A Children's Literary Festival
On the 11th December 2012 I went to Cherrapunjee in the East Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya, to conduct a creative writing workshop in English for school students, ranging between classes nine to twelve. This was part of an initiative of the Meghalaya Government Arts and Culture Department to have a literary festival for school children, to instil a sense of creativity in them, as well as reading. There was a mini book fair, for the children to browse through books and buy them.
To talk to school students on the wide, generic subject of creative writing, and to have an impact on them was not going to be easy. Moreover this was not anacademic talk or classroom lecture. The idea was to get them out of a monotonous classroom, to do something different. Previous to my discussion, another resource person a practising poet of repute had already conducted a poetry workshop. I was racking my brains to say something different, in a space of one hour. I started by relating myself to the children, by talking about my childhood, school and memories of them. Memories are an important standpoint for creativity I said, because I always have this desire to carry vestiges of memory into the present.
I saw a flicker somewhere and their body language seemed to suggest that they resonated well with this idea - the idea also of the school being the starting point of a child's world, his or her second home, sharing with friends, not only secrets but chocolates as well! I told them that the sights and smells of the past can be a living reality, where past interweaves with present, and seems so near, though events remembered relate to thirty or forty days back. The past resounds in the present I claimed, and again a flicker or two of recognition and empathy. Being bolder I said that ''everyone has a personal history''. To reclaim childhood in adulthood is a corraboration of the Wordsworthian belief that "Child is the Father Of Man''. There was a nod, here or there.
Then I went on to talk about nostalgia, memories leading to an yearning for the past, seeing the past as a reflection of youth, citing the example of the relationship between the Old Man and the boy in Hemimgway's classic: ''The Old Man And the Sea''. This seemed to generate more interest.
I sopke about obsession and creative writing, how a creative writer writes out of a particular obsession with anything: people, events or a reclusive past. I quoted the words of the Indian expatriate or diasporic writer Bharati Mukherjee, who once said that creative writing stems from obsessions.
Then I drifted to the commingling of poetry and prose - that prose can be poetic, and perhaps poetry, prosaic. The example of Nehru's ''Discovery Of India'', especially the chapters on Vivekananda and Nehru are excellent examples of prose meeting poetry, on equal terms and on common ground.
These were the broad generalizations of my talk, but I wish we had more time, for the children to do some practical work. Writing being a group activity, where children can create posters and wall papers to write were other examples given.
It is a good idea to focus on children for literary festivals, with the emphasis on workshops and discussions. Simply having literary festives for Nobel Prize winners, and the 'establishment ' of literati leads to a literary caucus, and we saw what happened in Jaipur early this year.
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Ananya S Guha
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