(What is this about: Travel Writing Workshop conducted by veteran writer Dilip D’Souza as part of the Writing Workshops held in Asiatic Society’s Central Library by Avid Learning for the Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2015)
If you thought travel-writing meant just writing about your travels then you would be as mistaken as the hundred other participants that gathered one Sunday morning in the Durbar Hall of Mumbai’s Central Library to attend the Travel Writing Workshop by award-winning writer, Dilip D’Souza.
If this is a contrarian view then you would also find it unusual that D’Souza wore a bolo tie (a string tie with a moon and stars design, worn by the cowboys of Texas) because he hates ties but mainly because he wanted to hide a stain on his shirt.
And if you are a writer, you would be quite impressed with D’Souza’s empathetic nature as he set the ground rule that ever piece of writing read in that session was to be greeted by an enthusiastic ‘wow’.
So, what is travel writing?
How would you tell differently what hundreds and thousands have already told about the places you are visiting?
1) Travel writing is about ‘telling stories’
Aim of telling your story should be to get your readers to start thinking and exploring what your writing means to them. How would your reader walk or would he talk if he knew about your experiences? Let your reader make their own connections.
At this point, we had to turn to the person next to us and tell them our travel story (which made me realize I need a lot of practice in oral story telling).
2)Travel writing is about ‘sweating the details’
Observe details because these are the things that make your story unforgettable. We were asked to look around the room and observe the details we might not have noticed earlier. A question about the builder of the place got a lot of affirmative replies but my mind had remained glued to the majestic stairs at the front of the Library.
Some examples from various texts: “We rushed to the man who sat in the office drinking a warm Coke, feet on his desk, and he told us that the pool was dirty so they had decided to drain it.” This sentence gives us a good look into the lackadaisical attitude of the man in the office. Another poignant example of a silent detail which speaks the words: In a house which has lost its young son to the war, the light switch in his room is taped over so that the light cannot be ever switched off.
3)Travel writing is about “doing the hardest thing in your life and that is making your story personal.”
Here a question was asked to Dilip D’souza (perhaps by me only): How much of the story needs to be fact and how much fiction? To which the reply was: Be true to yourself and only then can you be true to the reader.
Throughout the session travel writing excerpts of different authors were read out by D’Souza and a lot of learning took place as we analyzed the words and their meaning in that particular context. I was thrilled too that my deductions proved correct when I pointed out pieces which I believed were written by him.
At the end of the session, we had to write down our verbally told stories after making it more personal.
What I wrote in the workshop:
For someone who could get lost inside even a tiny, cramped office typical of Mumbai and need directions to the exit, it was foolhardy to venture alone towards the Metro Station after a memorable meet-up with friends.
But adventure beckoned and the road thronged with Sunday revelers added to the thrill of walking alone on a beautiful Delhi road. Till I realized that I was lost. A wrong turn, perhaps? Not a problem, I thought, taking out my phone to call the friend whom I was staying with, to ask for directions.
My Blackberry was dead. Completely discharged. It had been acting like a diva ever since I landed in Delhi. Dropped calls. Texts that could not be replied to because Madam BB decided to get ‘hanged’ at that particular moment and rendering futile all efforts at re-booting. I shook the phone, willing it to start. Nada. Suddenly, the revelers began to look loutish and the road looked like the path to hell. Where the hell was the Metro Station? It did not seem such a great idea to ask the people around for directions. In front of me loomed a large maidan which I was sure I had never seen before in my three or four trips to this side of Connaught Place. I did not remember my friend’s phone number.
I wanted to cry.