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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10 September 2020

How often must we confront ourselves in our past?

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They announced that the exams would be cancelled for classes X and XII, I think? One of those X standards anyway. Exams were the fucking bane of my life, man. I am not academically inclined, perhaps you’re surprised, perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh M, you read so much! You have random information about random things! You KNOW ALL THE FONTS!” To which I say, yes, but they never taught that shit in school. School was… oof, even writing the words “school was” is bringing back all these memories of how much I hated it. I’ll try to articulate it a bit more: school was a lot of focusing on the stuff you couldn’t do, without enough leisure to explore what you could. They didn’t know how to teach maths at my school, which was Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, SPV to those who know it well, and the reason I say this is not because I think I would’ve been great at maths or whatever, I don’t think I’m that-way inclined, generally, and also I think I am slightly dyslexic when it comes to numbers, when there are a lot of them they all swim up in front of my eyes and become interchangeable. (I am never the person calculating the tab at a table, unless it’s a straight splitting-it.) But before SPV, classes 1 to 5, I was okay at maths. I was never a Young Genius, but I was fine, you know? No one ever said, “My god, she sucks” even when I reversed all my digits when I wrote them down. And I did okay enough on the entrance exam to get into the school and then I did okay enough for the first year—they were too busy tut-tutting over my terrible Hindi and Sanskrit, see, they had Hindi-medium classes until class 6, so I was catching up to all that also—and then stuff just started to go downhill.

There should be more to school than mathematics and there were plenty of extra-curricular activities, but those were neglected by my teachers. All they cared about was the damn mathematics, and I grew more and more unhappy, I didn’t even really have FRIENDS, I just had people I hung out with which is very different as you know, and my teachers let me slip through the cracks, because as a non-star-student I was not very important to them, and everything was falling that year, like dominoes, because I spent so much time gazing at those maths textbooks, I neglected everything else, and I got worse and worse at everything. (Except English, I loved my English teacher, she was the only one who seemed to see me as a person.) I was never any good at sports, and the only compulsory extra-curricular we had was sewing, which also I was terrible at. They must’ve had a school magazine or a drama club or something, but I never joined, I was too busy playing catch-up with my friends, who all seemed older than me even though we were all the same age, they just knew things that I didn’t, and I was too busy trying to stay in remedial maths, and do okay on my tests, and try not to feel ashamed when I had to leave the regular class and join my own class of stupids.

I don’t think a lot of Indian teachers know how to teach. They didn’t in my time, I hope they’ve gotten better now, but what it was for me and my peers growing up was: the people who had a natural ability got taught, the ones who didn’t, got told that they’d fail a class, that was the big threat, you’ll fail, you’ll fail, you’ll fail. Which I did, by the way. SPV was concerned about their board exam scores the next year, so, because I did pretty terribly in maths and physics, they made me repeat class 9. And that is when my life changed.

I was so humiliated at having to go back to class nine, with the babies one year junior to me, while all my friends went to a different wing entirely for their more serious class 10 stuff. that I begged my parents to send me to boarding school. I wanted to get away from Delhi, start anew somewhere where no one knew who I was, the Remedial Maths girl, the one falling behind. They listened, I went off to The Lawrence School, Lovedale, where I realised I was smart again, thanks to repeating the year, I already knew all the theories of the maths stuff, and though I had to work after hours with the maths teacher at Lovedale as well, he was so nice about it, he even sent a letter to my parents saying how hard I was working, and how much I was trying. God, what a difference from the maths teacher at SPV, who everyone called Cobra, because of his sudden and violent temper! And because my teachers encouraged me, it was a small class, and the teachers got a chance to know the students, I tried out for everything, and made it into most things: choir, debate, drama, the school paper. (Sports were still my bete noir, but I gave them all a go before giving up.)

squirrel GIF 

Two years of this and I was ready to come back to Delhi and finish school there, which I did. I went to DPS, a school I have literally zero feelings about. People call it the Factory School, because it’s so big, so I went from being one of twenty girls in my batch, to being in section R (the classes were sectioned from A all the way to S, so you can imagine), because there were so many students. It was an anonymous school, I made a few friends, I hung around with them, went to one or two parties and I was happy because I had finally finally finally managed to shake mathematics off my feet and I was ready for a career in humanities.

It’s funny, failing class 9 felt like the End of the World, it was my first trouble, one of the biggest ones I’ve had, so stressful, but would I go back in time and fix it, fix myself? (How though? I still suck at maths) If I fixed that, I’d probably stay in SPV, never go to boarding school, if I didn’t go to boarding school, I probably wouldn’t have the confidence I got from being on stage, from writing for the paper, from writing for myself, if I didn’t do all that, I wouldn’t have enough in my extra-curricular portfolio to apply to a good college on the Extra Curricular Activities quota, I wouldn’t have gone to the college I went to, wouldn’t have made the friends I did, because they wouldn’t have been in my batch anyway, I don’t know if all paths would have led me right here, to writing, I assume they would, but the other way would have taken a lot longer. If I ever mastered up the courage to be something more than a “failure” which I’m sure SPV would have found a way to brand me with, no matter what. This is not an indictment against SPV. Many people thrived there, many people loved it. I am not one of the kids that school was made for though. I think that’s important to know.

There’s something flawed about the Indian educational system, that’s for sure. When they can take so many smart children and make them feel so stupid—and I’m not the only one this has happened to—when they can tie up your entire self-worth in one subject? My god, I really hope things are different now. I don’t have any friends who have pre-teen kids struggling with school, but if you do, if you are one of those parents, I want you to know that it only seems like it’s the end of the world. It’s not really. In the end, things have a way of working out. I spent too much time of my short youth thinking about exams—worrying about them, studying for them, stressing about the results etc etc etc—if I could time travel, I’d change all that, I’d visit myself and I’d say, “Listen to this weird adult who has accosted you out of nowhere! Fuck the exams! You’re never going to be a 100% type of student! Go do something fun!” Ahhh, I probably wouldn’t have listened back then, but I like to think I would, I like to think all things being equal, that I’d go back and make myself have more fun doing the stuff I liked to do. I’m very happy for all the students right now who feel as I did then. I’m glad their exams were cancelled. I strongly believe that unless you’re desperate to be a doctor or an engineer or something, you don’t need exams at all. Fuck them. Exams-schmexams. Let children enjoy their LIVES.


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