BOUND brings together writers for a 5-day retreat in Divar Island, Goa

BOUND is one-of-its-kind organisations that organised its fourth writer’s retreat in Goa this August. We chatted with the founder, Tara Khandelwal, who has been bringing mentorship opportunities for emerging writers in India.

To be a good writer isn’t easy, to be a great writer is doubly hard. Although one has access to many online and offline opportunities to become better at their craft today, that creative writing is something one pursues in addition to a full-time job and one has to, therefore, make time for it outside of their schedule is still an undeniable fact. To then steal a moment and immerse oneself completely into writing, sometimes one needs to be away from thenoise to be able to reflect and write about it.

BOUND is an organisation run by Tara Khandelwal which works to gift writers this space and time, where they canfreely dig into their imagination as well as their experiences, and write fearlessly from them. It creates these periods of writing time through bi-annual retreats, which are 5-day long workshops in a beautiful house located in Divar Island, Goa.

Apart from this, BOUND also creates 6-12 month long writing periods with the writers, where they bring in mentorship for them to work towards their goals, “along with a dedicated editor who hand-holds them and motivates them through their journey.”

Interested in understanding what goes into this and how BOUND really came about, I spoke to Tara, who shared some insights into the organisation, their writing retreat and the need for providing an important structured guidance for writers during their writing process:

“In India, there is a lack of infrastructure for creative writing—we don’t have too many courses, programmes etc. which give writers the tools they need to work on their writing. The occasional literature meets and festivals seemed too few and far between. So I started BOUND, to provide skill-building for creatives who—irrespective of age—are always students at heart.”

BOUND - Writers Retreat Goa
Writers engage in a lively conversation with fellow writers (August, 2019 Retreat). (Source: BOUND)

As of today, they have held four writing retreats and many frequent in-city workshops and training sessions. The purpose for them has always been to create intimate experiences for writers. For instance, by giving them channels to interact directly with seasoned writers who have lessons to share in terms of writing as an art as well as providing them with tools like editorial services and manuscript advice that can help writers to look at the stage of taking their art finally to an audience.

The Retreat: Writers and Their Mentors

Who are these mentors then and who the writers? At the August 2019 retreat, there were eleven writers who became a part of the programme so they could work on their projects through the stay in the Goa house.

Aditi Rao, an academician and poet with two full-length collections of poems and many reputed awards including the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and the TFA Creative Writing Award, and Tashan Mehta, author of two books of fiction and a fellow of the 2015 Sangam House Residency, were the mentors who guided the participating writers through the process.

Previously, BOUND had brought Ratika Kapur, author of The Private Life of Mrs Sharma, and her husband Amitabha Bagchi, as mentors in 2018 and Chandrahas Choudhury, author of Clouds, and Prayaag Akbar, author of Leila in the retreats that followed. BOUND also invites writers, who reside in Goa to conduct guest lectures. “The idea is to celebrate storytelling, to teach craft and to build a community where authors can connect with emerging writers,” says Tara.

BOUND - Writers retreat Goa, Prayaag Akbar
Participants with mentor, Prayaag Akbar (July, 2018 Retreat). (Source: BOUND)

It is interesting then to see if most participating writers who sign up for the retreat are at the beginning of their journey and are looking to level up, or if they’re at a stage where they’re ready to finally get published. I ask her if that is something she considers while selecting those who get to be a part of this. Tara tells me, however, that for her the stage that the writers find themselves in doesn’t matter:

We accept writers who have a specific project which they want to work on. They can be at the beginning of their writing journey, or can have already been published, as long as they have something interesting to bring to the programme, to the mentors and to the other participants. In the past, we have had spoken word artists, investment bankers, poets, researchers, actors, many filmmakers, journalists and more. The more diverse the better, since the quality of discussion only goes up.”

Why Strong Writing Communities are Important for Writers

This brings me to how writing communities, especially during the process of growing as a writer, play such a significant role. Having personally experienced some of my most productive phases of writing in the presence of a strong community of encouraging writers, I sense this idea of searching for belongingness at a time of being “in-between” drafts rooted very much in this programme too. It is an acknowledgment, one may say, of how much a community contributes to make you see yourself as part of something bigger as well as in the middle of something great.

For Tara, a community brings with it the right energy for the participants so that they become more confident and believe in their writing. This, she says, can be had in the best way only with a “writing pilgrimage or sojourn” of sorts. She believes that’s how the retreat made her feel personally too:

“It’s hectic, a lot of work, but the relationships that are built in just those five days are invaluable. What is unique about our programme is the safe space we manage to create. I want everyone at the experience to feel included, and that they are able to share themselves and their writing with the rest of the group.”

BOUND - Morning Walk at Writers Retreat, Goa
Participants and mentors out for a morning walk (February, 2019 Retreat). (Source: BOUND)

Some of her favourite moments from the retreat were the ones which grew organically—the open mics, dips in the pool, mealtime conversations. That’s where the real magic happened, where people opened up to each other and trusted one another to be able to take the next steps in their journey as writers:

“I feel like any of us are ready to be each other’s beta readers now, or offer advice and opportunities, and the alumnae network has become very strong. We’ve had a few meetups in Mumbai and have started a book club—hopefully as our alumnae base grows we can do more in other cities too.”

There have been some wonderful success stories to come out of the retreat, big and small in their own ways, of which Tara recalls and shares a few. Lavanya Lakshminarayan and Praveena Shivram have gone on to write their novels, which are now being published under leading publishing houses. Aparna Sanyal launched her full-length poetry collection Circus Folk and Village Freaks with poetry performances in multiple cities. Priyanka Pradhan has a book contract in hand. “Other participants have won short story competitions, curated festivals, and have published their work in online magazines. I’m confident that one day many of our participants will return to us as writing mentors,” she says.

While the 200-year old Portuguese house in Goa has caught many writers in their difficult periods of writing and given them a warm home, one cannot speak about it without mentioning the wonderful hospitality of the Island House owners, Jay and Susan. Tara, extending her gratitude, says, “The writers love the peace and quiet of Divar Island, it is really conducive to creative thinking. The resident dog Sophietoo has become an important part of our group. And most of the group bonding happens over Susan’s scrumptious desserts.”

Credit and thanks to Michelle D’costa for allowing me to use the gorgeous cover picture of the Island House.

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