For the Love of Pickled Words
“…He was hungry so he sneaked inside his mom's cupboard in search of goodies. A box fell from the top shelf and a couple of dry apples rolled out. He ran away screaming. The box also contained the letters he had written to his father who had gone off to the war. He now knows the truth. The letters and apples he had sent to his father never reached their destination. His father had been killed in action and his mother didn't have the courage to break his ten year old heart…”
- the ending of a story after thirty minutes of a brainstorming session at the Creative Writing and Performance Literature Workshop conducted by Brine Pickles at The University of Chittagong on 19th November 2011.
The early winter fog that engulfed the University of Chittagong (CU) campus had not fully cleared when four members of Brine Pickles entered the Department of Dramatics to share their experience in creative writing with budding writers in English. Attending a 'Creative Writing and Performance Literature' workshop in English is a rare opportunity in Bangladesh. As a result, on 19th November, creative writers and performers didn't let that opportunity slip through their fingers as Brine Pickles conducted the first of the three workshops they are organizing in association with The American Centre.
Brine Pickles is the first English language based 'performance literature' group in Bangladesh. Fusing creative writing with theatrical elements such as light, music, costumes, props, etc., they have been providing a platform for local social issues to be presented to a large audience both at home and abroad. The group was initiated through the British Council's 'Connecting Futures' project in 2003, but has been working independently since 2006. Though Brine Pickles began its journey with a handful of members writing in English, with time the group has grown and taken a more multilingual stance. Many of the present 'Pickles' also write in Bangla and/or are involved in translation. The prime objectives of the group are to promote creative writing in English, Bangla, translation and performance literature. Recently Brine Pickles has won The American Centre's Small Grants Competition, which is enabling them to organize a series of three workshops.
Out of many eager applicants, fifteen people, within the age limit of eighteen to twenty eight were selected for the workshop at CU. The workshop was inaugurated by the University's Vice Chancellor, Prof. Anwarul Azim Arif. The Chairman of the Department of Dramatics, Prof. Quazi Mostain Billah and the Chairman of the Department of English, Prof. Jahangir Bin Sarwar were also present at the inauguration ceremony. “This is the first time a workshop of this kind is taking place at Chittagong University,” said Prof. Billah. The speakers at the Inauguration ceremony welcomed the participants and the conductors and expressed their interest in lending their hands to help the conductors carry out any future workshops.
The first section of the workshop was the warm up session where the participants and the conductors gathered in a circle to share introductions, with a flair of creativity. All the participants thoroughly enjoyed the session and it acted as a fitting 'ice breaking' session. Sabrina Binte Masud, Assistant Professor of Eastern University and a Mentor of Brine Pickles, then started the first session of the workshop.
The workshop focused on generating ideas on how an individual perceives their life experience, and then transforming those ideas into poetry and/or fiction. One of the exercises included creating a list of things that form someone's identity. The participants were asked to think of everyday things that they feel possessive about and then create a fictional character who is obsessed about the same objects. “When we write, we often forget to be objective about other people's experience. This exercise was aimed at trying to fit oneself in someone else's shoes,” said the facilitator. The participants were divided into five groups, three in each, and they were handed out different pictures with which they had to work as a team and develop a plot for a piece of fiction. The aim of the session was described as a necessary process to help a writer become located in his cultural experience. By discovering a leading thread out of three random pictures the writers were required to find connections in random events. The session continued for another hour as each group selected a representative to go up front and read out their work.
Professor Billah handing over certificates to the workshop participants
The next portion of the workshop was conducted by Munasir Kamal, Lecturer of the Department of English, Dhaka University and Assistant Coordinator of Brine Pickles. She analyzed the writing of some of the participants, suggesting ideas for further development of character and plot. She used a short story by Mary Webb to help the writers understand the difference between telling a story and letting a story take form on its own. “Rather than saying he/she is angry, a writer, if necessary, needs to make the character throw a book to express the emotion,” said Ms. Kamal. She stressed the importance of ample reading across various genres and on research on the subject before starting to write a literary piece. The aim was to make the writers become comfortable in their own skin and not to divorce Bengali experiences just because they are using English as the writing medium. Ms. Kamal mentioned Dr. Kaiser Haq, who has helped the Pickles think critically. “English is our literary language. We do not stop being a Bangladeshi when we express ourselves in that language,” she said.
The third session, 'Getting into Character,' was conducted by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin, the coordinator of Brine Pickles. His session was mostly exercise oriented. The participants were paired into seven groups and were asked to make faces at their group members without laughing. “On stage you are supposed to make the audience laugh or cry, not the cast. So no matter how funny or sad the dialogue or expression is, the cast needs to be nonchalant. One has to stay in character,” advised Salahuddin. He used examples of the character 'The Joker' from the movie The Dark Knight to demonstrate the importance of getting into character. The exercises were very entertaining and enjoyable. The workshop was concluded with Hasan Ameen Salahuddin performing 'See the Stars Shine Blue', a song written and composed by him as well. Prof. Billah shared a few closing remarks and handed out certificates.
The second workshop will take place at the University of Dhaka (DU) on 17th December 2011, and the third will take place also in Dhaka in April 2012, with a few selected writers/performers chosen from the earlier Dhaka and Chittagong Workshops. The final workshop in April is to be conducted by Dr. Niaz Zaman, Dr. Kaiser Haq and Dr. Christopher Merrill from the University of Iowa. Ultimately the best writings from all three workshops will be published in an anthology.
Cover Art by Ujjal Ghose
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