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Mother’s Day Cover Story: Mum’s not the right word! -The Brunch feature


Nerja Birla had her first child in 1994 and had her first postnatal depression. She was happy to be a mother, but always felt strangely depressed and overwhelmed. Why do I feel like this? She wondered, and it took a lot of stamina, self-confidence and spiritual connection to get through it.

Nerja Birla suffered her first postnatal depression after the birth of her first child.

Nirja is the wife of industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and belongs to one of India’s largest entrepreneurial families. She’s the mother of three grown-up children: Anania, 25, Aryaman, 22, and Advaisha, 16, two of them are now young people who make their life and career decisions with strong and independent thinking, as their mother taught them. But that’s the story of the second half of this article.

I want mental health to be something that can be discussed at the family table.

My postpartum depression hit me hard, Nirja remembers. She made me read and realize that I will not be the first mother to experience this experience and that I will not be the last. Postpartum depression is a physiological, hormonal thing, it’s an imbalance of neurotransmitters that causes anxiety. I was able to overcome it because I was strong, but I realized I could do it easier if I had better help.


Today, Nerja Birla is the head of Mpower, an organization that promotes the cause of mental health in all regions and classrooms, giving those who need to talk the opportunity to listen and give advice, equating mental health with physical health, and eradicating the stigma associated with it.

Nerja advises people in quarantine to treat things routinely and look at them positively.

But it wasn’t her own experience of the Depression that led her to lead Mpower. I became a mother many years ago. Recently I identified the need for mental health information in the schools I work with, she said. Historically, traditionally and culturally, no one has ever cared about mental health. It’s always taken for granted. Nothing about personal feelings is important. If you’re not strong, you expose yourself to weaknesses and don’t know how to deal with them. Anyway, a word of advice: Put your feelings under the rug. Keep them away. You get the feeling that if you don’t watch them, they’ll just leave.

It’s good to be sick, but it’s not good to be sick and not seek help!

Maybe we don’t want to go to the dentist because we’re afraid to go to the dentist, she says and suggests an analogy. But the truth is, if we don’t go, the toothache won’t go away!

(clockwise, top left) Nereya Burla with the kids: Advaisha, Anania and Aryaman Vikram.

The biggest problem is that mental health is seen as a stigma. It’s a bit of a no no. Even if people know, there’s a feeling: What will people say? I want mental health to be something that can be discussed at the family table, Nerja says. We need to make it easier to make it a normal problem by encouraging discussions that will eventually lead to the removal of the stigma. Therapist shouldn’t be a bad word anymore. What do people do when they have diabetes? Treat them, huh? Don’t hide!

Ariaman told me: Mom, if I emphasize this in my career, it will encourage people to do the right thing.

Some people think that mental health is a problem of the rich. That the poor are confronted with bad food and bad nutrition, while the privileged are engaged in spiritual matters. Syria is absolutely against this idea. Just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re happy. Mental health is not discriminatory. Your economic status, your gender, your age, none of these things matter. In fact, our foundation has noticed that people from economically problematic population groups come in larger numbers than in the centre.


When Nirja talks about her relationship with the children, she uses an unusual word: The janitor.

When Anania told us she wanted to be a pop singer, [Kumar and I] took it pretty well.

As parents, we have to be guardians and take care of our children. We need to shape them, guide them, give them age-appropriate advice and help them make age-appropriate decisions so that they can defend themselves, she says, introducing a new perspective on the traditional bond, which is often laden with emotions and expectations. What we need most is to teach our children to be independent. They must learn to make their own decisions and take responsibility for the consequences.

Think of the traditional Marvari family, represented by Nerja Birla, and you know that this is a truly extraordinary approach to raising children, and two of their three children, who are old enough to go their own way, have already experienced Nerja’s faith.

After starting up a fairly successful microfinance business as a teenager, Anania Birla decided to leave Oxford University and pursue her dream of becoming a pop singer. An unusual and unpredictable profession in many ways. Was Nirha worried?

Kumar and I visited Anania in Oxford when she said she wanted to leave school and become a pop singer, Nerja said. She told us that day that I liked it, and that’s what I want to do, and we both took it well. Maybe we already knew her name. We told him to try.

Nerya talks about her relationship with the kids, she uses an unusual word for herself: Viewer

The hardest part of my training is the dichotomy it represents, Nerja adds. You’re wasting time trying to make your children independent, then cut the umbilical cord and watch them make mistakes.

Between Neria and Qumar Mangalam, who is the bravest of the parents/guardians? Pat will come up with an answer: Я !

Isn’t Kumar Mangalam such a brave man? It’s more traditional, Nerja says. As a child he was very busy with his work, so the responsibility for raising children ended up standard on my lap.

Then she adds: We all know people of our generation who couldn’t realize their dreams and still regret it today. I didn’t want my kids to feel that way.

Wire / force

Neary Birla’s strength shines as brightly as that of her second parent, Aryaman Vikram.

The aspiring cricketer, who played for both the Rajasthan Royal IPL and the Madhya Pradesh cricket team, decided to leave the game indefinitely because he was very worried. Last December he released his decision about Instagram and said: I feel the need to put my mental health and well-being above all else. We all have our own journeys and I want to use this time to better understand myself.

Nirja is the wife of industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and belongs to one of India’s most important entrepreneurial families.

Needless to tell Neridge that Ariamanka seems to be a chip off the old block, so his eyes will light up immediately. I’m very proud of Ariaman. It took a lot of courage to do what he did, Nerja says. As a mother, I led him through this process. I told him you’d get questions. Is he willing to face the consequences? Has he thought about how he should react and how much pressure he should apply?

Ariaman told me: Mom, by publishing it, we’re encouraging people to do the right thing. As a mother I was afraid of him, but at the same time I was very proud. That was very generous of him!


As the world struggles with an unexpected pandemic, the need for resilience and intelligence becomes increasingly important. At Mpower, we set up a hotline with the Brixanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Government of Maharashtra. We publish content on social networks and video chats, and online consultations are more active than ever.

My advice to people in quarantine is to maintain the routine, see things positively and stay in touch with the technology, Nerja says. These are difficult times; understanding our emotions will help us to create the right mechanism to overcome these times. Remember this: It’s good to be sick, but it’s not good to be sick and not seek help.

Join the conversation with #MumIsNotTheWord.

Mother’s Day: How I overcame postpartum depression… Read it.

Mother’s Day: I’m not three years old anymore, writes Shefali Shah. Read more.

Follow @JamalShaikh on Twitter

From 10. May 2020


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