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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10 April 2021

What I'm Reading

I've already mentioned my great love for Anne Tyler so talking about one of her books again seems redundant but I enjoyed this so much. It's a bit of a departure for Tyler, first person, the narrator is a man who was troubled in his youth and now, in his adulthood works at a company that does errands for the elderly. I loved it for its meditations on old age, which will come to all of us eventually. Maybe because the life I'm living now is an old person's life. I barely leave my house. I have small interests like reading or jigsaw puzzles. I have a routine I stick to. I feel my thirty ninth year slipping through my fingers as much as thirty eight did. I have a milestone birthday this year, perhaps that's what sending me down these paths. Forty isn't seventy but this isn't how I thought I'd be spending the last few months of my thirties either. Anyway, I loved this book. Compulsively readable like all of Tyler's, but different, harder, less gentle. I think you'll like it. #bookstagram #mrmbookclub #121in2021 #annetyler #apatchworkplanet

9 April 2021

Today in Photo

The beautiful banyan tree next to my mother's apartment. Which reminds me of this guy I met once in Goa who told us he had a tree. "You have a tree?" I asked and he said, "Yes, there's this banyan tree I found and I want to make it a Thing." and sure enough, a few months later, there was a gig around the tree and burgers and cheap red wine. I miss Goa when I think of banyan trees, there were so many in the neighbourhood we briefly called home. #banyan #treesofdelhi

via Instagram

6 April 2021

Today in Photo

The construction next door is depressing me, after four years of having a lovely view and peace and quiet, it's being taken away by a large builder's flat style building and I can't help resenting everyone involved including our future neighbours. But then I think at least I had this past year to actually enjoy being at home because I couldn't leave it. There's silver linings in (almost) everything if you look and I continue to be a relentless optimist. Here's some shadow puppets tonight banging and spitting away on the other side of this green screen. I'm angry but I'm helpless so I may as well let it go. #delhidiary

via Instagram

The Internet Personified: Americana

Christina’s World by Andrew Newell Wyeth

Most Esteemed Painted Storks,

There was a period in the ‘90s where everyone’s summer holiday seemed to be set in stone. You’d ask your classmate what they were doing over the break and they’d casually mention either going to see a Chacha Abroad or having Abroad Chacha come and see them. You’d nod wisely, you too had similar plans that holiday, one or the other of your family’s NRI relatives would be coming to visit, coming to stay, and that would occupy much of your time, between taking them out and showing them things or eating at restaurants they missed or even going on regular summer road trips to Agra or Jaipur, staring at the beautiful monuments that had grown so monotonous for you, you swear you could recite the guide’s patter by heart every time you turned a corner of the Taj Mahal.

Depending on where you were from, that’s where your foreign returned guests would be from in correlation. The Reddys, my mother’s family, tended towards the States so firmly, like a tree grown slanting towards the sun, that it shocked me later that other people could live in other places that weren’t either India or “somewhere in America.” On my father’s side, I only know my uncle and aunt and two cousins who live in London but they moved around a lot, so London never came up in my imaginings as much as the US did. Ours was a close familial relationship broken in two halves: my mother and one of her sisters stayed in India, their two older sisters emigrated to America in their 20s and raised American children with strong Hyderabadi roots.

In my extended family, America was #GOALS. It was expected that we would all one day wind up there, whether by education or work. Surprisingly, apart from the actual Americans, my cousins and their parents, none of us made the move, choosing India instead. But then India also evolved in ways we couldn’t have foretold when America was being held up in front of us as the only way to live a good life. If you are a certain kind of Indian (rich, I mean, and relatively rich, I mean, in comparision to everyone else, and upper caste and class which is also something you should think about) then you can have a better life here than you would in America with your same circumstances and your same name. At least, that’s what we thought in our twenties. The things we want out of life now—freedom of speech and the press and effecient systems and proper justice and clean air—all those things might be easier somewhere else? What do I know, I’ve only ever known here.

I remember once my grandmother offering me this new pack of undies, they were this horrible brown and very unattractive, and so I said, “No” and she said, “But they’re from America” and ok, I was running low on underwear just then so I took them and true to promise, those ugly brown underpants lasted several years without even fraying slightly.

I encountered America through these cousins and aunts and suitcases way before I actually thought of it as a country. The suitcases, usually three or four, in shiny colours, clean as could be, released this spicy, foreign smell, so exotic, whenever they were opened. The smell clung to everything they owned, from their underwear to their toothpaste, everything was a bit shinier, a bit more colourful, a bit better because it all smelt like Far Away. Years later, on my own holiday, I came home and unzipped my suitcase and there it was, that Abroad Smell. I decided then that it must come on through the cargo hold of the plane, something about being in the air for so long? This does not explain why the same smell doesn’t happen when you go on a domestic flight, so maybe it’s just the international air.

First would come out the presents. There were small presents: fun sized chocolate, mostly Snickers, but sometimes cookies like Chips Ahoy or Oreo. Bags and bags of Cheerios in ziplock containers. Then larger presents: clothes usually, t-shirts and jeans, when I was very small, I got party dresses, when I was older, I received long sleeved scooped neck tops (still use those!) and lots of tights. My oldest cousins went off to college and came back with gifts too, my favourite were a (short-lived) pair of Nikes, before Nike came to India, which my dog, a mongrel I’d never fully succeeded in training, decided to demolish almost instantly, as though she had taken a personal hatred to these shoes. I hadn’t even bothered to lock them away because by then she was two years old and had outgrown chewing on our shoes ages ago. I suppose it was the smell that drove her wild.

After the presents, the chocolate that we ate sparingly, one a day so they would last weeks, my foreign relatives would leave in a storm of detritus, leaving behind them shampoo and conditioner, sometimes toothpaste, striped toothpaste, that tasted so much better than the red Close Up my family had been buying for years, as though no other brand existed.

A few years later, I discovered Archie comics. I remember being aware of them as early as eight or nine, but the year I turned ten, they entered my life in a big way. Every summer we’d take a train to Hyderabad, to spend some time with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and I’d buy two Archie comics as a treat at a stall in New Delhi Railway Station. Then, carefully, because I knew the train time table, I’d finish each one before our next long stop. Nagpur meant oranges, Nagpur meant a longer stop where I hopped out and exchanged my read comics for new ones at half the price at the book stall there. And so on, all the way till we reached Hyderabad the next day and we’d see the anxious, waiting faces of our relatives on the platform.

Riverdale became more familiar to me than anything I’d read in a Tinkle comic or an Amar Chitra Katha. Tinkle was fun, but not funny, and filled with stories about kids who talked in an odd, stilted fashion, not like I did. Amar Chitra Katha was stories from the epics, and so thin, that they were hardly value for money, I’d be done with them by the time we pulled out of the station. Even now, all these years later, I can remember what it felt like to open a new Archie Double Digest, thick, sixty page comics, full of coloured illustrations, smelling so new and rich, the paper nice enough to stay in shape, even when you left it face down on your seat. I was devoted to them, to Archie, with his two quiffs of red hair and freckles across his nose, to Betty and Veronica who looked identical if you covered their hair with one finger, wondering why Archie was so torn, when it seemed clear that Betty was the better person. Reggie, I wondered why everyone was friends with, Jughead was the only one with individuality, forever eating, despite his skinny physique, Moose who loved Midge, who tried to get away from him for the more sophisticated Reggie. Mr Lodge, Hiram, and Mrs Lodge, Hermione. (I have tried to watch the Netflix adaptation of Riverdale, but find it too Gossip Girl, too New Age Teen Show to agree with my memories.) (When in 1990, the made-for-TV movie To Riverdale And Back Again finally came out on video in India, that was much more my speed, to watch everyone grown up but still with the same essence that made up my love for the comic books. I remember discussing the movie right before we watched it with one of my mum’s friends, and I said, “Maybe Moose and Midge won’t even be together” and she said, “Oh no, Moose and Midge are definitely married” and I remember being so surprised that an adult knew the dynamics of the Moose/Midge relationship.)

love triangle crush GIF by Archie Comics

But what fascinated me the most about Archie comics was how they portrayed America. This was a slice-of-life we were getting way before cable TV (1992) or the internet properly (1994/5?). Sure, we had watched the movies before but that was Hollywood. Archie comics were real America, we were told. Their concerns were just like every other American teen. Mostly, I was wonderstruck at the dating. How they dated, how their parents were apparently chill with all this dating, how boys and girls hung out together at Pop’s Diner, how they seemed so independent of little things like asking for permission or coming home at a certain time. My own teen years were so far away from me at this point, I could imagine living in Riverdale easier than I could imagine being sixteen or seventeen. America, I decided, was where teenagers could have boyfriends and girlfriends, as normally as they had a glass of milk in the morning.

I have been to the US three times in my life. Once was when I was very small, I was only two, and I have no memories of this trip, but there are so many photographs I might as well have been there. The next time, the trip I actually remember and count as my first was when I was eleven. At the time, my mother was working at a news bureau that sent her to all sorts of amazing places for work. This was a great gig, and one I envy to this day. That summer, 1993, she was in Brazil and it was decided that I should meet up with her at my aunt’s house in New Hampshire—which by the way is a state that comes up a lot during my recent watch of The West Wing so I’m delighted that I actually went somewhere they show on TV. Meeting up with her there meant travelling alone, and while I had been travelling alone practically my whole life—whenever she went on one of these foreign junkets she put me on a plan to Hyderabad so I was an old hand at airports and being what they called an “unaccompanied minor”—this was the longest flight I’d ever had all by myself. I remember not much of the flight except that everyone was very nice to me, the pilots let me into the cockpit before we took off. (ah, those pre-9/11 days!) (as a matter of fact, I have not returned to America since 9/11, I last went when I finished high school in 2000, so I imagine all my memories are soft focused and fuzzy.)

I got a little goody bag from the flight, including pilot wings and some other things I considered myself too old for. It was all surprisingly well-organised, I wasn’t alone for a minute, and as soon as we touched down for my changing flights, another flight attendent or someone took over. I had very short hair then, and people kept asking the lady in charge of me whether I was a boy or a girl, which is… weird? what a strange question, and finally, the woman said she was going to hold up a sign that said, “It’s a girl!” to stop people asking, which is also strange and not very PC in this day and age, but those were the Days of Long Ago, friends, and so I just smiled nervously, and at the other end was my aunt and two cousins come to pick me up.

Of course, everything in America in 1993 was so different from India that we may as well have been on different planets. We went to Disney-one of them, the one in Florida. I shook hands with cartoon characters. I won a large stuffed Bart Simpson at a local fair. I made the family come with me on a trip to Louisa May Alcott’s house where as the youngest reader of Little Women, they took me up to the attic, still in renovation, so I could see where “the real Jo” worked. Everything was very large and spread apart, and things tasted different, even Indian food made at home. I sat at a Burger King, all three of us, me and my two younger cousins with paper crowns on our heads that they gave children, and I stared at a couple making out, just going at it, in one booth, because I had never seen anything like that before, never, not in my whole life, and the boy of the couple detached and gave me a very hard stare until I got the hint and looked away. I visited my six-year-old cousin’s first grade class and gave a little talk and passed out little clay figurines from Cottage Emporium, and someone asked me about elephants and someone else asked me about the “little dots on their foreheads” and the teacher asked me who the prime minister was, which answer I actually remembered, and then they asked if I’d like to hang out with my peer group all day and I saw the sixth graders, who were huge, they were so tall and double my height and so fast and I just felt small and strange so I hung out with the six year olds and felt far more at home. I even went on their class trip with them and even though there were two Indian girls next door, thirteen and ten, they asked me immediately whether I had a boyfriend and my aunt overheard and they were not fit company for me any more.

In the year 2000, I was far less shy but still not completely confident. I was staying briefly with a cousin in her college dorm, and I remember jet lag laying me low, and also making a trip by myself to New York City and then us two going to watch The Phantom of the Opera from the standing row seats, and I remember being passed on, relative to relative, like a parcel, across the United States. In each place, I was made welcome, and in each place, I did a little exploring on my own, and then rejoined my host family. In Maryland, my DC stop, I was surprised that they ate plain salted Pringles like papad on the side of their sambhar-rice. In Los Angeles, I put my hand into Marilyn Monroe’s, and went on a studio tour. We visited Harvard, and I bought myself a t-shirt and a book from the bookstore. We went whale watching and to the San Diego zoo. My family was only on the coasts so I saw nothing in the middle, but I remember taking the train and taking a bus, where was I going, I don’t remember, but I remember sitting in so much public transport. To send an eighteen-year-old off by herself is perhaps the biggest mark of trust adults can put on you. My whole life I was sheltered, but not so sheltered that I couldn’t think to find a pay phone and make a call when I was going to be late.

One of my favourite paintings for how nicely lonesome it makes me feel. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

This was supposed to be a newsletter about having guests and instead it became one about being one. Be a good guest though, it doesn’t take too much work. Tidy up after yourself. Stick to the hours you promised, and if you don’t, make sure your hosts have plenty of notice. I was too young and too Indian to offer to help out with any of the housework, but do that also, don’t wait for someone to ask you. To be a good guest, you must be accommodating and delighted with treats organised for you, and tell good stories over a bottle of wine, and be no trouble. I was always a little sad to see our house guests go, though it had been several weeks of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor, several weeks of eating out and whirlwind tours of Delhi in the heat of the day, when everyone sensible is taking a nap with the cooler on.

I haven’t been back to the Taj Mahal since those guest filled summer holidays, I kind of miss it now. “And then,” the guide would always say, sticking out one arm to gesture, “Shah Jahan planned to build his own tomb, completely in black marble, across the river so the two of them could rest together. Alas, he died before he could begin.” This turned out to be a myth like all stories that are too good to be true, but it’s a nice thought, like Riverdale being America, like the smell of foreign suitcases, like seeing the inside of a cockpit once, like people being kind for the most part.


WELL. Having meandered more than is my usual wont, let me make up for not being able to tell a straight story this fortnight by giving you links that definitely stick to the point.

Previously in the alphabet series: A, B, C, D, E and F.

Weird stories that are definitely… something.

The bestselling author Sara Gruen apparently lost most of her savings and her health trying to get someone she didn’t even know off death row.

This man says he has the largest penis in the world.

This white professor pretended to be black her whole adult life.


Murrrderrrr on the Appalachian trail.

Rich people problems

This whole marvelous paragraph and more to mock from here.

DELIGHTFUL stories probably featuring animals

The crow whisperer.

What if all the humans vanished?

The slow gentrification of the god Shiva.

Bookish adjacent

The strange undeath of middlebrow.

Tana French and houses.

That’s ten links, I have more but I feel like ten is about the maximum amount of tabs you can open from one email, so we’ll save some for next time.

Have a great week, despite recent lockdown rules making a lot of us across the country have to stay in from 10 pm to 5 am. Do I still need to say “be safe” for you to magically be safe? Very well then: be safe.



Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.

Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.

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Forward to your friends if you liked this and to that one NRI uncle who insists on random tradition when he’s back in India despite his very modern life abroad if you didn’t.

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3 April 2021

Today in Photo

Saturday nights once so full of activity are now spent watching The West Wing on my laptop. However, no reason why a good hair day should be wasted by not being documented, eh? ALSO I bought a set of men's boxers to wear as sleeping shorts and unusually for boxers, they have POCKETS so that's also a cause for celebration. #nightin #couchpotato

via Instagram

2 April 2021

Today in Photo

I wrote a little poem instead of actually cleaning the kitchen. #poetry

via Instagram

31 March 2021

Today in Photo

Just lying here on my reading sofa, gazing up at my books, realising that some of my best friends have been dead for so many years I've basically been hanging out with their ghosts. They draw me in, words written by people who were once as alive as you and me and who have now been dead for longer than I've existed and still, like echoes, like portals, like a mirror that only shows you what it wants to, they're always here. That's my one wish for myself as a writer too: let me live on, let me live forever and ever and ever. #bookstagram #shelfie #ghosts

via Instagram

29 March 2021

What I'm Reading

No secret that I've been in a bit of a reading rut recently. All I seemed to be fit for was Agatha Christie who is delightful but not quite...SATISFYING in a way that a large absorbing read would be. But I'm happy to say that this book--which I read cover to cover in 24 hours--finally pulled me out of it and I'm ready for more! Unlikable narrators are all very interesting and make you feel squirmy inside but when your protagonist is essentially a decent person placed in impossible situations, well then you can forget about how you feel about them and just root for them all through. That's true of Maia, the half goblin emperor in this book, a story about how power is scary and new worlds are startling and all very real world except it's about an Elven kingdom and all the names and political offices are made up. I love fantasy books where it's "real world but with [INSERT MYTHICAL CREATURE HERE]" and I love fantasy novels that focus on characters not just plot, so we really get to know everyone and mostly I like to know that the story is done when I finish the book not just left dangling for sequels (*cough Patrick Rothfuss cough*) I loved this and you might love it too if you like stories about good people trying to stay good, court intrigues, making friends and/or goblins. So many options! #mrmbookclub #121in2021 #thegoblinemperor #katherineaddison #sarahmonette

28 March 2021

What I'm Reading

When I stopped to think about it Beverly Cleary was the writer who had the earliest and most foundational impact on my own writing. Through reading her books over and over again (this is just a small sample, all of them wouldn't fit in one picture!) I learned the art of simple sentences and also how to get deep inside your character's mind so while Ramona took my hand and led me down Klicktitat Street I was both next to her and inside her head. I never needed to empty an entire toothpaste tube into the sink because Ramona had done it for me. Beverly died yesterday which makes me sad, not because she hadn't had a good long life, she did, she was 104 but because for my whole life we were alive at the same time. I read her autobiography for the first time yesterday and saw glimmerings of her future heroines, especially Emily. Ramona was my favourite but like Beverly I was a good little girl who preferred to read about mischief than do it herself. At the end is Socks, one of her unsung masterpieces, one of the best books about cats I've ever read. A Girl From Yamhill is darker than I expected the writer of those books to be but it was good to know her even if it was on the day she died. The world is now without Beverly Cleary but you know, the nice thing about writers is that she'll live forever and influence a hundred other little girls searching for themselves in the books they read. #beverlycleary #ramonathepest #agirlfromyamhill #bookstagram #emilysrunawayimagination #mrmbookclub #tribute

25 March 2021

The Internet Personified: Strike a pose

My darling green lights all the way till your destination,

Thank you, thank you for overwhelming me with email responses last time! I guess you ARE reading this after all, and now I feel less like this newsletter is reaching your Updates or Promo folder and being deleted unread. I have a few newsletters like that, which I subscribe to, that is, and I feel so bad that the other person is going to see that I’ve unsubscribed, but I’ve just… stopped reading it so they all pile up unread and lonely in my inbox. I’m a little late with this edition, but like fine wine, it aged nicely.

My mum likes to tell the story about how when I was twelve or thirteen or thereabouts, she couldn’t take me shopping for new clothes without also asking my best friend at the time, we’ll call her Osha, to come along with us. “Because if Osha disapproved, you wouldn’t wear that outfit ever again,” she says now, rolling her eyes, “It was easier to just plan a trip where Osha could come along.” I remember some of these expeditions, I think. My thirteenth year feels like one someone else lived, and so it is pretty much removed from my memory. It was a weird year for me. I was trying so hard to fit in that I forgot to also live. And so, like sands on a beach, my memory is completely wiped. A few days stand out: trying on things in a big shop, watching Osha’s eyebrow quirk, her mouth turn either up or down to indicate approval. We all wore versions of the same thing, after school that is, after our uniforms, and so it should’ve been easy enough but I didn’t trust myself to get it right.

Clothes did not give me joy for such a long time that I’m sometimes surprised by how much I love them now. Clothes, fashion, all areas where I could fail. I wasn’t cool enough, not hip enough, not teen enough. This was the 90s, we all wore versions of skinny jeans and big oversized t-shirts. This was what we wore all the time, summer or winter, to parties or to the movies. In the winter we’d wear baggy sweaters instead of t-shirts but the principle was the same.

I love baggy slouchy pants, and I’m forever buying them. With this I’m wearing one of my mother’s old sari blouses backwards so the design is in the front and slip on embroidered shoes I bought for our wedding.

Right now, in 2021, I have a few favourite dresses, I sometimes run my hand back and forth across my dresses hanging in my (sadly overcrowded) cupboard because I love them so much. A few things I will always be drawn to: flared skirts with fitted waists, interesting cuts in pants and skirts, where you look like you’re a samurai or something, prints that are fun, but also not ubiquitous, so crows, yes, owls, no. Dresses that combine Indian prints with Western cuts, with a special emphasis on ikat and kalamkari, although these days I am drawn to the idea of a nice bandini frock. This is new to my thirties, suddenly discovering Indian fabric could make pretty dresses. In my twenties, I lived exclusively in western wear, recently doing a closet turn out I discovered a stack of beautiful kurtis, all tailor made for me, that I grew out of after only wearing them once or twice. (They have all gone to good homes.)

But when was I aware of clothes, of how they were more than just something you slipped on to go outside? Shorts and t-shirts for playing in, pretty frocks for parties, lehenga-blouses for weddings? Everything itched, nothing felt as comfortable as stripping down to my petticoat and underwear—in the ‘80s I wore a thin cotton petticoat under my school uniform, it was apparently a common practice—and staying in that till dinner time, no matter how raggedy I looked. I’ll never forget a friend of my mother’s, who I’d never met before or since, by the way, encountering me like this on the front balcao thing our house from our brief Trivandrum years had. I was an exceptionally snotty child, allergic to everything, nose constantly running, mouth a little open so I could breathe, and by this time I had been in my petticoat for hours, so imagine me, slightly grubby, (short) hair standing on end (my mother did not know how to deal with curls so boy cuts were the norm of my youth), shiny trails of snot on my arms and on the front of my top, and this man, who is pretty well-dressed, at least showered, looks at me, and his lip curls and he looks away which is a very man-like thing to do, a woman would have been kinder or at least considered who I was. I’ve hated him ever since, but you know, looking back, I don’t know that Adult Me meeting Child Me on the porch wouldn’t have had the same reaction.

I love Avatar: The Last Airbender, so K made me this t-shirt for my birthday last year.

By the time we moved back to Delhi, I was a little older so less inclined to be in my petticoat—and I think we dropped the petticoat after those two Trivandrum years. Maybe Kendriya Vidyalaya (yes, but it was a good one in Trivandrum so everyone went there, especially all the Gulf children being sent “home” because of the war) (I will go more into my Trivandrum years in a later issue. T? or H is for Home?) insisted on a dress code? Who knows. I still accepted what my mum made me wear, my aunts sent what I can best describe as “baba suits” from the States. You know what I mean. We’d call them co-ords now, but they were very unflattering and extremely babyish—a set of matching shorts and a t-shirt with primary coloured art prints on them. I wore these, dear reader, till I was about thirteen or fourteen and should have really known better, until one day I rebelled and refused to put a single one on again. (In public. They made good nightsuits.)

But I was finally in a school where everything wasn’t all mixed together, as it were. What I mean is, I moved from the Montesorri where I had been temporarily lodged till they figured out what to do with me, where I was one of the oldest kids and so de facto, one of the coolest, to this big anonymous large school where I’d be starting out with all the other ten year old children. (See more on this school here.) I was at this time a supremely confident person, extremely sure that I was beloved and delightful and an asset to every community I belonged to. (These illusions were swiftly removed, for which I blame the sink or swim nature of large Indian schools, really. No one has time to spend with you individually or figure out what the best things for you are. Home schooling! Or in the absence of home schooling, somewhere small which may not have the best exam results but will light some sort of spark in your kid and not extinguish it.) Anyway, I was invited to a birthday party, and I went, dressed in my best frock (how else to describe it? It was actually very elegant. The style of that time was to have pouffy, birthday cake style skirts, the more ruffles you could slap on, the better. By contrast, this was an exceedingly simple style, which was already what was appealing to me, a straight dress in a floral print with a little lace around the hem and sleeves and a Peter Pan collar with a dusty pink sash around the waist.) because I wanted to impress the other children, and I was forming some nascent ideas about wearing nice clothes being a way to do that.

One of the dresses I had made by my local tailor. I love anything with bird/animal prints on it, unless it’s super common, so these cranes are ideal.

My mum dropped me off at the door and I ascended the stairs to find the whole party, all my class, people I had so far just looked at from a distance, and as one they turned to look at me, and I realised in that moment that they were a) all in jeans and t-shirts and b) were amused and scornful of the get up I was in. I almost turned to run, surely my mother would still be down there, but the birthday girl, with a graciousness beyond her years said, “Oh, you look very nice. Come in and have a cold drink.” I don’t think I ever put on that dress again, kind of sad because I was growing out of clothes so quickly, but after that it was all jeans and t-shirts and I realised I was signalling, “Hello! I am like you!” to all the kids my age as they signalled me back. This is the thing about fashion, about clothes. If you have a practiced eye, and you enter a room, you can probably tell who you’d most like to be friends with versus who you might not wind up talking to at all. I can’t also deny that in an extremely class and caste conscious country like India, it was a way of the elite upper caste English educated types to have a code and a club and a way to keep people out. Obviously this is a thing that the privileged are doing all across the world, but in India I think it took other vicious forms besides just saying, “This is my Louis Vuitton bag.” We all go to Sarojini Nagar, for example, (for non-Delhi readers, that’s this large open air export surplus market where you can buy lovely things for very cheap.) (I wrote a guide to it, pre-pandemic, which I suppose you can still use post-pandemic.) but even the stuff you buy at Sarojini can have a class/caste tag. Cheap polyester stuff is a no-no, or anything shiny or anything, basically, that looks like it was mass-produced with big flashy prints. And so the red velvet rope goes up and divides the masses.

I dressed to fit in for most of my life—up until now. In college, I made the smooth shift to Fab India clothes—boutique-y Indian wear with big block prints, all very expensive and all claiming to “bring Indian culture back.” You could tell a Fab India kurta from one you might buy at your regular market a mile away. The cuts and colours were different. Fab India relied on these block prints, large unorthodox designs placed on indigo blue or scarlet backgrounds, in straight cuts, made to be worn over jeans instead of a salwar or a churidar. My aunts would sometimes send me stuff from Hyderabad—they still do to this day—and I had to say, “Not shiny, not shiny!” until they got the drift and started to appeal to my taste.

As a writer in India, I was following a generation that thought—quite literally—that if one paid attention to one’s clothes, one could not be taken seriously. A woman writer had to be many things, but fashionable was not one of them. The first few times I made forays into public wearing a dress instead of a sari, lipstick on instead of an un-made-up face, I was one of the only people doing it. I saw the way they reacted to people like me, people who they thought were too frivolous to be Real Writers, only good for talking endlessly about fashion. Luckily, that’s changed, and if you ever go to the Jaipur Lit Fest, for example, you’ll see all these amazing clothes, all these shiny people—many saris, yes, for a lot of people, a sari is still a way to say I Am Taking This Seriously, but also many dresses, like mine.

At our wedding, I dressed down, like I always do. I wanted to still feel like me, despite all the trappings around it. I did my own hair and make-up, fixed up my own wardrobe. At our reception/wedding party, I wore a dress and heels, and was comfortable all night. Maybe all of this can be dated back to the one October evening when I went to my classmate’s house and found that dressing up was bad and dressing down was the way to go. Maybe that’s informed my fashion choices ever since? I don’t know, I’ve never liked fuss, I like to dress well, but I like to be comfortable, and comfort often wins. In my underwear drawer, I have two sets of those slimming underwear things which I have worn a grand total of three times. I kept buying high heels, thinking maybe this time I’d be a high heel person, but I’m really not. In Delhi’s coldest months, I abandon fashion altogether and stick to ski pants and a ski jacket. I look like the Michelin Man, but I’m toasty warm, and that’s all that matters. (Which is why I like the summer, not for the punishing heat, but because I can dress in all my pretty, but completely inadequate clothes.)

Finally, a couple of years ago, I discovered the tailor down the road from our house would do pretty faithful copies of clothes I liked, if I gave him the material. Suddenly, I was discovering creativity in clothes even, not just stuff I’d bought, but stuff I could turn into whatever I liked. K, in the meanwhile, started experimenting with designing and printing t-shirts online, so between us, we had the custom clothes experience down. Few things make me as happy as seeing something I’d only imagined turn into something beautiful in real life. It’s almost as good as writing the perfect sentence.

For my friend’s wedding last January, I decided to mix up Indian wear a bit by teaming my grandmother’s old Kanjeevaram with a fanny pack belt, a leather jacket and ankle boots. Lots of layers inside so I was toasty warm and still wedding appropriate.

Do you have something you wear that always makes you happy? Tell me about it.

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Obviously, I only live on through your patronage etc etc and while this newsletter may not buy me any new clothes, I still like the clout so like, share.

Previous editions of the alphabet editions are here: A, B, C, D and E.


I did a couple of Zoom panels this week if you’d like to listen.

The first was a fun discussion with Anuja Chauhan about her new novel and we veered into a discussion about pretty much everything else. That’s here.

The second was a talk with ARSD College where the kids asked me a bunch of questions about trolling, living on the internet and writing for a living. That’s here.

Links I Liked On The Internet!

This is an extra long list so I’ve divided it into SECTIONS, being thoughtful and mindful of your time etc.

Bookish links:

My new Auth Couture column where I investigate fashion through writers is up. This time I decided to look at Agatha Christie’s pearl necklace (not dirty, a real pearl necklace) through the annals of time.

Very bad covers of classics made me LOL.

This is a good review of Lauren Oyler’s new book. I don’t link to reviews much, but this is good writing even if you don’t plan on reading the book.

You may have heard some murmurings about how Substack (the service I’m using to send you this email) is secretly evil but here’s a take I agree with. (I haven’t given it much thought tbh. It’s useful and free for me unlike others that start charging after 1000 subscribers or whatever, and aren’t all tech companies kinda evil in the end?)

An interesting look at who the characters in Harry Potter were loyal TO, and why that’s something we shouldn’t be desperate to emulate.

Ann Patchett on getting rid of her things.

Current Affairs:

Quarantine pods are falling apart.

A news website in Delhi fights back against the regime.

Inside Clubhouse, the iPhone only audio only app that everyone’s talking about.


How to use your anger productively.

Ten ways to get rid of mosquitoes.

That’s it from your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. Speak soon!



Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.

Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.

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