Twice a month on Sundays, Patricia Chandrashekhar plays hostess to a motley group that includes a management student, a journalist, a restaurateur, a counsellor and a social activist. For two hours they indulge in the one passion they share — playing with words.
They call themselves the Write Stuff Writers’ Club, and form one of the many clusters of avid writers that are drawn to each other in the city. Whether it’s the popular groups like Pen, Poetry Circle, Caferati and Loquations, less-known ones like Write Stuff or Writer’s Game, or the variety of Indian language groups across Mumbai, all members are bound by a passionate love of writing.
Like all writers, though, they hope to get published. “If we don’t get a response from any publisher, we will go ahead and self-publish,” says Chandrashekhar firmly.
Group meetings are an opportunity to hone their literary skills through exercises in creative writing and lateral thinking. Once they join, writers attend meetings, go on occasional camps with the group, and find themselves networking with members of other writers’ groups as well.
Take restaurateur Sunil Khadawala, who, as a member of Write Stuff, Loquations and Caferati, has a wide audience for his writing but hasn’t been published yet. “The publishing industry misses out on a huge chunk of writers who are good, because it is very commercialised,” he remarks.
Sheece Baghdadi’s selective eight-member group, Writer’s Game, is constantly looking out for means to circumvent this problem, and has even had its moments of success.
One of them being a garage sale of their writing at the Prithvi Café last year. The group printed their poems and stories on quirky bookmarks, posters and postcards, and sold them successfully. Sheece began the group in 2003 with his friends and fellow bloggers.
“The aim of the group is to bring together great writers and we are not trying anything commercial,” says Sheece, who works with a corporate as a technical writer. He recently self-published his book, 102 Days to Go, and is trying to help other writers in the group get published informally as well.
For most members, it is the practical impossibility of earning a living solely on writing that makes the club attractive. It gives them a platform to read their work, share ideas and get critical feedback.
“Groups help writers to become mature over time, and take on the role of mentors,” says Annie Zaidi, one of the moderators of Caferati, a national-level online club with more than 500 members in Mumbai. Since it started in 2004, Caferati has expanded to include a website, facebook page, blogs, and is now a registered company, which has also published a book of short stories by members.
The most ardent Caferati members are the regulars at their monthly meetings and workshops. “Last month we had a performance workshop, because so many good poets have no idea how to read out their poems well,” said Annie.
Like all writers’ groups, Caferati makes no profit. “We are investing a lot of time and money into running Caferati, because there aren’t that many avenues for writers to come together and network,” says Peter Griffin, another moderator.
If it’s hard for a club as popular as Griffin’s, whose online forum is followed by more than 4,000 writers and fans around India, then it’s harder for Marathi poet Hemant Divate. This marketing director at an ad agency makes no money from Abhidha Nantar, his 18-year-old literary magazine, and the name of the writers’ group he convenes.
“The group has more than 50 members in Mumbai and Pune, but I fear we are the last generation of poets writing seriously in Marathi,” says Divate. They meet each month, because writing is an inner compulsion and because, as Divati puts it, “We have to keep writing, or we wouldn’t survive.”
This weekly column examines the diversity of urban communities