Writer Ira Mathur Navigates Trauma, Identity And Legacies In New Memoir

In an interview with SheThePeople, Ira Mathur, who recently launched her memoir Love the Dark Days in India, reflects on intergenerational trauma, family, and identity.

Tanya Savkoor
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ira mathur love the dark days

Behind the opulence of gilt-framed family portraits and creaseless heirloom sarees lies a story that often remains untold. A silent but profound inheritance finds its way through generations, shaping lives in ways both seen and unseen. In her latest work, Love the Dark Days, award-winning Indo-Trinidadian writer Ira Mathur opens up about the intergenerational trauma carried by the women of her family, impacting her in profound ways. The book navigates themes of familial bonds, identity, and resilience to offer a raw and evocative memoir.


In an exclusive interview with SheThePeople, Mathur recalls the experience of writing the book and speaks about the poignant journey she took to explore the invisible wounds of her family's history. Using her family's narrative, she unveils the complexities of cultural identity and hidden struggles faced by many South Asian women.

Ira Mathur On Love the Dark Days

Centred around her burrimummy (grandmother), Shahnur Jehan Begum, the book is a tribute to Mathur's history and the stories of the women who raised her. Born in Guwahati and raised in various parts of India before moving to Trinidad and Tobago, it follows her journey navigating multiple cultural landscapes.

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Four generations - Ira Mathur with her great-grandmother, Khaliq un-nisa Begum Sahiba of Savanur; burrimummy, Shahnur Jehan Begum; and mother, Anvar Zia Sultana Mathur, in Bombay

"The process of writing Love the Dark Days was very subconscious," says Mathur. "While my grandmother was dying, I just had a feeling that I needed to preserve her history. So I started recording her life." Burrimummy came from a revered lineage as the daughter of the final ruling Nawab of Savanur.

Mathur recalled, "When I was a child, my grandmother came across as a very strident, strong woman who played polo, shot tigers and played the piano. But I think I saw the vulnerability in her when I got married and I had children. I realised that she was much more sinned against than sinning. Part of the reason she was so angry was because life had not dealt her good cards and she had a very tough time. So I wanted to correct that."


Speaking of her experience unearthing the memories of her family, Mathur shared that penning the memoir was an emotionally intense experience. "Wordsworth says 'Writing is an emotion recollected in tranquillity,' but I was not tranquil. Recalling these memories was extraordinarily painful for me," she expressed.

Candidly sharing her journey, Mathur said, "I was going through therapy at the time because, during bits of it, my brother was dying of cancer. We had come from India (to Trinidad and Tobago) as a family of five but now, one of us was going. It was between this that I had a small breakdown as well."

Mathur is a freelance journalist and columnist with the Sunday Guardian. "People have asked me, 'Why is your book so honest?' but I think part of being a journalist is that you have to tell the truth; even about the wrongs you have done. No matter how unsavoury, how bad it makes you look."

Can Intergenerational Trauma Be Undone?

While trauma is not intentionally passed down through generations, its echoes can be felt deeply within family dynamics. Mathur, a mother of two, shared the effort she put into cultivating a safe and nurturing environment for her children, aiming to break the cycle. This came with a lot of reevaluation and healing too.

"This book is about intergenerational trauma, from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. While writing it, I had to stop and see what I was doing wrong with my children as well," shared Mathur. Experiencing a difficult childhood, she needed to confront how her upbringing might inadvertently influence her parenting.


Mathur's family brought her up with tough love, a 'tradition' that she continued when she had her children.  "That was until my daughter went away to boarding school and I realised she does not feel any tenderness towards me, she finds me intimidating. She told me, 'No mum, these are my boundaries. You do not talk to me like that!' She refused to talk to me if I spoke to her the way my mother or burrimummy spoke to me. It took my daughter being very upset with me for several years to fix that."

Mathur's rocky relationship with her daughter, who is in her early 20s, was a pivotal point in her journey to self-reflection and change. "That is why I have a lot of faith in young women these days. They don't adhere to what the elders say they're supposed to do-- the Sati Savitri image. I'm so proud of them!"

Understanding Identity, Culture As A Child

Mathur was born to a Hindu father, Colonel Mahendra Nath Mathur, and a Muslim mother, Anvar Zia Sultana. Being from a military lineage, her family moved to several stations within India-- Simla, Chandigarh, and Bangalore. Because of this, she was exposed to a tapestry of diverse histories and heritages.

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The author with her parents, Mahendra and Zia, and her brother, Varun

However, this multicultural journey was not without its challenges. From societal differences to familial disputes and emotional struggles, Mathur bore a complex burden while seeking her identity. "I had no identity. For many years, I felt like a fraud. I had a very floating identity," she reflected. 


Mathur shared, "I would go to the Nawabi side of my family where people would say 'Oh she's a Hindu', but when I went to the Hindu side I got the feeling that I was not completely part of that family either. Also, my burrimummy was married to a general in the Army of Pakistan while my father fought in three wars killing Pakistani soldiers. So, in a sense, I was torn in half. Then we moved to Trinidad and yet again, everything was just so different here."

Despite struggling to feel belongingness to a distinct identity, she now believes that her multifaceted background is a blessing. Her life has been a mosaic of varied experiences from her life. "Now I see not belonging as a gift. I have accepted that it is okay to not belong," she expressed. 

A Tribute To Burrimummy

Although an account of Mathur's own life, Love the Dark Days is a homage to her grandmother, a woman whose internal wounds ran deep despite her outward strength. Mathur hopes to seize the opportunities that were snatched from her burrimummy and undo the wrongs that she endured.

Ira Mathur's burrimummy, Shahnur Jehan Begum, on her 18th birthday

Mathur believes that living burrimummy's dreams would also bring fulfilment to her own life. In the book, she recounts, "I (am) here to salvage something for her and maybe myself... I had spent my life playing by the rules of wife, mother and part breadwinner. When was I to learn to wrestle for myself such an expansive time?"

She told SheThePeople, "I feel like I need to undo these wrongs for the women in my family." After burrimummy's death, Ira Mathur sought a lifeline that would reconnect her with her homeland. "Launching the book in India meant the world to me because I felt cut off from a whole continent. This book is my love story for India."

South Asian women intergenerational trauma women and history