. I am blessed with a husband who usually laughs off even the most abusive troll. And my parents who will probably call up and read me the riot act if I say something about them, but rarely ever say “don’t write that”. Fortunately, I am blessed with a brother and sister in law who don’t mind me blogging about them and their son either, so for now all is well. I have had many bad experiences with readers writing entire posts on the way we look, after sneaking a view of my family pictures. I’ve had people mailing me to say they want my brother to die (erm… why?!).
I even encountered a misogynistic guy who said the filthiest things about a whole bunch of random but rather popular women bloggers including me. But the worst by far was someone I trusted and let into my home. She held the Bean in her arms and played with her and then a few days later I realised she was writing vile stuff about me on a blog she ran under a nick.
Q: Why did you feel the need to blog about your daily life? Was it to treasure your memories, to share it with readers just like friends, or something else? Tell us about some pleasing moments of blogging and how have your readers helped you in this journey.
I didn’t feel the need to blog about my life. I am a journalist and I feel the need to write about something everyday. It just happened that I was home with my son and naturally my blog was full of him. It helped that he was a good baby who let me spend time online! That said, my old blog was about so much more than just daily life. It was a lot of social commentary.
As for pleasant moments, I’ve had a virtual baby shower, I’ve had friends who sent me gifts when I had the Bean, I’ve had readers find a way to pass on gifts through a network of friends, without even breaching my privacy, I’ve had people note what I say about my Christmas tree and received baubles from across the world, I’ve made some fantastic friends who have translated into real life and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Q: You are a freelance journalist, and have been in the industry for many years now. As a spectator and also as a part of the same industry, what progress / decline have you observed, in the news content served to us every morning?
I’d rather not say. For the simple reason that I continue to be a part of it, and short of starting my own media company, I can’t think of a way to change the things I don’t like. So there’s no point in being a hypocrite and saying I disapprove of this or that, if I am a part of it.
Q: As a part of the Violence Against Women month on the blogosphere, what kind of stories did you come across, and how did it affect you? While some women are fighting for the rights for the fairer sex, there still are some women who are not even aware of it, and continue to be slaves, as they feel it is their ‘duty’. Looking at all the chaos regarding women and their rights, is there something that you really want to do quickly?
It was shocking to hear some of the stories that came in. It’s hard to believe we share the same world and in many cases, the same social circle. The only thing I’d want to do quickly is educate more women. That would be the first step to making a difference.
Q: Bean and Brat, your two lovely kids, have made us laugh with their innocent little actions, when we read your blog. In recent times, where the peer pressure of doing certain things or behaving in a particular manner exists, and kids are exposed to many things, how do you make sure that your kids pick up the correct ones? Though plans hardly work with kids, have you planned about what you want them to do when they grow up? What have Bean and Brat taught you?
You’re right, kids today are exposed to far more than we ever were. It makes it all the more important for me to ensure that I handle their upbringing personally, and not depute it to a maid or a daycare. They need someone who is emotionally invested in them, to care for them. Like most mothers, I think my kids are fantastic even if the Bean is too aggressive in her choice of words and the Brat too timid in his, and how can I work on this if I don’t spend enough time with them and guide them through the day? But they can’t be completely protected from unhealthy influences, so I make sure that I am there to balance it out and to talk and explain why we don’t do certain things and lead by example. I’m sure this is not a foolproof method but after much thought, it’s the best I have to offer after which I leave it in God’s hands.
I haven’t planned anything for when they grow up, because that is entirely their choice. My father told me he’d never tell me what profession to choose and who to marry (mainly because he didn’t want me to blame him if things didn’t work out, I think). I think that was sound parenting. I don’t even give my kids the usual spiel about being the best in what they do, even if they are carpenters or artists – I find that rather patronising. And it is still a kind of pressure. Besides, how do you define best? I’d love it if they are happy, well adjusted human beings who find loving partners. I can’t think of a better blessing.
What they’ve taught me? To lock the bathroom door. Kidding. I think they’ve taught me that there is no limit to how much you can love or forgive. That when it comes to your children, even your principles might fall by the wayside. That one can never plan, and that raising your kids with love and genuine interest might be the best thing you ever do in this lifetime. One fine morning I was planning a career and receiving awards for writing. The next day I was wiping noses and realizing that I’d do the world a bigger favour by bringing up socially and environmentally conscious and aware citizens, than by selling more magazines or soaps. No offence to anyone who is, because these are personal learnings.
Q: Gardening and Reading are two of your interests. Does your interest help you in someway? If you had a day to yourself (without Bean, Brat and The OA), how would you like to spend it?
I don’t know what you mean by help, but I find that gardening and raising kids with care are two huge ways to contribute to the world around you. To give back to nature and society. Reading is my getaway. I have written about this before. I am not interested in contemporary Indian fiction because I don’t see too many good writers, and it doesn’t interest me to read about the places and people I meet everyday. So when I read, it could be a getaway into the past or to Cambodia and Nigeria. Someday, I might have the money to travel. For now my reading takes me to places I’d never see otherwise.
What would I do with a day to myself? I’d sleep. No, I’d read. No, I’d garden. Maybe all three?
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
I don’t. I don’t like too many readers. People who read me without a context misunderstand everything. I don’t make money off my blog, I don’t blog under my real name, I don’t want to sell a product or a book – what difference does more readers make? I’ve made friends, I maintain many of those relationships and I potter along happily in my own world.
Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
I respond to almost every comment. I always have. It’s perhaps important if you want popularity, and I’ve seen people who never did respond earlier begin to respond now, as a sort of PR exercise. But for me, it was always about making friends and getting to know people; how can you do that without responding to their comments? I’ve got a steady flow of email every single day, and I am an agony aunt to many, many people. Maybe someday I’ll turn it into a column.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
I find the community it builds to be the best part of it. I don’t believe in ethnic and religious communities. I believe in communities built on shared interests – they’re far stronger and more stable. What I love about blogging, is that I am no longer stuck being friends with the girl next door for lack of options. I’ve found a variety of friends who would in real life may have been intimidated or put off by me and vice versa. But we have connected through the opinions we share virtually, and I’ve got to know some fantastic people. I contribute (rather erratically I am ashamed to say) to a children’s book review blog and I have made the most interesting friends there. Let me be the first to admit that if I’d met them in real life, I’m sure they would never have given me a second glance!
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
I think we have some fantastic work in terms of Bollywood, current affairs and politics. I think mommy bloggers need to do more than we do now (well others can do it, I’m too lazy ) in terms of building brands and advertising and what not. My five favourites are:
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
I don’t know really. I pretty much bumbled into mine. Nothing I do is deliberate. I take my blog lightly. I’ve shut it a dozen times. I’ve changed URL without warning half a dozen times. I randomly disappear. No one is more surprised than I am, that it’s still running!
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?
I’m sure it could have a grand future. But the more people choose to harness it to make money, the more it sort of defeats the purpose. It was the bold new honest medium. And now it’s just another paid vehicle.
Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.
Color: Hot pink, says the Bean.
Movie: Can’t have one – too many.
TV Show: Friends and Dexter. I don’t watch much TV so I’m pretty sure I’m rather outdated.
Time of Day: 2 am. Stars shining, jazz playing… sigh. Perfect.
Your Zodiac Sign: Libra
Thank you Mad Momma. The conversation was worth it. We touched upon a lot of topics and learnt a lot as well. Friends, if you have any questions or thoughts on this conversation, do share it with us.