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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5 January 2018

FOMO? More like HAMO!* (on social menopause in this busy age)

(* that's... errr... happy about missing out.)

(This piece was first published in Scroll at the end of 2016 and since then, the symptoms described have become even stronger.)

It's a surreal sort of feeling when you realise that one of your favourite sensations is when a plan that has been laid out and is waiting for you has been cancelled the afternoon of the event. There's a sense of liberation, an “ahh, now I can stay indoors,” a cozy, pit-of-your-stomach warming that comes with the anticipation of an evening spent in your pajamas, doing nothing but surfing the internet or reading a book or binge-watching a TV show. It's almost as if this plan cancellation has created time out of thin air, a pocket of free hours to do with as you wish.

Long ago, in a book of fairy tales by Alison Uttley, I read a story about a man who was selling time. He offered a free hour to anyone who wanted it, and the story went on to follow a busy housewife who wanted to dance, a painter who wanted an extra hour to paint and so on. The children in the story followed behind the vendor jeering, “Who needs time? We have all we need!” and since I was those children then, I too wondered at a world where adults would need to “buy” an extra hour. It was never my favourite story in that book, but if a time man came by today, shaking his golden hourglasses, I'd buy one. I might even buy two, if he'd let me. And what would I do with this spare time? I suspect I would do what I usually do—spend it reading or thinking or talking to someone one-on-one, close activities that conjure up nothing more exciting than a cup of tea or a purring cat.

And yet, I used to be one of Those People in the early 2000s and the beginning of my twenties. You know “those people”: they're always on the go, their Sundays require a Monday because Sundays are full on, restless activity, from a boozy brunch to late dinner, phone constantly buzzing with texts and messages. A weekend that isn't complete with at least three house parties, preferably all on the same night so you could prove your social credentials by hopping from one to another, never putting your handbag down, because you could never settle. I took pride in my ability to socialise, relentlessly, without getting bored of having the same three conversations over and over again, pride in my throbbing head the next few days, because I knew what FOMO meant before the acronym was even invented. I went to parties and I blogged about them later; not because someone was paying me for it, but because by then my audience expected to see what I had done that weekend by Monday night, they waited for it, fingers poised above the comments button. What had I worn? Who had I kissed? What was Delhi like? And I delivered—spilling out insecurities and nausea, a little banter which I wished I could have actually said instead of only writing out on my blog, and so on and so forth. And, yet, I never realised that my favourite bit was actually the sitting at home and writing about all of my activities later.

I only came across “social menopause” as a term when this article was commissioned and I went looking for it. But it's so perfect! The feeling of slowing down in your late twenties and early thirties, when you'd rather go to a quiet restaurant than a heaving nightclub, when your best social evenings can be summed up with three friends and a bottle of wine on your coffee table, and you try and not schedule more than one engagement per weekend, because it takes you the rest of the week to recover. Everything is slowing down, and unless your friends keep pace with the extent of your ageing, sometimes it's quite lonely. They're all “WHEE CLUBS!” and the most exciting thing on your calendar is finishing watching Stranger Things on Netflix finally.

Especially now with the end of December upon us. Is there any other month in the whole year so full of anticipation and dread as this month? For me, in particular, this is also the month of my birth, so there's always that great expectation. As far back as I can remember, I've spent the week running up to my birthday wishing that birthdays were never invented, but also really looking forward to it at the same time. The day of my actual party, I'd be the one probably having a nervous breakdown from all the emotions, and so was fairly casual about the rest of the year. (Happy to report that this year, as always, I had a super time.) Anyway, for those of us not born in December, and there's the whole New Year's Thing. Oh god, the New Year's Thing. Anxious emails start going out in August, your social media feed gets filled with people running away, and finally there's only about a handful of you left in the same city, and what do you know? Each of those people is having their own individual New Year's Eve party. This is where you can either ride out your ageing (“I'd rather stay home and celebrate with one other person and a nice whiskey”) or be rebellious and rage against the dying of the light.
I found my friends in general falling into two camps: the ones that had achieved social menopause (SoMe) before me and the ones who were still ready to put on their high heels at the slightest bell of a Whatsapp group message.

The older SoMes usually had some sort of extenuating reason: some had married, and as marrieds, you were more excused from the usual carousel of social stuff than single people, the reason being that people with husbands or wives had to answer to one more person at home. Some had embraced their SoMes way before any of us did, and you knew not to ask those people out on Saturday night. They were your Thursday evening coffee friends, or your Tuesday impromptu early dinner friends, they could usually cook pretty well, and because they spent so much time at home, their homes, unlike yours, would be tidy and perfect, no plastic dishes, no need to BYOB either. You judged them a little bit before you went over, but there'd be a moment, when you'd be standing by their bookshelves, and it was only about 10.30 pm but the night was obviously, clearly over, and you'd envy them their surety. How nice to be so certain about your place in the world.

The ones not yet in SoMe desperately clung on to the last of the partying like they knew what was coming. Every time you messaged, “Not tonight, I'm tired” it was a betrayal. They were an army poised against ageing, and you were the person down, leaving them with fewer and fewer to fight. They took to new friends sometimes, and you'd see them smiling out at you from Facebook or Instagram photos, each captioned “best night ever!!!!” with duck face and glitter shoulders. Some, you'd lose track of entirely: there they were at a music festival in Berlin! There they were on a beach! There they were anywhere but home where things grew old, trying to recreate Neverland. They were the Lost Boys and Girls, and sometimes you run into them at parties, but often you take in the feather headpieces, the carefully faded t-shirt with an aspirational slogan and you hide behind the kitchen cabinets so they won't see you, and anyway they're not at the party long enough to notice you were there. Others come limping back to you once they're done, and now it's them who message you, “Can't make tonight, have had a hectic day at work.” And you message back a sad face, but secretly you're sort of glad that the guilt of cancelling isn't on you.

But I recently hit my mid-thirties. And I can see a glimmer—the very faintest little Tinkerbell light—in the distance. Now that it's okay for me to stay home for three weeks in a row, I'm suddenly up for being social again. I've accepted my SoMe, made peace with it, and as a result, my calendar is filling up. My blog is a thirty something's musings now, people don't engage with me on it, but occasionally there's the fun of taking the perfect picture, writing the perfect caption, composing the perfect tweet storm. Interestingly, my older SoMe friends are feeling more and more that way too—a few are hunting for the perfect New Year's Eve bash, while my friends who had not yet achieved SoMe-ness, are talking of quiet evenings at home. Maybe this is how the world is going to whirl now with all of us and longer life expectancies, maybe it will ebb and flow, like the end of Gatsby: “and so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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