Writing from a place of openness and emotional vulnerability seems to come naturally to author Manjiri Indurkar. Her debut novel ‘It’s All In Your Head, M’ (Tranquebar, 2020)was well-received as a courageous memoir on her experience of living with mental health challenges and a history of child sexual abuse. Heavy though the subject is, the author managed to tell the story with great self-awareness and even a touch of humour. In the subsequent years, however, Indurkar admits to having taken a break from writing that demands this level of vulnerability. Lately, she finds herself dabbling with fiction, editing her forthcoming poetry collection titled Origami Aai, and meeting deadlines at her day job as a content manager.
In an interview with Lounge, she speaks candidly of her relationship with her workspace and her non-negotiable need for quiet as she writes from the depths of her being.
The interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Describe your current workspace to us.
It’s a simple space with a dark wood desk, a small nook to keep a few books, and an ergonomic chair. The wall against which the desk rests has a small postcard that Sunandini Banerjee from Seagull Books had once sent me and a few small kites of various sizes. This is a new house I have recently moved to. So the space is very minimal. I hope to put a plant on my desk soon and bring in more things that stimulate me.
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Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
It changes. I used to be able to work from my bed once upon a time. Now I can’t. I didn't care if my room looked neat. But now I at least need my workspace to be clutter-free. I need the comforter folded. And I need some art around me. I had this Franz Kafka postcard a friend had once sent me from Prague and this one lovely illustration by Sonaksha Iyengar that I used to love to look at. All these things have been left behind in my parents’ house and I plan on bringing them here soon.
When I was working on ‘It’s All In Your Head, M’, I used to have a board of sorts hanging right above the desk. I’d write down poems I loved or quotes from authors I admired and pin them up. I ended up using a lot of those quotes in the book. I would also write notes for myself which were silly but important reminders like ‘get up every 45 minutes’. My entire room back then was my workspace, so I had stuck notes and things in so many places. I remember the door to my room had a variation of a quote from Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal that said, “This isn’t a hiding place, this is a finding place.” Winterson was talking about literature. I was talking about both things I suppose.
How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
As an anxious person, I tend to get too attached to a routine and find it hard to function if that routine breaks. So when I moved here I didn’t have a workstation. I’d work from my living room and it was chaotic. Then I bought a few things and built this workspace and now I can’t work anywhere else. My brain will simply refuse to be my friend. I depend on this space emotionally. Sometimes a friend drops by to spend time with me on a work day. On days when I feel polite, I put on my headphones and play some loud music to drown their presence out. On other days, I simply tell them to move to the other room. I try to wrap up early so I get to spend time with them. But when I am working I can’t have anyone or anything invading this space or I simply won’t be able to write.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
My current workspace is quite new. But I wrote my debut book in my previous workspace. Most of the poems that go in my forthcoming poetry collection, Origami Aai, also were written sitting there. So the notice board I talked about used to have a small pamphlet from a museum in Finland. It said, ‘Welcome to globalisation’. I was looking at it one time and suddenly realised I had a poem to write about it and I did. Maybe the poem wasn’t just about that, but the pamphlet is what got me started.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
A sturdier desk, a better chair, a neater room with some sort of a view that isn’t another ugly building under construction, perhaps?
What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years? Why?
Pens, pencils, my journals because I often rely on longhand while writing, and some form of art. Could be a postcard, a poem, a painting—anything.
The first artist whose work you followed closely/sometimes imitated. What about them appealed to you?
Some of the early authors I admired were Toni Morrison, Wislawa Szymborska, Oscar Wilde, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was most influenced by Marquez to the point that I was imitating his writing style and it can be seen in some of my very early works. Thankfully, none of that exists on the internet and I’d prefer it stayed that way. But I had a whole phase of being influenced by Hispanic writers and their response to the violence of the world through magic realism. Then, I was obsessed with British-Nigerian author Helen Oyeyemi for a good few years. She is also a magic realist so it could be seen as an extension of the earlier phase. There were some poems I had published then that used magic realism to say the things I was trying to say and comfortably hide the things I didn’t necessarily want to reveal.
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What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?
Pen, pencil and paper? I still rely on these but most of the writing now happens on my laptop. I don't use many tools: at the most, I have moved from MS Word to Google Docs. But that’s about it.
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces