I wrote my first story when I was 7. My class II teacher had us bind up our pencil-riven pages in poster paper which we illustrated ourselves—and we were published. My cousins, enrolled in schools with a rigorous emphasis on math and science, had never heard of such a thing. It was 1980s India, and they must have thought I was rather silly, with my flimsy little booklet.
But today’s generation of parents are all for supplementing single-minded curricula in schools with the newly minted pedagogy of creative writing. Today, a fleet of independent creative writing courses seek to emphasize writing and communication as essential skills for young people who want to succeed. Last month, a children’s literature festival in Mumbai extended off The Writer’s Bug, a reading and writing forum which organizes fortnightly writing activities in Mumbai. From 17 May (see below), Young Zubaan, the children’s imprint of independent publisher Zubaan, will host a workshop for aspiring young writers, collaborating with The Pomegranate Workshop (TPW), an experience-oriented arts venture, at The Attic, New Delhi. In Bangalore this summer, in addition to sports camps, art and theatre workshops, children can take creative writing courses organized by programmes such as iLeap, a comprehensive after-school children’s curriculum, and small businesses like MyMitra Children’s Library.
Creative writing education has arrived, in a surprisingly big way.
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
“It’s important for my child to break away from her syllabus and observe the world around her,” says Mumbai-based Vrinda Khattar, who is registering her seven-year-old daughter for a writing course this summer. “An academic curriculum can extinguish creativity. I would want my child to develop the other kinds of intelligence—Howard Gardner speaks of eight different types of intelligence—not addressed by a syllabus.” Khattar realized her daughter, Nitika, would benefit from creative writing classes when she was asked to write for the school magazine; the proud mother says Nitika’s first piece, on her dance practice, was published recently.
“I enrolled my child in a workshop as it’s important for a child’s various interests to be developed,” says Mumbai resident Madhuri Gokhale. Her 11-year-old daughter Anandi, a class VI student at Bombay Scottish School, was a participant in the popular TPW “What’s Your Story?” workshop last year. The workshop, held twice a year in Mumbai and once a year in Delhi, takes around 15 children for three months of tutelage at a time, charging each Rs 5,000. “It is important to communicate effectively to succeed in today’s world, and these programmes enable this,” says Gokhale.
Education professionals agree. “Children step out of pre-packaged, pre-defined scripts through creative writing,” says American educator Steven Rudolph, co-founder of the Jiva Public School in Faridabad, Haryana, an ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education)-recognized school with its own curriculum based on Rudolph’s multiple intelligences and multiple natures framework. “As we turn more and more of the automatic processes over to computers, human skills and creativity will be valued more,” says Rudolph.
Might there be a happy marriage between the cognitive and creative? “Creative writing should be everywhere, in every aspect,” Rudolph feels, “so we can become more creative doctors, lawyers, writers, and more effective, whatever our work is.” Students still have to sit for examinations at his school, of course, but Rudolph insists that if you know who you are and where you’re going, you can figure out what you can get out of your curriculum by learning to think creatively.
Workshops are the midwives, in the interim. “Children are emulating life situations, interacting with experts, and learning how to empower themselves through these new channels,” says Akshat Nigam, director of operations, TPW, Delhi. TPW has worked with around 4,000 children and their parents over five years in year-long workshops as well as shorter courses in Mumbai. TPW came to Delhi in March and collaborates with over 35 practising professionals in the areas of visual art, language arts, performing arts, math, science and design.
“These courses are not a luxury. It’s up to the parent how much they want to prioritize creative writing as a need,” says Rudolph.
There are also parents who feel creative writing classes are overrated—even if the children are creatively inclined. “My son has a natural flair, he doesn’t really need classes. When he finished writing his book at around 13, all the parents wanted me to train their children,” recounts Sheetal Bhagaria, mother of 17-year-old Anshuman Mohan, whose Potato Chips was published by HarperCollins in 2010. “I used to take these children to a room to observe what was around them, then take them back the next day, and they wouldn’t even notice that there was now a suitcase full of clothes lying on the floor!”
What is the essential skill then? “Ultimately,” she sniffs, “it’s about having a pair of eyes; it’s about parents developing these skills in their children.”
“You cannot learn how to write,” her son agrees. “But it would be interesting to take a course that helps you appreciate writing, as we do with cinema.”
Today, though there is sometimes less time to enjoy craft, says Chatura Roy, a writer who has run workshops for four years. ”Now you are expected to turn in work that is finished; many just enjoy the process.”
Use that instinct
A few creative writing courses starting this summer
—The Pomegranate Workshop, Mumbai and Delhi
Year-long programmes, summer workshops (through September) teaching writing through film, art, theatre and animation, Rs 1,000-10,000. Ages: 6 and above. For Mumbai, call 9892210539; for Delhi, 9582590444. For details, visit www.tpw.in .
—iLeap, Bangalore and Mumbai
Year-long programmes and summer camps with themes such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Ramayan Relived”, Rs 16,500-30,500 for full-time programmes and Rs 1,200-5,000 for camps. Ages: 6-14. For Mumbai, call 9821527000; for Bangalore, 9945804444. For details, visit www.ileap.in/events.php.
—The Junior Writer’s Bug, Mumbai
Fortnightly writing group for young people starting in June; specific workshops conducted by experts for 10 weeks, Rs 2,200-2,800. Ages: 7 and above. For details, call 9820861972, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/thejuniorwritersbug.