A unique writing workshop at the Whitworth Art Gallery marked the South Asian Heritage Month (running until August 17) for the Manchester Museum.
Unique because this workshop provided a chance to walk around the beautiful secret garden of the Whitworth along with well-known columnist and nature writer Anita Sethi. Sethi's insightful talk on her life, journey, and nature, and imparting some valuable writing techniques were highly valued by the attendees.
"If you relate your body to the earth's body, think about how nature moves, then I promise, words will come naturally to you," Sethi demonstrated, walking through nature as the budding writers followed on.
Nature writer Anita Sethi has been awarded an RSL Literature Matters Award to run ‘I Belong Here’ nature writing workshops and establish the Northern Nature Writers Network for northern writers of colour and those from low-income backgrounds.
Her book, 'I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain', is Sethi's memoir of her journey through Britain after being prompted by racial abuse. The book chronicles her experience of healing with nature.
Amongst many other awards, she was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing and as Book/Writer of the Year in the Great Outdoors Awards.
Sethi has been published in the anthologies' Women on Nature', 'The Seasons' nature writing collection, 'Seaside Special: Postcards from the Edge', 'We Mark Your Memory' and 'Solstice Shorts' among others.
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Around 12 writers attended the workshop from various backgrounds. They were from Spain, Africa, India, the UK and many other places.
The workshop included Sethi giving writing cues that each writer adapted in their own way. Nature being the core theme of these writing exercises, Sethi took everyone out for a stroll around the beautiful gardens of The Whitworth. Amid fragrant herbs and tall ancestral trees in the background, the fresh air and the open blue sky above, it felt like any true nature lover could become a nature writer. Words are sure to flow like a pleasant breeze in such a beautiful ambience.
The workshop also saw some beautiful readings by writers and spoken word artists attending the course.
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As the budding writers went through a narrow lane where sun rays were filtering through the magnificent trees, Sethi's voice resonated: "Writing is a journey, and it takes you to unexpected places. Nature teaches us to slow down, be kind to ourselves, practice self-compassion. And practice self-gratitude as though every word that comes out of you is a miracle."
After an afternoon like this, naturally everyone was motivated, brimming with fresh ideas to pour upon their papers.
But writing also involves a lot of frustration, throwing things, screaming out loud, Sethi pointed out.
"Words after words is power, as Margaret Atwood would say. And what you come up with might not be what you set out to do," said Sethi.
And perhaps, that's why writing is just like a journey exploring nature.
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Sethi connected the dots between the complexities of human nature and nature itself.
"When we breathe in, we're breathing in nature. Nature is a part of us. And I think we have too much of a separation between nature and humans in society and culture. When actually, we are all part of nature. Nature flows into our lungs as soon as we breathe in. 70% of our body is water. We have more nature in us than we realise," she said.
"'Diaspora' is a very interesting word. We Indians are like scattered seeds all over the globe, making our extraordinary journeys."
"My Dad's family is from Ludhiana, Punjab. I was born and grew up in Manchester. There's a massive Indian community in Manchester. We even have a location called 'curry mile' here. Yet, growing up I faced a lot of racism. And I feel this legacy of racism stems from ignorance. We learn about Henry VIII's wives and stuff, but never learn about the history of colonialism, immigration, migration in school. We are not being taught about British Empire in India or how vast the Commonwealth was," Sethi noted.
Like many of us growing up, Sethi was questioned about her black hair and skin colour. She said, she found her comfort in nature, in the dark brown tree barks and black loamy soil. "Nature always tells me I belong here," she said.
"When people ask me where I am from, I reply, Manchester. But then they ask, where am I 'originally' from.
I've decided after my journey across the Pennine Way, as my next endeavour, I will go back to my roots in India, to find out where my 'origin' is. And I'm particularly interested in waterways, in rivers there. I would love to take a long walk through the Ganges. India is home to some beautiful wildlife, rivers and stunning seas. We must do our best to protect nature," Sethi concluded.
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