What ho, fellow travellers!
And I don’t mean just the people who are on their summer holidays right now—or winter, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere—I mean, fellow travellers on this Journey Called Life.
I am very cheerful as you can see because I am once more ensconced in my sunny Berlin writing room, I’ve been back for a little longer than one action packed week and I am ready to pick up sticks and start writing again, which always puts me in a good mood.
As you can see from the above picture, we had our first house guest. (Of this house, not in general, but also, we’ve had very few house guests in our other flats as well. I know some people who always have guests, people coming in and going like a revolving door, but that has never been our lot. Maybe we don’t exude very hostly vibes? Maybe our general chill/laziness translates to “we’re not very good hosts”? Or maybe I’m overthinking this whole thing and we just don’t have enough friends from out of town who want to visit our particular city. Or who do want to visit but can’t make it work, which with the extremely crowded Schengen visa situation is practically everyone I know.)
I only came back to Berlin on the 10th, and it has been a hectic twelve days. K surprised me on the platform with tickets to go see Alanis Morissette in Hamburg, which was to be in two days following.
To understand how excited I was about this, you’ve got to go all the way back to December 1995. I was fourteen years old, my aunt was visiting from the US and she bought me a CD called Now That’s What I Call Music!. Do you remember the Now CDs? Each volume was a perfect compilation, fifteen or twenty of the best and most popular songs of that year. They expanded eventually into separate genres, Now for each little musical taste, but the most popular ones were always the original “Music” ones, which featured a heavy pop playlist, mixed with a little of whatever genre had broken through to the top lists that year. The Now albums had been coming out for a while, but this particular one—I can’t find the number online, there’ve been so many—was suddenly the one all the young teens wanted to own. If you could have described a Spotify life to us, to have internet fast enough to even use Spotify, to have internet in the way we have it today, an essential feature, not just a luxury. If you could have described that we didn’t have to put our CDs away in special cases, that in just a few years we wouldn’t “own” music any more, that everything would be a vast library that we could access from anywhere, I think we’d have told you you were nuts.
But since the world changed and I stopped owning music myself, stopped making my own (pirated) mix tapes, stopped spending hours in a music shop choosing the perfect album and ripping off the plastic cover and listening to each song while reading the liner notes carefully, I stopped feeling such connection to it. Maybe if I’d been more of a musicphile, the way I am about books, so no matter how I consume reading material, I always feel something about what I’m reading, but my age of musical obsessions sort of stopped after I made the switch from CDs to my iPod.
excuse me for a second while I go pull up Matchbox Twenty on Spotify and reminisce about how I bought that one CD in a California mall, desperately trying to impress my cool older cousin who dismissed my taste as “too poppy” but handed me this one casually going, “You might enjoy this.” (I did.)
Anyway, after listening to You Oughta Know (or was it Ironic?) too many times on that Now compilation, I branched out and bought Jagged Little Pill, which came out exactly twenty seven years ago, the year I was thirteen, so thanks Alanis for making me feel ancient. (The other day I got the sweetest message from a new subscriber—hi! welcome! saying that she’d read The Life And Times of Layla The Ordinary in class seven and really enjoyed it. Considering you wrote that book in 2010, when you considered yourself a grown up, you were engaged to be married for fuck’s sake, and 2010 was so long ago, it’s all a little head spinny.) (You know what’s odd? How you remember most of your childhood with such vivid details, considering you only spend about sixteen years in it, and of those sixteen you only really remember about twelve, and then you have to spend the rest of your life being an adult, and years sort of blend into each other and life is short, compared to a tree or something, but life is also so looong, and you don’t realise when you are speeding towards adulthood that it’s just going to go on and on and on, unless you die suddenly, of course.) (A lot of my friends do this thing where they say they’re old, they’re too aged to do something, and I used to, but I’ve stopped, because we still have a way to go before we are considered old-old, and if we start now, it’s just going to be the rest of our lives. So, no. I’m older than I used to be, but I’m still younger than I will be.) That’s what the Alanis tour was, if you got through all my digressions, 25 years of Jagged Little Pill which she had to put off because of the pandemic, which worked out for me, since I got to go watch her.
As a teen, I was so obsessed, I knew her songs word for word, and I wasn’t the only teen who did, the audience was almost entirely people my age, all singing along. There were a few men, including K, but you could tell they’d only come along for solidarity. In the large football stadium next door, there was a Rammstein concert that same evening, and everyone there was rowdy and dressed in black, and making lots of noise, whereas in our smaller arena, I think I could describe the style vibe as well behaved forty year olds wearing floral who drank white wine and politely clapped for the opening act (Beth Orton), but when Alanis came on, we were as raucous as the Rammsteiners, screaming our heads off and singing along. It was so amazing. She was unchanged except her hair is blonde now, not brown, and she’s gained a little weight like the rest of us, and she has three children, and her voice is incredible, she had to hold the mic a foot away from her as she sang.
Who else would I like to watch? I can’t think of anyone who was as seminal to me as Alanis. Watching her was like… oh, the best I can come up with is if I got to go to a Judy Blume signing and talk to her about all her backlist. But also I think this was my first real gig. I used to go to the ones that came to Delhi (Shaggy, the Channel V music awards, etc etc) but those were slightly odd, not many people, no drinks or food allowed. I went for the Gotye gig at Blue Frog in Delhi before it closed down, and a bunch of Indian Ocean concerts and live music at a bar and festivals and so on, but this was a large stadium with ticketed seating and so many people who all knew and loved Alanis as much as I did, it was an experience.
After we got back from Hamburg, Samit came to visit. This was the first time for me that my two worlds were colliding, Delhi and Berlin, Delhi in Berlin. Actually that’s not entirely true, I have a very good friend from Delhi who lives here but he’s been here for a decade and a bit so I now think of him as a Berlin friend, not a Delhi one, though our origins are Delhi and that makes us very happy in each other’s company because of the “back home” feelings.
But having a friend come and visit in a new city is an experience I would recommend to everyone. Suddenly, you realise you fit in more than you thought you did. Suddenly you are able to point out things you love and notice, through their eyes, future things to love as well. Samit wandered with other friends who were travelling with him all day and in the evenings we often went out to a bar or to dinner, in fact I probably partied way more than was good for me, but it was good, it made me love Berlin even more than I do already, seeing it with a friend. (There’s so many layers to knowing a city: seeing it as a child, with your parents, being by yourself in it, discovering it with a partner as you start your own lives, walking down a road with a friend, walking down a road to a room you know will welcome you as soon as you enter it, being lonely, being frightened, helping a stranger, so many things, such a big city.)
Anyway I’ve converted one more friend into thinking “What a great city, how can I move here” and slowly I will move Delhi to Berlin, which is my eventual master plan, take people I love to each city I plan to live in.
Please also buy Samit’s book which is just as funny and insightful and full of plots as he is. It’s Chosen Spirits in India and The City Inside in the US.
That’s my news for now. I must finish this fast so I can do some work on my novel this evening and not “blow my load” as K says just on this newsletter. The cats were great, delighted to see me and also delighted to stop cuddling K all the time. I think they thought I died or something, so they were keeping an eye on him. Now I’m back they’ve shifted rooms and only come to us once or twice a day. K bought this feeding robot while I was gone, which I am calling Mother, and Mother feeds the cats on a timer, so they literally only need us for love. And yes, dog people, cats need as much love as your pets do.
You guys really enjoyed the playlist I shared last time, so here’s a new one I’m listening to just now which is perfect for a long afternoon spent at your desk with nice weather outside whatever your definition of nice weather is.
Being Black at the Cannes festival.
No worries if not.
The modern monarchy of Prince William.
You don’t need so many friends.
As always, if you loved this newsletter or previous editions, please buy me a coffee! The money is very small, the rewards (well, heartfelt thanks from me anyway) are humongous.
Have a great week! I must now go eat some lunch.
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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