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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26 July 2022

The Internet Personified: A whole lot of butt cheeks

Dear cool cats,

I’m just diving right in to my account of the weekend which has tired me out SO much I had to cancel a trip to the LIBRARY today so you can imagine.

Friday

Weird weather. It cools and heats, heats and cools. I look at the sky, at my Google weather app, at K’s more professional app (which he actually donated money to because he likes it so much) but none of them tell me what to wear. I decide on a black dress and on top of it, a shirt dress that has gotten too small for me, but which I repurpose as a shrug. I’m particularly pleased with the black dress because I bought it on the streets of East Delhi and a streets-of-East-Delhi thing means more to me than the designer shirt dress I’m wearing on top of it. (Masaba. Orange with a camera print, which is STILL leaking orange dye whenever I wash it.) As soon as I walk towards the S Bahn, I start to sweat and the orange dress comes off.

There is no climate control in my version of Berlin. Nights out usually involve long periods of walking—between stations, to a place that is deep inside a neighbourhood, watching the sun set around 10 pm when you’re in a park and realising suddenly that you left your hoodie at home and it’s cold and a twenty minute walk back to any public transport. By then your legs hurt and your feet feel like they’ve blended into the cork soles of your shoes and the damp sweat you worked up while being in the sun is unpleasantly cool and makes goosebumps rise on your skin. So each evening out is thinking ahead: is this a shoes day or a sandals day? Is this a day of carrying a jacket over one shoulder just in case? I look ahead on my app: 21 degrees at 11 pm means I can dress how I like, 15 however is a jacket carrying day. Still getting used to this, one year in. In Delhi, the seasons are a single experience: summer is hot, winter is cold. I don’t wear lycra or full sleeved cotton between April and September. All I’ve done in Berlin is pack up some sweaters and hope I don’t need them in a rush. Our house is still quite spartan in terms of furniture but we’re building it bit by bit thanks to secondhand Ebay and an eye out for what other people throw away. “Berlin presents” we call these finds: a working lamp, a clothes hanger, a unscratched bedside table. This weekend, the one I’m talking about here, I stopped at a box of clothes outside a door at midnight and found a traffic stopping-ly sexy red jumpsuit and a lace and cotton open dress to wear over shorts and a t-shirt and then, by our front door, the very seed planters we’d been meaning to buy to plant a row of cat grass. The clothes are in the wash, the seeds germinating.

We are going for a gig by the singer Peaches. This sentence structure should tell you exactly how old I am and how my musical interests do not normally overlap with the interests of Peaches fans (she yelled out, “How many of you have been to nine Peaches concerts?” and incredibly, voices yelled out, hands were raised. One woman in the drinks queue said to us that it was the best concert she had ever seen—in Amsterdam—and so here she was in Berlin doing it again.) Who is Peaches? She wrote this one song that I like to listen to when I’m Aggressively Walking (Contemplative Walking has a whole different playlist). It’s incredibly catchy, and also incredibly dirty, starting with “Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me” and with a chorus that encourages you to yell, “Fuck the pain away!” I’d only ever heard that song, but as a group, because this was a Group Activity, we were doing the Peaches gig, so I dutifully researched her on Spotify and played enough of her music for me to be able to recognise it when she would eventually sing for my pleasure.

Before this, we arrange to meet for dinner at a place that everyone had recommended online for their fried chicken. What none of these online people had said was that the owner/chef changed the menu each week, so you may or may not be served fried chicken. Which we are not: it is Indonesian night and it is excellent Indonesian food, but my fried chicken craving goes unscratched. This place (Crazy Bastard Kitchen) also does a line of hot sauces, ranging from pleasantly tingly to ooof, I can only taste the burn. We get to chatting, since the owner (from Ireland) knew the friend we were at dinner with, and discover we both love bhoot jhalokia best of all chillis, and I promise to carry my bottle of Naagin hot sauce (I buy like one bottle a year because it’s SO spicy, I can use it every day with my cheese toast and there’s still loads left.) Anyway, Crazy Bastard Sauces take a chilli and blend it with a fruit, so the “milder” bhoot jhalokia is with mango, there’s a Carolina Reaper with blueberry I really loved and a Trinidad Scorpion with clementine, both of which I intend to buy the next time I’m passing the exclusively hot-sauce-and-spices boutique a few blocks from here called Pfefferhaus. (The Pfefferhaus guy doesn’t rate Indian chillis, he doesn’t think they have a balanced flavour profile, so his favourites are the Mexican ones, I think.)

Peaches takes her top off about five minutes into her set. Her breasts just hang there. I wonder how she’s dancing so vigorously with no support garment but all those breasts, her band is only women, the stage is full of naked bosoms, just feel normal, which I guess is the idea. Free the boob! I’m suddenly jealous because I’m so hot and my dress is clinging to me. I can barely see anyway, the venue is standing room only and a sea of tall people are in front of me. I walk further and further back until I’m practically hugging the wall and then I can see glimpses of her through the crowd. After the one song we all know played at the end, we cheer and stamp our feet for an encore and she comes back, wearing a top made entirely of breasts, rows of them, like a dog except horizontally and not vertically. Incredibly, she begins to sing Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” not a very Peaches song, I think, until she begins to change the chorus with various kinks: “when you fist me like this” “when I felch you like that” (DO NOT GOOGLE THAT) “when I rim you like this, and you rim me like that” you get it. She sort of draws out the lyrics, so we’re all waiting for the next line, grinning at how she’s teasing us.

That was Friday.

Being very short, this is most of what I saw. Had to keep poking K whenever people cheered and asking, “What happened? What did she do?”


Saturday

Wow, my legs are worn out. Standing for so long at the Peaches concert has made my hips hurt like someone signed them for a movie and then cancelled the contract at the last moment after the press tour was done. Our plan is to go with some of the same group yesterday and get a nice quiet vegan Sichuan lunch nearby. (Sichuanese being one of the few cuisines I can happily eat with or without meat. Our friends are vegan, so.) Only, I happen to read that Berlin Pride is happening this very afternoon. Over here it’s called Christopher Street Day Parade, named after the Stonewall riots that happened in New York’s Christopher Street. (The American Prides usually take place in June to coincide with the anniversary but the European ones can happen any time over the summer because organisational reasons.)

So of course we must all go see some of the CSD protests. I love a good parade. In the train, we are cheek to cheek with people dressed up, glitter all over their faces, fishnet stockings, rainbow flags. A woman next to me says to her companion, “Wow, a lot of dressed up people today on the U, huh?” and her friend says, “Yes, but it’s Berlin” and the first woman said, “I don’t know, it’s almost like some sort of… parade?” [AND YET I WOMANFULLY RESTRAINED MYSELF FROM TURNING AROUND AND TAPPING HER ON THE SHOULDER AND SAYING, “WELL, ACTUALLY...”]

They’ve closed the U Bahn station closest to the march because of the crowd so we have to get off and mingle both with the queer folk as well as droves of tourists, come to Berlin to gaze at Brandenburg Gate (closed to them today) and do some shopping. CSD is supposed to be a combination of protest and party, but I’m really seeing more party in evidence. We’re walking a long way to the gate where the floats will be passing, and first we go through food stalls and party trucks, people drinking and people dancing and almost everyone selling Caipirinhas which makes me wonder if they’re the new Aperol? (Aperol Spritzes are still in evidence, of course, but Caipirinhas are EVERYWHERE which is surprising for such a niche cocktail.) A stall is selling vulva and penis shaped popsicles for 8 euros a pop, which makes me think of a business idea I had ages ago about standing in front of a club with ice lollies from midnight to 4 am and selling them to all the punters coming out for a lot of money because it’s midnight and I’m the only one there. I’ll put some organic juice in there or something to justify the mark up. “They’ll call me the Popsicle Lady,” I might’ve said to K, when I first floated this idea, waving my arms about delightedly. Think of the riches! Now I decide I’ll make mine penis and vulva shaped too and then people will line up AROUND THE BLOCK. (I have many great business ideas mostly devised in the middle of the night when I’m walking back home. Investors, hit me up so I can tell you about the apple holding machine that ROTATES so you can bite into it without getting your hands or your book dirty! REVOLUTIONARY.)

The floats start coming out. Each is a large truck with an open back where people hang out and wave to us. Each is emblazoned with a banner telling us which community sent them. We see a Spotify truck and a BVG (Berlin public transport) truck. We see trucks sponsored by corporates pinkwashing. A SAP truck. A PWC truck. Ernst and Young. It’s funny and it’s a little sad. Mercedes Benz Bank hasn’t put a single rainbow on their sign and their employees still have to wear black. But their sound system is great.

Before the floats came out. This is the most people I’ve ever seen in Germany, I’m like “where have you all been hiding?”

Better than the trucks are the people marching behind them. All of Berlin’s many sexualities and types are represented. The drag queens walk on super high heels. There’s people in leather dog masks leading other people in leather dog masks with chains. There’s so many naked men, just letting it all hang out. One of them holds up a sign that says (paraphrasing): “Ban war not nudity.” Why not, I think. When we find a grassy lawn and sit down to rest, an old naked man wanders past, picking up bottles he’ll exchange for money later. He keeps bending down in front of me, saggy bottom, dangling bits and all. I keep averting my eyes but he is quick, even when we get up and walk back, he’s been busy, filling several bags, always just in front of us, nakedly. No vaginas though. I only see penises, which is always the way, isn’t it? All this nudity and I have become inured. Bring on your nakedness, I will not flinch.

There’s an Instagram account called Berlin Auslander Memes, which, as you might imagine, posts memes and funny things about being a foreigner in Berlin. This past weekend, they’ve been doubling down on saying that Pride is Pride and not for straight women going out there and flaunting sexy clothes. (They didn’t go for straight men because they said everyone disapproved of straight men ANYWAY and you didn’t need a page to tell you that but straight women who pretend to be allies and then just use Pride to wear nipple coverings and fishnet stockings etc are taking away from the real message of awareness and so on.) Little bit conflicted, because of course, I am a straight woman, but also I get their point. Pride should be about the people who fought—and continue fighting—for gay rights. LGBTQ culture is not an accessory. And if you can’t be a respectful ally and pass the mic to people who need to speak, then maybe rethink why you’re there. (But I also think you can wear what you want: with respect, of course.) (I only want to hear from non-straights about this.)

CSD parade was not perfect: what with the corporate sponsorship, and the party and day-drinking vibe of it taking completely away from any political messages it had, but it was nice to go anyway, and see all that energy in full force.

Sunday

A good day for a picnic. We pulled out the Aperol we had and stuck a bottle of very cheap sparkling wine into the fridge. I bought steel tumblers in Delhi last time, thinking they’d be cool cocktail glasses and they’ve also become invaluable to picnics, a bottle of wine, a steel glass, the grass, the blue sky: perfect. I also cut up some fruit and took along a bottle of Tajin, a Mexican chilli-lime powder that my friend in Delhi introduced me to, and which I found at the aforementioned Pfefferhaus. I quickly convert our two picnic-y friends to it, and promise to buy them a bottle when we visit them in England next month.

I wore my bikini under my shorts and t-shirt. Two days of looking at naked bodies has made me very comfortable with mine. We strip to bare essentials and walk across the park to the part of the river with stairs in it and go in bit by bit. The water is so cold, I’m screaming, but suddenly, I’m in, all at once and it’s beautiful and buoyant, sand under my toes and boats going past and the river snaking around the bend, and the green trees on both banks.

See that green buoy on the right? I swam to it!

I’ve gotten so comfortable on my bike that I take it to spare myself long walks, so we load our stuff and the bicycles on the S-Bahn, ride two stops and then cycle through the park to the Isle of Youth, which is what our little spot is called. The day before, we walked nine kilometres, and I’m keen on saving my legs from more.

After we get out of the water, I stand in the sun, in my bathing suit and my yellow cover up and feel the water dry up on my skin and feel the air on my stomach, my breasts, my thighs, and it’s so weird, and so cool to be doing this in a public park, no one blinks twice at my outfit, people are just strolling by in their shorts and t-shirts, some girls in hijabs sit on the low wall behind us, and behind them, more completely naked men about to jump into the water.

Germans have famously been into FKK (Freik√∂rperkultur) which is basically public nudity or naturism. (The Nazis tried to ban it in the beginning.) FKK it I say as I walk around my house in just a t-shirt (the living room and my study have very large windows through which someone could see me if they chose to). I don’t know if I’d ever choose public nudity (even my bikini is high waist and well covered) but I like the idea anyway.

Phew. Just putting all this down has tired me out. Had a super long nap today and tonight I plan to put my feet up and just relax until the next excitement, which is a long list of (beloved) house guests coming to visit. Maybe we’ll all go frolic in a park a bit. At least Berlin is never boring. I love it so much.

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Links I Liked

The world needs uncles too.

The best deaths in fiction.

Sad story: the death of influencer Gabby Petito.

This guy adopts senior dogs.

Another sad story: a woman died alone in London. It took her neighbours five months to discover her.

Have a great week! I’ll write again soon.

xx

m

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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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