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

Sign up for my newsletter: The Internet Personified

21 February 2007

Before I get way old and forget this stuff

So, when I was eleven, brand new to a schooling system designed to suck every last bit of creativity out of you, from a Montessori school, where we got to draw little pictures to go with our homework and didn't have to do anything that we weren't excellent at (which explains why I did miserably at maths for the rest of my life), I developed my first ever crush on a boy.

Only, I didn't know it was a crush, I mean, how does one distinguish thinking someone is the shit to actually realizing you want to go home and have their babies? I should explain also here—my reading material was Judy Blume and Louisa May Alcott. And even the Judy Blume I read was pretty tame—Superfudge and Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing, none of the preteen angst of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. And everyone knows Lousia May Alcott, who liked little girls to be little girls. I was a quiet sort of child, sat in the front row with round spectacles, read my books behind textbooks, and he was the loud sporty kind, who always returned from Games or Lunch smelling of sweat, and sat in the back row and laughed really loudly. But, even though all my better instincts told me that he was so not my type (well, not in those words of course. I didn't even realise I had a type. I didn't know what this type was. I still wore an undershirt for god's sake), the sight of him sauntering into class, usually late, usually with his hair carefully parted in the middle, all messed up, would cause my heart to start pounding wildly. Keep in mind, this was also before I was a smoker, so this was all biological.

Then, I got pneumonia. And, stay with me, this is important. I was very, very ill for quite a few months, I don't even remember much of it, except endless doctors visits and blood tests and then, as I was recovering, I got pneumonia again and bronchitis to go with it (and here is also what my mother tosses at me whenever she suspects I've been smoking: I have this weak lung, apparently. It feels pretty strong to me, so I think she's making it up). They thought I had AIDS, even, because it took me so long to get well. And after one of my many doctors visits and so on, my mother took me to a bookstore to cheer me up and the bookstore lady said, "Here's a new series that has become very popular these days," and pointed me to a rack filled with these shiny books all called The Sweet Valley Twins And Friends.

Those twins epitomize my preteen years. They told me how to tell if I had a crush on a boy, how you should prefer to be like Elizabeth, the smarter, more level headed twin, but how it seemed like Jessica was having so much more fun. I think I even remember the standard opening line, something about how they both had ocean blue eyes and long blond hair and dimples in their right cheeks, but Elizabeth was the older by four minutes and this seemed like four years. Anyway, so through my reading of the Sweet Valley Twins, I realized I did indeed have a crush. And according to Jessica and Elizabeth (well, not so much Elizabeth because she had this steady boyfriend called Todd Wilkins) the only way to deal with a crush was to do something about it.

But I wasn't a California blonde with ocean blue eyes and so on. I didn't even have a super cool club I could belong to. And forget wearing purple every day, school uniforms were designed to make you look as unattractive as possible. And besides, when I returned to school, the object of my affection had taken up with this other girl, a sporty type herself, tall and slender and with a way of sucking on her Orange bar that made you realise you could never be like her.

As luck would have it, both became my friends later on. And though the two of them "broke up" (when dating is just about saying you're dating, or sitting together at a movie theatre, it's not such a big deal) I found that my friends had more Sweet Valleys. Only, Jessica and Elizabeth were now in high school and way beyond our comprehension. They did everything in high school. I remember a couple of years ago, actually freaking out when I saw some people doing lines because I remembered the Sweet Valley High where Regina Morrow, poor deaf Regina Morrow, who was still very beautiful and dating the reformed "player" of the school, died because she did Coke. Her heartbeat skipped apparently. The subtle don't-do-drugs-kids worked on me, for sure.

When they moved to University (although it's always puzzled me, if Elizabeth was so smart and so ambitious, why would she choose a state university like Sweet Valley? Why not Harvard or Yale or some such?) we pretty much grew out of them. Who were they targeting now anyway? If they were planning on roping in the twelve year olds who loved Sweet Valley Twins, they should have also realized that the former twelve year olds were only fifteen, and not quite inclined to read something that read like an adult soap opera. Plus Sweet Dreams came
out around then too, and suddenly it was about Romance and candlelight and not someone marrying someone else. Teenage romance. Stuff we wanted and never got from the boys we knew.

Therefore, at the end of this fairly meaningless post, I'd like to say two things:

a) we read a lot of junk. But I'm curious, was there a boy's equivalent? Did you have a series, more mature than Hardy Boys, full of love and intrigue?


b) One day, when I was in class nine and walking back with two of the girls who had dated former Object Of Affection, one of them said, "Ya, he's a damn sloppy kisser." This did not make me feel better then, because I wanted to be able to say that myself, but in retrospect, I'm glad my first kiss was non-sloppy and rather fun.



  1. dont u think if boys did have something to read in their pre-teen years they wouldn't be so emotionally dead.
    i had my first crush in class 2nd and a real daydreaming-and-staring at-the-sky one class 7.and now 8 relationships later i think those years of crushes were far better. atleast i had hope of someday finding tht kind of romance.

  2. Once is a very intellectual Cultural Studies discussion we dared to pose this question to the guys in our class and they said "Uh ya we have porn". Well, what we asked was if they had an equivalent to Mills and Boons... So

  3. Sweet Dreams. Tell your first one was also PS: I Love You. The first in the series that actually meant Paul Strobe I Love You. Th eguy dies of cancer. Yes the book changed my life!
    Thank you for this chance to reminece.

  4. well, to answer your question:
    emphatically no! i think hardy boys was the defining series, after that either they went on to reading serious mature books (yes we're rare) or they moved on and stayed on porn, as charmaine has pointed out so well...
    and on a side note, you know in the interest of fairness I even tried to read a couple of the sweet valley books since i believe that you should at try pretty much everything at least once... but never really got the appeal, at least not for anyone older then 10!
    im kinda shocked you remember so much about those books though...never have been able to figure out women/girls so not going to torture my brain with that, glad youre enjoying the new city...

  5. Uh, I kind of skipped the whole hardy boys stage, spent those years of my life reading Dahl... and that's some reading I don't regret, I mean if you go from the one with the kid and his magic finger to boy and... uh... boy 2? solo boy? something of that sort, you feel your reading's grown too. Of course then I found myself being thrown into terry brooks and books of similar ilk, where I learned to use a dictionary and worked on my own vocabulary...
    Not much porn for me though, it kinda lost its appeal to me after my first near-sex experience... don't ask...
    But romance and first kisses... apparently, on my sister's seventh birthday, when I was three, I was discovered to be making out with the five year old great grand daughter of one of our former presidents... Seems my infatuation for older women started off at an early age! But no, I don't recall my first kiss at all, I was informed about it years later.

  6. Oh. My. God! Sweet Valleys were, like, our life, no? But I believe the correct description was that they had sunkissed blonde hair, ocean blue eyes, and were absolutely identical down to the golden lavalieres their parents gave them for their sixteenth birthday (although that was in SVH).
    And Elizabeth got into Oxford, buit didn't go because after the massive earthquake at their seventeenth birthday (in which Olivia Davidson, Ken Matthews' girlfriend died), she realizes she wants to be near home. This was actually in SVH Senior Year, which they came out with after SVU (much better series actually, with a whole new cast of characters, since many people have to change schools because their's was destroyed).
    And yes, ditto on how Regina Morrow's death had a profound effect on my life.
    I can't believe I remember this stuff! Also, I believe guys had Love Stories (they gave the guy's point of view too, remember?), which quickly replaced Sweet Dreams in my affections.

  7. I had my first kiss at 17 and am 24 now, after having kissed more than 10 men, i think my first kiss was the bestest kiss :-) it was all romantic! As if when we kissed, the stars shined or the moon smiled... thanks for giving me a chance to confess and rethink about the nicest days i have had!

  8. As a horny, hot-blooded male, I can testify, that after Hardy Boys, the only other access to adult material I had involved women with no clothes on... there is no intermediate step. There is no manual which tells you how to kiss, or how to pick up a women. Indian men are especially disabled in this regard, because their fathers had arranged marriages. They have no guidance in this world. Of course, there are some exceptions who just have the evolutionary instinct, and know what a girl wants (or rather pretneds to know what a girls wants until he gets what he wants). But the rest of us, unfortunately, are severely handicapped, when compared to men from other cultures...

  9. my teenage reading list was Nancy Drew, Robin Cook and then Alistair Maclean

  10. Who was that auburn haired rich friend of Jessica's? Y'know, the one with the rich, spineless-but-kinda-cute boyfriend (Bruce was it?)...she was bitchy fun.

  11. I LOVED Sweet Valley, and I've always wanted a big brother named Steve, just like the twins' brother.

    I'd read anything cold war and WW2 back in the day, even if it was highly age inappropriate. And then I'd play censor and tell my mom exactly why my little sister should NOT be reading it.

    Willard Price, Enid Blyton, those old Superman/Mandrake/Phantom comics. And Tinkle and Target! Tinkle was something you'd snobbishly say you DIDN'T read, even though you secretly lapped it up with thorough enjoyment. All of us born after '80 and before '90 read practically the same books, didn't we?

  12. Jessica's brunette rich friend was Lila Fowler. I think Bruce went out with her only at SVU, though (after her rich Italian count husband died and she came back to uni). In high school he went out with Amy Sutton and Regina Morrow.

  13. heee yeah Lila was a major bitch who used her daddy's credit card all the time. and i dont know why i remember this but this bruce kid's car had licence plates that read 1BRUCE1

    ooh and didnt the twins also have a super hot brother?

  14. goodness. i'm having a major case of wakefield twins-nostalgitis! other mandatory reading during those years: the babysitters club, nancy drew case files (the more grown up nancy drew in which she's actually dating whatshisname), the cheerleaders, fear street.
    your blog will soon become a chronicle for the growing up years of us 20-somethings. (i can't believe i'm a 20-something now!)

  15. i kind of liked the SVU... i personally think they should have something for the next stage when the twins have babies and then all the way till they go through menopause. i think the fact that SVU and the like was available for us to read while we were still in middle school helped us grow into our healthy dating/relationship culture... cos if we didn't have that we'd be struggling like the guys (as mentioned by anonymous somewhere back there)with every male-related curveball life throws at us!

  16. Ha ha! Were you serious? For most guys during these growing-up years love is a complication they had to deal with! Guys who do read books during this age, read about guys who fight/kill other 'bad' guys, and hot chicks who don't mind the lack of foreplay!

  17. No shantanu, that was duke nukem and other such computer games where the captured chick in high heels didn't realize she could leave a hole in her captors' heads with that pencil heel, and needed a guy with guns he couldn't possibly lift come and rescue him...

  18. oh sweet valleys! they don't publish them anymore ;( but if i ever see one at a roadside bookseller's, i always pick it holding onto a piece of the 12-yr-old me who though romance was all abt plotting to get the boy to fall for u (jessica was a bad influence!)

  19. OH MY GAWDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD YOU READ SWEET VALLEY TWINS TOO!!!!!!! Most people just laugh at me when i talk about it!!!!!!!

  20. I still have the phantoms/ mandrakes/ tinkles/ tintins.
    The nostalgia made me talk abt them to the team during lunch and one thing led to other and we were talkin abt the versions of songs that we mis-sung. The most common gochi in the song that every1 agreed to was 'app jaisa koi... BAAP ban jaaye'.

  21. of course boys had books, they're the ones i read alongside the crap valley twins. i liked the baby sitters club a bit better though. and my collection of oscar wilde, african folk stories (my parents had really weird taste in books) and edgar allen poe (happy literature indeed)

    1. tolkien (also still my favourite)
    2. then you have all those batman, superman, the sandman comic books
    3. growing up there was always terry pratchett (i had a sporty elder brother who also happened to be a literateur! not.)
    4. the artemis fowl series
    5. tintin + asterix/obelisk (gender neutral)
    6. the adventure series
    7. my brother got me in to agatha christie as well. together we hated miss marple.

    there's plenty dude. if boys read dude. dahl, though he's for everyone. nowadays kids got harry potter, eragon and tonnes of more stuff. it's a freakishly lucrative business. p.g. woodehouse. again gender neutral like practically every book here. you know after all the sweet valley trash i was so glad to have discovered fear of flying.

    the best one to answer this question should be barrycuda because he's a voracious reader still and i'm sure there was a point of time in life when he didn't read just blatantly right-winged history books. even benny.

  22. and oh.... letters to penthouse

    would explain the sort of guys who think nipples are knobs.

  23. i was one of those that jumped from 'The naughtiest Girl in School' to things that teachers recommended, adn were known as 'Classics', because Sweet Valleys, I judged from the covers were too much of a challenge, blondes who have friends who are basketball-players and then they develop crushes on them.... was just too much fantasy.... I had thick glasses and long plaits, and hence as a survival mechanism chose to sort of scoff at the blondes in my class who read them, and wore stretch the same breath, must confess that around the age of seventeen/eighteen, hidingly,i think i read some of them...

  24. And didnt they also have a size 8 figure! I never understood what that meant before I came to the US. Tho' now I think it's more "in" to be size zero...

    Going by the reading habits of most boys I ve known, they regress from hardy boys to comic books.

  25. Firstly, I dont think too many boys, pre-teen or teen, are really interested in reading books about love and romance. From Hardy Boys, we would generally move towards the crime and mystery genre's, and then if the reading passion continues, towards more serious literature.

    But if the question relates with books which boys read to try and understand women, I'm surprised none of the guys mentioned Nancy Friday's books. Erm... or was that just me?

  26. nancy friday!?! the only people i've ever sold nancy fridays to have been middle aged women!

  27. Sweet Valley twins and high completely characterized my life for a while :) Although i grew out of them when Jessica and Elizabeth outran convicts, had an ex boyfriend go blind, lost Regina, got kidnapped and fell in and out of love so many times all in the space of a year :( But i loved them until i turned 15! I hated the university books - i think i read one. I reackon i must have read all of the high school series :)

  28. well nothing quite as mature i'm afraid. i remember reading a lot of goosebumps. and watching it on TV. and a lot of nickelodeon and degrassi but ach i don't exactly qualify for a local opinion.

    and ah, my first kiss. a sweaty but altogether nice, non-slobbery kiss with another boy in the warm locker room post-tennis lessons. ah, to be fifteen again.

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. boys did not have anything like sweet valley but then we read it also.. and yeah those were the days


Thanks for your feedback! It'll be published once I approve it. Inflammatory/abusive comments will not be posted. Please play nice.