India, a nation of novelists every November

India, a nation of novelists every November

India, a nation of novelists every November

Updated 22 December 2015, 10:23 AEDT

There's a saying that everyone has a novel in them and the global phenomenon National Novel Writing Month has used this to good effect. This year hundreds of thousands of people signed up. We meet 6 writers from India who took part.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began in 1999 and is an initiative that turns the solitary act of writing into a social activity. In order to 'win' NaNoWriMo, participants need to develop a writing practice during the month of November and write 50,000 words.

Sonia Rao, Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo India. (Supplied)
Sonia Rao, Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo India. (Supplied)
Each year hundreds of thousands of people around the world take part in NaNoWriMo with increasing interest from Asia. In India almost three and a half thousand people signed up to NaNoWriMo this year, which is not an unsurprising number given India's large population and its status as a reading nation.
 

Sonia Rao, Municipal Liaison (ML) for India, has been participating since 2009 and has won every year since she initially signed up. She also finds her ML role to be highly rewarding because it focuses on motivating others and building a sense of community.

"I love writing. And to get better at anything one has to do a large amount of it. With almost seven first drafts written I have learnt a lot about the craft of writing, novel-writing and also my own writer-self," says Sonia.

NaNoWriMo does not just enable us to tell our stories but also helps build relationships.

Neil D'Silva has mastered detachment from distractions. (Supplied)
Neil D'Silva has mastered detachment from distractions. (Supplied)
For many participants it's a challenge to create the mental space required for writing, especially when living in a big city.

Mumbai, for example, is the fourth most populous city in the world. However, according to Mumbai resident Neil D'Silva, not being distracted by the hustle and bustle around you is key to writing.

"I am good at detaching myself from things. In fact, most Mumbaikars are. Travel by any local train and you shall see how people can get immersed in a book or playing cards despite people breathing down their necks and stepping on their toes!

It's important to work at that kind of mental dedication as a writer. When you are able to do that, physical aspects such as space and even time are easy to manage.

Shweta Garg lives in Ahmedabad, another large city in India, and during November she did whatever she could to get her writing done.

Shweta Garg says during NaNoWriMo she delegated work and learned to be ok with a 'messy house'. (Supplied)
Shweta Garg says during NaNoWriMo she delegated work and learned to be ok with a 'messy house'. (Supplied)
"I wrote in my drawing room, my office, sometimes in the car during the drive from home to office. I had to steal time from work, from sleep, from house work.

I asked for support shamelessly. I delegated work. I let my house be messy, and learned to be okay with that. I cut down my lunch and tea time with colleagues in office.

"I did not see any physical meet-ups happening; online writing sprints were the reason I could finish this year’s NaNoWriMo successfully," she adds.

All of the Indian writers we met are multilingual but many prefer writing in English, which is often the language they were schooled in and the first language they were taught to write.

Neelesh Inamdar had to decide whether to write in English or his native tongue Marathi. (Supplied)
Neelesh Inamdar had to decide whether to write in English or his native tongue Marathi. (Supplied)
"I'm completely at home when writing in English. I can write in Marathi and Hindi too, but English comes naturally," says Neelesh Inamdar.

However, the decision to write in English this year became a fraught one for Neelesh because the book he is writing about warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, his childhood hero, and Shivaji's mother tongue was Marathi.

"There were times when my conscience told me that I should write this book in Marathi, Shivaji's mother tongue, which is mine too," says Neelesh.

"But I've been educated in an English medium school and think first in English. Plus Shivaji's life has been written about in Marathi by many acclaimed authors, who I can't compare with (at this stage of my life). Again, there's no fictionalised life of Shivaji as yet published in English."

Archana Sarat says you need to guard your writing time and make it part of your everyday routine. (Supplied)
Archana Sarat says you need to guard your writing time and make it part of your everyday routine. (Supplied)

Another participant of NaNoWriMo, Archana Sarat, also writes in English but she is considering writing in Tamil in future.

"I write in English though Tamil is my mother tongue. Since I took up writing right from my childhood years and Tamil literature was the toughest subject to learn and score marks during school, I started to write in English," she says.

"However, inspired by my father-in-law's Tamil poetry and the rich beauty in contemporary Tamil literature, I am toying with the idea to pen something in Tamil."

Getting to 50,000 words can be a gruelling endeavour. Sonia estimates around only half of the people who sign up actively commit and achieving 50,000 words one year is no guarantee you'll be able achieve it again. 

Archana Sarat has participated three times since 2013, but this year family obligations stood in the way of her reaching 50,000 words.

"Most of us in the NaNoWriMo group face the same challenges - small children, family obligations, tiring jobs and arduous commute," she says.

If writing is an important priority in your life, then everything will work itself around it. People around you will also give you time and space to write. However, for that, you need to ruthlessly guard your writing time and make it a part of your everyday routine.

Arjun S. Menon says he enjoys the collective writing spirit of NaNoWriMo. (Supplied)
Arjun S. Menon says he enjoys the collective writing spirit of NaNoWriMo. (Supplied)

"Wake up early or sleep late. Me and Puja, a NaNoWriMo buddy, used to go to a café every Sunday evening for 2-3 hours. It was our time to write while our husbands looked after home."
 

Arjun S. Menon, a researcher, has participated four times and looks forward to NaNoWriMo every year, he says:

It's the spirit of writing together, though miles apart, the constant cheering from the buddies and the happiness of writing together is what pushes me to write during every November.

Read more at NaNoWriMo India blog or NaNoWriMo website.

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