Celebrating Emergence: An Interview with Mohini Takhar
Mohini Takhar is a disabled writer and spoken word poet based in Vancouver, traditionally
known as the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations. She studies Creative Writing at Douglas College. She writes many genres like fiction, film, and poetry. When she’s not in school, she enjoys nature, where most of her inspiration comes from as well as rewatching her favourite shows on Netflix. She was a featured poet in June 2020 for pulpMAG. More recently, she has performed spoken word across virtual stages such as Vancouver Poetry Slam, Canadian Individual Poetry Slam, Victoria Poetry Project, and Voices of Today. She was a recent finalist in the Voices of Today 2020.
Hannah Macready: Hi Mohini! I’m excited to have the opportunity to chat with you for the Amateurs Project, so thanks for taking the time. Let’s start it out with something topical: Amateurs are always looking for something, that might be a publication or craft perfection. Maybe it’s simply doing the best you can. What are you looking for in writing? What motivates you to keep creating?
Mohini Takhar: Hi Hannah! Thanks so much for having me! Where do I start? Everything motivates me to write. It can be people, nature, stories, songs, movies, etc. It depends on where I am in life and what I’m surrounding myself with. One main thing I see in our field (and I constantly say this) is the lack of stories from the perspective of a person with a disability which also pushes me to write those stories in the form of fiction or poetry. So, you could say that I’m looking for myself in what I write.
HM: Representation is a deep issue, one that has come up in this project before. I think, only recently have these conversations taken a more public seat, and even then, they aren’t always given the direct spotlight. Can you tell me a little bit about what representation means to you and where you think the literary community stands in these discussions? (are they actively supporting representational issues, or are they a long way off in pursuing them)
MT: It’s difficult to think of a succinct answer because this feels like a larger conversation. To me, representation means visibility, and this can be shown in various ways. This means there are people of color, people with disabilities and others who may feel like they stand out included in magazines, interviews or anything related to the writing community. Representation can be demonstrated in a short story like my story Secrets and Whispers, or how a writer may choose to identify as; whether they want to identify as a person with a disability or not. There are many levels to this and other factors that impact the result of representation and what we are exposed to in the writing world. It largely depends on how far a writer is willing to go in regard to revealing their identity or just allowing that reality to seep into their writing. Honestly, it’s hard to talk about disability, and write about it too, as it may be the most vulnerable part of a person, yet those are the stories and discussions to consume and have as well. I write content that I want to read and consume. That said, when I involve my identity in my work, it makes it complicated yet easier at the same time. It can be challenging at times, but having certain characters and perspectives is important to me.
Although, I believe that I have seen an author with a disability on a panel, which made me so happy and proud to see. So, yes, it is something that is being talked about now, but I always wonder if it is something that can be further explored. For as long as I remember, I’ve always wanted to see more people like me on television and on paper.
HM: We’ve known each other for many years: we went to college together, we worked together, and I’ve had the chance to read a lot of your writing over the years. It’s really amazing to see how content, style, and feeling changes over time, and I’m really glad we’ve kept in touch and I’ve had the opportunity to continue reading your work. One thing I’ve always noticed about you is your undying commitment to writing. You work really hard and you don’t give up and I think that is essential to perfect any craft. What role does writing play in your daily life? Are you someone that writes every day, or someone drawn to inspiration?
MT: Thank you! I appreciate this. When you read your own work all the time, you don’t notice how your writing has evolved.
Writing plays a huge role in my life; it started as an outlet at thirteen years old, then I decided to turn it into a career. I try to write every day, but sometimes that’s not possible and it’s important to recognize that. I’m often drawn to inspiration, but also believe that structure plays a key role if I want to achieve anything. For me, it’s important to have a balance between getting those sparks of inspiration and planting inspiration where it needs to be. If I have an idea for a short story or longer piece, I’ll spend time outlining scenes or freewriting to see how can bring it to life. Consuming art is part of the writing process and largely contributes to my practice if that makes sense.
HM: Your writing centres a lot on vulnerability, and, more importantly, embracing that vulnerability. In, “Secrets and Whispers,” the narrator remembers the importance of solitude, and in, “TikTok,” the speaker praises the details of their life that make them stand out. What is the larger message you want readers to take away from your work?
MT: What I hope my work says is that vulnerability does not equal weakness. It’s okay to reveal the most vulnerable parts of us and thoughts that we may have because chances are there is someone else waiting for a poem like Tik Tok or a story like Secrets and Whispers. My more recent work incorporates my disability because we’re always taught “write what you know.” To my core, this is what I know; how to be vulnerable, but strong at the same time. For me, every single poem or story I write feels like a risk; I cannot predict how readers will react, particularly when I share my flaws or quirks. It feels like I am exposing another inch of me, especially in a poem. That said, people should be allowed to look at the things that make them different or stand out and appreciate them, not striving for perfection. This is what I experiment within my own work. The second part of this is writing stories that come from my own experiences, which involves me digging deeper and allowing myself to open up. I do not know if I’ve looked in the wrong places, but I have yet to find a fiction story where the main character uses a wheelchair, so I guess this would lead to the topic of representation. With Secrets and Whispers, I wanted my main character to be in a wheelchair and still have the same experiences as anyone else. It was inspired by my own experiences, but for the most part, this piece had the things that I wanted to see in real life, and on the page.
HM: You also speak a lot about community, whether that is writing community, friends, or being among others. The result is a warm, kind place for the reader that encourages connection. Is this something you do naturally in your writing, or is it something you work towards?
MT: I think I write about community without even noticing. Community is what keeps me creating content. inspiration for my poetry starts and ends with a conversation. It’s talking to people, observing others and staying in tune with myself that keeps me going.
The places I get the most inspiration from is transit and nature. It is also writing about the day-to-day things that I find boring but in great detail. I’m realizing those things that I find mundane, others don’t.
HM: You’re currently studying at Douglas College and it seems like you’ve had some great opportunities for creation there. You also write poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and you enjoy performing spoken word. There are so many ways to practice writing and so many other ways to make it a career. Editing, publishing, writing for business, performance art, organizing, etc. What are you currently chasing after in your writing life, or what path are you looking to take?
MT: Too many things to count if I’m being honest. I’d love to be an editor one day. I want to do so many things as I love working in many genres. For now, I am planning to self-publish my second collection of poetry called Pieces of Me. Once that happens, I would want to write more fiction and continue to do performance art. I started performing poetry this year, so I can’t say how long I will commit to it. Although, I would like to see where it takes me. Also, I do see myself finishing a novel in the future. Anything is possible, you know?
HM: What has been the biggest help to your emerging career? Was it a mentor, an opportunity, a commitment, or something completely different?
MT: Branching out in spoken word. So poetry has always been my main genre. My friend and I jokingly say it’s the love of my life. Performing poetry made me think about poetry differently, and how it doesn’t have to be only for the page. In just 2020 alone, I’ve done multiple virtual events and open mics which has brought me closer to other writers. To have that feeling of community, the circle of people is so important. Also, I’ve recognized that I can and want to do both; produce content for the stage and the page.
This pandemic has allowed me to slow down and think about what I want, education-wise and career-wise, as well as providing space for me to create content. Everything has either slowed down or unfortunately shut down during a pandemic which has pushed me to finish certain projects, like Secrets and Whispers and start new ones.
HM: Obviously, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. This project was born because of that, but it’s certainly been a difficult year. I have found reading very hard this year, but I have managed to get some writing done. How has this time been for you, is it a creative push or hindrance to your art?
MT: You know, I’ve also been reading more as well. It’s surprising actually; I’ve never really been into reading fiction (even though I write it), but I’ve really turned to fiction during this time.
Creatively, it’s been interesting. I’d say, during a pandemic, it’s been a journey. It comes in waves; sometimes I push out poetry or prose every couple of days and then other times, ideas come to me at a slower pace. That said, I think there’s been a big difference in the quality of content versus my pre-pandemic content. I do have the space to create more content, but it can be challenging to do so when you don’t have new experiences. It’s important to recognize every writing session is not going to be the same no matter how hard you try to recreate the most successful one. so I try to be patient with myself and to remind myself that creative blocks don’t last forever. On the other hand, if I feel like I’ve had writer’s block for too long, I like to turn to other people’s art to gain inspiration which could be books, television, movies or music. Music has a big influence on my work and has been the backbone of much of my poetry.
HM: Thanks again for your honest answers. Finally, is there anything you’d like to see the CanLit community change, in order to better support emerging artists, that isn’t currently happening?
MT: Thank you again for having me! As an emerging artist, I always want more opportunities and am constantly researching organizations that fit my profile. For example, I once saw an opportunity created for emerging artists/writers, and after reviewing the requirements the applicant in question needs to have a publication history which makes me question the definition of “emerging“ writers. It should be recognized and normalized that getting published takes time; some artists may identify as an emerging writer, so the opportunities designed for emerging writers should accommodate that.