High-altitude joys

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 03, 2020 Published on January 03, 2020

Last week, the Himalayan Writing Retreat invited me into its warm and comfortable embrace, to lead a writers’ masterclass. There were 10 participants plus Chetan Mahajan, author and motivational speaker who, with his wife Vandita, created this haven in Satkhol, Uttarakhand.

‘Finding Your Inner Shark’ was the name I gave to the workshop and I’m happy to report we succeeded! Work started right away, on arrival night, December 18. For their first assignment, the participants were asked to write two paragraphs in the first person but without names, about an intense real-life experience. The next day, these passages were read out aloud. The small twist? Each person read out someone else’s piece.

The point of the exercise, I explained, was to give would-be writers a sense of what it’s like when we expose our inner closets to public view. There’s a minor loss of privacy, yes, but a major gain of perspective, when we see ourselves in the third person and at a distance. The participants were a mix of professionals from media and academic backgrounds, including two film-makers and one successful, published author. Everyone entered into the spirit of the exercise, coming up with stories that were lively and in a couple of cases startlingly intimate.

The aim of the workshop was to help participants work on ideas that they felt were worth developing into short stories, novels or even movies. Over the course of the remaining two days, they worked on creating outlines of these longer stories, discussing them first as a group, then later with me in one-on-one sessions. I found it surprisingly pleasurable. I’ve never worked as a teacher nor attended any workshops before, not even as a participant. I suspect the reason I enjoyed it so much was that all 11 attendees seemed to be gifted, smart and willing to put in the work. They were even willing to listen to the stories my family hates me to tell, about my misspent youth.

It certainly helped to be in the ideal environment for a writers’ retreat. Perched at the edge of a grassy precipice, we had a spectacular view of Nanda Devi and friends, extending cinemascopically from west to east. The weather was freezing, but as long as the sun was up, we were happy to sit in the open for our sessions. We had four meals a day of great home-style food and two big fluffy dogs who whined if they weren’t petted enough.

For those who needed the exercise, there were steep hills, for those who didn’t (heheh), a warm and spacious common room. The participants had double-rooms, but I had a gorgeous view all to myself, big comfy bed, huge pink comforter, two hot-water bottles and the softest, most satiny sheets EVER. So yep. Writing got done. Rivers of hot beverages were drunk. Two short films

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on January 03, 2020
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