April 22, 2017

moves

moves are painful

they force you to look at
all the stuff that was boxed up
all the things that were hidden from sight
all the dust balls that were quietly swirling

they force you to decide
what to keep and what to throw
what has done its time and what has a few years
whether something still has a place in your life

they force you to recall
moments from photos
memories from keepsakes
milestones from cards

they force you to confront
what was beautiful before it turned ugly
what was memorable before it became a memory
what was once your life before it killed you

they force you to say goodbye, even if only temporary
they force you to express, which you may not have otherwise done
they force you to appreciate, when you might have taken for granted

moves are painful but they are necessary
to help you remember why you did what you did
to help you process why you're doing what you're doing
and most importantly, to help you see why you're better for it

April 18, 2017

the dance

she was awkward on the dance floor
two left feet was an understatement
there was no grace

he wasn't graceful but he loved to move
his body was loose
there was nothing tentative

it hadn't been long since she had seen him dance
but she wanted to dance with him
she wanted to feel as free as he felt
she hoped that he would ask her, and wondered why he didn't
but she didn't take a step towards him

he'd seen her move in her awkward way
and found something endearing about it
he glanced at her off and on hoping for something
but when nothing happened
he decided to take the plunge

he pulled her, but not too close
he also pushed, but not too far
and he twirled her about at a dizzying pace

she was tentative, but she didn't say no
she hesitated, but began to try
and soon they were dancing madly together without a care in the world

one song, then a few more
the time just seemed to fly by
with onlookers watching in envy

but they were both tiring
they had begun to step on each other's toes
it wasn't obvious at first
each giving in to the other's misstep

soon they were completely out of sync
moving with no apparent coordination
each pulling the other in a different direction
with the twirling leaving them faint

so they suddenly stopped, both were jolted apart
completely unprepared for the disruption
it had been brief, but it had been intense
and both couldn't figure out the next step

neither was happy, they felt weary
so they decided to step back a bit
to take a break from dancing with each other
and practice their moves on their own

it felt a bit strange to be back to dancing alone
after such a whirlwind time
they glanced at each other, and they shuffled their feet
forcing themselves to stay in step with the beat

it took a few songs but they got into it
they didn't feel as stiff
and even managed a smile

was it the music that changed
or was it the rhythm in their heads
something felt a bit different

slowly, and hesitantly, both held their hands out
to see if the other would take it
and they moved closer together

he took one step out and she followed
and then it was her turn
back and forth like this they went
and there even was a twirl

they were happy to be dancing together again
but both realised that something had changed
and were eager to discover each other
but this time more slowly
without treading on each other's toes
unless they were doing the newspaper fold dance

April 11, 2017

memory

how vague and one-sided it becomes
how seamlessly it merges, yet also tears things apart
how it brings back a fondness, or unleashes wrath
how it formulates new feelings conveniently overwriting the old

what was once affection turns to anger
what was once concern feels claustrophobic
what was once best left unexplained, becomes inexplicable

was it a joke, or was it masked prejudice?
was it a shoulder to lean on, or was it a crutch?

same people and same situations, but disparate memory.

March 25, 2017

hope

parched land and dry wells everywhere
hot days, getting hotter as time passes
but dark clouds loom
and a small bit of green struggles to break free
hope

long days and longer nights
never-ending pile of deliverables
but an unexpected ping
and an offer to share the load
hope

a sleepless night and a tired morning
upheaval and uncertainty yet again
but wide smiles and tight hugs
from big mouths and little arms
hope

hope is easy. sometimes.

when what we want, happens
when how we envision, others see
when what we see, is beautiful
when whom we want, is there

but there are other times when
hope takes a rain check
hope goes missing
hope seems impossible
and hope is all but a lie

but don't stop dreaming
reach out
look up
hold someone
hope

read and write
sing and dance
run and jump
stretch and fly
hope

do what you do best
do your best
and hope

March 18, 2017

black dog

the dark cloud covers
but its approach you can't feel
till it is too late

March 16, 2017

technology - part one

the other day,
i was flipping through old photo albums.

no, not the musty, dusty kind
that have spent many years in many cupboards.
or ones that have moved around in cartons and containers
from one city to another, or even across the oceans.

not the ones that make you turn your head every which way
because the photos are hanging in odd positions,
clinging to the pages because the glue has dried up
or to memories because they have faded.

not the ones which have a cover
with the date and occasion embossed
sometimes in gold
where you know what's coming before you even turn a page.

not the ones that require you to climb up stools
to reach the top most shelf of an old, tall cupboard
open, close, open, close
until you find the one you're looking for.

no, these albums are handy
and really so
in the palm of your hand if you want it
or at least on your lap.

they are neatly organised
almost as if designed by someone with OCD.
and you can organise them further
any which way you want.

by day
by date
by people
by place

they are smell-free,
but maybe an effect for that will come soon.
the photos don't move,
but you can animate them.
they are in frames that can't be changed,
but that's likely a malfunction.

but you can do other things to them.

want to make them happy?
apply some sunlight.
want to make them muted?
apply a fade.
wish the person's face was bigger?
apply 'the crop'.
wish it was shot at a different time?
apply a filter.

they'll never get lost
unless you forget to back them up.
they'll never age
unless you have a fall.
they won't stop evoking tears of sadness or joy
despite not being touchable or smellable
and they'll never be out of reach
unless you walk away from technology.

March 7, 2017

is there an easier goodbye?

special covers,
lines highlighted,
the smell of time,
dog-eared pages.

choruses,
the one line that healed,
the one tune that choked,
scratched beyond recognition.

faded,
torn,
worn,
small.

gang of girls,
PJ parties,
chocolate and calorie sharers,
fellow drunks.

small,
spunky,
spirited,
scratched and dented.

it's never easy to say goodbye
to a missing book, a favourite tape, that pair of jeans, friends or a lovable car.

yes, i know change is the only constant.
i've learned it enough at school
and i've experienced it enough in life.

people come and people go, and it's the same with stuff.

keep the connections and the memories, and let everything else go.
that's what i tell myself, and that's what i've done, too.
i think.

because then, it's easier to say goodbye.
just slightly easier.

My baby couldn’t latch on to my breasts

This post was first published on Zenparent in November 2016.

I remember it like it was just yesterday. Nurses standing around me supposedly helping me understand Nursing 101, which was to get my six day-old daughter Aditi to breastfeed. She hadn’t figured out how to latch on, and we were both struggling. She because of hunger—she was yet to regain the birth weight that she had lost—and I because of the worst possible pain every time she tried to nurse. The nurses weren’t helpful in the least because all they did was to keep reiterating that breast milk was the best and that formula wasn’t the way to go, even if the child was crying due to hunger (these are also the same nurses who looked at me with disdain because I had decided to take an epidural.) Something in me snapped, and I decided that I couldn’t deal with this lack of sensitivity in addition to all the other things—hormones mainly—that I was dealing with. So I left the hospital and instead turned to the internet to find an answer to my nursing woes.

Breastfeeding support groups were a dime-a-dozen. Most of the forums were US and UK-centric but breasts are breasts and breastfeeding is breastfeeding whichever part of the world you’re in, so I began to read. I learned about the different holds—football (American, obviously!), cradle and side-lying are the ones that immediately come to mind—that had worked for different people, and the immense relief they felt on accomplishing what felt to me a mammoth feat. I tried them all and failed. The more I read, the more of a failure I felt. While words of encouragement were aplenty, they all had an undertone of sympathy—poor you, you aren’t able to do the one thing that most mums do and must do at any cost.

My mum told me a hundred times over to start Aditi on formula, but I wouldn’t hear of it. This, despite her telling me that she didn’t nurse my brother or me and that we grew up on Lactogen—something that I love to eat in powder form even today! In my defence, I had just moved back from the US a few months earlier and was fresh with information on how breast milk is the best milk. In addition to the La Leche League, the most famous support group for breastfeeding mothers around the world, I had been introduced to numerous other sites that had me convinced that if I didn’t breastfeed, I wouldn’t have a bond with my child, and that neither of us would be healthy in the long run. Most of the forums that were set up to offer support seemed militant in how they pushed you to breastfeed at any cost.

Try as I might, I didn’t succeed, but instead of listening to the sensible advice from my mum, I turned to technology again. Enter (drum roll) breast pump. As the name implies, this gadget—available in single and double—pumps the breast for milk. It mimics a child’s suckling motion and ‘tricks’ the body into lactating. It was tough at first because I was not only dealing with engorged breasts but a urinary tract infection thanks to the episiotomy that left me with a high fever and unbearable pain.

The principle behind nursing is simple. You feed a baby whenever it is hungry. It takes the body a little time to understand how much milk and how often the baby needs it, but once it gets it, it gets it. End of story. With pumping, however, it isn’t that simple. Since you can’t pump just when the baby is ready for a feed, you always have to be one step—or one pump—ahead. You’re on a schedule, and one that can’t be changed so easily because the body is ready with the milk whether the baby is or isn’t, so you better pump it out!

I got through four months in this completely mad fashion. I barely got any rest, but I was sure that I was doing the right thing. Breast milk was best, right? When Aditi neared the five-month mark, her paediatrician asked me to introduce her to solids. I don’t know if it was coincidence, but she also began to sleep a lot better from then on. With better rest and sleep comes…ummm…more sense? I realised that I couldn’t go on pumping endlessly because it was taking a toll on me. (Hats off to those working mums who continue to do it through their child’s first year or more!) So I slowly reduced my pumping, and by the time she was six months old, I was completely done. She was on the bottle drinking a formula called NAN which stank to the high heavens, but I didn’t smell like a milk factory any longer so I didn’t care!

When my son was born two years after this experience—yes, many ask how I had the guts to have one more child—I decided even while he was inside my tummy that I wouldn’t put myself through the experience of pumping even one more time. I couldn’t. If he didn’t latch on, he was going to be on formula. With steely determination, I put him on me minutes after he was born and voila! He latched on immediately like he’d done it all his life! (Well, yeah, he had!) I was relieved on so many counts. I could sleep when he slept, I wouldn’t have to wash and sterilise bottles, I wouldn’t have to get out of bed at night to warm up the milk, and most importantly, I wasn’t a failure. It’s funny how that thought that I had failed with Aditi had stayed with me. We got through nearly 9 months of nursing (not exclusively, though) until one day, he pushed me away. And that was that.

I have shared these experiences with my children and the conversations they bring about are always interesting. I’ve corrected my son Yuv quite quickly when he hinted that he was smarter because he latched on while Aditi didn’t, but I can see that she still thinks about it and wonders why she wasn’t able to. It will take a series of conversations that will come with time for people to understand that nursing isn’t the only determinant of how good a mother you are. It’s not even only having a child biologically, and it’s not even only being a mum to a human. Yes, the love and bond between a mother and her children is special, but so are the bonds of many other relationships—and they don’t have to be only by blood or breast milk.

I started this story saying that I remember it like it was just yesterday, but it’s been nearly 11 years since Aditi was born. I’m happy to say that I have a close bond with both my children despite one not being breastfed at all. We are all in pretty decent health, too. Yes, there are moments (many) where we all get on each other’s nerves, but it’s not as if the breastfed one bothers me any less.

Why this long ramble? Because I hope my story brings some comfort to new mums going through the struggle, tending to a new born, accepting the changes to your body. Hang in there, ignore preachers, chat with your friends (preferably ones without children), and get a glass of wine once in a way. You’ll at least get a few hours of sleep. And so might your child.



Rekha Raghunathan is a full-time mum and editor and a part-time writer. Madras and Bangalore are her homes, and Roger Federer is her obsession.

February 23, 2017

phantom menace

a thin, white, minty stick the size of my ring finger
with a bright red tip, the memory of it still lingers

i've smoked it many a time
with friends, of course
i've tossed and caught it well
like the movie star, of course
i've held it between my teeth
to look cool, of course
i've blown many rings
imaginary, of course

phantom sweet cigarettes, are they to blame
for the fascination or is that an excuse, lame

what you see when you light up is probably just my frown
but it's because my heart beats a lil' faster knowing that yours is slowing down

February 21, 2017

benevolent babas

left and right i turn,
bearded men with palms raised
compete to bless and sell