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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16 May 2005

Of potatoes, Catholicism and being eight

When I was in class four or five, my father was posted in Trivandrum. And unusually, (because usually my mother stayed in Delhi where her work was and I stayed with her) we went with him. We had a gorgeous house there--three layers of gardens, two floors with a separate guest suite, a rock garden in the middle of the house and wildlife everywhere. In fact, it became common for us to see snakes in our dining room, pressed up against the glass door, sunning themselves. And once as I sat on the back stairs near the garden I saw a beautifully striped rope which moved when I bent to pick it up. A rat snake.

And we had a dog--a floppy eared Alsation who was my walk companion and a parrot and an aquarium full of fish where all the fish floated belly-up in the first two weeks except for one black guppy called Shy who lorded it over the empty space. And I brought caterpillars into the rock garden and made them walk on moss and pretended they were prehistoric creatures. And once in a sentimental fit we bought a baby squirrel which died rapidly too.

And crawling through the laundry room, the roof was low enough for us to sit on and marvel at how high up we were and admire the sunsets. Home was my kingdom and I ruled there.

I was briefly in a convent school while I lived there--this terrible place called Holy Angels and I still remember the classrooms with their strong smell of jam sandwiches caught in hot tiffin boxes. I'm sure Holy Angels was a nice school and all that, it's just that for the brief time I was there, there was this one other girl in my class who bullied me terribly. Little girls can be so cruel. And I was at my most unattractive then (Till of course, I hit puberty and new levels of ugliness) too-skinny legs, too-big teeth and a funny accent, half-Mallu and half-Delhi. I don't remember what she did to me, this girl, but I remember crying almost every day, my head buried in my arms, face down on the desk.

This was also my Catholic phase. I was most impressed by the catechism classes that some girls attended thereby escaping the deathly boring moral science. And this one girl asked me brusquely, "What religion are you?" I was a little nonplussed, religion not being something we discussed at home and stammered, "Um.. Hindu, I guess." "Don't say that here," she hissed, "Here you should only be Catholic." I began writing poetry with a vengeance all about "Sleep Baby Jesus" and wondered many times why we didn't go to church.

Thankfully, or not, depending on your viewpoint, this saving of my soul was stopped. My parents, perhaps alarmed by my religious conversion or by the fact that I hated school for the first time in my life, put me in the more secular Kendriya Vidyalaya. KVs then weren't as run down as they are now--and for most government officer's kids were the best place to go because they understood about sudden transfers and leaving mid-term.

I truly enjoyed my time there. The poetry came back, but this time it was Hindi poetry that I wrote, much to the amazement of my classmates and I showed off about the fact that I was from Delhi where everyone spoke Hindi. And I joined the Girl Guides, except being too young to be a full-fledged Guide, I was a Bulbul and very proud of the special uniform I had to wear--blue with a little scarf thing.

At this point, I wore a fringe, and my eyes were very, very slanted (it runs in my family--I'm inclined to believe a Mongol invader moved really, really far south and married an Andhra maiden). And people asked as people do, "Are you Japanese?" and of course, I played along, going, "Yes yes, of course I am Japanese" and letting off a string of garbled words which my audience lapped up. Or not. But we had a good time.

My best friend was a girl called Asha Latha. Well, I say best friend because I felt everyone needed a best friend and she agreed with me then but I think later quite regretted her descision. Because I read so much, I was constantly saying, "Oh we should have a secret spot with a password and all." and she didn't read very much and I think didn't follow much of my vocabulary, being very happy with speaking in Malayalam. Still she was my best friend and I was most upset when she got two other girls to sit in "our spot". When I questioned her about it, one of the two girls let off a stream of Malayalam, of which I understood nothing. "What?" I asked miserably and "Pawam (loosely transalated 'poor thing')" said Asha Latha, scornfully. Oh, the betrayal.

Ooh and there were boys then too! One boy called Kannan who, when another boy pushed me, pushed him back and said, "Stop that!" I was mortified and snapped at Kannan, "Hey, it's not his fault, okay?" Another very sweet fat boy called Bala who, when he heard I collected stamps gave me one for this place called--Okay, don't remember, but it started with a K and was very unusual. And another boy called Shekhar who came to Trivandrum because of the war in Kuwait and who always spoke to me with dignity and respect.

And there was this one girl called Preeti Malpuri--a little girl with a huge face and even bigger pigtails which her mother fastened to her head with big blue ribbons. She brought the best potatoes ever--fried and golden and fantastic. Every day I went home and asked my mother for Preeti-Malpuri-potatoes and they never turned out the same.

And in the auto I shared with three other girls to go home, there was this one girl who lent me a textbook-abridged version of Jane Eyre. Which I borrowed thrice till my mother got me the real thing.

And then we returned to Delhi.


  1. That as a wonderful post eM, seeeee, y'got yer inspiration back.

  2. Welcome back, eM *relief all over face*

    And KV's rock!! Attended one myself after lotsa convents and such so I sorta identify with the one-eyed-king-among-the-blind feeling :)

    Digression: ain't 'one eyed king...' sexist?
    'One eyed royal...'?!?

  3. "still remember the classrooms with their strong smell of jam sandwiches caught in hot tiffin boxes". i love that brought back so many memories. i was a bulbul too, but since the classes were way too early in the morning, i quit after two weeks. lol

  4. So much for blogger's block eh?

    It doesn't sound like you've had much luck with pets. Hope you've given up, for the sake of innocent animals everywhere :-p

  5. Jane Eyre..!! hmm though i dont remember the book much but i cant ever forget the name.. god i used to hate that book so much so to a point where I'd have nightmares thinking about the english lecture I'd have the next day in school.. but it did bring back fond memories of how I'd try and sneak out for that one specific lecture and how I'd get caught and be sent for detention.. In fact being sent for detention was better than 45 mins of Jane Eyre to me..
    I must say i absolutely love the way you write.. i have always enjoyed a book that can make me live and breath through the story rather than have it simply narrated to me.. and .. well.. u are really good.. now smile.. that was a compliment.. if u ever write a book.. aahh well some things are just understood on their own..

  6. Great memories. We had a club in which we all had code names... I was Set and my friends were Nette, Met and Jet. It was supposed to be all girls but Jet hit puberty and started "going out" with a boy named Mark. Met called her a bitch and I distinctly remember it being the first time I heard that word.

  7. Manish: Looks like it! I hope it lasts.

    n.a: Or perhaps one-eyed ruler? :)

    ashanka: Our Bulbul classes were fortunately either after school or during free periods--so that worked out great.

    Satya: Old classical music DOES sound cool... we never did anything like that unfortunately.:(

    Jay: I'll have you know I have one very healthy dog right now, so hah! :P

    Invictus: Thank you! And I loved Jane Eyre even when I HAD to read it for college!

    Mint: Set, Mette and Jet?? :) Why those names?

  8. Bulbul. There. Thats a perfect name for ya. Bulbul :)

    Nice cathartic post eh ? But a wierd coincidence, the betrayal that I have recently suffered (that of having my best friend marry someone else - yes, its not betrayal, but it goes with the post) was at the hands of an Asha Latha too. Though Im sure they weren't the same Asha.

    Poetry and Bronte in class five. Hmm... no wonder ;)

  9. and when i was in class six, every week a new girl would be singled out, taken to a little enclosure with benches, sat in the centre and told what was wrong with her. Personality defects etc. till they were crying. and then it would be time for the buses to leave and everyone would disperse. everyday. for one year. at a KFI school. so help me God.

  10. Hi eM

    Er, I don't actually know how to begin... See, I just thought I should let you know that I'm reading your blog. I'm one of the anonymous masses of the internet, this one is from Switzerland.

    My best friend pointed me to your blog, how she found it I don't know. The reason, she's Indian, living in the UK, but getting married soon. So I'll visit her in India. Which will be my first trip to Asia.

    From what I've gathered I'll be in for quite some cultural adjustment (to not use the term "culture shock") - her accounts, books I've read/am reading, your blog - all point to a highly fascinating but amazingly different world to the ones I'm used to.

    I really enjoy your posts, especially the ones that reveal glimpses of that world to me. The ones that reveal glimpses of eM awaken curiosity in who she might be, but also make me feel a bit guilty for reading her blog anonymously.

    So I've decided to leave a comment here, to let you know. Thank you for writing these wonderful posts.


  11. I am so sure your mom takes care of you 'healthy dog'. How come we have never heard of him?

  12. eM- Jet=Juliet, Met=Meg, Nette=Jeanette, Set=Mint

  13. Vignesh: No wonder what? :)
    And we are NOT calling me Bulbul.

    Mangs: Reminds me of a girl I knew in Class 6 who took me to a corner and said, "You should know no one likes you." What's a KFI school btw?

    Cindy: Thanks for your excellent comment. I don't know how much India info you're gleaning from this blog though. Feel free to email me if you want "additional information". I'm very kicked--a reader in Swizterland!

    AB: Well if you ever BOTHERED to READ the ARCHIVES you'd know wouldn't you? :P But here ya go, more info on my dog. Copy paste this into your broswer window.

    Mint: So by my amazing powers of deduction, your name is... Setuka! :)

    Addict: I'm telling you it's the same Asha Latha. The evilness spreads!

  14. So, are we having a sequel to eM's schooldays anytime soon?

    Must say, being Catholic myself - that I was rather bored with catechism classes in school and longed to be with the others studying moral science instead. The grass is surely greener on the other side.

  15. What's catechism? Come to think of it, what are morals?

  16. Nice post. As a.o.a says elsewhere on this page, very vivid.

    Yep, school was not always very rosy. When I shifted school from Bombay to Tirunelveli (yep, that's not a typo, it's a real place), I was called "Bombay" by my classmates and teachers for about a month. That was probably what finally killed my individuality.

  17. Dude!!! Are you talking about KV Pattom? It's almost 15 years to the day that I left TVM and KV Pattom for the greener shores of Bombay and KV1 Colaba.

    I was at Pattom through 1987-1990. III - V grades.

  18. I'm coming late to this, but I'm glad I did. This was beautiful babe. Just beautiful :)

  19. Ah! The days of moral science when a few 'privileged' ones went for catechism. Lovely post! And the house sounds enchanting!

  20. Toe Knee: A sequel again, when nothing exciting is happening in the present!

    Anurag:You evidently have never been to a Christian school!

    Senthil:Individuality is never killed, it just hides. :)

    potty master: Yes I am actually. Hmmm... lessee, I was there from 89-90, Class III and IV. Hey, maybe we like saw each other and all :)

    Mint: :)

    Box: Thanks! And not late, just not early.

    Anumita: Yes, the house WAS brilliant. You could see the sea from the balcony.

  21. Alright, Bulbul. No more bul jokes :)

    For a person who claimed to have had blogger's block a while ago (a blogging bloggers block - ooh ! a limirrickk !) 24 comments and counting...

    @Mangs: KFI product, that explains things. Everything is clear now :))

  22. eM: KFI is a secret society. haha. well, it's Krishnamurti Foundation India. All the Valley School's and The Schools and Rishi Valley's of the world.

    Vignesh: I'm back to normal now.

  23. If she doesn't like being called Bulbul, Vignesh, let it be. We can call her double-bul. :)))))

  24. Hey eM, do you know of a girl named Ankana Datta? She went to LSR and was in your batch. Just wondering if you do :)

  25. Its taking all I have to stop myself from typing out the Bulbul (vs) RedBull story in my head now. The things one does for comments on one's blog from celebrity bloggers... :))

  26. This comment count is truly heading for some sorta record. Just wanted to contribute by adding this.

    (I've added nothing, really!!)

  27. I remember my 'catholic' phase too! It was all thanks to being in a proper 'Convent school' and the catechism classes Now these classes were exclusive to the catholics and I thought becuse it was only for them , it must be pretty cool. I was in the 5th grade I think and I thought becoming a nun was cool!!!!! Yikees! What the hell was I thinking?!

  28. So, do you remember the annual function when you were in IV grade? It was this stupid mime centred around a fake-ass tree on the stage (the main stage, not where the primary used to have its assembly)?

    Man, I need to go back and look around. Oh, Paico's book store and all the Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys I bought there. And of course, Kovalam. Lovely, Kovalam. That's where I found my calling as a beach bum.

  29. you know, there are some things that link all catholic-school girls. there's the lords prayer, there are the attempts to sneak out to the attend the festival at the nearby boys school, against the wishes of the nuns, and there are the SISTERS.

    i also didn't realise till i came to this country that guys have this huge thing for catholic-school girls. i asked but never got a convincing answer why. must discuss.

  30. Right. I never expected this post to be so popular :) Still, we try our humble best!

    Mangs: Hey, yeah, now I remember. I had a friend who went to Rishi Valley too.. supposed to be a brilliant school.

    Anon: Sorry, don't answer questions like that, esp. by anonymous commenters.

    Vignesh: Yes yes, Redbull, bulbul very funny, ha ha.

    Sunrayz: I actually wanted to be a nudist nun psychologist for the LONGEST time, till people told me nuns couldn't be nudist. *sigh*

    Potty Master: I think I remember that. I won some book of essays for English or something. Do you remember the fancy dress competitions? And oh Kovalam. I LIVED there. BTW, loving your username! :)

    Vishnupriya: I think it's the whole good girl/bad girl thing. It's supposed to be very sexy, think Britney Spears in "Hit Me Baby One More Time" or Madonna in anything :)

  31. The point was, I didn't type it out now did I ?

    Hmm... I just make that 34... and you are right, I have NO idea why THIS post is so popular either :P

  32. Sure I remember the fancy dress competitions. My brother, who's two years younger, used to win all the time. As Santa Claus. I think just the image of a scrawny seven-year-old as Santa was enough to get a prize.

    And I remember playing Yudhishtir in that mime and telling Bheema not to cut the tree! One year I also played Rajiv Gandhi in a skit about Indo-Russian relations. It was outta this world. The poor kid who played Gorbachev had to wear a bad ass wig - birthmark et all!

    Yeah, I lived at Kovalam too - every weekend. Learnt to swim there. So much so that the first time I had to enter a swimming pool (I was already a Kovalam vet by then) I was a little, let's say, apprehensive.

    And about the username -- grazie!


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