Book review: Teething by Megha Rao

By Neeraja Srinivasan

Apart from a brief flirtation with stories written in verse back when I attempted to read ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe, I hadn’t really explored this genre of poetry. That is, until I read ‘Teething’ by Megha Rao. ‘Teething’ is a concoction of quiet confessions, lost love letters, beedis, biryani, and everything in between. The book tells the story of a young boy, Kochu in Kerala, and the aftermath of his suicide. But honestly, it feels like these heart-felt poems could be about anyone – you, me, or the poet herself. 

The word ‘teething’ refers to the process of growing teeth, usually within the context of children. The interesting aspect here is that teething is sometimes painful, but essential for a child’s growth. In a way, this book encapsulates the growth of the author herself, as she aims to put pieces of a broken past back together while making sense of the future. By plucking little nuggets of emotions from her own personal experiences, Megha Rao fluently weaves together feelings of warmth, estrangement, strength, and belonging. Megha’s writing feels like that moment when you stutter- an idea struggling on the tip of your tongue – and suddenly there’s a breath of fresh air, a light at the end of a tunnel. She’s there, putting everything into words. Her clear-eyed poems on the paradigm-shifting power of love, or her observations of her own community, identity, trauma, and politics, should be sewn into the fabric of our understanding of ourselves. 

Megha’s ‘Poems to Calm Down To’ podcast on Spotify has eased me into sleep on many difficult days with a lingering smile on my face. I also particularly enjoyed the backdrop of the author’s home, Kerala, throughout the story. Coincidentally, the book I read previously is also set in Kerala. ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundati Roy left me aching for its landscapes, culture, and little quirks, which ‘Teething’ fully satiated. I found myself being drawn to the titles of some of these poems, like ‘Coconut Oil for Trauma Wounds’, ‘Susamma’s Wine Shop’, ‘Chocolates from the Gulf’, ‘Gooseberry Pickle’, and so on. She manages to create a middle ground between the mundanity of everyday life and the seriousness of issues like sexism, mental health, and homophobia, using her words as bricks. 

Through these pieces, Kochu’s older sister, Achu, aims to understand and digest the various secrets that haunt her dysfunctional family. The book is reflective in the sense that it gently eases her into confessing truths about her parents’ disturbing relationship, her mother’s blinding trust in the church, and the unspoken grief she herself carries everywhere, as a result of her smudged childhood. 

If I had to pick one thematic concern from this book, I’d have to say acceptance. The author’s own acknowledgement of herself through her words helps us, the readers, gaze at the world through her lens. This is not to say that the book is all sunshine and roses; it is certainly not. Although dark and disturbing at times, it is this lens that helped me make sense of the little pockets of love and tenderness that are all tangled up in life’s sadnesses and tragedies.