Mothers are traditionally revered and with good reason. They bring forth life into this overcrowded world after all. It is also believed that it is only a mother’s love which is pure and entirely selfless. Most mums will be happy to assert that it is all codswallop. Few of that extremely disgruntled and overworked lot would appreciate being placed on a token pedestal given that they are not paid or appreciated enough for the gazillion chores they are expected to shoulder on a daily basis. Sometimes, the very nature of the job with its attendant stressors can make the mommies depressed, resentful, and mean.
Avni Doshi’s Girl in White Cotton is a delicate, yet powerfully rendered sketch of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and an evocative read. Told in spare and elegant prose from Antara, the daughter’s perspective, Tara tends to come across as something of a mommy from hell. She is a loose cannon and a rebel without a cause, choosing to walk away from an admittedly ill-suited marriage, straight into the arms of a charismatic Casanova/Guru with her young daughter in tow. Tara is not the sort to comfort her little one who suffers from nightmares and is unable to acclimatise to a strange new place, where her mom has no time for her and tends to disappear with her Guru into his bedroom, leaving her to get by as best as she can. If Antara insists on acting up to get some attention, odds are she is going to be physically or verbally abused.
Later when the reprobate Godman replaces Tara with someone younger, she leaves in a huff and is infuriated when the husband and parents she walked out on are not exactly falling over themselves to help her out of the hole she dug for herself. Probably with the view to cut off her nose to spite her face, Tara decides to become a beggar before eventually returning home in disgrace and hooking up with an unsuitable artist type.
Antara regales the reader with an account of her mother’s shenanigans and the privations she endured on her account. She talks about befriending a stray dog while living on the street, attending a boarding school run by a sadistic nun who takes corporal punishment to extreme levels and dealing with weight issues because she is always tempted to fill the emptiness and angst gnawing away at her insides with food.
Eventually though, the shoe is on the other foot. It is Tara who enters her second childhood as she begins to lose her memory and finds herself at the mercy of a daughter whom she has wronged. Antara clearly takes after her mother as she discovers her own propensity for cruelty and vindictiveness. Though Antara is married to a wonderful man, the demons from her past hold her down and she flails about in the depths of misery with only her mother, turbulent memories and dreadful secrets for company.
It is terrifying how well-equipped mother and daughter are to tear each other down, though they continue to need the other desperately. In the end, when Antara brings new life to inhabit the sticky web of betrayal, hurt and resentment she has woven with her own mother, one can’t help but shudder in grim anticipation.