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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27 April 2013

This is when I miss you

Notes to my sibling who could have been, but wasn't.

 I've spent my whole life justifying your absence. I make out that one is far better, far superior to two, and oh my god, don't get me started on three or four. Sure, it works for you, I say flippantly to my friends with sisters, friends with brothers. But think of all the advantages I had--my parents and I like a unit, the absence of you led to the three of us being a family very different from other people's families. I had pets---pets are better than you. I told myself stories on lonely afternoons---if you had been born, I never would have been a writer.

But maybe I would have told you stories. I can imagine you, you'd be younger, of course, even in my wildest imaginings, there's no room for an older sibling. You'd be younger, and you'd be a girl, and during our summer holidays, when it would be the period between lunch and Outside, as our parents napped, I'd make up stories for you. I'd pretend to be annoyed that you were always there, but I'd secretly sort of like it.

But maybe you would have been a boy. Can you imagine? I can't. Maybe you would have been active and running around and not interested in my stories. You might not have been a dreamy eyed quiet voiced boy, you might have been the sort who burped after lunch and cut the ears off my teddy bears and eaten all the chocolate in the refrigerator. When I imagine that you, I'm really happy you weren't born. You sound quite awful.

For the most part I miss you for selfish reasons:

I. It pisses me off that I will never be able to honestly write about sibling-love. I have no idea what it's meant to feel like, and as a result, I go over everything I write about siblings with a fine tooth comb looking for any stench of the maudlin hanging over it. If you were alive, I'd have one more experience.

II. I think I might be a more interesting person with five younger siblings. I'd be older--not age wise, but maybe in my brain?--and responsible-r, and many other things that you have denied me by not being born. I'm pretty sure I was an accident, why weren't you, lazy? 

III. I don't want to be alone at the end of my life. I'd have liked for you to be around then, not just be adrift, without a family. You would have been a comfort--maybe not if we were estranged because you stole my boyfriend when you were 22, but maybe we'd make it up, and I'd be your daughter's favourite aunt.

IV. If I needed a donation of some kind, bone marrow or kidney, your being alive would have increased my chances. 

I missed you more as a child than I think the generation of onlies today will miss their unborn siblings. I missed you at dinner time when we were all called home from the park, and everyone went home two-by-two and I lingered in the solitary gloam. I missed you when I fought with my parents--who could have been our parents--I missed having someone to roll my eyes at and be sympathetic to me.

But as I grew older and the fact of you grew less and less, the truth is, darling, I stopped thinking about you. I made up a twin when I was thirteen, not a real, true make-up, I knew I was kidding, and my friends knew I was kidding. I called you Shreyashri, and said that the reason you weren't around is because we didn't get along and so my parents had shipped you off to America. Even then, I couldn't think of a world where I'd be shipped off, I was too important in my little family, and so you had to go. Some people might have even believed me.

Today, I'm thinking about you. I'm thirty one years old, and I will never have a sibling. That time is gone, and being an Only is now a fact of my life. I know the things I've missed--shared holidays and one more person in my corner and a sort of best-friend-meets-family thing that I'm never going to have. I know the things I've gained--apart from material conveniences, a strange sure footedness around the world, the ability to amuse myself without external help, the love of solitude, a personality that makes friends easily. You could've gone either way, you could have been the person I couldn't bear to give up, you could have been the person I only spoke to once a year on your birthday, you could have been lovely, you could have been an asshole. I might have hated you and felt guilty about it, I might have loved you and loved loving you.

"Do you miss having a sibling?" is a question I get asked. Still get asked.

And the only honest answer is: "I don't know."


  1. You're on a roll, missy! Really thought provoking.

  2. OMG I really must have a second baby.

  3. I am an Only too and it's the same when people ask me if I miss having a sibling "I don't know, because I've never had one". I guess the lack of a sibling gave me so much more in terms of my parents complete attention, foreign vacations and having stuff that my other friends with siblings didn't have. Yes, there are times when I try to imagine how it would have been to have a sibling. I agree with you when you say you would have been the older one, that's how I feel too. I cannot for the life of me imagine having an older sibling. But yes, there are times I imagine what must it feel like to look at someone who shares the same DNA as you. But one the whole I love my own company and love my solitude and love that I don't need anyone else to amuse me. Thank you for sharing your experience, it's always nice to know that I'm not alone in how I feel as an Only :)

  4. Here goes my first blog post and my story

    I hope you like it.

    Bibaswan Padhy

  5. I am an only child too. Whenever someone asked me if it isn't too lonely being an only child, I always shrugged and said "No,not really,I like it this way". But secretly I have always wished for a sibling. Younger or older,male or female,it doesn't matter,it would have been enough that there was someone. I have always felt jealous when my friends talk about their brothers and sisters and fervently wished that one day, "by magic" a brother or sister would appear. As I grew older,that dream seemed more and more distant and materialized into 'nada' ;) When my friends complained about their siblings I always said out loud "See,I don't have to deal with that",but I always I wished I had someone to complain about. It is oddly gratifying to know that I am not the only one who feels that way.

  6. I remember the days I wanted a sister a so badly but god gave me brother, for years I was pissed at god for that simple mistake. But come to think of it I have a brother and I should have made the most of it. Then again I wanted a sister, I would have liked that, that doesn't change

  7. Well I wish I didn't have a younger brother; ANYTHING but a younger brother.

  8. ^Well, that's a shame. I have a younger brother, and he means everything to me. I hope you can appreciate how lucky you are before it's too late.

  9. I can relate to this is many ways. There is still a (silly) part of me that imagines a half-sibling will appear some day, a surprise to us all. To me, the hardest part about being an only is not having someone to corroborate my childhood memories, my childhood perspective. It's one of the reasons I had two children. I tell them all the time how lucky they are to have each other. Thanks for writing this. - Kat / @BeingMama

  10. lovely post! and being an ONLY as well, I can empathize with it. I have always wanted an younger brother, but over the past decade I have made peace with myself that it would never happen. And the biggest beneficiary of it is my cousin kid brother who is pampered and showered with affection (and treats/gifts) by me...

  11. This is such a lovely post and I really liked your sensible answer of not knowing when asked if you missed having a sibling.
    Being the elder sister, it also brought back the sweet memory of my excitement when my mother was expecting for the second time and I got a little sister who turned into a best friend!

  12. It was really a good piece of writing. I felt like the column spoke behalf of all lone siblings. And, eM... your every piece of writing exhibits your courage and frankness. I envy you.

  13. Really
    I have one elder brother.
    But after his marriage , he changed so much(behavior)
    that sometimes it hurts me a lot
    Now HE think like he is really big in age,mind,maturity
    Although i m just 2 yr younger to him.

    His words hurts me a lot...i still love my bro
    but if he keep on doing this ....I think i need to forget that i have sibling
    and same concept should follow for my kids .. no siblings please!!!!


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