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 May 2022
13 May 2022
I’ve been wanting to write to you for ages, but I’ve suffered peculiar newsletter block, so this will be a mish-mash sort of letter, putting together all the things I thought I’d say but don’t have enough to talk about to turn into a post all on their own.
My life as a Kafka character
I’ve been back in Delhi since March 25, waiting for—not a visa, but a visa appointment. K is German, so I’m applying for a spouse visa. It took slightly longer to get the paperwork for this organised, because he has to be registered in Germany (which he wasn’t since we lived here for over a decade) and I had to pass a language ability test and so on, but in November 2021, all our paperwork was finally there, and we optimistically wrote to the German embassy to apply, and they said there wouldn’t be any slots free till February. Okay, we said, put us on a waitlist, but they’ve now outsourced all of this to VFS and VFS is a large global company which doesn’t really answer any of your questions or have a particular point person you can direct your emails to, so we slipped through the crack and after many back and forth emails, were officially put on the waitlist in February.
Then I got an email saying slots were open, but when I tried to click on them, they were all greyed out. I wrote to VFS urgently asking for help, but they have a two business day policy (and no one answered the phone) and by the time they got back to me, the waitlist had closed up again. No one at the German embassy could help, and believe me, I have thrown the full force of my little black book at this. I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve said it’s cruel to make a couple live apart, I said my friend was sick (she is thankfully better now), I said we were trying to start a life together, I said all sorts of things, but the only responses I got from the German embassy were a sort of form letter, starting “Dear sir/ma’am” and often not answering the question we asked.
Anyway, I’ve been here since March. I thought the appointment would come through in April. Then I thought the appointment would come through in the first week of May. Now, here we are, the middle of the month, and I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that I may not get an appointment at all. Not this month. Maybe not even this year.
The good news is that I have a valid tourist visa, so I leave again for Berlin next month. The bad news is that you can only stay 90 days at a time on a tourist visa, and then you have to leave the country again for three months. This June will mark one year since we started trying to move to Germany. It’s really frustrating, my half-here half-there life, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like being here, seeing friends, seeing family, but I want to be sure of things, to come to India out of choice not because I can’t go anywhere else. It’s endless limbo, and that’s never comfortable. I even bought myself a little tiger’s eye crystal bracelet. Like, I’ve become so desperate, I’m relying on magic. I might even go to a fortune teller at this point. I’ll try anything if only I could have some certainty.
I was telling my mum the other day that when I left India last year, I just wanted a change, I was so bored with my life, and she laughed and said, “Well, you got change with a vengeance!” That is true. I certainly can’t complain about stagnating any more, so there’s a silver lining for you.
A small thing I bought that I love
I was at the Delhi Jazz Weekender a few weeks ago, I think my first live music thing since the pandemic? Maybe the second. Full of pretty girls wearing shorts and their hair in those Shiva top knots. Because it’s Delhi, everything was very posh, including the venue, a massive art gallery/garden space by the Qutub. Drinks were either Jameson/Johnny Walker—one of those whiskey brands, and a Greater Than booth. Greater Than has really capitalised on the Delhi hipster, before they launched there was no good gin under Rs 1000, and now everyone agrees that Greater Than, is, well, great. They leaned into that image, with these cocktails named all sorts of puns, and a bunch of helium balloons stamped with the company name by their booth, which eventually—of course—all the top-knotted girls took and strung through their hair or on their wrists. (By the way, not to be that person, but if I could, just for a sec: helium balloons are terrible for the environment, because when you release them, as you inevitably will, that’s the most fun thing about balloons, they will break in the sky, fall to the ground and never disintegrate, or get tangled up in a bird’s legs somewhere, or get stuck in a tree and just add to plastic poisoning. A lot of things are bad for the environment including air conditioning, which we desperately need in this heatwave, but helium balloons are an easy fix to just… not have. I’m surprised at Greater Than, providing paper cups and paper straws and just handing those out like that.) Sadly, the Greater Than cocktails were terrible and we quickly switched to the less trendy but more delicious whiskey brand cocktail (I had vodka, which also this same brand served, it being too hot for whiskey in the open air.) (The festival set up large coolers, which sort of worked, but it was still very hot.) (Music was hit or miss, one band featured a performance where someone got up and read out that super depressing Auden poem, you know, stop all the clocks etc, which was more famously featured in Four Weddings And A Funeral, and it was kinda… weird, because they offered no context. But besides that—which was puzzling—I liked the music and had a very nice time, so I’d recommend it for next time.)
Anyway, they had a sort of mini flea market, and someone had set up a stall selling these musical thingummies, they called the Zen Zula. Made out of old sardine cans and wood, they sound really beautiful, even if you’re just plucking at the keys idly and thinking about something else as I do almost daily. Expensive, but worth it I think, because it’s a lovely meditative sound and really helps to soothe stressed nerves, which I have a lot of at the moment.
A satisfying feeling
I’ve been working on a second draft of the crime novel I finished in 2019 and then put away because the pandemic happened and I wrote something else. But then my agent wanted to see this one, so I pulled it out of retirement and took a look at it again, and found I wanted to redo great swathes of it, so now it’s sort of turning into my magnum opus, in a way. The Delhi novel I always wanted to write but never got close to before, and with a crime plot, so it doesn’t get too unwieldy and about nothing at all, like my first book, which I still stand behind, but that was a different life, a different story.
It’s going as well as can be expected, considering I have basically stripped the first draft and am rebuilding large parts of it from scratch. Of course, I’m not going to know if it’s any good until I finish it and then look at it again, so at this point, your guess is as good as mine. I’m enjoying the process though.
Food’s Own Country
I went to Kerala in the middle, to go spend a week with my dad. My memories of this time are entirely food-related: we went to a popular toddy shop and ate fish fried in banana leaves, we ordered in biryani, we went to a fancy Asian place and got Hainanese chicken rice, his cook made fish curry for me, I went to Fort Kochi with cousins and we ordered a whole fish grilled with masala, I ate a lot of beef fry, ah, Kerala has the best food.
(I also rank Andhra food in my top 1, followed closely by Goan and then Punjabi—I grew up in Delhi after all.)
I also bought exclusively food based souvenirs, banana chips and those curd chillis you deep fry to eat on the side, and chammanti podi, which is this special sweet coconut based gunpowder which I love and which my aunt has to special order from a lady who makes it at home. (Like literally, I have hoarded two bottles in Berlin and am about to take back another one. Ready for the apocalypse here.) At Lulu Mall, which is huge and has everything a mall desires, including people who just go there to hang out and do nothing, we went to the hypermart to buy their own propreitory spices: their beef fry masala is apparently excellent, and I also got some premix spices for that red fish curry I love. And kokum off my dad’s cook’s tree.
So, a lot of cooking when I get back to Berlin, but I have been so spoilt here by both parents, I have not lifted a finger. I think I’m going to have to retrain myself as a full grown self-sufficient adult by the end of this, but until then, I may as well enjoy it, eh?
It’s really hot in Delhi
I have nothing more to say about this heatwave, except that it’s going to go up to 46 on Sunday. Blazing, curtains drawn, like you’re walking into a fire each time you go outside hot. Here is a good article about why the world should care about India’s heatwave.
I’ve been rewatching Entourage
For the nth time, and trying to figure out why I like that show so much. I realised it’s two things: 1) Vince, the Hollywood star, has loads of ups and downs in his career, and while being a writer in Delhi is SUPER FAR AWAY from being a movie star, I sort of relate, so that’s nice and 2) it’s a rare show about true male friendship, and I really like watching all of them together. It’s sweet how supportive and loving they all are.
I’m not really doing much except writing, trying to stay cool, eating, binge-watching shows I’ve seen before, seeing friends sometimes and checking my email every hour to see if there’s something from VFS. There’s not much to report from a Delhi summer, it just is and then you live through it. I hope you’re able to stay sane as well. Drink lots of water.
I’m just a girl, standing in front of.. you guys, asking you to buy me a coffee. (Which is a cute name for a tip jar, it’s a tip, not a literal coffee although once I did spend it on actual coffee.) THANK YOU to everyone who has bought me coffee/s already, you, as the song goes, “make my heart sing.”
Speaking of HBO shows about friends, here’s a nice juicy interview with Kim Catrall about the Sex and The City reboot which she did not participate in.
Hilarious article about “van life.”
George RR Martin and his impatient fans.
A funny profile-ish of Anne Boleyn.
And Germany’s most famous YouTuber is weird.
Have a great week, month, whenever we speak next!
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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