Zubaan recently released an anthology of writing and visual work called Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India. A total of 21 writers from the region have contributed artwork, photographs and written pieces for this compilation. The theme is ‘work’ and readers can learn more about lives of women from Northeast India who are engaged in different kinds of work ranging from brewing beer to weaving fabric. We speak to editor Parsimita Singh to know more about the book.
Tell us a little about why you wanted to put together such a book and how you selected the pieces that were published in the book?
The book was commissioned by the publisher Zubaan around October of 2016 or so. We began conceptualising and thinking through the different frameworks for the book: the category and definition of the ‘Northeast’; and the idea of inviting poets, writers, academics, artists, photographers and designers to reflect upon the theme of women and work.
In retrospect, it came together in a very organic manner, it is almost as if the book was waiting to be put together. But yes, like all edited volumes and collaborative projects, it did involve a lot of the nitty gritties of looking at work, finding people and ideas that would excite us, making contacts, drafts of ideas and so on. This was one of the more exciting parts of the project: the moment when what you have in front of you is the seed, the initial idea or sketch of what will eventually evolve into ambitious and powerful photography projects and essays and stories.
How long did it take for the book to be ready and what was the most challenging aspect about compiling the book?
The book was done very fast. The contributors to their credit worked with very stringent deadlines. From beginning work to commissioning work, editing and proofing, going to print, it was all done in a year’s time. Yes, the time factor was a challenge because for a book like this, artists and writers and photographers have to take time out from their daily work and schedules to plan and execute a project. The theme also entailed that a fair amount of research went into many of the projects, so yes handling the time constraint was a challenge. But it worked both ways, the deadlines also forced our contributors to find creative ways of dealing with challenges and it often turned into a positive factor that shaped the book in many interesting ways.
How do you think this is different from other books on the Northeast?
That’s for the critic and reviewer to answer! But yes, we did try to get away from the clichés and accepted ideas of women and work, and to question the idea of borders and categories and aesthetics.
What do you want readers to take away from the book after reading it?
Again, this is something I would love to hear about from the readers themselves. But this is a book that can be read in many different ways. It is something you can have by your bedside to dip into and read, fashioning your own itinerary through the book. For instance, if you are somebody who likes a good, hard hitting essay, there should be plenty for you – but the book can also give the non-fiction reader a chance to engage with other forms, a chance to meditate on a painting or drawing and linger by a poem. For the poetry reader, there is also art and fiction to savour alongside poems. So, I can’t recommend the take-away from the book for the reader. But yes, I can suggest or invite the reader to approach the book with an openness; as a walk through, as if moving unhurriedly through a forest path or an art exhibit, going back and forth as the narrative moves you – taking time to wait and linger at these varied, thought-provoking and engaging projects.
As told to Meeta Borah