Learning through Writing

From the short stories and poems to the first attempt at writing creative fiction in the form of the Spyglass, many occasions made me realize that writing took me even before I took to writing. Writing has shown me that both as a vocation and a profession, the fullest one can achieve is still unknown. Perfection remains more a pursuit, a journey, than a destination. For this post, I will take you along back in time for the backstory.

As a kid, I was never a dull boy. Yes, I was not good at studies, especially mathematics, physics, chemistry, but that was not because I was dumb. I was exceptionally good at all languages, including Sanskrit. I was also good at other subjects and extra-curricular activities. I neither disliked my teachers, nor did I hate learning. I still don’t. In fact, back then, I could not define what I now can. I hated the way people taught. This still remains with me: I am equally sensitive toward what is being taught and how it is taught.

The learning process needs a mentor and student. The mentors, I assume, have not changed. The student is still the same: equally hungry to learn. So, what made this student find his own identity? What happened that a kid who just about managed to pass the tenth grade and was made to accept a specific set of subjects turned out to be one of those students that outshined everyone else in almost every department before passing out of the same school?

It was during the eleventh grade that I began developing a reading habit. Or, I’d say, a few books called me to pick them up. It was a connection I cannot describe. Amongst the first few—and I want you to pay special attention to the selection here—were Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and The Glory of Puttaparthy by V Balu. I must have read both of those books at least a few times. While neither the books nor their respective genre has anything in common, both had the same effect on me. I became a better person after I finished reading them. It wasn’t enlightenment, but it wasn’t too far either. The same seagull that once had dreamed of flying at 70 miles per hour had transformed. It no longer needed to understand the rules, the aerodynamic flow, the wind direction, or wait for their turn in their flock of birds to get to nibble around the fisherman’s boat.

This small change then helped me graduate from being a mere reader to beginning to write. I penned hundreds of poems and short stories before I wrote my first non-fiction book on a writing pad. I called it the Ingredients of Success Recipe. Although I never published it, I did share it with my family and friends. They liked it. Or, at least, they pretended to. I won’t get to find out. But, that doesn’t matter, for I now have this priceless gift called writing. Now when I look back, I find mathematics rather interesting. And, so do all other subjects that I once hated of being made to sit and learn. Writing gave me the logic to decode the way to decipher through those dark clouds of thunderstorms called mathematics, physics, and chemistry. But, was that alone enough?

During my years as a freelance writer, I accomplished quite a bit, for I paid off my education loan even when I did not have a regular earning. During the same years, I had also enrolled for an MBA, which was exclusively for working professionals. Eventually, I figured that to be able to make a family and to sustain it, I will have to earn myself a job. Around the mid of 2011, I had completed a translation project that had drawn me some substantial appreciation and accolades from local representatives. I had completed that project in a mere 15 days—the project would normally have taken over four months of my schedule. But for a practiced hand, translation was a mechanical job. I wanted something more creative, more original.

It was during the last quarter of that year that someone suggested I pursue pranayama, the breathing technique. I researched it and settled on doing Nadi-Shodhan, a breathing technique that purifies the blood and mind. The first month of my breathing exercise wasn’t easy. While it resulted in some magical experiences within the first couple of weeks, it also gave me terrible back pain and other emotional turmoils. Words struck faster, so my efficiency improved, my earnings increased. But, at the cost of my health. The reason was that I had not taken the Deeksha (initiation) for its practice from a guru. So, I suffered from acute back pain for almost two years. But I persisted. Eventually, the pain subsided. Now it is gone.

Why do I tell you all that today? What is the reason I open those chapters of my life to you? What is it that I wish you to take away as the vital thought? The life of a writer is that of a generalist. We are the jack of all trades. And that itself has lent me the most potent insight: to be a learner, I just have to take the next logical step. As a proud generalist, I have broken down complex topics into simple terms and simple terms into clear messages, and clear messages into actionable, understandable items. One careful step, every time. I have moved from clutter to clarity in everything I have ever pursued as a writer.

William Zinsser, of On Writing Well, says, “Writing is thinking on paper.” I can only elaborate on his thought. If writing is pouring down your thoughts on paper, then re-writing is choosing which ones continue to stay there. In one of my previous posts, I said that if one of the best ways to learn a subject is to teach it, then the reverse of it—to teach a subject, learn it first—is equally valid. I have used writing to wayfinding my way into the core of complex topics. Writing, for me, is like a map, which I use to navigate subjects and thoughts, much like city roads.

Does that mean if writing helped me understand the world and make it my own, it would do so for you, too? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly would give you that perspective of your own to understand the terms of the world as you pen them down in your own words. Each one of us has their own learning methodology. Writing is mine. What’s yours?

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Relevance is the Key

It was a busy week for us. Amidst the lockdown and the pandemic, we managed to see the doctor adn got our medical certificates done. Then, over the weekend, we traveled to our hometown. I did all the planning, packing, and traveling to and from the hospital in the work breaks. This helped me manage the work, meetings, and other priorities. But the writer’s brain continued to work as usual, and thoughts continued to spin their web. So came this post.

While creating the guidelines for writers in my team, I realized how important it was to write crisp instructions. The guidelines were for reference. But most writers would go to the wiki not before, but while preparing the content. They would be more productive and busy in writing their content than digging into my referential one. Relevance was the key.

And, based on the little head pounding that I did on the subject, I zeroed-in on this:

Contextual Relevance

The profession of writing is an interesting one, for it teaches us more re-writing than writing. Staying true to the context is, therefore, second nature to us. You will not find a single sentence that doesn’t serve the purpose, the core, the topic. There could be more than one sentence to stress the importance of the point.

When creating the content, I reckon that we focus on writing about what the readers are searching for. We must write about what leads the readers to look for. We join context and content: the resolution to their problems, the remedy to their pain, the destination to their journey of searching for information.

Emotional Relevance

How empowered was the reader after going through your content? Could they make a decision? Could they press the button? Did they feel as empowered as you wanted them to? Or are they still looking for something they thought after looking at the title of your content? Ask yourself questions like these. Check your content to see the possible impact of it on the lives of the readers. One of the results of your writing the content is empowerment. Ensure that readers feel confident after going through it.

Strategic Relevance

Your content should help them see the whole picture in a logical sequence. The readers have embarked on a journey, remember? So they are entitled to see from where they have come, where they are currently, and to where they may lead. The clarity of steps is the clarity of mind, at least in the context of instructions.

Critical Relevance

Just as important as it is to know whether or not to press the button, it is equally important to see if it would solve the problem or lead to the next step. Instructional content is seldom laid on the same foundation as that of creative writing. That’s because creative writing doesn’t always have to deal with the What’s-in-it-for-me question. So the result of instructions is a definitive outcome measured in tangible or intangible results: it could be pressing that button or reaching the end of the instructions.

Conclusion

Yesterday, while talking to one of my ex-teammates and long-term friends, I shared some ideas on how they could get started with their work. I told him that one of the best ways to learn was to teach.

I just realized that the inverse of it is equally true, too. One of the best ways to teach anything is to learn to do it. And while I will continue to polish the writing and editing guidelines and add more reference-worthy points to it, I will continue to keep things relevant.

There aren’t many ways in which technical writing and creative writing differ, but for want of the outcome of actions. Relevance is critical when it comes to measuring the result. Isn’t it?

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Last Things First

Writing has been my primary field of interest for as long as I can remember. Yet it took me a few more years after my schooling—and a lot of unpromising, unyeilding struggles—to get to where I am.

Although, from here are visible the two contrasts: I can see the vignettes of writing that made me, and the gleam of writing that shall make me. To the tunes of this muse, I choose to dance. To the flow of this stream, I prefer to stay afloat, aboard the paper boat of my imagination.

When the dark sky of nothingness falls, I pluck thoughts out of the void, to fill my bucket of conversations. From the eyes that bleed emotions to the heart that speaks the truth; from the hands that embrace togetherness to the feet that stand firmly throughout this voyage; and from the nerves that pump passion to the sparks that enliven the mind countlessly, there is so much to express yet nothing to show.

When I am at my desk, I wish to not speak but interact, to not hear but listen. Writing is, after all, the last thing that I want to do first. Always. It is a conversation that I have with myself.

The mysteries and musings
Called upon by the yearning one.
That which once was an escape
Is now a Source… Reveal before it, one by one.

The haunting shrieks of thoughts
That cut off your retrieves
That talk through your mental voice.
Embrace them; You don’t have a choice.

The embarked Soul—
Set forth in a paper boat—
Toward the unexplored,
Unfolds the uncertainties,
On the folded paper boat.
©Suyog Ketkar

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Father’s Reflection

Looking at the cracked boundary wall of my society’s compound, I sit by the window, bathing in the mustard yellow morning that gleans through it. And while the tea does calm the nerves, it doesn’t stop me from peeping into my past. Much like the cracked boundary wall, through which pass an occasional crawler, the boundary walls of a few much-cherished chapters of my life begin to give way to memories.

The first few years of life are a little too few, too soon to expect anyone to correctly memorize the place of warts on their parents’ faces. Yet I remember seeing one on my father’s right cheek. I was also a serial convict of pressing it like a button. The wart had a rubbery texture to it, and I could see its rounded edges contract and expand as I pushed it with my little fingers. Little must those fingers be, for my father’s seemed to be bloated and huge in comparison to mine.

Similar to the wart, I’d also press the veins that protruded on his fingers. I never stopped doing it; he never complained. He would crush me into a smoothie with his embrace when we would lie down under a blanket during winters. I must have been four years old, then. Maybe even three. I watched a lot of Cricket with him.

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This is before he developed that wart.

Fast forward to today, these tatters of the once perfectly woven fabric of alive, afresh moments cloak my naked soul, speak for my inner self, and tie me umbilically to my roots. Within this passage of time, however, I have also realized why embracing my daughter is so familiar and satisfying. It has the same warmth of selfless, unconditional love.

Amongst the few memories I have of my father—Baba, as I called him—none matches the finesse in his voice when he sang and whistled to the songs sung by Talat Mehmood Sahab. How valuable was the whole panoply of the songs! The natural vibrato, the depth, and the bass-heavy endnotes in his voice have etched their presence down the memory lane. (Here’s one of my father’s all-time favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHs3O4f516I)

But I don’t think I can face even a small percentage of the challenges he had overcome. I lost him to kidney failure before I had turned seven. The first seven years of my parents’ marriage had yielded them three kids, and countless Carrom and Billiards trophies—Baba was a champion of almost all indoor games. The last seven years of their married life had had them through pressing times.

My mother told me once how both of them went to the government rationing shop for a name-change procedure. Baba, foreseeing a short life, sought a change in the name of the head of the family to my mother’s name. He had the willpower to face destiny. He struggled for life for six or seven long years, each of which he spent showering his love upon all four of us.

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I think I look a lot like him.

Of all that’s childhood, stepping into father’s shoes or wearing his tie or coat, all of that, was only the logical sub-steps to how I wished to be like him—there is so much that my heart says, yet my expository writing can’t put into words. Within these years, I’ve come to grow a mustache that is as thick as his. And even if I might have come to look and sound like him, I’d still want to match up to his self-belief and will power. Those few things, as my mother told me once, differentiate cubs from tigers.

I realize, a fruit-bearing tree perched quite comfortably by the compound wall. The tea tastes better. It is past seven—rise and shine.

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And Memoirs!

Memoir writing is as easy as accepting what made you you.

If there is anything lesser difficult, it is admitting to your mistake when you haven’t committed any. But life throws surprises and shocks at you. Which is what brings forth this series. On the surface, what looks like a recollection of the countless moments that make up life, each moment has a life of its own. These cherished moments, put together, are more than their sum called life.

An account of what I recall as history, my history, is what I cover through this series of posts. I can hardly blame anyone for anything that has happened to me. No one can. No one should. We would be at fault if we were to look at our past with regrets, guilts, or shame. It is despicable of us to blame our destiny for everything that made us us. If anything, we must accept everything as a part of our lives—if it were easy, like I mentioned in the beginning. Every new experience has brought with it a lesson that made me my better version.

A memoir is a bellwether that signals the arrival of storms of recollections; it is the lighthouse that witnesses tsunamis that unearth gems of wisdom from the depths of the past.

But I wish the memoirs to enable you to look at me beyond the boundaries of bone and flesh. Everything I’d henceforth share as memoirs would be dear-to-the-heart, thick-and-textured experiences. I wish the memoirs to:

  • Be natural: Show complexities of emotions and relationship
  • Be human: Show vulnerabilities and imperfections
  • Be impactful: Leave you with a message in a friendly but an affirmative way

Only then will each memoir smell unquestionably myself. Its whiff will fill the air around me with an aroma of warmth. It will break the time barriers by teleporting me into a familiar world of emotions. I will then be looking back, moving forward, and yet standing still.

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Ever Neglected. Never Neglected.

The teeming thoughts.
The cavalcade of words,
Both old and new.
That, which brings me back to life anew.

The vibrant imagination.
The kaleidoscopical memory.
The artistic renditions.
That’s awarded to but few.

The waif, in this case,
The writing and the muse.
The lore, the telling, the cure.
That desperation profuse.

The simplicity. The awe.
The determination. The jigsaw.
The striking of just the right cords.
That music. Listen, dear, that’s the cue.

The perceptions. Love and geniality.
The drumming, thumping, parading reality.
Despite despair; nothing being new.
That, which comes from within, is but You.

©Suyog Ketkar

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