As a very wise writer once said, “Writer’s Block is when your imaginary friends will not speak with you”.
Perhaps that is why, in some odd (and perfectly serendipitous) way, all six of us very disparate folks (both left and right-brain dominant) signed up for the Himalayan Writer’s retreat at Binsar Forest Retreat one sparkling cold November day in the year just gone by.
Perhaps the allure was in the fact that we wanted to polish up our craft, perhaps the allure was the glorious Himalayas themselves (forbidden as I am, to use the word “majestic” when referring to the Himalayas, for the cliché it is – thank you, Chetan (Mahajan, not Bhagat!)). Perhaps we wanted to see if our imaginary friends really existed, after all, and not temporarily sulking. For, the stories that need telling will find their messengers anyway – who am I to chase a poem by its tail and hope to pin it down to paper, to wrench a little something out of it for my glory?
It was perhaps then to answer these questions – big and small – that we found ourselves huddled over a warm, crackling bonfire on opening night, over light and heavy conversation, as we watched the salt-shaker starlit night of the Milky Way line up in the sky above.
The Start of all things Wonderful
Our mornings started with dawn hikes to view the Trishul peak of the Nanda Devi range, close up, even as we woke to its balayage-style gold-streaked glory every morning, right across from our verandas. The view that left everyone speechless and giggly all at once. Every single time. Like watching your favourite crush walking by, and not being able to move or say one word. This, then, was my daily bowl of morning muesli – a Pahadi breakfast from the amazing kitchen at Binsar Forest Retreat, busy little nut-hatcher birds, the resident dogs – Tara and Chanda, that bluest of blue skies, pink mountain blossoms, birdsong. And that mountain light – like a benediction that almost called for kneeling in gratitude. Inspiration, much?
We would come back from our dawn hikes, all ripe for story-penning sessions, as we learned to craft the science and the art of a plot – like a yoga stretch, hoping for the nimbleness to flow after much coaxing of the stiff brain muscles… In the forest-mountain-sky-bird-pen-paper filled days I found myself in.
Some of us had a book in our heads already, some of us had started penning it down, others were there to navigate through to what it is they eventually wanted to write. Either way, what an experiential learning platform! There were day-long sessions on freestyle writing, character building, plot development, storyline structuring, all peppered with Chetan’s gentle guidance and humor, peer reviews, and hearing six totally different takes on the same storyline topic exercise!
So this is how the writer’s kitchen works, I figured, at last!
Recipe for Joy
Take a large L-shaped glasshouse classroom; bracket it on all sides by tall bamboo trees
Fill it up with speckled warm sunlight, yoga mats; add large chunks of imagination, with some floor cushions to go
Place a chalkboard in one corner
Stir in six eager learner-storytellers with the ladle of one master wordsmith
Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of syntax, poetic license and generous portions of style and content.
Garnish with metaphorical allegories
Slice off large pieces with a sharp editor’s knife
And leave to bake in the afternoon sunlight.
Emerge from the classroom at 5:00 PM; if brown, flavourful, and bursting with a gooey joyousness, you may consider the job well done.
“What’s your favourite color, then? – He asked. “Sunset” – She replied – From Anonymous
Our story-baking days ended with luminescent sunsets that lit up every vein on every leaf of every tree from the inside out, in a golden glow. Nature doesn’t need a light reflecting bronzer of the L’Oreal kind, after all.
Dusk comes suddenly to a mountain. Nights are long and cold and soundless. And pure. Like a free bird. Like tomorrow that is as yet unsullied. Our evenings were spent in the afterglow of a good day’s writing, warming the extremities over a roaring bonfire, and hearty conversations. Our pristine clear starry nights were spent in the toasty warm rooms heated by angeethis, chatting with our roomies, and finishing up the day’s “homework” of writing assignments, sharing life (and love) stories, of course. And the big Life What-if’s. Could one do this forever, one wondered… and manage to eke out a living, yet?!
“I wake to sleep and take my waking slow, I learn by going where I need to go….”
I realize the meaning of these very wise words here (the mountains have an amazing ability to clear your head).
Life is so grand sometimes – it takes you just where you need to go. Maybe I needed a 10-hour train and road trip for this epiphany to strike. That perhaps I need to learn about writing, through talking about writing, through writing furiously like a drunk uninhibited maniac, letting go of my perfectionist leanings and doing this experientially day after day (like that nut-hatcher bird), and to wake up every morning racing at daybreak, to catch Trishul in its morning light on my 55-250mm. And to write as though “the heck anyone cares what I effin’ write!”
Perhaps Einstein is right….
There comes a time in our lives when we need to stop reading other people’s stories and write our own”.
The Basics, Silly! – How to do what I did
Well if you have a book in your head but have made no progress on it beyond two chapters in six months (like me), you’d better get yourself a seat at Chetan’s table for the next Himalayan Writing Retreat. Go before that nasty old bookworm eats in to that book in your head, leaving incomplete thought-shreds behind!
And, if you simply want to savor the Himalayas from a rather remote and high vantage point with dawn treks to the Trishul, such as at the Binsar Forest Retreat, go here –
(You could just as easily go for playtime with Chanda and Taara – the resident pahadi dogs, in case humans are, you know, Eww or you are a “people vegan” as a dear friend in Bangalore, claims she is!)
In the end, who am I to say anything? This is your story. So, go write it.
(No Apologies to you, Nirvana).