Greetings my green bananas,
I was going to draw this newsletter for you, a very ambitious project, but I’ve fallen out of practise with my Wacom, so I’ll need to do a few practice runs before I get down to it.
I am back from one trip and about to leave for India in a week, so this is a Very Brief Berlin Interlude, which was made even briefer by the fact that I had an editing deadline, and had to finish off all my Soft Animal edits before I returned to India. It’s coming together! I’ve been looking at some cover designs, and everything looks so GORGEOUS, I can’t wait to share the final version with you. It’s only out in March, so you might be surprised by all the advance work we’ve got to do, but these things have a six month lead in time, so everything basically has to be ready to go when it is actually March. Exciting though. I feel like I haven’t had a new novel out in ages so all this feels familiar, like an old house I’m returning to but also brand new, because each book has its own fate, as my mum always says, so who knows where this one will go. I’m going to need all of you to mash that pre-order link as soon as it’s up because that will rocket up my ranking on Amazon (which in India is a necessary evil) and then make my book visible to a lot more people. OK? Thank you!
Holidays are kind of weird if you think about them. You leave your flat, the most comfortable place in the entire world and for what? To stuff three weeks worth of clothes into a tiny suitcase which you then drag around with you on unfamiliar public transport, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, dealing with unfamiliar weather… it makes you wonder why anyone does it. Now, of course, we are in the year 2022, we have jets and Google maps and cheap deals and friends around the world, but why did anyone do it when tourists first started becoming a thing? I suppose if you were rich, it was a chance to be rich somewhere else, always nice for a change of scene, but the middle class didn’t actually travel much until the rise of the cheap package holiday. That’s this side of the world. Indians are roamers, in general, if it’s checking off a “top ten temples” tour or going to spend months with a cousin or an uncle in a city you don’t live in, or just, I don’t know, driving ten hours to look at one waterfall just because it’s there.
I’m now writing this from Munich airport, on my way back to Delhi for what I hope will be my final visa run of this entire protracted move to Germany. At last I have an appointment, but it’s on the second of November. However, my Schengen visa has finally finished (you can do three months at a stretch on it) so it’s not so much time I returned and more well, I guess I should get out of here. The nice thing about flying back to India, my home country, issuer of my passport, is that I never have to say much at immigration, where normally I have to bend over backwards to prove that I’m in the country legally and not planning to overstay or any of those things. With a homebound flight, it’s just stamp-and-have-a-nice-day all the way through.
I’ve been up since 4.15 this morning, and so my day has taken on a certain dreamy hazy quality. Two cups of coffee (and one connecting flight from Berlin to Munich) (and, ok, two ciggies, Munich might have a pretty basic airport compared to Frankfurt, but it does have rather nice smoking lounges) and I am awake in that jittery sort of way that you know is not true alertness, it’s just riding out the caffeine high till I crash again. Which is why, forgive me any disjointed sentences or typos.
Next to me is an Indian man on the phone, talking in Hindi. We’re on the same flight, but he doesn’t know it. He’s saying, “Make mutton and two rotis, I’ll be back late.” He also doesn’t know this is the same dinner I’ll be eating at 1.30 in the morning, just like him.
I really love airports. I was reading by the gates a little earlier, and I saw signs for Rio and for Toronto, and just for a second, allowed myself to get drawn into the magic of it all, look at all these (tired) people going places I’ve never been. Look at those words: Rio De Janeiro, just there, within grasping distance, the world so close and so far away all at the same time.
I’ve been thinking about accents. Specifically mine. In England, the nice thing was that everything was in my first language, which made things ridiculously simple. Almost too simple, like you weren’t really travelling, or playing a game on easy mode instead of hard. And life should be easy when you travel, but I’m so used to being in places where there’s one life for the local language speakers and another for us tourists that this was weird. You mean I just say something how I’d always say it and everyone will understand me? I was so used to being in Germany that I asked K, “How do you say ‘extra spicy’ in English?” And then we both realised and laughed. After a few days, this was delightful though. I understood everything! EVERYTHING!
But this also meant a few notes about my accent, which really only ever has happened to me in England before. I guess it’s normal, we’re all speaking the same language so the only thing that you notice is the way I pronounce things. But all the comments were how “Anglicised” I sounded, which made me think about the way we (my friends and I) speak. It’s a flat sort of English accent, I don’t think the people commenting meant “Anglicised” per se, I think they meant a lack of an accent or at least the lack of an accent one would associate with India. It’s a standard accent for People Like Us, your (yes) privileged urban South Asian lot, flat because we learnt accentless English in school, and then, depending on your pop culture consumption, with a smattering of American or English influences. The past year in Berlin has made me slow down my speech a lot (when I get excited, I talk fast, but then people can’t understand me) so I guess you’re hearing the accent more, or the lack of it at any rate. I’m not sure, I can’t hear myself. I have a few Delhi peculiarities specific to my accent, for eg: emphasising the second last word in a question (“are you coming tomorrow?”), elongating words (“noooo ya”) or the odd way of expressing enthusiasm with your words but not with your tone: “oh, you’re kidding. that’s insane.” I’d like to do a whole study on it, see how our speech patterns vary across metros, what marks a Delhi accent vs a Bombay one or how differently they speak English in Pakistan. It would be interesting.
Here’s where I’m going to toss in a random comment button and ask you to tell me about your accent: the things you can notice anyway!
A tall businessman tried to cut in front of us in the security line today, but he was catching the same flight as us, so I yelled at him in English and K yelled at him in German but he ignored us and sidled into the line all the while with this little smile playing around the corners of his mouth and finally K (exasperated) said, “Are you going to a funeral?” and he said, “Yup” but he was totally lying so I was very happy when I made it to the boarding gate ahead of him. (OK, maybe he wasn’t lying, but he just looked smug and glad he was making us stand behind him in line and we were literally on the same flight so I don’t know why he thought cutting ahead of us was such a great idea.)
I actually really like queues, they’re orderly and have some reason to them but I don’t think I’d stand in one for an event (like the queen dying for instance). I don’t know why I said that, I’m lying, I don’t “really like” queues, but if there’s a situation where there’s a lot of people swarming to get into one narrow entrance, and I have to be in this situation, I prefer that we stand in line, but I get super angry, like Red Mist of Rage angry with people who queue jump. In Delhi there’s always some random older woman just casually lalalala strolling to the head of the line and everyone just lets her, but not me. I’m always, “THE LINE IS OVER HERE” which makes me one of those “the line is over here” people but you know what, in this world you eventually get put into one bracket of convention or another, so this might as well be mine.
Now that I’ve been in therapy so long (and I’m now doing it twice a week, which feels like overkill to me, but my analyst said we weren’t really moving forward with once a week sessions, and traditionally analysis is several times a week, but how much do I have to say?) I can see a common theme in this newsletter, even though I’ve broken it up into sections, which is why I’m in analysis in the first place: to know the human mind so that I can write about it, and so I used the closest human mind I had: my own. The theme, in case you can’t see it, is belonging, and not belonging, and trespasses, and outsiders, and common ground. Soon, I will be in the country of my birth, and I will feel odd and alien there at some level and I will also feel at home like I don’t outside it, and another good thing about therapy is being able to be comfortable with two different feelings at once and not have to choose a side.
Chalo, I’m going to wrap this up because I’ve been desperate to send this for weeks and my flight is nearly boarding so if I don’t send this now I’ll have to wait another day. I’ll write to you guys much more regularly, so expect something soon. Buy me a coffee if you feel like tipping, I live, she says sweeping an arm dramatically, off your generosity.
THE LINK SECTION WHICH ONLY 10% OF YOU READ, WHICH IS ODD, BECAUSE I PERSONALLY LOVE LINKS AND ALSO RECOMMENDING THEM
The billionaire yogi behind Modi’s rise.
What about whataboutism?
An adoptee from Sri Lanka goes in search of his birth family.
The best Harry Potter novel wasn’t written by JK Rowling.
Holy cow capitalism.
That’s my very sleepy airport update! Have a great week.
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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