The Internet Personified: Meenakshi, the teenaged witch
I remember quite clearly when I decided to become a witch. Sorry, a Wiccan, that's what they were/are called. Imagine this: I'm seventeen and awkward. I'm a quiet teenager, nothing too rebellious about me, a good girl who stays home with her books and day dreams, occasionally stepping out in the evenings to walk the dog, sometimes venturing out with more adventurous friends, but I was always the beer holder, never the beer drinker. And then I read Beloved Witch by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. I'd like to emphasise that even though I had the internet, Google was young, there was no social media, no blogs, and I hadn't hunted that hard for other people like me. Beloved Witch was about being a witch, but a witch in India, there were spells that you could actually do at home! Somewhere in my nerdy lonely heart--I was the sort of teenager to always have vague dreamy crushes on people with no expectation of it going anywhere--I longed to be this woman that Ms Chakraverti promised I could be. It seemed to me that I was content to drift through life, like a plastic bag in the wind, very American Beauty, and now looking back I realise that most teenagers are plastic bags in the wind. We drift along with the status quo, because that is easier to do. When someone--usually an adult--said, "Just be yourself" you'd look at them with contempt, because you certainly hadn't figured out who "yourself" was.
I was dreamy crushing on someone just about then, so I did her Attractiveness spell: something about having a bath with salt in it, I think, and then you chant about attracting people to you. I went to school the next day, bursting with self confidence. The boy--who was the boy? I can't remember one distinguishing thing about him--said hello to me, and I thought, "Oh my god, I might be a witch." Still, I had a scientific mind sorta, so I did another spell, candles, full moon--was it the full moon conveniently or did I lazily skip a step like I do when I'm baking and I'm out of vanilla or nutmeg or whatever--either way, I went outside to the balcony and I did whatever she said to do and chanted something about "I want power for myself, power is my goal" and the word "pelf" was worked into it, which is the first time I had ever heard that word, and I think of that spell each time I see it now. And, incredibly, half an hour later, it rained. (Okay, okay, it was July, not unheard of for it to rain, but I felt like I had made it rain, like it was all me doing it.) I was so full of my new power, I made new friends easily, I talked to people, I was everything I had ever wanted to be, slightly intimidating, a little weird, but above all, so full of self-confidence, that when my friends described me to their friends as "a Wiccan" I looked mysterious, and at first, those descriptions had been joking, but after a while, boys started to look a little scared and I was so delighted, SO DELIGHTED that I, little old me, could make boys scared, that I embraced the Wiccan thing for far longer than I actually believed in it, even a few years in college, until I forgot all about it, ensconced as I was, with the first "group" set of friends I had ever had in my whole entire life. (I can still read tarot cards though!)
That's not to say that the Wiccan stuff was the only experimenting I did with the supernatural. Oh no. I was a faithful Linda Goodman devotee. Have you read Linda Goodman's Sun Signs? My old blue paperback copy is falling apart at the seams, that's how many times I've read it, looking and looking and looking for answers to why I was the way I was, why everyone else acted a certain way, yes, but mostly "am I the way I am because I am a Sagittarius woman?" (And then also the dilemma, at age 13: am I supposed to be reading 'The Sagittarius CHILD' or 'the Sagittarius WOMAN?' In the end, I compromised and read both.) She is astonishingly sexist, but in a gentle sort of way. I learned I'd be a great mother, always romping with my kids. I wouldn't be so good at housework, quelle surprise, but I could whip up a mean dessert if needed. I also learned that.. wait, I'll quote it for you, it's too quaintly dated to NOT be quoted:
However, there's a queer twist to her nature. Although she dislikes being bossed, especially in public, when she's testing you for firmness, be firm. Jupiter women can't stand weak, wishy-washy men. If she gets too high-spirited and her clever tongue gets too sarcastic, or she threatens some action that really incenses you, give her a light touch of the Tarzan treatment. Just enough to keep her in line. Like "You do that and I'll break your neck." She may react with surprising meekness if she thinks you're serious. A Sagittarius female has no in-tendon of giving up her individuality for any male, but she kind of likes to know you think of her as a girl.
The Jupiter woman is an incurable idealist. And here's a secret perhaps she never told you: She fell in love with you many years ago, when she was a little girl and wished on the new Moon for someone to share her honest heart. There were lots of times when she thought she had found you and was disappointed. But when you finally came along, she knew you right away, because you were a gentle clown with a dream or two of your own who took her hand and showed her the way to the stars.
Who knew all along I was wishing for a quote-unquote "GENTLE CLOWN"?
Of course I still read my horoscope. I read Susan Miller every month and despair of her ever getting me right. For all of Linda Aunty's nonsense, she said some things that were true about me. Or maybe I wished them into being true, wanting so much to belong to a club. (Here's a great article about why so many millennials are turning to astrology.) Also I have now learned I'm not just a Sagittarius, which makes me feel relieved. (We're apparently the party sign of the zodiac so whenever I tell other zodiac fans my star sign, they say, "Omgggg I LOOOOVE Sagis!" and then look at me expectantly. Actually, I have a Cancer moon (sensitive, lazy, nurturing, dreamy) and a Libra rising [double the odds of laziness, but also charming (thanks, thanks) get bored easily and can run on and on with a conversation.] Not that I believe any of this stuff, of course. Not that I'm still searching for a way to define myself.
(PS: you can calculate your own rising sign/moon sign etc very easily over here, but you need a time of birth.)
I was also really into "calling spirits" as a teenager. It all started at about age 12 or 11, one of those formative years, because I had just moved schools around then, and I was struggling to find my feet, and you know how it becomes sort of like a speed date of finding friends, you go out with one person, see if you're compatible and so on and so forth. It usually takes about three or four tries till you find your one true BFF. Anyhow, so this friend of mine invited me to her farm, which back then was a LOOOONG drive from civilisation and Central/South Delhi where we both lived. Like, literally no one lived in Chhatarpur or Sainik Farms or Saket. It was mostly empty, peppered here or there with some big houses waiting for the real estate boom. She had a Ouija board and we used it and I was fascinated and then, every time someone had a sleepover ("night spend" we'd call it, and I put that in my YA book, but my editor AMEYA said that no one knew what a night spend was so please write back to me and prove her wrong. Or, err, right, I guess) we'd call those spirits, sometimes with the Ouija board, sometimes just a double sheet of paper ripped from a notebook and with the alphabet on it. Sometimes the "holy spirits"--that's what we'd chant, "Any holy spirit passing by, please enter this coin" because we all had a hearty fear of the UNHOLY spirits--would oblige and tell us all sorts of things, but mostly who liked who, which we took as our due, that these long dead people would be as excited that Pankaj liked Neha as we were.
This planchette thing travelled with me to boarding school; listen, where there are teenage girls, there is the need to very safely push back against your restrictive environment by doing something that gives you a thrill. This spirit calling was that thrill. At least we weren't getting drunk on contraband booze like the boys, although that might have been more fun. We had a zillion ghost stories about our boarding school, but mostly about Sir Henry Lawrence, the founder, riding through the school on Friday the 13th and the tapssss drippedddd blooooodddd. (Except our school, The Lawrence School, Lovedale, was established quite a few years after old Henry was dead and buried so I don't know why he'd make a trip back to haunt a school he'd never even SEEN.)
Then for my last two years in school, back in Delhi, suddenly the calling spirits craze picked up again (this was the same school in which I decided to become a witch) but I don't know, something about changing schools so often, so many conversations, so much of the very same excitement following me school after school after school, I felt so blase, been there done that, etc, though I did join in, despite deciding that there were no such things as spirits and everyone squealing and acting so excited. It was the first time some of them were trying it, and I knew that obviously someone was pushing the coin and so on, but I kept my views mostly to myself, feeling much older than everyone else. I never really engaged with this last school. It was too big, too unwieldy to be intimate with. I knew I was there to get good board exam results, so I could go to a good college, but that time of my life stands out as a holding pattern for me, just treading water till it was time to graduate (pass out) and leave them all behind forever.
Anyway, this big school was where we played Light As A Feather, Stiff As A Board. Have you ever played it? Basically four people gather around a fifth person, two people put their fingers (palms together, pointer fingers extended, the rest of the fingers locked) under the arms, the other under the knees. You chant, "Light as a feather, stiff as a board" and the person magically floats up to the ceiling. Magic! Except not.
I have run on at you for ages, dear reader, and now I will stop and ask you some questions.
First: are you enjoying all these personal blast from the past type stories about my life or would you rather I stuck to what I ate, where I went etc like the newsletters of old?
Second: do you have any supernatural type experiences? I'll compile them and put them in a future (bonus!) edition of this newsletter.
This fortnight in stuff I wrote:
New Mythology for the Millennial column up! This fortnight I turned to an old Telugu short story and discovered it was actually a cautionary tale about not answering a chain letter in time.
Now, it so happens that the king of the country was going for a walk through the forest. He saw this cradle, and the birds around said to the king, “This baby is actually meant to be your wife, so please take her home.” Which is a creepy thing for even “the birds” to say, so nice spin there, Uncle Pedo. Although that's unfair, even though he's all about the baby wife, he does wait till she's old enough — by which they mean, when she hits puberty — before he marries her. Here's an even more disturbing thing: No one actually tells the mother that her baby daughter is being taken away to be the king's bride. Nope, he just slings her into a palanquin and rides off into the sunset. As they pass through the country, barren fields are suddenly lush and old cows give milk and the queen, this dude's wife, falls pregnant, despite not being able to have a baby before.
Your three essential links
Zac O'Yeah takes a train ride allll the way from Assam to Kerala.
My coach is crammed to the rafters with fortune-seekers who have reserved tickets, but no confirmed seats. They fill the vestibules, toilets and luggage spaces, but luckily I have booked an upper berth, which is an easily defended position and too narrow to share even if Madonna turned up berth-less and promised to lullaby me to sleep. A gang of ladies enter, ogle me, a Muslim co-passenger relishing non-vegetarian and a techie playing a semi-pornographic game on his big-sized phone, and decide to squat elsewhere.
The miracle of the meditating teenager in Nepal by George Saunders, who also writes great fiction.
I went online. The boy's name was Ram Bahadur Bomjon. He was sitting in the roots of a pipal tree near the Indian border. The site was being overrun by pilgrims, thousands a week, who were calling this boy "the new Buddha." He'd twice been bitten by poisonous snakes; both times he'd refused medicine and cured himself via meditation. Skeptics said he was being fed at night behind a curtain, that his guru was building himself a temple, that his parents were building themselves a mansion, that the Maoist rebels, in on the hoax, were raking in tens of thousands of dollars in donations.
Only for Game of Thrones fans, but I loved this thoughtful take about Cersei the supervillain and a woman.
It is of course true that Cersei loves her children, but it is hard to square Tyrion’s description of his sister with the Cersei of season two’s “Blackwater” who was prepared to kill herself and Tommen, her youngest son, rather than be taken alive by Stannis Baratheon and his army. Tyrion thinks that Cersei loves her children like a June Cleaver when she actually loves them like a Walter White. For the antihero, love of family is about self-advancement, not self-sacrifice.
And bonus links if you still want your fix!
These guys--incels, dangerous--get plastic surgery so they can get laid.
Are we selling pop feminism? Looking at it specifically through the lens of the Reese Witherspoon show Big Little Lies.
How to grow a forest super fast if you have land lying around you'd like to forest.
How to draw a horse. (Surprise ending.)
What it's like to work in the gig economy in India.
Nicholas Sparks is a pretty bad writer. (Surprise, surprise.)
Have a great week!
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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