My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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20 April 2018

Newsletter: Ground control to Major Tom

(Last week's newsletter. This week's just went out on Thursday, and I now have close to FIVE HUNDRED subscribers, so please join them by signing up here.)

This week in Inner Resources: Remember when you were a kid and you complained about being bored and some older person (usually a parent) told you "Only boring people get bored." And then you were all like, "Gee, THANKS for that, and now I'm STILL bored, but now mixed with my boredom is a sense of inadequacy because obviously I am boring as well." It was a bit like that one moment in 1992, when everyone insisted the dictionary definition of cute was "ugly but bearable" and you had to live with that for the next two years every time someone called you cute or you called something cute, some wit would pop out of the woodwork and wink at you and go, "DO YOU MEAN UGLY BUT BEARABLE HO HO HO." I remembered it the other day when someone said I was cute, and I was the wit going ugly but bearable ho ho ho. I couldn't even help myself, the eleven year old girl inside me just took over the steering of my brain for a second there. It's funny the things you retain--your old landline number, the lyrics to a song you haven't heard in fifteen years, the smell of other people's houses--not somewhere in your head that you can immediately access, but say you time travelled back to the year 1998 and had to dial yourself--your fingers would know the numbers that meant "Home" before it was just a single button on your cellphone.

But while we're on boredom, only because this week has been a waiting one, the week before I finish my book, so close to the end that I can taste it, here is my favourite poem about boredom, called Dream Song 14 by John Berryman, perhaps you know it already.  It goes:
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. 
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, 
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy 
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored 
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no 
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
This week in Doing Something About It: So I went to a doctor about the RSI, and he said, as we suspected, that there was nothing much that could be done medically, and had I considered changing the way I type? I'm trying to touch type now, and also resting my wrists on an external keyboard, but it is so slooooow. Every now and then I get so caught up in what I'm typing I go back to my normal way of doing things, but that's not great. The other night I had a dream that my hand was amputated, and I was an artist, so I was very sad, and when I woke up and remembered that I was a writer, I felt a lot better. Once the book is done, once we make our travel plans for the summer, I'll take a nice long break from writing and come back with stronger limbs.

This week in Finally, I Have Earned My Indian Woman Badge: I put on a sari by myself and it only took me ten years to do it! I prefer dresses to saris, just because I find them more interesting. For me, the only interesting thing about a sari is the way the fabric looks, but it's always felt like just that for me: fabric. You wrap it around yourself, you look exactly the same as everyone else who has wrapped it around themselves. I mean, it's nice and all, but it's a little... boring. (I'm sorry, guys! I know a lot of you are sari fans, this is just a PERSONAL OPINION.) Given the choice between wearing a dress (made out of nice fabric as well, there are lots of "fusion" dresses out there these days) or a sari to a party, I would always pick the dress. But to a wedding, it's easier to wear a sari than try to formal up whatever dresses I own. I appreciate them as a wedding outfit, especially with a nice blouse. You look pretty mostly, and conventional, and if it's not YOUR wedding, then what does it matter in the end, right?

(Side note: your sari too can be sexy and unconventional, thanks to this website Janice pointed out to me. A lot of them look amazing, and I was fully inspired to try one myself, but the damn thing wouldn't drape as nicely as the girl in the video's.) (Side note two: a lot of the drapes on that website are the between-the-legs pants ones, and I wonder how you pee in them. No one has said.)

Anyway, with the help of a YouTube video and a little ingenious tucking in here and pulling out there, I managed  not only to put on a sari to a wedding party but also have it stay on all evening long. Hurrah for me!
And now on to the Link List!

OMG this column by a woman trying (and failing) to become a domestic goddess is making me so jealous because it should have been my idea!
Excerpt: As I scrolled through picture after picture of these fancy cookies, I became overwhelmed with envy. I too wanted to post a picture of my beautiful, salt-flaked creations with some self-effacing caption like “All aboard the shortbread cookie bandwagon!” or whatever. But the thing is, I dread baking: It requires a degree of patience and precision I simply don’t seem to have. The last time I baked, I was 12 years old and set out to make meringues for my mom’s birthday. I carefully measured the sugar, separated the egg whites, then one thing led to another, a carpet was ruined, and I was grounded for a week.
Beauty is the next big lifestyle beat, and this is a nice read about what it means to be a cult beauty product. (Also that fact about Ruby Woo blew my mind.)
Excerpt: “Classic” can be another word for basic; it’s not that fun to hand over your credit card for a tube of Ruby Woo knowing that somewhere in the world, three other people are doing the same thing that very minute. But cult classic reframes that experience. You aren’t joining everyone; you’re joining others like you, whose beauty journeys, particular needs, and discerning tastes have lead them to this singular thing.
If famous authors described my attempts to date. (OTOH, you could just read about my experiences in my essay in Eleven Ways To Love, out now in your local bookstore.)
Excerpt: Dr. Seuss on Texting

They had a great hang, so full of wonder and fun,
She felt happy to be passing time with someone.
When it had ended and good time had been spended,
She went back home feeling quite glad she attended.
I find myself thinking of this essay called Why Go Out a lot these days.
Excerpt: Of course, telling someone about an insult is like telling them about a dream; the specific emotional core of it cannot be communicated; all that comes across are disconnected and meaningless symbols. But let me assure you, this conceptual poet was digging his nails into my heart – he knew it, and, five minutes later, I suddenly felt it, too, like a kick in the stomach – which led to a week and a half of fuming in bed, unable to sleep, my declaring this man to be my enemy, the reconceiving of a magazine article I was writing in such a way as to include a subtextual layer that would annihilate conceptual poetics, a week and a half of going out every night and talking through the insult with each of my friends – what am I even saying? It took leaving the continent for the insult to finally recede into the background of my days, and for me to regain my equilibrium.
Excerpt: Another product of 1925 was the woman’s ‘pullover’. Not today the most exciting item in anyone’s wardrobe, it was in its way revolutionary. A pullover is pulled over the head both on and off and the person who does the pulling is the wearer. Yes, I know, but until then it had been, for more than a century, virtually impossible for a woman to get dressed – or undressed – by herself. The rich had ladies’ maids, the poor had one another, but the laces and hooks and eyes, the fastening behind, required assistance. This was not true for men. In the persisting convention that women’s clothes have buttons on the left, for the convenience of the average right-handed dresser, while men’s have them on the right, to suit themselves, there remains an archaeological trace, a fossil record, of the different history of women and men in their relation to their clothes. Fashion writers, who are apt to discuss new trends with the urgency of war reporters on a particularly dangerous front line and to misuse the word ‘iconic’ relentlessly, can be forgiven for idolising the Italian couturière Elsa Schiaparelli and her ‘cravat’ pullover. It stands for a new age in women’s clothes. Not only could you get in and out of it by yourself but the fiddly bits, the bow and ribbons, are knitted into the one piece. Schiaparelli, who was a surrealist and worked with Dalí, had made a satire, a cartoon of female dress.
An oldie, but suddenly relevant all over again: when Salman Khan shot that blackbuck.
Excerpt: If any of the villagers in the area of the hunt heard anything that night, they kept quiet about it. Likewise, the guide, the driver, the hotel staff and the cook. The party, again led by Khan, went out hunting again and again: on the 27th, the 28th, the 30th. No-one breathed a word. These, after all, are the kings of Bollywood, India's new maharajas, and they do as they please. By day Khan strolled around the Umeda Bhawan Palace topless, baring his glorious torso; management implored him to cover up but he ignored them. By night he and his friends hunted. Who could deny them? Who would have the courage to stop them?

16 April 2018

Today in Photo

This week I recommend reading my friend @janicepariat's brilliant third book: The Nine Chambered Heart which will make you think of your past loves with an entirely new eye. Follow it up with Possession, if you haven't read it already, another love story from an outside point of view. Lie on your sofa and ignore the looming summer. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub#nowreading #158in2018

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11 April 2018

Today in Photo

Self portrait of the author as a friend waiting for you while you try on clothes. #delhidiary

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10 April 2018

Today in Photo

Trying to get a few thoughts about dogs into coherent order after reading this incredible book: the life of Elizabeth Barrett's spaniel, Flush. People think you can only be a cat person or a dog person, but "I am large, I contain multitudes." Just as I love several people and several cities and several books so do I love dogs, I HAD dogs most of my life until I lived alone and then I needed cats. Spaniels, how we loved spaniels, maybe it was because my mother recommended this book to me since she loved it herself, my first dog was a purebred Cocker, my last dog was half Cocker half mongrel. Temperamental creature, she bit all new people and loved us madly. Enid Blyton was full of spaniels as well: Scamper and the rest, and Deborah Crombie's Gemma James is a fan. Spaniels maybe inspire more literature than the rest, they are among the most beautiful dogs in the world and one of the most popular, at a time Delhi was full of spaniels: mostly Cockers but also some Springers, but now, like the Pomeranian they have fallen out of fashion. One day, when we're old and moving around less, maybe I'll have a dog again, maybe I'll have three and one of them will be a Cocker Spaniel and I will call him Flush. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub#nowreading #158in2018

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9 April 2018

Today in Photo

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry? #blake #olgadapolga #catsagram

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8 April 2018

Today in Photo

With spring showers come lauki flowers. (ETA: Tori not lauki but then I'm not the genius that Ram Lal is.) #terracegarden #eatwhatyougrow

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Newsletter: So my pop culture references are mostly from the 1800s

This week in feeling like Beth March and/or Ruby Gillis (which is an actual thing my friend Sam referenced the other day, and I am totally stealing it from her) (actually in my case, it's more like Katy Carr): My hand is WORSE, well, it was worse this whole week, so I spent yesterday resting it, and today I am writing with a timer on so I can take a break every ten minutes. Not to worry, friends and concerned citizens, I am actually going to see an expert about it this week, and not just stick to this home doctoring. From what I understand though, there's not really a "cure" for carpal tunnel, but at least the physiotherapist will give me some exercises so I can stretch out my arm and make it feel less stiff.

However, it was not a wasted day, because I got to do my number one favourite thing to do when I am ill, which is watch TV mindlessly propped up on my pillow like an invalid. The Germans have a word for mindless watching: glotz, which I just love. Glotz, glotz, glotz. I glotz-ted my new binge watching obsession, Friday Night Lights, which I hadn't seen before because it's supposed to be a show about American football and sports are very much "who cares" in my book. HOWEVER, it is about so much more than football! The football is the background, the reason for the show existing, etc etc, but it's really small town teen drama with all sorts of small town intrigues and set in the American South which might be my favourite setting for small town TV shows (think True Blood). Try it, it's on Amazon Prime, and I'm pretty sure you'll be super into it after you watch that pilot.

(While I'm on TV recs, Parenthood, one of my favourite shows of ALL TIME is also on Amazon Prime, and you must watch that also if you're in a heartwarming drama mood, and really, who isn't, right?)

This week in sometimes we are also Ruby Gillis in other ways, which is when we go to parties and toss our hair around: My friend Ameya (I realise I say "my friend so and so" a lot. Can I just stick to their names? You'll know it's a friend, right? In the case of a FRENEMY, I'll say "my frenemy" just to set the record straight) (HAH AS IF! I am way too chicken to actually call out someone's shitty behaviour in real life on the internet! I'll just turn them into a nasty character in my next book!) ANYWAY, Ameya is obsessed with this new jazz bar in the usual no-fly zone of South Ex II, called The Bar Cat and it's like all the good things of Piano Man and PCO with none of the bad (too crowded and too trendy and so too full of children respectively). She took K and me there last week to see a band called Los Catphonics, who were okay, but the bar was really nice. Good cocktails, swing jazz house playlist, and nice food too. Pricey, but it can be your "let's get dressed up and go out with friends" place. Or maybe you have a full time job and are not peering at everything through the shredded remains of your last freelance invoice.

This week in practically turning into the Jetsons:  Here's a first world problem for you: what do you do when you are in the middle of crafting a perfect sentence and your cook comes in at just that moment and asks what you want her to make, turning your thoughts from High Poetic Ancient India to mmm what shall I put in my mouth today? (We have a feminist household, and our division of labour is pretty equal, and I decided to take on the meal planning because, well, I enjoy it, and I care more about what's for dinner than K does.)

What do you do? You do as I did and get an Excel sheet going! I commissioned K to build me something that would let me not only put out all the meals for that week but also have a running grocery list by the side so if for eg, we're eating daal and we have no daal, I just have to check the column in red to see what I'm missing. You can update the list of dishes and ingredients and now it's mostly smooth sailing. I will send you a link to the spreadsheet next week as soon as he tinkers with it a bit more because right now he says it's not yet ready for public consumption. Still it has made my life a lot easier.

Also since all that fuss about antibiotics in your chicken, I have been trying to find a better source. I use the app Fresh To Home which has really really nice fish--we've been eating a lot of fish these days, and I've been using our wedding present Suriani Kitchen (thanks Mihir and Snigdha!) to make all sorts of nice things. The chicken is not the best though, but Zappfresh has been recommended as another good source of antibiotic-free chicken, so will try that next.

This week in stuff I wrote: My monthly books column this time featured statuses: Facebook, singledom in your late thirties and the state of the world in a post apocalyptic future. An excerpt:
Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s Status Single is the result of her interviews with about 3,000 single women on the realities behind being single in this country. It’s very much a PLU (people like us) book, and yet, it is an important one simply for taking into account the stories of thousands of urban, educated women and what happens to them in this country when they are minus a husband or partner.

I do love this gig, and how it makes me think about the stuff I read and how to structure it into themes each month. Speaking of reading, it was this month (sadly after column was published) that I got into Cynthia Voigt's excellent series about a family called the Tillermans. The first book is the strongest, and the one I would recommend the most: Homecoming about perhaps my favourite kind of kids-making-it-in-an-adult-world theme, the survival type story where you live off the land by making fires and fishing and hiding from grown ups. Very good. I'd recommend it highly for your next reading fix. 

Sunday link list here to destroy the other things you had to do this afternoon
Our top story this week is a woman who befriended a bumblebee. Befriended. A. Bumblebee.
Excerpt: Since the bee, now formally named Bee, would have to walk from flower to flower to feed, Presly built her a private floral buffet. Using some netting, she built Bee an enclosure full of blossoms where her winged counterparts couldn't reach to deplete the pollen.
Heh, never date a writer, kids.
Excerpt: Well. If I was going to be in this dang book, at least that gave me license to pick it apart.  I snickered at the skewed grammar — was the foreman blonde, or the daughter? — and rolled my eyes at Carl’s middle-class depiction of my working-class upbringing. And that tentacle thing. The narrator, named Frank, had just met Sophie at a gallery opening, it seemed, and they hadn’t even spoken. How did he know what her ego acted like? I could already see where this was headed: A 64-year-old man turning an insecure 25-year-old woman into an emasculating shrew, her sole goal being to suck his life energy. And this was only page 17.
Hey Ladies used to be one of my favourite series over at the late lamented Toast, and I'm glad to see they're turning it into a book.
Excerpt: Ali, since you’re the Maid of Honor I’ll let you handle dress code, but please, ladies, be prepared to wear a pastel or muted shade that goes well with your skin tone. If you’re not sure, google! Or go to a high-end luxury clothing store and make a consultation appointment with a stylist. As for shoes, just because this will be outside doesn’t mean you should sacrifice looking good for being comfortable. I am going to have a photographer on site, so keep that in mind! As for hair and makeup, please call Meegan at Hair Today in VA for consecutive day-of appointments so we can have consistency in looks.
A lot of chatter on my Twitter timeline recently about whether internships should be paid or not. I got paid for my first gig which was technically an internship--and I learned a lot from having that money + having to work for it. (I had one unpaid internship just before, which was perhaps a job I learned the LEAST from, and quickly quit about ten days later.) This Guardian article is interesting in that context.
Excerpt: You can only shrug off being paid in change if you’ve got somebody else picking up the tab. If my partner hadn’t had a well-paid job, I would not have had the money to eat that week, or any of the other weeks I worked at Monocle. My “job” was basically a hobby that someone else was funding. One of the other interns in my cohort juggled a second job at a ramen shop, but most had parents who subsidised their rent, bills, travel and food. Journalism has shifted to a greater degree of social exclusivity than any other profession, according to Alan Milburn, the former Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty. In a report published in 2012 headlined “Fair access to professional careers”, he found that 49% of journalism students come from the top three socio-economic groups, and just 14% from the bottom three.
How to be a good mother (if you're a Southern African python.)
Excerpt: Although the mothers wrap around their eggs, they don’t rhythmically contract their muscles to raise their body temperature. Instead, two times a day, they lie at the entrance of burrow until they bake to 40ºC before returning to coil around their eggs, transferring the heat from their bodies. For the three-month incubation term, these massive mammas live an austere lifestyle, alternately sunbathing and curling around their precious loads. They don’t eat or drink.
Is it really love if you are not posting a hundred pictures of the two of you on Instagram?
Excerpt: It is so early in this couple’s relationship and I’m already exhausted. So are most of our mutual friends. The responses on their weekiversary posts have dropped from dozens of “You two!!” and “Cutest couple ahhhhh!!” comments in the early days of their relationship to just a single comment from one of their moms. A lone tumbleweed of a comment, rolling through the dusty, echoing canyons of Shut Up You Guys National Park.

Okay, my hand is starting to hurt again from all the copy-pasting so I'm ending this week's link list with this nice gif instead! Subscribe here to get this newsletter in your inbox every week!

3 April 2018

Today in Photo

Mid afternoon cup of green tea with saffron and my favourite new detective series by Deborah Crombie. My hand is playing up still so can't write as fast as I usually do so resting it for a while. (typing this with my left hand and it is sloooow going.) still, good to ease up and stretch for a while. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub #nowreading #158in2018

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1 April 2018

Today in Photo

Off out to Easter lunch and following the floral theme of the festival to its DEATH. #whatiworetoday #delhidiary

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