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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15 August 2023

The Internet Personified: Missing

Dearest Mighty Microorganisms,

I left Berlin a few weeks ago around the same time the girl went missing. She had been gone for 48 hours, her friends said, it was very unlike her, especially since she had left her apartment unlocked and her belongings inside. This was on a Facebook group I’d joined but never participated in. The only reason I’m still on Facebook any more is the groups, I belong to so many, and as Twitter and Instagram get more and more boring, the only source of internet drama I have is Facebook Groups, people generally tend to mock and berate more than they help. A recent example:

“Hey, can anyone give me a ride to the airport, I have four bags?”

Followed by: “why can’t you take a taxi?”

“Take the airport train, I’ve done it loads of times carrying my entire house with me.”

And so on. It seems that the lure of FB groups is if you can’t answer a question with yes or no, you must offer unsolicited advice.

So, the missing girl’s poster was posted on the group with a plea from her friend, “We’re worried about her!” the friend said. You see missing posters all over the city, mostly for dogs and cats but sometimes people. It’s surprisingly easy to vanish in this city, especially if you’re young and not used to having complete and absolute freedom with a thriving club subculture and drugs and alcohol available freely. It’s so easy to slip between the cracks. That’s what most people come to the city for—to party their nights away, to stand in line for Berghain and go to fetish clubs and hook up and dance to dirty techno and postpone sleep forever until you haven’t sat down since Friday evening and it’s early Monday morning now, the bored employees are ushering you out and cleaning up around you. A friend visiting told us about how early in the morning he and a few straggling clubbers all spied one sofa placed outside this club for people to rest before they left, and they all clocked it at the same time and each made a rush for it, but they were so shattered after their revelry that they could only move in slow motion, and someone else made it there first.

And so said the comments on the Facebook post. “She’s probably just out partying,” said many people dismissively, “She forgot her phone at home and won’t make contact with you until Wednesday when the drugs wear off.” People on the internet assume they know a lot more about the situation than you do, but friends, if I ever go missing in Berlin over the weekend, please do not assume I am at a club and will emerge on Wednesday, chastened and tired.

We took our flight to Turkey that week, it was Thursday, the girl had been missing for close to a week. By now, the family flew over, the girl was an immigrant (or an expat? She came from a poorer country but as a Very Aggressive Mansplainer told me recently (re: myself) if you have the privilege to come abroad, and—what were his words?— “not work at a job like cooking at an Indian restaurant” then you’re by default an expat. I know. I tried. And then I got mad, and then I left) and the Embassy put out a plea (which of course didn’t play out well in the Facebook groups, because all the other people from the girl’s home country living here said, “Oh now the embassy is active.”)

Turkey is slightly screwed. Cost of living has risen so much that the price of bread changes every day (source: a friend of a friend, but also have a look at this and this.) We were flying into Izmir, from where we would spend the weekend at a nearby beach before joining friends in Istanbul for a landmark birthday celebration. On the way to the hotel, in Izmir’s centre, we asked directions from a woman who stopped to smoke a cigarette and one of the first sentences out of her mouth was, “Turkey is so fucked.” She was Turkish herself, holidaying in Izmir for a few days with a friend. There were local tourists everywhere, rich local tourists, plenty of lip fillers and boob jobs, but underneath it all, an almost uneasy acceptance of the fluctuating prices. And those people spoke Turkish. For me and K, it was fill-in-the-blanks as the menus so often didn’t have a listed price. They looked at our faces and made up a figure and we only learned not to order and then ask after a few times of this. But who wants to spend their holiday anxiously enquiring how much everything costs—even people a little budget-strapped like us? No, it took away some of the magic of being in Alaçati, which is a gorgeous town with deep, deep blue seas and the most litter I’ve ever seen on any beach, including Baga. One section has the old town, showing Grecian influences, all winding roads and uphill, full of bars and people walking back and forth. (What did I eat in this idyllic place? Chicken wings, if you can believe it. Have been craving wings in Buffalo sauce, and you can’t get them here in Berlin—well, maybe you can, but it would be a hunt, and I feel silly hunting for something so basic—and there was one “American style” bar so I tried my luck and wow, did the wait pay off.) Where we were staying was a hop and a skip from the crowded little beach so we didn’t even bother to take a towel or anything, just ran from the hotel to the sand in our shorts and t-shirts with bathing suits underneath. Close by, there were huge bungalows, gated and apparently empty except for one which was where the owners were having a small party, sitting on the patio and watching all of us plebs go by. The vibes were very much Real Housewives of Istanbul on one of their mandated “holidays,” the cats were strays but the little dogs stayed on their leashes and close to their owner’s augmented faces.

In Istanbul, we stayed on the side of a hill. It went up and up ending in a tower before going downhill again. You understood that if you walked downhill at all, you’d have to walk up again. It was raging heat, our clothes stuck to us like skin. After a day of this, we had to spend another just sitting in the hotel room, decompressing while the AC blew at us. In Berlin, it felt like summer was ending. Long spells of rain made the temperatures plummet, it was cold enough for jackets and tights, put away optimistically till October, now yanked out of cupboards and drawers again. The girl’s family organised a sit-in, they wanted answers. No one said she might still be partying. A woman was raped in a park beloved of both local residents and weed dealers. Her boyfriend was assaulted and made to watch. The culprits were immigrants—not expats—and so the centre-right government took it up as a battle cry. Just a few weeks ago, we’d all been laughing about the news about a wild lionness running loose in the suburbs. We thought it was so funny that someone took a video of an animal and just assumed it was a lion. We rooted for the lion, may they never find her we said.

The lion turned out to be a wild boar. The rape meant the police could close the gates of the park after ten pm. Police here are armed, guns on the side of their hips, so young, overwhelmingly so white. They often look bored when I see them, standing against barriers for protest marches, cruising lazily in their cars. Across the road from our flat is a falafel place, the police car on duty often stops for dinner. It’s hard not to be distracted by their bullet proof vests, how they never seem to laugh or smile.

In Istanbul, our group was ten people, which meant a lot of coordinating meals and meeting spots. I’d never been on a group holiday except with family, and I was surprised at how friendly everyone was, how even on hot angry days, there was no drama. Our family holidays are full of drama, and I equated that with travelling in a large group. Turns out it’s just family. K and I were on a tighter budget than the rest, and also we’d just been to Istanbul for a few weeks the year before, so we splintered off, did our own thing during the day and joined everyone else in the evening. One day, all ten of us made our way to a small island off the city, connected by ferry. That was glorious, but it was sad for me because I left behind my beloved beach cover-up that K bought me from a second hand shop in Poland several years ago, and also a sun visor I’d just bought in Alaçati. It had a black straw brim with daisies embroidered on it. I know you shouldn’t get so attached to things, but I was very sad anyway when I discovered their loss. I’m trying to be zen about my stuff, but I grow so fond of them that it’s like losing a friend even when I drop a coffee cup by accident. They feel like a symbol, like if I’ve lost my things then I’m losing control of everything. Maybe I need even more therapy. Maybe it’s growing up without siblings. I really liked that cover up, it was stylish, light and dried very fast.

On the ferry, on the way back to the mainland as I was mourning my things, a Greek student who struck up conversation with us, asked K, quite out of the blue, “Do you like Hitler?” That made us laugh. K said, “Do you?” and he replied, “No, but my mother does.” Those family holidays must be full of tension. K says when most people talk to him about Germany they mention the Autobahn, Oktoberfest and usually, Hitler comes up. It’s mostly Indian Uncles who do this, so we were both surprised to get it from a Greek student.

Berlin is still really safe. No one else is jumpy, women even leave their headphones on as they walk home alone in the middle of the night. I’m jumpy, but I have Delhi PTSD, I tell people. I cross the road when I see groups of men standing around. I take my key out two blocks before I come back to our street. There’s this one bridge, a beautiful one, which is a shortcut between our neighbourhood and another, and once meeting friends for dinner, I crossed underneath it, rushing along, gripping my bag and a man jumped out at me from behind a pillar and all he said was, “Are you okay?” but I think I screamed a little and I scampered as fast as I could go. My heart was still beating hard when I sat down. The friends we were meeting looked bemused but I laughed and said it was my cardio exercise for the day. I still call it the Scary Bridge, which is terrible because it’s one of the prettiest spots close by. You should also know about me that I’m a dreamy walker, very much not aware of my surroundings, very much drifting along from lane to lane. Many times I’ve almost stepped into the path of a bike or oncoming e-scooter. K has to steer me away from more purposeful walkers coming behind me. I love walking, I love thinking when I walk, and looking at all the little things—a backyard of wild flowers, someone’s dropped earring, interesting stickers, sparrows eating leftover bread off a table—lalala just strolling along, looking up at the sky occasionally. Now I’ve been here close to two years, some routes have become automatic, so I don’t even have to look at my maps. It means I startle very easily though, because I’m so in my own head, that my reaction time has to be immediate and animalistic

The day before we were flying back home, the police found the girl in a canal near her home. She may have jumped in voluntarily. There’s not much more information. One article quotes the mother as saying, “She was very homesick.” She was very young. It must be hard to be young on your own so far away. So many of my friends left India to study abroad after school, it must have been hard for them as well. And I stayed and stayed, until the end of my thirties, and still, it was an adjustment. I wouldn’t give up this life for the one I left behind but I do miss certain luxuries of living in a country of which you are a native citizen. Even though I’m taking up space here, I’m carving my own little hole in which I sit, it’ll always be about learning. Learning is great—how do you stay alive if you’re stagnant—but coming home from an exhausting trip and having to speak a foreign language you’re not very good at as soon as you land? It’s a process.

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With the new Made In Heaven out, a really good time to re-up my newsletter about season one.

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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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