The interesting thing about Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is not that she’s a 26-year-old woman with a novel to her name, making her one of the youngest published authors in India. No. The interesting thing about her is the fact that, in her fairly small person, she sort of symbolises the changes in the Indian media. Print = old media. And for many young people these days, the past tense. The Net = new media and, therefore, the present and future tense.
Think about it. At 26, she’s already a former journalist who, about four years ago (a brand new journalist then), started writing a blog under the pseudonym ‘The Compulsive Confessor’. It took less than a year for that blog — which was basically about the life and times of a young woman about town — to acquire 15,000 readers, while at the same time, Meenakshi’s bylines in the newspaper she worked for got about as much attention as any reporter’s byline gets — occasionally noticed, quickly forgotten.
So it was the popularity of the blog that induced publishing house Penguin India to call Meenakshi, with the question that every aspiring author waits for: “Got anything for us?”
The answer, not surprisingly, was: “Yes.”
“I took a week off work, sat down at my computer and began to put together the book I’d wanted to write for years,” says Meenakshi. “When I was 16-17, there were no books about people like us. The Indian books were all about villages. Where did we figure? We might be only a tiny minority, but we do exist.”
Meenakshi’s book You Are Here took far longer than a week to write. She’d had the characters ready long before the phone call, so the week she focused on the book was to organise those characters and work out a storyline.
“I didn’t know what to do with them, but the story unfolded as it was written,” says Meenakshi. “There’s no particular storyline, actually. It’s more a slice-of-life kind of book. I had to concoct a storyline, make dramatic things happen, so the characters had something to do.”
You Are Here is about a young woman, Arshi, who’s between boyfriends, has a dead-end job, and a host of friends with problems. It’s an urban girl book. Sex, alcohol and drugs feature — but not even half as much as the book’s publishers claim it does. It’s all taken for granted, just as most urban girls take these things for granted. Except that most urban girls do them, but don’t talk about them. To anyone who’s even mildly shocked by the blurb, there’s nothing in the least bit prurient about the book. For older women, it’s been there, done that, yawn. For younger women, there’s some identification with Arshi’s thoughts on life. But compared with what the book’s blurb says, the blog is far more in your face.
Which is where the Old Media-New Media analogy returns. You Are Here got some pretty rotten reviews in the press. Which is read by old people, remember. However, online, where the young hang out, the reviews have been much less harsh. “I’ve got a fan girl base,” grins Meenakshi. “The feedback has been good.”
Good enough that, at 26, Meenakshi is a former journalist already, putting together a second book. A couple of columns in the press about being a single young urban woman pay her rent. And otherwise she has some money put by.
Online, ‘The Compulsive Confessor’ is still confessing, but not as much as before and not as compulsively. There’s a chance, she says, though there’s no decision as of now, that she might stop confessing altogether. At least in this Internet persona.
“The blog is at a fork right now and it has to go one way or another,” Meenakshi says. “I’ve chosen my path, and I’m waiting to see if the blog will follow.”