Attic Diaries: Masterclass with Anita Nair

It was one of those strange days in August in Calcutta when you don’t know what to expect of the weather. One minute it’s sunny and heavy downpour in the next. Anita Nair’s visit to Seagull evoked a similar feeling in us. We didn’t know what to expect. Some of us, including I, had never met a popular author before. Would she be approachable? Could we ask questions? We were, however, pleasantly surprised when the first thing Anita said was that we should ask her a lot of questions and make the sessions as interactive as possible. What followed, in the next two days, was an enlightening journey through Anita’s stories and rediscovery of the writer in all of us.

Masterclasses at Seagull are like a breath of fresh air. With classes and assignments throughout the week, a masterclass is that one day that we needn’t worry about finishing assignments! The customary Seagull email had a note on Anita Nair’s prolific career as a novelist, poet, playwright and translator, and that she was in the city to release her latest crime novel, Chain of Custody. All of us were invited to the book release event that evening.

I could go on and on about her story: how she started writing while switching jobs, multitasking at work and at home, letting her passions drive her, and her personal struggle to be published and so on. But I have a word limit and so I shall stick to the part that intrigued me the most—her travel experiences.

I personally enjoy stories about the places that I have never visited, so when Anita paused to ask ‘Any questions?’ I couldn’t help but ask her to tell us more about her travel experiences. What followed were the most exciting stories of Anita Nair the free-spirited traveller! She has had the most fascinating experiences around the world and we listened, awestruck, as she recapitulated. What really interested me was how she talked about travel being a ‘transition’ and not just about reaching a destination. It was interesting to know that Anita wrote her most profound travelogues while wandering around Manhattan.

Meeting strangers, talking to them, getting to know how they live and what they think comprise her notes. Unlike most others, she doesn’t care to write about the colour of the sky or the clarity of the water—it’s the journey more than anything that appeals to her. Sifting through her memories, Anita shared another epiphanic moment—‘I looked at the letter H on my keyboard and typed Hanoi’—and that’s how she decided her next destination! She said, you don’t need an expensive trip all the time—travelling can also be just a train ride from one unknown station to another.

On the second day we learnt about Anita’s biannual creative writing program—Anita’s Attic. Amusing as the name sounds, her students too work on interesting projects! We were lucky to have a mock writing exercise that day. It was a creative writing assignment. We were given a few keywords and had to write a few lines based on them. My friends came up with amusing stories and beautiful imagery. After we finished writing, we were asked to discuss our stories at length. She then guided us through the process of writing: we were told what went wrong and how to improve writing skills, and how the plots can be developed further.

Finally, as I look back—sipping coffee together and sharing stories like old friends—those two days were not only excited us but also helped us widen horizons and certainly made us more discerning as future editors.

Sutanuka Pal

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