Introducing "mad words" with some banging news
What is mad words? Why are mad words? What is "mad", and what are "words"?
Here are some words: Mad means insane, enthusiastic, foolish, angry, frenzied, exciting, and great and remarkable. It sums up the range of life itself, how I arrive at my point of view, and the effects of consuming it.
You must be mad to still be reading this. Read more and send rave reviews.
Right now I'm delivering an especially hot variety of mad words. They're about the making of my first book, a collection of essays on how crazy life is in modern India and society. Think navigating extreme differences within families and generations and a fraught society, in a sociopolitical environment so overwhelming that most practical action feels futile, while mostly swallowing all thoughts, moral or otherwise, with Instagram Reels and making ends meet and managing the mental health fallout of these mundane, privileged activities. Exciting, no?
Before I tell you that big news about it, a quick digression into my past. Nothing to worry about! I just want to make sure you’re a fan of my writing. And, if not, to give you reasons to be one, so you can look like this in front of your screen: 😍. (And then forward this to anyone else who isn’t a fan. 😒)
I go by @ramachandranesk on the internet and write essays—long, short, medium, but always rare—on everything culture, biz, sci-tech, media, aspiration, selfhood, identity, and modern India.
My work appears in The Caravan, ThePrint, VICE, Fifty Two, Rest of World, The Quint, Raiot, and other leading publications, such as my website. (Look at it! It’s a visual treat! But do not eat.)
These achievements are amazing to us because I do not have a background in writing. Indeed, I studied engineering at BITS Pilani, Goa, and then taught myself programming so I could be a “real coder” at Amazon, before doing well in CAT 2016 and getting an MBA at IIM Calcutta, after which began my Don Draper era, which saw me work on large detergent brands like Tide and Ariel (I helped launch Tide Pods in India! Buy a pack!), but also on subscriptions for media outlets like The Ken and The Caravan, which kept me close to journalism and writing, which would’ve been about my bizarre life and times, but, instead, it’s now got it all.
Really: My writing brings a bodymind steeped in STEM, business, the arts, and itself to the yard, and they’re like it’s better than yours, damn right, it’s better than yours… Ahem, please read my pieces here. There’s stuff on AI and Hindu supremacy, aspiration and baby names, game theory and Netflix originals, caste, media, gender, science stuff, the traffic in Bengaluru, conversations with my father, how I buy my earpods, you name it.
My debut book will build on the “distinctive style” that popularized my previous essays. Readers described these as “funny, informative, completely gripping”; “a brain drawing fascinating insights and connections”; “serious, hilarious, and factual at the same time”; analytical and irreverent; smart and witty; “genius fun”; “extremely reported and well-researched”; “copious with perspectives”; “unafraid to say something possibly ludicrous”; “playing with formats”; “original”, “sharp”,—even “brilliant”.
Now for some banging news
The book promises to out-deliver on these fronts, I think.
For one, it was baptized by the South Asia Speaks fellowship for outstanding emerging writers in January 2022, a few months after I conceived of it. Over the last year, I worked with my mentor, Sanam Maher, to crank out pages on my once-dysfunctional family(?); the interplay of food, looks, and womanhood; my burgeoning sexuality and dilemmas about religion, gender identity, substance, exercise, work, madness, and ambition—all of which dovetailed into this nasty cocktail called Things to Write About.
I’ve been drinking deeply from it.
Then, on January 13, 2022, life changed again. I got these messages from Kanishka Gupta, who represented last year’s Booker Prize winners, among other South Asian literary giants.
A few minutes later:
And then, a few weeks later:
So this is it—the banging news about my book. I’ve signed up with Writer’s Side by Kanishka Gupta to bring my debut collection of essays to the world in the best possible way. Given how continuously things are changing today, from AI and creative work and writing to the tumults of publishing in Indian media and abroad, I’m glad to be working with such a solid team to make sure the book finds its place in the world.
This is HUGE for me; I hope you understand.
Readers of the book’s early chapters, some of whom are subscribers here, are fortunately affirming that the book should find its place in the world. They’re calling it the “definitive take on the Indian millennial experience”; “novelistic” and “stream of consciousness”; its voice like “Carrie Bradshaw meets Joan Didion” (🤯); its “immensely identifiable and relatable” themes evoking Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino for those who’ve read her. (The New Yorker staff writer’s book of essays wrangled with the question of arriving at an organic self in the internet age, and was praised for its “astute analysis” of “the unlivable hell” that is contemporary society, offering penetrating insights on “feminism, identity, the internet”, and the “sources of millennial anxiety”.)
TL;DR? My book is being repped by Kanishka Gupta—you know, just the guy who works with Booker Prize winners. And readers are saying they love where the book is going.
Now, what is “mad words”? Why this newsletter?
In India, asking what it means to be an “organic self”—a decent, competent human being, perhaps—amidst our variety of peak capitalism, technology, and fascism implies several sub-questions. Some of them are:
What is a self?
Is it our identities?
Is it our minds, thoughts, feelings, bodies, hands, and feet?
All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Something else entirely??
How do we live and express our (many) selves today?
How they contradict each other!
What the psychological toll of adorning them is!
Versus thirty years ago, say, when the internet and a liberalized economy weren’t around?
So how to be a person today?
What do Indian family dynamics and trauma have in common with celebrity culture, caste, gender, age, narcissism, consumerism, capitalism, our history, and our very sense of being?
What about drugs, and the mystical experiences you can have without them?
What’s for lunch?
And is it okay to ask that?
Until the book’s release, mad words will help you stay in touch with me, Sanjana Ramachandran, aka @ramachandranesk, as I try to answer these difficult questions. You can expect:
Dispatches* from a mind in the wild, foraging through ideas, dilemmas, literature, history, conversations, and (mostly current) affairs like a monkey in a forest seeking bananas. You may wish every now and then that I knew where I was going, not because you want to get anywhere soon, but because uncertainty, which is at the heart of Truth, is unsettling. Will we get those bananas? Are they even there, in this corner of the forest? Will they be fit to eat? If not, how to survive? I think both of us need to get used to a lack of answers. Just look at the world right now! Previous iterations of this post included such conclusions as: “I’m going to say this!, and I’m going to say that!, and I’m going to do it this often!, at the same time each week!, so you can expect reliable service! in exchange for money! I’m not sure I need to ask you for!—yet!” I’m constantly influenced by personal branding gurus and sell-your-newsletter-newsletters that insist you figure your One Thing out and then hammer One Thing into One Audience over and over. But, actually, I don’t have one or two things figured out—and I’m glad my existing readership doesn’t seem to care about it. I talk about many things, as mentioned above, and the questions I try to answer throw up so many sub-questions, with or without resolution, that I just need to share my thinking through all of it. Writing is intrinsically lonely and all-consuming otherwise. So this is an outlet for me, one that I hope we’ll both learn from, because I do think there’s so much to learn from just thinking out loud. You experience the uncertainty and humility behind final, confident answer, which is typically the only thing the world sees. But I don’t think it needs to be that way. I wish to be foolish openly. So I hope you’ll agree that frequency and subject matter are at least as defining as the process of thinking about things, which is what this newsletter opens a window to. If you appreciate that, please subscribe and share it with your friends.
**That was the only bullet point in this list of bullet points. Expect more such misadventures with asterisks in all my literature and storytelling. What a crazy marketing stunt ya. 🤪
What do I want from you?
A piece of cake. I want it easy.
“No, seriously, what do you want from me?” you insist, because you’re a good person.
Fiiiine. I have been getting the most generous requests and offers—people want to read early drafts, give feedback, brainstorm ideas, be my brand manager… It’s too wild. I love that my writing and work have struck a chord with people. I’m so grateful.
My current thinking is: Those who want to contribute more deeply can best do so by paying for this newsletter. If the number gets big enough, I can do more: actually hire a team to manage and produce more posts, articles, videos, Reels, etc. Currently, I do everything by myself, and I have/will hit a peak sooner than later, I think. But the money would help me scale what I have to offer without losing quality.
I’m not sure what paid features would be good yet, but here are some things I have thought of:
I will actually watch all the Instagram reels you send me.
We will do fun chatting in Substack-chat. My biggest skill is spontaneous, witty banter.
Prioritized calls with me, @ramachandranesk, based on mutual availability and within reason etc. People book my time on Topmate for marketing consulting/career mentorship stuff. If you’re a paid subscriber here, though, you’ll get a discount and a slot sooner than otherwise. (I’ll email you the discount code once you’re a paying sub.) I’m including this feature because I get many DMs about my professional journey, but I’m also careful about my bandwidth, as much as I love helping people. A good way to quickly book calls and get yourself ahead on the list is to be a paid subscriber here.
You’re getting yourself on the waitlist for a personalized signed copy of my book.
Questions and topics you’d like me to think about and answer—guaranteed thoughts and answers. (I was often the teacher’s pet. As often as I was punishable.)
But if you feel no need for the above, do not pay. You free subscribers are the best because you can’t expect too much. So just keep reading and engaging with my work. What I’d love most—and truly give you metta for—is if you keep championing what I create as long as you like it. I have fought hard to be where I am, and you are partially responsible for me seeing through the fight. So talk about my writing and tweets and Reels at parties, tell people how you discovered me, and go to parties if you don’t already; tell your dates or spouse and friends about the smart unique people who make your life better; be cool, basically. I couldn’t ask for more.
Thank you immensely for being part of everything so far. Remember that big update (Booker-Prize-type-agent-is-repping-Sanjana’s-book), and tell people about it.
See you soon!