Traveler's Mind: A writing workshop with Martha Gies

Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel laureate

Young writer on Sarat Bose Road

Tagore poem
All Photos: Emily Thayer Campbell
“There are far more poets in this city than there are novelists in Dublin, and a much bigger difference is that in Calcutta the writers have usually at least put pen to paper.” —Geoffrey Moorhouse

Traveler’s Mind workshops are designed for writers to generate new work, be it fiction, poetry or literary nonfiction, or to hone pieces that are in early stages of development. Thus, each day begins with a silent breakfast, followed by four hours of writing exercises in ever-changing locations. After the discipline of a full morning’s work, we lunch together in a café, and then participants have the afternoon free to read, nap, explore or prepare for the evening class.

In the two-hour evening sessions, we examine published work provided by the instructor in order to identify and discuss point of view, narrative time, setting, and other basic technical elements. We also schedule time in the evenings for the critique of poems, stories or essays in progress that participants bring from home. (See schedule.)

Travelers return from this workshop with the habit of daily, disciplined writing and a deposit account of ideas, fragments, techniques, sketches and fresh starts, material to last for months.

Enrollment is limited to 10 students and early registration is advised to hold a place.

Idol made for Durga Puja

“Calcutta, the city, is sprung from Job Charnock’s landing at Sutanuti almost 300 years ago. . .a monsoon day, grey river, grey sky, and a small armada of sailing ships battling up the Hooghly. I fancy tigers watching from the dank jungle on the river banks, crocodiles fatly scurrying as the ships’ boats pulled for shore. A lumbering take-off of adjutant cranes and a man of destiny mindful only of the rain and river mud as he scrambled ashore.”
--Desmond Doig, Calcutta: An Artist’s Impression

“I was born in what was then the metropolis of British India. Our ancestors came floating to Calcutta upon the earliest tide of the fluctuating fortune of the East India Company. The code of life for our family became composed of three cultures, Hindu, Muslim and British. My grandfather belonged to that period when an extravagance in dress and courtesy and a generous leisure were gradually being clipped and curtailed into Victorian manners. I came to a world in which the modern city-bred spirit of progress had just triumphed over the lush green life of our ancient village community.”
--Rabindranath Tagore, “A Poet’s School”

“Since the early nineteenth century, Calcutta has nourished a wide range of writers, painters, musicians, actors, and filmmakers, not to mention thinkers and scientists. Its exterior may have been grimy, but its inner life was always the most exciting in India.”
--Krishna Dutta, Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History

“The day I first visited the [film] studio with Ray was typical of life in Calcutta in recent years, even for the well-off. There was an extended power cut (known as ‘load-shedding’) and we found ourselves driving gingerly through a ghostly, smoky city lit only by hurricane-lamps, cooking-fires, and those fortunate premises with electric generators.”
--Andrew Robinson, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye

“The Calcutta I’d encountered as a child was one of the great cities of modernity . . . By ‘modern’ I don’t mean ‘new’ or ‘developed,’ but a self-renewing way of seeing, of inhabiting space, of apprehending life. By ‘modern’ I also mean whatever alchemy it is that changes urban dereliction into something compelling, perhaps even beautiful. It was that arguable beauty that I first came across in Calcutta, and may have, without being aware of it, become addicted to.”
--Amit Chaudhuri, Calcutta

“I myself am also habituated to the pavements – and am now in my old age used to being forced off their kerbs into the rushing traffic of Ballygunge Circular Road by illegal footpath-invasive eateries, impromptu wall-pissoirs, and unauthorized car parking on the pavement.”
--Barun De, “Foreword,” A Jaywalker’s Guide to Calcutta

“Decay was not frightening, or alien; we had all grown up knowing houses that had rotted from the inside out or outside in, we had seen the linen and the hangings fray at the edges just as the lives of the inhabitants unravelled, thread by thread. Pianos lost their keys, houses lost their music when there was no longer someone to place a hurricane lantern, the flame turned low, inside the Steinway to keep the strings warm in winter, dry in the monsoons. As the next generation left the city – the skeletal, graceful arc of the Howrah Bridge always behind us, never ahead – in search of better jobs, brighter opportunities, first one bedroom and then another, one wing and then an entire floor, were locked up or leased out.”
--Nilanjana S. Roy, “Rituals of Dispossession,” Kolkata: A Soul City

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