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 November 2022

The Internet Personified: Things I Really Like This Month

Glorious marigolds,

I thought for about five seconds last week that I should maybe make an OFFSET of this newsletter where I send you RECOMMENDATIONS ONCE A WEEK and maybe that could be a SUBSCRIBER TIER THING! But then I realised it was a foolish idea for many reasons: 1) would I have enough recs to give you week after week? 2) how many people realistically would be into that sort of thing? And “into” in the sense of “let me give you some money for this,” and 3) does anyone even CARE about my recommendations? so I said nah, and fuck it, and that’s how ideas die in this house.

But I still had a list of things I enjoyed both experiencing and purchasing, so that’s how this edition came to be. Sometimes recommendation newsletters fill me with doom and gloom, all those people buying all those useless things until we collapse under the weight of it all, so I’m only suggesting a few purchases which are in the category of “if you need a new one of X, this is what I’ve replaced mine with.”

Shall we jump in? Ooh I love giving unsolicited advice! It’s SO GREAT. Here, have these things! TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!

  • A new backpack: I started using a backpack not that long ago, I think 2017-ish? I bought a basic one off Amazon, 50 litres, which means, I guess, you can stuff 50 one litre bottles in there, but since I am an inefficient packer, I could get maybe ten items of clothing in the same space. But I liked that I didn’t have to wheel something around or carry a suitcase up flights of stairs. I love my new strolley suitcase (also bought earlier this year) but that is very specifically for shorter trips or trips where I’ll be staying in one place, say. I took it to London with me, and we did really well, me and my suitcase, although I also took K and his much larger bag to London as well so I had back up. The problem was London with its changeable weather, I had to pack for two eventualities, so I wished I had something slightly more capacious.

Anyway, my old backpack sort of started falling apart, it was quite cheap, and the straps broke off, nothing I couldn’t fix, of course, but by this time, I had used her enough (Elvira, her name is Elvira, and sometimes because of the nonsense German words on her label—sometimes Indian manufacturors like to slap German words on things because of, I don’t know, quality assurance?—her nonsense German words read “da tasche” which is SO CLOSE. “Tasche” means “bag” but “da” means nothing at all, anyway, because of this, I call her also Natasha Da Tasche, and those of you who know that our cat’s full name is actually Olga da Polga will know of my previous love of this particular nobiliary particle) as I was saying, I had used her enough to know what I didn’t like about this particular bag design. Elvira was built specifically for camping, which means she’s pretty waterproof and has a reach in design, so you open the top and sort of rummage around till you find what you want. This is not very useful for your urban backpacker, such as I, who found herself unpacking and repacking every few days whilst on this long around India trip recently. What I wanted was a better bag, one that organised stuff, one that had a laptop compartment so that when I’m taking it along as cabin baggage I don’t have to take two things, and one that held a few more things. I checked Decathlon, as a sports speciality shop (I like their reasonable sports equipment: bought very nice ski pants and jacket here when I first went skiing and these are still useful and flattering city pants that I sometimes wear just to walk around Berlin for instance, or one very cold winter, to wear inside our house in Delhi), I figured they’d have a bit more range and quality assurance than Amazon. Immediately, I found this one, while I was leaning towards the 70 litre one, I picked this because a) I sometimes need to travel cabin baggage only and b) if you buy a big bag, you’re tempted to load it fully, and I am only 5’2” tall and my curves are strictly for show, not for hefting more than my body weight. (If you can manage 70, it’s weirdly cheaper than the 50l version.)

What I like about it is that it has SO MANY POCKETS so my toiletries and shoes can go into separate compartments from the main clothes bit, it has a detachable shoulder bag for city walks once you dump your bag at your hotel and it opens like a clamshell which means you can see all your things at once and don’t have to pull out everything in search of one thing. Other cool things: a side zip for passport and phone, a laptop sleeve at the back and a waterproof cover (heavy, so ditch this if you’re not checking in your bag) to tuck away the straps when you’re checking it in so the straps don’t break in transit. This is coming with me to Bangkok, Elvira has been retired for Freja Roopwati Forclaz.

I joined these two subreddits called r/onebag and even better r/heronebag which is the same philosophy, except for women, who obviously need to pack and take different things than men. I’m a fan of minimalist packing, but I’m also a fan of fashion, so it’s hard sometimes to make those two the same, but I’m working on it! Nothing as liberating as travelling light, I can tell you. (And also once you switch to a menstrual cup, you’re packing fewer things, so give it a go. I also swear by these washable panty liners which I’ve had for about seven or eight years, use them on your light days, chuck in the machine and they’re not stained or torn at all, just a little grey from so many years of use.)

  • A new lipstick: Perhaps you’ve heard of the Lipstick Index? Apparently lipstick sales go up during recessions, because women substitute lipsticks for more expensive things. A little indulgence. Anyway, the Lipstick Index is soaring right now, and I have added myself to the long list of numbers with a new crayon from Maybelline which I bought on a whim and have grown to LOVE. (Out of stock most places so I have to link to Amazon here, see if you can find it at your local make up store though.) Because of my skin tone, I find wine or maroon reds suit me the most (also very into MAC Diva) and this one is gorgeous. Does it stay on? AND HOW. Have to use large amounts of coconut oil to shift it, and this after dinner parties and glasses of wine and salt rimmed margaritas and wearing a mask and smoking and so on and so forth.

  • Social smoking: Smoking is back, which is not surprising considering the end times we live in plus how generally nihilistic we’ve all gotten thanks to people dying by the thousand, so why not start socially again? It makes you look cool and everyone knows the best part of a party is outside on the balcony with everyone else trying to kill themselves. Which reminds me: there’s apparently a new rolling tobacco brand launched in Goa called Fuko which a lot of hipsters in Goa swear by and some hipsters in Delhi as well.

  • Ignoring the AQI: Speaking of trying to kill yourself, I’ve been venturing out more than before into this terrible air, and while my head is full of snot every morning, I’m having a nice time. Look, the politicians are never going to fix Delhi’s air problem, like, it’s going to be a good twenty or thirty years before that happens and are you going to stay at home every year during the nicest weather we have because you may as well live while you’re young (and die ten years before you normally would but no one cares about the future). So I’ve stopped even looking at the bad pollution headlines because I already have a sinus headache, why add a stress migraine to the whole thing?

  • Sunday book market: One of the Ignoring AQI activities I did was go to the Daryagunj Sunday Book Market. It’s kind of tradition for me and my mum, we used to go all the time when I was a child (at the time we lived in Nizamuddin and I remember we took a tonga ride home, this is pre-flyover, pre-thinking about animal rights, so when we got home, I was delighted to be able to feed the poor broken down horse an apple) and several times as a grown up too. I was jonesing for some good second hand books, so we made a trip for the first time to the new location which is at a big ground called Mahila Haat. Which means you walk in a circle from stall to stall, all very nice, but I think it’s sort of lost the essence of Daryagunj. It used to be down one long road, you checked out the pavements and then you left when you were tired, but this arrangement means you feel obliged to look at every single shop. I don’t know, I liked how natural it felt, books and people and random passersby just trying to get through. But still an incredible arrangement of books, fulllllll of people, mostly students browsing, and we had a great time. After which we went to Karim’s, another tradition, and got seekh kebabs and mutton korma and pillowy soft rotis. Worth it! Do it before the weather gets worse. (We also went to Sarojini Nagar later in the week where all the American and UK export labels have been replaced by Korean ones.)

  • A lovely beach resort: I wanted to tell you guys all about the nicest beach resort we stayed at while in Goa this time. It’s called Duck N Chill, and it literally had rooms ON THE BEACH, which meant we opened our door and ta-dah, there’s the sea. We’d never actually spent so much time in South Goa before (Duck n Chill is in Agonda) and it was a lovely surprise. Of course, you need to like your beach resort, because unlike the North, there’s nowhere else to go once you’re there. This place was reasonably priced with excellent service, pretty decent food and made me a fan of daiquiris for life. The rooms are basic but large, comfy bed, good bathroom, romantic mosquito net. No AC, but the sea breeze kept it cool enough by day and by night we were quite chilly. You need to get one of the rooms on the beach though, the others are not so nice.

Looking pleased because I’ve just been for a swim. Also if you zoom in, you can admire my shorts: camo print with Indian embroidery patchwork. This is on the balcony of our room.
  • Mrs Harris Goes To Paris: A fun movie I went to watch with my mum and K. A sweet cleaning lady with a good heart has an adventure in Paris where she’s gone to buy herself a dress from Dior. Like, not earth shattering cinema or anything, but a nice feel good movie and fun to watch all the clothes on the big screen. I have no doubt it’ll come to a streaming service soon, so you can wait also. I liked being At The Movies though.

  • A new yoga mat: I needed a new mat, because I’m about to turn 41 in exactly 29 days, and one of my goals for my forties was to just be slightly less sedentary. (My biggest goal was to live abroad in this decade, which I’m doing so now I’m checking off the rest of the list.) I wanted one that folded up so I could pack it to take to Bangkok with me (and beyond) so I got this one, currently on sale for 55% off. It has good reviews, soft enough to not hurt my knees too much and has a bunch of yoga poses printed on it if you need inspiration. (I’ve been using the Down Dog app which is free and has this one set of yoga poses called Yin Yoga which is basically stretches and meditation and which works out all the kinks from my back like magic.) Moving to a European city means I walk a lot, so at least I move my body twice a week, but I also wanted to supplement it with something at home, just so I stay flexible and bits of me don’t start like suddenly falling off.

  • Reading books set in the place you’re going: HUGE fan of this practice, and since we’ll be in Bangkok for 45 days, which is a long time (and for which you need an actual visa not a landing visa which I normally get because that’s only valid for 15 days. So it was me and the travel agents at the VFS Thailand counter. Thailand has some funny visa requirements: hotel bookings and flight details IN COLOUR. Your bank statement, but the last transaction has to be from like, yesterday. K does not need a visa because he is German and everyone likes the Germans.)

So I bought three books, and the weird thing is two of those three books are by non-Thai authors. I looked, and apparently a lot of Thai language books just don’t have English translations or there aren’t that many Thai authors writing in English. Here’s what I bought though, and will be taking with me:

Bangkok Wakes To Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad which is very Cloud Atlas-y from what I can tell, lots of different stories and then they come together in a giant loop.

Bangkok 8 by John Burdett: Apparently a very well known thriller set in Bangkok? Backpackers carry this book along for atmosphere. Featuring a Thai cop written by a farang. (Thai for foreigner, our “firang.”)

Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne: Non-fiction travellogue about the city by a writer who wanders and writes about the places he washes up in, which is really the ideal life, and one I’ll be living, but I won’t be a white man, so there’s that.

I’ve already read the BEST BOOK about Thailand earlier this year, and in fact, one of the best books I’ve read all year which is Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski and so I’m super jealous that K gets to read it for the first time while in Thailand, but it can’t be helped. Maybe I’ll re-read it. (My best book newsletter usually goes out in late December.)

  • The Americans: My mum and I are watching this spy drama set in the 80s, and we’re really into it. It’s unlikely mother-daughter viewing, but somehow it really works. The action, the small domesticities. I’m so into it I’m carrying Crime and Punishment to read on my retreat, just for a little more old timey Russian flavour. Current Russia is a shitshow, but olden times (including when I was an infant) was sort of fascinating.

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I think I’ve run out of steam! Oh well, probably for the best, how many more things can I throw at you? Anyway, your usual reminder that if you liked this post or any of my others, please buy me a coffee! Your tips are encouragement!

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Do I have links for you after all those recommendations? HELL YES.

  • The mysterious case of Swamp Boy—the ending will shock you. (Now This)

  • I wrote a piece about Delhi’s Diwali parties which is funny, I think. (Conde Nast Traveller)

  • I just had my first Negroni sbagliato in Goa so I was interested in the origins of this drink. (Slate)

  • This is a really scary story with no conclusive ending about a woman who was stalked for EIGHT YEARS. (And how the police treat women who are being stalked.) (Esquire)

  • And now Twitter is dying, behold the Tweet Museum!

  • Last issue’s most clicked link was the origin story of Weleda skin food. (NYT)

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Phew! I am WORN OUT. Speak soon.

xx

m

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 your favourite lipstick shade being out of stock FOREVER if you didn’t.

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3 November 2022

The Internet Personified: Where everybody knows your name

My celestial clams,

Hello from Pollution Season in Delhi! The skies are grey, the dust is thick and the newspapers are full of politicians blaming each other. *sings* It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

And I’m still here and not back in Berlin so you might have to listen to me complain about it all over again. (Before we romanticise Berlin: right now the weather is a balmy 6 degrees with a high of 13, and wet weather lies ahead this week which also means grey skies and general gloom and doom.) I have applied for my long-term national visa at fucking last, but am told that it could take a minimum of three months, so expect me to hang around this side of the world for a bit while I wait and twiddle my thumbs.

I was at Toto’s just last week. Yes, that Toto’s, Toto’s Garage Bar, Toto’s in Pali Naka, Bandra West. Toto’s where there used to be a really good pirated DVD stall just opposite (piracy is bad, but we had no streaming services back then, and he sold all these great movies that weren’t being released in India.) Down the road, an Indigo Deli, is Indigo still a thing? Remember when you walked down the road in Kala Ghoda, and someone was treating you to a meal, and there was lobster risotto on the menu which you didn’t order because you didn’t like shellfish? Or was no one treating you but asked you to meet them there anyway, and that explains the vague sinking feeling you have when you think about it, all of Bombay a city laid over a trapdoor that holds your deepest financial insecurities?

I’ve written about Bombay nostalgia before in this essay that periodically crops up and gets shared a lot every couple of years. That still holds true. I do miss Bombay from 2007, Bombay when I was young and selfish and the city was full of secrets waiting for me to discover. Toto’s was part of that era, it wasn’t mine in the way that Zenzi was. (A common fallacy: that Toto’s was somehow a dive bar, it never was. Prices were only slightly cheaper than Zenzi, even though it had a dive bar vibe.)

Toto’s is smaller than it used to be, and there’s no indoor smoking any more (you know how old you are by how many bars have turned non-smoking in your absence) and the tandoori pork sausages, a snack I’ve lain awake at night dreaming of, were less good than I remembered, but the memorabilia was the same, license plates on the wall, a window AC unit which was now just for show as a fancy new split did all the work, and a small car hanging over the bar. I took a cropped photo of two license plates against the chain link wire fence and sent them to an old Bombay friend now living in Berlin. “Guess where I am?” the message said and he replied with a smiley face, “Toto’s.”

We haven’t spoken in months, this old friend and me, but somehow I was conjuring up an old image of us, crowded around a small table, him with his two flatmates, me with two other friends, all of us one big gang for a bit. I’ve lost touch with practically everyone else around that table who I used to see so often, and one of the flatmates, who started out as my friend originally, my friend who I introduced to everyone else and who swiftly became their friend in a way that made me want to—I don’t know—remind everyone where that origin story had started, even though everyone knew and they were all better friends with each other, but you still feel a little proprietary tug, no, when you bring people together and they don’t acknowledge your part in it? Don’t tell me it’s only me. Anyway, he died. That was the end of that previous sentence, a sad ending, he was too young to die, and we had already lost touch ages ago at this point so news of his death reached me much later and after he’d already been out of this world for some time.

Toto’s was full of my ghosts, not real ghosts though, just like vivid echoes of the past, like when you look at a really brightly coloured image and it burns into your retina so you can see it even when you close your eyes. I thought I could see myself singing along to one of the old songs at a corner table, always amongst a crowd, it wasn’t the kind of place you went on a date or with someone you wanted to have deep long chats with. It was never really my local, I didn’t go there as often as my friends did, so whenever I did go, it was to join someone else. My friend, the one in Berlin, the one I texted, had a drink unofficially named after him, you didn’t see it on the menu, but you could ask the bartender for it, and if he didn’t remember, you’d remind him and he’d be like, “Oh yes, of course.” Something with half soda and half Limca. Bacardi? I don’t remember, it wasn’t for me.

In Berlin, I have a small joke when I take people to my favourite bars. “This is one of my locals,” I say, “Except they don’t know it.” I have three—living in a lively neighbourhood, I’m spoilt for choice, but my most favourite one is on a quiet street, no busy main roads to cross. It’s named after a Jules Verne character, it’s not the cheapest place on my list, but it’s cozy and the chairs are comfortable, and I don’t know—it has an atmosphere that’s lacking in so many places no matter how hard they try. You can’t buy a vibe, yes, Social, I’m talking to you. I’m not naming this place, it’s too personal, but if you’re in Berlin, I’m happy to meet you for a drink there. (After February 2023 that is, BIG SIGH.) It’s also the place we had our farewell drinks at the first time we left Berlin to go back to India (me, that is, this last summer) and I’m pretty sure the entire table caught COVID from someone there.

My second favourite bar is also not in the super trendy area a ten minute walk from our house, but it’s adjacent. This one I can tell you the name of: Hermann Schulz. It’s very cute, and they let you sit down with a coffee and a laptop all day inside. Nice cake, nice alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and at the end of summer, they give you blankets if you’re sitting outside. The second last time I was there, I was introducing three women I knew to each other. My neighbour brought along her chihuahua puppy, who sat sweetly on her lap for the whole evening. The last time was with another new friend, who had discovered the place when she was cat-sitting for us. The bartenders still don’t recognise us though.

And sometimes when I’m taking guests through Boxhagner Platz, Berlin’s Hauz Khas Village, I guess, Berlin’s Bandra, we call it Boxi, I’ll take them to Dachkammer. The word “kammer” means “chamber” and the bar is on Simon Dach Strasse, named after an old fashioned German poet, but the bar is nothing like a poet’s vision, it’s dingy and loud and trendy, but the outside in the summer is very nice and the drinks are cheap. None of the Berlin bars serve food, so you always have to eat before 10 pm when the restaurants close, if you remember, and I’ve taken to eating like the Germans: dinner at 6.30 pm followed by drinks after, because the bars never close unless it’s a Monday.

I’ve been thinking about locals ever since I met Ameya in Bangalore last month. Ameya finds locals wherever she goes, she just moved to Bangalore and already has a neighbourhood bar, a very cute place I am forbidden to tell you about. It has a rooftop and nice snacks and drinks. Another was a smaller Mangalorean hole-in-the-wall with a smoking section built in to the restaurant, in the centre. At both places, the waiters knew her, and she waved to one or two before she sat down. I’ve never had a wave-y situation with a waiter or a bartender, in fact, every time I sit down at a restaurant I think I’ve visited very often, they explain the menu to me all over again. Maybe it’s just my face—I don’t think I’ve ever been a very local person. I’m always slightly embarrassed if the waiters know who I am, as if they’re saying “don’t you have any place else to go?” and while I envied Ameya the nice familiarity of having people greet you as you go in, I’ve always been the kind of person who can’t wait for the waiter to leave when he comes round to see how your food is, and invariably you have to answer mid-chew. I’m not much for banter—in Bandra, we went to see a late night comedy show and Mansha insisted we sit up front so the comedians could make us part of their act, but while K got into it (and got some of the best laughs all evening), I just couldn’t. I smiled weakly when she called me “chasme waali ma’am” and asked me to stop making eye contact with her, but really, where else was I supposed to look? I tried to look at her knees instead, but she was wearing shorts so I was afraid she’d think I was ogling her or something. High pressure banter situations are not for me. (Anyway, she wasn’t very funny. A bit more cruel than funny, not with my hey speccy remark, I like my glasses, but she called one guy “forever alone” or “stalker” and asked K if he was white or if he had vitiligo which…. um. Not very funny or appropriate for crowd work where you’re supposed to get the audience all loved up and amused.)

In London, my cousin had a local. K went out one evening with old friends and she took me to her favourite bar down the road. It looked fancy and I was prepared for an expensive night out, but because she went there so much and because they loved her, they comped our drinks all evening, even bringing her free cocktails and our total bill at the end of it was even cheaper than it would’ve been in Delhi, so hurrah for locals, all in all, I’d say, and I wish I had one too, well, had one that they’d notice I went there a lot but I think you need to be a Local Bar Kind of Person. Also I’m a lightweight, and there’s a plateau of drinking I reach pretty early in the night when the world ceases to be fun and I want to go to bed so I stop talking to people. Social wall I think they call it. Abruptly running out of battery like an old cellphone.

All great television and detective novels have a local spot to revolve around. This newsletter takes its title from Cheers, which I’ve never seen but know enough about to quote the credit song to you. There’s How I Met Your Mother, there’s smoky bars where cops drink after hours in all those American TV shows, there’s Kinsley Milhone from Sue Grafton’s books at a grouchy Hungarian woman’s dive, drinking cheap sour white wine, there’s Alicia Florrick in the bar underneath her law firm’s offices, putting away tequila like she doesn’t have to wake up clear headed the next day. I’m only thinking of American examples, but didn’t all those old PG Wodehouses begin with someone or the other at their club, drinking?

No, I don’t think I’ll ever be a Regular. I am fickle. I like to shop around, often going to far away neighbourhoods to see what they’ve got going on. My own “local” down the road in Berlin has seen me three times in three months. That’s hardly enough time for anyone to recognise you. I might’ve had a greater shot of having a Personal Favourite in Delhi but the bars here don’t really appeal to me much. Very pretty some of them, but I’m bored of gin, and never drink Old Fashioneds (the two main cocktails at Delhi bars), and they’re so expensive that I much prefer drinking at someone’s house, at least my friends remember what I’d like to drink and greet me in familiar loving tones.

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Some personal news since I couldn’t find a place to jam it in in the newsletter. Because the visa waits are taking so long, I’m actually not just sitting here in Delhi, we’re both taking a month in Bangkok for our writing projects. I’m finally going to finish rewriting a book I’ve been fiddling with since 2019. Have rented a cute small Airbnb and I’m very much looking forward to it. Self imposed writing retreat ahoy!


LINKS! (AND I FINALLY MET SOMEONE WHO SAID THEY LIKED THE LINKS BEST BECAUSE THERE WAS SO MUCH ON THE INTERNET TO READ AND THIS MADE IT EASIER FOR THEM, SO NOW THIS SECTION IS ENDORSED LINKS)

The Gone Girl-themed cruise sounds nuts. (Slate)

Beautiful piece by a veteran author on stopping writing. (Griffith Review)

The rise of far right Hindu nationalism… in Australia. (The Saturday Paper)

Oldie, but I just came across it: being in the queue to view Queen Elizabeth’s body. (GQ)

The story behind Germany’s cult favourite skin cream. (New York Times)

Last week’s most read story was this one about Colleen Hoover’s meteoric rise to fame.

Goodbye! I’ll write to you again soon.

xx

m

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 slight price increase at your favourite bar if you didn’t.

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

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15 October 2022

The Internet Personified: Excuse me, do you have change for the climate?

My beautiful barn owls,

Now that I’m the Grand Old Age that I am (after September 13, I start saying “almost the next year’s age” as opposed to “just turned..” but I’m struggling with that this year, not because I’m scared of ageing, because eh, why be scared of the inevitable, but because I guess I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around being forty. In my head I’m somewhere between twenty nine and thirty two, all others ages are a complete surprise) I realise I have a few things that I care about. I mean Big Picture Things, your ethics, your “would I save this from a burning building but make it socialism” kind of thing.

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IN WHICH I COME TO THE REALISATION (AGAIN) THAT SLOW TRAVEL IS MY FAVOURITE KIND OF TRAVEL

I’m currently travelling around India, I know you know this if you follow me on Instagram but I also know some of you only read this newsletter so if you’re in Group One, scroll down past this recap and if you’re in Group Two, hi! K and I are Making the Long Wait for the Visa process fun by doing what we’ve always wanted to do and taking trains across South India, a big loop all the way back to Delhi.

We did this once before, as absolute babies, in the year 2014, and because we were such absolute babies (well, okay, 32, but I felt so old and wise then!) we booked trains across North India for deep December, the time when fog is at its worst, and all the trains were delayed and it was SO COLD, and we were in various small towns just waiting for our train to finally roll in and we spent Christmas Eve in the Varanasi waiting room and memorably, we shared a compartment on one of these trains with a family with about a thousand children, a man who just looked out of the window was the father, a woman with a baby in arms and the rest scattered around her body was the mother, and a shifting group of small girls, all under five from what I could tell, made up the rest of the family. The mother took the older children and the baby to the bathroom, the father stared out of the window, the middle child squatted in the middle of the compartment and pooped on the floor. He didn’t even notice, I had to point it out, so he shuffled off, retrieved his wife and she bent and cleaned it up but not before I was so scarred by this experience I said, “Never again!” to K, as if all train journeys were inevitably someone pooping on the floor.

But, I don’t know. My love for being on the road is as great as my love for being at home, curled up on my sofa, with a book and a cat. (If you believe in astrology, which it seems like everyone does these days, you’ll be interested to know that I am a Sagittarius sun with a Cancer moon. The call to the open road is very typical of Sagittarians, I’m told, and the need to nest and home make is equally true of Cancerians…. until you start to nitpick and figure out that your partner, a Cancer sun, has almost no Cancerian characteristics, so astrology is not really something you should put your entire identity into, even though it’s fun, right? It’s super fun.) (I know many friends read this who do believe fully in astrology, and no offence, you guys, you do you, as long as it makes sense to you, who am I to say what should resonate and what shouldn’t?) And the more I want to wander, the more I think about the world and how it’s going to end in dust and flames and massive weather events, because that’s the news I’m consuming, and I can’t stop thinking, “Oh this might be the last time I do this.” Shit happens. War. Famine. Pestilence. And all those things the Bible warned you about. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I’m actually quite relieved we don’t have children because I feel somewhat absolved? Like, it’s easier for me to care less because I have no stakes beyond my own lifetime. After a while of being served news about how bad everything else, how we’re all going to die horrible lingering deaths someday (I was going to say not our generation, but what was COVID if not hubris that humans could do everything with zero consequences?) you start to think of flights not as ways to get from A to B but also leaking massive amounts of gas and exhaust fumes into the air, your carbon footprint getting heavier and heavier each time you take one. Flying is just so damn convenient though. There’s the flip side. I mean, from Delhi to Bangalore, we flew, because it would have been a 26 hour journey and I wanted more time in Bangalore, not just a train in and a train out. I wish I felt stronger about things. I haven’t even given up meat, so this is not a lecture. We’re fucked, so make good choices, I guess?

All this blargh blargh Gloom ‘n’ Doom to explain why we’re taking trains:

  1. Guilt about our carbon footprints, dashing back and forth between Berlin and Delhi constantly.

  2. Slow luxurious travel: a bed? a blanket? food brought to your seat? an endless baggage allowance and no security lines? An easy-to-get-to departure terminal where you can literally reach ten minutes before your train leaves? I’m just amazed more of us aren’t doing this.

  3. We had the time and better than the time, we made this plan in August so we booked our tickets in September, once we decided the routes which meant confirmed tickets (cheaper than flying, did I mention?) on AC two tier/chair car and tomorrow, our anniversary, a first class coupe overnight to ourselves from Kochi to Goa.

Our train from Bangalore to Kochi (Kanyakumari Express which goes all the way down the tip of the country, where I’m told you can see the sunset and the moonrise together, which sounds kind of magic and next time I’m totally scheduling a trip) was lovely. We got the side berths, a curtain to pull for privacy, a pretty good reading light fixed into the wall and clean sheets and blankets which I’d been a little worried they wouldn’t give post pandemic. The food was not as good as it usually is on this stretch, a somewhat boring chicken biryani from Bangalore for dinner, and since they were picking up breakfast trays in Kochi, we only got to eat the one thing.

Next, we take the Duronto Express from Kochi to Madgaon, chill in Goa for about ten days and then take the Mandovi Express, a day train, through the Western Ghats to Mumbai. This route is frequently on the “best Indian rail journeys” lists, and it is gorgeous, I know, because we’ve done it once before, but we were younger so we took a regular class, no seat reservations, hard seats, but man, I’m pushing 41, I need cushioning for my butt if I’m going to be sitting on it for twelve hours. After which, we spend a few nights in Bombay with beloved old friends, and then catch the trusty Rajdhani back to Delhi, a route I’ve taken so many times, I think I know it by heart. When K and I were first dating, and long distance, I took a bunch of trains to Bombay to see him every now and then (the worst of which was the Garib Rath, please, for the love of god, never take it, you’re sitting up overnight and they never turn off the very bright fluorescent lighting). Trains are so great in India, a little daunting if you don’t like people or smells or people-y smells, but if you try and push that from your mind (it’s me, I’m talking about myself and how my years living in a cocoon have spoilt me for any kind of people-in-my-bubble experience, so now I have to figuratively slap myself and say, “Meenakshi, stop being so fucking precious” because, friends, you cannot be a writer unless you’re willing to take it all in, so learn from me, and engage with the world, smells and all, before you too are suddenly having harsh conversations with yourself in the middle of the night) (WHERE does it END, one minute you’re packing sunblock, the next thing it’s five years later and you can’t travel without a whole suitcase full of skin care and your own pillow, it’s bad enough that my hair products mean I have to check in my bag whenever I travel by plane. And that I have to make sure to carry some kind of coffee maker with me when I travel outside of coffee drinking places. This time I bought a cute little steel pour-over machine which is light and practical and has a washable filter, so no need for paper!)

PAUL THEROUX IS KINDA RACIST THOUGH

I bought The Great Railway Bazaar at Blossom’s in Bangalore (still India’s best second hand bookshop!) and posted about it on my bookstagram account with great excitement, except after I posted I got to the India bits, and eek. Ook. I had to read most of it with a restraining hand on my own shoulder, petting when it got too rough (“there there, it was the 70s, he thought he was only writing for white people who would nod thoughtfully”). It’s still a greatly inspirational book for anyone who wants to do a super long rail journey (his goes from Paris, through Asia, and ends in the former USSR) but it’s mostly Paul rolling his eyes at his fellow passengers. The Indians he meets are particularly dehumanised, so read at your own risk. I liked when he talked about sitting in his cabin, trying to read and trying to write, but getting lost in the journey itself, so he didn’t know his days from his nights and the landscape outside became just like a fever dream.

WILL YOU REALLY WEAR IT

Here’s what I’ve started doing more of: not buying clothes online or off fast fashion retailers. Second hand, export surplus (factory discards or donated), or having my tailor make something with fabric I’ve bought (not this time because he takes ages and time is limited, plus I’m returning to full winter, so all my fashion soon will just be Uniqlo, which is fast fashion, so I contradict myself while I wear my Heattech leggings and undershirt and down jacket five days in a row). Another thing: using my own cupboard as a shop, rotating clothes so I pull out one batch for summer 2022, and then I’ll retire them and use another batch for summer 2023, alternating so it always feels fresh. It’s also nice because I have no cupboard space, so I store the clothes I’m not using in a bag in the basement.

Here’s something I know just from being alive for almost 41 years: trends are dumb. Gen Z, age 17, are wearing the same clothes I wore, age 17, your Avril Lavigne hair, your panda eye make up, tank tops and baggy jeans. Hold on to something long enough and it will come back, that is, assuming you still fit after years of sedentary living. That’s why I often size up when I’m shopping, lots of room to “grow.” Don’t skimp on shoes or underwear, you only need one convenient bag (she says buying all the bags), events give away free cool tote bags all the time, no one will remember you wore the same dress the last time you met them unless it’s a particularly eye-catching pattern, and then it’s your dress, your pattern, so that’s cool too.

I have to say though. I have friends who are real climate activists, not just doing stuff when it’s convenient and skipping over the hard parts. It’s a tough life, realising that most of your soft comforts come from industries that are actively killing this beautiful world we live on. So if I’m sounding like I’m giving you a lecture, it’s because I’m giving myself a lecture too. These things are important to me, but how much is anything important to me? Make a small change or don’t, we’re all going to die eventually anyway, she says morbidly, but also with a certain amount of relief. The one cool thing about environmentalism, if you want my extremely cynical take, is that it’s really good for bragging rights on the internet. Post about your menstrual cup or your bamboo toothbrush, ignore the AC you leave on all night every night, you’ll still get loads of likes. You can posture on the internet, and no one realises you’re standing on a podium made entirely out of plastic bags.

This time in Kerala, I was very keen to go to Thekkady, a place I remember from the 80s, when I used to live here. I remember seeing lots of elephants on a boat ride and getting leeches stuck to my bare legs, and generally wildlife coming out of my ears. It was great. Thekkady is still green and lovely, but it is three decades later, and there are more people and fewer animals, and the boat ride revealed nothing, neither did my walk (though the leeches still swarmed, but now they’ve invented something called leech socks which go over your regular socks and your pants and tie up at the knee) and I suddenly realised that maybe I’d never see elephants in the wild again. Maybe that part of my life is just… over.

I sound sad, but I’m more resigned than anything else. I had a really good time in the 80s and 90s and you can’t expect the party to go on forever. They’re called non-renewable resources, you know. I feel a little sorry for kids today, but eh, they have the internet, they’ll be fine.

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Phew, that was a lot of ranting at you, poor reader. I’ll make it up to you, my links are really really good this week, so here, please read some good stories that are not mine. If you hit a paywall, disable javascript in your browser or use 12ft.io:

  • Disabled people create lifehacks to be able to live independent full lives, which I think is very cool. (The Baffler)

  • The curious afterlife of a brain trauma survivor—also cool. (Wired)

  • Excellent article (and related to my newsletter theme!) about landslides and construction and MURRDERRRR in the hills. (Fifty Two)

  • Oooh I love E Nesbit and therefore profiles about E Nesbit. (The New Yorker)

  • Colleen Hoover, the author, is doing so amazingly well that publishers are baffled, which is not really flattering for CoHo, but she’s baffled too. (New York Times)

  • Inside the Metaverse and the future of what online life is going to look like if Facebook gets its way. (NYT)

  • Sorry, but I had to: astrology and the death of personality. (Maybe Baby)

  • LOVED this story about Berghain which is about a ten minute walk from our flat, and might be sadly closing soon before I ever go in. (The White Review)

  • The article that got the most clicks last time was this one about Harry Potter fan fiction. (Slate)

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That’s all I’ve got! If you liked this post, or any of my others, please buy me a coffee, your support keeps me going!

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Have a great week!

xx

m

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

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23 September 2022

The Internet Personified: Paging all passengers

Greetings my green bananas,

I was going to draw this newsletter for you, a very ambitious project, but I’ve fallen out of practise with my Wacom, so I’ll need to do a few practice runs before I get down to it.

Thanks for reading The Internet: Personified ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

I am back from one trip and about to leave for India in a week, so this is a Very Brief Berlin Interlude, which was made even briefer by the fact that I had an editing deadline, and had to finish off all my Soft Animal edits before I returned to India. It’s coming together! I’ve been looking at some cover designs, and everything looks so GORGEOUS, I can’t wait to share the final version with you. It’s only out in March, so you might be surprised by all the advance work we’ve got to do, but these things have a six month lead in time, so everything basically has to be ready to go when it is actually March. Exciting though. I feel like I haven’t had a new novel out in ages so all this feels familiar, like an old house I’m returning to but also brand new, because each book has its own fate, as my mum always says, so who knows where this one will go. I’m going to need all of you to mash that pre-order link as soon as it’s up because that will rocket up my ranking on Amazon (which in India is a necessary evil) and then make my book visible to a lot more people. OK? Thank you!


Holidays are kind of weird if you think about them. You leave your flat, the most comfortable place in the entire world and for what? To stuff three weeks worth of clothes into a tiny suitcase which you then drag around with you on unfamiliar public transport, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, dealing with unfamiliar weather… it makes you wonder why anyone does it. Now, of course, we are in the year 2022, we have jets and Google maps and cheap deals and friends around the world, but why did anyone do it when tourists first started becoming a thing? I suppose if you were rich, it was a chance to be rich somewhere else, always nice for a change of scene, but the middle class didn’t actually travel much until the rise of the cheap package holiday. That’s this side of the world. Indians are roamers, in general, if it’s checking off a “top ten temples” tour or going to spend months with a cousin or an uncle in a city you don’t live in, or just, I don’t know, driving ten hours to look at one waterfall just because it’s there.


I’m now writing this from Munich airport, on my way back to Delhi for what I hope will be my final visa run of this entire protracted move to Germany. At last I have an appointment, but it’s on the second of November. However, my Schengen visa has finally finished (you can do three months at a stretch on it) so it’s not so much time I returned and more well, I guess I should get out of here. The nice thing about flying back to India, my home country, issuer of my passport, is that I never have to say much at immigration, where normally I have to bend over backwards to prove that I’m in the country legally and not planning to overstay or any of those things. With a homebound flight, it’s just stamp-and-have-a-nice-day all the way through.

I’ve been up since 4.15 this morning, and so my day has taken on a certain dreamy hazy quality. Two cups of coffee (and one connecting flight from Berlin to Munich) (and, ok, two ciggies, Munich might have a pretty basic airport compared to Frankfurt, but it does have rather nice smoking lounges) and I am awake in that jittery sort of way that you know is not true alertness, it’s just riding out the caffeine high till I crash again. Which is why, forgive me any disjointed sentences or typos.


Next to me is an Indian man on the phone, talking in Hindi. We’re on the same flight, but he doesn’t know it. He’s saying, “Make mutton and two rotis, I’ll be back late.” He also doesn’t know this is the same dinner I’ll be eating at 1.30 in the morning, just like him.

I really love airports. I was reading by the gates a little earlier, and I saw signs for Rio and for Toronto, and just for a second, allowed myself to get drawn into the magic of it all, look at all these (tired) people going places I’ve never been. Look at those words: Rio De Janeiro, just there, within grasping distance, the world so close and so far away all at the same time.


I’ve been thinking about accents. Specifically mine. In England, the nice thing was that everything was in my first language, which made things ridiculously simple. Almost too simple, like you weren’t really travelling, or playing a game on easy mode instead of hard. And life should be easy when you travel, but I’m so used to being in places where there’s one life for the local language speakers and another for us tourists that this was weird. You mean I just say something how I’d always say it and everyone will understand me? I was so used to being in Germany that I asked K, “How do you say ‘extra spicy’ in English?” And then we both realised and laughed. After a few days, this was delightful though. I understood everything! EVERYTHING!

But this also meant a few notes about my accent, which really only ever has happened to me in England before. I guess it’s normal, we’re all speaking the same language so the only thing that you notice is the way I pronounce things. But all the comments were how “Anglicised” I sounded, which made me think about the way we (my friends and I) speak. It’s a flat sort of English accent, I don’t think the people commenting meant “Anglicised” per se, I think they meant a lack of an accent or at least the lack of an accent one would associate with India. It’s a standard accent for People Like Us, your (yes) privileged urban South Asian lot, flat because we learnt accentless English in school, and then, depending on your pop culture consumption, with a smattering of American or English influences. The past year in Berlin has made me slow down my speech a lot (when I get excited, I talk fast, but then people can’t understand me) so I guess you’re hearing the accent more, or the lack of it at any rate. I’m not sure, I can’t hear myself. I have a few Delhi peculiarities specific to my accent, for eg: emphasising the second last word in a question (“are you coming tomorrow?”), elongating words (“noooo ya”) or the odd way of expressing enthusiasm with your words but not with your tone: “oh, you’re kidding. that’s insane.” I’d like to do a whole study on it, see how our speech patterns vary across metros, what marks a Delhi accent vs a Bombay one or how differently they speak English in Pakistan. It would be interesting.

Here’s where I’m going to toss in a random comment button and ask you to tell me about your accent: the things you can notice anyway!

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A tall businessman tried to cut in front of us in the security line today, but he was catching the same flight as us, so I yelled at him in English and K yelled at him in German but he ignored us and sidled into the line all the while with this little smile playing around the corners of his mouth and finally K (exasperated) said, “Are you going to a funeral?” and he said, “Yup” but he was totally lying so I was very happy when I made it to the boarding gate ahead of him. (OK, maybe he wasn’t lying, but he just looked smug and glad he was making us stand behind him in line and we were literally on the same flight so I don’t know why he thought cutting ahead of us was such a great idea.)

I actually really like queues, they’re orderly and have some reason to them but I don’t think I’d stand in one for an event (like the queen dying for instance). I don’t know why I said that, I’m lying, I don’t “really like” queues, but if there’s a situation where there’s a lot of people swarming to get into one narrow entrance, and I have to be in this situation, I prefer that we stand in line, but I get super angry, like Red Mist of Rage angry with people who queue jump. In Delhi there’s always some random older woman just casually lalalala strolling to the head of the line and everyone just lets her, but not me. I’m always, “THE LINE IS OVER HERE” which makes me one of those “the line is over here” people but you know what, in this world you eventually get put into one bracket of convention or another, so this might as well be mine.


Now that I’ve been in therapy so long (and I’m now doing it twice a week, which feels like overkill to me, but my analyst said we weren’t really moving forward with once a week sessions, and traditionally analysis is several times a week, but how much do I have to say?) I can see a common theme in this newsletter, even though I’ve broken it up into sections, which is why I’m in analysis in the first place: to know the human mind so that I can write about it, and so I used the closest human mind I had: my own. The theme, in case you can’t see it, is belonging, and not belonging, and trespasses, and outsiders, and common ground. Soon, I will be in the country of my birth, and I will feel odd and alien there at some level and I will also feel at home like I don’t outside it, and another good thing about therapy is being able to be comfortable with two different feelings at once and not have to choose a side.


Chalo, I’m going to wrap this up because I’ve been desperate to send this for weeks and my flight is nearly boarding so if I don’t send this now I’ll have to wait another day. I’ll write to you guys much more regularly, so expect something soon. Buy me a coffee if you feel like tipping, I live, she says sweeping an arm dramatically, off your generosity.

Buy me a coffee


THE LINK SECTION WHICH ONLY 10% OF YOU READ, WHICH IS ODD, BECAUSE I PERSONALLY LOVE LINKS AND ALSO RECOMMENDING THEM

The billionaire yogi behind Modi’s rise.

What about whataboutism?

An adoptee from Sri Lanka goes in search of his birth family.

The best Harry Potter novel wasn’t written by JK Rowling.

Holy cow capitalism.

That’s my very sleepy airport update! Have a great week.

xx

m

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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!)

Got sent this newsletter? Sign up here to subscribe!

Forward to your friends if you liked this and to red eye flights if you didn’t.

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

Thanks for reading The Internet: Personified ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.