Poetry is the perfect combination of music and art expressed through language Mandulee Mendis | Sunday Observer

Poetry is the perfect combination of music and art expressed through language Mandulee Mendis

20 September, 2020

Mandulee Mendis is a young writer, administrative officer and a bookworm. While reading for her MA in English Studies at the Department of English, University of Colombo, she is currently serving as an Assistant Director at the Department of Cultural Affairs. Her debut collection of poetry, Me in My Saree was shortlisted for the Godage National Literary Award this year. She joins Youth Observer to talk about her favourite book, reading habits and present readership in society.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q : Can you mention one book that touched your heart the most?

A: It is Educated by Tara Westover, which I finished reading last week.

Q: Why do you like it?

A: Educated is a memoir about the writer’s ‘off the gird’ upbringing as the daughter of survivalist parents. It’s about the real journey of a girl who has never been in a classroom, deciding to get an education and leaving an abusive home for it, to end up with a doctorate. I like it for its feminist approach and the emphasis on the harm done when the totality of a person is cut down to a single story of someone else. I like the fact that Westover’s narrative is authentic, which is why it is inspiring. I also like the light manner in which she employs language to discuss deep concepts.

Q: How did you find the book?

A: It is one of the books I picked when my two best friends took me to a bookshop and asked me to pick my birthday presents by myself.

Q: Do you visit libraries?

A: Yes, of course, starting from my school days, libraries have always been my favourite hideouts. There is no other feeling that can be compared to how you feel when walking through the wafting smell of old books that are waiting to tell you a million stories. The British Council Library and the Public Library, Colombo are my favourite libraries. I like The British Council Library for its collection on language studies. To me, there is something beautiful and nostalgic about the Public Library. In fact, my perfect day used to start with a walk to the Public Library through Vihara Maha Devi Park.

Q: Who are your favourite authors?

Q: Why do you like them?

A: There are many, but to name a few in case of novels and short stories, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arundhati Roy, Virginia Woolf, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, V.S. Naipaul, Carmen Maria Machado. Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Vivimarie Vanderpoorten and Kamala Das are some of my favourite poets. I like them for the way they write with sensitivity to issues in society, especially for the way they bring women’s problems to light. I am inspired by the bravery and the wit they show in their writing, and the skillful way they play with language.

Q: What are the literary genres you prefer to read?

A: I like autobiographies and memoirs, novels, short stories and poetry. I also like to read thrillers depending on the mood. I like reading non-fiction about language and culture. I prefer books from different parts of the world because those expose us to cultures and worldveiws from around the world.

Q: How do you select books?

A: I usually maintain a ‘to-buy’ book list. I select books from this list when I come across them through intertextual references, in book reviews, in international bestseller lists other similar things. I also go through Booker Prize, Gratiaen Award and Swarna Pusthaka Award shortlists and add to this list. The Colombo International Book Fair is where I usually find all these books.

Q: What are your reading habits? Is there any specific time and place to read?

A: I try to read every minute I can spare. But I have made it a habit to read just as I get up and just before I go to bed.

Q: Can you read more than one book simultaneously?

A: Of course. I usually read about three books simultaneously, in English and Sinhala.

Q: Can you read while you are writing?

A: I find reading while writing essential because reading is breathing in and writing is breathing out.

Q: How do you feel when you finish reading a touching book?

A: It is a feeling which is very hard to explain. It’s a mixture of nostalgia, contentment and sadness.

Q: Why do you like to read? Do you prefer fiction and poetry to nonfiction?

A: Reading has always been a huge part of my life that I barely do it with a purpose in mind. It is with the same natural need as in the case of breathing that I take a book to my hand. I do not prefer one genre to another. It’s a simple matter of mood.

Q: You write poetry. How do you see poetry writing?

A: Poetry, to me is the perfect combination of music and art in mind expressed through language. A poem is where the right rhythm meets the right strokes of paint, the meeting of which is expressed through the right words. I like poetry because it feels like something beyond the ordinary, and a good poem always leaves me stunned.

Q: If you were to be a character in a novel, what would it be?

A: Well, rather than a character in a novel, I’d like to be the one to narrate the extended essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’.

Q: What are can one can gain from reading?

A: The highest gain is the awareness of things beyond the static boundaries of one’s own life. Escape from reality is a bonus.

Q: Do you think readership among youth has decreased? If so, what are your suggestions to improve it?

A: I don’t think it has been decreased, I think the mode of reading has shifted to digital platforms. In catering to the z-generation readership in the desired platforms, one has to look at the whole process as a discourse, focusing on the demanded content, presentation techniques and language change.