Interview: Origami Aai Explores Complexity and Everydayness of Indian Families, says Manjiri Indurkar

Manjiri Indurkar’s new book Origami Aai is a collection of poems that she’s written in the last five years.

Manjiri Indurkar’s new book Origami Aai was launched at the Kunzum on Thursday. Kunzum Review caught up with her for a quick interview.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

My therapist thinks I am maladaptive,
When I tell him I sneak up on Aai
And check for her breathing
Night after night.

One time when I was alone at home,
Watching television the way Azoba had
Warned me against—for good reason—someone
Walked into our house and never left.

That night of horrors remains etched in my memory.
A thief smiled at me, and stole our blind
Tenant’s handbag. The next day she slipped
And cracked open her head.

Worms were eating her eyes from
The inside. They threw wet mud in
Her skull and planted some apple seeds.
Some worms are nutritious for the soil.

When my Aai’s Aai died, I was alone, dreading
She might insist on meeting me. She smelled
Like water in her death, a deep blue scar
Glistening on her forearm.

She was hideous like poverty, or the stench of piss
in government hospitals. Aai recalls her Aai’s apple
cheeks, as we fight over a made-up game of whose
mother is the prettiest. I think of her Aai’s buck teeth

But don’t say it out loud. I spare her feelings.
My therapist asks me, were you always this
Sensitive? And I nod in agreement, vigorously.
I once cut the fingers of my hand for revenge

And blamed it on a friend. He cried a lot
So I went to him and fed him snacks,
With my bandaged fingers.
And told him horror Stories, sitting on his dead azoba’s chair.

That’s absolutely beautiful! That’s from your upcoming collection?

Yes. From Origami Aai.

What is The Gift That Keeps on Giving about?

The thing that I have often done is thought of myself as a slightly cruel person. I think am generally nice but I can be cruel, like, there was this memory of one particular incident which I write about in this poem, of me getting into a fight with a friend, and so much anger I felt in that moment that I cut myself, not like taking a knife and cutting. There were these lemongrass leaves, you know, the lemongrass leaves are very crazy. They have thorns coming out. And so, I just ran my finger all over it. When my parents asked me ‘what happened’, I was like ‘he did it’ and they were mad like ‘how can he do it?’
So, this whole conversation, it’s stuck in my memory, and I do not know what happens after this memory ends. I do not know if I actually talk to him again, if I actually told my parents the truth, but the cruelty of the moment stays with me. I just wanted to write about that.
There is this tendency of thinking of yourself as this great person who is so worried about people around them. I was always very iffy about feeling that about myself. If you’ve read my memoir—It’s All in Your Head, M,I don’t know if you have, but I like putting myself under scrutiny a lot. So, this poem comes from that place of like trying to explore that.

Why is the collection titled Origami Aai?

It was suggested by a friend. There’s a poem in this collection—Origami Birds. Origami is paper art, right? It’s not real. In the poem also, I talk about how my mother can’t be everywhere, but if she was made of origami then I could just carry her with myself everywhere and she could keep me safe. It’s such a selfish thought that I want to make my mother inanimate to take her everywhere, for comfort, for self-comfort. Basically, I am at the epicenter of every thought that I have, then Origami Aai explores thematically not just motherhood, but myself, the way I think or have thought

Some of your poems appear to have been fever dreams in some places. Where does that come from? Your poem—Writing Love is a poem set in another world and the imagery in that is extremely evocative. Where did this poem come from?

I think I was reading Kuzhali Manickavel at that point. Have you read her? She writes very fantastic literature and a lot of the Latin American writers have been heavily influential on me.
In that phase, I must have read The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. Language is something that stays with me a lot. I slept after reading Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, and in three hours I woke up because of this mad rush to write something and I wrote a poem. I think this comes from the space of being in that world.

For the purpose of our readers, do explain what your writing process is? Do you sit down to write or does it all come in a sudden burst of inspiration? 
One thing that happens is that I am always looking at things, as in I am always observing. When I am working or while watching television, and then basically all these images they stay in my mind and I am thinking about them constantly, or talking about them constantly, so while writing a poem it’s almost always like that. This image is stuck in my head and I need to process it out.

So, how do I process it? I process it in the form of poetry.

While Origami Aai is primarily a poetry book, it is interspersed with prose that’s still poetry. Tell us something about it?

I feel there are some things that I want to say that require the fluidity that prose gives, like there is lesser restriction in prose writing, while still the lyricism and the music remain. I like the space prose poetry offers where you’re not tied down by meter, by length, it basically can go anyway.

Why do most of your writings revolve around your family? Is this book an ode to family?

I don’t even know what ode means. Like I’ve had a difficult childhood and I wrote about it in my memoir—It’s All in Your Head, M. My family is lovely, my parents are very progressive, amazing people, and all of that, but I wouldn’t ever give an ode.

Your poems are very personal and are perhaps an examination of your own experiences. What made you put it all down into words?

I was trying to look at the complexity of living in an Indian family and the everydayness of Indian family, that is what I was interested in.

If there was one poem that you wanted people to read in your book Origami Aai, which would it be? And why?

I would want them to read the entire book (laughs)

If they were short on time?

Load Shedding, Load Shedding. (pg. 11)

Are there more books in the offing anytime soon?

Yeah, I am working on something, but I don’t want to talk about it right now.

Is it poetry?

Not poetry. I am not talking about it right now, I just started working on it, so give me some time.

How long does your average book take in writing?

I have no idea, like poems in Origami Aai have been written in the last five years. My memoir took like a year. Sometimes if I get into the space then I can write 5000 words a day. Sometimes, those 5000 will be written in three months.

Walk into your nearest bookstore to read it or Whatsapp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

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