“The American writers are coming.” I told my four staff members “We need to do a few things differently.”
Vandita and I discussed the meal schedule with the cook.
“The snacks are quite heavy at 6” he said. “We’ll keep a light dinner?”
“The 6’O clock meal is dinner, Vicky”.
He looked confused.
“Raat ka khana 6 baje? Tab tak to andhera bhi nahin hota”
(Dinner at 6? It’s not even dark by then.)
I told my staff to put toilet paper in the bathroom before the American writers arrived. When I went to check a pen was dutifully placed with each toilet roll. I inquired.
“Sir, yeh writer log bathroom mein likhte honge. Warna bathroom mein kagaz kyon chahiye?”
(Sir, these writers must write in the bathroom. Otherwise why would they need paper in there?)
We had drilled it into them that we ran a writing retreat. Ergo.
We were paranoid about the hygiene. Wash hands repeatedly. Nothing uncooked on the menu – all salads and cut fruit were gone. Only whole fruit and well cooked meals. Recyclable 20 litre Kegs of bottled water were brought up from Haldwani at an extra cost – we were unwilling to hand out a few hundred single-use plastic bottles.
We prepared hard before their arrival. The guests landed in Delhi and after 2 days in the plains finally reached the Himalayan Writing Retreat.
Their first response was love. They loved the décor, the rooms, the cedar-wood smell of the furniture. Then some basic questions came in.
“Why is there a bucket and a tumbler in my bathroom?” one writer asked.
That was explained.
“And that strange shower thingy next to the pot? What’s that for?”
Explaining a health faucet took a little more tact.
One of our staff has the habit of using rather graphic descriptions of our visitors.
“Sir woh moti wali madam garam paani maang rahi hai.”
(Sir the fat lady wants hot water.)
“Sir woh jo junglee baalon wali didi hai – woh ……”
(Sir, that lady with the wild hair, she …..”)
And so on. Indian village folks aren’t exactly famous for their political correctness. I’m glad they spoke in Hindi.
Picking a movie for Bollywood night was another challenge. We needed a masala bollywood film with song, dance and a reasonably illogical plot (Andhadhun was out). Yet it had to be short – less than 2 hour 30 minutes (Sholay was out).
Finally we watched “Jab we met”. It started well but the late hour and impromptu singing and dancing breaks in the story took their toll. Only 2 of the 10 writers made it till the end. The subtitles of the song lyrics had them bewildered.
“My beloved is like lemonade. I will glug him down.”
said the subtitle as Kareena Kapoor gyrated. My guests sought an explanation. I tried, but how do I explain “Mahi mera sharbat warga. Mahi tainu gat gat pee laan.” In English?
Food was a high point. Only one participant fell sick, and that too just for one day. Our neighbourhood baker Keith’s range of organic, whole-grain breads were a big hit. The writers picked three dishes they really liked from our menu and we held a cooking class and taught them how to cook those three dishes.
Many other little happinesses peppered the retreat.
The walk through the village resulted in an impromptu concert at the home of one of our staff members. The tall Himalayan peaks turned up in their full majesty, and doing yoga in their shadow every morning gave Yoga itself a whole new meaning. We went hiking and sometimes wrote in the surrounding forests. Meeting a real Sadhu at the Mukteshwar Temple added a layer of Hindu mysticism. Power was a challenge, so the internet was a challenge, but the hardy travelers had done their research and came with low expectations. The writers wrote a lot and seemed very happy with their progress.
We were grateful that everyone had something nice to say in the end.
Before the writers left, we got some great suggestions on how to make things better next time. And next time isn’t too far – just another 5 months. Our next retreat is in the fall – details are at
Our staff was delighted to have this group over. Not just because they tipped in dollars, but because they were such a great, happy bunch to be around.
We’ve made new friends. We’ve learnt a lot more about writing from the amazing Erika Krouse. Most importantly, I think the retreat has changed all of us. We started off as Americans Writers and Indian villagers. Ten days later we had moved one step closer to being fellow citizens of a single planet.