Feminist Fiction Books

Shut up, Noomi: Review of Naheed Phiroze Patel’s ‘A Mirror Made of Rain’

Mother-daughter relationships are trending in Indian feminist fiction, which seems to be realising for the first time that they can be fraught. Maybe this is a change, if one considers the ideal Indian mother to be Nirupa Roy in one of her screen avatars, eyes perpetually overflowing for her children, who cuddle up to her in a similarly lachrymose mood. At the other extreme, now we have mothers in fiction who are neglectful, selfish, self-destructive and vile. This is different, yes. But radical? Hardly. If we have been tutored by life rather than by movies, we knew this all along and hardly need novels to enlighten us. To think that mothers cannot be anything but loving is to deny them humanity.

The central conceit of A Mirror Made of Rain is that the daughter sees her hated mother when she looks at herself in the mirror and shudders. Noomi Wadia, the spoilt daughter of a super-rich family in a small town, has a hard-drinking, smoking, possibly bisexual mother who loves to hate her (a perfunctory backstory involving a deceased male child is cited to explain this).

Noomi doesn’t want history to repeat itself but drinks as hard — chiefly because she has nothing else to do. With no need to earn her living, she works briefly as a journalist, because the profession gives her “flexible hours”. If rebelliousness was weighed by how many cigarettes one smokes in the loo, Noomi would be a firebrand.

In her entitled way, she has fits of rage when she isn’t feeling bored. To alleviate the tedium, she gets married to a super-rich man, revels in hip poverty by smoking joints in rented tenements, gnashes her teeth at her in-laws, gets an abortion to defy expectations, only to have a child eventually. The book ends with the suggestion that she will be a better mother, implying (unintentionally, hopefully) that the worth of a woman’s life is measured only by how she fares as a mother.

The endorsements by the likes of Jerry Pinto and Mahesh Rao on the back cover are criminally misleading. Noomi is a sum total of her self-interests and you don’t feel a thing for her, dysfunctional family or not. The only reaction the book elicits is a violent desire to slap the brat and shut the book.

A Mirror Made of Rain; Naheed Phiroze Patel, Fourth Estate India, ₹499


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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 6:40:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/shut-up-noomi-review-of-naheed-phiroze-patels-a-mirror-made-of-rain/article36643770.ece

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