Only You

Last week, while cleaning up my bookshelf, my wife dug out a collection of my old, yellowed notebooks that had gotten buried under books.

To my surprise, the collection had everything in it from the notes from my previous professional stints to the notes I took way back in my school days. Even though my wife was witnessing a journey backward in quite literally the bits and pieces of those yelllowed pages, the journey was breathtakingly refreshing and energizing. I’ve realizesd that traveling back in time, even though momentarily, is a good remedy and escape from this on-going anxiety called present.

Amongst the notes, she found a poem that, on a folded paper, was tucked inside a notebook. To her surprise, my handwriting looked completely different back then—she liked that version of my handwriting. To my surprise, my writing seemed completely different back then. She thought it was more artistic. I thought it was pretty lame of me to concentrate on rhyming words just for the sake of it. Thinking past our contrasting thoughts, we discovered that the poem had also unfolded with it a flood of memories, none of which were inked on the paper and yet had left their marks. Thank you, Shambhavi, for taking up this long-due task of cleaning.

I hadn’t titled the poem back then—I can’t remember why. I am doing so now. And for what the poem conveys, or at least what I THINK I wanted to convey through it, I cannot think of any better title. After a few trials, when we had successfully failed at clicking a reproducable picture of the poem, I resorted to writing it down for you. 🙂

So, here is that poem. I hope you like the effort of the then boy from grade eight:

The rising Sun,
I see You.
The first prayers.
I dedicate to you.
In every blood of life,
As it never ages,
I see You. I see You.

In the cold breeze,
I butter or cheese,
I feel You; I taste You.
The woods, the lake.
The fair, the fake.
Be it north or east,
Or south or west.

The soul, the entities,
Keep aside the necessities.
At last, come to You.
They may desire You.
But, they deserve You.

Did I say just I see You?
Did they say just they feel You?
Did we say we will get You?
But yes, we say, You are in everything.
Everything is in You.

The Soul inside.
The light outside.
Filled with You
are pure and white.

The worst counts as the best.
The good comes off the rest.
Perhaps, it is just Your presence
In the nest.

Let be the angels.
Let be the spirits.
Let be the speechless.
Let be those with lyrics.
Or those under the rain.
Those having fun.
Or those in pain.

Nothing values until
You are in everything.
Everything is in You.

©Suyog Ketkar

Strike O’ Muse

Today, my mother turns 62 years young.

Of all she has learnt from her life, the essence, she knows, remains in never settling, ever pursuing, and setting high standards for everything. If this already means trouble for us (I’m chuckling as I write this), it means that we, too, have to continuously better ourselves at everything we do. Tomorrow, she retires from her workplace. Over 30 years of her employment has seen her wear many hats most amongst which have been worthy of inspiration. But as she readies herself for what lies ahead, I can only wish a wish for her.

It is time she can dedicate her energies to do what she has always dreamt of doing. I wish her to pick the most cherished ones from her long list of passions. As she readies herself for the day she begins her ‘work from home,’ I gift her this poem:

For the one who,
Has never gotten tired of
Ever committing herself
To whatever came thereof;

For the one who,
Gave up dreams on her own.
Made instead the ones from those
Of her children as though of her own;

For the one who,
Committed to every single minute
Everything that she had
To be the best—I mean it;

For the one who,
Even though lost more
Found less. Learnt more.
Taught nevertheless;

For the one who,
Dedicated her life for work.
Strike once again, so she can
Work her way up to life.

Strike, for you must.
Let her find her way forward.
Be the light in the never-calming storms.
Be her inspiration amidst the storming calms.

©Suyog Ketkar

Happy birthday, Aai. 🙂

Memoir: Mathematics and Me

Even though reading came as early as mathematics in my life, I took to writing much later. And now, writing is a permanent part of my life. But did learning—or failing at learning—mathematics make me a better writer? I wish to delve.

I choose to, decide to, make myself sit and write about something that I have hated all my life. Yet, it is comforting and consoling to discover that I truly am good at certain aspects of it. In comparison to mathematics, though, I have found that deriving a unique solution isn’t as mandatory in real life. Even when, in either case, all we do is define and chase variables.

Back when I was young, the teachers would seem to me as those hungry beasts that could smell the fear in my blood and flesh. Only, in this case, the feeling thrived on mathematical complexities. It was truly the survival of the fittest and, naturally, I’d fall prey to variables x and y.

Source: Commons.WikiMedia.Org

Now when I think about it, I find that the contention of mathematics teachers was a result of agony. That’s because I was not able to see what to them was but easily derivable. My equations were never equated, never solved. The truth is, I hadn’t even defined the variables worth equating. Life and mathematics: they are that easy; they are that difficult.

Since then, the writer within me has continued to mature. Now, defining problems in (or through) writing has been more of a revelation—I am not useless anymore. I am now entitled to receive respect—and bread—from the society. It has been one equation worth solving. They don’t look down upon me just because I cannot find x.

Even though mathematics and I have agreed on this ceasefire, I still hate problems that have two trains moving in the opposite direction. But now I’m more interested in describing the beautiful view from those trains. I’ve also come to enjoy the nothingness in my mind as much as my aggrieved math teachers loved populating my notebooks with remarks.

Today, as I stand in the middle of this tightrope, somehow balancing between “from where I have come” and “to where I lead,” I realize how carefully crafted is this design of nature. I see stream of knowledge converging into this ocean of wisdom: art, religion, science, and mathematics, I swim in all of that. Occasionally, I dive deeper into this ocean. And, whenever I do, I bring to the shore the rarities from its depths. I conclude, art and religion be made an everyday affair as much as accounting and mathematics. The discovery of this convergence, it seems, has had its effect on me.

At least in my culture, not a day passes without us giving obeisances to the parameshwara. But much like frills are to frocks, art is to the mainstream subjects; and religion, to living. There is much more to living than spending time defining the social behavior. That tells me why the Sanatana Dharma is more a way of life than just a religion. But, I am diverting.

The point is, there should be much more to learning than merely learning from the limiting perspective of the mainstream subjects. What are even the non-mainstream subjects? Those that teach us how to be open towards accepting the world as it is? As long as I remember, it is because of one such subject—that is writing—that I earn the well-deserved respect. Why can’t we teach writing at schools?

Probably that is why, in Sanatana Dharma, there weren’t any mainstream subjects. Learning came through exploration as much as observation; through listening as much as doing; and, through all streams of knowledge that flew into this mind from all directions, giving it the influx of the much-needed wisdom. All of our spiritual leaders and Maharshis wore all of those hats: arts, mathematics, religion, science. The most important takeaway is that they were all probers. They all passed through the same stages of truth: seeking, discovering, questioning, and experiencing.

This may not be the prescribed approach to solving mathematical equations. But, it does the job of helping me understand most problems, mathematics or otherwise. Turns out, one size (read approach) doesn’t fit all. I don’t hate the subject. I hate the approach I was given, the perspective I was lent, and the resources I had. The subject is rather interesting and thought-provoking. I, perhaps, was lame to not able to connect the dots, which I now have. I think I have finally found a thread that holds back the two seemingly opposing subjects that, for a long time, had occupied the farthest ends of interests.

LHS is now equal to RHS. 🙂

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?

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.

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.