Smoking With Kuzhali Manickavel

Read the Story September 15, 2007
story art

You have a knack for creating striking imagery. From the “tiny green finches” that spear moths, to the little bones poking “through the mud like pointing fingers,” to the space “that hums like angry bees.” Where, or how, did you learn to write?

I think learning to write is an ongoing process. I like to take ordinary things and look at them in a different way. I think it’s interesting to think about the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Why does she make, and then eat, this monsoon ice?

This was based on something someone had told me- rainwater that was collected during the monsoon was somehow better than ordinary rainwater- it was cleaner, it was good for you. Making ice with it never worked though because you just got scummy ice that tasted like the refrigerator. I based the narrator’s actions on this- she goes through this ritual which is really no different than burying fish bones and grocery receipts.

Where does this story take place? Tell us more about the mythology of this place, about the monsoon rains and the burying of fish bones and grocery receipts.

I didn’t base this on any kind of mythology, I had a very ordinary scene in mind. But I did want to focus on the possibilities of this scene. I think aspects like burying the fish bones and receipts, the ice cubes themselves take on different meanings because they are associated with things we can’t really put our finger on, things that raise questions in themselves. I wanted to explore that in-between spot, the possibilities and the rituals.

What is it like where you live? At sunset, what do the temples look like?

It’s a small South Indian town, lots of temples and movie theatres. Every so often foreign tourists will come and take pictures of the cows that stand in the middle of the road. A family of monkeys live in our local cell phone tower.

At sunset the temples look really beautiful but then anything looks good in a sunset.

Since this is my first issue with SLQ, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss firsts. Writing firsts. First time you called yourself a writer, first publication, first check. Those sorts of things. So, dish. What is your most memorable writing first?

My most memorable writing first occurred during my high school exams. You had to bring your own blank paper from home and if you hadn’t studied anything, the common practice was to just hand in a blank sheet of paper. I was never good with exams and I found myself stuck with three hours to kill and lots of blank paper so I started writing a story. At the end of the exam I handed in a blank sheet and threw the story out.

I ended up doing that on a regular basis- no one could figure out why I was writing so much during the exams and handing in blank pieces of paper.

About the Author:

Kuzhali Manickavel's debut collection Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings is available from Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd. Her work can also be found at Subtropics, Per Contra, Quick Fiction, Caketrain and The Café Irreal. She lives in a small temple town on the coast of South India.