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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25 January 2021

The Internet Personified: B is for Boarding School

My darling phat philter coffees,

This is EDITION TWO of my Great Alphabet Series, where I use the alphabet as a prompt to explore some aspect of my life. I got a bunch of emails for the first one (which you can read here) and all were encouraging! So onward we go.

There are people who go to boarding school who never seem to have left it. You know the type of person I mean. Their friends are exclusively from that part of their lives or maybe, when they’re around each other, suddenly they stop being in their thirties, forties, fifties, and revert to being teenagers around each other, wide mouthed laughs at nothing very funny. In-jokes swapped around. Back slaps—these are mostly men I’m thinking about, I don’t know why there’s not a particular Boarding School Woman, or maybe I haven’t met any—and lots of alcohol. Someone might pull out a joint, the others look at each other sideways, smirks across their faces. Their wives are putting the children to sleep. Maybe there’s a wife or two left, sitting around the fire—when I think of them, it is in the winter, which is apt, because all of India’s boarding schools are on cold pretty hills, a British legacy—and that wife is nursing a Bacardi Breezer or a glass of white wine, and the men are drinking Scotch. To be polite, some of the men might include the Wife in their conversation, but really, she’s holding them back. They are here to celebrate each other, men don’t really have close friendships with each other that they are allowed to cherish, and this is the one weekend all these men have to lean into each other a bit. To let go, to be around the friends of their youth. To say—in the words of Joni Mitchell—”I love you” right out loud.

John Mulaney Snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

There are those kind of people, and then there is me. What I did was what a friend described as “Boarding School Tourism.” I was in and out in two years, ages 14 to 16, returning to Delhi for my eleventh and twelfth, and also returning a different person than when I left it. Living independently for two years in the midst of your teens will do that to you. Sure, we had loads of adults, adults coming out of our ears, sometimes even too many adults, but for the most part, what boarding school expects of you is to be responsible for yourself way ahead of the time that your parents, back home in your soft day school life, would have expected you to be. Of course there were rules you had to follow, but you could break a lot of those rules, and there wouldn’t be that much trouble. Some were sacrosanct, those you obeyed, or dodged more cleverly, but if, for example, you were so inclined to stay awake after lights off, you could. It would be a bit dull and also you’d have a hard time making your 5.30 am wake up call, but you could.

My particular boarding school was called The Lawrence School, and it was in a little part of Tamil Nadu that I had literally never heard of before my cousins were sent there. The place was called Lovedale, and so the school was called Lovedale (up North, The Lawrence School has another branch in Sanawar, and that version is called, duh, Sanawar). It was unusual because it was one of the few co-ed boarding schools in India, a fact that made our teachers paranoid and extra vigilant about guarding our virtues. About an hour or less drive up from Ooty, that whole spot was a popular boarding school area. On one side, there was Hebron, which was an international school, so full of white kids, and far more liberal than us, which made it the envy of everyone. There were two smaller ones for younger children—Lovedale only started taking kids at eight? eleven? I don’t remember, but small—and if you wanted your kids to start going to boarding school, at, oh, I don’t know, five or something, you could put them in one of the prep schools close by.

I am glad I was fourteen when I went. It’s the sort of age you’re already beginning to pull away from your parents, seeing yourself as the centre of the universe, everyone else receding quickly. Amongst other teenagers, I was happy, we all had the same concerns. In the cocooned safe environment of Lovedale, I kept my innocence for another three or four years, something I only realise now. Even though I pulled against my leash many times, I never broke it. And I was an innocent child for much longer than most. Reading so much made me both peculiarly older than everyone, but also younger than my peers who had real life experience. Many years later, I found out not everyone stayed as sheltered as I did, people were drinking, getting high, sneaking make out sessions on deserted parts of campus, much like teens everywhere. I was never much of a rule-breaker.

A representative image of me at sixteen at Lovedale. We were allowed to wear saris at Diwali and also this is the clearest photo I have of my face, everything else seems to have been taken in the dark. A lot of us wore our hair like that, brushed under, and side parted so you always had to tilt your head to one side. This worked better—needless to say—-for girls with straight hair rather than hut shaped heads like mine.

I can only tell a few stories, because my life there is so clear and so stamped on my brain, that it would take a whole book to unravel all of it. I’ll tell you a few memories that stand out though.

The Period Toilet

There was one stall in the Girls’ School bathroom—that’s what the senior girls’ hostel was called: Girls’ School, which is kind of misleading, because we had to walk across the hill (and a gated area with a guard watching us to make sure we weren’t sneaking boys back) and down a road to get to our classes, where the boys also lived, known as Senior School—anyway, there was this one stall, in the corner, which was dedicated to our periods. Girls took off their sanitary pads and tossed them over the wall of the cubicle, where they collected in one large festering pile, until they were raked out and disposed of once a week. You were supposed to open the door, of course, and put it inside the bin there, but no one dared enter, it was too gross to contemplate, so over the wall it went.

maxi pad GIF by AwesomenessTV

At one point, the administration decided it would be nice if some of the boys came for scheduled visits over on the girls’ side. A way to demystify the opposite sex, I suppose. Each week, one or two likely fellows—did well in classes or something—were brought to us for lunch like sacrificial virgins. Everyone was on their best behaviour, especially the boys, who looked around, eyes popping, like they’d been admitted to some secret cult headquarters. Then they asked to use the loo, and all our composure fell apart, because in the loo was the period stall and to admit that we had a PERIOD STALL, well, we might as well have taken off our clothes and run around naked. Teenage girls like to behave, most of all, like they are not human. They rarely eat, they definitely do not fart or poop or pee, they never have blood emerging out of them once a month, in fact, they would like the world to assume that they were born hair brushed and lip glossed, with no attachments in the world. Teenage girls were born, they’ll argue, to stand in clumps with each other, wisecracking, posing, and smelling delicious. Thousands of teenage boys have fallen prey to this illusion. Teenage girls are terrifying, and I ought to know, I used to be one. (But only to the outside world, on the inside, they are all just swans paddling wildly beneath the surface.)

Luckily, one of the housemistresses realised our dilemma and she allowed the boys to use the visitor’s toilet, and so the crisis passed.

The Dramatic Society

I went from being somewhat of a wallflower in Delhi, to throwing myself into every single activity that school offered. Philately? Sure! (It was so boring.) Debate team? ON IT. Choir? I can still sing some of those songs. The school newspaper? I nursed ambitions of being the editor one day. But what I did the most—what I loved the most—was the dramatic society, which didn’t even really have a name, I mean, we never said, “I’m a member of the dramatic society” we just said we acted in plays.

There were two sets of shows we did: just within your own house and one for the whole school at Founder’s Day. The smaller show was an inter-house play competition. I was in Vindhya—all the houses were named after mountain ranges, we used to have separate house names for the girls and boys, but that got confusing, so they just integrated us—I was glad to be in Vindhya house because our house colour was purple, which was my favourite colour at the time. And you got judged and whichever house won got a cup or whatever. Very Hogwarts, except our food was execrable. Like Oliver Twist bad. (Later we found out it was because the caterer had been happily siphoning off funds and serving us shitty food, but this happened much too late to make a difference to me.) The first year I did a play, I fell head over heels in love with my co-star, the older brother of one of my batchmates. I adored him. I worshipped him. I gazed at him with moony eyes. I loved him so much, I thought I’d give him a rakhi—once you were rakhi-brothered with someone, you had an excuse for further intimacy—only I asked my mum to send some from Delhi and she sent my maid’s son, which I mentioned in my note to this fellow and thereby super insulted him for some reason? He would not, he made clear to me, and the messenger who sent the note, wear a rakhi picked out by a servant. He returned all of it to me, the rakhi, the note, and devastated me for the whole weekend, but there was my first run in with the Prince Inside Every Indian Man. I never spoke to him again, though I felt bad whenever I saw him. Ugh.

acting schitts creek GIF by CBC

I loved acting though. I loved being on stage, and the carmaraderie of it all, and being “famous” through the school. I loved it even when I got head lice from sharing a hairbrush back stage. Those lice! I thought I’d never get rid of them, they loved my thick curly hair so much. I had to use lice shampoo (gross) and combs (also gross) and cut all my hair off and still they remained for the longest time. Just thinking about them is making my head itch.

Wow, this is long. I should stop. I still have so much to tell you: that was the time Titanic came out, and every weekend—we were only allowed stereo systems on the weekend—someone or the other would be playing My Heart Will Go On, so you listened to it over and over again. We wrote letters every week, and my great delight was receiving mail, only my housemistress picked off any foreign stamps before she passed them on, which irritated me mightily, but I could never say anything, because, well, she was the housemistress. The teachers! Such varied characters, some strange ones in there. Horse riding. Reading, reading, reading. Having a uniform for every hour of the day. KAJOL shooting part of her movie on campus and getting half my head in the music video. (Green t-shirt, when she’s jumped on the table. I could see all the way up her skirt but she was wearing tights and bicycle shorts.)

It was fun. I was glad to come home, glad it was only two years, but it was still fun.

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Links I Liked On The Internet This Week:

Slow week for links because America was obsessed with their inauguration which was nice but, like, not that interesting to me, and sadly, the rest of the world didn’t have much I found either. If you’ve read something fun and interesting this week, would you please leave a link in the comments? THANK YOU.

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I wrote the second of my Auth Couture columns where I talk about the intersection of writers and the fashion they wore. This month, I talk about Ismat Chughtai, which led me to her paisley embroidered blouse, which led me to the history of paisley. I found it hugely interesting. Read, read.

I liked this piece on reparative justice, ie, when the victim’s family get to talk to the killer for some sort of closure. It’s a radical idea, and backfired in the case of this story, but it’s an interesting thought.

That’s a wrap! See you next time for the letter “c”!

xx

m

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.

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

Got sent this newsletter? Sign up here to subscribe!

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to the mean boy or girl from school who broke your heart if you didn’t.

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

21 January 2021

What I'm Reading


Have you read Melissa Bank? She hasn't written a new book in years which is very sad but the two she has (The Girl's Guide To Hunting And Fishing and this one) remain old favourites that I read over and over again. Unimaginative people might call her chick lit, after all each novel features a young woman looking for love, but they are so much more, especially this one. Young Sophie navigates friendship, her siblings, a job she doesn't really care about (though she wants to) as well as her Jewish identity to find what she's looking for: herself. This is one of the smartest and funniest (in an observational humour way not so much lol) books I've ever read, perhaps that's why I keep going back to Melissa, over and over again. She reminds me of Curtis Sittenfeld (another fav) so that's high enough praise for some of you. Everyone else, get on it! #oldfavourites #mrmbookclub #bookstagram #melissabank #thewonderspot

17 January 2021

Today in Photo


Our dystopian city at night. #latergram #delhidiary

via Instagram

The Internet Personified: The alphabet edition

My perfectly crunchy Pringles chips,

Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to do an alphabet series on this newsletter, working my way down the letters, a different memory attached to each one. Twenty six letters, twenty six editions. Quite a lot. These may not come to you one after the other, I will break them up if something terribly exciting happens (rare, but not impossible even in these monotonous days) or I think of something else I’d like to talk to you about, but for now, the alphabet-memory thing is serving as a writing prompt, a way of telling you stories and a way for me to remember which stories to tell you. I’ve only lined up stories for “a” and “b” so far, hoping that everything else will just—come to me. (This is the way I operate, both as a writer and as a person.)

SO. This is a story about Appu Ghar, Delhi’s number one, one-time amusement park, commissioned by Indira Gandhi and inaugurated by her son Rajiv, and the only place to go if you wanted to go on rides and entertain visiting guests.

SHOOTING GALLERY? TOOFAN MAIL? A… COMPUTER PHOTO?? You’ve got to remember this was the ‘80s, okay? This story isn’t so good if you don’t keep that in mind. This was the ‘80s, the Boomers (our parents) had mostly migrated from various cities and towns across India and were setting up new nuclear family lives away from their parents, and their whole traditional upbringing. Boomer parents saw their own parenting as a way to make amends for their own childhoods, and thus were the first generation of Indian millennials born, silver spooned and helicoptered and told we could do whatever we liked, be whoever we wanted to be (within reason, if what we wanted to be was a doctor or an engineer which is what most Boomer parents dreamed of their children becoming). If we wanted to take ballet classes, sure, that could be arranged from a Russian expat. If we wanted to act in musical theatre, swiftly, a kid’s group was arranged to take care of long boring summers. If we wanted to go to Disneyland, and air fare was too prohibitive, why, there was Appu Ghar right there in our backyard.

Appu Ghar (elephant house literally) was named after the mascot for the 1982 Asian Games that were hosted in Delhi. His original name was Kuttinarayanan and he was transported to Delhi from Kerala, where he enjoyed fame briefly, before being returned to his home state after which he had a sad life. He fell into a septic tank, fractured his leg and lived in great pain for the rest of his life. Not a great omen. But Delhi, post Appu, post Games, started to become the city we know today: full of zippy flyovers and lots of stadiums, marshland transformed forever into cool new sporting venues.

I was obsessed with Appu. In 1982, I turned one and since I loved the Appu mascot so much, it became my birthday cake.

That’s me, the small round-headed creature with curly hair being held aloft just before I was about to blow out my birthday candle. I am intent on the cake, as you can see, much like the little boy at the other end of the table. These were all neighbourhood kids, does anyone have proper friends at one?

I’m not sure why “Appu” became equivalent with elephants. The correct Hindi word is “haathi” but “Haathi Ghar” doesn’t sound so friendly. Maybe there was a film? Either way, the elephant on one leg, almost dancing, his ears so symmetrical, his small eyes so friendly, became a mascot for my generation and the ‘80s in general. It probably has to do with our collective obsession with Ganesh. Ganesh, of all the Hindu pantheon, is the child’s god. He’s round tummied, loves to eat, and loves to play. You knew Ganesh, because he was everywhere you looked, posters, statues, stories, and so Appu was familiar. A non-divine version of an elephant we already loved.

Between Appu the mascot, the Asian games and Appu Ghar, the amusement park, the Sikh riots happened. I don’t remember this terrible chapter in Delhi’s history at all, but what I’ve been told is that I wept all day, inconsolable, while my parents tried to help out at relief camps. “Indira Gandhi died,” was all I would say, but why Indira Gandhi’s death affected me so is something that’s lost to time. (Many years later, I was on a train to Hyderabad with my grandmother when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. This I remember more clearly, because the train stopped for a full 24 or 48 hours because they were afraid of riots on the other end. When we finally got to Hyderabad, the India Today magazine with photos of the bomb blast hadn’t been put away yet and I looked through the ghoulish images, with the perverse cruel gusto of a ten year old. I remember particularly one photo of a disembodied leg, the foot still in its shoe.)

Appu Ghar was never a very modern place, even when it first opened. Part of the charm was being small and looking around yourself with wonder. There are four rides I particularly remember: perhaps because we always went on those? One was called My Fair Lady and there was this giant woman with a skirt that stuck out and you sat in seats along the hem of the skirt and she rotated, moving her body from side to side, so it was sort of like a swing and merry-go-round combined. Another was the aforementioned “Toofan Mail” which was a dragon-headed roller coaster that went at a thrillingly high speed and did one loop of its small cage. Thrilling that is, if you’re seven. Then there were the bumper cars, which were great and followed zero safety protocols, the seat belts were just a serving suggestion, so on one of those trips, I hit my head against the steering wheel and my nose began to spout blood in a tremendous and impressive manner, all over my (new) t-shirt and all the adults got very upset and my American-visiting aunt talked about suing for no seatbelt safety until just as suddenly, my nose ceased to erupt. They also had a haunted house, called comfortably colloquially “Bhoot Bangla.” A lot of the names of the rides were in Hindi, it was supposed to be an egalitarian place, with affordable and sometimes free rides, for anyone who wanted them.

Meanwhile, in the ‘90s, when cable television came to India, we started seeing ads for someplace that looked magic in Mumbai. It was also an amusement park, but not so down-home and friendly as Appu Ghar. This one was called Essel World, and was run by Zee and so had all that Bollywood glitz and glam. The ad, which I could probably still sing along to, had all sorts of characters enjoying their day at an amusement park. From a little boy holding his parents hands, to people in the water park, to a robot, an actual robot all saying they didn’t want to go home because now they lived at Essel World. Suddenly Appu Ghar started to look a little… shabby. Did you notice how the metal was crumbling on some of the rides? Did you notice how the lady spinning was beginning to look a little tired? Did you notice that the roller coaster wasn’t really a roller coaster, it just moved back and forth on a track shaped like the figure eight? It was always crowded, and we were turning into little snobs by then, we didn’t want to mingle, we wanted to stay exclusive. We wanted to counter our classmates Disneyland claims with something cool. Some of us had already been to America, gotten the Mickey Mouse ears, the whole slick Disney treatment, and now we began to be a little ashamed of Appu Ghar, when relatives came to visit, we’d apologise for it, we’d actively lobby to go somewhere else.

It tried to keep up. It introduced water park rides as well, but by then it was too late for us. Swim in the same water as everyone else, we said, turning up our noses, what a great way to get sick. Already modern Delhi was as divided as ancient Delhi before it, already the Appu mascot, once proud and belonging to everyone, was just a little too belonging to everyone. And so when Appu Ghar finally died, the version I knew anyway, we felt a bit guilty, but also we thought, “Ok, life goes on.” It was a nice place. Sweet even.

One last story: by the food court, there was a glass cage around a mechanical clown, his hands open, a plate of something on each hand. If you put a one rupee coin inside the slot, he’d come to life, rocking back and forth with disembodied laughter emerging from the tinny speaker attached to his cage. It was terrifying. I hated that clown, every time someone put money in him, I’d have to sit with my hands over my ears to block him out. But on one of my visits, I asked my mother for money and I marched over to that clown and I stuck my coin in the slot and I watched him defiantly, rocking back and forth, and I stared him straight in the eye, stared him down. The laughter still wasn’t pleasant, but I could see that his mechanism was old, that he was winding down. “I’m not scared anymore!” I reported, triumphantly, when I returned to our table. It might have been the last time in my childhood I would be scared of something like that, a moment had been crossed, some part of my imagination left behind forever. It might’ve been the last time we ever visited. I don’t know.

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Obviously, let me know what you think of my alphabet idea. I’d love it if you were all, “Omg amazing” but you can also say, “No no horrible.” (If you say no no horrible, please provide alternate subjects to write about.)

I wrote a little internet poem also this week, inspired by the impeachment, which I thought was quite nice.


Links I Liked On The Internet This Week:

Doing my research for this newsletter, I came across this excellent interactive timeline of Delhi’s history which made me super nostalgic.

On being online.

My friend Nidhi Dutt makes amazing short films. Please watch this one about the COVID pallbearers. It moved me deeply.

How’s the guy who cashes in reward points to travel the world doing?

Her best friend was her secret stalker also reminded me of the crazy Nidhi Razdan story.

A year without (good) clothes.

You know about cave men but what was life like for the cave WOMAN?

Leave a comment

Have a great week!

xx

m

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.

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

Got sent this newsletter? Sign up here to subscribe!

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to the stuff you’re not ready to talk about yet if you didn’t.

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

Subscribe now

16 January 2021

Today in Photo


I thought this was appropriate for a birthday card but my zebra butt leaves something to be desired. #painting #watercolour #foreveryoung #bobdylan

via Instagram

14 January 2021

Today in Photo


For my birthday this year, I got some money of which I spent some on this, the most beautiful handbag I've ever had from @chiaroscurobags. It's MONOGRAMMED. It's heavy in a luxurious way. What else can I say about this bag? It gives me hope that I'll leave my house soon, go places where I'll need a nice bag, a nice bag that has my name on it and holds all my important things. It was made to order as the brand does so the tag had the name of the artisan who made it (thank you, Mr Irfan!) and it's upcycled leather from the meat industry so no new animals were killed for my fashion. I feel so fancy even in my ski pants and old sweater. #whatiworetoday #handbag

via Instagram

Today in Photo


Impeachment got me writing poetry. #america #poems

via Instagram

13 January 2021

What I'm Reading


My first Ken Follett! Fun, but very pedestrian prose. It's all about WW1, several different characters intersecting and occasionally having clunky sex. However the story's quite gripping so I think I'll finish the trilogy despite a few eye rolls here and there. It's not BAD writing, you understand, it's just not great. But the story whizzes along and there's plenty of battle detail if that's your thing. #bookstagram #nowreading #121in2021 #kenfollett #fallofgiants

12 January 2021

Today in Photo


Taking a sick day because of a weird stomach thing, and I seem to have attracted some creatures. #sickday #catstagram #olgadapolga #brunothetabby #squishytheblackcat

via Instagram

Today in Photo


I did a little doodle this morning while I was getting mad about things. #sketch #badopinions #piechart

via Instagram