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26 by MANNIK SINGH: A Reminiscent Exploration of the Self from Adolescence to Twenty-Six

Streaks of child-like wonder, bashful adolescence, angst, relationships, and the crushing realisations of adulthood, 26 by Mannik Singh is a personal project at heart.

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Streaks of child-like wonder, bashful adolescence, angst, relationships, and the crushing realisations of adulthood, 26 by Mannik Singh is a personal project at heart. An exploration of his life till the age of 26, Singh’s self-published feat is divided into sections of poetry with cleverly devised names that are a mystery to the reader but biblical to those who understand. When I picked it up, I was transported across the world; from a child blissfully building a fort in Chandigarh to an adult confronting himself and his notions back in Melbourne. The book is whiplash.

Singh’s prose is evocative; it holds a unique quality that is forever tethering between literary and a hastily jotted down notes app thought. It is not this or that, it is uniquely him. 26 encapsulates the scope of human emotion beautifully, with an acute attention to detail. From depicting innocent, cloudy curiosity to the clear-cut, harshness of growing up, Singh writes like he has peered into hundreds of lives and taken extensive notes. His poetry is wise, witty, quirky, cringey and cliché but it works well for what 26 stands for. His writing is a testament to his identity, encapsulating the experience of growing up in South Asia very well. Reading the book transported me back to my childhood in the bazaars of Lahore and the roofs of Gujranwala, just across the border from Chandigarh.

The cliché and at times cringey writing of 26 preserves the intent of the book; after all an exploration of your life from child to adulthood, includes the dreadfully angsty, cringey teenaged years. In an interview with Singh with Radio Fodder, the author acknowledged his love for cliched writing saying, ‘he embraces it’. Some poems pulled straight from diary entries or first being birthed in the note’s app, exude a casual quality that at some points contribute to the tooth-rotting, cliched ‘cringey-ness’. In an interview with the New York Times, Leslie Jamison approaches clichés as a ‘consolation of company in a broken world’. I agree; cliches present an already established, tried and true order to an endless, jumbled stream of thought. But when is it too much? Jamison then states that this practice does not necessarily make cliched writing ‘art’. While I am not going to attempt to argue against the subjectivity of art, I understand Jamison’s intent. Originally very nuanced thoughts can be spoilt by cliches. While 26 features a few of these cliched imposters, the opposite appears more often.

26 preserves a garden of nuanced and complex poems. The poems that tackle multiple ideas, that look out into the world and into himself, are spun to create lovely strings of poetry that are particularly impactful. The poem, Am I? sticks with me even now, days after finishing the book. Transcending the mortal body, Singh almost takes to the altar of God and weighs his albeit vague and slight wrongdoings against those of bigger gravity. The poem is a wonderful critique on South Asian society and its wrongful loyalty to transgressors. Where Singh sandwiches his personal experiences with supernatural or religious themes, where his sense of place bleeds into the unexplored oceans, I sensed the apex of his prose.

Writing from a personal position is confronting (emotionally and literally) and in a chronological order as prominent in 26, the work can become predictable. Of course, childhood is going to come before the teenage years and adulthood comes stumbling after, but Singh manages to keep it fresh. His work switches styles, physical formatting, references and even language at whim, forcing the reader to stop, ponder and have a crack at forming any sort of analysis (I attempted to read the poem Maverick as a Top Gun reference- I was dead wrong). Perhaps this is a homage to Singh’s inspirations, which includes Taylor Swift and her secretive, ‘Easter egg’ laden prose.

26 is a window into the past, a revenge note, a love letter, a breakup song, a happiness embedded into your bones, a sadness hanging from your limbs and most of all, it is an emotional, gut-wrenching exploration of the persona. I believe everyone will find a little bit of themselves lodged within its pages. I Picked it up, consumed it, digested it, and I am curious to see what Mannik Singh concocts next. Kudos to a pretty sweet first book.

 
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