by BWW Writers
BWW is a creative writing workshop in Bangalore that focuses on creating a supportive writing community and helping writers value and sharpen their critiquing and writing skills. Founded in January 2012 by Rheea Mukherjee and Bhumika Anand, this initiative is the first-of-its kind in the region, and has become a creative impetus in the city, with more than 65 writers in the community. A group of writers from the BWW community submitted the questions for this interview to Rheea and Bhumika.
Rheea Mukherjee, Co-Founder, received her MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Ultra Violet, Southern Humanities Review, A Gathering of Tribes, Bengal Lights, Jet Wings International, and CHA: An Asian Literary Magazine. Her previous fiction was a Top 25 Finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award. Her unpublished collection of stories, In these Cities We Dreamed, was a Semi-Finalist in the Black Lawrence Press, St Lawrence Book Award, 2011. She is currently working on her first novel. She prefers contemporary writers. She is unabashed in her liking for the cheesier versions of Bollywood movies and has a special place in her heart for the tacky ‘90s. She refuses to eat anything without raw onion and a good sprinkling of green chili. She also works as a writing and training consultant when not catering to the whims of Nimbu, her pet dog.
Bhumika Anand, Co-Founder, has a degree in Communicative English and a Masters in English. She has been a lecturer, a Corporate Trainer, Editor, Communications Specialist, Events Coordinator, MC, and an erstwhile manager of online communities for over 13 years. Her two passions include writing and teaching. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel and a collection of short stories that deals with gender issues and alternate sexuality. She strongly believes that everyone has a story to tell and most of them, with a little help, can write it well. Her obsession with purple has been known to cause worry amongst family and friends. She is a disinterested cook, a terrible singer, and an intermittent blogger (http://bhumikasboudoir.wordpress.com) who feels very intensely about grammar and punctuation. She is particularly critical of those who use multiple exclamation marks.
Bhumika Anand: Rheea and I studied at the same college in Bangalore and were part of the theatre group there briefly. Later we connected on Facebook when Rheea was in San Francisco doing her MFA. We started exchanging work and sharing feedback. Through this process we realized we had the same passion for the written word and knew that at some point we wanted to collaborate on something related to writing.
Rheea Mukherjee: After I finished my MFA, I moved back to India. Most of my stories and inspirations came from my motherland, and yet in my own city there seemed to be very few options for like-minded people to get together to further discussions on the craft of writing. I really wanted to bring the workshop module to my city. Bhumika had years of experience in teaching and editing, together we thought we might have the skills to facilitate a group. We had no idea we would get so many talented and inspired people to propel this idea.
Deepa Padmanabhan: How did you go about becoming a writer? Which writers inspire you the most?
RM: Writing is hard work. I am the most impatient person there is, and being a writer means enduring the massive pain of being patient. Patient with your stories and the never-ending revisions. Haruki Murakami is a current obsession, I love the way he nails with surrealistic delight the narrowing walls of the domestic mundane.
BA: I cannot remember a time I didn’t write. That is until I became an editor. Now the way I look at texts is different. It’s a good day for me when I approve a phrase I have written. My writing is testimonial, cathartic as you can see on my blog. It’s a creative outpouring of things I grapple with daily – people, relationships, and identity. I love the classics, and authors like Virginia Woolf, Camus, A. S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, and Murakami to name a few. I relish old British humour so Wodehouse and Saki are still absolute delights. But the writer who inspires me the most is T S Eliot: as a poet, a philosopher, and a playwright. I seem to have internalised his quest for meaning and his reconciliation with inhabiting a wasteland.
Amulya Shruthi: There is no real regular journal for writing in the country a la Iowa Review, or Granta. (The closest we can think of is Out of Print! and Motherland.) Does BWW have any plans to publish a journal featuring writings from BWW attendees, guest writers, and the public?
RM: I think the literary magazine is going to have a new birth in urban India soon. It’s already happening. BWW wants to be a part of that for sure, by hosting talks by published writers, something we have started to do and hopefully to engage our community positively so that some people from our batches might start one of their own.
BA: Our blog http://bangalorewritersworkshop.wordpress.com is a minor attempt at getting the populace to hear the voices we respect. For our anniversary in January, we are compiling a book collection called Best of the Bestiary that showcases the work of our writers. We plan to make it an annual feature. It’s a small step.
Kishor V R: Where do you see yourselves five years from now?
RM: We hope to grow our community and open up creative channels that will allow for richer dialogue in the city. There are so many people who contribute much to the culture of Bangalore and we want to be part of that drive.
BA: Diversifying and becoming literary agents eventually is something we are keen on.
BA: I think we’ve got such a positive response because we provide a space where writers can meet more of their kind in the city. Bangalore has never had something like this ever. Our workshop allows aspiring writers to study the craft of writing by analysing literary texts and each other’s work. We have myriad discussions about literature, life, and writing. We have weekly assignments on various themes, and styles of writing. We also enable writers to get critiqued on all their work in an analytical manner. Getting such in-depth feedback is what makes our workshop a success.
RM: We have weekly readings from a diverse range of fiction and creative non-fiction, including translations. What we especially enjoy are the wider thematic discussions that come up from the text we discuss. They range from sexuality, politics, the micro-cultural ecosystems India thrives within and how they affect our writing. Recently, we had many discussions on the placement of women in a culture that is so rich yet steeped in a lot of hypocrisy. We base many of our writing assignments on our discussions and we find it really propels our writers to think more about the world we live in and makes for richer fiction and non-fiction.
Pratik Ravani: What inspired you both to name your batches after animals? And since you’ve created an Animal Farm, what would you both like to call yourselves?
RM: It started out as a joke, and now it seems to be the only reasonable thing to call our groups. Our first batch misspelled themselves as bitches-1 to amuse and annoy us. Since then, we have had bitches, cats, foxes, wolves, pigs, dolphins, ants (for the short fiction workshop), and penguins (online), giraffes, and elephants.
BA: The Foxes named me The Sun, and Rheea, The Moon, based on our teaching styles. I quite like that. It makes me feel precious and loved. Otherwise, we’ve been called tigresses, lion-tamers, bitches. There is no dearth of names to choose from when you work with imaginative writers.
Sudhir Borgonha: BWW focuses on writers who work in English. Does that mean you won’t promote writing in local languages?
RM: I would hope not. We often talk about how regional books and translations are losing ground in this media-obese world. We want to encourage writers from our group to read and even translate many books from other languages.
BA: We believe in cross-referencing Indian language texts or showcasing translation as much as possible. And being able to read in multiple languages always makes a writer more aware, open, and experimental. But I do think literature in local languages has a very loyal and committed readership.
Amulya Shruthi: Do you have any plans to provide translations of native languages into English?
RM: I want to figure a way to include the importance of translations into something BWW actively supports or engages in. So far it’s a far leap from what we are concentrating on now.
BA: We are trying to source translators who can talk about the process of translation. This is something we want our writers to know.
Sarita Talwai: Does the business aspect of BWW intrude or impede upon the creative side?
BA: No, I think writing is our own responsibility. In fact, ideas discussed in class often stimulate us. I have read authors I would never have otherwise picked up because some writer mentioned it in class. That in turn has a subliminal effect on my own work. We also have the onus of practicing what we preach. So it works.
RM: I can be a lazy writer, procrastinating on revisions. I think I would be as much a lazy head even if I didn’t do this. If anything the work I do sometimes kicks me back into gear. Sometimes the sheer talent of our students inspires me to write. A workshop, even if you are facilitating, always inspires you to write and work at your writing in a more consistent fashion.
For more on the Bangalore Writers Workshop, visit them on the web: Bangalore Writers Workshop