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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9 March 2023

The Internet Personified: Travelling Without Instagram

My lovely children of summer,

(Gmail miiiiight eat half this post because of my lovely photos so click on the title to read comfortably in your browser.)

There’s this great German phrase my friend Johanna taught me recently. It’s actually a toast when you’re drinking together, which makes perfect sense, because they do enjoy drinking in this part of the world. It goes: “We will not be so young together again.” (So jung kommen wir nicht mehr zussamen for my fellow Deutsch learners.)

We were in Warsaw, at a lovely little wine bar on our final night there, when she taught me this. I was pleasantly melancholy from the wine and the idea of the end of a trip that seemed to finish so much faster than the months we had spent planning it. Later, before I went to bed, I looked it up, technically, technically I guess a drinker could use it to spur on another: “oh go on, have another, we’re not going to be this young again!” But it made me feel the way singing “Auld lang syne” on New Year’s Eve does (yes, I know no one actually does this apart from people on old British period dramas, but before I go out on NYE, say around 6 pm, I start warbling a little, “andddd neverrrrr broughtttt to miiiind” like I’m doing an Adele cover. It drives K mad.) a little bit like you’re going to cry, because life used to be endless, endless, you know? And now here we are, forty one, and we have to watch our knees if we step off a stool too suddenly.

Forgive my morbid mood, it’s the cold and the snow and the dark grey skies outside. I really was going somewhere cheerful with this, I promise, but I keep getting tangled up in March in Germany which is nothing like March in Delhi. This March is awful! This March matches, in fact, my board exam mood that I get into at the beginning of every March since I was in high school. But in Northern Europe, spirits are starting to lift. Smiles on faces. There’s a tree to the left of me which I just notice this morning is covered with a delicate dark green moss on the upper branches which wasn’t there last month. In the tree in front of our dining room, two crows are constructing a large and messy nest, today they returned with more twigs and shook the snow off their new home with philosophical resignation. At 6 pm, the sky is a dark blue instead of pitch black. And when the sun comes out as it does, every now and then, it’s actually warm instead of just bright. The biggest sign in our very urban neighbourhood is that the douchebags who use the silent electric scooters on sidewalks, nearly mowing you down if you’re not careful, have started up again. Spring!

Johanna took this photo of an optimistic sign at a neighbourhood bar our first night. We had great fun with the sign, whisper shouting “SPRING IS COMING” to each other even as a tremendous wind blew our eyelids back and froze our bones.

What happened is, last week, I decided to just not go on any of my social networks (Twitter, Instagram and to a smaller extent, Facebook) for a day. No particular reason, I was just feeling sort of crowded, too many voices in my head, too many opinions to keep track of. I realised I thumbed my phone like a worry bead, switching between windows in a cycle: Instagram-Twitter-Facebook-Instagram. Every few seconds, pulling down the tray to refresh. Who had something new to say? Who was outraging about something I needed to feel a prickle of indignation/schadenfreude/just here for the comments about? So I took my break, and then the next morning, I continued my break and so on and so forth until I was solidly “digital detoxing” for whatever that’s worth. I fully intended to be back on my socials for Warsaw, but it just felt so nice to be offline, I can’t explain it, it’s like suddenly there’s a whole chunk of mental space. It’s like one of those dreams where you realise that beneath your house there’s a whole smaller house which is yours but you never noticed it before.

I didn’t do anything to force myself. I checked if I had any messages on my socials once a day, but I didn’t feel the need to look at photos or stories or tweets. It all fell into place quite naturally, like I was this non-social-media person this whole time and I just needed to release that inner self. I messaged some friends who interact with me a lot online and told them about it, but for the most part I realised that no one really noticed. For all the extremely online shit I was doing every day from the moment I opened my eyes, I could stay off it for days on end and no one was coming looking for me. It was freeing. I miss my friends and their brief 24-hour updates, that was nice, knowing what everyone was up to all the time, feeling like I had a window into their days no matter where we were, but so much of social media has become a short cut to reaching a whole lot of people at once. Which: terrific! But this means that everyone assumes everyone else has responded to your story with your big news, and so no one does (lonesome), sometimes your besties don’t even see your major updates which you don’t know and then you feel sad they haven’t responded (double lonesome plus resentment) or the thing that one person will find specifically funny but is reaching 2000 people gets diluted because you’re not messaging them one on one. (Friends, please send me photos and updates, no matter how small! I want to see every kitty, every dog, every child, and every you dressed up for a night on the town. THANKS.)

And: cue the Warsaw trip. Johanna and I had been planning this for a while, she had a mid-week break in March because of Women’s Day and so suggested we go somewhere accessible by train. Neither of us had been to Poland before, and Warsaw seemed exciting and also with enough fun things to do indoors, which we needed because of the aforementioned wind and snow. (Gdansk was on my list but it’s a beach town and your good time is directly related to your walking around Old Town by the shore.)

The view from our Airbnb was particularly gorgeous. See that tall building with the clock to the top left? That’s the Palace of Culture and Science, a white elephant of a “gift” that the Soviets forced Warsaw to accept & then grandly named after Stalin. You can see it from everywhere in Central Warsaw. (Photo by J.)

I haven’t travelled without uploading photos to Instagram for years now. My usual practice is to take a bunch, edit and filter them and then post them on the ‘gram the next morning as a sort of travel diary. That’s not including the several photos I post on stories either. I construct a travel narrative as I’m doing it, a story I’m telling myself along with the people that follow me. The story is often tediously the same: here I am living my glamorous/adventurous life in a foreign city, look at what a great time I’m having! The thing is, often you do have an extra good time because you look at it from the outside, you’re the actor but you’re also the audience. And sometimes you have a shit time but you’re pretending to have a good time so you’re confused about why you’re having a shit time because surely every evidence points to immense fun wish you were here?

So when I stopped taking photos for my Facebook and my Instagram, I sort of stopped taking photos. This person once told me ages ago at a wedding, “Sometimes you don’t have to have a good time, sometimes you just have a time and that’s okay.” Johanna and I had great fun doing all the things we enjoy doing: museums and cute little cafes and bars and second hand clothes shopping and just sitting and reading in our pretty Airbnb. But also we froze on the long walks to and from places, the public transport system is kind of weird in Warsaw, not that many connections and not even the same ticket for the tram and the metro (that we could figure out), and it snowed most days we were there, and I found Polish food very dull and this made me sad in a way only a meal that doesn’t live up to my expectations can. (I soon switched to non-Polish and all was good in the world again.) Those spots were our “time.” If I’d been chronicling our journey online, perhaps I would’ve felt the need to make the cucumber soup look delicious or the snow magical in a Lorelei Gilmore sort of way. (Snow is so pretty when you are in your apartment and you have no need to leave your house for the next 24 hours.)

Sharing a pensive moment outside the POLIN museum which is excellent, a history of Judaism through Poland’s history as well.

But I’m sad I didn’t take more pictures. I thought I enjoyed photography, but maybe all I enjoy is the sharing of photographs. Getting a particularly nice one to show everyone what exactly it looked like while I was away.

This is the Neon Museum, which is advertised as “the most Instagrammable museum in Warsaw” so I was a bit sceptical as those experiences tend to be all show and no substance. However it’s a fun museum showing a quick history of post Socialist Warsaw, with a little movie playing at the back. (Photo by J.)
And here’s one I took, because obvs.

I’m going to have to go back on social media next month because my book is out and I have to promote it and be cool, but honestly, I’m not sure how much difference promoting your own books online does. I run a small books account on Instagram (which I might keep doing because I only follow book accounts on it and it’s nice to have a record of your reading) and I know many people buy the books I recommend. But I think it’s because I’m a disinterested third party. I follow authors online and I don’t necessarily buy their books because they post fifty times about it. I don’t know if more people would be inclined to buy my book because I post fifty times about it. So it’s hard to say if social media even is that important despite what everyone tells you. (However, for sharing links like this newsletter, it is, and since I’m staying off Twitter this month, would you just be amazing and do it for me? THANK YOU I LOVE YOU.)


We were at this large warehouse space with lots of little restaurants and bars and J went off to find a beer and I looked up and saw this red balloon against the roof, and it was so beautiful.

No, but I’ve really liked whatever little of Eastern Europe I’ve seen (and it’s always been SO COLD when I’ve visited so you can imagine these are pretty amazing cities despite the bad weather: Prague, Budapest, Warsaw.) They seem somehow unexplored—but only in relation to say, France or Italy or Germany. I knew very little about Polish history when I visited and now I know so much more. They feel somehow more accessible because they are slightly cheaper than most Western European countries and yet, more foreign because of the languages. You should go. And you should send me a series of messages about it and we can talk about our shared experiences.

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Currently reading:

The latest in the Thursday Murder Club books: The Bullet That Missed. Look, I got back into these books after taking the second one out of the library and then going back and re-reading the first one, but they’re very… schlocky. Manipulative, I’d say. Charming as fuck, no doubt, but self consciously charming.

My neighbour said she wasn’t ever going to read the box set Game of Thrones she’d bought herself and did I want them and I realised I did feel like re-reading them all from the beginning and we have a new bookshelf, so everything worked out in that regard.

What I Bought That I Love:

Two second hand things I just wanted to show off somewhere:

Of the two t-shirts and two dresses I bought in Warsaw only one has internet presence, so see how nice.

From a brand called Janina Warsaw but I found it in a thrift shop so it’s much more faded. I love slogan t-shirts, don’t you?

And a popcorn maker! I’m also trying to give up processed snacks—hard when you love all things fried potato and this popcorn maker has been 100% worth it especially since we also—yup—thrifted it.

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Links I Liked

The trials of an Indian witness. (Guardian)

How did I let drinking take over my life? (Guardian)

The terrifying cult of good taste. (Things Worth Knowing)

How to talk about grief to someone who is seriously grieving. (Atlantic)

Brief interviews with publishers of extremely specific magazines. (The Morning News)

And that’s all I’ve got! Come and talk to me here any tiiiiime.



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.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to people still using #blessed unironically in the year 2023 if you didn’t.

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15 February 2023

The Internet Personified: Ground control to Major Min

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet little cinnamon rolls,

I’ve been back in Berlin for less than four weeks, and I have jumped in with both feet. Having done that thing that people do when they move to new cities, ie, accept all invitations, I am tired out, which is a nice problem to have if you’re an introverted extrovert like me. I get energy from other people, hearing their ideas and participating in their conversation, and this energy I turn into writing and editing, which I do alone in my little glass-walled study by day. Which means I’ve got to be a lot stricter with my social plans, trying not to let anything happen before 6 pm ideally, by which time I’ve done a full day’s work and am ready to rejoin the world. Although I miiiiight have overdone it. I have not had a whole day just at home not leaving the house at all for over six days, and I’m beginning to feel the stress of burning the candle at both ends. Squishy, our black cat, chose last night to practise his operatic arias, and K was away last night too, so it was just me, sitting bolt upright in bed, begging him to stop. Finally, he got into bed with me (sometimes he gets lonesome if he can’t figure out where the rest of us are) but I stayed awake between 5 am and something, only to wake up at 8.30 as I normally do, still feeling a little tired from my restless night.

It is the next day. We’d gone for a reading at our local public library last night, a very rare English language event about dating across races. An Iranian woman and a Nigerian woman were in conversation about their essays and their experiences about racism in the city. It was okay, not any earth-shattering revelations, nothing we hadn’t heard before, and the writing was quite bad, so I was a bit sorry we had picked “good” seats, ie, wedged in on all sides with no way to leave. Funnily, I think K and I were the only representatives of “interracial romance” in the whole room. On the way out, I spoke with the person who organises events for the library, telling him how much I loved the space, which he was really happy to hear. I do, I do truly love libraries, especially ones I am familiar with, even if the selection for English language readers is small, I still enjoy being there. He told me that he prefers to organise programmes in a language that is more accessible to the majority of the community that uses the library, which is sadly, not people like me, so English language stuff is few and far between. All the more reason to become fluent in German, I guess.

But my “immersion” technique is going well. That last sentence makes it sound like I have more of a plan than just floating around the city and overhearing occasional words when it suits me. In the area I live, it’s now increasingly common to only overhear English when you’re walking by a knot of people, so that’s pretty useless to me, but there’s the rest of the city to be listened to.

Just the other day, I was at Markthalle 9 with some German friends. If you’ve been to Berlin, you know it as on the list of attractions: an old school food hall which on Thursdays has a bunch of pop up restaurants from 6 pm to 10 pm. Heaving crowds and no place to sit. A deposit on your glass so you’re sure to take it back and reclaim your four euros. That kind of place. I’ve visited before as a tourist, and now occasionally as a resident. Anyway, so we were there till 9.55, when they rang a giant bell and told us to leave. We were all still finishing our last drinks, when a lady came up to us and said they were closing, except instead of the usual word I’ve heard before for “closing” which usually refers to doors being shut, she used “feierabend.” I usually break apart German words I don’t know to examine them for context, and here she was saying “party evening.” “We’re now having a party evening,” she said to my friends. Meaning that it was time for the workers to party while the customers went away. I asked the Germans about it and they said it was pretty common to use in a shop or a restaurant. “You could even say, “I’m now ready for a party evening,” when you’re going to bed and you’re done drinking,” said one of them. I went home and questioned K further (he’s been a bit ill—not COVID—last week so he stayed in while I gallivanted.) “Could I say,” I asked him—this is my favourite game, taking new German words I’ve learned and putting them into different contexts— “Come over this evening for our feierabend?” “If you’re making a pun, sure,” he said. So I haven’t quite figured out why the word for “party evening” is the word for “closing” but not literally the word for “party evening.” Languages are hard.

I Googled it, and came across this interesting blog about the origins. I’ll quote the best bits:

The second part of Feierabend is Abend and it means evening. Note that the German evening lasts longer than the English one does, so it is also used in sense of night. The question “What are you doing tonight” translated literally using Nacht might sound a little salacious or the answer might just be “Sleep. Why?”

Feierabend is the moment when you have finished your work and there is not really a translation for that… by the way, it is actually strange that there is all these grumpy faces in Berlin subway at 5 pm as they all have party-night.

This is one of THE MOST used goodbye-phrases amongst colleagues. And it doesn’t matter whether it actually IS evening or not. It is also used by two night nurses at 8 am to say goodbye and you can also say it when your coworker, who is only a part time, leaves the office at noon.

And here is the little gender reminder… it is of course DER Feierabend so it is masculine because MEN work while women enjoy their Freizeit (free time) which is hence die Freizeit… what’s that? Not 1950 anymore?… true true true.. but back then when the articles were forged by those wise men, those were the days I tell ya’.

In my case, I’m trying hard to stick to a schedule, which is easier in the winter because it’s so dark and grim outside and it takes me 15 minutes longer to get ready because of all those layers, something I keep forgetting and then I’m late and in a rush but still trying to pull on my long johns. I have my party-evening at 6, and if I live by that rule, it means I get quite a lot done before I leave the house. Also why I’m desperate to finish off my next book before summer comes around again and the whole city is calling to me.

I’ve been using my tarot cards more and more these days, just for fun, just for a little optimism boost as it were. I put them on my bedside table and often my question is, “should I go out tonight?” I’m not sure what I’m expecting the cards to do here, to be like, “no! don’t go! stay in with Netflix!” but anyway, often the only answer I get is YES GO OUT YOU’LL LOVE IT. Last weekend the cards said: Wheel of Fortune (destiny), The Tower (big changes) and Six of Swords (get out of your comfort zone.) Which might hold true for my life in general. Another card I keep pulling is Three of Pentacles (indulge yourself, stop scrimping) and while I am not some giant millionaire-spendthrift type person, I find myself worrying slightly less. Same amount of money, less stressing about it. It’s hard to loosen the tight grip your fingers have on all your financial anxieties but just a little letting go makes some difference to your general mental health.

The night I drew those cards, we were going to an event at a second-hand bookshop I love. It’s called Another Country and it used to be run by a transwoman named Sophie. This bookstore was her baby, she had parties and events all the time, it was a safe space for other trans folk, she kept spare hormone shots at home for anyone who needed it and generally made it welcoming and a home away from home for queer folk. Now, I just stumbled upon it as a reader, having no clue about all these backstories, just knowing that it was a terrific bookstore, one of the kinds I like best, lots of squashy chairs, books stacked almost to the ceiling, a really good collection etc. And then Sophie died, and it looked like I was never going to get to go to the store again. But then a team of volunteers took over to run it and now they’re having weekly events and all sorts of fun things, including, the night we went: a pub quiz. (Which our team totally won. Our prize was a bottle of wine, but we’d already had one bottle of wine, so I was happy to share with all, after all the winners had taken a glass.) I have left my email address behind so that they can let me know if they need more volunteers, but for the moment, I’ll settle for the occasional pot luck pub quiz evening.

But I’m a little tired now, so I think this weekend I will finally sit down with my jigsaw puzzle and a hot drink, cozy in the house, something nice on the stove, the cats threatening to ruin everything by walking all over it, a good show on TV after, early bed with a library book; winter has many delights, both within and without.

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Currently reading

White Teeth by Zadie Smith (which is a re-read, I wanted to get into it again because of the IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE etc.): I don’t know. Still a great book but not feeling as great as it did when I first read it. Maybe even slightly pretentious and long winded? SHOCKING. I love Zadie Smith! Why is this happening to me?

Notes On An Execution by Danya Kukafa: A serial killer is being executed, his life is told from many different points of view. A library book I’m halfway through. Quite good, quite gripping.

Currently watching

Wednesday, which you’ve obviously seen, a fun teen drama about Wednesday Addams, a sort of dark grim supernatural comedy. And rewatching The Legend of Korra, both on Netflix.

On to the amazing links!

Oldie but goldie: the American male at age 10.

Things I do not like hearing.

The girl internet and the boy internet.

Another v specific German sitch: when do you say “du” and when do you say “Sie”? (“aap” and “tum” for non German Hindi speakers.) (Thanks Akshata for the link!)

Ok gtg, love you, miss you, byeeeeee

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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.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to everyone in the Southern hemisphere currently enjoying a glorious summer if you didn’t.

Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.

18 January 2023

The Internet Personified: Cooking, driving and early noughties feminism

Beloved bendy straws,

I am SO COLD that it’s surprising I’m able to type at all. In Delhi, we’ve had what the newspapers have described excitedly as a “cold wave” only a “wave” implies a sudden dropping of temperature and I haven’t really noticed it rising. It’s a bit better than it was week before last, where I was wearing two pairs of socks inside the house. Now I’m down to one pair—toes still cold—but wearing a massive amount of layers on top. No one looks sexy in Delhi’s winter, but I look like the Michelin Man. I went to a house party this weekend, and the guests were divided into those that made an effort (my friend, the host, looked particularly sexy and I guess she’s immune to the cold because there was not a single piece of Heattech on her. Not even a jacket!) and those who stayed properly bundled up the entire evening. Ugh, I hate winter, as soon as my birthday is over I’m ready for it to be summer again. Compensating by eating my body weight in snacks so I’m truly a Michelin Man, inside and out.

My timing is also not great, because Delhi gets warmer next week and off I go, back to Berlin, to plunge into their cold wave, a thrilling MINUS FIVE. More fattening snacks for me! This is me putting a ring on Berlin, so I’m not expecting my honeymoon period to last forever, however, I’m pretty excited about returning. The cats, after one startled look at K, have resumed their winter cuddles as though no time had passed at all. He suspects they did forget about us when we left, and as soon as they smelt him, they said, “Oh yeahhhh, this guy” and the love fest begun.

I sent him back with one stainless steel masala dabba and one works-on-electric-stoves tadka pan so my Indian-in-Germany kitchen is coming together nicely. I keep thinking about my kitchen—I got so into cooking the last year or so that it’s really nice to have all this equipment and all these spices (for Indian cooking, I bring most from home like a good desi housewife) and this year I’m expanding to get better at “conti” stuff, mainly Italian and French (inspired by the TV show Julia, I’ve decided to also do a little Julia Child stuff in the kitchen), and our stint in Bangkok has made me very curious about cooking Thai food as well. (Ingredients a little hard to find, but there’s this large Asian market not far from us).

Back when I first started living alone, say age 21-22-ish? I had just found a job with a city tabloid which paid me the grand sum of Rs 7,500, and I had been itching to leave home and set up on my own anyway, so I decided this financial independence was the sign I needed. No matter that my new job’s office was closer to my mum’s flat in East Delhi than the tiny railway compartment style flat I shared with two others in Malviya Nagar, I was still going to strike out on my own! (Until I realised after I paid for rent and fuel, I was basically left with zero money and reluctantly returned to the parental home until I got a new job and a dramatic 50% raise and a flat close to the office in a most definitely illegal construction fourth floor walk-up that swayed whenever anything heavier than a scooter drove past.) Anyway, this was the time where our feminism made us declare proudly that we couldn’t cook. “Can’t even boil water,” we’d say, smugly, looking over at other women who cooked with a certain amount of patronage. We were meant for grander things than the kitchen! We would never need to learn how to chop an onion or, god forbid, roll out a roti because our lot was Higher Things. I remember the first week we moved in, we didn’t have any way to boil water so I made instant coffee with the water from the geyser, god, it was awful and probably not very hygienic either. What did it matter, we hired a cook, who deep fried everything and it all looked so unappetising that we ate out most days, but I was always never very house proud, so I poked at unappetising meals after unappetising meals, from Delhi to Bombay, and thought this was just my lot. I didn’t know what was wrong with the food, just that I didn’t like it. Only once, several years later, I stumbled by pure chance upon an excellent cook in Bombay who happened to be looking for a new job and her meals were just elevated. I still had no words of instruction to give her, but she made everything really well. (She ruined me for future bad cooks who were delighted by my lack of agency, but also, now I knew it could be done in my kitchen on my budget, I started to take a little more of an interest in how to make things the way I liked.)

This painting (Young Woman Drawing) was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1922. In 1977, they FINALLY took a male artist’s name off it. The true artist (Marie Denise Villers) was only attributed in 1996.

It was a wonky sort of feminism, my first book You Are Here, contains a recipe of the kind I’d make in those days, “potato pickle surprise” which was just fried potato with a green chilli pickle garnish. I described Arshi’s roommate Topsy’s cocktails in far more detail, because we took pride in our drinks—see, post-feminism, women drinking like men!—but I skipped over the food. In my newest book, Soft Animal, I’ve flipped that, now my protagonist Mallika is frequently to be found in the kitchen, finding some sort of order in her days through cooking, because she doesn’t have much else. People took you less seriously as an author if you wore nice clothes or lipstick, for the longest time, you attempted to dress down for book events so everyone wouldn’t talk to you like you were a complete idiot. Well… some people dressed down, and I dressed up and grumbled that I had just as much right to be taken seriously as everyone else, and probably paid the price for my clothes because they patronised the hell out of me, but who cares, right? I’m forty one and I’m still here, many books later.

Cooking took a while longer to reach me as a feminist act. I was rejecting it because I didn’t want to be like the generation of women before me who seemed to learn how to cook whether they wanted to or not, it was just one of their skills. Even my mother who was a journalist at the time cooked a lot for a working woman. A lot of us wanted to be free and easy, like, well, like the men, never lifting a finger, never learning to do anything. And then things like Masterchef Australia started airing and people started getting snobby about food and suddenly everyone was a home chef and talking about their ingredients and their ovens and their knives, and women of my generation who had always cooked, always enjoyed cooking, were raising an eyebrow at all this but the rest of us just jumped into it. And it was fun. (How privileged can you get, right? Only dabbling in the kitchen as a hobby while your cook did all the scud work?) Of course, it is an essential life skill—feeding yourself, but you can do that with toast and eggs just as well. You don’t need to be a cook-cook. But what I learned consequently over these past few years is how creative it is, how soothing. I work from home, I work in my pajamas, I’m not much of a cleaner-upper unless the place is truly a mess and it takes a while to get there, so what adds order to my days? Cooking. I may not get pages done that day or go out for a walk, but I can make something out of raw ingredients, something appetising and interesting. Sometimes I wonder: is this turning back into being the kind of woman I rejected? Am I, in the end, as fond of nourishing others as my ancestors were before me? No one likes to admit they’re getting older, and I think this is an age thing for me, not a feminism thing. I need to eat, I’m a picky eater, I cook well, I cook our meals. (K does most—if not all—of the cleaning. I feel like I’ve gotten the better part of the bargain so I’m actively trying to get less lazy about vacuuming and so on.)

Which reminds me, please send recs for cookbooks you personally use and love. [Nothing with a zillion ingredients each of which I will only use once, thank you, which is why most of Ottam (I’ve forgotten how to spell his name and I’m too lazy to look it up) is out.]

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I’m in the process of selling my car. It’s only the second car I’ve ever owned, and the first I could afford to buy myself. Over the years, my friends got fancy new models, but I was always somewhat attached to my little white Alto—especially because a) I never drove much anyway and b) it was really easy to park, being so small, I could squeeze into any space.

I gave up driving some time ago, a crippling phobia suddenly overtook me. It’s surprising to even describe, it snuck up on me. One day I was driving over a flyover and traffic stood still and I couldn’t stop imagining all of us collapsing to our deaths, because the bridge could surely not hold all our weight. This fear mixed with another one I had, what if someone knocked into my car as I was driving and shot me off the edge? So I had to avoid flyovers. After that it became slopes: what if my car slid slowly backward and I hit the car behind me? After that, highways. Once again, what if a truck just sort of drifted off its lane and squeezed my car, smashing us both into a pulp? I couldn’t—can’t, still—differentiate the what-ifs my brain was coming up with from actual fact, I just started feeling like every time I was behind the wheel of my car, I was going to die horrifically and painfully. My palms would sweat, my heart would start racing, I spent the entire drive gripping the steering wheel. It wasn’t pleasant, and so I started avoiding driving more and more. If K and I weren’t going together somewhere (he usually drove us), I’d take a taxi, it was so easy. I tried to fix it with mindfulness meditation, and affirmation stuff when I was driving (“you are a calm and comfident [sic] driver,” said the English accent to me, soothingly.) But it never did get fixed, so in a calm and comfident way, I declared that I was just giving it up. Fuck driving. There are many other ways to get around.

But we hung on to the car, we thought my mother might like the use of it, but getting someone to drive her around was more hassle than just getting into an auto, so after much procrastination, I finally got around to selling it. I tried the first of two websites that pop up when you search “sell car in Delhi” and when their home inspection guy didn’t turn up twice I’ve called a second, who should be here soon, but I’ve learned from experience these car website people are notorious flakes. It doesn’t really matter because when I called a mechanic in to replace the battery—dead from not having being used for six months—he offered to buy it himself. Turns out a single owner driven car with less than 30,000 kilometres on the thingie is a valuable asset. Good thing I didn’t drive it much, I’m hoping to now get back most of what I spent on it, minus 50,000, which is great value for a car that is 10 years old.

Thinking of my car and driving, made me think of the song Short Skirt/Long Jacket by Cake, which I used to listen to ALL. THE. TIME. Somehow, my early noughties feminism got tied up with this song—which if you know it is about a man singing about the only kind of woman he wants, an independent one.

I want a girl with the right allocations
Who is fast, and thorough, and sharp as a tack
She's playing with her jewelry
She's putting up her hair
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket

Early noughties feminism was very much about “not being like other girls.” You didn’t believe in a sisterhood, you believed that you alone, out of all the rest of your gender, were this perfect unique little specimen who deserved to sit with the men.

This is a painting by Leonor Fini (1907-1996) who was openly bisexual and polyamorous. From her Wikipedia page: “In an attempt to subvert the roles imposed by society, she abandoned representations of fragile, innocent or fatal women in favor of goddesses inspired by Greek mythology. She applied herself to painting female figures who could not be categorized, judged or morally or sexually defined.”

She wants a car (hey) with a cup holder armrest (ho)
She wants a car (hey) that will get her there (ho)
She's changing her name (hey)
From Kitty to Karen (ho)
She's trading her MG (hey) for a white Chrysler LeBaron
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long, jacket

I blasted this song while I was driving. I too wanted a car that would get me there.So what if I was in “soft” or “lifestyle” journalism, so what if ignorant critics called me a “chick lit” writer? I knew who I wanted to be as I wobbled around in my high heels, flicking my straightened hair out of my face or just tying it back in a tight bun, neat and precise with none of the untamed danger that curly hair implies. I wanted to be that girl—girl! he never says woman!—with a short skirt and a long jacket.

There are many things to criticise still about 2023 feminism (let’s start with how it’s still not as inclusive as we’d like, how powerful men are still getting away with shit despite all the hand wringing about woke mobs and cancel culture) but at least, at least we have grown from where we were and are able to acknowledge our internalised misogyny and see how it was perhaps a little fucked up.

Meanwhile, I opened my car the other day for the first time in ages and I smelt, underneath the musty odour of a car that’s been closed too long, just a whiff of my old life. It almost made my eyes misty. Saying goodbye is hard and new beginnings are never easy, but you know I’m stepping into it with flat shoes, a flowy dress and my hair standing up like a lion’s mane around my face, which is a much more comfortable way to be than a short skirt and a long jacket, if you ask me.


Currently reading:

I’m book-hopping in my re-reads so I’ve got Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend (just the most perfect hilarious series) and Doctors by Erich Segal (who I had completely forgotten about but then K was supposed to take a trip to Tel Aviv and I suddenly started remembering Acts of Faith, which I then re-read and now I’m on Doctors and I will probably read his entire oeuvre, which is cheesy but expansive. Doctors is the medical deep-dive, Acts of Faith is the religion one, The Class is academia, Prizes is science. All meticulously researched pot boilers, but I don’t need to tell you, you probably also read all his stuff in your teens along with Sidney Sheldon.) I also re-read all of James Herriot, having watched the latest series of All Creatures Great And Small. Then I’m also re-reading with intention A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine because it is my book club pick for this month and I’m meeting them for a discussion on Friday.

Plus a new to me book: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which I came across browsing the Booker Prize website, a useful place to check out every single book that’s ever been longlisted. I like books about long walks, perhaps because even though I’m a fairly sedentary person, a long walk seems like a thing I can do, much like Harold.

Currently watching:

My mum and I are watching all of Ted Lasso, which I had abandoned after four episodes, and now have gotten back into. It’s a nice palate cleanser after Trial By Fire which was just DARK but also really good.

Side-by-side I’m watching Southland which is this excellent cop drama shot like a documentary and well, ok, Friends. What? It’s cold and I need mental cuddles.

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My mid-January link recommendations!

Speaking of cooking, here’s what the new show Julia (which, for the record, I enjoyed) gets wrong about Julia Child’s extraordinary editor Judith Jones.

How the YA dystopia fad ended.

Firstly, Margaret Atwood has a Substack. Secondly, she sometimes writes about chickens she has known.

Have not seen Fleishman Is In Trouble, but you don’t have to see it to enjoy this piece about the feminism of it.

Trying not to touch plastic for an entire day is HARD.

What 30 years of having pets have taught me about life.

Have a great week! I will probably write you next from my Berlin life.



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.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to women who STILL say, “I’m not like other girls” if you didn’t.

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27 December 2022

The Internet Personified: The Best Books I Read In 2022

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My spicy little pad thais,

I always hate best books lists that come out early on in December or even November because it’s as good as saying you won’t be reading any more for the rest of the year. I try to put my own list off as long as I can, because I am always filled with FOMO. What if, I think, what if the book I read on December 23rd is absolutely the best book I’ve read all year? This year, I went to a second hand bookstore only two days ago and bought a huge pile of books which I am making my way through. This year, I started Crime and Punishment only last week. I have a lot of reading left to do, but now, on the 27th, I realise that I probably won’t finish any of these by the end of the week and so, here we are.

All graphics from Storygraph which I use instead of Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading

I had a shorter reading goal this year than normal. I pledged to read 100 books—normally I pick 150 or 120 or whatever, but this year I’ve been so busy—we counted and we’ve been in seven different countries in 2022 thanks to my visa problems. I’m delighted to announce that that is a thing of the past. Yes, friends, one and a half years, many many emails to the German embassy and many many hours of agonising about my uncertain future later, my visa has finally been approved! This means your girl is going to be a full time Berlin resident come February (the passport might take as long as a month to be stamped, they warned me). And not a moment too soon, because I see rumblings about a new COVID wave that’s happening, so please be careful, and hopefully we won’t have to have another full on lockdown. (In Thailand, masks are no longer mandatory, but the locals wear them all the time, even outdoors, so actually we’re pretty safe—and also following suit, to fit in.)

I love fat big books that you can just keep reading endlessly. This is why I mostly read on my Kindle.

Although seven countries was fun. I’ll sort of miss my vagabond life, but I’m so ready to start nesting.

The nice thing about travelling is that you get to read a lot. The bad thing is that you get absolutely no writing done, unless you have tremendous will power, which we all know I don’t. Still, these five weeks in Bangkok have been ideal for my book which is chugging along nicely, and I managed to read 106 new books (I don’t count re-reads unless I’ve completely forgotten the book, I’m always re-reading the same thing over and over.) This is also the year I discovered libraries, proper libraries, and while Berlin’s libraries don’t have a large English language collection, they do have variety. Plus, you’re a member of all of them at the same time, so you can borrow books from whichever branch you like. When I think about Berlin, I think most about the libraries, nothing else, maybe occasionally walking down an empty cobblestoned road with the trees high and green above my head.

As you can see, I’m a middle of the road rater. I very rarely give books 4.5 stars or 2.25 stars. I’m fondest of 3 stars, which I interpret as “nice but not outstanding.” The books I’ve picked on this list all come from my 4.5-5 star section.

Of these one hundred and six books though, when I made my list today, I could only come up with thirteen that I would absolutely recommend to you. I do mini-recommendations all year on my bookish Instagram page, but this is a best books list, not a decent-reads-you-might-enjoy list, and so, here we are. As always, these are the best books I’ve read this year, but published any year.

I needed soothing books all year, and there’s nothing like crime fiction for that.

Wherever possible, I’ve tried to link to an independent bookstore (Midlands and Champaca) where you can order online no matter where you are, but sometimes it has to be Amazon, alas.

I would have thought I’d have the biggest spike over the summer heatwave I spent in Delhi but it turns out I was a very negligent hostess and read the most when friends were visiting.

The most exciting book I read all year:

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski: I wish I’d saved this for Thailand, but I didn’t know, way back in March that I would be in Thailand this winter, so the timing was slightly unfortunate. Then again, I did read this in a fancy Istanbul hotel where we were sadly quarantining with COVID, so I had plenty of time to devote to it between poking sticks into my nose and waiting hopefully for the results. The book is a solid romp, a journalist goes to Thailand hoping to uncover the story of an anthropologist who was jailed and later committed suicide. Along the way, there’s the heavy involvement of a missionary church. It doesn’t sound exciting written down, but trust me, by the end of it, you’ll be like, “Ooh how can I be an anthropologist too?”

The best novel about the psychology of crime:

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine: I don’t mean a psychological crime novel here, those are quite different. This was the year I discovered Ruth Rendell and promptly decided to read as much of her backlist as I could. I love here because she talks about why people do crimes instead of just the puzzle. It’s what I wanted to do as well, so she served as inspiration in a sense. This book begins with the murderer dying and then goes back in time, unravelling a story. A why-dunnit instead of a who-dunnit. So beautifully written, a story about family and sisters and parenthood.

The best graphic novel I’ve read in a long time, let alone 2022:

Berlin by Jason Lutes: A massive book, twenty years in the making, which spans the history of the city from the very beginning of the fall of the Weimar Republic till the start of the rise of the Nazis. Large panels, so much happening in each section that you can’t take in all of it at one go so your eyes go all over the page, like a child reading a picture book. Berlin was dense, full of various random characters inhabiting the city, and beautiful. I borrowed this from the public library, which made me very happy, because I had been planning on buying it in Delhi and lugging it back to Germany with me and the thing weighs like a zillion kilos. I see there’s a nice Kindle version so treat yourself.

The best romance novel that ended up as a treatise on working women in the 50s:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: I read a lot of “trendy” books this year, by which I mean books everyone was talking about, and for the most part I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were, which makes me sound like the most appalling snob, but really, every year people dangle books in front of one and are like, “This is the greatest thing since the Iliad!” or whatever and they never are. I realised tempering my expectations was key, like they were a giant cast iron pan. I liked this more than I expected to, and that sounds like faint praise, but it was just sweet. It starts out romantic, very smart woman and very smart man fall in love and get a dog, and then the man dies, so that’s sad, but the woman has to now bring up their child alone, and then she (the woman that is) gets a job teaching cooking at a local TV studio, except she’s teaching it in a chemistry-oriented way. It was fun! And charming! Sometimes you need fun and charming. The dog character was great too.

The best soft character-oriented books about people’s long lives:

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout and French Braid by Anne Tyler: This is one of my absolute favourite genres, and I find Americans do it so well. I think it’s the idea of clannishness and family in small towns. Elizabeth Strout and Anne Tyler are experts in this regard, and if I like Tyler a little more than Elizabeth, it’s probably because I’ve read more of her (since she’s published more books.) French Braid is excellent, a long family saga in vignettes, chapters set over the years. Anything Is Possible is a continuation of Strout’s Lucy Barton series, and as always, you don’t need to read one book to get fully into the next. Stories of different people who live in a small town in Maine and how their lives intersect.

The best book about a very specific sports topic:

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis: I haven’t seen the TV show! And when I posted this on my Instagram, everyone said I must, so that is a treat for another time. But the novel the show is based on: young genius orphan girl is heavily into chess and becomes a world champion was so exciting, I couldn’t stop reading, and I don’t even like chess. Then too, it’s a short novel, so perfect for your next weekend break or flight.

The best cosy crime slash epistolary novel:

The Appeal by Janice Hallet: This book tickled two of my reading soft spots: it’s done entirely in notes and emails and, and it’s all against the background of an amateur theatre group. Having been in many amateur groups myself, I’ve always thought they were a great place to observe human intrigue, and see, here I am proven right. Then too, it was funny and mysterious, with a twist you won’t see coming.

The best fantasy novel:

Fairy Tale by Stephen King: King is usually horror and creepy don’t-read-in-the-dark books, but this one is both a deviation and a delight. It’s about a young boy who discovers through his neighbour, a portal into a fairy tale world, which of course, he enters, and where he, of course, has to battle many strange things and come out a hero in the end. It’s still creepy, but fairy tales tend to be creepy, unless they’re Disney versions. I especially liked finding references to all sorts of Grimms’ tales I had forgotten.

The best book about friendship:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: This made a LOT of best books lists so you’ll forgive me for squeezing it into mine as well. I didn’t think I’d like it, because it’s about two gamers, and I’m not really much for video games, but much like Fieldwork made me think, “Ooh anthropology!” and The Queen’s Gambit made me think, “Ooh, chess!” this sent me down the “Ooh, video games!” rabbithole as well. But mostly it’s about love and friendship, two very real people and their very real relationship with all its ups and downs. The relationships are real, is what I’m trying to tell you, not just a nice friendship lalala over the years but it felt true and authentic, the fights, the bitching, the resentment and love too, lots of love or it wouldn’t have endured. You’ll find yourself thinking a lot about your own friends after you read this.

The best book about Indian crime:

Villainy by Upamanyu Chatterjee: I confess, I haven’t read as many Indian authors this year as I would have liked to, and I do like to. But Upamanyu Chatterjee has always been a favourite, I’m forever recommending English, August to other people who want to know “what Indian books to read.” I didn’t like his ones in the middle so much, but this one returned him true to form. The crime of it all is a bit hand-wavy, but I liked the people very much, all the various characters coming through so clearly, like I had met them all. I liked the police procedural aspect as well (something I’m working on in my own new novel) and generally enjoyed the Rich Delhi/class wars flavours of the whole thing. (Just before I left Delhi, my friend Nilanjana Roy released Black River, her crime novel, so that’s something to look forward to as well.)

The best book about small scale politics:

Search by Michelle Huneven: Again, a subject I didn’t know very much about: church committees! Dana, the narrator, is also a food writer and is hunting for the subject of her next book. At the same time, she’s elected to join a church committee to hunt for a replacement for the minister. There’s a whole lot of Boomer vs Gen Z energy (Dana is in her 50s), plus the every day fights and quibbles of people who suddenly have a small amount of power. I tore through it, it was so good. And so unusual.

The best collection of essays:

May You Be The Mother of A Hundred Sons by Elizabeth Bumiller: I did not read a lot of non-fiction this year, but whatever I did tended to be memoir. This very old collection of essays is about women in India, whether they’re rich in Delhi or Bollywood stars or health workers or women in the village, Elizabeth Bumiller went everywhere and talked to everyone to get some sort of an idea about what it means to be a woman in India. It was published in 1991 so it’s been a while, but sadly, a lot of it still holds true.

And that’s my list! Your turn, what were the best books you read this year off the top of your head?

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If you liked this newsletter—a true labour of love!—then please buy me a book so I can go on reading and telling you what to read as well.

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Books I’m currently reading:

Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me which is the true story of how the writer was besties of a sort with serial killer Ted Bundy.

John Irving’s A Son Of The Circus which is the only book of his to be set in Bombay. I’ve read a lot of his books and actually owned this in hardback for a while and never read it, but then came across it at this second hand bookstore in Bangkok and it felt like the right time. It’s very good. Potboiler-y.

Crime and Punishment which will probably take me a while to finish, so it’s just going to go with me wherever I go.

Gone by Mo Hayder which is described as both “lacerating” and “stomach churning” in the blurbs.

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A wrap on the 2022 season of The Internet Personified! Have a great New Year’s Eve, however you celebrate (leaning towards staying in with a movie this year, too much excitement already) and I will see you in 2023.

Thank you for reading The Internet: Personified . This post is public so feel free to share it.




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.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to that book you’re really never going to finish why pretend if you didn’t.

Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.