From Anjum Hasan’s debut novel Lunatic In My Head, here is lecturer Firdaus Ansari, fumbling through her Shakespeare class at a women’s college in Shillong: “In addition, that is withal, he must have freedom as large as the wind to quote blow on whom I please unquote, that is, direct his foolish wit or witty folly towards whoever he chooses.”
There will be no reading from notes at Bangalore’s World-Famous Semi-Deluxe Writing School, where Anjum and her partner-in-crime (-novels) Zac O’Yeah’s inaugural three-month course begins next month. The first, and possibly the most intensive project of its kind in India, the Semi-Deluxe classes will take in 40 students - applications are open! - and school them in several different genres of writing, ranging from war correspondence to children’s fiction. It’s a pilot project; future courses depend on how this one goes.
There’s probably no dearth of budding writers who want to have their careers kickstarted by hotshot novelists. That’s not even all you'll get if you bag a spot here, though. Anjum and Zac are running the programme with journalist Eshwar Sundaresan, who’s been an engineer and counsellor in addition to a foreign correspondent. Their roster of teachers will include “about ten specialists,” Zac says. The war journalism class will be taught by Rohini Mohan, author of The Seasons Of Trouble; Samhita Arni, novelist and writer of an Afghan TV series (really!), will teach screenwriting and teleplay; a class in literary criticism will be taken by Somak Ghoshal (you know him, of course); Zac himself will be teaching travel and thriller writing, while Anjum takes the lead on fiction and poetry.
The school will be located in Shoonya, Bangalore’s lovely experimental art space near the Lalbagh botanical gardens. If you can’t or don’t make it to the course, drop in instead to their supplementary lecture series, featuring talks on writing and the city delivered by stalwarts such as Ramachandra Guha and Vivek Shanbhag, and open to the general public.
The war journalism class will be taught by Rohini Mohan, author of The Seasons Of Trouble; Samhita Arni, author of Sita's Ramayana, will teach children's fiction; a class in literary criticism will be taken by Somak Ghoshal; Zac himself will be teaching travel and thriller writing, while Anjum takes the lead on fiction and poetry.
Yeahs, We Can
The Sweden-born, Bangalore-based author of ten books, including the Mr Majestic! thrillers, Zac has been holding one-off writing classes in the city for some time. “At a certain point in your life it feels like a human duty to teach other people,” he says. “When I was young - I’m still quite young, actually - older writers really helped me; people such as Amitav Ghosh taught me a lot, both in classrooms and informally.”
Years ago, Zac and Anjum went to a three-day writing workshop at Calcutta’s Jadavpur University, taught by the mighty Ghosh. It’s the sum total of their own experience in writing classes, excluding a university course Zac took back in Sweden. “Ghosh was very much of the view that part of your learning as a writer should be to read each other’s work and come up with coherent critiques,” Anjum recalls. She hopes to bring some of the same spirit to her lessons, which she says are not about “definite, cut-and-dried skills, but about exposure to these forms, and how to think about them.”
Unsurprisingly, Anjum’s own literary preoccupations make her a little resistant to the idea of teaching writing as a saleable skill. “We’re not teaching children’s writing so that you come out of the course a children’s writer,” she explains. “It’s more about what you’ll get, as a writer, out of listening to someone who does that.”
The class’s mix of genres and special subjects might help you focus on what you really want to do. “You can come in wanting to be a poet and go out a war correspondent,” Zac says. But there’s no mystery to what they’re hoping to achieve, for all that. “Some other writing courses are like secret clubs,” he says. “Think of ours as an open workshop, just primarily for people who want to try a career in some kind of writing.
Also, he points out, “Shoonya’s really quite close to MTR”- the city’s renowned Mavalli Tiffin Rooms -“so you can go get tiffin after class, or maybe breakfast before.” If you want Rohini Mohan to come eat a podi dosa with you, try to impress her with your assignment before you issue an invitation. Good luck!
Getting there: Bangalore’s World-Famous Semi-Deluxe Writing Course begins in July at Shoonya, Lalbagh Road, Bangalore. Applications open here, fees Rs 24,000 per spot. The lecture series begins on July 22 with a talk by Ramachandra Guha.
Image credit: Instagram / allthatisshe.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Samhita Arni would teach children's fiction.
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