life, madras, Rey

Postpartum Trials

The day I came home from the hospital, I cried. I was in the shower, taking my first bath since I had the baby. The hot water hit my bare back as my hands searched my body for familiar contours. They found none. I cried because with every touch, my body didn’t feel like mine. It felt like a stranger’s. It’s a hard feeling to describe when your palms don’t recognize the body they’re a part of.

My stomach was still tender and loose, decorated with purple stretch marks smattered all across my stomach and hips. My breasts were heavy and drooping. My back was hunched, under the assumption that I still carried my 5 pound baby inside me. I had sagging skin on my upper arms and my non existent butt was now very much in existence.

My first meal after having the baby was a hospital tray of pasta, broccoli and soup. Giving birth had unleashed in my stomach an endless pit that no amount of food could satisfy. So I ate. 24 hours after delivery I ate four pieces of French rolls generously slathered with salted butter. These French rolls were the kryptonite to my postpartum period. I ate them everyday for a month.

The days following the birth were rough. In the postpartum, women are expected to eat nutritious food. In the Indian context it means ‘eat all the food’. The congratulatory calls I got often ended with advice about food: eat well, only then you will produce milk; eat more rice, remember, your baby can eat only if you eat. I was suddenly aware of how much of my nutrition was connected to my baby’s. The pressure was on.

My milk took time to come in. Everyone gave me prescriptions for lactation. Eat fenugreek, eat carbs, eat ghee, eat fish, drink water, don’t drink caffeine, don’t eat sweets and definitely nothing cold. I was desperate and tried everything. My breakfast consisted of two eggs, cheese, and three slices of toast. In a couple of hours my stomach would still feel empty so I ate French rolls and butter as a mid morning snack. I’d follow this two huge bowlfuls of bone soup. At lunch my mother would heap a mound of rice on my plate, drown it in gravy and drizzle it with ghee. Breastfeeding mothers are often asked to stay away from caffeine, but it was my only respite so in the evening I’d have my tea with a snack. Dinner would again be large quantities of whatever my mother cooked. This was my diet for two months. Its safe to say that I didn’t lose much of my pregnancy weight but instead gained a few pounds.

Two months went by in a flash and my parents returned back to India. It was me and the baby through most of the day. A good day was when he’d occupy himself for 20 minutes while I caught my breath. On bad days he’d fuss all day and wake up multiple times at night. He would nurse for hours to fall asleep and wake up the minute I put him down. So for the most part he took all his naps on me. He still does. I’d wear him in my sling as I peed. I’d shower twice a week. Thrice, if I was lucky.

Reyhan is an awful sleeper. For the first six months he slept next to me on the bed and would nurse throughout the night. It’s a habit we are working on breaking. By morning my back would be twisted and I would wake up more tired than I was the previous the night. Sleep deprivation sucker punched me in the gut and it has drained every positive feeling from my body. Since I couldn’t do the things that made me happy like sleep, read, leave the house without a crying infant, I ate. Out of exhaustion and out of the need to do something fun, I ate. All the snacks, all the chips, ice cream, breads, cheese, pasta, chocolates, take out. I ate and ate to make sense of my current life.

By his seventh month, Reyhan started sleeping a little better at night and he was comparatively easier to handle. We decided to make the dreaded seventeen hour trip to visit family. I was so excited. Packing took a week. Before I packed each outfit, I tried it on. Over 80% of my clothes didn’t fit me. Many tops didn’t go beyond my neck. None of my pants fit me. In the end I just packed the only things that I could remotely wear and unbutton lest my baby required a boob. This narrowed it down to eight tops and two pants.

The trip home was fun. We spent time with family, Reyhan met his great grandmother, I met all my friends, had a great time with my niece, it was wonderful. I didn’t do any shopping for myself. The fear of not fitting into any clothes was crippling. Even tops that were marked XL and 2XL didn’t fit me. I stayed away from malls. Instead I got my tailor to stitch long, loose, kurtas that hid every curve of my stomach. It was the only thing I was comfortable in.

Every day people would come over to visit me and the baby. It was amazing watching Reyhan socialize with others. He charmed my cousins, aunties and basked in the attention. While everyone were thrilled to see Reyhan, they were shocked to see me.

Many women managed to contain their astonishment, having had children themselves. But the men, oh the men, were disappointed in me and did not hesitate to voice their opinions. About twenty seconds in to meeting my uncle says, “Enna Zarine, gundu aite!” (Zarine, you’ve become fat!). The initial shock of someone commenting on my body the second their eyes laid on it was jolting. I couldn’t fashion a response quick enough. He persisted, repeating himself. I just smiled and ignored him.

One incident, I thought to myself, one incident of one man who doesn’t know the pitfalls of childbirth despite being a father to two sons. I let it slide. He was my uncle.

A few days later there were two more instances of two different male relatives telling me the exact same observation within the first few seconds of our interaction. Again I was taken aback but couldn’t dignify their statements with a response because it felt beneath me.

I discussed this with my sister in law and we both mused about how crazy it was that all the three incidents involved men, fathers themselves, surprised that I had added on the pounds. Their ignorant, we decided. Educating these men will do nothing for them since their ignorance is well rooted into their psyche.

The last two days of my stay saw plenty of relatives being washed ashore to my house. One cousin sister, a mother of two children said to me, “Nalla veite potturruku”. (You’ve put on a lot of weight.) Not a question, just a statement that lingered in my living room. Another relative said to me “You are just like my daughter! She was also fat like you after giving birth!” .

Women. Mothers. Grandmothers. All having been through various instances of birth, all having experienced what birth entails have been disappointed, amused even at my body. None of them realized it, but every comment on my body, the most personal space I know, my essence, which already feels foreign, made me feel more distant from myself

How do people feel comfortable throwing judgments about other’s bodies? Maybe I do not live up to their expectations. And why should I? I’ve experienced how fragile postpartum can be. I don’t need to go through a catastrophe to have a bad day. One look at the mirror will do it for me. But the audacity that people in our society have to so freely throw these statements shakes me. Are they so secure in their life, in their bodies that they have the right to point out others flaws? Or do they say these things because they have no filter and just plainly do not care? I think it’s the latter. It’s the way some people talk. They just don’t care enough to realize the damage these words can do. It’s a habit of saying things without a second thought. Sometimes its done to elicit a response, to see how far they can push you before you pounce back. I have been around far too many people who say the most ridiculous things because its just who they are. It’s how they’ve always communicated. It’s how they’ve lived. And talking this way is the only way they can hold a conversation.

It took me a few days to recover from this verbal disaster. I still have good days and bad days. I still haven’t attempted to try on a huge portion of my old wardrobe, having donated half of it in frustration. I’m slowly learning to feel better about myself by not letting these harsh judgments penetrate my shaky self esteem. I thought I was doing good enough. I felt okay about myself. Until I attended a dinner party a few weeks ago. I met a woman whom I had never seen before and she said to me, “I saw you five years back and you were so much thinner then! Now you’ve put on weight!”.

This from a lady I had just met and whose name I still do not know.

 

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America, Black and White, life, life lessons, madras

Hoarder

I have a problem. I hoard things. I don’t collect random knick knacks and all my nostalgic stuff consists of slam books, letters and diaries. These I keep in two cardboard boxes marked with “ZARINE’S STUFF DO NOT OPEN” written across the front. The boxes safely reside in Chennai, perched above an antique cupboard in my room. I unbox them every time I’m at home, relive those memories for a few moments and pack them up again. Those few moments are enough to tide me over for a year.

What I hoard are pretty things. Notebooks, shoes, clothes and scarves. I buy pretty things with the intent of wearing them but I hoard them while I wait for the “perfect” occasion. This has caused me to buy stacks of pretty clothes that never see the light of day because no occasion seems “perfect”.

I have a gorgeous, purple colored, Kashmiri embroidered jacket. While buying it I was ecstatic at the prospect of wearing it. Since that day five birthdays have come and gone. Anniversaries, special dinners, festivals, but none of these matched up to the “perfect” occasion that I created in my head. I possess a number of beautifully designed notebooks that scream to be written in. Rolls of silk scarves are piled on top of each other, each anticipating a perfect outfit. Exquisite kurtas wrapped in delicate tissue paper sit in my closet waiting to be worn, waiting to create memories in.

But lately I’ve realized that the most imperfect occasions create the best memories. That “perfect” occasion in my head will never materialize because my expectations far surpasses the reality of it. And funnily enough the reality is a million times better than my expectation. Now, I’ve promised myself that I will wear the clothes I want to and write in all my books even if it is just a sentence. I will use my pretty things to make memories even on the most ordinary days and years later, when I come across these things I will see them for what they are- not just “pretty” things but memories.

As for my purple jacket, she still hangs in my closet in quiet anticipation. Little does she know the plans I have for her.

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Events, life lessons, madras, Marriage, Travel

Questions & Answers

I’ve been away from my blog for a month because I’ve been traveling, moving and recovering from jet lag. Towards the end of 2014 I was in Madras for my brothers wedding. I was there to provide my brother with moral support and a steady stream of fart jokes. The wedding and reception were on the 30th and 31st which meant everyone was on a year end holiday so were free to attend the wedding.

My grandmother arrived a week before in order to spend some time with us. Now my grandma is a rockstar. She only ever travels with her entourage. Its like she is the honey and the entourage are the bees around it. Wherever she goes, they go. One of the ladies from her entourage, lets call her Jan, is considered to be her hand maiden. Jan is a character. Her voice has a particular pitch which is indescribable. She is loud, demanding and always wants to be the centre of attention. She is also extremely helpful and makes the best ginger tea. Jan is from Tirunelveli, just like my family. She isn’t educated, so her only mode of “learning” is the television.

Ever since both, my grandma and Jan laid their eyes on me, the only question they asked me was “Are you pregnant?”. Not “When do you intend to have a child?”, but straight up “Are you pregnant?”. I think, I THINK, I might have put on some weight since my wedding two years ago.

I am used to evading this question. I’ve had two years of experience tackling it. So this time around it didn’t bother me much. I just smiled and said “God willing”. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when on the eve of her return back to Tirunelveli Jan said, “The next time you come you should have a boy baby!”. I just attributed her need to stress on the sex of the child to her education which was nil and to her exposure to the outside world which again, is through the idiot box. I also ignored my grandma nodding in agreement to her. My grandma is over 90 years old, has ten children and so many grandchildren and great grandchildren that she can’t be bothered to count. I am just next on her list to procreate.

Once the wedding was over we had a stream of relatives come by our house to see the new bride and groom. This gave me a chance to meet all of them again before I left and also gave me the practice to hit the “When are you going to have a baby” questions outside the park. One of the women who came to visit us was a lady who I liked a lot. She is in the education field and I held her in high regard. After chit chatting and drinking adequate cups of tea it was time for her to leave. She hugged me and said in my ear, “God willing, the next time you come, you should come with a baby boy.”

Now this lady is educated. Her profession was in the field of education. She is smart, enterprising and SO BACKWARD. I do not understand her need to stress on the gender of the child. And what is this obsession with having a boy?! Did people not understand the biology they taught in school? There is a 50-50 chance of the fetus turning out any which way. No matter what we say or do isn’t going to control the sex of the fetus! We can hope, wish and pray for a boy but whoopsie when there’s a girl at the end of nine months nobody can be held responsible.

It honestly amazes me that this lady with all her education could say something like that. I didn’t bother when Jan said it, because Jan and her world are very small. But if both minds work this way then what use is education when people fail to grasp the basic concepts of life? And when is this pride of having a son going to fade? People should be thrilled at the prospects of having a girl. They should concentrate on bringing up an educated and strong woman, instead of “When you were born, we thought you would be a boy.”

The most worrying part of having a girl, at least from my observation, is what the parents will “give” her at the time of the wedding. This problem can be solved if everyone “gives” their a child, boy or girl, education and sound moral character. In this utopia both the sexes are strong enough that they don’t posses the need to compensate for their gender by bringing in money and material things into the relationship.

Clearly this utopia can only be a dream because for some people, no amount of education can rectify their basic thinking.

Also, no, I’m no pregnant.

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books, Eating Out, Food, life, madras, Travel, TV times

Why I’ve been MIA..

It has been over a month since I signed in to WordPress. Things have been hectic and I’ve been traveliing quite a bit. When I did manage to find the time I watched a lot of Downton Abbey. And by a lot I mean A LOT. Also, I though it was Downtown Abbey. Jay was like wow Downtown Abbey like Downtown New York ah? And I was like yeah, thats how they roll. Turns out, that wasn’t how they roll.

I also read and watched Gone Girl. OHMYGOD what a mental story that was! But I loved it.

I took a short trip back to Madras and I got to witness Madras rains after two years. It was blissful. I love rain. It makes me feel so snuggly and so serene and so.. happy. There is nothing like a powercut due to heavy rains, and no food in the house – yeah, I’ve experienced that too. We are facing an extreme drought here in California. It has rained only about six, seven times in the two years I’ve been here.

Whilst in Madras I frequented Saravana Bhavan as much as I could. I have some sad news to report back my fellow Saravana Bhavan lovers, THEY HAVE REDUCED THE SIZE OF THE VADAI!!! Pre this horror when you order one plate vadai you will get : one nice big fluffy, crispy, oil drenched vadai+ chutney + sambar. Now, in the hellish present if you order one plate vadai you will get : four tiny lemon sized vadais + chutney + sambar. Safe to say, I was adequately baffled too. When I first saw the plate I was equal parts surprised and angry, (and a little scared thinking about the future). The waiter said, “Customers ellam complain pannurange madam, aanna management kekemaatikraange.

Over the past few years I have lived through many changes – getting married, moving away from home, living with a boy, seeing little cousins grow up, but this disaster revolving around the vadai is the most painful. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. And what if I go back to Saravaan Bhavan after a year? I don’t even want to imagine the state of future vadais, its the stuff of nightmares.

So for now I leave you with this – the one decent item left in Saravana Bhavan : sambar vadai (which also has two tiny vadais).

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madras

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I don’t need to say I love you in those exact words.

I don’t need to prove my loyalty.

No grand gestures or writings in the sky.

You are in me as I am in you, and nothing can separate us.

I don’t need to say I love you, but I want to.

I love you, with every fiber of my life, from the bottom of my heart, I love you.

Happy birthday, Madras. You beautiful thing, you.

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America, grad school, life, madras, my crazy days, random

Notes from the water

Every summer holidays my mother would enroll me in some class or the other. So, I have done a little bit of everything – dancing, painting, drawing, playing tennis and swimming. The only activity I did for a longer period of time was swimming. Apart from the holidays I started going even on weekends and I enjoyed it. The lady who taught me swimming was a character. The pool we swam in was indoors and pretty small. There were around fifteen kids, one female coach and one male coach. The female coach, I never saw her in normal clothes but while inside the pool she would wear her thaali, one thick gold chain and three chunky gold bangles on either hand. She would shout at us every chance she got. But somehow I managed to swim quite decently, and by the time I got better it was 10th standard and all extra curricular activities had to stop because I had to concentrate on Board Exams because OH MY GOD the world will end if I don’t get in to a good college.

Now that my Board Exam days are behind me, I decided for the benefit of my overall health, I should get back in to swimming. But I cringed at the thought of wearing a traditional “swimsuit” in public. Yeah, I love my body and all that jazz but I am not going to risk a swimsuit riding up my butt in public. During my trip to Dubai last year I managed to find a “modest” swimsuit that a) did not cost a million dollars and b) did not make me look like a clown. The suit I got was very similar to a wet suit. It ticked all my boxes and I was thrilled.

s853wb

My University has a huge Olympic sized pool and I’ve been swimming there for the past few weeks and I love it! It took me a while to get used to the water and I still can’t breathe while I swim and I hang out only in the shallow 4 feet end of the pool BUT I feel amazing! My back pain which was one of the main reasons why I wanted to swim hasn’t bothered me as much, I don’t feel like I am lugging around a few extra pounds and I smell like chlorine. The only disadvantage is that since it is an open pool and the sun is crazy harsh in California I have tanned like crazy. I’m not tan like golden brown tan. For some reason I tan in an awful grey color. So unappealing. I tried using sunscreen but it was a fail. My arms are black and my face always looks dirty no matter how much I exfoliate. I could only think of this one relative who used to say, “You shouldn’t play in the sun too much. You will get tan and your “color” will go off. Then who will marry you?”

Lady, I’m multicolor now.

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America, college, January Blogathon, life lessons, madras, my crazy days

Day 7 – Stalkers

I had my orientation yesterday. Three hours of talking and getting to know others and another hour of a lecture on campus safety. I couldn’t help but subconsciously make comparisons to my orientation in undergrad which consisted of various heads talking about how great a college we were in, the number of laurels the college has won and why we were lucky to study there.I do not recollect a single word being spoken on how we should protect ourselves and be safe within the campus. This month is Stalker Awareness month at SCU and they gave out leaflets defining harassment and stalkers. They gave help line numbers and introduced us to the student safety organizations.

The flyer defined a stalker as someone who repeatedly approaches you even though you have denied their advances. And instantly my mind flashed to my first year of college where guys would keep calling/texting girls and intimidate them in the name of ‘ragging’. While ragging might actually be a good thing if done in good spirit, the other kind almost bordered harassment. The weird thing about this is I never realized that it was harassment until today.

Creeps would get the phone number of girls and send them anonymous text messages, blank calls, anonymous calls, etc in the hope of either starting a relationship or if that doesn’t work out, a friendship. This has happened to me and to every other friend of mine. We would brush of this kind of menace and not take it too seriously. I have an inbuilt ignoring system where once I feel uncomfortable with someone I just ignore them. This did work for me a few times but there were instances when ignoring them would send a ‘playing hard to get’ vibe.

Why did it take me so long to realize that this was harassment? And why did me and my friends never do anything about it? I thought ok, that was a phase, everyone is weird in college and they’d be done with it but no. This vacation when I was in Madras I met one of my girls who works in a top IT company. She was talking about the same kind of guys. There was a guy who would look up the bus time table and make sure he comes with her everyday even though she kept her distance, he would message her on the company’s messaging system and she would be cryptic. Then, he started calling her and texting her repeatedly although she never picked up or replied to his messages.

I’m really baffled as to why we (me included) take this kind of harassment lightly. In college I knew some girls who were flattered by this kind of attention! Guys really need to learn that there is a fine line between showing interest and harassment.

Colleges should also start some sort of student safety organisation. I always felt that my college/university made things difficult instead of easy for us. Maybe they’d change once the stop treating us like children.

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