BWS 08.03.17: Manasi Nene

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Manasi Nene is a writer and performance poet from Pune, India. She founded the Pune Poetry Slam at 17, and it has emerged as one of the leading literary communities and spaces in the country. Her work deals with sexuality, power politics, anxiety and what it is to be a young adult today. Halfway through a degree in Literary and Cultural Studies, she is currently in Toronto on an exchange program.

Ahead of her Mar. 8 appearance, Manasi submitted some microfiction to the blog. Enjoy!

Elemental

I was one of those child prodigies who was expected to take over the world. It started off as incredible skill at maths and engineering; I had built three models of a solar-powered car with my father by the time I turned 8, an ice-cream machine by the time I was 10, and reconfigured a laptop at 15 into something that the military has made me promise not to talk about. Then it dried up.

At 16, I found punk rock. At 17, vodka. At 18, love. At 19, heartbreak. At 19.5, vodka again. At 20, art. Now I wouldn’t know where to drive my solar cars, even if I could rebuild one.

Sculpture is just a less fancy form of engineering, I’d say. You still need just as much of your processing power; just not the most conventional parts of it. Not everyone will understand what you’re trying to do; sometimes not even yourself, until you look back with surprise that you managed to make something beautiful and not just find it, that you could be happy with something you made for yourself, that it’s alright not to have someone pat you on the back for something you’re already quite okay with.

Unlike my child prodigy days, I taught myself sculpture. Of course, there were books and videos by the best, but I wasn’t sitting in class 8 hours a day, paying attention for only 4. I started with the mud from my backyard, and then clay, and then cookie dough. I moved on to gluing bongs on top of each other and then wine bottles and then broke it all and remade it into ground-glass flowers and ground-glass flowervases. And then stained glass, and then blown glass, and somehow I managed never to cut myself. Then I moved to something more impermanent. Snowglobes made out of barbed wire and soda cans; tea sets made out of thrash metal records. I’d never really fallen out of love with my old engineering habits though, and the now indie art paparazzi decided that I was a cultural icon.

I’m not all that; I still don’t know how to handle certain materials. I’ve been trying to capture icemelt forever. I’ve never made windchimes because they just sound pretty–but they have nothing to do with wind, something that can make you feel glad to be alive but you can’t even describe what it is like to touch. I’m too scared to plant trees. If you gave me fire, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Mostly, I just want to know how to work with love. How to hold it. How to sew it inside a blanket so it can still keep someone warm at night. How to use it to power fairy-lights that won’t die. How to keep it safe. How to use it to fly a kite to the moon and back. Sometimes I feel like there is no point to a solar-powered car if you can’t drive away with the person you love, no point to an ice-cream machine if you can’t discuss secrets and swap dreams with this person on days the sun has decided not to be kind to anyone. Then again, it is the impermanent that drives us.

You can’t record a windchime and have it sound like it’s supposed to; you can’t really tell anyone what icemelt tastes like. If you do end up planting a tree, it will die, yes; but not before all the children that tried to make treehouses. If you gave me fire I could trace you fireworks; I’d be able to sculpt the person I love; I might even make art out of it. If you gave me love I wouldn’t know what to do with it but if you gave me something more understandable, even slightly, I think we could figure out how to make magic.

Manasi Nene visits Brockton Writers Series on International Women’s Day, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Casey Plett, Giovanna Riccio and a special guest talk, “Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are Many Ways to Tell a Story” by Teva Harrison!

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