The Internet Personified: Did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?
A ramble about mortality
Here we still are.
This is the month a friend died, back in 2002. It’s been eighteen years since her death—car crash, not the driver’s fault, a truck coming the wrong way, I don’t think he was ever caught—a whole adult person has been made since she’s been gone. At the memorial service, stunned with grief, I wandered around her house and I remember not thinking much beyond, “So, does this mean I’ll never see her again?” That was the hardest thing to grasp, how a person can be in your life one day and then just vanish from it the next, how you can have a conversation on Monday morning about something mundane and then when it’s Thursday and they’re dead, a hole where they used to be, and you keep thinking about the last conversation you had with them, as though you can infuse that moment with significance. We were awfully young to lose someone—as though there’s ever a right age!—but we were a group of four for a bit, in college, and those two years, the last two of her life as it turned out, I found myself in a deep sisterhood type of friendship that would set the tone for my relationships for the rest of my life.
These were the final years also of the non-social-media days, we all had cellphones by this time, but you had to pay for incoming calls also so you “missed called” your richer friends who’d call you back. We sent short texts—you paid per text, and you only had a short character limit, but mostly our bonding was done in person, crowded into a bedroom, ostensibly for study group, but really to talk and laugh and smoke cigarettes and drink, but only after 12 pm because we weren’t alcoholics. She was a professional already, she was “discovered” at a mall, she had a small show on a music channel where she interviewed people, she was always dashing in and out of Delhi, she had friends who seemed so sophisticated, so beyond us. She didn’t speak about her Bombay days much, if I recall, she preferred to inhabit our smaller world with us, talk about college and teachers instead of shooting schedules and famous people.
This is the most I’ve allowed myself to think of her, to write down this person, in the last eighteen years. You know how the more you remember something, the more your memory becomes about you remembering the event and not the actual events? She was tallish, with wild curly hair she usually wore on the top of her head, she had a classically beautiful face, big eyes, wide, generous mouth. Great skin. Great sense of fashion too. All this sounds like someone you’d resent, but she was so kind. She listened. She offered good advice. Of course we got pissed with each other, we weren’t saints, she was a normal human being like the rest of us, but our fights never lasted that long.
Why is she so present this April, eighteen years later? I suppose it’s because it’s been a long period of being without distractions, just at home, by ourselves, and it’s as good a time as any for my mind to toss up all the people I loved and lost. I thought the other day about a young editor friend of mine who also passed far, far too early. For a long time I didn’t let myself think about these girls, these women, these dead friends of mine, but now I revel in those memories. The grief at their loss feels less sharp, of course, years have gone by, years and years and years of coming to terms with that I’m never going to see this person again, how odd feeling. But there’s still a slight ache, like a bruise, when I picture this young editor, she’s always at the Alliance Francaise when I first draw her up, she’s laughing at something, but she sees me and she draws me in for a hug and she smells of that Japanese perfume brand with a flower in the bottle. Kenzo. Sometimes she’s at 4S, sitting across from me at a table, sometimes it is just me, being told of her death one sunny Bombay morning, just as I’m about to make my coffee.
I’m drinking coffee now, and I thought about why my dead friends are coming back to me now and I thought maybe it’s because I’m pondering my mortality now more than ever. I’m pondering everyone’s mortality, anyone could get sick, anyone could die, I could lose more people I love, and this is terrifying. I am afraid of grief. I am afraid to grieve. I’ve done it, I tell the universe, do I have to do it again? And yet, by loving people and animals, we’re setting ourselves up for this loss, everyone feels it, this sense that this could be the last time I see this person. Or, in these COVID times, that time, that Sunday in February, that was the last time we would ever meet.
There was also this Bojack Horseman episode that I watched yesterday where he’s having a dinner party with everyone significant in his life who’s died. The show is dark and beautiful and often terrifying and that’s what this particular dinner party was like, but I think my dead people dinner party would be nice. I like my ghosts.
But then my mind calls up another person I knew who estranged herself from everyone before she died, and we had been friends just two years prior, she had given me bags and bags of designer clothes some of which I still own, because she didn’t want to wear them any more, we’d sit around in her house a lot, she was friends with my ex-boyfriend, but through me, she became entwined with my other friends as well. And then, I suppose she went a little manic, she was rude and angry to me the last time we spoke, she cut herself off from all of us and I lost track of her until I heard of her death, and by then she had alienated herself so much from me, that I felt confused. There was shock and horror, but was there grief? I don’t know.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there’s that penultimate chapter when he turns the Resurrection Stone over in his hand and all his dead people come pouring out and stand next to him. I found that chapter so moving, even though it’s followed up by the set-piece Dumbledore in an afterlife train station that everyone quotes all the time. “When this is over,” I told K the other night, “People will be better versions of themselves because they will have had to sit with themselves for so long, no escaping, just them and their inner monologues.” It’s so easy to escape when you have a world to escape into, so easy to avoid thinking of an afternoon walking through the back lawns of your college campus, your friend singing With Arms Wide Open by Creed and tossing her arms wide open with one of the expansive gestures she made. Of course you are the star of your own biopic, but she was the guest star that people would cheer for, that they’d write about missing.
Actually I don’t even want to escape my mind right now. Things are churning, like some primordial shifting, some massive deep clean of my psyche, things are revealing themselves to me about me. Some of it is painful to think about, but there are so many epiphanies. I am my own therapist, I am allowing myself to grieve, but also to be joyful and thoughtful and bored and restless and calm and crazy.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
One foot in front of the other. My mind draws lines and connections and shows them to me. My mind invents theories. I wander through the holidays I’ve already taken, recreating Italy, Vietnam, Germany, all in seven seconds, one flash of memory after another. Our best memories are when things are happening to us, or happening with us. We may not remember these lockdown times very clearly, just one day melding into the next.
I have no neat way of ending this rambling. I remember a time in the early noughties when everyone’s blog was called Random Something. Random Thoughts of a Crazed Mind. Random Musings of a Workaholic. Random Ramblings of a Quarantined Writer. That’s what this has been like a bit. Remembering my dear departed. Missing them a little, even now, a zillion years later. Wondering what they would have made of all of this.
I wrote much more coherently about learning to love cooking in these quarantined times for Reader’s Digest.
This Week in Publishing News:
Why was Woody Allen’s memoir shrouded in secrecy?
How is *waves hand* all this affecting Indian language publishing?
The Jaipur Literature Festival is maybe not the most recent but certainly a very high profile new entrant to the digital literature festival thing everyone is doing. Their series is called Brave New World.
Collins—Harper Collins’ education imprint—has made their textbooks free online for classes 1 to 8, in case anyone’s struggling.
And Vanita Kohli-Khandekar has sold the digital rights of her book The Making of Star India (Penguin Random House) which apparently is going to be made into a TV show like Mad Men or Succession but a fictional version of the events in Khandekar’s book.
Link list ahoy!
First, the non-corona stuff, admit it, the links are the only reason you opened this, no?
Being a furry isn’t everything you think it is.
SHOTS FIRED re: criticism and also Mary Beard, who really should spend less time arguing with her critics.
Ten surprising facts about everyday household objects. (Forks used to be considered evillllll.)
I found Fable the raven (the BEST name for a raven) last week and went down a sadly too brief Youtube rabbithole, please enjoy the same. (Fable is also inspiring this week’s gif theme, that’s so raven.)
I took a Statistical “Which Character” Personality Test and got a character I don’t actually care about so much. But obvs you should do the quiz too.
More about my results: obviously Luna, but also obviously Carrie. Georgiana Darcy though??? Least like Viktor Krum, some people from The Wire (yes, K, I’ll watch it, I’ll watch it, but everyone is OPPOSITE to me) and Hank from Breaking Bad.
Cannot avoid linking to corona stories but these are all beautiful reads about our current times, so would suggest having a look even if you’re virused out:
Okay, how can I NOT show you a piece on how India’s RWAs are turning fully facist after my newsletter last week? It’s rare that I get to be so trendy with topics!
Love this meditation by Nisha Susan (hi Nisha!) on home.
Gorgeous and searing essay by Arundhati Roy about how we should emerge from this pandemic.
And a very grim prediction on the coming economic crisis in Newslaundry.
After that, I still dare, however, to wish you a great week!
It’s Easter this weekend and that sort of means new beginnings. Let’s stay relentlessly optimistic despite it all.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that 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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