“There is freedom in letting go and baring your soul”
writer and curator
in conversation with Shreya Muley
Sit with yourself.
We are who we are because of everything that has happened by choice or not by choice.
Be a little more aware and curious.
If you are going down a certain route, why is that the case?”
— Rohini Kejriwal, curator of The Alipore Post
In 2014, Rohini was asked to curate poetry for Oddity & Light, a newsletter published by her school senior back then. The idea behind the newsletter was to share one poem a day. Through it, Rohini had discovered numerous contemporary poets who were living and did not just exist in the textbooks. When she was asked to cherry-pick poems to share with absolute strangers via email everyday for a week, it was a matter of new-found joy for her.
This stroke of serendipity turned out to be a major influence to begin her own newsletter in 2015, The Alipore Post, which Rohini describes as “a love letter to the Internet”. With her self-sustained passion, the newsletter has been ceaselessly running for eight and a half years now, enjoyed by a thriving community of readers and supporters.
One might ask, is beginning something destined or is it about letting destiny unfold while taking a leap of faith? As she paves her creative path, Rohini believes in carving her own fate while keeping enough room for happenstance.
Photo shot on film in Covelong Beach, near Chennai in July, 2023.
“It's a very semi-detached approach of embracing all the craziness and randomness that comes my way while having a direction that I'm steering myself towards, but it's not about being fixated that this is the only way to do it.”
Rohini’s curiosity has been a self-reliant potion that has birthed her creative pursuits.
She began her career as a journalist and eventually harbored several avenues to
quench her inquisitive spirit.
“It is about planting seeds along the way, or just seed bombing and then seeing what shows up rather than having a very manicured garden and a certain aesthetic.”
From writing articles & poetry, curating the newsletter to teaching herself to illustrate on her iPad, experimenting with analogue photography to making music for fun on GarageBand — each avenue is like a garden patch born by intrigue and nurtured through different artistic mediums.
Through the years, art and poetry have been her constant companions. On Mondays, she arrives at her desk to weave The Alipore Post (TAP) weekly newsletter with art, poetry & music, dug up from nooks and crannies of the internet. Every April, which is the National Poetry Month, she writes poetry regularly and engages the TAP community to write along with a set of prompts for #TheAliporePostPoetryMonth.
The following conversation explores Rohini's persona alongside her ‘process vs destination’’ approach and philosophy of ‘learning by doing’ to her creative and curatorial practices.
On Doing, Of Living
What's your earliest memory of poetry? Did you begin with writing or did you read something that struck you?
Poetry didn't really happen till I was maybe 8 years old. There were two formative poems that really got me excited about this medium of storytelling. One was from The Witches by Roald Dahl. It's really gruesome because a bunch of children are being converted into mice and it goes like “Bish them, squish them, bash them, mash them!”. I didn't even realize that it was a poem because it was kind of thrown somewhere in the middle of the prose text, but I loved that because it made me chuckle. Another poem that I really enjoyed was From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was all about the things you see on train journeys, and everything is just rushing by, but you're building something in your mind, there's this imagination and play going on. When I grew older, it was Tithonus by Alfred Tennyson. I had an English teacher who evoked a lot of things while taking us through that poem so it became a lot more personal, vivid, and just out of the book.
Rohini started creating blackout poems inspired by the format in Austin Kleon's newsletters.
What draws you towards poetry?
Poetry is the only medium which I feel actually gets me or I get. Confessional poems, relatable free verse poems, nature poems; those are the ones that actually draw me in because it is a human being speaking to you. Even if there are innuendo and hidden meanings, at a surface level, anyone can understand and take something from it. What the newsletter did for me was actually take me out of that textbook approach to poetry. There are times when I share poems, and then someone is reading; it's what they needed that day, it's the crux of that emotion.
It doesn't have to be about an entirely appealing poem but there's one line that just stays with you. It's almost a searing feeling, it permeates through your being.
“There is this constant possibility of delight that can come with a poem. It's the entire spectrum of emotion that you can feel with poetry. I love the brevity of it.”
How did you find your way around allowing yourself to experiment with different mediums and interests?
In retrospect, I see a ‘karke dekho’ attitude. ‘Let's do it and see where it goes' is my approach to things. It allows me to let go of things once it's done. It's not so much about the outcome but the process. The most rewarding part for me is the act of doing something.
I have always been curious about the nature versus nurture debate. I'm consciously stopping myself from taking a drawing class. It's consciously rebelling and resisting it, because I know that once I learn, then that wiggly style, where one hand or one limb is longer than the other, will go away. For me, that is precious. It's a very self-taught approach. There is a certain rawness to all of it and a sense of discovery.
One aspect is what people make of it, which I am not too concerned about because then that takes away the whole aspect of play and doing it for yourself. You're not only making this one magnum opus and it just allows for much more to keep happening.
“You're learning from every project you do, every drawing that you do, every poem you write.
That personal evolution is happening and the voice is also getting defined.
The more you sit at the desk, the more you actually do and try, newer insights and
things reveal themselves.”
How does ADHD affect your day-to-day creative practice?
Overall, it helped when I got that diagnosis because before that it was a bleak period of not understanding why things are not working out the way I want them to. Coming from a place of awareness is definitely nicer. You will not want to go back to your old ways where you were suffering unnecessarily.
I think the larger takeaway for me is that I feel a lot more empowered. At the back of my mind, there is this nagging voice, 'Yo, you know, you're capable of doing better than this'.
“Some of the best things have also happened because of the way my brain works. Thriving on the fact that I can connect dots in a certain way that no one else can and I take a lot of pleasure in that because that's why the work is what it is. The newsletter is so scattered, and it has whatever I want to put in there, I love that. That's why there's so much, and yet it can be as concise as one newsletter.”
I started using Notion last year and that may be the only ritual, which has actually kept me sane. Keeping this calendar where I can see what’s coming up in the next few months and knowing what I am supposed to prioritize. The sense of fighting time blindness (as I now know) has been crucial to figuring out how much energy I have, what all I can do in a day and being realistic with myself. That's the only way it works otherwise, I am at any given point juggling too many things.
Rohini has an ever-growing collection of pressed "foragings" with "the purpose of archiving something I held dearly in my hand once", she says.
Where do you find inspiration on an everyday basis?
Nature, for sure. Just the fact that nature exists and it does its own thing is the most inspiring part for me.
I have this tendency to hoard beauty in different forms. So even if it's foraging for leaves and flowers, then coming back and painting on it or doing a leaf impression. Beauty and the rawness of things, like overhearing conversations, or people watching. I love looking for gajras in people's hair. Now even more so because I curate a flower page called Hoovu Finds.
I think it's these small gestures or acts of self-care in our day-to-day existence.
“I am someone who enjoys chance encounters with strangers. There is something endearing about possibilities of conversations and something to take away from each other.
It’s a way of keeping myself open to what may arrive.”
Rohini has been experimenting with the double exposure technique in film photography for 4-5 years, after the first one took place by accident.
I want to give some value to everything which is too romanticized as a way of living but I live alone. I have my cat, Haiku and she's a big source of inspiration. Mostly it's the body-doubling aspect of having a presence around versus thinking I'm all alone and pushing myself to do things all the time for myself. Now there's just like a spring in my step and definitely more energy, openness and joy.
Creation can be a solitary process. What is it like to push yourself to create while living alone?
I think at a personal level, it is the most nurturing feeling. I love spending time and space with Haiku. I have a partner, and love when he visits. It's the sense that someone is looking after you for a change or sharing responsibilities. I'm very fortunate to be in a place with a lot of greenery around, natural light and good ventilation. Those are things that are needed for creative people, for me at least.
I don’t think I would do it any other way because it gives me that freedom to show up for myself…to create when I want or work when I want and find that rhythm. I think it's about creating that resilience and thriving on that independence.
And when people come over, or you step out, it becomes all the more worth it. But it is a struggle to navigate that on many days. There are a lot of days where you want to be on the couch and binge-watch shows and just need someone to jolt you out of it. But by and large, I’m pushing myself because no one else is there to do it.
Rohini describes Haiku as her "newfound motherhood and love".
On Curation, Of Heart's Intent
Curation demands a lot of consumption. How do you balance consumption and creation?
There's definitely an imbalance, I consume more than I put out. Over time, I've subscribed to too many newsletters. I have been using Feedly, an RSS reader, for the longest time and things are just there. When I feel like it, I go and consume. I think the creation is actually a lot more personal and there is no sense of deadline or commitment to it.
“There is a sense of detachment with the fact that this incoming stream is never going to stop or slow down. So it is up to you what you want to make of it. It is about certain things finding you when you are looking for it.”
For example, The Alipore Post used to be a daily newsletter back then and now that it's a weekly newsletter, I keep collecting gems and then put them all together. So even making it a weekly from a daily has allowed that consumption pattern to slow down.
Does active online curation complement your creative practice? How?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s the main factor which has fed back. Even when I was a journalist, now I call myself a writer, I was looking out for new ideas from the internet at large. It is because I am consuming something online that I want to go deeper and interview the person behind it.
Starting the newsletter, looking for artists whose work or style I like has allowed me to also start drawing myself. I did an Inktober in 2017 or 2018 and didn't like my drawings. But I was happy making something and having a good time with it.
“The act of curating so much has also allowed me to realize that it's totally fine to express for yourself. If I’m not having fun, there is no pressure to do it.”
For example, yesterday I saw this poetry comic month list which Grant Snider had put up, and he's doing it for the whole month. It made me want to create a comic for Haiku. Just consuming that one little thing, out of context, made me want to go back to my iPad, pick up the pen and start drawing.
You call The Alipore Post a love letter to the internet. It is personal and stirring. Have you ever hesitated or questioned showcasing vulnerability through it?
I have become more comfortable than in the past. There was no introduction to why it was a particular selection of poems but almost a brain dump where I was archiving my finds. A friend of mine at some point was like, 'Rohini you need to put yourself in there'. The people that I read and the newsletters that I follow have a very personal sense of belonging and showing up. I think it all ties into trying to be authentic, to shed those layers and just saying it as it is.
For me, the newsletter is a personal archive, this personal journal which I'm okay to share with people because now, my narrative is not ‘I will hide behind the newsletter’ but ‘Hey, this is who I am, these are my struggles. I know you are also probably struggling, so let's be vulnerable together’.
As an artist who loves experimenting, Rohini finds collaging to be the most fun and mindful art style.
“There is this sense of universality; we are all going through that spectrum of emotions, struggles and the intensity might be different. Maybe there's a tool, maybe there's a quote, or website or music that might take you away from that narrative or the way you're looking at yourself.”
I find it incredibly powerful to read something that can make me cry because someone else went through it.
I may not relate to it, but it's the fact that they can speak about it. There is freedom in letting go and baring your soul. I've had people in my life who have taught me to wear my heart on my sleeve. I'm grateful for that.
In 2017, The Alipore Post became an online journal featuring writing and works of art. Many of your initiatives like Chitthi Exchange, This Is My Newsletter, Memories on a Plate amongst others, are crowdsourced and community-driven. What has been the driving intent behind doing these projects?
The reason is I'm too greedy to know. I'm greedy for those words. There's a certain hunger and curiosity, which is why these are very different formats. The takeaway is the sense of resonance and universality, and just being someone who can hold space for it. You take that first step, and then you let everything else unfold. The fact that it's online helps to sustain these things at my own time and pace.
In small ways, it's about giving back but the larger responsibility or offering from my end is this — a mixed bag of things that you can open at your own time and draw inspiration from in your own ways and context.
Because of building this community and people knowing the variety of work I do, I get unexpected projects like Memories On A Plate being an anthology where these 100 voices tell their stories in a certain visual cohesive language and further, through that being able to contribute to Khana Chahiye for their fight against hunger. The takeaway is to follow your gut and know when a collaboration feels right. Sometimes it's okay to not charge for a project because it means a lot more than any monetary value.
One thing I've heard and also realized over time is if I had a team, or if I had that capability of delegating, things might have become bigger than they are. I am okay with working with my limitations and strengths. The Alipore Post is an extension of who I am. I'm also growing up, my taste is evolving, and everything is constantly changing. I find that to be a little problematic when people expect me to be The Alipore Post. I'm just Rohini — modest, genuine and confused. I'm also figuring stuff out, just like everyone else.
William Stafford’s poem The Way It Is starts with the following excerpt: “There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.” If you were to define a thread — a calling or purpose or reason, what is the thread that you follow?
I think for me, it's a sense of awe and curiosity which is driving most things. But the thread for me is to keep it real, whatever that might mean to someone.
With awe and curiosity, there is always a door slightly ajar and you're open to things transforming you. The aspect of embracing change and evolving with it while questioning things along the way, I think that's my thread, as of now at least. Everything is of your own doing and making, so taking ownership and accountability for even the things you're doing wrong. I'm not someone who has a five-year goal or 10-year goal, I don't know beyond this week, or on my Notion sheet beyond three months. And surprisingly, things tend to work out. For better or worse.
“It's not about if someone told you something and you make that your life's truth. It’s about how and why it becomes your life's truth. It's about recognizing that there are seasons and it’s okay to embrace the sense of constant change. Beauty presents itself in birth and decay. It is just about being human, being alive and feeling.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
All photos courtesy Rohini Kejriwal.
Rohini fills her bowl of musings, interests, suggestions and recommendations!
Things I like: Nature walks, Haiku cuddles while it's raining, hoarding pillows and blankets, making Spotify Playlists for different seasons and moods, pour over coffee, Rajma-chawal with pickled onions, Puchkas!
Read: Mary Oliver's poetry
Watch: The Bear, Ted Lasso, Lupin, Thermae Romae Novae,
Listen: Voice Notes from the Kitchen