Reflections on Writing Retreat by Aditi Banerjee

INDICA Ritambhara Retreat is a small, reasonably quiet, largely isolated and pleasantly green piece of real estate; a huge and majestic banyan tree in its midst silently dispenses its benediction to all sadhaks fortunate enough to reach the Retreat.

The weekend starting 06 January and ending 08 January 2023 was witness to “A Writers’ Retreat With Dr Aditi” --- the coming together of a cluster of aspiring writers to garner some pearls of wisdom about the craft of creative writing; the diverse group included two Chartered Accountants, one veteran, professionals from various disciplines, and only one full-time writer.

Dr Aditi Banerjee, who was the lone faculty for the Retreat, works as a corporate lawyer in a Fortune 500 financial services company in the US, but her real passion is writing.  She was born and raised in the US but has travelled extensively in India. She has spent much time thinking, writing and talking about Hinduism and the Hindu-American experience in the West. She has co-written a book --- ‘Invading The Sacred’ --- with Rajiv Malhotra about academic distortions of Hinduism in American Universities. Her first novel, ‘The Curse of Gandhari’ was published by Bloomsbury in the US in 2019 and is a successful bestseller, while her second novel ‘The Vow of Parvati’ was also published by Bloomsbury in India. She also published ‘Hindu Love Stories: Dharmically Ever After’ in February 2022. She is currently working on a non-fiction book about the history of Kashi. She has authored several essays in publications such as The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America since 1945 and Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America: A Short History (Religion in American Life) (Oxford University Press). Her articles have also been published in Outlook India and many other publications.

Dr Aditi put her rich experience and knowledge into designing a programme that approached creative writing as a sadhana.

The Retreat took off quite informally on Friday, 06 January, over a late cup of tea/coffee with introductions and insights into how each participant realised their calling to writing.

The next day (Saturday, 07 January) started at 8 30 AM with an unusual exercise: five minutes to sit or walk around and observe nature followed by five minutes of writing anything that freely flowed from the mind. Dr Aditi exhorted everyone to free-write regularly, at least once a week and let subconscious thoughts provide inspiration and solutions. She referred to the writing of Mahabharata and drew a quaint picture of Veda Vyasa as the muse and Ganesha as the scribe, using the imagery to encourage the participants to use free writing to discover their inner muse.

Next, she introduced some excellent ideas from ‘The Writing Life’ by Anne Dillard and cajoled participants into pledging themselves to write daily and, on some impossible day, to at least think about their writing work or project on that day. She briefly touched upon the eternal debate about plotting versus painting and rounded up the discussion by telling the participants, “Your book should surprise you!”

The next session was on ‘Writing With Emotion’, for which Dr Aditi had circulated a printout of a 21-slide PowerPoint presentation in soft copy; the contents invoked Bhava and Rasa as modern writings on the subject.

This was followed by a session on ‘The Story Genius Method’ by Lisa Cron and ‘The Snowflake Method’ by Randy Ingermanson; Dr Aditi explained the nuances of each and emphasised that these two were but just two of the many story writing techniques available on the internet and in books on writing. She encouraged participants not to use any one method exclusively but to see for themselves which one approach or which combination of methods suited their idea best. Participants were given rationed time to practice the various steps inherent to these two methods to apply them to their ongoing projects.

The remainder of the day was spent on ‘workshopping’/discussing write-ups or stories submitted by the participants in advance of the Retreat (these had been collated painstakingly by Dr Aditi and made available to all participants on google drive). Her deep knowledge of the writing craft elicited many lessons from each submission to the immense benefit of all participants. The day ended only when all the participants’ writing work had been discussed, which was past 10 30 PM. A long but beneficial day, at the end of which every participant appeared to be eager to go on longer!

On the following day (Sunday, 08 January), there was a short session on publishing, literary agents and editing, which ended the Retreat, leaving the participants hungering for more.

Personally, I learnt a lot about the nuances of the writing craft and also garnered some practical tips on starting my novel. Aditi’s depth of knowledge from her personal writing experience was a windfall. And the icing on the cake was how she inspired us all to take a Sankalpa on producing an anthology on the Dashavtaras. A superb weekend was spent gainfully and delightfully.

Post-event feedback quotes by the other participants are given below:

“Writing is saadhana for me too, so this workshop on 'approaching writing as sadhana' felt like it was tailored to help me grow further in that direction.  The techniques shared by Aditi ji helped me unblock undiscovered creative pathways. With her coaching along with the discussions with fellow attendees, I walk away with a deeper understanding of myself, my art and my vision.” -Aarti Pathak

“This is just a short note to express my gratitude to all, specially Aditiji and you, to give me a platform to express my passion of writing with the aim of inner urge to offer the external experience. And now the action will be a team work in the form of a book publication with the objective of our Nation's characters to the masses. This and the retreat offer me the same for my other projects in mind. The workshop expanded with valuable insight in writing book, its techniques, way of thinking, speaking and doing. It provided the platform to create the same.”-Anjan Nandy

“The writers' retreat with Aditi ji was an absolutely amazingexperience in itself. Her insights on Bhava-Rasa and her in-depth knowledge about the craft of writing have left us enriched as aspiring writers. I thank Indica for facilitating such a wonderful opportunity for us! Thank you!”-Madhavi Girish Kunte 

“I feel blessed to have had an opportunity to participate in this unique writing workshop where Aditi Ji generously shared her knowledge about various aspects of writing. My biggest takeaways were how to approach writing as a 'sadhana', how to stay true to the Indic ethos, and how to incorporate Indic writing techniques such as 'bhava', 'the nine rasas', and 'the four pursharthas' in my stories.” -Parag Shah

“As beginner, i was able to learn a lot of things from the workshop. I would like to thank Aditi ji for her invaluable lessons & insights. It was an amazing experience interacting with fellow writers and learning from their thoughts.

Thank You Indica, for such an opportunity.” -Praneeth Gala

“The two day workshop retreat organised by Aditiji and INDICA was nurturing to a writer's soul. I learnt a lot of things about the craft of writing and how to approach it as Sadhana. The enthusiasm shown by the co-participants was very inspiring.”- Raghu Ram Sola

“An Indic approach to writing incorporating the rasas and purusharthas with alternative methods of plotting structuring and writing made the workshop unique. Taking a sankalpa to write - writing as a sadhana - and a writing project at the end, ensures that we put the learnings into practice.” -Ramananjeya Sharaph

“The atmosphere across all the writing sessions was relaxed and informal. Aditi Ji adeptly blended both approaches to creative writing: 1.Bharatiya (Vyaasa-Ganesha paradigm & the Raasaframework ) 2.Western ('The Story Genius Method' and the 'Snow Flake Method ' of writing exercises.). I look forward to reading the work of fellow participants after making our writing.” -Rohan Raghav Sharma

“Very productive and interesting sessions with lots of learnings. Aditi Ji’s insights into writing were really helpfuland so w were the inputs from the participants. Not to mention the retreat is an ideal location for deep thinking. Bhima Ji’s hospitality was 5 star. Looking forward to visit and spend time at Ritambhara retreat.” - Umesh Mohanty

“The retreat was filled with many aha moments. Aditi ji's depth of the subject and interactive approach made it transformative at several levels. 'Writing as a Sadhana' is one mantra that I am carrying back from this retreat.” - Vishakha Khetrapal