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The strength of Indurkar’s poems lies in the fact that she brings together behaviours and dialogues of people in her family that only someone with a keen observation can do.
It’s All In Your Head, M famed author Manjiri Indurkar’s debut poetry collection, Origami Aai, is independent and yet an extension of her memoir in which she speaks with utmost grace about all forms of abuses that she has survived. In this book of intriguing and evocative poems, the poet weaves words to form images of the everyday life of her middle-class family, love found and lost, trauma, and healing.
The collection is divided into four segments, beginning with the family, slowly moving towards the world, and finally colliding them together.
We aren’t in mourning, but we are creatures of habit.
So we talk of each one who died of drowning,
and I listen to her stories with the patience
of a chronicler.
– Funereal Stories
The strength of Indurkar’s poems lies in the fact that she brings together behaviours and dialogues of people in her family that only someone with a keen observation can do. Be it in the jokes that her Aai cracks about her bowel movements and diabetes or the stories her Aaji narrates. The collection is nostalgic for it takes the reader back to her childhood that was filled with ghost stories and warnings by her grandmother.
She talks about inheriting many things from her Aai, even disorders like diabetes and anxiety. Yet, it’s her inheritance from Aaji that intrigues me more for it is nostalgic in the sense that superstitions and folklore are passed on through the many horror stories that the poet mentions in the fluid prose in the collection. Be it the chakwa who lures children or the warning to never cross a ghost on the road. Quite skillfully, she flips the role of the storyteller when Aaji asks the little girl to tell her a story, a story that Aaji witnessed, a story of abuse that she keeps hushed.
The experiences of the poems are set in a particular time which is gauged from the mention of power cuts and even more so, Murphy babies. The latter is an urban phenomenon, an urban lore, that Indurkar mentions ‘Oh-so-casually’, chronicling every piece of information provided by her Aaji on how the death of beautiful babies was perceived. And it gets dark undertones,
Everyone wanted a Murphy baby. But no one could get a Murphy baby. And so, they all killed her in their thoughts. If we can’t have the Murphy baby, you can’t either, they all said.Never miss real stories from India's women.Register Now
Everyone wanted a Murphy baby. But no one could get a Murphy baby. And so, they all killed her in their thoughts. If we can’t have the Murphy baby, you can’t either, they all said.
When she moves on to talk about love and lovers, she takes us back to school science classes,
But we who longed for
love and waited for its sharp sting,
giggled when a girl said, It’s
how flowers kiss.
– Talking About Bees
The poems that seem extremely personal when we begin reading turn into a collective experience for we have had those giggles, waited for love to find us, and were unprepared for the experience of everything that follows. The destruction that can result from love when we don’t know why we are the way we are. There’s a tenderness with which she approaches these poems, as if saying, it’s not our fault that our love didn’t last, it just had to happen and it did.
Yet, these poems aren’t tales of broken by love. They are after all concerned with the healing of the speaker, they are words left unsaid—not complaints but rather perception of relationships as one looks back, blaming no one for now she is albeit lonely but in a better place, having found a sense of self.
The dark undertones prevail as she talks of worms inside a skull cracked open. She talks about an elseworld—This planet of thirteen moons/where I have been exiled/is where death comes to die—in ‘Writing Love’. Some poems have a feverish flow into images that haunt the mind. These images bring a sense of macabre as strongly as the everydayness brings forth familiarity.
We just have ourselves. We breathe in
each other’s CO2. The borrowed carbon
in our blood streams keeps us calm.
We are each other’s brown paper bag.
– Brown Paper Bag
In the semi-titular poem, Origami Birds, Indurkar talks about her inability to make an origami aai that she could carry to feel safe wherever she went. It speaks volumes about the protective figure that a mother is to a child. Also, Indurkar mentions her fear of seeing her Aai get older, almost taking me back to My Mother at Sixty-Six by Kamala Das. Her mother, Rekha is funny, concerned, assertive, and ‘knows it all’. A familiar image!
The placement of the poems is such that we begin with the body of the poet’s aai as a ground for war and worship (read, scars left on the body after various medical procedures), we enter the melancholic mind of the poet, we heal with her, and yet crave for her Aai’s presence—an exact representation of a mother’s role in our lives. We come bearing scars on her body and no matter how old we get, we wish for her presence near us, a comforting safe assuring presence.
This emphasis on the mother-daughter relationship doesn’t stop the poet from questioning gender roles when she writes in the poem ‘The Dahlias Of My Garden’:
A baby is fed through the mother’s
Navel, old wisdom informs us. Say
Aai lost her navel to me and my brother,
Baba lost his to the dahlias.
We are a family that turned a man into a plant,
Because they told us, men don’t give birth.
Origami Aai brings forth universal experiences through the personal narratives of the poet. It is a ride for the senses: we listen, see, taste, touch, and smell! It arouses the reader to look at her surroundings, it challenges the reader to reflect on her life. It talks about the poet’s lived experiences, it engages the reader in a conversation. Inspired by literary figures and involving their philosophies, this collection of poems urges the reader to imbibe everything in her melancholic existence.
I recommend reading this poetry collection alongside Indurkar’s memoir to have a fulfilling and enriching experience of writing one’s story with grace. When you read the poem, you wonder what she is talking about, hold on to pieces you find relatable. When you read the memoir, you know exactly what she is talking about, you hold it closer because you find it relatable.
Freelance writer, researcher, and book reviewer. Words at Women's Web, Purple Pencil Project, Bookish Santa, Cesurae. Translation enthusiast. read more...
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