Vignettes of Writing

Writing is excitingly funny. Not because I mustered the courage of beginning this article with an equally funny use of an adjective. But because as a writer, you are that superhuman who gets the required attention without requiring to show up. That’s perfectly OK for the claustrophobic and utterly shy introvert within me. Writing is equally funny for the readers, too. Through your writing, they step into the world of someone else’s thoughts without losing the comfort of their chairs. That can also happen if your writing puts them to a sound sleep.

It is funny that writing, the act itself of weaving words together, is not funny at all. The consequential reading might be. But, to write is never funny. It involves a lot of work. Repetitive work. You get stuck to the same desk and same schedule for days, weeks, months, and (god forbid) years. Yet, you continue to dig out the priceless wisdom of doing and redoing the same stories as if your mind were a bottomless mine of never-ending thoughts.

I have been writing ever since I was a kid. In what I remember was my fourth grade, I wrote a small story of three kids who explore something amazing and go on to achieve their awesomeness forever. If only life was that easy! I will put this bluntly: beginning to write your thoughts down is the easiest part. Completing that train of thoughts is hard. Publishing that is even harder. And, writing on how to write is a topic that words wouldn’t do justice to. If only being a writer was that easy!

Yet we have countless writers who make their way through this seemingly endless journey of writing, rewriting, and publishing, to become overnight sensations and swim in money (You wish!), hoping to be someday the icons that give serious goals (and jealousy) to people around them. Quite often, a dull-looking kid, who frequented at the lonely sidewalk, struggling to find congruence of his own thoughts with those of others, eventually transforms into a celebrated writer. The fact is that words bring to us a lot more than mere messages. It is time we learn to weigh and honor our own words. Despite how we look at this world of writing, the writer’s ability to draw us out of ourselves, drown us into their own world, only to help us rediscover ourselves as better, more fulfilling individuals is awe inspiring. We can still safely call this end a happy beginning.

I met the writer in me when I was perched on the milestones in my little story. Who knows you, too, might if and when you choose to contemplate.

Happy writing.

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भास असे हे भाषेचे

भास असे हे भाषेचे
एकाएक मी अनुभवले
कोठे भाग घेऊनि भागले
कोठे भाग देउनी उरले

एक असते ते वीट येणे
एक तो सर्वज्ञ उभा विटेवरी
कोणी विचारले भाव जगातले
कोणी सांगितले भाव मनातले

कर्मयोगी ने मान मिळवला
हठयोगीने मान ताटली
विषुववृत्त हे स्थान होऊनि
कवितेचे वृत्त जाहले

कोणी राग गायले
आणि कोणी राग दाखविले
कोणी माझी भेट घालती
मी कोणाला भेट दिले

सौंदर्य शब्दांचे तरीही
मला शेवटी असे कळले
दुपट्यात घेतले जेव्हां तिला मी
प्रेम तिचे दुपटीने ने मिळाले

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A Tug of War with Life

Of the two
Things to choose—
Between Love and Hate—
I’d neither love to hate nor hate to love.

Of the two
Days that lay—
Between birth and death—
I’d learn to live the present.

Of the two
States to choose—
Between doing and done—
I’d choose to continue to walk.

Of the two
Thoughts that strike—
To do or not to do—
I’d be happier even if I fail.

Of the two
Ways to be—
Within or without—
I’d endlessly gaze at horizons, seashores alike.

Of the two
Options, if there are—
Handshake or despair—
I’d meet my destiny with eyes wide open.
©Suyog Ketkar

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Movie in Review: Uri, The Surgical Strike

Movies come and go, but only a few can mark their presence on the movie-goer’s timeline. Uri: The Surgical Strike marks its presence in the same way. The movie strikes the right message at the right time, and with surgical precision—for the pun’s sake. The patriot within me wants to rate it a complete 5 on 5. But, alas, for the careful watcher that wishes to nitpick.

As you would’ve guessed, a detailed review follows…

The movie is set as a reply to the provocative terror attacks from “the other side”. It is a carefully chosen plot because it creates a “pull” for the audience. A bleeding patriot would wish it to be telecast alongside Border and Lakshya every 26th January and 15th August.

Despite the fact that there is A LOT to talk about, I cannot say much about the movie—<gasping>overwhelmed. As I gather myself back from the void of awesomeness, here is how I would put the overall experience:

The beautiful locations. The humming of soldiers as they cruise past countless trees. The uniforms! The thumping background scores. The eyes that bleed blood, not tears. The passion that flows through the veins. The nerves of steel. And, the heart of gold. Go, live the experience in a theatre near you, alongside 100 other enthusiasts.

From chapter 1 through 5, this movie dedicates itself to the central plot of “We are humans first”. But, it goes through a lot to help you experience the message. The emotional side of a soldier is often overdone in movies. This one, however, is an exception. It has the right amount of everything: you have a bit of drama, comedy, despair, a hint of romance (yes, hint of), a lot of action, plenty of facts, a couple of heart-in-mouth surprises, some sound logic and a hell lot of underpinning revenge.

It is only toward the end of the first half that you get to see the title of the movie appear. Don’t be surprised because it fits the flow of the plot and triggers what happens next: the surgical strike. Then follows the chronology of the “D-Day” when the story begins to flow with unexpected twists, turns, and bumps. The pace is covered rather well. The preparations have been covered in days. And, the D-Day proceedings, in moments. Every minute is used carefully to unfold the story before you. On a lot of moments, the audience, including me, wanted to stand up and shout “Bharat Mata ki Jai” out loud, if not clap for the gallant efforts.

The movie also highlights the lives of commandos, who, by the way, fight more wars than we think, both on the battlefield and within themselves. For that reason alone, Vicky Kaushal, playing Major Vihaan Singh Shergill, is the perfect pick for the lead role—he has done both with ease. He ushers us to a vantage point where we first see the life of Major and then become a part of it. As he begins uttering the regiment’s war cries, you want to see Vihaan’s tears evaporate as they trickle down his cheek. The loss of a dear friend, you wish, should not go in vain. That the revenge must be served. Good direction, there, by the debutant, Aditya Dhar. I am not surprised seeing an IMDb rating of 9.4 on 10, already.

This brings me to what I like about the movie. Vicky Kaushal as the lead and Mohit Raina (yes, the “Devon-ke-dev-Mahadev” famous) are dapper in tuxedos and rock solid in the uniforms. Paresh Rawal is as invisible as ever; don’t get me wrong, but with his level of finesse, I only saw the character he was playing for he slipped into his role that seamlessly. Yami Gautam is effortless in her role as first, the nurse, and later, as the intelligence officer. She perfectly flaunts the beauty-with-brains combination. I’d have liked the senior actor Rajit Kapur to do voice modulation for playing Narendra Modi, but he has his own signature style. Blame it on the plot and the cause, every single actor has given their best. We laugh when they laugh. We cry when they cry. We feel their pain as much as they do.

What else does one expect from a wartime movie? Perfectly picturized action sequences: absolutely no glitches. Zero misses on the storyline. Authentic mano-a-mano fight sequences and blood spurting. The action sequences are well-executed and we couldn’t find any loose ends. To that, the movie itself is perfectly woven; one subplot leads to another, and one scene begins only where the other ends. No parallel stories.

What could have been better? Well, frankly, it could have been a six-hour mega-movie and still have things left unsaid, so much of meticulous planning, training, technology, intelligence, hard work was required for a flawless fructification. Your first thought as you step out of the theatre is, “if so much research and effort went into making only a ‘movie’, imagine what would have been the scale of research and efforts in implementing it in the real time?”

I wish I could do a lot more whistling, roaring, and clapping; both for the real efforts and for the movie. The cinematography and direction have together put up an experience that makes me feel I got more returns than I invested. If time permits, I will watch it again.

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Movie in Review: The Accidental Prime Minister

Despite how desperate some news channels and websites have become on muddying the image of the movie and its cast, The Accidental Prime Minister came out as a winner for me. In terms of what it gets (as inputs from the book by Sanjaya Baru) and what it brings to us, it indeed covers events in the timeline they occurred and provides a rather unbiased opinion on the story, with a few exceptions. I’d rate it a 4 on 5.

As always, the detailed review follows…

First things first. This isn’t really a “movie”, but a documentary, a chronicle of what happened—or why. But, for the sake of the review, let us stick to “movie”. This isn’t everybody’s movie. It doesn’t have loud music, filthy dialogues, needless action sequences, exploding cars, or gory blood spurting. It is a classic plot-driven cinema meant for the all-knowing, all-mighty audiences. Do some research before you hit the nearest cinema theatre to watch it.

Like any work of fiction on non-fiction, you see the movie from the point of view of the writer—the author, in this case. The movie starts with how after Congress came into power in 2004, Dr. Manmohan Singh (MMS) was chosen to become the Prime Minister, despite Congress’ common opinion. And, while all the “sacrifice” did have its effect, we know what happened next: National Advisory Council (NAC).

The basic plot of the movie—and I want you to pay attention to this one—is:

  1. We have a protagonist, played by Anupam Kher, who is chosen to lead the country of around a billion people. Based on the short sequence that covers the timeline of MMS, we see that even he never dreamt of it.
  2. He has a daunting challenge before him.
  3. His challenge continues to become complicated as he discovers that first, he isn’t the final decision-making authority, and later, his drafts and decisions will be crosschecked and often overruled by the NAC.
  4. Throughout his first and second terms, he realizes that Congress (termed as the “party”) attributes all the failures to him, while all the success, howsoever little it is, to Rahul Gandhi, who the party sees as the potential successor (heir to the throne).

This is a classic plot for any movie—or book, for that matter. A protagonist. A challenge. A bigger challenge. Helplessness. Despair. Resolution.

Let us look at what I liked:

I liked the fact that both Vijay Ratnakar Gutte (the director) and Sanjaya Baru (the author) have kept their respective work opinions neutral. Nowhere do we see anyone using any false language or even a hint of it.

The cast is spot on. Suzanne Bernert shines as Sonia Gandhi. Her acting has been at par with both Akshaye Khanna (with that salt-and-pepper hair) and Anupam Kher. The supporting cast has proportionately outshined their little share of the silver screen: Vipin Sharma as Ahmed Patel is a treat to watch. Divya Seth Shah as Gursharan Kaur (MMS’ wife) is as wifey as she needs to be—purposeful, powerful, and impactful. Her dialogues and timing have been impeccable.

The makeup team (Shrikant Desai, please take a bow) bears special mention, for it is only because of them—aside from the casting team—that I could recognize the characters they play in the movie. Anish Kuruvilla as TKA Nair, Ramesh Bhatkar as Prithviraj Chavan, Deepak Dadwal as Jaswant Singh, and roughly 150 others have been given the required screen space and looks for them to slip into their characters seamlessly. It is as if we are watching the real person speak. The attention to detail, like the hairy ears of Lalu Prasad Yadav, was achieved through the makeup, but I hardly noticed it. Kudos.

A special mention to the costume designer Abhilasha Shrivastava for designing the wardrobe for Akshaye Khanna. If indeed Sanjaya Baru wears such outfits in real life, I must say that he has a refined taste of fashion. I am sure the costume team will receive the appreciation they deserve from others as well.

I liked the one-liners and punches introduced by the author and director. MMS saying “O teri” as he gasps and gulps, if it did happen, shows MMS did speak efficiently—even though he spoke less. The introductory sequence of Sanjaya Baru is good. I like how MMS asks him to become his “Sanjay” symbolizing Sanjay of Mahabharata, who gave a visual account and live commentary to Dhritarashtra of what occurred on the battlefield.

The touchy sequence of PV Narasimha Rao’s soul not being permitted into the Raj Ghat has been covered rather subtly. The typical artists’ view, this sequence doesn’t conclude as the scene ends. You somehow carry that thought along. The sequence ends when MMS calls upon Sanjaya Baru to tell him that he must resign from the chair of the Prime Minister, to follow party’s thoughts, because he knows that he doesn’t have much time now. This symbolizes how carefully MMS chooses to say that he doesn’t want his end to be like that of the former PM, PV Narasimha Rao.

I didn’t like Arjun Mathur as Rahul Gandhi until the sequence of the epic interview with Arnab Goswami of 2014. Arjun has successfully reproduced the exact cluelessness with utter ease.

Before I close my thoughts, a cautionary note from me: I have seen a lot of hue and cry over this movie being false propaganda to malign the image of Congress. If the movie does anything, it only strengthens the image of MMS. It shares an additional perspective on what he did or wanted to do. It helps us see through what until now was laid undercover. A lot of file footages are inserted (hopefully from the same timeline) to support authenticity. The movie in no way malign anyone’s image, it is an account of what happened. I must say that my review is about the movie, not about the thoughts that drove it. However, if you leave the theatre with an afterthought, blame no one else but yourselves.

It is for the first time I see both an uproar and appreciation for a documentary; perhaps because work of art is shot with both great dedication and caution. The end of the era of MMS brings Narendra Modi on the screen and public opinion on the surface. Every time Rahul Gandhi came on the screen, the audiences began laughing even though his dialogues didn’t demand so. But, applause followed the sequence where MMS gives way to Narendra Modi. No one said a word; a lot was still said.

That’s the verdict.

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Top 3 Tips for Writing Crisp Sentences

My friends often email me seeking help on writing. This post adds to the reply I gave to one of my friends who asked:

What should I look for to construct better sentences?

I assume the question relates more to work-related writing (jotting thoughts down) than speaking. So, I am slightly changing the question to fit it as the topic for the post. 😊

Here are my top 3 suggestions for writing better sentences:

Tip 1: Give Action Points

Whether it is emails, meeting notes, Sprint retrospections, or a web chat with a colleague, clarity in communication is of the utmost importance. Be clear with what you wish to say. Write, then read (and, if required, re-write). Then, send. But, please mind the gap; there is a difference between being straightforward and being offensive.

Tip 2: Use Active Voice

Consider that Ram is preparing meeting minutes. This is what he writes as an action item:

Inputs on project estimation must be given.

See how he skips mentioning the doer in this passive sentence. That’s usually with every passive sentence. Let us rephrase this to introduce active voice (and hence the doer):

Shyam needs to give inputs to the PMO for project estimation.

See how sentences in the active voice clearly define responsibilities? Had Ram circulated an email with a passive sentence, we wouldn’t even know Shyam was supposed to share his inputs.

But, should we always construct sentences in the active voice?

No. In cases when you generalize or do not have any recipient for actions, you may use the passive voice. For example:

The velocity improved for the Sprint.

In this case, because the velocity improved for the entire team, we are sure that each one of the teammates contributed more. You may also use the passive voice for highlighting facts and figures. In the same example:

The velocity improved by over 5% for the Sprint.

Also:

An average of 5% capacity is reserved for holidays.

(Considering reservation of capacity to be a known item for capacity planning.)

Tip 3: Remove Needless Words

There are words that do not add to the meaning or intensity of the words they accompany. For example, “very” and “really”. However, approach this tip with caution.

Consider this example:

This cake takes very good.

We might as well get rid of “very”, and the cake will still taste equally good. But, by no means should you take this as a rule of thumb for deleting all occurrences of “very”. The very purpose of “very” (pun intended) is to intensify something that already exists.

If, however, there is a rule of thumb, it is to seek brevity. Look for opportunities to shorten or, at least, vary the length of your sentences. This means you give the reader more opportunities to flow with the rhythm of the words, take sufficient pauses, and contemplate on what they read.

Bonus Tip: Listen to Your Mental Ears

I really like such sections—another exception to Tip#3. Readers would usually jump over to this section first. If you too did just that, welcome aboard. As I share my top 3 tips for writing better sentences, I see that most of us already know the tips. The problem is they don’t know how to put that knowledge into practice.

How do we identify what and when to change?

I’d say listen to your mental ears. They are never wrong. You can always check for the meanings of words or phrases you are not sure of. Look at your write-ups the next day. Take a print out and read out loud. Project the write-ups on a bigger screen. Let someone else read your write-ups out loud to you. Take a break and re-read your write-ups. There’s a lot that can come in handy. But, nothing beats the joy of rewriting. Before I release my posts, I write and rewrite them in the proportion of 1:4.

Conclusion

Let us revise:

  • Enlist actionable items. I just did that.
  • Use active voice, but don’t be offensive.
  • Remove words that do not affect or contribute to the meaning of your sentences.

Sub-topics like “varying lengths of sentences” demand a post of their own. We can even experiment with including a combination of words that produce lyrical or homophonic composition: “she sells seashells”.

To sum up this post, here’s what I have: it all depends on finding the sweet spot where meet relevance and comprehension.

Happy writing.

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