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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27 February 2018

Newsletter: Where did you come from, where did you go

This morning, turning on my laptop, sitting in a hotel room with my half-packed backpack on the floor next to me, I was mesmerised by this video of how ubiquitous our travel Instagram really is. I saw the video only AFTER I posted this photo of a sunset from my hotel room yesterday.

No one likes to be a cliche. Sometimes as I walk behind people boarding a plane, and I see a lot of them stop to take a selfie with the plane behind them, I wonder, "When are you going to look at this photo again? Why is this moment something you want to remember?" But then I am jaded, especially recently with too many plane journeys, my back has had a crick in it for the last two MONTHS which I haven't been able to get rid of, and the blame for which I lay entirely at the doorstep of air travel.

I'm in Cochin! I realise I forgot to mention, and if you didn't really pay attention to my list of travel destinations in my newsletter last week, then you're probably really confused right now. After we got married in October last year, I promised my father he could have a party for us in Kerala with his whole fam. (We limited our guest list for our Delhi party as much as we could, so no craziness, and I got to hang with everyone, even if it was just for fifteen minutes.) This was also the first time K was meeting THIS side of the family, but I think he's really gotten into the Malayali thing--he certainly likes the food, and he wore a mundu for the wedding lunch and then everywhere else after.

Anyway, we had a super time. After the Day of the Parties (lunch and dinner) we took off with two of my cousins to a beach resort called Sea Lagoon on Cherai beach, which is the closest one to Cochin and surprisingly clean despite being basically a city beach. It was a strange beach though, not like I've ever seen before--very high tide, a thin sliver of sand and then just rocks, so if you wanted to walk, you either hugged the rocks or got your clothes wet. Odd! But no one was complaining. Sea Lagoon had an infinity pool overlooking the backwaters, and I had a full on first world problem about deciding between a massage and a swim and I KNOW, my life is VERY hard. (I decided on the swim in the end, followed by Bloody Marys. An excellent choice.)

The next day we went off on a backwaters cruise, making a stop along the way for prawn and rock fish ("modso" in Goa, "moda" over here), which the cook fried up and sent out for dinner and we made absolute pigs out of ourselves just stuffing our faces, until 8.30 rolled around and we were so sleepy because of all the eating and the movement of the water and the sun...

I do feel quite refreshed now. I was a bit blue earlier this month, I don't know why, maybe just general ennui or malaise, and now all my ennui has flown away and I am ready to be cheerful and more mainstream rom com than French art house film. Only a little though, I still enjoy hating people.

This week in speaking engagements: I have mentioned this before, but I am off to Bombay this evening to attend the Gateway Lit Fest over the weekend. The schedule is up and I have to moderate one very exciting panel with Baby Halder, Nandini Sundar, Rana Ayyub and Nalini Jameela. Unfortunately, I don't know enough Hindi to do my very complicated questions justice, so I will also have an interpreter on stage, which is a little embarrassing if you look at it from one angle, but from another, it means it's a more inclusive panel than the rest, because now the whole audience has two languages in which to understand what we're all saying. (I'm hoping Nalini Jameela, author of Autobiography of a Sex Worker, originally written in Malayalam, will also know enough Hindi otherwise we'll have to get TWO interpreters on the same stage.) Still: exciting panel, right? I have lots of very good questions to keep conversation going freely--and I wrote them all down and then promptly lost the piece of paper I wrote them down on because I apparently still live in a pen and paper era, but not to worry, I remember most of what I thought. Anyway, you should totally come. I also have a panel on the third day when I'll be talking very fittingly about writing in English and whether it's "limitation or liberation"? My view? Neither. It's just the way I communicate.

I wrote that in Cochin. Since then, I finished off my lit fest (and three days of catching up with old friends as well) and am now back in Delhi, where winter left like a ghosting houseguest and didn't even bother to leave a note to say thanks for putting up with me for so long.

Last week in speaking engagements: The panel went as well as can be expected for somewhere where three people speak different languages. Turns out Nandini Sundar cancelled, but the programme still had her name on it, so I prepared for her and then she just wasn't there. Apparently she cancelled AFTER the programme was printed, which explains why the festival organisers didn't send me her book, not just an oversight as I thought.

I'm actually a pretty good moderator--is that okay for me to say about myself? I think it's because I enjoy reading so much--so I always read the panelists books before I get to my questions, and since I like reading, I like talking about reading, and the writing process. It's always a bit of a pain to be a moderator instead of just a regular participant, because you have to do all the heavy lifting as it were, but we had fun. There was a Malayalam translator for Nalini, and I used my v v v basic Hindi for Baby, while also asking Rana to jump in whenever I couldn't quite get the words I wanted. We had an interesting chat, all of us, and I remembered not to fiddle with my mouth or my hair. (This is what wedding rings are useful for.)

Anyway, I'm doing a whole Impressions Diary for Open Magazine, so I'll share the link with you next week.

Last week in former homes: Since we were staying at the Grand Hotel in Ballard Estate, we didn't venture to the 'burbs at all this trip. Normally, I spend a significant amount (if not all) my time in Bandra, but this time, I had to stay close to the festival venue, and also I was enjoying being a townie. I always forget how Gothic bits of South Bombay are, like you're in some other country entirely. Ballard Estate especially with its heritage buildings, but we were walking to the Strand book stall, to pick over its leavings like vultures, and we took a wrong turn and suddenly we were in this Parisian street complete with a beautiful old movie theatre which had a marquee even. (Which reminds me I should book my Black Panther tickets soon.)

Maybe we will move back to Bombay one day, and maybe this time we'll manage to live in Colaba or thereabouts, beautiful buildings and 3 am walks for inspiration. (Oh, who am I kidding? I'll be asleep by 11.) Still, the last time I lived in Bombay, I basically lived in Bandra, and there's so much more the city has to offer. Imagine if I had never left Nizamuddin for our current residence. Imagine not knowing the joys of this side of town, everything, except Khan Market, a stone's throw (and okay, okay, half an hour in traffic) away.

This week in stuff I wrote: My previously unpublished, specially commissioned essay is out in a new Penguin anthology called Eleven Ways To Love. It's called A Cross-Section of My Bad Boyfriends and I think it is both funny and wise. Don't just buy it for me, though. There's a bunch of excellent essays in there, all of which will make you think really deeply about modern Indian relationships. Buy here. 

I also have an essay out in this week's Open Magazine. It's called The Other Montgomery Girl and it's about Emily of New Moon, a character I enjoy reading about even more than Anne. I tied this up with how depressed Montgomery was in the last years of her life. Read the essay here and read Emily of New Moon free on Gutenberg here.
Monday link list
So is Kerala seeing a rise in literary festivals?
To begin with, unlike well-known major literary festivals organized in other parts of India, such events in a state like Kerala give space to regional writers and intellectuals, many of whom are household names but not as well known outside the state.
KLF had around 500 speakers, roughly twice the number of speakers at this year’s Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), arguably India’s best-known annual literary event.
- Since I'm going off to ANOTHER lit fest in Kerala next week, here's why.
But what can we do? Since I started working, I’ve never felt in control of my emails, and that is how I ended up with 16,516 unread ones. When I tell Cooper, he sounds genuinely outraged: “That’s appalling!” When friends saw my number, their eyes widening in revulsion, I took a perverse pride in their horror. There was something delicious in the slutty slovenliness of my unkempt inbox; it was my anarchic rebellion against the tyranny of digital efficiency.
For years, this has been my “system”: if an email arrived that looked very important and required time and consideration for its response, I would decide to go back to it later, and mark it “unread”. And if an email arrived that looked liked junk, I would not open it, just leave it unread. Get it? The junk emails ended up looking exactly the same as the very important emails. Haha! Ah.
- On trying out the idea of Inbox Zero. (I don't actually get that much email that isn't just other newsletters.)
Writers, it’s safe to say, wish to be read. They wish to be heard. But they don’t necessarily wish to be seen. This decade has moved us on an ever speedier conveyor belt from the quaintness of blogging and simple Facebook updates to the more public and frankly manic live video posts on Facebook and Instagram, not to mention literary high-wire performances like The Moth and Literary Death Match. The question is, what does it mean for literature, and where is it going?
- On balancing writing and social media. (PS: please never forward your snarky thoughts about this little old newsletter to me because I will be DEVASTATED and I need to finish writing my next book, no time to devastate.)

What really startled her was that everyone seemed to think she’d written a romantic novel. She believed Rebecca was about jealousy, and that all the relationships in it – including the marriage between De Winter and his shy second wife – were dark and unsettling. (“I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool” hardly betokened love between equals.) The idea had emerged out of her own jealousy about the woman to whom her husband, Tommy “Boy” Browning, had briefly been engaged. She had looked at their love letters, and the big elegant “R” with which Jan Ricardo signed her name had made her painfully aware of her own shortcomings as a woman and a wife.
- On Rebecca, one of my favourite books of all time--on its 80th anniversary. I was completely oblivious to all the lesbian undertones.
Her stream of nonsense words becomes the turbulence out of which she lifts herself, like an aircraft with continent-spanning wings, into song. In under 2 minutes, the spotlight snaps off; the whole room is drenched in light; her audience erupts in applause as she begins to sing in Hindi. She is, in all respects, the woman destined to strike lightning into your heart. When she sings “Bijli giraane main hoon aayee”, you want to burst into applause too.
- Let's face it: we all thought Sridevi was singing "Bijli KI RAANI" Supriya's excellent piece on the actor before her comeback hit English Vinglish came out has been doing the rounds since Sridevi died.
Watch: If you're looking for a fun, feel-good show you can watch during the whole week and be done with, leaving you with a sense of well-being, look no further than Queer Eye on Netflix. You'll love it.

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