Riniki Chakravarty Marwein’s debut poetry book Brittle is a potpourri of love, emotions, and the intrigues of loss

The temptation to bottle up emotions and anxieties is pretty strong, and most people vent their frustrations on undeserving individuals. In recent history, the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most devastating moments for humanity, and while people employed different coping mechanisms, one individual decided to go a step further and provide a detailed creative account of her feelings, experiences, fears, and hopes.

Riniki Chakravarty Marwein recently released her poetry book — Brittle — a compilation of the many stories that make up who she is. It’s a collection of poems, each detailing her struggles, losses, and intrigues that characterised her childhood, development, family, and how she dealt with the challenges of the pandemic.

Background and early years

Riniki was born in Shillong, where she grew up and schooled before moving to Tezpur in Assam for her master’s in communication and journalism. However, she also spent a lot of time in Guwahati as a child, especially during winter. This interstate movement was a massive influence on her childhood and disposition towards life. Early on, she got exposed to different cultures. “I’m a huge fan of sweets from both states — pukhlein (Khasi rice flour snack) and narikol laru (coconut balls with jaggery) are my favourites — as well as Assamese xaaks (leafy greens preparations) and the Khasi ja stem (turmeric rice),” she notes fondly.

Like most North-Eastern states, the glory of the two states is richly expressed by their wide variety of textiles, especially the handlooms. “I’m handloom-greedy. Now that I live in Singapore with my family, I miss shopping in Guwahati and Shillong. I love wearing the Khasi Dhara and Assamese Mekhela even on mild occasions,” adds Riniki. 

Indeed, memories from her childhood and background remain fresh in her mind and these memories made up part of the influences and dialectics in her new work. The pandemic only added an extra push and trigger for these feelings to find expression. 

Sharing in poetry, the language of the soul

The lockdown that accompanied the pandemic brought about a new normal. While the devastation was troubling, it also gave a lot of people free time to explore their passions and interests. “I also had to live with a personal loss, and that’s something I still can’t freely talk about,” she notes. As someone who didn’t have any formal knowledge of literature, it took a lot of learning to understand the rules and structure of poetry. “I was determined to learn the rules. Also, with poetry, you’re working from one premise to another. It was all new to me as a writer,” adds Riniki.

The nostalgia that came with the lockdown, coupled with her childhood and upbringing in India formed the core of the experiences she shared in Brittle. Admitting that it was nerve-wracking and scary at times, it was important to let out all the pent-up anxieties. Some experiences affect everyone, no matter how young they are. “I found my six-year-old sketching an aeroplane on a black sheet. The little one said, “it’s night”. That was instructive because we always fly to India at night from Singapore

That was her way to register and process. She communicated her fragile bit on that black sheet of paper. That moment inspired me to write Hotel Quarantine Art where I allowed myself to experience her loss. Other inspiring poems include Mei’s Mercies, informed by the memory of her mom’s cooking and love notes and how loving the family was; Winters with Baba, inspired by the memory of her father helping with her socks and the plum tree beside her bedroom; and several others. 

A tribute to family

Poems that are closest to home are the dearest for Riniki. The self-published work took about 18 months to compile, especially because Riniki loves to spend time with family and enjoy a rounded life. “It took half of 2020 and almost the entire year 2021 to complete. I know some people write three to four books in a year, but I had a great life with my family and I’m grateful for that balance,” she adds.

Help sustain honest journalism.

Her decision to self-publish stems from horrific tales she’d heard about publishers rejecting poems for some frivolous reasons, and she wasn’t going to let anyone stop her from sharing how she felt; that was all that mattered.

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