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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29 September 2019

Having pets makes you think about mortality a lot more

This came out on Asiaville a while ago

There are three of them inside the house—and one outside, softly sleeping in a long planter where we laid his ashes. For several years, he was my only cat, a large ginger tom, and then he was gone, and then I took his ashes with me when we moved into our new house, and left them in a corner of my study. Finally, many years later, I was ready for closure, to lay him at rest at last, at last, and I think of him now as it's raining into that same planter, the baby vegetables are tentatively putting out new leaves, and his grave is a great green growing thing.

But the three that are alive—still with us—they have always outnumbered us. None of them has ever been an Only Cat, poor things, and none of them has known very much of a life without four walls and a ceiling above them. Two are siblings—the grey tabby Bruno and the calico Olga, they spent a few months in a park in a part of Delhi I had never been to before, they were handled so carelessly and so often by the neighbourhood children, they do not like us to pick them up at all. Bruno will kick like a rabbit, Olga will make sounds of distress. Even though we've had them all their lives, except for those three months, two in Bruno's case, when they belonged to everyone. But those two months were everything.

In the case of our large black tom cat, the alpha of our household, even though he came into our lives after our ginger died, after Bruno and Olga already banged out their dynamic, he upended everything. He is the Cat Of The House, he picks on Bruno and adores Olga, he likes nothing more than to walk from lap to lap at parties, sitting for a while on each person, as they hold their breath, a cat sitting on their lap! What an honour! He likes to roll on his back in the balcony, and when you thump him as you pet him, which he adores, a fine cloud of dust emerges from his fur, he's like Pig Pen in the old Peanuts comics, he's such a very dirty cat, not like Bruno and Olga with their immaculate white paws, but he doesn't have any white on him, except a tiny bit near his tummy, so it doesn't matter. He's magnificent, all muscle and built like a miniature panther, but we called him Squishy when he was a kitten and it stuck. Squishy suits him once you get to know him a little.

I think a lot about when they will die. I'm not doing it to be morbid, it's more of a way of preparing myself—one day, these three creatures who I love almost out of reason, will be dead. Ashes in planters. This cat, this cat extending her chin to me so I can tickle it, that cat, blinking appreciation at me, this other cat, sitting on my hip while I read on my side on the sofa, all these cats, one day they will be dead. Having pets reminds you of the way life ticks on and on. If you love a thing that is an organic life form, you love a thing with an expiry date.

I don't allow myself to love strays too much, when we foster kittens as we sometimes do, I don't love them either. We look after them competently, we send them on their way. If you wonder how you keep from falling in love with a kitten, try having five cats in the house. You can't love everybody, even though you have the best intentions. I've only ever actively disliked one of our foster kittens though, for no other reason than his meow was annoying, and his face was strange, too white, his eyes looked like a rabbit's. We called him Julian, after Assange, and I was glad when he moved on to a new home, and not just glad for him either, glad for me.

You can't love everything, especially when you know they're going to die one day. It's a lonely feeling. I see why people might be tempted to have children, unless things go very wrong, your children will outlive you, and you can die happy, knowing that the creatures you love are safe. How many cats will I bury before I die? There's probably an exact figure written down somewhere where the universe keeps all of our secrets.

On the internet, cats rule. If I'm bored, I'll Instagram a picture of one of them, add a clever caption, watch the likes come pouring in. It's almost like you've worked that day, and being a freelance writer means you're either always working or you never are. Olga likes to drape herself across my desk, which sounds very poetic, but because of my mess and her bulk, things are frequently falling off it. Still, they're good company. Like a proud mother, I compare them to other cats I see on the internet, surely none are as good looking as mine, so shiny-furred, so original in their escapades, so large and healthy looking? I even started a cat group on Facebook, primarily so I could talk about my cats, and it turned out everyone wants to talk about their cats, I get about twenty new joining requests every day. People post about their cat troubles, and cats up for adoption and all that, yes, but a lot of it is also people posting one, two, three, four photos of their cats. Sometimes we all join in in the comments section, and it's the biggest love fest I've seen on the internet in a long time, all of us just going, “Cat!” at each other.

In Vietnam, where we were last year, circumstances led to me sitting with a grandmother and her two grandsons. We none of us spoke each other's language, the boys looked at me shyly, twining around their grandmother. I took out my phone, and opened a picture of Squishy, lying in his classic pose, back on the floor, four paws in the air. I showed it to the older of the two boys. “Meo!” he said, which is the delightful Vietnamese word for cat, and one that I knew as well. “Meo,” I agreed, and we spent a happy half hour, looking at the three cats, far away in Delhi, Park Cats once, Road Cats, and now Helping Me Navigate A Different Language Cats. Like the Little Prince and his rose, I only know my three cats, and to me that makes them the best cats in the whole world.

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