My beautiful barn owls,
Now that I’m the Grand Old Age that I am (after September 13, I start saying “almost the next year’s age” as opposed to “just turned..” but I’m struggling with that this year, not because I’m scared of ageing, because eh, why be scared of the inevitable, but because I guess I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around being forty. In my head I’m somewhere between twenty nine and thirty two, all others ages are a complete surprise) I realise I have a few things that I care about. I mean Big Picture Things, your ethics, your “would I save this from a burning building but make it socialism” kind of thing.
IN WHICH I COME TO THE REALISATION (AGAIN) THAT SLOW TRAVEL IS MY FAVOURITE KIND OF TRAVEL
I’m currently travelling around India, I know you know this if you follow me on Instagram but I also know some of you only read this newsletter so if you’re in Group One, scroll down past this recap and if you’re in Group Two, hi! K and I are Making the Long Wait for the Visa process fun by doing what we’ve always wanted to do and taking trains across South India, a big loop all the way back to Delhi.
We did this once before, as absolute babies, in the year 2014, and because we were such absolute babies (well, okay, 32, but I felt so old and wise then!) we booked trains across North India for deep December, the time when fog is at its worst, and all the trains were delayed and it was SO COLD, and we were in various small towns just waiting for our train to finally roll in and we spent Christmas Eve in the Varanasi waiting room and memorably, we shared a compartment on one of these trains with a family with about a thousand children, a man who just looked out of the window was the father, a woman with a baby in arms and the rest scattered around her body was the mother, and a shifting group of small girls, all under five from what I could tell, made up the rest of the family. The mother took the older children and the baby to the bathroom, the father stared out of the window, the middle child squatted in the middle of the compartment and pooped on the floor. He didn’t even notice, I had to point it out, so he shuffled off, retrieved his wife and she bent and cleaned it up but not before I was so scarred by this experience I said, “Never again!” to K, as if all train journeys were inevitably someone pooping on the floor.
But, I don’t know. My love for being on the road is as great as my love for being at home, curled up on my sofa, with a book and a cat. (If you believe in astrology, which it seems like everyone does these days, you’ll be interested to know that I am a Sagittarius sun with a Cancer moon. The call to the open road is very typical of Sagittarians, I’m told, and the need to nest and home make is equally true of Cancerians…. until you start to nitpick and figure out that your partner, a Cancer sun, has almost no Cancerian characteristics, so astrology is not really something you should put your entire identity into, even though it’s fun, right? It’s super fun.) (I know many friends read this who do believe fully in astrology, and no offence, you guys, you do you, as long as it makes sense to you, who am I to say what should resonate and what shouldn’t?) And the more I want to wander, the more I think about the world and how it’s going to end in dust and flames and massive weather events, because that’s the news I’m consuming, and I can’t stop thinking, “Oh this might be the last time I do this.” Shit happens. War. Famine. Pestilence. And all those things the Bible warned you about. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I’m actually quite relieved we don’t have children because I feel somewhat absolved? Like, it’s easier for me to care less because I have no stakes beyond my own lifetime. After a while of being served news about how bad everything else, how we’re all going to die horrible lingering deaths someday (I was going to say not our generation, but what was COVID if not hubris that humans could do everything with zero consequences?) you start to think of flights not as ways to get from A to B but also leaking massive amounts of gas and exhaust fumes into the air, your carbon footprint getting heavier and heavier each time you take one. Flying is just so damn convenient though. There’s the flip side. I mean, from Delhi to Bangalore, we flew, because it would have been a 26 hour journey and I wanted more time in Bangalore, not just a train in and a train out. I wish I felt stronger about things. I haven’t even given up meat, so this is not a lecture. We’re fucked, so make good choices, I guess?
All this blargh blargh Gloom ‘n’ Doom to explain why we’re taking trains:
Guilt about our carbon footprints, dashing back and forth between Berlin and Delhi constantly.
Slow luxurious travel: a bed? a blanket? food brought to your seat? an endless baggage allowance and no security lines? An easy-to-get-to departure terminal where you can literally reach ten minutes before your train leaves? I’m just amazed more of us aren’t doing this.
We had the time and better than the time, we made this plan in August so we booked our tickets in September, once we decided the routes which meant confirmed tickets (cheaper than flying, did I mention?) on AC two tier/chair car and tomorrow, our anniversary, a first class coupe overnight to ourselves from Kochi to Goa.
Our train from Bangalore to Kochi (Kanyakumari Express which goes all the way down the tip of the country, where I’m told you can see the sunset and the moonrise together, which sounds kind of magic and next time I’m totally scheduling a trip) was lovely. We got the side berths, a curtain to pull for privacy, a pretty good reading light fixed into the wall and clean sheets and blankets which I’d been a little worried they wouldn’t give post pandemic. The food was not as good as it usually is on this stretch, a somewhat boring chicken biryani from Bangalore for dinner, and since they were picking up breakfast trays in Kochi, we only got to eat the one thing.
Next, we take the Duronto Express from Kochi to Madgaon, chill in Goa for about ten days and then take the Mandovi Express, a day train, through the Western Ghats to Mumbai. This route is frequently on the “best Indian rail journeys” lists, and it is gorgeous, I know, because we’ve done it once before, but we were younger so we took a regular class, no seat reservations, hard seats, but man, I’m pushing 41, I need cushioning for my butt if I’m going to be sitting on it for twelve hours. After which, we spend a few nights in Bombay with beloved old friends, and then catch the trusty Rajdhani back to Delhi, a route I’ve taken so many times, I think I know it by heart. When K and I were first dating, and long distance, I took a bunch of trains to Bombay to see him every now and then (the worst of which was the Garib Rath, please, for the love of god, never take it, you’re sitting up overnight and they never turn off the very bright fluorescent lighting). Trains are so great in India, a little daunting if you don’t like people or smells or people-y smells, but if you try and push that from your mind (it’s me, I’m talking about myself and how my years living in a cocoon have spoilt me for any kind of people-in-my-bubble experience, so now I have to figuratively slap myself and say, “Meenakshi, stop being so fucking precious” because, friends, you cannot be a writer unless you’re willing to take it all in, so learn from me, and engage with the world, smells and all, before you too are suddenly having harsh conversations with yourself in the middle of the night) (WHERE does it END, one minute you’re packing sunblock, the next thing it’s five years later and you can’t travel without a whole suitcase full of skin care and your own pillow, it’s bad enough that my hair products mean I have to check in my bag whenever I travel by plane. And that I have to make sure to carry some kind of coffee maker with me when I travel outside of coffee drinking places. This time I bought a cute little steel pour-over machine which is light and practical and has a washable filter, so no need for paper!)
PAUL THEROUX IS KINDA RACIST THOUGH
I bought The Great Railway Bazaar at Blossom’s in Bangalore (still India’s best second hand bookshop!) and posted about it on my bookstagram account with great excitement, except after I posted I got to the India bits, and eek. Ook. I had to read most of it with a restraining hand on my own shoulder, petting when it got too rough (“there there, it was the 70s, he thought he was only writing for white people who would nod thoughtfully”). It’s still a greatly inspirational book for anyone who wants to do a super long rail journey (his goes from Paris, through Asia, and ends in the former USSR) but it’s mostly Paul rolling his eyes at his fellow passengers. The Indians he meets are particularly dehumanised, so read at your own risk. I liked when he talked about sitting in his cabin, trying to read and trying to write, but getting lost in the journey itself, so he didn’t know his days from his nights and the landscape outside became just like a fever dream.
WILL YOU REALLY WEAR IT
Here’s what I’ve started doing more of: not buying clothes online or off fast fashion retailers. Second hand, export surplus (factory discards or donated), or having my tailor make something with fabric I’ve bought (not this time because he takes ages and time is limited, plus I’m returning to full winter, so all my fashion soon will just be Uniqlo, which is fast fashion, so I contradict myself while I wear my Heattech leggings and undershirt and down jacket five days in a row). Another thing: using my own cupboard as a shop, rotating clothes so I pull out one batch for summer 2022, and then I’ll retire them and use another batch for summer 2023, alternating so it always feels fresh. It’s also nice because I have no cupboard space, so I store the clothes I’m not using in a bag in the basement.
Here’s something I know just from being alive for almost 41 years: trends are dumb. Gen Z, age 17, are wearing the same clothes I wore, age 17, your Avril Lavigne hair, your panda eye make up, tank tops and baggy jeans. Hold on to something long enough and it will come back, that is, assuming you still fit after years of sedentary living. That’s why I often size up when I’m shopping, lots of room to “grow.” Don’t skimp on shoes or underwear, you only need one convenient bag (she says buying all the bags), events give away free cool tote bags all the time, no one will remember you wore the same dress the last time you met them unless it’s a particularly eye-catching pattern, and then it’s your dress, your pattern, so that’s cool too.
I have to say though. I have friends who are real climate activists, not just doing stuff when it’s convenient and skipping over the hard parts. It’s a tough life, realising that most of your soft comforts come from industries that are actively killing this beautiful world we live on. So if I’m sounding like I’m giving you a lecture, it’s because I’m giving myself a lecture too. These things are important to me, but how much is anything important to me? Make a small change or don’t, we’re all going to die eventually anyway, she says morbidly, but also with a certain amount of relief. The one cool thing about environmentalism, if you want my extremely cynical take, is that it’s really good for bragging rights on the internet. Post about your menstrual cup or your bamboo toothbrush, ignore the AC you leave on all night every night, you’ll still get loads of likes. You can posture on the internet, and no one realises you’re standing on a podium made entirely out of plastic bags.
This time in Kerala, I was very keen to go to Thekkady, a place I remember from the 80s, when I used to live here. I remember seeing lots of elephants on a boat ride and getting leeches stuck to my bare legs, and generally wildlife coming out of my ears. It was great. Thekkady is still green and lovely, but it is three decades later, and there are more people and fewer animals, and the boat ride revealed nothing, neither did my walk (though the leeches still swarmed, but now they’ve invented something called leech socks which go over your regular socks and your pants and tie up at the knee) and I suddenly realised that maybe I’d never see elephants in the wild again. Maybe that part of my life is just… over.
I sound sad, but I’m more resigned than anything else. I had a really good time in the 80s and 90s and you can’t expect the party to go on forever. They’re called non-renewable resources, you know. I feel a little sorry for kids today, but eh, they have the internet, they’ll be fine.
Disabled people create lifehacks to be able to live independent full lives, which I think is very cool. (The Baffler)
The curious afterlife of a brain trauma survivor—also cool. (Wired)
Excellent article (and related to my newsletter theme!) about landslides and construction and MURRDERRRR in the hills. (Fifty Two)
Oooh I love E Nesbit and therefore profiles about E Nesbit. (The New Yorker)
Colleen Hoover, the author, is doing so amazingly well that publishers are baffled, which is not really flattering for CoHo, but she’s baffled too. (New York Times)
Inside the Metaverse and the future of what online life is going to look like if Facebook gets its way. (NYT)
Sorry, but I had to: astrology and the death of personality. (Maybe Baby)
LOVED this story about Berghain which is about a ten minute walk from our flat, and might be sadly closing soon before I ever go in. (The White Review)
The article that got the most clicks last time was this one about Harry Potter fan fiction. (Slate)
That’s all I’ve got! If you liked this post, or any of my others, please buy me a coffee, your support keeps me going!
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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