Saturday, July 07, 2012

Sangam House residencies: last date July 31



The applications for the Sangam House Residencies for 2012/ 2013 are online. The last date to apply is July 31.

I spent two weeks at their Tranquebar residency last year. It was a beautiful place, and we were lucky enough to have huge rooms at Neemrana’s Bungalow-on-the-Beach. I wrote all day, and went for long, peaceful walks, listening to the sea break over the black jagged rocks of the shoreline, watching the fishermen mend their nets. In the evening, a loose coalition of Danish and Indian writers shared conversation, and food, and stories.

But it wasn’t just a memorable experience. The Sangam Residency is perhaps the only working writing residency in India. Everyone wants to run literary festivals, companies want to sponsor literary prizes, but fewer people want to work on the unglamorous bits--the building of good public libraries, the steady running of writing residencies, all of that back-end stuff that goes into the making of writers.

It was the first time in my life that someone had given me the freedom to write. The deadlines, the cooking, the niggling business of daily life were erased for two weeks. After years spent pleasantly enough as a hack journalist, here was the luxury of someone else giving me the time I needed to work on writing that wasn't intended for a newspaper or a magazine. After Tranquebar, I learned, as everyone does, to make that time—by waking up an hour earlier, or doing fewer columns, or letting the books on the shelves go undusted so that you might write your own book for a change. But without that gift of space from strangers, I would never have made the time, because until then, it had seemed so indulgent to take time off to write for myself.

And I would never have met Arshia Sattar and DW Gibson. Arshia—writer, editor, translator, actor in her own right—hung around at the airport for two hours to greet all of us personally, and then handed each of us the biggest snack pack I’ve ever seen. There were sandwiches and cake and chips and bananas and fruit juices and Bombay khara biscuits and oranges and Coke and lemonade and patties and more fruit and – well, she was worried we’d be hungry on the drive.

DW Gibson, who’s just finished his book Not Working, ambled around, settling all of us in, never letting on that he, his wife and Arshia had taken the smallest, shabbiest rooms, leaving the large, comfortable, sea-facing or garden-facing ones to all of us. I’m sure there are fancier five-star residencies elsewhere in the world, but there is only one residency I know of where two writers will give up their own precious writing time in order to make a bunch of strangers feel at home. Go apply.

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