Tag Archives: book

Witchcraft Is A Pick Of The Year!

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The Straits Times, Singapore, asked several people what their favourite book from 2008 was. Ng Yi-Sheng, whom I hugely admire as a poet and performer, picked Witchcraft. Here’s what he said…

(The italics are mine — that’s a line that will sit under my tongue all day as I savour it slowly, grateful  for once that I had not thought of it myself, for then it could not be said about my book)

Ng Yi-Sheng, 28, writer and winner of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize for his debut poetry collection, Last Boy

“I hardly ever read books as soon as they come out, but my favourite among the few I did read was Sharanya Manivannan’s poetry collection, Witchcraft.
Manivannan is a poet and performer, born and living in India but raised in Malaysia, where she was involved in a lot of activism against the government’s destruction of Hindu temples.
Witchcraft is her first poetry collection. She and I bonded at the last Singapore Writers Festival, so she left me a copy at indie bookstore BooksActually where it’s also currently available ($25 without GST).
The book is sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife. Manivannan manages to be deeply grounded in her Tamil heritage while also subtly digesting global iconography from the Chinese, Balinese and Mexicans.
Her voice sounds modern and ancient at the same time, supremely confident as it speaks of desire, the body and language.”

The Venus Flytrap: Just Ask Jeeves

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I hired my first secretary last week.

Unlike most other collaborations in this book publishing process, I got exactly the person I wanted. She’s smart, young, confident, and the sort of girl who actually prints out an agenda when her grandfather holds a magic show at his apartment. She is also – fortunately – the kind of secretary I can hug, which was pretty high on my requirements list.

If you have met me, you may know that I have a famously fuchsia business card, and it was only fitting that she carry something suitably reflecting my, um, values too. This led to the question of what her official job title would be. As a relatively benevolent megalomaniac, I naturally opened the subject to debate.

There came the fictional character suggestions. Could she be the Smithers to my Mr. Burns? The Alfred to my Batman? The Herbert Cadbury to my Richie Rich? The Jeeves to my Wooster? And of course, there was the hardcore literary reference that’s actually been adapted into common lingo: Girl Friday.

I liked the Robinson Crusoe analogy, but Girl Friday was slightly sexist, and reminded me for some reason of Helen Gurley Brown’s 1960’s instructions to the working gal (“In taking a man to lunch, I suggest you not reach for the check with your limp little arm in his presence” would be an example). My secretary didn’t want to be named after a butler, so that knocked Cadbury, Alfred and Jeeves off the list. As for Smithers and Burns, well, the whole one-sided infatuation thing didn’t go down too well with her. Too bad, I personally quite liked the allusion to the fact that I am actually very much a sinister, balding despot with a prominent overbite and hands perpetually in the scavenger mudra.

“Would you like to be my right hand man?” I asked, hoping to slide a bit of subversion in sideways.

“Um… no?”

Then came the absurdly fancy and meaningless titles. I once held an NGO job in which I was officially the “Communication Rights and Media Advocacy Officer”. In other words, I did the press releases and copywriting. So we came up with: “Liaison Coordinator”, “Administrative and Liaison Manager”, “Administrative Specialist” and “Associate Publicity and Public Relations Aide”.

She said, “My god, when I submit my resignation, I would probably die of exhaustion before I finish typing that.”

Bringing up a resignation was not a good sign. So we moved along.

I summarily dismissed the demeaning options – minion, underling and gofer – because I’m a TV villain despot, people, not a bitch, and those are not even remotely endearing.

Which brings us to the mummy-baby names. I have the kind of megalomania that makes me sometimes think I’m the Messiah and sometimes His mother. Tyra Banks has the same kind. Fortunately, I happen to know this, so I refrained from suggesting “descendant”, “sishya”, “poppet” and “protégé”.

In the end, we settled for something suitably professional, not too pretentious, and which will not result in poor Shilu having to tell people she works for a crazy lady – Executive Assistant. The name came courtesy of our friend Anand, a former child actor who is soon going to outdo and exceed his claim-to-fame of having danced on a table with Silk Smitha, and will need his own secretary then.

So, friends, frenemies and future patrons of disorganized poets: if you want to schedule in some face or phone time with me in the next few months, kindly consult my Executive Assistant.

Now excuse me while I go and enjoy feeling smug about the fact I can actually say that.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

Endings and Beginnings

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And Madras Week comes to a close. One exhibit, seven readings, a spoken word heritage walk, a fisherfolk song drama.

More. Soon.

I’m exhausted, and Chandroo is taking off for a whole week. So pix, etc, will be up in September.

Last night and today, it finally happened. What nobody tells you is just how much and just how many varieties of fear come with publishing a book of poems. A book book, not a chapbook. Among my fears was that just as it was going to print, I would write something new.  Something good. And that that something would have to wait a long time, stuck in some creation limbo, before it found itself between pages.

Last night and today, I wrote the first two new poems that will not be in Witchcraft, although I could actually put them in. They will not be in because in spite of being good pieces, maybe even better than some in the book, they just come from a different place. They are new work in every sense. They will come to belong elsewhere.

The journey, I’ve found, is full of letting go.

Didn’t Make The Cut

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How to tell you are doing the work you are supposed to do: when you can cut out three poems, just like that, out of your manuscript as you do the layout your style (because you’re just a control freak that way) before it goes to the designer. You know your narrative, you know what goes. You even know what stays only because some people might demand refunds if it isn’t included.

HAIKU

The cocaine of you.
The hard drunk rock and roll god
damned nearness of you.

TANKA

You with your snakeskin
heart and quarter of moon lost
in your back pocket
seam. Drummer, you ensnare me
in a mandala of lust.

HAIKU

Your love, shapeshifter,
is like tonight’s blood-ripe moon,
coyly cloaked in clouds.

Update: Oops, and there goes another one…

TANKA

Naïvely, I threw
my love into space like a
boomerang, certain
of return. But your love is
a discus, and you took aim.

The Venus Flytrap: Surrendering To Serendipities

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A dear friend of mine resigned from her job today to be with her toddler – and see where life takes her next.

This is no small step for my freespirited friend, someone widely acknowledged as the blithely charming PR queen of her country, someone who has chased eclipses in Iran, honeymooned in Iceland and worn a dress of orange and blue to her wedding.

“I will honour my promise to you,” she said. “But I will be a humble stay-at-home mum from now on.” She had told me some time before that she was considering taking up an artform, an idea I had applauded. The truth is, other than her beautiful house décor and uncanny ability to pick the perfect present for anyone, I have no idea what her creative talents might be. But what I do know, and what I told her, is this: if she does art, she is an artist. No gallery, committee or critic needs to sanction her – or anyone – as such.

I wanted to be an author since I was seven years old. By my late teens, thanks to a series of serendipities catalyzing around my discovery of the magic of spoken word, I already had some semblance of a cult following. But I kept dreaming of having a book – a book would be evidence. A book would make my writing real.

I had the good sense, however, to not jump at the first fishes that bit. I rejected at least two offers to publish a collection because where they came from didn’t sit well with me: a print-on-demand run by a communist with a fetish for hijab-ed women in high heels, and a representative of a multinational that packages spirituality with pyramid schemes.

When I finally found the combination of people and promises that suited me best, I thought the rest would be quick and easy. Little did I know I had more to learn: three months ago, the funding for the book was abruptly withdrawn.

There was the brief, requisite shock at this bad fortune, but what alarmed me most was my surprising ambivalence. The ground had given away not because I’d lost my long-cherished dream, but because I was forced to acknowledge that it was no longer my dream. Other people wanted to see this book much more than I did – I was more infatuated with the process than the project. “You wanted to be a writer, right?” I asked myself. “Well, you already are. Book or no book.”

But this story doesn’t end with an excuse. When I finally, wholeheartedly, accepted that my book wasn’t going to happen (at least, not the way I wanted it to), the miraculous happened: a new investor showed up. Just like that. I hadn’t looked. I had asked only in the silence of my own heart. Most of all, I hadn’t expected.

And this is what I think holds me in good stead as I prepare to leave familiar waters. Whatever happens to this book, I am what I am. What I wanted in the first place was not fame or wealth. It was to write. I will do just that, and trust that all else will follow. I am humbled by this journey enough to see that I do not control it at all.

In Om Shanti Om, Shah Rukh Khan says that when you want something enough, the whole universe conspires to give it to you. What I’ve found to be truer still is that if you are something enough, if you own and inhabit that skin in a way that doesn’t fixate on its outcome, the universe aligns itself in equally serendipitous ways.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Word Witch

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By now, you know that plans for the book have come to a standstill. And I don’t owe you the story because I have to save something for the memoirs, right? Let it just be said that it was all pretty Twilight Zone. Is all, actually.

However, when production was still in full progress, I did an online conversation with a friend from a long time ago, as part of what we thought would be book-related publicity. There’s no sense in holding onto the interview for future use — by the time the book does come out, it may be outdated.

It’s a pretty comprehensive interview, and Michael is a wonderful interviewer. Rereading it, I was struck by something profound.

The day after I realised that my book was in total limbo, a dear friend had a vision of one of my past lives which revealed a great deal. It also told me that choosing to name the book Witchcraft was a decision with a wisdom I had not known at the time. But which I had also always known.

And that is why I do not fear for the book’s future.

I have posted the Q+A up on its own page on this blog, here.