My lovely Legos,
My mother—as I mentioned in the last letter I sent you—has been visiting me these past few weeks. The first ten days I took her around the city (and sidebar: I don’t know what they were fed as children in that generation because she was still going strong and I was always tired.) This week, today thanks to a miserable rainy day, a dinner party we had last night and my need and desire to spend time doing things like washing my hair (it takes all day to dry and these days I am using a hair mask so it’s a whole process) and writing this and reading a cozy murder mystery and watching TV. (Try and get your hands on The Middle, a wholesome family sitcom which is actually laugh out loud funny even upon rewatch and is surprisingly positive despite all the negative things that keep happening to the family. It is a treat, I promise) she’s gone out by herself. This was several hours ago, but to be fair, she picked a very “talky” museum. (The Topography of Terror, which is a great place to start with the Nazi history here, just putting it all into context, but incredibly depressing, especially if you’re coming from India.) I wrote down directions for her because she’s refusing to get a local SIM (“I’ll just ask people!” she says, but Asking People is my biggest phobia so I’m amazed that anyone can do it with ease) and told her what to do if she gets lost, and all in all, behaved like an overbearing parent trying to keep control of their wayward child or something. We’re both much too young for the burden of care to be reversed! (Young at heart anyway.) Anyway, there comes a time when your mother visits you in your new life in Berlin that you must learn to let go and trust that as an actual adult woman who has lived a life without you for several years before you came along into the world that she’ll manage on her own.
When I went to the airport to pick her up, I took along a book (obvs) but soon was only holding it in my lap as I unabashedly gawped at all the people around me. There was a brother waiting for his sibling, who had been waiting forever, it seemed like, and when the other brother finally emerged, the two didn’t even wait to cross the security barrier, they just reached out across it and held each other, one weeping very quietly. Later, I saw them embracing once more, bags at their feet. The older brother was saying something very softly, the younger was looking a bit sheepish but not ashamed of his affection. (I know they were brothers and not lovers because I heard the one picking up tell the security guard so.)
Then there was another family, children and young adults and grown ups and parents, all waiting under a large banner they were holding up that said, “Happy Birthday!” They too were waiting ages, but they didn’t seem to mind, the kids skipping about in glee, the adults casually chatting under their banner. I did get to see the Birthday Person, a woman with a large backpack who looked like she had been travelling for months, and as soon as she approached them, everyone burst out singing.
Then there was a mixed race family, a German man and his Asian wife (if I had to guess, I’d say Vietnamese?) with two small children. An older lady received them and the kids went barrelling towards her, shouting, “Oma! Oma!”
Whenever I was making the leg back and forth to India in the last year, I was always surrounded by grandparents. Tens of older Indian couples, making their first visit overseas to see children settled abroad, and in many cases, grandchildren born there as well. In 2022, the year post second waves and vaccinations, I think grandparents travelled more than they ever had. I’m on a couple of Indians in Berlin groups (terrible for the most part, but I lurk) and most of them recommend that you book a wheelchair service for your parents even if they don’t need it, because someone will wheel them all the way to the plane and help them with paperwork and so on. Of course, once they land on foreign soil, this service is no longer free, so you see lots of them just lost or huddled together. I helped a lady who spoke no Hindi or English (Telugu, but my Telugu was too rusty to communicate with) fill out her landing form on the plane, I showed another how her internet worked. I couldn’t protect them though, they shrunk inside their saris or dhoti-kurtas, looking befuddled at the unfamiliar languages, waiting for their children to appear and whisk them away.
My mother is nothing like these Visiting Grandparents though. She’s quite confident and has been travelling for years, so I wasn’t worried that she’d get fazed by signs or paperwork. I worried slightly that German immigration might be rude (once, in Frankfurt, before passport control, a random border police official met our plane as soon as it landed and made all of us show our passports before we could actually, you know, go into the airport. There was a lady with a face covering in front of me and he kept trying to tell her to put on her face mask, and she wasn’t understanding him because she didn’t speak the language and kept pointing at her scarf and meanwhile he moved on to the next person in line, so she took the escalator up and he literally shouted after her, “AM I SPEAKING CHINESE? PUT ON YOUR FACE MASK.” I was fresh from India where everyone is so nice to you as soon as you land, no one would even dream of yelling at an older woman like that so I was completely shocked. Later, I caught up with her, she looked so puzzled, and using my hands, I indicated a face mask and using hers, she said she didn’t have any, and a lady watching produced a spare out of her bag and the matter was solved instantly and peacefully.) but I’m pretty sure my mother can handle rudeness better than I can. (As it turned out, “everyone was lovely” and she made a bunch of friends on the plane.)
I don’t know at what age we start to believe we are smarter than the generation before us. Any time travel movie will attest to this: everyone in the 50s and 40s was a dumb yokel, impossibly naive, innocent in the way of animals. Even their crimes are ham-fisted, say you have to stop a 1950s serial killer, you already know everything the killer doesn’t, he is evil but like an evil child, you are the grown up who knows everything. This also applies to things set far into the future where they talk about things like “once we had books” or “once we had trees” and you feel very wise because you have books and trees. I saw a great tweet the other day (which sadly I can’t find any more because the site is crap and I didn’t save it and Google isn’t throwing it up) which said, “We can never time travel back to World War I because we’ll keep calling it World War One.”
Of course, Gen Z simultaneously thinks we’re old and also worries that they’re old because Gen Alpha (kids born post 2011—HOW ARE THEY OLD ENOUGH TO MATTER ARGH) has references that they don’t understand. Meanwhile I’m walking around seeing kids wearing LITERALLY EXACTLY what I used to wear in my teens: tight tank tops, baggy jeans, straightened hair, Avril Lavigne eye makeup. I walk into a thrift store and somehow Y2K fashion is vintage??? We gave our friend a bag from our favourite local vintage store and the guy said it was from the 90s, which is also, apparently “vintage” these days. I’m old enough to own clothes that I bought new once and for them to have become vintage. I’m old enough that I still type out texts and messages with one forefinger, the other hand cupping my phone as a stand, instead of holding it up in front of me and using both my thumbs. (Sometimes I do this as well, but it feels… counterintuitive.) I was showing our cat-sitter how the TV works, and I suddenly realised she may not know how a non-smart TV turns on to use the HDMI cable. (She didn’t. I had to walk her through the “source” button and other such sundries.) I’m okay with this—I’m an elderly millennial after all, I’m ready for the whippersnappers to take over and do all the shit we used to do in our twenties. I’m not ready to be obsolete, but luckily I haven’t come into contact with any condescending twenty somethings yet. My friends who work in hiring positions often bitch and moan about Gen Z’s lack of professional ethics and it makes me laugh a little because I’m sure Gen X and the Boomers bitched and moaned about us. (Okay, not Gen X, you’re a lost generation, I feel for you.) It’s also nice to see more and more young women in Delhi wearing exactly what they want, but a little gratitude for the path we laid before you came along would be nice, y’know? (She says like an ancient feminist. Remember your foremothers!)
Remember when we were the youngest and the coolest people on the planet? Me neither.
Anyway. What was I talking about? Oh yes, thinking we know more than the generations preceding us. I think in my case it’s purely a technology thing. Because I am better at the internet than my parents, I believe it gives me keys to the modern world and so on. And I get afraid that without these keys they’ll get lost.
Berlin now has so many Indians, I think in 2022 alone, 17,000 Indians moved to the German capital. It’s such a radical rise in numbers that even in the two years I’ve been here, this year has felt fuller. And with young Indians moving here, their parents coming to visit them aren’t far behind. All summer I’ve been watching couples or single people shepherding around a set of parents (but usually just one parent, maybe more people move here whose parents are separated or maybe the parents take turns?). Usually, if there’s two grandparents, there’s also a small child, focus of the group, in his large buggy, the foreign grandchild drawing everyone together. Unlike the United States, however, you are not automatically considered German just because you were born here. One or both of your parents either has to have been living here for eight years or be a German citizen. So the babies are (probably) just as Indian as I am, their first years just look different from mine. (I looked this up because I started thinking of my American cousins, who were born in the US, but whose parents still have Indian citizenship. Truly Global Grandchildren.)
Of course, we have no children, so my mother’s visit here has looked different from childcare and watching the generations move on and so forth. She wants to see everything, so we have trotted from biergartens to museums, guided tours to walks of our neighbourhood. We sat by the side of a canal and people watched and we went shopping to a mall and had a cup of coffee and a slice of strawberry cake on top of an old East German department store. We took the regional train with a friend down to her friend’s datcha and we swam in a lake. The end of summer golden days lasted till the end of last week and we made the most of them.
My mum is still here for another two weeks, and now she’s confident about going out on her own, plus it seems like Summer Lethargy has given way to Autumn Organisation because suddenly I have plans to make, people to meet and so on. It was nice that she got to see both sides of my life—the easygoing and the slightly more scheduled—always nice when people we love are able to enter our worlds.
It’s hard to get into a new book when you’re still championing your last, but Soft Animal must now make its own fate. When I return to India in January or similar of next year, I’ll do some readings, some signings (maybe some festivals) and essentially, what I can to spread the word, but it’s not in my hands any more. The book is in the world, you hope it’ll find readers, but there’s only so much I can do. (The reviews have either been wonderful or baffling, I’m still thinking about one random one that said the critic didn’t like the book because it wasn’t about a dog rescuing a woman. Um…) (Here is a very nice one in The Hindu and another in Scroll and a third in The New Indian Express.) I’m organising a little Berlin book event soon, so if you’re in the city around the end of September, let me know and I’ll send you details as soon as I have them.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to buy a copy, a reminder that the book is available online and if it’s not at your favourite local bookstore, you just have to ask them to order a copy for you.
Which reminds me: the poll results were not super encouraging to starting a subscription tier for this project but I don’t know, I have such good ideas! I might try it anyhow (or some version of it) and you guys that voted yes can enjoy that bit and the rest of you can also enjoy the free letters that I’ll send out every now and then. Win-win! I appreciate all of your support over the years and I’m really glad you’ve stuck this out with me.
Currently reading: The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood, another series about unlikely friends and a little old lady solving murders and crossword puzzles. I love the aged detective (see: Miss Marple) but must we be so precious about it? Treat old people like people and not like dogs you’ve dressed up in coats and hats and now you can’t stop pointing it out: look! it’s a dog! in a coat and a hat!
A Flicker In The Dark by Stacy Willingham which was absorbing enough, but whose twist I guessed about a quarter of the way through and I only kept reading to see if I was correct. I think I’ve read too many murder mysteries, I’m guessing everything.
Currently watching: Our public library has an online streaming app called Filmfriend which has a bunch of movies all arranged in curated collections, many of which are in English or with English subtitles so we’re having regular movie nights at home. Outside home we finally watched Tar, which was incredible.
B-LINK AND YOU’LL MISS IT! (No, not a great pun, but still here are some good stories I read online)
Naomi Klein is tired of people thinking she’s Naomi Wolf.
The trauma of publishing a novel.
The battle between diners and restaurants. (very US-centric, but an interesting read.)
The dangers of Substack for the chronically low self esteemed.
On the difficulty of getting rid of books.
Inside the hidden world of cockroaches.
Have a great 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.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)
Forward to your friends if you liked this and to condescending people of any generation if you didn’t.
Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.