September 17, 2017

a fine balance

what happens
when two rocks that have borne each other's weight
by gently adjusting positions
through rain, waves and storms
are battered and about to give way?

will they
equally split the pressure
so that both are only weathered
or will one take the entire load
and end up being completely beaten?

which is
the better option?
the immediate or the imminent?
the sudden or the gradual?

will there
be another rock
that will some day squeeze into that space
and balance things once again?

would it
know where to sit
and when to move?
or would it just pretend?

but, did that even matter?

September 13, 2017

the circus

ah, the circus
with the funny clowns,
and the flexi acrobats,
the crazy trapeze artists
and the whip-snapping ringmaster

so much noise
so much drama
so much excitement
in the ring and outside
what a fun, action-packed place the circus seems

except when it's your life
and you're stuck
juggling all of it and more
day in and out
oh what a bloody bore!

September 6, 2017

what's the point

i sometimes wonder
what's the point
of doing anything

of protesting
silent or not
of marching
peaceful or not
of holding slogans
scripted or not

what's the point

it's always the same people
the same faces
the same sorrow
the same determination
the same everything

what do the others see?

a gathering at town hall
or at freedom park
or at the press club
people standing until they are asked to leave
because it's time for the next event

yes, it feels pointless

but then i see my kids
standing in the midst of it all
excited about a slogan someone handed them
understanding some things
and curious about the rest

and i remind myself
that that is the point
and that i must never stop doing something
anything

August 20, 2017

The Very Tired Butterfly

Published on Madras Courier


i saw you lying face up
when i went to the terrace this morning
you were in a corner
with your feet up
in a position of surrender
a position that showed no fear
a position that you, maybe, took when you finally went to rest

i kneeled down and peered closer
your face looked peaceful
and i could almost see a smile
that's how one looks in death, i suppose

i turned you over
you were so beautiful
like a tiger
orange, black and a bit of white

what did you eat for that orange to glow?
clementines aren't so bright.
what made the black look blacker than pitch?
blueberries aren't so dark.
and that pure white, where did it come from?
did you eat fresh snowflakes when you last played?

what all did it take for you to become a tiger, oh butterfly
and was it too much that you couldn't hold on for just one more day?

August 17, 2017

reflection

one bright sunny morning
a sudden gust of wind
blew hard upon a tree
and forced it to bend down
and look into the lake

instantly, it sprang back!

it was horrified by what it saw
its leaves had withered
its branches had dried up
its bark had changed colour
it looked beaten
but why?

it had basked in the warm, summer sun
but gotten burnt when it had stayed too long
it had shed its layers in the cool autumn wind
but shivered when it had shown too much
it had been coated in winter's pretty snowflakes
but been blanketed during a storm
it had been at spring’s colourful best
but allergies had made it blue

while it pondered all this
it was struck by another thought
was it beaten, or had it just been weathered?

wasn't it still standing?

yes, it had changed
it didn't have a choice
it had been frightened
of what it had become
so it hadn’t looked
until the push from the gust
had forced it to see

and once it had seen
there was no going back
to another time or an earlier self

so it embraced the gust
the second time around
and let itself be gently swayed
to look into the lake

and it held still
and looked long and hard
at its reflection

August 8, 2017

July 31, 2017

what does it take

what does it take
for the sun to peek out of a cloud
and show off its reds and oranges
however glaring they might be
even just momentarily?
'you're too bright, you're too hot, you're too sharp
go back and hide behind the cloud'

what does it take
for a caterpillar to come out of its cocoon
and show off its rainbow colours
and brand new shape
even if only for a few days?
'you're too colourful, you're not pretty, you're so big
don't pretend to be someone else'

what does it take
for a circus clown
to remove their mask
and show sadness and despair
even if only rarely?
'you're not supposed to be sad, you have to make me laugh
put that mask back on so we don't have to see you'

what does it take
for us to be
and let others be
every single day?
to show off our colours
in the midst of the colour blind
to take any form or shape
in a sea of moulds
to remove our masks
among those wearing shades

what does it take?

July 27, 2017

How Roger Federer Made Me a Mature Tennis Fan

Published first on The Ladies Finger



For the first time since 2012, my fingernails were intact post a Roger Federer match. I also didn’t think twice about moving around, changing posture, or getting something to eat in between points. And most importantly, I didn’t gush immediately on Facebook. Instead, I posted a rather dull status update the day after and used a neon blue background to draw attention to it — ‘a boring final, an incredible record, and a mature fan. life has changed ☺.’
To explain this, I must elaborate a bit on my past as a national tennis player. Most of my contemporaries — girls, especially — played double-handed backhand, which made my single-handed stroke stand out. I also loved to play at the net, something that was again fairly uncommon then. I explained to myself (without any scientific research to back it up) that I could do both of these with ease because I was a ‘tad heavier’ than most others, and hence had stronger wrists. Whatever the reason, I became a fan of anyone who played in a similar manner.
Remember Pete Sampras? Yes, the same one who looked a little unkempt at times, stuck his tongue out while playing, and wore knee-long ‘shorts’. I loved him! I defended him vehemently when anyone I knew made fun of him, his clothes or his emotional nature, but I wasn’t superstitious when he played. And I don’t recall crying when he lost, which when I think back now might seem weird, but I’ve finally understood why after so many years. The LA Lakers. That NBA team dominated my mind for almost the entire time that I lived in America, and my superstitions and emotions were reserved solely for them. I sat in the same spot, wore the same jersey, cried and gloated alternatively, and trash talked incessantly. I became a different person, one who was maybe not as appealing to her friends who were on the receiving end, but I couldn’t care less. They were my team, and I was their biggest fan.
But back to Federer, whom this story is on.
I had watched him at the US Open in 2002, and at the time, Federer’s only claim to fame — other than his beautiful poetic style of play — was his victory over Sampras at Wimbledon the previous year. He eventually won his first title in 2003 and began rewriting history books then on. It was around this time that I moved back to India where the NBA hadn’t made such an impact yet. So out went the Lakers from my head and in came Federer. (It also helped that the Lakers stank for a good five or six years before they went back to winning a title).
There was no need for any nail biting in the early part of Fed’s career. He blew everyone away, except for Nadal on clay. 2009 was an epic year when he won his only French Open title, which I was sure was only because I wore the same clothes and sat in the same spot suffering with pins and needles and not because Nadal wasn’t on the other side of the net. He also broke Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon. I paid no heed to time difference and never missed a match no matter where he played. I blogged about his victories, discussed his genius shot-making with whoever cared to talk to me, and sulked at his defeats, replaying crucial points in my head. ‘What if, why didn’t he, how could he,’ and other thoughts plagued me when he lost even though it wasn’t often. Every time he was to play in a final, I would have sleepless nights. I cried even more than him when he lost the 2009 Australian Open.
Then came 2013, and with it his Grand Slam drought. So many almost-wins but no Grand Slam titles. Nothing worked — for him or for me. He always looked a step too slow, and it always felt like he had played one shot too many. I always followed the same pre-match and during-match routine, including not jinxing it by talking ahead with anyone, but it felt like I was one routine short. My blogs were melancholic, focusing on a time gone by. My conversations were mournful, but I began to accept that his end was nearing and that I should just stop, for my own sanity.
So I began to watch his matches with zero expectations, but it wasn’t easy. Every final or semi-final he lost, I would tell myself that it was OK, but I was worried for his Grand Slam title record. Seventeen was good, but with Nadal and Djokovic snapping at his heels, especially with the latter playing more and more machine-like, I was afraid that he would be overtaken. I was afraid that every match lost was a missed opportunity to widen the gap. But all I wanted to see was that brilliance, even if it were only in flashes. And he shone!
Somehow, I made it through four years and then came the 2017 Australian Open. Before every match, I told myself that he wasn’t going to win and was later pleasantly surprised when he won. When I realised that he was playing Nadal in the final, I wasn’t sure how to react. Was I going to be the nail-biting wreck or the laid-back mature fan who didn’t care about the outcome? Although I didn’t do any of the pre-match superstitious prep, I was a bit nervous. I knew how much it meant to him, and to me, but I decided not to go psycho.
I sat back and enjoyed the high-level tennis that was being played, and applauded both players equally. I didn’t curse Nadal for taking too much time in between points. And I didn’t yell at Federer for hitting the occasional backhand at the bottom of the net. As the fifth set began, I prepared for a loss. I don’t know if it was my bad vibes, but when Federer went down a break, I was tempted to shut off the TV and walk away. But I didn’t. Instead, I marvelled at the composure Federer displayed, the sensible shot selection, and the determination with which he pounced on open opportunities — something that is rare when playing with Nadal. When Federer broke back to even the score, I knew he was going to win. Something told me that he had broken through that barrier. And so he had.
I kept my cool through Wimbledon last week and so did he. Using his skill, smarts and sensibilities, he took apart his much younger opponents one by one. I wasn’t jittery even once, not even in the final despite knowing what was at stake in the context of records. I was happy that he won, but gone was the floaty feeling, gone was the gloating, and gone was the Facebook update — for good. Maybe I’ve broken through the barrier as well. I can’t imagine feeling this way about anyone else ever again, but…
While I watched the Wimbledon final on Sunday, feeling cool as a cucumber, my daughter walked up to the TV and looked at the score. Although Federer was leading, he lost two points back to back just then. She immediately said, “I think I’ll go back to what I was doing, ma. I’m bringing him bad luck.”
What’s that saying? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Or is it the tennis ball doesn’t bounce too far from the player?
Rekha Raghunathan played tennis more than she did anything else in her life until she was 20. She then worked in finance and management, until she rediscovered an interest in writing and editing. Mum, editor, and blogger are her three current life roles.


July 19, 2017

reminders

everywhere i turn, i am reminded
of times that were great
and even ones that were good
why, i'll even take the ones that were better
than now

and it's not just at home
but on the streets
as i walk past stores
and restaurants
and tea shops

sometimes i pause
and think for a bit
i try to relive
i try to recall
memory, and muscle memory

those times that we chatted
even something irrelevant
those times that we hugged
and maybe when we kissed
or held hands

i have to be honest
that it's a struggle
thoughts are so powerful
and they sometimes
override memory

that's the thing
memory fades, quite quickly too
i haven't forgotten the feeling
but i have forgotten the feel
yeah, there is a difference

what helps then are reminders

pictures, as faded as they may be
 and keepsakes, no, not ones bought
but a tissue that we wrote on
or a coaster stained with booze
a shell that recorded more than the sound of the sea
a bill from a bus ride
a goofy smiley scribbled
a codeword we created

anything
something
to keep going
hoping
feeling
believing
living

July 4, 2017

friendship and chocolate

thick hot chocolate
coats and warms my cup and heart
like old childhood friends