The world wide web takeover is real, and it’s here to stay. The digital space - for all its pros and cons - is a veritable boon for those who learn how to navigate its endless terrains, and - even better - create a confluence point for a like-minded lot with a set of varied interests. It’s at the intersection of culture and technology that this particular story carves its niche; the ‘Alipore Post’ is a Kolkata-based project curating art, literature, poetry and music that has been keeping us going through many a rainy day - a ‘love letter to the Internet’, as curator Rohini Kejriwal puts it, that will make you feel like it was written for nobody but you.
Homegrown catches up with her today to find out more about this potpourri of creativity she’s helming, and the story behind it.
“It’s a little creepy when I get down to thinking about it but I guess I’ve always enjoyed creating an internet persona,” 24-year-old Rohini shares. “I’m a subscriber to way too many websites, poetry and art blogs, Tumblr pages and newsletters and enjoy being spammed by each one of them.”
So in January, when a poetry newsletter called Oddity and Light allowed her to curate for a week, she confesses she fell in love with the experience of it. “I’ve always enjoyed poetry, sometimes over prose, and even though these weren’t my poems being sent out, I related to each of them. I started reading a lot more contemporary poets after that and already had fairly extensive folders of art and music that I enjoyed and had downloaded over the years. So on February 2nd, I decided to just take the plunge and start my own newsletter. And thus, The Alipore Post was born.”
The name of the project comes from the name of the area that Rohini calls home in Calcutta, which she recently moved back to after 9 years, evoking ‘a lot of strange feelings’. “The ‘Post’ is because I want people to feel like the email is addressed to them, bringing about the same feelings that receiving a letter does. Plus, I genuinely wish people would get back to writing letters. I’ve even made some postcards that I’ve to send to some subscribers as part of a swap.”
Curation is hardly formulaic, especially when it comes to the spheres that The Alipore Post is tied in with, most of the posts that Rohini has shared have been sporadically found online and immediately saved. A lot of the poetry coming from online magazines like PoetryFoundation, Writer’s Almanac, Rattle Poetry, 3 AM Magazine, Boston Poetry and Muumuu House. “I spend hours going through the archives, looking for poems that speak honestly to the person I am. If I can relate to it and there’s a defined style or interesting subject, it usually works.”
As for art, Rohini admits she’s a sucker for illustrations, although she does occasionally share collages and digital art. “I need a picture to tell me a story, as they often do, and when I find an artwork connecting to the poem I’ve chosen, it’s a moment of epiphany and sheer joy for me. Sites like Poking Smot, Beautiful/Decay, This Isn’t Happiness (best site on the internet), Juxtapoz and The Jealous Curator have completely changed my understanding of art and exposed me to some ridiculously talented individuals.” While Rohini says she is neither an ‘art curator’ nor does she have any academic background on the subject, anything that she finds visually interesting is what makes the cut.
When it comes to music, it is the music that she enjoys listening to alone that goes on to become a part of the Alipore Post. “I enjoy digging out new music from sites like Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, Knox Road, Aquarium Drunkard and artists I follow,” she says.
“There’s just a filter that is an extension of my own likes and dislikes that make me pick out what I do,” she breaks down the curation process. “Plus, the poems and art need to be original and fresh, or else they don’t catch my fancy.”
The Alipore Post started off as a mailer with 70 subscribers on the first day itself, when its launch was announced ‘as a little Facebook status’. By post #100, it was at 200 odd subscribers and there are currently already at about 400, with the website and Facebook page being launched much more recently. Interestingly, this is also how another one of our favourite curation websites Brain Pickings has also evolved, surviving today on a donation-based model.
“What’s really nice about it, for me, is that it has taken off completely organically through word of mouth,” Rohini explains. “I’ve given people a clear warning every time I mentioned it on social media – sign up only if you want to receive wonderful spam every morning. But I’m so relieved that people are understanding and enjoying it. On a daily basis, there are at least 2-3 people replying to that day’s poem or art or link that I shared. I’m constantly receiving links and new music and poems I might like, and I often do, which means that there is a connection that’s already been established.”
The website was something that Rohini admits she previously wanted to avoid, but a close friend Saurav bought her the domain name as a birthday gift and compelled her to stop being lazy and create an archive of all the emails so far. “I designed it myself, which was exhausting but also satisfying, and a lovely person called Rahul Samuel whom I’ve met only once in my life did the web hosting bit and made it live!” she says.
The Facebook page, on the other hand, lies even further away on the spectrum. “It was the last thing I wanted to do,” Rohini cuts to the chase. “Because I knew it would become scattered and seemingly random. But I messed up recently, and forgot to BCC the mailing list. So everybody started saying hello to the other subscribers and sharing links and fixing The Alipore Post meetups in each city and it became one long chain mail like in the 90’s. Flattering as that was for me, I had to put an end to it and promised to create a platform for these like-minded folks to mingle, and well, Facebook did the rest. I’m almost at 1500 likes, so woohoo!”
When it comes to creative influences, Rohini says that each and every poem, artwork, song or link she shares is something that has fascinated her and stirred some emotion in her, often arousing an envy that she wasn’t the one to come up with it; always a sign of a creative work one admires. “But I’m also glad that somebody else did, which is why it needs to be shared with as many people as I can help them reach out to.”
Rohini’s aunt, Jayshree, with whom she spent two years in Bangalore, is also one of the influencers. An art director and textile designer, she consistently engaged her in stimulating discussions about art, poetry, films and books, which Rohini says helped her define her own aesthetic sense.
Besides curating The Alipore Post, Rohini also takes up freelance writing and photography projects and while the curation process hasn’t been cumbersome, she elaborates on how she does sometimes find it a little difficult to juggle other projects that she’s working on to earn a living. “It finally comes down to time management,” she summarises. “So what I do is keep the posts for the next few days ready and in the morning, just decided which one I feel like sharing based on my mood and send it out. Another problem I’ve encountered is the need for a computer and internet to do the actual sending of the mail. When I’ve been travelling, I had to get friends to do it and there have been times when they either sent it to the whole list without the BCC or forgot to send it till late evening. You can’t add mailing lists on Gmail on your phone, which is a shame. I’m also going to be stuck when and if I reach 500 subscribers, because that’s the upper limit on the mails and I’m adamant not to to move to MailChimp.”
The response to The Alipore Post, despite it being a fairly new endeavour, has been very rewarding so far.
“I can safely say that I have my own fans now – people who reply to almost each email and often send me links regularly and postcards by mail!” Rohini says, with unmistakeable glee. “I’m also a horrible person who scammed my subscribers into buying me books by sending them a birthday wishlist of books I wanted on Flipkart. It was the best feeling every time a package arrived at my doorstep, especially when they were from strangers! I’ve met some superb human beings through this project!”
Another lovely thing that has been happening, Rohini tells us, is that people have been sending in their own poetry and stories to get her feedback on them. “Although I want to avoid this phenomenon because I’d feel really guilty if I didn’t feature it or have anything nice to say, it’s also interesting to be an English teacher of sorts, or to be seen as a curator whose opinion counts.”
Being a true labour of love, we were sure the takeaway has been many and multi-faceted, and we asked Rohini to break down three of her biggest learnings from The Alipore Post: “Firstly, I realised that creative therapy works! Somebody actually mailed me saying that they listed The Alipore Post as one of the top 3 things that made them happy.
“Secondly, you don’t need to be an artist to enjoy art. You don’t need to be a musician to enjoy music. You don’t need to be a poet to enjoy poetry. And lastly, the joy of curating is the best thing that has happened to me.”
As for what the future beholds, Rohini shares that while she hasn’t given it too much thought, she’s pretty sure that this is going to be a lifelong project. “Hopefully. I hope I don’t have to resort to ads because I find them rather ugly. And this project is all about compiling beauty in one space. Maybe a donation-based subscription model could work at some point, although I will always keep this free for all to consume.”
Organising doodle sessions-cum-poetry slams is one thing that has been on her mind, though, and she hopes that she can figure out an interesting format that works to create a space for poets and artists to exchange ideas and, possibly, collaborate.
“There’s also The Alipore Post meets, that might just be coming to a city near you soon; the Bangalore one should happen sometime soon!”
“Just a sense of comfort through art and poetry and music,” Rohini says, when asked what it is that she hopes The Alipore Post achieves amongst its readers. “There is too much beauty in the world today to not overdose regularly on creativity, either of your own or others’. I’ve gotten so addicted to this entire process every morning that it’s better than drugs! Even some of my subscribers have said that they need it at the same time everyday to go with their morning coffee before their day actually begins, which is overwhelming. I’ll just take it as it comes, one post at a time. So far, everything that has happened has been without a bigger plan in mind. That works fine for me!”
As for the personal implications that the personal nature her brainchild has had on her, she shares, “It feels nice to know that the Alipore post is coming up in conversations, because that’s what I would do if I were to stumble upon something intriguing. It’s also something that keeps me occupied in the best possible way; this gives me a sense of stability and almost responsibility.”
Rohini also writes to each artist individually telling them that their work has been featured - ‘people whose brains I have huge crushes on!’ - so for the fan girl in her, it has been the most empowering thing to actually get their replies and have conversations behind their process and, in some cases, have them added to her mailing list.
“This has been a beautiful process to watch unfold,” she shares. “And I can only wonder and wait to see what direction it takes.”
The feeling is very much mutual.