Pooja Nansi as a literary entity is nothing short of explosive.
We Make Spaces Divine took me on a hectic journey of powerful emotions, searing sarcasm, quiet irony, and profound tenderness. If you’ve heard Pooja speak, you know the force she conveys in every word, with every emphasis, and reading her words has a similar impact.
Every piece had edges and corners I needed to navigate, from wondering why she was telling me the story of Mustafa Center (which unfolds almost like one of those National Day museum dioramas until you reach the end) to making me think crossly and guiltily of my (Chinese, upper-middle-class) parents asking my Sri Lankan friends “are you Indian or Singaporean?”.
We Make Spaces Divine might be classed as poetry, but it really feels to me like a book of short stories - stories that you build in your own head between the lines, when you hear Pooja’s voice inviting you to listen to what she has to say.
I have met Pooja only once, at a Singapore Writers’ Festival where I hid bashfully behind my more famous author friends in the panellist’s green-room. From where I hovered in awe, she gave me the impression of a whirlwind whose energy was only contained by sheer force of will.
Reading Pooja’s writing bears out that initial impression. The power, passion, irony, exasperation and admiration she’s able to express in a few succinct lines, in a compact paragraph, or in a single isolated word (“yes” - see Are You Singaporean?) was sometimes breathtaking to me.
Yet when Pooja is quiet, the force is even greater.
...I fear I
will never taste
love like your
In the most mundane of sentences - like the wording of the form to renounce Indian citizenship in Songs of Exile - there is tremendous gravitas. In the most trifling things - a little girl’s infatuation in Amitabh Bachchan - there is glorious beauty.
The lead singer of my lifelong favourite rock band died by suicide three years ago, and nowhere in millions of tributes have I seen a better description of what that felt like than:
This is the month my teens die. The lead singer, his body too light, takes his own life and with it, all of his music’s righteous rage.
- Studies Say Melanin Protects Us From Skin Cancer But Also Can Cause It
Was it the same lead singer…? Probably not (wrong month), but for those of us for whom our music is part of our souls, isn’t that exactly how it feels?
Just like another of my favourite books dealing with racial identity in Singapore (Others is Not a Race by Melissa De Silva), We Make Spaces Divine gave me a chance to step out of my skin. It’s as if Pooja was saying, we have nothing in common, but we have everything in common, so let’s listen to each other.
This book is, in short, beautiful.
by Meihan Boey