In Dipa Sanatani’s The Little Light, she draws on several parent-and-child archetypes as she narrates a fictional story that takes place in the Cosmic Womb: a realm where our own individual pre-life conditions are debated and drawn up before our birth on Planet Earth.

The rest of this post contains spoilers.

“Beloved daughter,” Saturn says. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

The Little Light by Dipa Sanatani

The ‘man of the house’ utters these telling words to his daughter–and not to his wife.

To say, or not to say. That is the question.

Is his wife happy to hear them? Or does she now see her own daughter as a rival?

While father-and-son and even mother-and-son relationships have a long history of getting the lion’s share of the limelight; of particular interest to me, however, was the relationship between Venus and her daughter, Jupiter.

The story of Venus and Jupiter drew my attention to the unspoken difficulties that many daughters face in the relationship they have with their mothers. I did a double-take when I read that a woman as beautiful and as gifted as Venus could be ‘jealous’ of her daughter’s gifts. Initially, I dismissed the idea entirely; but the more I observed the world around me, the more I began to see that shard of truth.

Are feelings of jealousy voluntary or involuntary? If they were voluntary, most of us would opt not to have them. So why would Venus, the muse of all poets, painters and artisans–be jealous of her own child?

Jupiter is loved and adored by everyone; friend and foe alike. Venus knows this jealousy is unbecoming of her, but she can’t help herself.

The Little Light by Dipa Sanatani

During my first read of the book, the character of Venus came across as stereotypical. She smothers her son Mars with a lot of unwanted affection and ignores her daughter. At the crux of Venus’ indifference and jealousy towards Jupiter is a deep dissatisfaction with her own life and legacy–both in the Cosmos and on Earth.

All the other characters are aware of the jealousy that Venus feels towards Jupiter, but no one dares to give voice to the sentiment. This white elephant–this code of silence–makes a mother’s jealousy all the more insidious. Venus’ jealousy of her daughter is expressed in convoluted and indirect ways, which makes it all the more toxic for her son Mars to deal with.

Instead of loving both her children equally, Venus picks Mars as her favourite and smothers him–much to his chagrin and irritation. She sees her son as a vehicle to live out her own unspoken ambitions, all the while, disregarding the fact that her daughter is born with greater gifts than her son.

A study by Carol Ryff and others found that while mothers reported feeling better about themselves when their sons’ achievements surpassed their own, they actually felt worse about themselves when their daughters did better or achieved more.

Toxic mother-daughter relationships play out in different ways. There is no singular way to describe the profoundly painful impact that it has. We like to portray mothers as loving and caring beings who sacrifice themselves for their children, but that’s not always the case. Mothers can project their failures, their desires and even pass on their dysfunctions to the next generation. They usually do these things unconsciously and unintentionally as a way to relieve their own pain and to avoid personally facing up to and overcoming their unresolved challenges.

The selflessness of motherhood is often celebrated in popular culture, but Venus’ selflessness towards Mars is rooted in a deep sense of selfishness. She gives to get–but from who, in particular? Her husband Saturn and her son Mars. Not only does Venus incessantly smother Mars with unwanted affection, she is deeply displeased by the love that Saturn has for their daughter.

By denying Jupiter a mother’s love, Venus denies her own personal development and growth as a woman. If she had been more open and caring with Jupiter, she may have been able to overcome the limitations and difficulties she, herself, faced.

But, instead, she acts like Jupiter doesn’t even exist.

In the book, we are told that Venus, who was once revered in the ancient world, becomes demonised over time. She is portrayed as a temptress who gives and then leads humans astray. The gifts she bestows on humanity are described as fleeting, temporal and unable to withstand the tough tests of time.

But who is Venus’ perpetrator? Is it her husband, Saturn? In the book, the answer is no. Saturn shows a softness and tenderness towards his wife, respecting and honouring her–even when he doesn’t agree with her parenting decisions.

In The Legacy of Distorted Love, it is stated, “As the daughter analyzes what her mother appears jealous about, she comes to feel unworthy. It makes no sense to the daughter that her own mother would have these bad feelings about her. The daughter tries her best to make sense of the situation and decides that something must be wrong with her.”

In Sanatani’s story, Jupiter is unscarred by Venus’ indifference. It became all too obvious to me that most–but not all–of Venus’ wounds are self-inflicted. If she had only opened her heart to her daughter, she would finally have found a friend in a world where she had only had enemies.

Venus’ story is a stark reminder that when we seek love in the wrong places, we never find it.

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