The Internet Personified: Slowly but surely embracing my new hermit status
Let's explore the Great Indoors!
Hi my fellow shut-ins,
When we began this social distancing stuff, I thought I’d go crazy in about a week. I had the strep throat for a bit, so I didn’t go out that week, and then stuff just started slowing down, so this is really week four of my self-isolation, and I have gone through the five stages of being indoors, from “I wish I could meet other people, I am so sad right now” to “eek, I am panicking because what if the supplies run out and we are still stuck here” to “okay, I’m just going to have a cocktail or two every evening to take the edge off” and finally now, where I’ve resumed a normal life, like the world is just the walls of our apartment, and people exist only as voices on the phone, sometimes faces on a video chat. I read a lot. I cook every evening, and exciting things too: cajun red beans, sausage and rice, cauliflower bolognese, pork vindaloo… tonight I’m doing jackfruit carnitas with homemade tortillas, which might be HIGHLY experimental, but at least we will have fun making them. As you can see, we are mostly eating vegetarian, that’s because our local market only has a veg shop, no butcher and I didn’t know how Big Basket etc were going to work (and then they stopped delivery because the police were harassing the delivery guys, and now apparently, you have to get something called a Curfew Pass from your local police station, so it’s a bit like we’re at war, isn’t it?) So we ventured out a few days ago, at an anti-social time, and bought a few more veg, and we’ll go on like that, I suppose, till this is over. K made me buy five kilos of rice and about three different kinds of daal three weeks ago, so we are also well-stocked, plus we have pasta and what not. We’re okay, basically. I hope you are too, and that your only worry is how to pass the time.
I can’t work on my book, because my brain is still moving at fight-or-flight speed mixed with just regular old despair, and this is not conducive to long creative projects, but I’m self-soothing with books and TV and this newsletter, and hope to be able to finish work soon too.
But also, my book—a murder mystery set in Delhi—is stalled because of what’s happening. There are dilemmas: does my written world have to change to reflect the times we live in now? Is art going to be different? Do I address this or do I ignore it? The book is already written, but the edits are when everything has the potential to change. If this is our world now—then this is our truth, and my only goal in writing all the books I have is to reflect the truth as best as I can.
I’ve been trying to learn German for the past few years. Okay, so should we ever move to Germany—K is a German citizen, this is not just a country I have pulled out of my ass—I’d need to go on something called the Reunification Visa, not just a regular spouse visa, and this visa involves passing a language test, both written and oral, to make sure you are ready to integrate with the country. This is so intimidating that I’d rather just stay in India or another English-speaking country, but it’s also been a good excuse to learn something new.
I first started (on an app called Memrise) right before we went to Berlin for the first time, this would have been 2016, I think. All that Memrise teaches you in the first few lessons is the names of foods: I can say “I like sausage!” and “I don’t like any vegetables!” and “The bread is green!” but non-food-related stuff was harder, and by that I mean, if I had to ask directions I’d sound like this:
“Excuse me, I like noodles and fruit?”
Also, I’m very shy when it comes to trying out new words with actual German-speaking strangers. So K would translate until he got fed up and pushed me forward, saying, “Go on and talk yourself” and I’d look at the waiter or whoever and all my German food words would leave me and I’d say, shamefacedly, “Do you speak English?” because guess WHAT Germany, most of your country-people DO speak English and I could manage on that and not my food-naming skills.
Anyway, I gave up on the app, all it taught me was sausage sausage sausage, but then I thought I’d try again and I hired a young boy from JNU to come and teach me in person, but he turned out to be a full Gen X-er and kept flaking on me so I was a millennial and ghosted him too. Before this break-up however, he taught me how to use words depending on the gender of the noun. German has three genders: der, die, das (he, she, it) and how you frame a sentence depends on what gender the thing is. It’s kind of confusing, as is the fact that Sie means both “she” and “they” so you have to sort of get context from the second word you’re using. I mean, okay, so in Hindi we have a few words like this also, take kal for example, which means both “yesterday” and “tomorrow” but now I know Hindi and I can’t explain how I know it, it’s just instinctive like all languages should be. German however, does things like turn “the girls” into a neuter article, so instead of “die Madchen” it’s “das Madchen” (which is because the suffix “chen” is always neutral, being a diminutive.) \
But there are things I like about the language. I am on attempt three, working off of Duolingo, which is much better than Memrise—probably because I did a test on it and got to skip level 1, I’m now level 2!—also because I’ve been to Germany a few more times and I really get what a jigsaw puzzle of a language it is. So if you know two words, you can knit them together and make a third. This kept me busy last time I was in Germany, I broke apart words and put them together with glee, realising what they meant. For instance, all the exits on the highway are marked “ausfahrt” which, when you break it down makes perfect sense, because “aus” is “out” and “fahrt” (yes, it’s quite funny) is “journey.” Out-journey! So simple! (I’ve also managed to retain a lot of the vocabulary words, if not the grammar, so this sort of reading is easier for me. For this, the apps are great, but eventually I will have to join a class and learn all of the grammar so I can make myself understood.)
(I’m also suddenly reminded that our annual summer holiday to London and Germany (always Germany, because of K’s fam, so we attach another country or two to it like backpackers) which we were supposed to take at the end of next month is now probably cancelled, which is a first world problem to have, but also makes me kind of gloomy, so I will throw myself back into my language app.)
I don’t know if I have an ear for languages. Sometimes, overhearing K talk to his folks, I can understand what he’s saying with context, sometimes I am able to hear my own family talk in Malayalam—a language I know even less of than German—pick out the commonly used words and figure out what they mean. But I’m not a super linguist, like some people are. I’m too shy to practice on anyone, and so that means all my language is inside my head.
I went to Paris once, when I was nineteen, tagging along with my dad for a conference. He conferenced, I pottered around the city on my own, armed with a English-French dictionary and a smile. I remember getting lost, and stopping someone and laboriously translating “I am lost, can you help me?” and I got about halfway through and he said, “Do you speak English?” and I almost threw my arms around him I was so relieved and I said, “Yes, yes, I do!” and that was that.
This week in publishing news:
Woody Allen has found another publisher after Hachette dropped him. The new publishing house—Skyhorse—isn’t exactly High Literary, but oh well, I guess this is quite a feather in their collective cap.
Kanishka Gupta on whether the coronavirus stuff could shut down Indian publishing for a bit. (I am also quoted in this article, but so are a lot of other people.)
Little Licypriya Kangujam is thinking of writing two books, and she’s already being courted by publishers here. Point of note 1: she is eight years old. Point of note 2: this article that points out that a lot of her “awards” might be fake news.
Juggernaut books has tied up with Scroll for an online lit fest starting this weekend.
And some MORE non-corona links, because I’m dealing with this by pretending it’s not happening, join me in Fairyland!
Ann Patchett (one of my favourite authors!) profiles Reese Witherspoon (one of my favourite actors!)
Cozy English murder mystery TV shows.
Participating in a TV show that drops you in the middle of the jungle… naked.
The real history of The Sound of Music.
This is a crazy story and I suggest you read all of it.
Empty places around the world because humans are staying indoors. (Okay, corona-related, but beautiful and sad.)
And extra owl gifs all over this newsletter in honour of the spotted owlets we saw yesterday in the park next door.
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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