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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16 January 2018

Newsletter: Bad dates, dive bars

I'm assuming you've all seen the Aziz Ansari story yesterday about what a shitty date he is. I've been rewatching Parks And Recreation on Amazon Prime recently, and he comes up a lot--almost every single episode, and it's hard to watch scenes with him now without thinking back on his behaviour. Worse still was the set of episodes also guest starring Louis CK, because then you look at all these men who are known for being great actors and comics, and winning awards and what not, AND Parks And Recreation is also Amy Poehler's baby, and she's always seemed like an amazing woman to me, so how do you separate in your head the art someone creates with the way they are in real life? I find myself to be a lot more unforgiving of the men, even Aziz, who is this little brown guy winning awards and generally being charming, someone you WANT to root for, and when you learn about him being basically like everyone else, it's a little bit of a betrayal. Whereas with Margaret Atwood--a way more articulate person than Aziz or Louis--her saying that #MeToo was:
The #MeToo moment is a symptom of a broken legal system. All too frequently, women and other sexual-abuse complainants couldn't get a fair hearing through institutions – including corporate structures – so they used a new tool: the internet. Stars fell from the skies. This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it. Institutions, corporations and workplaces can houseclean, or they can expect more stars to fall, and also a lot of asteroids.
Which is kind of true, in one way: #MeToo would not exist if the legal system was perfect. But to dismiss it is unfair, because it is exactly what was needed. Maybe the legal system needs to change and embrace the way we can--each of us--go to the internet and say something each time something or someone has wronged us. I know from personal opinion that when you tweet at a company, they are more likely to fix something than when you just call them and sit for hours with a customer service representative. I've tried both. And the way women are taking down powerful men using their words goes to show that if you hold someone accountable in a public forum, they are far more likely to offer apologies for their actions, rather than just lame explanations. And hopefully, some man somewhere is reading all the testimonies and thinking, "Oh hmm, maybe it's a bad idea to put my hand inside my intern's shirt as she bends over." I think that's a win, anyway.

As for the people turning this into a "humiliation" thing, I'm not sure what their reasoning is, despite reading loads of tweets around the same argument, and this one long Atlantic piece I've linked to above. Is it just because the idea of a "bad date" doesn't gel with the idea of a sexual harasser? I have been on bad dates, and I have been on dates where a person doesn't listen to your body language (OR YOUR WORDS), and I can tell you that despite that, I still said goodbye to them with a semblance of a smile. Teeth gritted, face in an "I want to get out of here" expression, but still a smile, because politeness is drilled into us way more than saying no in a hard situation. So there's that.

This week in further meditations: I am still in Goa--leaving today for Hyderabad for a family wedding and then back to Delhi--and I have fallen into a comfortable routine. I write during the day, stopping for lunch and then a brief rest before writing again, and then go out to join friends. Which means my favourite part about Goa, its dive bars. Yes, you can keep your beach shacks and your fancy restaurants, for me, nothing says Goa more than rolling up to Siolim crossing and jumping into one red-walled bar where a man called Rock knows my drink order and always keeps the same table for us.

If there's one thing Delhi lacks, it is the character filled dive bar. I think it's also because of Delhi's attitude to women, most dive bars there have a faint attitude of seed. Like if you sat there alone too long you would inevitably become newspaper headlines on page three the next day. There are a few that I loved in Delhi but then 4S became too popular (the idea is you can dress how you like to go to a dive bar), Saki bar in Connaught Place is too far (Hotel Alka, I wonder if it's still a thing) and while I like Road Romeo, it doesn't really begin to compare to Rock or Paulo's in Goa in terms of sheer atmosphere.

A true dive has all of the following: a) cheap drinks, b) small, too-close-to-each-other tables, c) a regular clientele so you always run into the same people, d) something to distinguish it from all the other dive bars next to it, so you're justified in picking your favourite. In the case of Rock, I actually like the food, and I like how friendly the owner is, and I like almost sitting in the street as I drink. In the case of Paulo's, it's full of leathery old hippies who sit there, one imagines, from morning to night, and who are almost as much a part of the decor as the old prints of famous musicians on the wall. Paulo's has gotten a little trendy now though, they even gave me a laptop decal the last time I was there, and one Iranian lady will come around selling sandwiches off the back of her scooter. That's Goa for you. I return to Delhi drawing rooms soon enough.

This week in endorsements: Lots of love for Before, And Then After on the interwebs this week, and here is a screenshot from one reader on Twitter who loved it.

Then, to my complete surprise, I see Confessions of a Listmaniac/The Life And Times of Layla the Ordinary is on this list of the 121 best Indian books in English OF ALL TIME. So that's very flattering and nice, especially for one of my young adult books which I always feel get a little lost in the shuffle. Just the sort of motivation I need to finish up my next book. (Here's a link to buy my books in case you're curious now.)

Monday morning link list:
When Nathalia brought two new poems to her father a few days after her mother’s faux pas, he was very impressed, as he told it, but wanted a more expert view. He suggested she send them to an editor at the Brooklyn Daily Times whom he knew vaguely from his short stints at various copy desks before reenlisting when the United States entered the First World War. There was a flurry of attention at the Times, and Nelda started sending out more of Nathalia’s work, some of which was apparently published without further fuss. So a year later, when Edmund Leamy, the poetry editor of the New York Sun, accepted a poem that Nathalia was said to have sent on her own, he had never heard of her. He assumed the author was an adult. After all, in his experience, no “child would ever submit any work from his or her pen without adding the words ‘Aged __ years.’” And “The History of Honey,” rhythmical and ingeniously rhymed, bore no obvious literary mark of immaturity. Nor was there girlish handwriting to supply a clue. When Leamy invited this new contributor named Nathalia Crane to drop by to confer about another poem and have lunch, he mistook her mother for the poet. Flustered to learn that “Miss” Crane was the “little, long-legged, bright-eyed child,” he forgot about the promised meal, as Nathalia noted years later.

- This story about a child-poet genius (including her rather excellent poetry) is a fun and sad read.
But online, we inhabit an unrelenting present, where artificially spatialized time appears severed and successive. The present is announced by the externalized whims — notifications, replies, mentions — we swipe at, scroll past, click through to. On Twitter, for example, each tweet’s timestamp — 17 min, 42 min, 3 hr — announces time since. Time, rather than passing, continuously refreshes. The latest is, of course, predicated by news, or by whatever resembles news. The unrelenting present is continuously under threat of assault from the caprice of one man’s sleepless whims. A new sense of dread accompanies checking one’s phone in the morning. It can feel like waking up and tuning in to the apocalypse.
- The more I stay off the internet, the more sense life makes to me.
Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it - in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.
- Before she died, Holly Butcher wrote a letter to the world.

12 January 2018

Today in Photo

Lucie Blackman, only a few years older than me, vanished in Tokyo where she had been working as a hostess in 2000. Obsessed with this book, it's even staining my dreams. Pictured here fittingly with a plate of sushi from a new Japanese restaurant we found in Anjuna yesterday, it's true crime but also a sociological text, it's someone else's life but it could have so easily been someone I know. In Delhi, we were offered hostess jobs all the time in college, hostess or "car show girls" and while it seemed a seedy way to make money to me it was always a little tempting. So much cash just to stand around and be friendly. But if any of those young women had been raped and murdered i can bet the cops would spin a long story about prostitution and what not. All this to say that you should read it! Read it! (oh also this is part of my #readharder2018 challenge I got from book riot which is fun to do.) #158in2018 #bookstagram #nowreading

via Instagram

On Thirteen Reasons Why, the show & the book, and why we still need our really good teen suicide book

(A version of this appeared in Scroll.)

Do you remember where you were when your life hit a crossroads? I do.

For a brief period, which felt like eternity at the time, I was bullied. It wasn't even the dramatic stuff you see on TV or hear about, it was mostly just occasional put downs (“you're so ugly”) or exclusions (not being invited to a party everyone else was.) It wasn't a big deal, and yet, it was the only deal. My life was consumed by this—I was about thirteen, a difficult age anyway—and I did so badly at school that I had to repeat the year. This was when the crossroads happened: I begged to go somewhere else for school, my parents agreed, and I was sent off to boarding school, where I made the first tentative steps at becoming happy with being myself again. I guess some inner reserve of mental strength I didn't know I had was keeping me afloat—I was deeply unhappy, in the depths of despair and yet, I still welcomed each new day as the gift it was.

Reading (and watching) Thirteen Reasons Why reminded me a little of that time. Every year, around this time of the year—CBSE results, exam time—I read about teen suicides. In this age of live streaming, we can even watch suicides, people broadcasting till the very end. Though Thirteen Reasons Why (the book) was published in 2007, way before live streaming was even dreamt of, the victim, the girl, the second narrator in the book, Hannah Baker, broadcasts her own death on thirteen tapes, naming and shaming the people who drove her to this decision. 


The TV show is a bit more disturbing. While in the book, the boy listening to the tapes; Clay; thinks to himself several times that Hannah could have asked for help, in the show, the shades of grey are less defined. Hannah is hounded with relentless bullying that would make anyone break down, painted in TV screen colours, lingering lovingly on each slap, on each sexual assault. In the book, Hannah's parents are a little absent, all-absorbed in their business, but in the show, her parents are frequently present, talking to her, eating together and yet, she never turns to them. In the book, Hannah takes some pills, the narrative doesn't go deeply into how she dies, but the show has the camera pause on her scared face, her trembling fingers, the lift of the razor as she slashes at her wrists and the blood pumping out of them. (That's not a spoiler, you already know that she dies in the end, don't you?)

A while ago, Instagram banned the use of hashtags that promoted anorexia, like #thinspiration or #proana. It didn't work the way the social media site might have wanted it to: people began to modify their hashtags, like for example, #thinspooo instead of the banned #thinspo. At least they have a dedicated section in their help centre where they address what you can do if you see someone posting threats of suicide or self harm. (You can report the post and also share links they've provided of suicide helplines.) But after reading (and watching) Thirteen Reasons Why, I saw it as a sort of glorified suicide video, except it was pretending it was not. At least in the book, the common markers of a suicidal individual are spelt out (they change their appearance, they start giving away their things), but at the end of the show, you are left feeling as despairing as one imagines the characters must be after listening to the tapes.

In a survey done by the WHO in 2015, India is one of the top 25 most suicidal countries in the world. 17% of all world-wide suicides are Indian, and our rate of suicide for women is the sixth highest in the world. Hindustan Times carried a story with an alarming statistic: every hour, one student commits suicide in India. For not quite the same reasons as Hannah: these suicides are usually related to academics and failing exams.

But books about teen suicide (few and far between) usually deal with love or bullying or some such trouble, starting all the way from Romeo and Juliet, the original suicidal teens. Maybe that's why I'm somewhat disappointed with Thirteen Reasons Why. I wanted it to be more... something. More inner thoughts and less “this is why it happened.” More about the numbness that hits people with depression, teens more than others. I wanted it to address the big black bird of despair that settles over their entire lives. I wanted it to talk about how it feels like an effort to just wake up and face the day. The book makes it too neat—there was a girl, people bullied her, she killed herself. Bullying is awful, a lot of people are driven to suicide through bullying alone, but there is a step three in the middle where your brain says, “Anything would be better than this. Death would be better than this.” Thirteen Reasons Why touches on that just briefly and towards the end, not going much into how a person who was upbeat and cheerful just three chapters ago could become so hopeless.

That's the teen suicide book—and show—I'd like to see.

11 January 2018

A Happy (Feminist) Marriage to You

(This appeared as a version of my Aunty Feminist column in Youth Ki Awaaz in October 2016) 

T asks: I am 27, and am planning to have an arranged marriage. Tinder, OKC, Aisle etc, failed to find a match for me so I have never been in a relationship. Could you point out the sexist things men do in a relationship and how to resolve it? Also, what can I do to empower my future spouse?

Dear T,
These are both excellent questions, and I congratulate you on wanting to be more informed before you make these hugely important decisions. So many people don't. It's basically the equivalent of reading the user manual before you begin.

I think this is a good first step to answer the second part of your question. What can I do to empower my future spouse—you do what you've just done. You ask. You make it known that you are going through life as her partner and companion, not her boss or her jailer. If she's feeling like she hasn't got what she needs from you, in terms of support, you need to foster an environment in your home where she's okay asking. And you're okay asking too! This is not a one-way street: marriage is about two people (and only two people, not four or five or twenty, like Indian extended families seem to believe!) having each other's backs. Those are the best relationships I've seen.

You also need to live by that millennial phrase (which the New York Times called “narcissistic” but still good advice) “you do you.” Let your wife be herself. Allow for a relationship with no judgements, and safe spaces to talk about yourselves. It is possible to have a relationship with no judgements at all, and that will happen once you are both secure enough to speak your minds freely.

As for the first part of your question, it got me thinking. Women object to sexist remarks primarily when they can be avoided. Like, for example, I'm having a fight with a male colleague and I tell him his work is not up to standard and he really let me down by missing this deadline. And instead of responding with either a justification or a critique of my work (“well, your deadlines haven't been that great either!”) he says, “Why are you being so emotional?” That derails the whole conversation because it brings it from a conversation about work to a conversation about how I'm feeling and how I'm reacting, which is really not the point in question here. That automatically puts the woman on the back foot. Similarly in a relationship, when you're having a fight with your male partner and he puts your entire fight down to the fact that you might be on your period. A) Women can get mad without hormones being involved. B) Someone being on their period is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card for the other person. 


When you are with someone—whether man or woman—you need to think of them as a whole person and not just a supporting character in a play you're the star of. This may seem pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget. That person you're bringing down has a whole play going on that's just about her, and so on and so forth. So when you say something guaranteed to slice at her sense of self, her ego, little paper cuts guaranteed to bring her down, take a moment to remember that you, a supporting character in her play, have just turned her plot into one about how a man was determined to believe that all her flaws were because she was female.

Another thing to bear in mind before you embark upon marriage is the very essential and often overlooked conversation about gender roles. Who does what? What do you expect and what does she? Honestly, if you're both arguing about cooking, either take turns or hire someone to help out. Or put aside a large chunk of your monthly budget on home delivery. If you think the laundry should be done once a week and the beds made every day, do these things yourself or offer to take turns. Similarly with the stuff that's important to her. This may seem like a small step, but it's leading up to bigger ones: dividing child care and elder care fairly and responsibly.

But you know what, dear T? I think even though you've never been in a relationship before, that you'll do great. Because you're not afraid to ask difficult questions, and I hope, you're not afraid to hear the answers as well. And that's really most of what it takes.


Aunty Feminist

10 January 2018

Short review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Such a lovely book about a Chinese American boy who goes into foster care after his mother vanishes. A meditation on international adoption, growing up an immigrant and well meaning people who are nevertheless not your family. I'm enjoying it, especially since I recently read Behold The Dreamers and am feeling very immigrant lit in my novel choices. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub#nowreading #158in2018

via Instagram

Newsletter: On the road again

That's right, friends, we're in Goa yet again, in a desperate attempt to get the most out of our rented house before we give it up for good. Because I think that's what we're going to do--give it up. Our Goa experiment was great, we loved getting to know the place as actual CITIZENS, but I find myself slightly annoyed this time that I'm not given the choice to go somewhere else instead, like Gulmarg for more skiing for instance. Or rather, that I feel obligated to make Goa the choice, since we have the house there and everything. (I know right? This is the DEFINITION of first world problems. Uff.) But the next two months are potentially heavy travel ones for me (literary festivals) so this is likely to be our last time in Martha's house. Not our last time in GOA, it's under our skin now, our second home, but I look forward to a short term let, where we don't have to worry about the house being empty for so many months and all the wildlife coming in.

However, it's going to be a short visit, as a cousin of mine is getting married in Hyderabad and Delhi, so we will be hopping across the country like skipping stones. (Which reminds me of the only good Black Mirror episode of this season: Hang The DJ. Did you watch it? Did you like it? Send me your thoughts.)

This week in DIY: Cannot take any credit for K's automated cat feeding machine, since I mocked and groaned pretty much the entire time. He is the mad scientist in our relationship, while I am the Doubting Thomas. (Which is a sort of USEFUL role, if you think about it. He hears all the critique and can improve himself accordingly. I'm rather invaluable, I would say.) Anyhow, he wanted a way for the cats to be able to feed themselves when we travel for short periods of time. Najma, our housekeeper, will still be coming every day to feed, water, and check on them, but this way we stress less. Presenting... the first ever Ganz Automated Cat Feeder.

There are two of those spouts on either side, to keep the food regulated as it comes out. Out of our three cats, only one has figured out how to work it, and he is overeating so much, he keeps throwing up. The other two are wary--Bruno has almost mastered it, but Olga refuses to, preferring instead to come and twirl around my ankles or press her face against mine and make little encouraging chirps so I'll get up and feed her. I always thought she was the smartest cat because she keeps escaping and making a life for herself outside, but it turns out she would actually starve without us. Comforting... ish.

This week in books and reading: Which all begins from my slightly-before-New-Year's resolution to stay offline more. I use an app called Internet Off, which is an open source version of the paid-for app Freedom for Mac. Internet Off lets you turn off your internet--duh--but you can also schedule it, so you have to stick to a certain number of offline hours a day. If you don't trust yourself, there's an option of putting in a password, which you can get your friend or lover to set, taking the control away from you. But now it's been a week, and I can honestly say, apart from days like this one where I'm using the internet to send out this email to you, I don't miss it. I check my email/Twitter/what have you from about 10 to 11.30 and then the computer goes offline and I turn the data off on my phone as well, so what I have is a very quiet and peaceful time. I am doing more writing, but what surprised me is how much better my reading got as well. I always read, it's not new, but now I read with concentration, not distracted by pings and bings, letting my mind wander whenever it wants to, jumping up to check my bookshelves every now and then, because I am at that glorious time as a book collector--I probably own the book I'm thinking about. My little Book of Books is filling up as well, because I make it a point to note what I'm reading and my thoughts on it. And as an additional experiment, I'm posting every single book I read on Instagram, you can find the ones I actually recommend under the hashtag #mrmbookclub

  Which brings me to what I was reading; a Japanese crime novel called Six Four. Ever since I read Louise Penny, I have been filled with the desire to read crime literature from around the world, making it both fun AND a learning experience. I do love crime books though, I'm not sure I'd ever write one, because the mystery I'd write would have to be crazy and intense, full of red herrings and you'd gasp by the end when I reveal the killer, and I haven't yet invented that sort of mystery, but in all my readings so far, I think I'm getting better at spotting the murderer before the book is over.

Also a reading resolution: more Daphne du Maurier! Just read The Parasites last week, and was struck by her observations and how human all her characters are, which is the sign of a rare talent. Next on my list: My Cousin Rachel.

I also watched the first episode of Alias, Grace on Netflix recently and enjoyed it so much, I am going to read the book side by side. Oh and here's my first books column for the new year, including Ants Among Elephants, which I deeply enjoyed.

Wednesday link list which is extra long this week because these are LAST WEEK'S links as well. What a treat!

It’s hard to see sweet, loyal Meg marry a man so self-involved that when they have twins, he starts frequenting a very dodgy sounding establishment (it’s not entirely clear how dodgy) to avoid nights “broken by infant wails”. Marmee advises “captive mamma” Meg to remember she’s a wife as well as a mother (thanks, Marmee), but eventually Meg’s husband takes matters into his own hands by letting the babies cry it out. And it’s hard to see Jo’s roguish best friend Laurie marry the selfish Amy, and perplexing that Amy seems to get the happy ending after she has been so mean as to burn her sister’s manuscript, the work of years, out of spite.
- While I'm slowly coming round to Jo and Professor Bhaer, I will NEVER like Amy. Here's a piece on the upcoming adaptation, which I'm still totally looking forward to.

“We hear calls in our sleep, in our dreams,” Anu, who has been with the call centre for just over two weeks, says. “Sometimes my family calls me on my mobile and I pick it up and say ‘Namashkar, PCR channel number’…and they say, ‘Have you gone mad?’”
- Lovely story on what happens when you dial 100

By analyzing enough Facebook likes, an algorithm can predict someone’s personality better than their friends and family can.
- I didn't know which of these 74 "things we learned in 2017" things was the most interesting, so I picked the most disturbing.

When Sia’s Cheap Thrills evoked everyone’s inner Bharatnatyam dancer.
- Again didn't know which one to pick from Ladies Finger's list of 100 times they were happy to be women in 2017, so have my favourite.
Three years ago, a cat called Raja didn’t come home. He didn’t come home the next night, or the one after that, or the one after that—until his family, the Tuttles, who lived in Florida, eventually gave up hope. Then, three years later, Raja turned up at an SPCA shelter in Georgetown, Delaware. A microchip helped identify him, sparking a multi-state search for his family, which had since moved to Virginia. A week ago, finally, they were reunited with their pet. The cat, Delaware Online reported, had little to say about his dramatic journey—beyond a throaty, enthusiastic purr.
- And, the luckiest people of 2017 will make you "aww" a little.
The job was easy, he said. All he had to do was call people in the US from a list, introduce himself as Charles, and tell them they were under federal investigation for tax evasion. One out of 10 people would freak out, he said. At the first hint of panic in their voice, Saluja told them he was going to transfer the call to a different department, where one of his seniors would help them pay their taxes through an online money transfer.
- Very much looking forward to Snigdha's book which comes out this month!

. “See, if someone is online at twelve in the midnight, it means either they have no social life, or they are lonely,” Vinay told me. “In such a scenario, I have the option of posting either serious stuff, or inspirational stuff about life, love, friendships. And you, as a reader, would choose from one of them and share. More often than not, it’s the latter that helps and has more chance of going viral.” Similarly, Vinay said, someone waking up in the morning to commute to work is also not likely to want to read serious material. The company, he told me, has a good idea of what kind of material should be shared at various points of the day.

- If you like schadenfreude (and who doesn't?) this is a delicious deep dive into how ScoopWhoop is fucking up.

9 January 2018

This Curated Life

(This appeared as an F Word column last year. Happy to report I no longer check my phone first thing in the morning)

My first thing in the morning practise is a bad habit I'm trying to get over. I open my eyes, I roll over, reach out blearily for my phone and flick-flick-flick, within moments of being jolted out of dream world, I'm out in the public eye, in the middle of a crowd, learning what everyone is up to. Usually, nothing exciting has happened, nine times out of ten, nothing exciting has happened, but the tenth time, that's the time we live for, the time when one of your posts blows up, when one of your photos gets so many likes, you wonder what's happened, when one of your tweets has been shared across the globe. Can you imagine going for a party as soon as you wake up? No coffee, no brushing your teeth, your hair fanning Medusa-like around your face?

When did we start living our life just so we could curate it?

I recently read an article that talked about how, out of all the social media apps out there, Instagram was the most likely to cause depression. Apparently, the young people polled for the study said that the photo-sharing app caused feelings of low self-esteem and negative body issues. I'm probably too old for that study—being able to remember a time before the internet officially puts you out of the running for “young people polled” but I do know on days like today when it seems everyone is on their holiday and have beautiful bodies, that I feel—not depressed—but like my life is somehow lacking.

Just a quick flick through of my Instagram feed at the moment reveals the sort of life that we would all like to live. Since it's World Yoga Day, there are women in sports bras and tights bending over to do poses, their stomachs flat and unwrinkled. Beautifully plated food appears, mine never comes close to this sort of powdered sugar perfection. All my food photos in fact seem to break down the dish in front of me to the ugliest colours—brown and yellow, with no hints of what makes it tasty. Even the books posts are aspirational—against very white bedsheets, next to stem vases with a single rosebud.

I'm guilty of the same crimes. Why take the full scene in front of you when you can focus on the small and delicate? Why post the first picture you take of yourself when you can take several, and pick the best one? My phone even comes with a “beauty mode” for selfies: it makes my eyes bigger, and my skin flawless. I forget that isn't me, and when I look in a mirror after, I'm often taken aback, aghast: is that what I look like?

But then I'm in the habit of it, and then also, there's a small part of my brain which is judgemental and petty. This is the part that laughs at ugly babies, that feels a sense of schadenfreude when something unfortunate happens to someone else. It is the id, the part of my brain that determines sexuality and “I want” cravings, it demands instant gratification, it gets to choose what dreams I have. As an adult, my ego and super ego are supposed to be stronger than my id, I am, after all, a rational, empathic human being, but I'm afraid, so afraid, that all this Facebook-Twitter-Instagram stuff is making my id stronger and stronger, and soon the other parts of me will be subsumed entirely, leaving no place for rational thought just “I want” and more “I want it now.”

I think we are doing each other a disservice when we post beautiful pictures. I mean, I get it, I really do, taking a good photo is part of the art of photography, I feel the same sense of achievement as when I write a good sentence, but the selfies, the clothes, the curated life, it's harmful. I'll illustrate: take two friends: Shobha and Neha. Shobha is stylish, travels a lot for work and loves putting up photographs featuring herself in Greece, a glass of wine in her hand, the sunset behind her. Neha wants that life, who wouldn't, but is stuck in a job that ties her to the city and is seldom very social. Neha used to be happy with her life, but now all she sees is Shobha's world, Shobha's manicured fingers, Shobha looking thrilled as she globe-trots, and Neha is stuck with a feeling of dissatisfaction that soon turns to despair. What is the point of her life if it isn't like Shobha's? Neha is no longer happy or content where she is. You could argue that this is an age-old problem, that even before the internet there were Shobhas and Nehas, but then they would have seldom met, not having that much in common. With the internet, everyone is our best friend, and everyone seems to have a better life.

In the end, it seems the only solution is one many people I know are turning to. Deleting the apps, putting down their phones and going back to their ordinary-extraordinary lives.

7 January 2018

Short review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

A late flight but we're off to Goa again! And keeping me company on my trip is my beloved Margaret. I just watched the pilot of Alias Grace on Netflix two days ago and LOVED it so I'm doing a readalong. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub #nowreading #158in2018

via Instagram

6 January 2018

Short reviews: Every Heart A Doorway by Seanen McGuire and Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Yesterday morning I woke up super early (for me) and was lying in bed at 7 am, tossing and turning and trying to get back to sleep. Eventually, I decided to just give up and read a book, which is when I finished Every Heart A Doorway, which is about rehabilitating kids who go through doorways to other worlds, Narnia etc. Interesting premise but the book was a bit flat for all of that, an unnecessary mystery and too much exposition. The same streak of meh reading continued with Paul Auster's New York Trilogy which I finally had to abandon because it irritated me so much but HURRAY Behold The Dreamers is SO good it is restoring my faith in the world. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub #nowreading #158in2018

via Instagram

5 January 2018

FOMO? More like HAMO!* (on social menopause in this busy age)

(* that's... errr... happy about missing out.)

(This piece was first published in Scroll at the end of 2016 and since then, the symptoms described have become even stronger.)

It's a surreal sort of feeling when you realise that one of your favourite sensations is when a plan that has been laid out and is waiting for you has been cancelled the afternoon of the event. There's a sense of liberation, an “ahh, now I can stay indoors,” a cozy, pit-of-your-stomach warming that comes with the anticipation of an evening spent in your pajamas, doing nothing but surfing the internet or reading a book or binge-watching a TV show. It's almost as if this plan cancellation has created time out of thin air, a pocket of free hours to do with as you wish.

Long ago, in a book of fairy tales by Alison Uttley, I read a story about a man who was selling time. He offered a free hour to anyone who wanted it, and the story went on to follow a busy housewife who wanted to dance, a painter who wanted an extra hour to paint and so on. The children in the story followed behind the vendor jeering, “Who needs time? We have all we need!” and since I was those children then, I too wondered at a world where adults would need to “buy” an extra hour. It was never my favourite story in that book, but if a time man came by today, shaking his golden hourglasses, I'd buy one. I might even buy two, if he'd let me. And what would I do with this spare time? I suspect I would do what I usually do—spend it reading or thinking or talking to someone one-on-one, close activities that conjure up nothing more exciting than a cup of tea or a purring cat.

And yet, I used to be one of Those People in the early 2000s and the beginning of my twenties. You know “those people”: they're always on the go, their Sundays require a Monday because Sundays are full on, restless activity, from a boozy brunch to late dinner, phone constantly buzzing with texts and messages. A weekend that isn't complete with at least three house parties, preferably all on the same night so you could prove your social credentials by hopping from one to another, never putting your handbag down, because you could never settle. I took pride in my ability to socialise, relentlessly, without getting bored of having the same three conversations over and over again, pride in my throbbing head the next few days, because I knew what FOMO meant before the acronym was even invented. I went to parties and I blogged about them later; not because someone was paying me for it, but because by then my audience expected to see what I had done that weekend by Monday night, they waited for it, fingers poised above the comments button. What had I worn? Who had I kissed? What was Delhi like? And I delivered—spilling out insecurities and nausea, a little banter which I wished I could have actually said instead of only writing out on my blog, and so on and so forth. And, yet, I never realised that my favourite bit was actually the sitting at home and writing about all of my activities later.

I only came across “social menopause” as a term when this article was commissioned and I went looking for it. But it's so perfect! The feeling of slowing down in your late twenties and early thirties, when you'd rather go to a quiet restaurant than a heaving nightclub, when your best social evenings can be summed up with three friends and a bottle of wine on your coffee table, and you try and not schedule more than one engagement per weekend, because it takes you the rest of the week to recover. Everything is slowing down, and unless your friends keep pace with the extent of your ageing, sometimes it's quite lonely. They're all “WHEE CLUBS!” and the most exciting thing on your calendar is finishing watching Stranger Things on Netflix finally.

Especially now with the end of December upon us. Is there any other month in the whole year so full of anticipation and dread as this month? For me, in particular, this is also the month of my birth, so there's always that great expectation. As far back as I can remember, I've spent the week running up to my birthday wishing that birthdays were never invented, but also really looking forward to it at the same time. The day of my actual party, I'd be the one probably having a nervous breakdown from all the emotions, and so was fairly casual about the rest of the year. (Happy to report that this year, as always, I had a super time.) Anyway, for those of us not born in December, and there's the whole New Year's Thing. Oh god, the New Year's Thing. Anxious emails start going out in August, your social media feed gets filled with people running away, and finally there's only about a handful of you left in the same city, and what do you know? Each of those people is having their own individual New Year's Eve party. This is where you can either ride out your ageing (“I'd rather stay home and celebrate with one other person and a nice whiskey”) or be rebellious and rage against the dying of the light.
I found my friends in general falling into two camps: the ones that had achieved social menopause (SoMe) before me and the ones who were still ready to put on their high heels at the slightest bell of a Whatsapp group message.

The older SoMes usually had some sort of extenuating reason: some had married, and as marrieds, you were more excused from the usual carousel of social stuff than single people, the reason being that people with husbands or wives had to answer to one more person at home. Some had embraced their SoMes way before any of us did, and you knew not to ask those people out on Saturday night. They were your Thursday evening coffee friends, or your Tuesday impromptu early dinner friends, they could usually cook pretty well, and because they spent so much time at home, their homes, unlike yours, would be tidy and perfect, no plastic dishes, no need to BYOB either. You judged them a little bit before you went over, but there'd be a moment, when you'd be standing by their bookshelves, and it was only about 10.30 pm but the night was obviously, clearly over, and you'd envy them their surety. How nice to be so certain about your place in the world.

The ones not yet in SoMe desperately clung on to the last of the partying like they knew what was coming. Every time you messaged, “Not tonight, I'm tired” it was a betrayal. They were an army poised against ageing, and you were the person down, leaving them with fewer and fewer to fight. They took to new friends sometimes, and you'd see them smiling out at you from Facebook or Instagram photos, each captioned “best night ever!!!!” with duck face and glitter shoulders. Some, you'd lose track of entirely: there they were at a music festival in Berlin! There they were on a beach! There they were anywhere but home where things grew old, trying to recreate Neverland. They were the Lost Boys and Girls, and sometimes you run into them at parties, but often you take in the feather headpieces, the carefully faded t-shirt with an aspirational slogan and you hide behind the kitchen cabinets so they won't see you, and anyway they're not at the party long enough to notice you were there. Others come limping back to you once they're done, and now it's them who message you, “Can't make tonight, have had a hectic day at work.” And you message back a sad face, but secretly you're sort of glad that the guilt of cancelling isn't on you.

But I recently hit my mid-thirties. And I can see a glimmer—the very faintest little Tinkerbell light—in the distance. Now that it's okay for me to stay home for three weeks in a row, I'm suddenly up for being social again. I've accepted my SoMe, made peace with it, and as a result, my calendar is filling up. My blog is a thirty something's musings now, people don't engage with me on it, but occasionally there's the fun of taking the perfect picture, writing the perfect caption, composing the perfect tweet storm. Interestingly, my older SoMe friends are feeling more and more that way too—a few are hunting for the perfect New Year's Eve bash, while my friends who had not yet achieved SoMe-ness, are talking of quiet evenings at home. Maybe this is how the world is going to whirl now with all of us and longer life expectancies, maybe it will ebb and flow, like the end of Gatsby: “and so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”