Mini-interview: Manahil Bandukwala

Manahil Bandukwala is writer and visual artist originally from Pakistan and now settled in Canada. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award. She works as Coordinating Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine, and is Digital Content Editor for Canthius. She is a member of Ottawa-based collaborative writing group VII. Her project Reth aur Reghistan is a multidisciplinary exploration of folklore from Pakistan interpreted through poetry and sculpture. She holds an MA in English from the University of Waterloo. MONUMENT is her first book.

What draws me to the writer: I have to say I’m a fan of hers, with her art on my office wall and her chapbooks on my shelves. I’ve been watching Manahil Bandukwala at open mic for years and catching each chapbook she produces. I once blind judged a contest and found out later the tie I wanted to give was not allowed and had to pick one. Alas I later found out, the other was hers. It could have gone either way.

Book: MONUMENT, (Brick Books, September 15, 2022)

Cover design credit: Natalie Olsen.

Book Description:

The project of MONUMENT emerged from my interest in Mughal history, specifically the history of Mughal women. My research on Mumtaz Mahal yielded endless possibilities. She is most well known for her connection to the Taj Mahal, regarded as one of the greatest symbols of love in the world, but I was curious about her story beyond her connection to the monument. The book is an extended conversation with the spirit of Mumtaz Mahal as I imagine who she was and how she loved. 

Sample:

Petrify

“And your first gift is making stone out of everything.I wake to a mausoleum, you are here,
Ticking your fingers on the marble table”
Sylvia Plath, “The Rival”

Making stone out of everything:
elephants, the flowers
withered from their trampling;
palms curled over into an arch
under which you read;
yourself, yourself, yourself.
Your body did not decompose into dust
but began a slow petrification.
Waking in a mausoleum:
soul squeezed out of the tips
of your marble fingers,
you were alone, the incorporeal 
part of you the texture of stone.

PP: Why, Mumtaz Mahal? Because she is so famous and so voiceless at the same time?

MB: I’ve known about Mumtaz Mahal my entire life, but I realized that everything I knew about her was linked to the Taj Mahal. Who was she beyond this monument? I had a mountain of questions I wanted to ask her, and my curiosities turned into poems.

PP: What was or will your favourite moment(s) in making this book?
MB: The editorial process is one of the top contenders for favourite moments. Before I submitted the manuscript to Brick Books, I sent it around to my friends in VII. That was the first time I shared the entire work with anyone, and received great affirmations and great edits.

Working with my editor, Cecily Nicholson, was an incredible process in the book-making journey. And finally, my friend Sanna Wani had formative structural suggestions that brought the narrative arc to a more fulfilling conclusion. Overall, the manuscript I began with was very different from the book being published – for the better! There is a collaborative spirit in this work.