Detail of painting by Manuja Waldia

Detail of painting by Manuja Waldia


A Return to the Village

Words by Heta Fell

Motherhood has been such a powerful shift for me. A paradox of empowerment and the total attrition of my identity. The constant needs—the dependence.  Despite the unquestionable beauty of motherhood, it can also be suffocating. Who am I beneath the endless pile of demands? What is my purpose? Clawing out space for yourself as a mother is the Everest I climb daily.

I’ve been reflective about my experience of motherhood thus far and I believe a lot of how I am feeling is because we are doing far too much alone. This is why I believe we desperately need to reinstate the importance of the village. We shouldn’t have to do it all by ourselves.

I left behind my wider family to move from London to San Francisco five years ago and it was in San Francisco that I felt the perpetual isolation of motherhood. The relentlessness of modern parenting meant that I was a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur, a friend—trying to do everything well, doing way too much on my own, and thereby running myself into the ground.

Who am I beneath the endless pile of demands? What is my purpose?

I grew up with a big Indian family in North London, where our grandparents lived in our house and everyone else was a maximum of 5-minutes-drive away—aunts, uncles, and cousins dropped in for Ba’s chai; kids played freely around the house; we read the paper together on weekends, and all devoured Dad’s Pau Bhaji.  Mum blared Sunrise radio in the kitchen. Everyone was there for one another and everyone retained their sense of self. Beautiful and complex, together.

Despite the hyper-individualism so entrenched in our society I think the beauty of my family is that they have taken the time to build and nurture their village and instead of looking outward for a self-centred sense of purpose, they find meaning in their mutual dependence on each other.  

This month, we are moving home to London—a deliberate decision to return to our village.

I’m thinking about what it means to cultivate a village, to support one another and reject the notion that we only need ourselves in order to survive and thrive. While I know that every person’s village will not necessarily be their family I think, whether real or chosen family; a commune or Whatsapp group, a village starts by you being that person that you need for someone else. It’s all about exchanges. Not in the capitalist transactional sense, but the exchanges that don’t bear expectations. The exchanges that deepen your sense of belonging, understanding and kindness. The exchanges that leave everyone feeling inadvertently more fulfilled.

This is the kind of nurturing village we mothers need more of—not just to survive, but also to give you the space to remind you who you are—beneath the never-ending pile of laundry.


Heta Fell photographed by Athila Armstrong

Heta Fell photographed by Athila Armstrong