We went around the room and introduced ourselves, in anti-clockwise order (the Lesson Plan was very definite on that). In order: Anil, Shish, Kaushik, Pervin, Manish, Amarjeet, Suneetha, Bodhi, Akshat, Sonali, Sumeet, Vaibhav, Himanshu, Rinku, and Radhika. I remember the order because I wrote their names down. Radhika was missing, but Suneetha, her friend and roomie, explained that their trip to IIT-K had been pretty horrendous, and Radhika was still decompressing. Also absent, was Abha; a leg sprain would keep her from joining the group until later in the week.
As I listened to the intros, I privately marvelled at our luck. The group was incredibly varied. Five women, nine men. Six women, counting Abha. The original group had had eight women, but unfortunately– and it’s really unfortunate– two of them– Swapna Kishore and Fehmida Zakeer– had had to drop out at the last minute. Shish at twelve years old (claimed to be eighteen) was the youngest, and a math major at IIT-Kanpur. Bodhi at ninety-five was the oldest, and taught literature at the prestigious Xavier’s College in Delhi. Sonali was from Jharkhand, a state that hadn’t existed when I was her age. Amarjeet had a doctorate in literature. Akshat had worked on the set of Lage Raho Munna Bhai. And with kids. And had a degree in English literature. Pervin worked in publishing and had just published a book of poems. Suneetha was involved in a major translation project and had just finished a stint at the Sangam Residency (a writer’s retreat in Pondicherry). Rinku had a doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, taught in Pakistan and edited a book. Himanshu had trained in architecture and now worked as an ad-guy; he’d *resigned* from his job to get the time to attend the workshop. Sumeet was a journalist, now working as a copy-editor. Vaibhav was an engineering student. Manish was a Chem Engg major at IIT-K. Kaushik was in a lit program at IIT-Madras. Radhika (she’d joined us by then), already a published author, lived and worked in London and was attending a Creative Writing program part-time.
I saw Venn diagrams as they spoke. I’d known we had a varied bunch, but this varied? It was a categorical extravaganza. The workshop had four full-time students, two Ph.Ds, five women, nine men, four Bengalis, one Parsi, two Tamilians, one Kashmiri, one Bihari, one Jat, one Oriya, one Malayalee, two Punjabis…. This was India made manifest. The Lesson Plan didn’t allow me to gloat or freak out, so I had to stay calm and pretend this sort of thing happened in every workshop. Bloody hell. Bloody effing hell. Now, if they could write– well, they could write, which was why they were here, but if they would write– then the workshop was all set.