written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Shabnam grew up in a biracial home in the 1960s in India. Born to an Indian father and a Russian mother, she felt embarrassed to be different from other kids.
Looking back, she gives a lot of credit to her parents for their unusual blending of race, culture and religion. She recalls that those differences didn’t matter at all in their household.
As an adult, she now realizes that it was “an experience that I was privileged to have. It prepared me to be open and accepting, viewing everyone — first and foremost — as a human being.”
Shabnam left India in 1989. Her husband was attending NYU and his family was already in America. “So, when we got married, I automatically came back to the US with him and our three-year-old son.” Then came the move to Frederick.
“I moved to Frederick in 1993. Frederick was a little farm town. We were actually driving down from New York, heading to Silver Spring where we lived then.”
Shabnam continued, “We saw these new developments and the mountains. Of course, you can’t see them anymore now but that’s what got me here.”
Until about six years ago, she was involved with corporate business development, networking and product sales. So, what happened? Why did she leave it all behind?
“I didn’t get sick of the corporate world. I just felt that I needed to go with where my passion was. My passion has been writing. And through writing, helping.”
She explains, “A lot of my writing has been about healing myself in a lot of different ways. Especially for a woman from my background, coming from India with the baggage that we carry emotionally and culturally.
As diverse as your family might be, you still carry that emotional baggage of being an Indian. I wanted to help women like me who had a story to tell…who wanted their words out there. So, I created a Writers’ Retreat.”
Shabnam describes the key benefits of taking part in the Panchgani Writers’ Retreat.
* Mindfulness & Wellness
“We’ve incorporated meditation, yoga and ayurvedic in the retreat to help with creative synergy.
Ayurvedic was developed in India thousands of years ago and is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems. A healthy balanced life, the kinds of food you eat, the state of mind you’re in — it makes a difference!”
* Enabling Expression
At the Writers’ Retreat, “we show them how to bring out what they have inside of them and write about it.
We all carry some kind of stress in the body and mind. This can inhibit or block creativity.
Yoga helps relieve the physical pain in you. When the tensions in the body are eased, so also are the tensions in the mind.”
* Exposure To A Broader World
The writers are from all parts of the world and present the opportunity to share and explore cultural differences.
More On The Catalyst For Creating The Panchgani Writers’ Retreat
“Writing for me is about healing and reaching out to others. I found that words can bring people together or words can separate people. But, if words are used for healing — for crossing cultural barriers — that’s what I wanted to do.”
Shabnam continues, “I just wanted to write, help other people to write and give them tools to find the way to write. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve developed a circle of friends who wanted to do something similar. That’s how my Writers’ Retreat began.”
“We start off with meditation and yoga in the morning. Then we have writing workshops and creative writing workshops for poetry, fiction and non-fiction.”
The Greatest Challenge Of Starting The Retreat
The biggest challenge has been ensuring that different cultures mesh, learn from each other and imbibe from each other. Everything in this world is so divisive,” noted Shabnam.
“This retreat is open to people from all over the world. I’ve had people from India, from the US, from Dubai. They were all different but it’s the coming together that’s the challenge.”
The Panchgani Writers’ Retreat Also Benefits The Local Indian Women
“Along with the Writers’ Retreat, when it came about, I joined forces with a grassroots organization in India to help women in villages gain financial independence. As much as I would like to think India is a progressive country, there are still some pockets in society where women feel underprivileged and dependent on their husbands.
We help nurture their creative side by supplying them with raw materials that they need. They, in turn, create curtains, rugs, blankets and purses which they sell. The Writers Retreat buys these things from them.” The retreat rooms are furnished with blankets, pillowcases, curtains and more that they made.
“When I see the joy on their faces when they see people loving their work or buying their work, it’s very gratifying. It’s very satisfying.”
Aside From Air Fare — The Cost Is All Inclusive!
“We pick you up at the airport when you fly in. We take care of everything from your food to your laundry….”
There’s a lot of pampering going on here. “If one day you’re craving iced coffee, you get that! All we want you to do is focus on your writing and how to get better as a writer. We take care of all of your daily needs.”
When the retreat is over, you’re brought to the airport for your departure back to your origin or on to your next travel destination.
Facebook And Instagram As Free Marketing Tools
Don’t try to wrestle either one away from Shabnam. She’s holding on tight!
“For me, sitting at home and marketing my Panchgani Writers’ Retreat — not spending a dime, just doing it through Facebook and Instagram — has been absolutely gratifying for me. I don’t think I’d ever give those up.”
Shabnam Shares Her Favorite Quote
“My favorite quote is by Anne Lamott. She’s the writer of Bird by Bird. There’s one inspirational quote that I live by. [‘I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”]
She shares, “I have a lot of grace in my life that I’m grateful for. I don’t understand how things work. I don’t profess to be religious. Spiritual, yes..to a little extent. But grace is a big factor in one’s life.”
The 2016 Panchgani Writers’ Retreat is Oct 18th – Oct 24th. The group size is limited so don’t hesitate to contact Shabnam for more information or to book your spot. This opportunity only comes along once a year — don’t let it pass you by!
Contents Provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast #045: Eric Verdi Interviews Shabnam Samuel