Happy New Year, my enchanting edamames!
I’m sending you this dispatch from grey and cold Delhi, where the biggest excitement in the past 24 hours has been my decision to switch from morning showers (ok, ok, afternoon) to night showers. What has my life become when this is the thing that offers variety? (In defense of Night Showers, I strongly believe in the winter that they are superior to morning ones. You get all nice and clean and cozy right before bed and go to sleep smelling of your soap (satsuma shower gel that someone gave me from The Body Shop) and your lotion (just plain old Nivea). Morning showers on the other hand, mean you’re losing all that cozy heat and clean-feel to just sitting in front of your laptop. This only applies to winter though. In the summer, sometimes I take two showers because I am so sweaty and gross by the end of the day.)
Wow, that paragraph was so boring I almost couldn’t finish my sentence. I promise it will only get more exciting from here on out primarily because it can’t get any duller. This is very sad, because only the other day I was reading my old blog and man, my life was lit in 2005, or at least it would’ve been, if the world “lit” had even been invented. I was a young reporter, I got sent to all the parties and launches my colleagues didn’t want to go to—of which there were a surprising many! You’d think everyone would be into the free booze and schmoozing, but apparently not. A lot of it was also the three excellent beats I inveigled for myself: books (duh), booze (double-duh) and embassies (which sounds odd, but really, they needed someone regular on the embassy cultural beat, every single country was doing some art fashion thing once a week, and so I went to those, expecting to be bored, but actually, I had a great time, flirted with at least two ambassadors and drank their excellent diplomatic quota wine.)
But this is not a story about those days. This is a story of the days immediately before those, age 18, bespectacled and Extremely Serious, young Meenakshi steps into the hallowed halls of Lady Sri Ram College for Women. (Known locally, and across the country as LSR) (the “for women” is emphasised, our principal at the time, a stunning and intimidating woman named Meenakshi Gopinath, used to say, “LSR is a college for women, not girls.” Oh, how my 18-year-old self thrilled to those words!)
I was reminded of this particular period in my life, because last night, I was poking a fork into my Maggi noodles, cooking in a saucepan, and something about the attitude I was standing in—slightly slouched, poking at my food to see if it was done—and what I was wearing—pink hoodie, pink harem pants—and what I was eating—chilli cheese Maggi—just took me on this intense flashback to about twenty years ago, when I was standing behind a friend and she was doing the same thing.
Actually, by then, we had already graduated from college, my friend and me. We were in our twenties, her in her first job, me in my second, and we had just been doing a round of Delhi’s bars and nightclubs, and I was spending the night at her house, and she was making us a midnight snack of chilli cheese Maggi. It’s something I always associate with her, even though decades have gone by, even though by now she’s served me all sorts of incredibly elaborate gourmet meals in her house, no, when I think of her, I think of her basic instant noodles recipe, of spending the night in her house and waking up the next morning to shyly eat breakfast with her parents.
I’ve eaten more Maggi in these past ten months than I have in the last ten years.
I got into LSR later than the rest of my classmates. I had been waiting to hear back about my admission—I got in on the extra-curricular activity quota (creative writing) and I don’t think this quota was exercised often enough for the procedure to be rote. I mean, all sorts of people got in through the sports quota, that was easy enough. (I mean easy enough to follow the application process, not easy to be so good at a sport that colleges will admit you on the basis of your skill.) But with the ECA, firstly, there were only a handful of colleges to which it applied (Delhi University, of which LSR is a part, lets each college run more or less independently, so there are different rules for different campuses) and secondly, no one knew what to judge you by, I don’t think. How do you compare a writer to an artist, a musician to a sculptor? I went in, anyway, armed with a little printed and bound book of my best writing, and I answered some questions in what I thought was a very pragmatic way.
Them: Where do you see your career going?
Me: Well, I know there’s no money in poetry, so I’d eventually like to write scripts for Hollywood, but before that I suppose I’ll go into advertising, so I can make a living, and I’d also like to write books on the side.
I didn’t understand why they all seemed amused by this answer, but they let me into their college anyway. Not journalism, my first choice, it was already full, but English literature was fine, I’d get to read a lot and talk about books which seemed amazing to me.
Sometimes I wonder, as I’m sure you do too, about the lives you didn’t live, and there’s a version of me, who went into Journalism Honours in college, and had a whole different set of friends, a whole different life. She probably is living side-by-side to me now, maybe she even stayed in journalism, after all that, maybe she has a day job and she’s an editor someplace, worried about how COVID’s going to affect her publication.
She probably wouldn’t be eating Maggi at 8.30 pm on a Thursday night, bowl propped up on her crossed legs, watching The Good Wife for the second time.
My friends were already friends with each other by the time I joined. Some of them knew each other from school, but mostly they had identified each other as “Us” in the manner of teen girls everywhere, and Us did not hang out with Them. When I think of how hard I worked to be a part of their group, how I identified them before they noticed me, my own radar going off stronger than theirs because I was alone and it was a survival instinct, like a lone elephant looking for a new tribe, except not elephants, something with teeth and claws: a wild hare, a hyena, a lioness, when I think of my daily battle with my self-respect and my need to fit in, to have friends, I want to retrospectively cringe, and look away, but I can’t, because it keeps happening. In the past, with less finesse, I courted the popular girls, in the present, I pretend aloofness, but want to hang out with the cool kids nonetheless.
There’s a version of myself that gives up before my friends decide to let down their own barriers and let me in, to let me be part of them, not just someone they tolerate, but an Us, arm-in-arm, private jokes, the curled lips, the full bodied hugs, all love languages of teen girls.
I wish this story had a point beyond I ate Maggi noodles last night and thought of my Youth, but you know, some stories don’t. I could tell you that the friendships I made then are still strong now; forged over long car drives, and first joints, and heartbreaks and death and betrayal and love and laughter and one plate of pasta shared amongst six people, and Us further fracturing into smaller Us-es, and men who came and went, and studying together, and the way each one smelt, and sometimes still that tightrope feeling of not knowing whether you fit in or not, and sometimes wondering if feeling that way meant you didn’t love your friends, and you did, you truly did, more than anything in the world.
Meanwhile, here is how my friend always made her chilli cheese Maggi (some of these ingredients might only be available to my readers in India, I’m sorry! But dupes are always fun to look for.)
Cook the Maggi magic masala noodles according to package directions. (Not any other flavour, I tried this with chicken and it was gross.)
After it’s semi-cooked, add a generous tablespoon of Fun Food’s chilli garlic dip.
Add cheese, the more processed, the better. I also chop one green chilli into it for crunch.
Let it cook into a semi-dry consistency, like khichdi. Serve in a bowl for cold winter nights. You’ll probably be hungry again in an hour, so I suggest planning for that too.
Links I Liked On The Internet:
I interviewed old friend Avni Doshi for The Voice Of Fashion’s year-ender, and we had a lovely super honest chat about images.
Friend of the newsletter (and of mine also) Ameya’s excellent podcast Fat. So? has a new home, so please check that out here and also subscribe to their newsletter! (Everyone should have a fun newsletter.) In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s a description of the podcast (which is great fun and you should definitely listen.): Fat. So? is a podcast about the joys and sorrows of being fat women in India–heavy on the joy! When you’re fat you feel so different, because everything about the world (from chairs and clothes to doctors and dating) is designed to tell you that you’re wrong, you don’t belong, it isn’t OK to be in the body you have. On this podcast, you’ll hear about their journeys to fat liberation and how fatphobia and fat stigma affect us all. Tune in alternate Sunday evenings to hear Ameya and Pallavi talk their way out of the maze into the brave new world of loving yourself.
Ughhh Ann Patchett on FRIENDSHIP and POTENTIAL DEATH is just EVERYTHING. (Guest star: Tom Hanks.)
What’s going to happen in Pandemic: Part 2 (Alternate title for this year: 2 Cough 2 Handle)
How to buy gifts that people actually want is very useful, but really just breaks down to: ASK THEM.
Only people v interested in publishing will enjoy this story about the cancelled author of American Dirt.
Great piece about how people are selling your data on the black market in India.
Have a great week! Eat whatever you like.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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