Tag Archives: #amwriting

Writer’s Room: Sharanya Manivannan

Standard

For “Writer’s Room”, a feature in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror LIFE (Architecture), December 2017

I like to have plants within my sight, and so I work with my desk pushed up against the doors of my balcony. I currently grow bougainvillea, roses, jasmine and hibiscus – all of them miss the Chennai summer, which inspires immodestly beautiful blossoms in them. I had grown tulasi, too, but it did not survive the fortnight in October I spent away – incidentally, in Colombo and Batticaloa, where my roots are. Pun unintended. Other plants, like the karpuravalli, have not survived the gluttony or envy of pigeons that claim this as their habitat too. Not long ago, I was delighted to learn that the mysterious half-circles I found on the leaves belonged to the leaf-cutter bee. The leaf-cutter bee is shy and autonomous, which might tell you why I love her. This balcony that for now is mine is in Chennai, a pleasantly green city of India, and I am doubly fortunate to have many trees thrive within my sight too.

I work on my computer, and this one is an old lady who’s been with me for nearly seven years. In notebooks, I make to-do lists and brainstorm and doodle and scribble in atrocious handwriting when I’m trying to record quickly what another is saying. My real handwriting is quite pretty, but it is not what fills their pages. Speaking of which – this desk is not ever nearly as clean as this picture suggests. Take it from me: most of the writers you’ll meet in this column will spin a little lie about that! As they say: a clean desk suggests a messy drawer, and I really think the only place that needs to be pure is the heart.

Travel: Little-Known Hill Stations In The Western Ghats

Standard

My story on looking for quiet places to read my new manuscript in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, featuring an elephant surprise, is in Condé Nast Traveller India. You can read it here.

The Venus Flytrap: Ink On Paper

Standard

It began with an unwillingness to lug my laptop across the city to a workshop. Almost whimsically, I carried just a notebook and pens. It turned out to be delightful: because of my predisposition that a computer is for “serious work”, paper for messy ramblings, I found myself writing in a unpressured, riskier way. Doing the co-ordinators’ exercises took on a meditative quality, free of the tap-tap of keys and tic-tic of mouse buttons, and the practiced way my body and mind’s subtle rhythms usually respond to the same.

Even though I work on computers, I’ve always loved the physicality of ink and paper, the felt intimacy of the word “flow”. So I own an avalanche of preferred pens and handmade notebooks, which I fill with dreams upon waking, lists, desperate releases of raw emotion, questions that have no answers that I can’t keep myself from pursuing, repetitive doodles of intricate paisley and arabesques, wishes, articulations of the unsaid. But not since adolescence, when word processing software became my best friend, have I really written this way.

But before that, my hands had touched the memory of trees each time I spilled my heart on paper. Among my most vivid formative periods was this: when I was 12, my classroom was a converted chapel located just outside the main building of my school. The bus dropped me off almost an hour early, so I was always the first to arrive. And I would sit there in that quiet room and compose lyrics, every single schoolday morning. It was my ritual and my sanctuary, my way (though I did not know it then), of building selfhood against quotidian loneliness, disappointment, confusion.

Our handwriting, rarely seen by anyone else after the end of examinations, have become such private things. Mine is more mood than calligraphy. When I don’t care, when speed is the only consideration, it is nothing but squiggles. When I do care, when I give myself to the visceral experience of muscle, eye, instrument and journal, there’s something to admire in the curvature of my cursive. I like black ink.

I’ve written this column by hand, in a notebook with a cover into which glossy tamarind pods have been pressed, a gift from another writer. Between this inscribing and your reading are many tap-taps and tic-tics and machines, but there are also the sounds of the very early morning and the smack of the newspaper against your front door (what gets delivered first at your house – milk, news, puja flowers?) and the rustle of pages of newsprint being turned over, still resonant somewhere with the sounds the city made deep into the previous night when my editors finally got to go home.

This ink, this first draft in my notebook, makes no noise as it spills. And I’ve decided that when I travel next, I won’t take my machine with me. I hope the words I send back to you will carry with them all the sounds that accompany their penning: seasprays and birdsongs, translations, homesickness and belonging. And the silences: of falling leaves, of smiles, and of things better read than said.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 14th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.