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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18 January 2023

The Internet Personified: Cooking, driving and early noughties feminism

Beloved bendy straws,

I am SO COLD that it’s surprising I’m able to type at all. In Delhi, we’ve had what the newspapers have described excitedly as a “cold wave” only a “wave” implies a sudden dropping of temperature and I haven’t really noticed it rising. It’s a bit better than it was week before last, where I was wearing two pairs of socks inside the house. Now I’m down to one pair—toes still cold—but wearing a massive amount of layers on top. No one looks sexy in Delhi’s winter, but I look like the Michelin Man. I went to a house party this weekend, and the guests were divided into those that made an effort (my friend, the host, looked particularly sexy and I guess she’s immune to the cold because there was not a single piece of Heattech on her. Not even a jacket!) and those who stayed properly bundled up the entire evening. Ugh, I hate winter, as soon as my birthday is over I’m ready for it to be summer again. Compensating by eating my body weight in snacks so I’m truly a Michelin Man, inside and out.

My timing is also not great, because Delhi gets warmer next week and off I go, back to Berlin, to plunge into their cold wave, a thrilling MINUS FIVE. More fattening snacks for me! This is me putting a ring on Berlin, so I’m not expecting my honeymoon period to last forever, however, I’m pretty excited about returning. The cats, after one startled look at K, have resumed their winter cuddles as though no time had passed at all. He suspects they did forget about us when we left, and as soon as they smelt him, they said, “Oh yeahhhh, this guy” and the love fest begun.

I sent him back with one stainless steel masala dabba and one works-on-electric-stoves tadka pan so my Indian-in-Germany kitchen is coming together nicely. I keep thinking about my kitchen—I got so into cooking the last year or so that it’s really nice to have all this equipment and all these spices (for Indian cooking, I bring most from home like a good desi housewife) and this year I’m expanding to get better at “conti” stuff, mainly Italian and French (inspired by the TV show Julia, I’ve decided to also do a little Julia Child stuff in the kitchen), and our stint in Bangkok has made me very curious about cooking Thai food as well. (Ingredients a little hard to find, but there’s this large Asian market not far from us).

Back when I first started living alone, say age 21-22-ish? I had just found a job with a city tabloid which paid me the grand sum of Rs 7,500, and I had been itching to leave home and set up on my own anyway, so I decided this financial independence was the sign I needed. No matter that my new job’s office was closer to my mum’s flat in East Delhi than the tiny railway compartment style flat I shared with two others in Malviya Nagar, I was still going to strike out on my own! (Until I realised after I paid for rent and fuel, I was basically left with zero money and reluctantly returned to the parental home until I got a new job and a dramatic 50% raise and a flat close to the office in a most definitely illegal construction fourth floor walk-up that swayed whenever anything heavier than a scooter drove past.) Anyway, this was the time where our feminism made us declare proudly that we couldn’t cook. “Can’t even boil water,” we’d say, smugly, looking over at other women who cooked with a certain amount of patronage. We were meant for grander things than the kitchen! We would never need to learn how to chop an onion or, god forbid, roll out a roti because our lot was Higher Things. I remember the first week we moved in, we didn’t have any way to boil water so I made instant coffee with the water from the geyser, god, it was awful and probably not very hygienic either. What did it matter, we hired a cook, who deep fried everything and it all looked so unappetising that we ate out most days, but I was always never very house proud, so I poked at unappetising meals after unappetising meals, from Delhi to Bombay, and thought this was just my lot. I didn’t know what was wrong with the food, just that I didn’t like it. Only once, several years later, I stumbled by pure chance upon an excellent cook in Bombay who happened to be looking for a new job and her meals were just elevated. I still had no words of instruction to give her, but she made everything really well. (She ruined me for future bad cooks who were delighted by my lack of agency, but also, now I knew it could be done in my kitchen on my budget, I started to take a little more of an interest in how to make things the way I liked.)

This painting (Young Woman Drawing) was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1922. In 1977, they FINALLY took a male artist’s name off it. The true artist (Marie Denise Villers) was only attributed in 1996.

It was a wonky sort of feminism, my first book You Are Here, contains a recipe of the kind I’d make in those days, “potato pickle surprise” which was just fried potato with a green chilli pickle garnish. I described Arshi’s roommate Topsy’s cocktails in far more detail, because we took pride in our drinks—see, post-feminism, women drinking like men!—but I skipped over the food. In my newest book, Soft Animal, I’ve flipped that, now my protagonist Mallika is frequently to be found in the kitchen, finding some sort of order in her days through cooking, because she doesn’t have much else. People took you less seriously as an author if you wore nice clothes or lipstick, for the longest time, you attempted to dress down for book events so everyone wouldn’t talk to you like you were a complete idiot. Well… some people dressed down, and I dressed up and grumbled that I had just as much right to be taken seriously as everyone else, and probably paid the price for my clothes because they patronised the hell out of me, but who cares, right? I’m forty one and I’m still here, many books later.

Cooking took a while longer to reach me as a feminist act. I was rejecting it because I didn’t want to be like the generation of women before me who seemed to learn how to cook whether they wanted to or not, it was just one of their skills. Even my mother who was a journalist at the time cooked a lot for a working woman. A lot of us wanted to be free and easy, like, well, like the men, never lifting a finger, never learning to do anything. And then things like Masterchef Australia started airing and people started getting snobby about food and suddenly everyone was a home chef and talking about their ingredients and their ovens and their knives, and women of my generation who had always cooked, always enjoyed cooking, were raising an eyebrow at all this but the rest of us just jumped into it. And it was fun. (How privileged can you get, right? Only dabbling in the kitchen as a hobby while your cook did all the scud work?) Of course, it is an essential life skill—feeding yourself, but you can do that with toast and eggs just as well. You don’t need to be a cook-cook. But what I learned consequently over these past few years is how creative it is, how soothing. I work from home, I work in my pajamas, I’m not much of a cleaner-upper unless the place is truly a mess and it takes a while to get there, so what adds order to my days? Cooking. I may not get pages done that day or go out for a walk, but I can make something out of raw ingredients, something appetising and interesting. Sometimes I wonder: is this turning back into being the kind of woman I rejected? Am I, in the end, as fond of nourishing others as my ancestors were before me? No one likes to admit they’re getting older, and I think this is an age thing for me, not a feminism thing. I need to eat, I’m a picky eater, I cook well, I cook our meals. (K does most—if not all—of the cleaning. I feel like I’ve gotten the better part of the bargain so I’m actively trying to get less lazy about vacuuming and so on.)

Which reminds me, please send recs for cookbooks you personally use and love. [Nothing with a zillion ingredients each of which I will only use once, thank you, which is why most of Ottam (I’ve forgotten how to spell his name and I’m too lazy to look it up) is out.]

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I’m in the process of selling my car. It’s only the second car I’ve ever owned, and the first I could afford to buy myself. Over the years, my friends got fancy new models, but I was always somewhat attached to my little white Alto—especially because a) I never drove much anyway and b) it was really easy to park, being so small, I could squeeze into any space.

I gave up driving some time ago, a crippling phobia suddenly overtook me. It’s surprising to even describe, it snuck up on me. One day I was driving over a flyover and traffic stood still and I couldn’t stop imagining all of us collapsing to our deaths, because the bridge could surely not hold all our weight. This fear mixed with another one I had, what if someone knocked into my car as I was driving and shot me off the edge? So I had to avoid flyovers. After that it became slopes: what if my car slid slowly backward and I hit the car behind me? After that, highways. Once again, what if a truck just sort of drifted off its lane and squeezed my car, smashing us both into a pulp? I couldn’t—can’t, still—differentiate the what-ifs my brain was coming up with from actual fact, I just started feeling like every time I was behind the wheel of my car, I was going to die horrifically and painfully. My palms would sweat, my heart would start racing, I spent the entire drive gripping the steering wheel. It wasn’t pleasant, and so I started avoiding driving more and more. If K and I weren’t going together somewhere (he usually drove us), I’d take a taxi, it was so easy. I tried to fix it with mindfulness meditation, and affirmation stuff when I was driving (“you are a calm and comfident [sic] driver,” said the English accent to me, soothingly.) But it never did get fixed, so in a calm and comfident way, I declared that I was just giving it up. Fuck driving. There are many other ways to get around.

But we hung on to the car, we thought my mother might like the use of it, but getting someone to drive her around was more hassle than just getting into an auto, so after much procrastination, I finally got around to selling it. I tried the first of two websites that pop up when you search “sell car in Delhi” and when their home inspection guy didn’t turn up twice I’ve called a second, who should be here soon, but I’ve learned from experience these car website people are notorious flakes. It doesn’t really matter because when I called a mechanic in to replace the battery—dead from not having being used for six months—he offered to buy it himself. Turns out a single owner driven car with less than 30,000 kilometres on the thingie is a valuable asset. Good thing I didn’t drive it much, I’m hoping to now get back most of what I spent on it, minus 50,000, which is great value for a car that is 10 years old.

Thinking of my car and driving, made me think of the song Short Skirt/Long Jacket by Cake, which I used to listen to ALL. THE. TIME. Somehow, my early noughties feminism got tied up with this song—which if you know it is about a man singing about the only kind of woman he wants, an independent one.

I want a girl with the right allocations
Who is fast, and thorough, and sharp as a tack
She's playing with her jewelry
She's putting up her hair
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket

Early noughties feminism was very much about “not being like other girls.” You didn’t believe in a sisterhood, you believed that you alone, out of all the rest of your gender, were this perfect unique little specimen who deserved to sit with the men.

This is a painting by Leonor Fini (1907-1996) who was openly bisexual and polyamorous. From her Wikipedia page: “In an attempt to subvert the roles imposed by society, she abandoned representations of fragile, innocent or fatal women in favor of goddesses inspired by Greek mythology. She applied herself to painting female figures who could not be categorized, judged or morally or sexually defined.”

She wants a car (hey) with a cup holder armrest (ho)
She wants a car (hey) that will get her there (ho)
She's changing her name (hey)
From Kitty to Karen (ho)
She's trading her MG (hey) for a white Chrysler LeBaron
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long, jacket

I blasted this song while I was driving. I too wanted a car that would get me there.So what if I was in “soft” or “lifestyle” journalism, so what if ignorant critics called me a “chick lit” writer? I knew who I wanted to be as I wobbled around in my high heels, flicking my straightened hair out of my face or just tying it back in a tight bun, neat and precise with none of the untamed danger that curly hair implies. I wanted to be that girl—girl! he never says woman!—with a short skirt and a long jacket.

There are many things to criticise still about 2023 feminism (let’s start with how it’s still not as inclusive as we’d like, how powerful men are still getting away with shit despite all the hand wringing about woke mobs and cancel culture) but at least, at least we have grown from where we were and are able to acknowledge our internalised misogyny and see how it was perhaps a little fucked up.

Meanwhile, I opened my car the other day for the first time in ages and I smelt, underneath the musty odour of a car that’s been closed too long, just a whiff of my old life. It almost made my eyes misty. Saying goodbye is hard and new beginnings are never easy, but you know I’m stepping into it with flat shoes, a flowy dress and my hair standing up like a lion’s mane around my face, which is a much more comfortable way to be than a short skirt and a long jacket, if you ask me.

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Currently reading:

I’m book-hopping in my re-reads so I’ve got Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend (just the most perfect hilarious series) and Doctors by Erich Segal (who I had completely forgotten about but then K was supposed to take a trip to Tel Aviv and I suddenly started remembering Acts of Faith, which I then re-read and now I’m on Doctors and I will probably read his entire oeuvre, which is cheesy but expansive. Doctors is the medical deep-dive, Acts of Faith is the religion one, The Class is academia, Prizes is science. All meticulously researched pot boilers, but I don’t need to tell you, you probably also read all his stuff in your teens along with Sidney Sheldon.) I also re-read all of James Herriot, having watched the latest series of All Creatures Great And Small. Then I’m also re-reading with intention A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine because it is my book club pick for this month and I’m meeting them for a discussion on Friday.

Plus a new to me book: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which I came across browsing the Booker Prize website, a useful place to check out every single book that’s ever been longlisted. I like books about long walks, perhaps because even though I’m a fairly sedentary person, a long walk seems like a thing I can do, much like Harold.


Currently watching:

My mum and I are watching all of Ted Lasso, which I had abandoned after four episodes, and now have gotten back into. It’s a nice palate cleanser after Trial By Fire which was just DARK but also really good.

Side-by-side I’m watching Southland which is this excellent cop drama shot like a documentary and well, ok, Friends. What? It’s cold and I need mental cuddles.

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My mid-January link recommendations!

Speaking of cooking, here’s what the new show Julia (which, for the record, I enjoyed) gets wrong about Julia Child’s extraordinary editor Judith Jones.

How the YA dystopia fad ended.

Firstly, Margaret Atwood has a Substack. Secondly, she sometimes writes about chickens she has known.

Have not seen Fleishman Is In Trouble, but you don’t have to see it to enjoy this piece about the feminism of it.

Trying not to touch plastic for an entire day is HARD.

What 30 years of having pets have taught me about life.

Have a great week! I will probably write you next from my Berlin life.

xx

m

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 women who STILL say, “I’m not like other girls” if you didn’t.

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27 December 2022

The Internet Personified: The Best Books I Read In 2022

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My spicy little pad thais,

I always hate best books lists that come out early on in December or even November because it’s as good as saying you won’t be reading any more for the rest of the year. I try to put my own list off as long as I can, because I am always filled with FOMO. What if, I think, what if the book I read on December 23rd is absolutely the best book I’ve read all year? This year, I went to a second hand bookstore only two days ago and bought a huge pile of books which I am making my way through. This year, I started Crime and Punishment only last week. I have a lot of reading left to do, but now, on the 27th, I realise that I probably won’t finish any of these by the end of the week and so, here we are.

All graphics from Storygraph which I use instead of Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading

I had a shorter reading goal this year than normal. I pledged to read 100 books—normally I pick 150 or 120 or whatever, but this year I’ve been so busy—we counted and we’ve been in seven different countries in 2022 thanks to my visa problems. I’m delighted to announce that that is a thing of the past. Yes, friends, one and a half years, many many emails to the German embassy and many many hours of agonising about my uncertain future later, my visa has finally been approved! This means your girl is going to be a full time Berlin resident come February (the passport might take as long as a month to be stamped, they warned me). And not a moment too soon, because I see rumblings about a new COVID wave that’s happening, so please be careful, and hopefully we won’t have to have another full on lockdown. (In Thailand, masks are no longer mandatory, but the locals wear them all the time, even outdoors, so actually we’re pretty safe—and also following suit, to fit in.)

I love fat big books that you can just keep reading endlessly. This is why I mostly read on my Kindle.

Although seven countries was fun. I’ll sort of miss my vagabond life, but I’m so ready to start nesting.

The nice thing about travelling is that you get to read a lot. The bad thing is that you get absolutely no writing done, unless you have tremendous will power, which we all know I don’t. Still, these five weeks in Bangkok have been ideal for my book which is chugging along nicely, and I managed to read 106 new books (I don’t count re-reads unless I’ve completely forgotten the book, I’m always re-reading the same thing over and over.) This is also the year I discovered libraries, proper libraries, and while Berlin’s libraries don’t have a large English language collection, they do have variety. Plus, you’re a member of all of them at the same time, so you can borrow books from whichever branch you like. When I think about Berlin, I think most about the libraries, nothing else, maybe occasionally walking down an empty cobblestoned road with the trees high and green above my head.

As you can see, I’m a middle of the road rater. I very rarely give books 4.5 stars or 2.25 stars. I’m fondest of 3 stars, which I interpret as “nice but not outstanding.” The books I’ve picked on this list all come from my 4.5-5 star section.

Of these one hundred and six books though, when I made my list today, I could only come up with thirteen that I would absolutely recommend to you. I do mini-recommendations all year on my bookish Instagram page, but this is a best books list, not a decent-reads-you-might-enjoy list, and so, here we are. As always, these are the best books I’ve read this year, but published any year.

I needed soothing books all year, and there’s nothing like crime fiction for that.

Wherever possible, I’ve tried to link to an independent bookstore (Midlands and Champaca) where you can order online no matter where you are, but sometimes it has to be Amazon, alas.

I would have thought I’d have the biggest spike over the summer heatwave I spent in Delhi but it turns out I was a very negligent hostess and read the most when friends were visiting.

The most exciting book I read all year:

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski: I wish I’d saved this for Thailand, but I didn’t know, way back in March that I would be in Thailand this winter, so the timing was slightly unfortunate. Then again, I did read this in a fancy Istanbul hotel where we were sadly quarantining with COVID, so I had plenty of time to devote to it between poking sticks into my nose and waiting hopefully for the results. The book is a solid romp, a journalist goes to Thailand hoping to uncover the story of an anthropologist who was jailed and later committed suicide. Along the way, there’s the heavy involvement of a missionary church. It doesn’t sound exciting written down, but trust me, by the end of it, you’ll be like, “Ooh how can I be an anthropologist too?”

The best novel about the psychology of crime:

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine: I don’t mean a psychological crime novel here, those are quite different. This was the year I discovered Ruth Rendell and promptly decided to read as much of her backlist as I could. I love here because she talks about why people do crimes instead of just the puzzle. It’s what I wanted to do as well, so she served as inspiration in a sense. This book begins with the murderer dying and then goes back in time, unravelling a story. A why-dunnit instead of a who-dunnit. So beautifully written, a story about family and sisters and parenthood.

The best graphic novel I’ve read in a long time, let alone 2022:

Berlin by Jason Lutes: A massive book, twenty years in the making, which spans the history of the city from the very beginning of the fall of the Weimar Republic till the start of the rise of the Nazis. Large panels, so much happening in each section that you can’t take in all of it at one go so your eyes go all over the page, like a child reading a picture book. Berlin was dense, full of various random characters inhabiting the city, and beautiful. I borrowed this from the public library, which made me very happy, because I had been planning on buying it in Delhi and lugging it back to Germany with me and the thing weighs like a zillion kilos. I see there’s a nice Kindle version so treat yourself.

The best romance novel that ended up as a treatise on working women in the 50s:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: I read a lot of “trendy” books this year, by which I mean books everyone was talking about, and for the most part I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were, which makes me sound like the most appalling snob, but really, every year people dangle books in front of one and are like, “This is the greatest thing since the Iliad!” or whatever and they never are. I realised tempering my expectations was key, like they were a giant cast iron pan. I liked this more than I expected to, and that sounds like faint praise, but it was just sweet. It starts out romantic, very smart woman and very smart man fall in love and get a dog, and then the man dies, so that’s sad, but the woman has to now bring up their child alone, and then she (the woman that is) gets a job teaching cooking at a local TV studio, except she’s teaching it in a chemistry-oriented way. It was fun! And charming! Sometimes you need fun and charming. The dog character was great too.

The best soft character-oriented books about people’s long lives:

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout and French Braid by Anne Tyler: This is one of my absolute favourite genres, and I find Americans do it so well. I think it’s the idea of clannishness and family in small towns. Elizabeth Strout and Anne Tyler are experts in this regard, and if I like Tyler a little more than Elizabeth, it’s probably because I’ve read more of her (since she’s published more books.) French Braid is excellent, a long family saga in vignettes, chapters set over the years. Anything Is Possible is a continuation of Strout’s Lucy Barton series, and as always, you don’t need to read one book to get fully into the next. Stories of different people who live in a small town in Maine and how their lives intersect.

The best book about a very specific sports topic:

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis: I haven’t seen the TV show! And when I posted this on my Instagram, everyone said I must, so that is a treat for another time. But the novel the show is based on: young genius orphan girl is heavily into chess and becomes a world champion was so exciting, I couldn’t stop reading, and I don’t even like chess. Then too, it’s a short novel, so perfect for your next weekend break or flight.

The best cosy crime slash epistolary novel:

The Appeal by Janice Hallet: This book tickled two of my reading soft spots: it’s done entirely in notes and emails and, and it’s all against the background of an amateur theatre group. Having been in many amateur groups myself, I’ve always thought they were a great place to observe human intrigue, and see, here I am proven right. Then too, it was funny and mysterious, with a twist you won’t see coming.

The best fantasy novel:

Fairy Tale by Stephen King: King is usually horror and creepy don’t-read-in-the-dark books, but this one is both a deviation and a delight. It’s about a young boy who discovers through his neighbour, a portal into a fairy tale world, which of course, he enters, and where he, of course, has to battle many strange things and come out a hero in the end. It’s still creepy, but fairy tales tend to be creepy, unless they’re Disney versions. I especially liked finding references to all sorts of Grimms’ tales I had forgotten.

The best book about friendship:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: This made a LOT of best books lists so you’ll forgive me for squeezing it into mine as well. I didn’t think I’d like it, because it’s about two gamers, and I’m not really much for video games, but much like Fieldwork made me think, “Ooh anthropology!” and The Queen’s Gambit made me think, “Ooh, chess!” this sent me down the “Ooh, video games!” rabbithole as well. But mostly it’s about love and friendship, two very real people and their very real relationship with all its ups and downs. The relationships are real, is what I’m trying to tell you, not just a nice friendship lalala over the years but it felt true and authentic, the fights, the bitching, the resentment and love too, lots of love or it wouldn’t have endured. You’ll find yourself thinking a lot about your own friends after you read this.

The best book about Indian crime:

Villainy by Upamanyu Chatterjee: I confess, I haven’t read as many Indian authors this year as I would have liked to, and I do like to. But Upamanyu Chatterjee has always been a favourite, I’m forever recommending English, August to other people who want to know “what Indian books to read.” I didn’t like his ones in the middle so much, but this one returned him true to form. The crime of it all is a bit hand-wavy, but I liked the people very much, all the various characters coming through so clearly, like I had met them all. I liked the police procedural aspect as well (something I’m working on in my own new novel) and generally enjoyed the Rich Delhi/class wars flavours of the whole thing. (Just before I left Delhi, my friend Nilanjana Roy released Black River, her crime novel, so that’s something to look forward to as well.)

The best book about small scale politics:

Search by Michelle Huneven: Again, a subject I didn’t know very much about: church committees! Dana, the narrator, is also a food writer and is hunting for the subject of her next book. At the same time, she’s elected to join a church committee to hunt for a replacement for the minister. There’s a whole lot of Boomer vs Gen Z energy (Dana is in her 50s), plus the every day fights and quibbles of people who suddenly have a small amount of power. I tore through it, it was so good. And so unusual.

The best collection of essays:

May You Be The Mother of A Hundred Sons by Elizabeth Bumiller: I did not read a lot of non-fiction this year, but whatever I did tended to be memoir. This very old collection of essays is about women in India, whether they’re rich in Delhi or Bollywood stars or health workers or women in the village, Elizabeth Bumiller went everywhere and talked to everyone to get some sort of an idea about what it means to be a woman in India. It was published in 1991 so it’s been a while, but sadly, a lot of it still holds true.

And that’s my list! Your turn, what were the best books you read this year off the top of your head?

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If you liked this newsletter—a true labour of love!—then please buy me a book so I can go on reading and telling you what to read as well.

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Books I’m currently reading:

Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me which is the true story of how the writer was besties of a sort with serial killer Ted Bundy.

John Irving’s A Son Of The Circus which is the only book of his to be set in Bombay. I’ve read a lot of his books and actually owned this in hardback for a while and never read it, but then came across it at this second hand bookstore in Bangkok and it felt like the right time. It’s very good. Potboiler-y.

Crime and Punishment which will probably take me a while to finish, so it’s just going to go with me wherever I go.

Gone by Mo Hayder which is described as both “lacerating” and “stomach churning” in the blurbs.

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A wrap on the 2022 season of The Internet Personified! Have a great New Year’s Eve, however you celebrate (leaning towards staying in with a movie this year, too much excitement already) and I will see you in 2023.

Thank you for reading The Internet: Personified . This post is public so feel free to share it.

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xx

m

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 that book you’re really never going to finish why pretend if you didn’t.

Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.

15 December 2022

The Internet Personified: The view from forty one

My marvellous muskrats,

Hello from Bangkok! I’ve been here for a little over two weeks now, and it already feels comfortable and settled in. The city that is. My mind, having now had more idle time than it has all year (low grade stress about this visa situation has made me not want to be alone with my thoughts for longer than the five minutes it takes between putting my book down and falling asleep), is running at a mile a minute and events and thoughts I’d completely forgotten about are resurfacing at the oddest moments. Luckily I’m still speaking to my therapist twice a week so we go through what it all means while I’m also all, “Oh, I have nothing to say to you this time” which is what I say every time and then wind up blabbing for the whole fifty minutes anyway.

In all this, I also just had a birthday. I’m a birthday party person—or so I thought. Every year I do something large and fun for my birthday, and it always brought me great pleasure to look around the room at that magic hour when everyone’s arrived and no one’s left yet and see people talking to each other, and think, “I did all this!” It was a ritual, it got me ready for the rest of December’s festivities, and I always loved it. But I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve left that ritual behind. Last year, of course, we were in Berlin, having just moved in. Our cat was very sick (RIP Bruno) and we had no friends (in town, anyway). I could’ve probably mustered a few from language class and whatnot, but I didn’t feel like it, so it wound up being a quiet birthday, just me and K all day and in the evening, a visiting friend joined us for pizza and a walk around the wintery streets, ending with gluhwein at a cozy bar. I thought it was quieter than I would’ve liked for my fortieth, but that I’d make up for it this year with a big party for forty one which would also be my anniversary with the city in a sense. But here’s the thing I’ve since realised: we left Delhi on December 7th for absolutely no reason. My birthday is December 13th. There was no deadline, nothing pushing us to go a week before rather than wait till the 14th, for example. I could have had my big birthday party, it just seemed like I chose not to? This year as well, we left Delhi on the 28th of November, which okay, we got two weeks more in Bangkok which we wanted, but I could have still had a party right before we left. Again with the choosing not to. It’s been very puzzling for me. Have I outgrown birthday parties? Surely not.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that maybe this past year, birthday to birthday, what I’ve wanted most from the day itself is a no stress, zero expectation kind of day. I think it’s because this year has been on in a way that I haven’t had in years, I am exhausted and feeling every single one of my forty one years on this planet. I didn’t really feel like putting together a party (sorry friends! I will have parties again soon!) and calling people and buying booze and figuring out food and so on. I just wanted to relax.

This wasn’t as zen as it sounds now. Right up until my birthday I had pangs of FOMO, missing parties and people coming together for me, for me, but I don’t know, as the years went by, it seemed like having a party was the only way to celebrate a birthday and I think I wanted a change. I wanted to wake up in a new country and have a strange and wonderful new experience, and indulge myself in many small ways and take stock, as I always do, of the year gone by and figure out what I want to do with my next.

Here’s what we did for my birthday instead: K booked us a lovely room in a fancy hotel. (Back story: our Airbnb is cute, but a) on the outskirts of Bangkok and b) not even remotely fancy, it’s sort of squatty to tell the truth. We like it because there’s not much to do except walk outside and get food which keeps us distraction free, we’re both writing books so a zero distraction life helps. There’s a pool downstairs where we go for morning swims, and a sky train station a ten minute walk away which connects us to the rest of the city but mostly, we’re here, being quiet and writing, and working through occasional patches of boredom by either leaning into it or taking the train somewhere fun with laptops and working outside. But not very birthday-y.) Also, I wanted a hotel because I wanted all the fun stuff hotels offer: maid services and lavish breakfasts and huge bathrooms and all of it. Airbnbs are how we normally travel because they wind up cheaper, but hotels are just so luxurious. We went out on day one, just to the electronics mall (where K made me hide so he could buy my presents: a gorgeous ergonomic mouse to fix some elbow trouble I’ve been having and a set of replacement keyboard stickers because my laptop is second hand and Danish so all the keys were weird, I could never find what I wanted.) (My other presents were a pair of Adidas Stan Smith sneakers that I picked out and to which I added rainbow laces for a little personal touch and this cotton blue and grey Japanese inspired top with a hood which also I selected and which he hid to give to me on my birthday.) (My mum, dad, and aunt sent me money which I will use—partly, because this city is cheap and I love a bargain—on a few clothes from the massive fashion mall I plan to go to this weekend) and then to a bar, but it was a long walk and I was glad to get back to the hotel and relax. All of my actual birthday we spent in the hotel, my birthday present hotel, only venturing out for lunch to a small but popular som tam place down the road. We got massages and napped and then in the evening went to Moon Bar, also down the road, which is this sky bar on the 61st floor of a hotel. I’ve always wanted to go to a sky bar, and K’s always said they were kind of poncy, which ok, I can see that, but since it was a special occasion, we had a lovely time drinking very pricey cocktails and chatting to two Thais who sweetly sent cake to our table. After a few drinks, we wandered off to a small French bar where we had a nightcap and dinner and then ended my birthday at a nice, civilised 11.30 so everyone could be asleep by 12.30. Perfect.

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OH YEAH, I started a Substack chat which is just their fancy way of saying “threads.” You can only access it via the app, which = boo, but it’s a free app and quite nice for all that. Easy to use and all your newsletters in one place. We had a great time discussing books on the first chat thread, with a sub-thread on Jerry Pinto and I plan to kick start conversation every week on a Tuesday, because Tuesdays are kinda boring, the paneer of the week. Join us!


I guess maybe it was the Grand Birthday Reflection Time or whatever, but this time in Delhi, I began thinking about something no one really warned us about getting older.

I started thinking about all those friends I used to have, used to love in fact. Colleagues I sat up late at night with, or housemates, people whose lives you knew so well. Or even just friends-because-you’re-friends, how some people keep vanishing from your life.

I even have theories about this now! In one sense, it’s people in their mid-to-late thirties getting married, having children and all of that. So already the Venn diagram of your lives have very little reason to intersect.

Then there’s geography, you may really like some people, but when they move away, your friendship is over, as simple as that. Sure, you can try and stay and touch, but eh, it’s probably never going to happen. The most you can look forward to is a fun evening when one of you is in the other’s city, but what usually happens is that their big life things happen to them somewhere else and yours too, so you sort of… forget they exist. These are not the long distance friends, of those I have several, people who you like just as much as when you first met, whose spare rooms in you stay in, who check in every now and then, whose lives you are invested in and so on. Those are not friendships bound by geography, but some are.

And then—and this one you have to be Super Mature about—there’s needs. Sometimes what you need from a person is not the same as what they need from you. When this happens, often either of you move away to different people, who can give them/you what you need at that moment. Often one of you will do this before the other, which makes for a very puzzling and depressing time because you’ll keep scrambling to keep up the friendship but it’s just not working the way it used to. Maybe your bestie suddenly got very into fitness and now she has all these friends from the gym who seem to get her more than you did. Or you had a baby and you like hanging out with other parents, they know what you need from them, you don’t have to keep apologising for it! Or he doesn’t want to party all the time any more and you still do. There are so many ways this can happen, and remember, unless there’s an actual literal betrayal, the love you have for each other still exists at some level, so go off, do your own thing. Sometimes the friendship returns after a break, which yay! Best case scenario! And sometimes that’s it, it’s done. You both had a nice time.

Obviously it’s hard. We wouldn’t be human if these things weren’t soul destroying when they were actually happening. But then you get to take all your little thoughts on friendship and sort them out and be like that one Bible verse which got turned into a song.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;  

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;  

a time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.


Some notes on craft

“Some notes on craft” says the little note I left to myself in this newsletter, which I suppose means I wanted to talk to you about writing my book which is the Biggest Event in my life right now.

It’s a crime novel as some of you know. I finished the first draft in 2019, sat on it for a bit, and then 2020 happened and I wrote my bad-marriage claustrophobia lockdown novel (Soft Animal, out in March) and then I started to move to Berlin and I thought, well, may as well look at this crime novel again, and I did and it was awful so I decided to rewrite it. (Okay not awful, I’m being hyperbolic, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.) See, the best part of any book is right before you begin to write it, it’s this glorious thing in your head, a masterpiece, the best thing you’ve ever written, the best thing anyone’s ever written. And then you begin the process of moving it from your brain to the page, and that ephemeral beautiful fever dream of a book just pops like a bubble. It’s never exactly as you picture it, and new writers, beware, it’s so easy to give up at this point, but I always tell myself that the day I write a perfect book, no mistakes, nothing I wish was slightly different, is the day I will retire. You’ve got to settle for I did the best work I could. Writing is a lot of settling.

With all the homelessness of this year, I never actually got into my book for a concerted period of time. I kept having new ideas which I added but this time in Bangkok is the first time in ages I’ve had proper time to spend with my fiction. My writing muscles are a bit rusty (not completely in disuse thanks to this newsletter) but it’s coming together. What I realised was that I had these two threads of story running through the book. One was the conventional murder mystery-suspect-detective police procedural, and the other was a rambling narrative which looped through the book, sometimes having nothing to do with the murder at all, just stories about Delhi and Delhi people. I picked the ramble. The long way round. The novel has already swelled by 20,000 words and I’m only halfway through. I started jokingly calling it my magnum opus, but sometimes I look at it and maybe it is?

Luckily, because I already had a first draft, I know who did it and I know why. I’m just taking my time getting there. Literary murder mysteries have always been my thing, where you get into the psychology of people not just the thrill of the puzzle. I love writing about people, so I’m having a good time with this one.

Just write it all down and you can delete it later.

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The party just keeps going with these amazing links!

on those novels that just describe actions with nothing else behind them.

on competing with other authors and the signing line.

So over Harry and Meghan so this review of their new Netflix doc made me laugh.

A fab article by Ellen Barry in NYT about a man who couldn’t stop lying.

Speak soon!

xx

m

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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9 December 2022

Join my new subscriber chat

This is just a template email, dear kittens, so don’t get too excited. I’ll send you out another PROPER letter soon. I’ve been v busy in Bangkok with book writing etc, and it’s also my BIRTHDAY on Tuesday (which I have to mention, since I’m a very birthday-y person, but I have at least two letter ideas to send out in December alone.)

Today I’m announcing a brand new addition to my Substack publication: The Internet: Personified subscriber chat.

Thanks for reading The Internet: Personified ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

This is a conversation space in the Substack app that I set up exclusively for my subscribers — kind of like a group chat or live hangout. I’ll post short prompts, thoughts, and updates that come my way, and you can jump into the discussion. (I’ve already started with one thread, so come and have a look. We’re discussing—well, right now it’s just me but I hope you’ll join in—what we’re currently reading.)

To join our chat, you’ll need to download the Substack app, now available for both iOS and Android. Chats are sent via the app, not email, so turn on push notifications so you don’t miss conversation as it happens. (yes this part isn’t great, who needs another app? but i tried it out for you and it’s quite nice. much better than just endlessly looking at Instagram or something when you’re commuting.)


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