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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14 September 2019
* When we got to Bangkok, K fell ill with the flu, but not before we spent a day in the clothes mall, five floors of cheap clothes, overwhelming even for an avid Sarojini Nagar-er like me. We also made our way to the Bangkok Foreign Correspondent's Club, in the penthouse of a building (the Lonely Planet said we could go!), which was great fun, just for the people watching, and sitting in one corner of the oak panelled bar. Definitely fancier than the FCC in Delhi. OH AND WE WENT TO A CAT CAFE! Which was so fun, but all the cats were definitely dopier than our fellows back home, which meant they were happy to cuddle, but they seemed not very... cat-like? Drugged like the tigers or just inbred, do you think?
13 September 2019
12 September 2019
I, on the other hand, am far more tolerant about people talking really loudly when I can't understand what they're saying. It's still annoying, but it's just regular annoying, not annoying in the middle of my brain, where I am woken up by my own head conveying to me what people are saying, you know?
11 September 2019
10 September 2019
I'm not a very Bollywood person. I've seen the iconic movies, your Dil Chahta Hai, Lagaan, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Segue: This last one because I used to know this guy who was O-B-S-E-S-S-ED with this movie. He lived in West Delhi somewhere, and was friends with my secondary friends, you know who I mean, not the people you hang out with all the time, but the people who will do when your first choices aren't available. Anyhow, I remember sitting in his large, very adult bedroom, like it was all matching counterpanes and thick ornate curtains and some scenery type painting on the wall. We were in college, so my room at that point was postcards on the wall and poetry/lyrics I thought were damn deep written on the back of my door. Also, my room was yellow and purple with spirals on the ceiling. I was about eighteen. Anyway, this dude would light a joint which my secondary friends would smoke--not me, I might have had spirals on the ceiling but my vices were few--and then we'd all pile on to his bed and watch K3G, which made them laugh a lot more than me.... oh.) But I wasn't into Bollywood, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief when two people suddenly burst into song, or some dad came down very hard on his daughter and she didn't scream, "I hate you, I hate you" but actually went along with what he said? And we were supposed to be rooting for this chick? PLEASE. (Segue part two: Of course, I never found it hard to believe in all the bullshit Hollywood was feeding me, like a prostitute getting a millionaire who paid for her sexy services to be decent and kind to her and eventually falling in love or that a man and a woman can never be friends, which is SO RIDICULOUS and please do not buy into this myth, ladies and gents.)
(Potential spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk etc) (But this is not really a show I can spoiler, no murders and shit)
All this to explain that I have no Zoya Akhtar CONTEXT, you know? I'm not sure what to expect from her, but I did get very Monsoon Wedding-y vibes from Made In Heaven, which is about this STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL WOMAN all fragile and clavicle-y with a surprisingly emotive face who comes from this lower class family and marries rich and her business partner who is a Modern Gay Man and so of course the show is just his big old gay story--I would like for once an Indian show to treat homosexuality as casual, something that ALSO HAPPENS instead of lighting it with all these deep dark art house vibes with background music that basically tells us LOOK LOOK GAY PEOPLE HAW. That being said, it IS a relief to have homosexuality actually spelled out in a show, Karan is someone we all know, there's this one sex scene in his flat which is really sexy and lingers over all of it, the nakedness, the writhing, in a loving way before panning out to show (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT) the landlord masturbating to this image, so you're suddenly taken from witnessing a private moment as a participant to a spectator like the landlord, it's very cleverly done.
Of course, because Karan is Gay, there's a whole 377 story, getting arrested, deciding to file a PIL and so on, which again, is GREAT but also, this is supposed to be a show about Delhi weddings, so it's all very confusing, what with the Great Gay Story as well as this adultery unhappiness betrayal social climbing plotline which is what is going on with Tara, the other partner, I guess to undercut that no marriages are happy? And literally, you guys, the show could not pound this point in more: NO MARRIAGES ARE HAPPY. One client discovers that her fiance has asked for a dowry, the other has to come to terms with the fact that her rich in laws have had her background investigated, one cheats on her fiance with the Bollywood superstar he has flown in, one is drugged by her parents so she goes through the motions without kicking up a fuss. Literally the only unequivocally happy ending is one where a widow remarries and her kids (my friend Charu Shankar plays the disapproving daughter with great flair!) disapprove but eventually come round.
A lot has been said about how the show is supposed to be about Delhi but is actually a Bombay person's perception of Delhi, which I didn't notice in the first couple of episodes but soon began to see is true. There's shots in the Delhi metro, a bride shooting a music video in "some ruins or something ya" but they got the accents wrong, all the people have rich SoBo accents, not SoDe at all. But okay, accents are a small part of it, there's just little details, for example, the rich husband of Tara and the best friend of Tara (Jim Sarbh, who apparently everyone except me knows and Kalki Koechlin who I do know because I try and keep track of the cool ladies) (I mean knows of in like a celebrity way, not personally) who are naturally banging each other because Tara is in a Strange New World of rich people and large dining tables and a farmhouse home from where she apparently commutes all over the city without once being stuck in traffic, and ALSO I don't know what weird time of year they've set this in, but everyone is wearing sleeveless/half sleeved clothes but not sweating or shivering. Maybe it's March! They're supposed to be Delhi, but they aren't, they're very Rich Bombay and I can't explain how those two are different only say that they ARE, fundamentally two very opposing kinds of beasts. One of the little details that struck me, and this is quite a small quibble but adds up nonetheless was how when Tara decides to slum it in Old Delhi, she's thinking a lot about her roots and so on, she eats gol gappas from a streetside guy which okaaaay calm down Tara you've been drinking RO paani for like five years now you're definitely going to get sick but also she holds the gol gappa shell delicately in two fingers and SIPS FROM THE LEAF CUP FIRST which is exactly the opposite way to eat it, which someone who was returning to their roots etc would def know.
But for the first time ever there's people like us on TV doing people like us things, I mean, rich people cray etc but you see their crayness through the eyes of our leads. I'd get rid of the SUPER ANNOYING photographer/narrator summing it up in the end, there's one bit where he's giving us a lecture about dowries, every episode ends in a mini-lecture, I got so annoyed I wanted to mute it, and he goes, "something something OUR WOMEN." I'm just like fuck off I'm not your women. I'd emphasise the working class girl Jazz who comes to work with all the rich folk, some of her scenes are delightful--her first time in a five star hotel and she does what all of us do: takes a long tub bath.
It's getting there though. With Amazon and Netflix commissioning a bunch more things (if any executives are reading this, I do have several novels which are PERFECT for the small screen!) I think we'll see more and more representations of people we know, scenes we're familiar with and so on. It's a small step, but it's a step.
9 September 2019
On the other hand, the power of Jane is that even now, two hundred years after she lived, across continents, across worlds she probably couldn't even fathom, everyone knows her writing intimately, this woman who confined herself to writing about the drawing rooms she found herself in. You may not think she's important (who are you and why do you read this newsletter by another woman who writes about the world she finds herself in?) but you cannot ignore the impact she has had on the world.
Okay, that done, I'm getting to the meat and bones of this, which is my beloved Pride and Prejudice. [I began with Sense and Sensibility which I hadn't actually read before, that and Persuasion are both to be tackled on this read]. Like all of you, I have certain well formed opinions about the characters in P&P, which are:
1) Miss Bingley and Mrs Bennet are the worst.
2) Elizabeth is the best.
3) Darcy is dreamy.
4) Bingley seems a Nice Guy, with not much to say for himself, but an overall impression of Nice.
5) Poor Charlotte Lucas.
Upon re-reading though, I am beginning to revise my opinions on some of the characters, but most surprisingly, on Mrs Bennet.
Now, Austen sort of wants us to hate Mrs Bennet. You can tell by the dialogue she's given, she mewls and vapours and exaggerates. I mean, who could love such a woman? Certainly not her husband, we're told that quite clearly: he was fooled by her youth and good looks, not her children, except for the youngest, perhaps, a person of such monstrous selfishness that it's hard to think of Lydia loving anyone besides herself. Her siblings? Nope, there's the brother, Mr Gardiner, who is sort of ashamed of his sister, the other sister, Mrs Lucas who is about as silly as Mrs Bennet, but they don't hang out much. Take this woman, then: five daughters, one husband, two siblings, and no one loves her. Isn't that sad?
If Mr Bennet was fooled by youth and good looks, could Mrs Bennet have been any less gullible? I'm assuming no one warned her about the fact that her new husband's home was entailed away from her offspring, besides, at that point, she might have been confident in having a son. But, she's given five daughters instead, five daughters to marry off and ensure the welfare of. Is Mr Bennet interested in the matrimonial prospects of his daughters considering he doesn't have that much money? He is not. Instead he mocks and stymies her every chance he gets, not in the least interested in whether his kids will get to live comfortably after he dies. (In Austen's time, it is assumed that the only way to live a good life is to marry into it.)
Which brings me to Charlotte Lucas. I was always a little sorry for her, here she is, age 27 and forced to marry a man who is ODIOUS. But on re-reading, I realised that Charlotte had not done so differently as anyone with an arranged marriage would: she picked a man who could support her, and who, presumably, she does not hate. She doesn't love him, sure, and she might be embarrassed by him, but she likes the life they have together, her little cottage and the hens, and she can tolerate the man and make him a good wife. We can't all have Darcys. (I did some idle wondering about their sex life, but I'm sure it was about as earnest as Mr Collins himself.)
Speaking of Darcy, I know, I know, great passion, great speeches. But the problems he outlines at the beginning of the book regarding her connections: her parents, the fact that her brother-in-law is the man he hates most in the world, the connection to a poor country parson, who is basically his aunt's servant, those problems aren't going to go away, despite all of Elizabeth's flashing repartee and hot body. What happens next? What happens when Mrs Bennet, after the death of Mr Bennet, has to go live with one or the other of her daughters, because the man she married has failed to provide her a permanent home? At least we know, since Jane has spelt it out, that Mrs Bennet does not love Elizabeth, likes her least of all her children, so probably she'd spend most of her time with Jane and Bingley.
It's funny that Austen names the eldest daughter after herself: Jane, meek and mild and lovely, always willing to believe the best of everyone, and yet, if you imagine Austen, you're more likely to think of an Elizabeth type person. Someone smart and energetic and full of life. But Austen herself never married, despite writing all these love stories, I wonder if Jane was the Jane she wanted to be, placidly drifting through life without complaints.
Did any of you also think of P&P while reading A Suitable Boy? There's the two sisters and the silly mother, and the marriage looming over it all, even though Vikram Seth is kinder to Mrs Rupa Mehra than Austen is to Mrs Bennet. She may have been a silly woman but in the end, she was perhaps the only practical member of that entire family.
8 September 2019
I wish I could remember learning how to read. The old family lore is that my mother used to try and make mealtimes palatable to me by reading aloud and so I picked it up myself. I was an inordinately picky eater as a child, and required many distractions to shovel food into my mouth. This was 1983 or thereabouts, we didn't even have 24 hour programming on our small black and white TV set, that's how old I am. Anyway, so my mother would bribe me into taking bites by showing me a book, but as time went by, the meals got longer, the books grew from just one chapter to two or three books per meal, I'd trot off and bring my selection, and then sit back to be fed and entertained, opening my mouth at intervals like a little queen. I must have absorbed some of this, because by the time I went to school--a Montessori school on Hailey Road, which still exists, I think, called Shiv Niketan--it was very easy for me to slip from being read aloud to to reading aloud to myself. So easy that I don't remember it happening, and I have vivid memories about my childhood. I remember being toilet trained, for example, the feel of the plastic potty under my naked bottom, how I used to drum my fingers against it, I remember thinking as a child that I could go back to being as young as I wanted once I was done growing up just by climbing into one of the big cupboards installed into the walls of our flat. I remember the way the sun looked filtering through the stone lattice work of the building. (Asia House on Curzon Road as it was known then, Kasturba Gandhi Marg to us now.) I remember two water pumps I used to call my horses, Big Horse and Little Horse, and how I used to bring them grass to eat. And yet, for all of this, I cannot remember my first time looking at a page and realising that one letter connected to another letter, and being all "Off I go!" into the story. The first book I took home to my mother, thrilled with the fact that I read it myself was The Enormous Turnip, a Ladybird book about a farmer and his wife who grow a turnip so big--so ENORMOUS--that they can't pull it out of the ground themselves and have to ask all sorts of animals to help. I remember sounding out that en-or-mous and the thrill of satisfaction I got when I got the word right.
Shiv Niketan was the sort of school where you weren't tested every week or moved up traditionally and so on. Instead, me and another classmate (whose name I coincidentally heard over the weekend after about a decade, so if his ears are burning this week, you know why) were quietly shifted from the nursery to a higher grade. I was born in December, so that's where this whole thing starts, being six months younger than my classmates, in some cases, later, a whole eleven months younger. (I made up for this early burst of prodigy by failing class 9 spectacularly and being pushed back into the batch I had originally been a part of, making me older than everyone else for the rest of my academic life, but it didn't matter, because the scene had been set and I always acted younger than everyone else by then.) When we were shifted, I heard the Hindi Aunty having a loud argument with the class teacher about me, telling her, "But she hasn't even reached my class yet!" I think this is always why I was bad at languages too, god knows I tried, and if you grow up in Delhi your Hindi is Delhi Hindi which is
It wasn't long till people started telling me not to read all the time though. All my life this has been a battle, people want me to put down a book and make conversation and I... don't want to. Especially on trains, god, the number of uncles on trains who will make loud remarks about how much I read. I feel their insecurities then, why participate in an activity that implies I am better than them. In many ways, the advent of everyone having a smart phone has been so good for my reading life, I am not the only one looking at a screen or a page all the time. We have all embraced our inner selves! My cousins, I remember, used to nag at me all the time in the summer holidays, "Don't read, Minna, don't read." My grandfather on my mother's side would take great offense to me carrying a book to the dining table, but I still find it hard to eat when I have nothing to look at. This banishment of books from the dining table just meant I ate slower and slower, or littler and littler and then slipped off to find my book again.
How old was I when I read Roald Dahl or Ramona Quimby? I don't remember, so for a friend's child's birthday, I bought The Twits and Fantastic Mr Fox but another friend tells me four is too young for Dahl. I believe though that if you read indiscriminately to your kid, any good story, forget it having big pictures on every page, just keep your kid engrossed, that the love for the story will seep in, that your child will start longing to know more about the books he or she is experiencing through you, that it will set off a need for "just one more chapter" and once you have that need, you know you're a reader for life. In many ways, we were lucky growing up, no internet, no TV, all we had were books, and it's so much easier to form a reading habit when there's nothing else competing with it. But I think if you offered your child the reward of a book instead of screen time or what have you, that if you equate reading with a Good Time, you'll have the reader you want. Of course, your kid should see you reading for pleasure too, so there's that. But nothing like an Family Read Along, whether it's Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl or Harry Potter. I know, I don't have children, but like many people who stay connected to their Inner Child as it were, I feel inside my soul like the six year old I used to be. Along with nineteen and twenty six. (The only age I don't feel connected to is 37, and this year is almost over.)
More memories, flying thicker now: going to the World Book Fair and ordering a set of the most gorgeous children's encyclopedias, and then waiting at home for them to be delivered. The way it taught you things through a story: I remember one about a picnic and a storm, and the safest place to be during a storm. (Your car, apparently.) Living in Trivandrum, my parents' friend coming to visit and bringing me a dense small printed copy of Little Women. "Don't be put off by the print," she said, but it took me a year and some boredom before I pulled it off my shelf. I have that edition still, much loved. Daryagunj Sunday book market, taking a tonga home with our book piles. So many Amar Chitra Kathas, which we bound into fat volumes so I could read them over and over. One red letter day, finding all of the Little House in the Big Woods series, just there on the pavement. Anne of Green Gables on one long train journey, my mother skipped the Mrs Rachel Lynde Is Surprised chapter and led me straight to Anne without waiting for it, a wise abridging, because I read the chapter myself years later and it was never that exciting a way to get into the book.
Books held me in my later years. No matter how bad it got, I always had my books. Briefly, books were trendy in the 90s, we'd read Sweet Valley High, not out of any great joy about the prose, but because they were a) like a soap opera and b) our parents disapproved of them. What could be more alluring to a preteen girl? My old friends are still here, still on my shelves, and though I have re-read all my childhood favorites so many times that I can no longer tell you early memories, just vague feelings about them, layered on top of each other, it's nice to know that when the world is garbage, some things still hold. I wish you (and your kids if you have any) the same joy.
6 September 2019