Having just returned from a four week stay at Sangam House International Writers’ Residency, I can well say that Sangam House is a writer’s paradise. Initiated by a group of acclaimed writers, Sangam House is hosted within the beautiful premises of Nrityagram, the dance school founded by Late Protima Gauri Bedi near Bangalore. The sprawling campus of Nrityagram where the Sangam House Writers’ Residency is hosted has been designed by the well known architect Gerard da Cunha. The local material, exposed stone and brick structures, mud tiles, in-situ flooring, thatched roof, simple but attractive architectural designs that seamlessly merge with the beautiful landscape of Nrityagram add to the aura of the writers’ residency. Stone and mud sculptures as well as striking photographs of dancers in sensual thribhangi (three bends of the body) Odissi postures by renowned artists adorn the Nrityagram campus. The architecture and the art at Nrityagram further inspire writers to be their creative best.
|Nrityagarm. Photo: Shripad Dharmadhikary.|
|Nrityagram. Photo: Shripad Dharmadhikary.|
|Exposed stone and mud structures at Nrityagram. Photo: Nandini Oza|
Among the many beautiful structures of Nrityagram, the residential complex for the writers’ named Kula which means home, is also brilliantly designed and constructed with local material. It is at the Kula that eighteen to twenty writers from across the world are offered a maximum of four week residency every year. The Sangam House receives over hundred applications from writers around the globe. At a time, there are up to eight resident writers at the Kula between the months of November and February every year. The Sangam House residency has hosted around hundred and fifty writers from across the world since its inception a decade ago.http://www.sangamhouse.org/
|Kula, Sangam House Writers' Residence. Photo: Nandini Oza|
|Rooms for writers at Kula. Photo: Nandini Oza|
The individual rooms offered to the writers at Kula have all the modern facilities although the design is traditional. The writers’ have the entire day to themselves to write without a care of the daily humdrum. There is a well stocked kitchenette with generous supply of food and drinks within the Kula that the writers can avail of any time of the day. Besides, delicious and very healthy meals are provided by the Nrityagram kitchen in the dining area shared with the acclaimed Odissi dancers of the dance school. Lunch with the lively and beautiful dancers in their colorful attire is an added delight where writers get an opportunity to interact with the dancers closely.
|The common area at Kula. Photo: Nandini Oza|
The path from the Kula to the Nrityagram common dining area itself is a dream walk with diverse species of plants and trees with wonderful bird life. On the way one passes the dancing areas of the school where dancers with fit and flexible bodies practice tough Odissi dance steps and postures. The disciplined regime and fitness of the dancers too inspire the writers to follow suit. The Gurukul Parampara practiced at Nrityagram is a very humbling experience. The writers’ are free to watch the dance practice at the Nrityagram dance school during the day or in the evenings at the amphitheatre. The amphitheatre is an attractive structure made of stone and red mud where Nrityagram hosts its annual dance program called Vasantsabbha which some of the lucky writers get to see. While there are writers' residencies across the World, the confluence of dancers and writers at Sangam House is unique and special.
Along with the lovely campus, there are other features of the Sangam House residency that are specially designed for writers and cater to their needs. A carefree writing time for a month amidst pristine nature away from the maddening crowds is rare and an absolute delight. Often birds such as the hoopoe, bulbul, woodpeckers, partridges, sun-birds, etc can be seen while the writer is at the writing desk overlooking a window. The windows open to wide expanses of green fields and trees. Writing is essentially an individual exercise, many times quite isolating and lonely. Sangam House carefully offers the required isolation and space that a writer requires during the day. At the same time it offers an excellent opportunity to writers to mingle with other resident writers from across the world in the evenings.
Four week of stay with seven other writers at Sangam House is not only an enlightening experience but it is also an opportunity to develop lasting friendships. Writers at Sangam House leave behind their published books which are stocked in a library across the Kula with free access. While writers read and write through the day, long walks through the famous grasslands of Hesaraghatta where Nrityagram is located are popular. And then at sharp seven in the evening, winding up the day's work, one and all come together to sing, eat, dance, share writings and lives over drinks and food. Delicious dinner is sent across to Kula by Nrityagram kitchen and to it, some additional dish is added by a cooking enthusiast writer. Once a week, the writers cook together, mostly the cuisines of the region they belong to. With sumptuous and diverse food, yogasan at the Nrityagram yoga centre built out of stone and thatched roof becomes a must.
|Hesaraghatta grassland. Photo: Shripad Dharmadhikary.|
The regular readings at Sangam House open up diverse writings in different languages before the resident writers. The readings are special as the writers capture the right essence of the prose or poetry they have themselves created. That there are carefully selected established and upcoming writers at Sangam House, makes it possible to learn about the experiences, opportunities, struggles and challenges faced by the writers in different corners of the world. The talks over dinner meander from writings to publishers, from royalty to translations, from agents to editors and so on. Therefore there never is a dull moment when writers come together in the common area of the Kula every evening. Sometimes, taking inspiration from the writers, dancers too join and share their writings which are varied in content and substance. This is also the time when the writers have an opportunity to offer something to the dancers in return for all the things learned from them.
As the creative evening spills over into the night, the writers have the company of the Kula’s three loving dogs, Kapita, Guru and Chiku. And then, when the hoot of the owls and stridulating of the crickets and the croaking of the frogs and the chirping of the geckos get louder, it is time for all to retire to the rooms for a fresh start the next day.
When life is a struggle for most writers’ in the real world no matter which part of the globe, Sangam House Writers’ Residency is an oasis for both established and upcoming writers. It could only have been brilliant minds that conceptualized Sangam House and more importantly compassionate hearts that have turned Sangam House into Sangam Home for its writers.