The Interview and the Strange Feedback

Last month, I attended a formal interaction for a job opportunity within my team. One of my teammates is looking for an instructional designer. Since it is a small team, they included us to review the candidate. That’s how and why the interaction happened last month.


In India — specifically in all the interviews that I have attended either as interviewee or interviewer — there are a few things that have gone unnoticed, unsaid, or but understood:

  • The interviewer asks more questions than the interviewee
  • The interview process has to cover all questions relating to the candidate’s professional life, including if and why was there a gap in their career
  • The interviewer has to have an upper hand or can interrupt


Thankfully, I have never followed any of these rules… and thankfully, organizations are evolving. Come 2021, I have rarely heard anyone facing such questions.


I am of a firm belief that first, it is an interaction and not an “interview,” and two it has to be two-way communication.

But, the recent interaction went from an interaction into an interrogation. And I am speechless.

So, here is how it went.


My first impression was that even though the candidate had over 20 years of experience, she didn’t have the positivity I was expecting her to have. So, I motivated her to talk more or elaborate right from her first answer. It might be true, after all, that the interview is over in the first 50 seconds.


Then, I asked her a few questions, which she answered promptly. And answered a few of her questions. Hopefully, I answered those questions satisfactorily.


Then I happened to ask her about the Oxford comma. I expect that a technical communicator with over 20 years of experience will have, at least, heard about it. She didn’t know what it was. To which I told her that I would have expected someone of her experience to know such things. Nevertheless, she appreciated me for pointing that out, and we moved on.


Then I picked up a few sentences from her resume and asked her to find out if and what was wrong with those. I was prepared to hear her say that the sentences were OK, which they weren’t. To which I would have said nothing.


But when she could not point out the oversight, I pointed out those to her and told her that she could correct those. Even though I realize this is an interview, I thought this helping hand would be acknowledged as a welcome gesture. Besides, I even clarified that the answers to those questions would not impact the interview result.


On a side note, let me tell you a secret. For all the interviews I have attended, I have purposely asked for the interviewers to point out the instances where I could have gone wrong or improved myself. I have always received welcoming replies. In the process, I have made friends with the interviewers… Selection or no selection, we have gone above and beyond those social boundaries to create a collaborative environment. I still talk to a lot of them, more as friends.


So, back to this interaction. I told the candidate how I committed mistakes and overcame those by asking the right questions. I also told her how I liked the interaction to be two-way, and not one-way. Within a week after the interaction, I heard from my boss — during our weekly interaction — that she found me to be aggressively authoritative and egotistic. Although we did clear the confusion between us (my boss and I), and even he felt nothing wrong with my approach, I have since learned a few hard lessons the hard way.


At least I now know one more thing. It is OK for me, as an interviewee, to ask what mistakes I committed. But, as an interviewer, I must not point out the scope for improvement, despite how objective and positive my intentions maybe because not everyone shares my state of mind.


Let me know what you think.

Twenty Words Tuesday: Week 38 Prompt

Thank you, Bulbul’s Bubble, for this week’s writing prompt.

So, here’s my entry for #TwentyWordsTuesday, a 20-words-story-prompt. which for this week is Wish.


Wish

There she was. All alone. And then she looked up in the sky and regretted, “what if we’d left together!”


If you, too, would like to participate, just:

  • Write a story in exactly 20 words, excluding the title. The story must highlight the prompt of the week.
  • Tag her post
  • Leave a link to your attempt in the Comments section in her post.

I hope that you like my humble attempt.

Product Review: Submarine 939 Fountain Pen

God knows I have been itching to review a fountain pen for a long time. And when I did get the one that fit my budget, they sent me one with a Fine tip. Damn!

And, so began my review even before I had filled the pen with ink. But the support was kind enough to let me know that Submarine Pens didn’t deal with Fine nibs and were as shocked as I was. They kindly agreed to send me a Medium nib, which should be on its way right now.

So, here’s the review.

The pen is of brass and is a tad on the heavier side for my liking. The build quality is solid. And all parts feel they there made to measure. If the pen didn’t have the pattern, I reckon it would be a lot slippery to hold. So, good, thoughtful design.

The opening mechanism is pull-and-push. I like the tactile and acoustic feedback of the ‘click.’ The cap’s finial has a studded Swarovski element, which adds a nice touch to the look. I’d be OK without it, but I know a lot of Indians would love to have some embellishment on the pen. After I ordered the pen, they called to ask if I’d like to personalize it, which I did. The font size and style selection were theirs. Yet, my name just shines through: no pun intended. 🙂

The nib, as I mentioned, is an Indian Fine tip and should sit between the western Fine and Indian Medium nib. Considering my shaky hand, I’d prefer either a Medium or Broad nib, but even this nib is a joy to write with. It is a platinum-tipped nib that’s made of stainless steel and feels more toward being sturdy than flexible. For a Fine nib, the sweet spot is relatively large enough to write at any angle.

Reverse writing is possible. This pares down to two things: the nib is smooth, and the ink flows through the feed’s channels. The website advertises the pen comes with a Medium, dual-tone nib, but I got a Fine, gold-colored nib. A Fine nib has its advantages. One, the ink dries faster. Two, feathering and bleed through to the other side of the paper reduces.

One more thing! The nib is smooth for its first use but I reckon it will soon break in. Until then, the flow through the feed’s channels will not be consistent and the ink’s color will not come through.

The feed and converter are plastic, and the pen came supplied with two cartridges of company-specific ink. I had an old bottle of Parker Quink Blue, so I chose not to purchase Submarine’s ink, which was about twice as expensive (twice as good?). Anyway, the two supplementary cartridges are sufficient to judge the ink’s quality if I compare it with the Parker’s.

For a section and grip that’s carved out of brass, the grip is a perfect combination of shine and comfort. I can write for a long time without fatigue. The pen’s weighted toward the tip, and you will have to adjust the weight even when you might have posted the pen. Usually, I don’t post my pen. So, I will continue to try different combinations to get the best writing.

In tests limited to my knowledge, exposure, and technique, Parker’s Quink won. I had used a regular 60~70 GSM printer paper. Through the first, second, and third passes, Quink flew better and was more saturated. But I used a cartridge for Submarine ink and the converter for Parker’s Quink. So, I’d give a point to the converter because it did the job it is meant to do.

I have a doctor’s handwriting (Sorry, doctors!), and the Fine tip doesn’t lend a lasting impression in that regard.

Should you try this pen? Why not. Especially given that they acknowledged that they accidentally sent a Fine nib and would happily replace it for free. Customer service goes a long way in assuring repeat purchases. After all, you can sell a product only once! After which, the product has to sell itself.

I got the pen for 600 rupees, plus shipping. To buy the pen, use this link: https://www.submarinepens.com/product/939-fountain-pen/

So, that’s my first review of a fountain pen. Please pardon my handwriting, and let me know if I missed anything.

Happy writing.

Thirst for Words

Worst for the words,
It appears to me,
Is for them to cease to exist.
Pressing as your heart ever may.

Worst, indeed, for the words,
It is, you must know, for they
Will no longer turn into gold
That once was hay.

Worst, yes, for the words,
It is, you discover, that they
Will not unearth—never anymore—
Buried thoughts that lay.

Worst, surely, for the words
It is, I confess, that they occasionally
Witness the dry beds that once
Flew hundreds of gallons away.

Trust, but I must, in the same words,
For it is at their own fancy that
I awoke, avowed, and will ever await.
Never leave me, I ask. Stay.

Trust, I will, in those words,
For it is their humble selves that
I will reach where I’ve yearned to go
As the words will pave my way.

Trust, surely I will, in those words,
For when they will bless me,
They will have me drenched, and
Quench my thirst for the day.

©Suyog Ketkar
July, 2021

The Art of Living: Online Happiness Program

It has been more a couple of months that I enrolled for and completed a four-day online happiness program. Through the program, I got introduced to the Sudarshan Kriya and a host of other Yogasana techniques and postures. In this short review, I share my experience.

The Course and the Contents

Given the COVID-19 situation, and the lockdown, our group was initiated into the Kriya via the Internet. And, while the process was straightforward, there were guidelines that we had to comply with throughout those four days.

We all have heard at least once that we are what we eat. If that is true, we need to be extra careful with what we consider as ‘food.’ Anything that we intake then must be of a value precious enough for our consumption. Whether it is food (for the stomach) or food (for thoughts). The first step, the initiation that is, is a carefully crafted exercise of introducing yourself to a new source of power and learning. And, for the reasons I just enlisted, it is always advisable that you do it over a clean bowel, with a fresh mind, and a clear air passage from your nose through your lungs.

The course began with a customary introduction of the participants and the trainers where the trainers, specifically, ran us briefly through their experience, learning, and benefits of the Kriya. Then, we warmed up to the Kriya by practicing Yoga postures, the Sun salutation (or Surya Namaskar), and other breathing techniques (Bhastrika Pranayama and Naadi-shodhan Pranayama, in particular). That is when we were initiated into the Sudarshan Kriya.

The Experience of Sudarshan Kriya

The Sudarshan Kriya is a set of three powerful rhythm and time-based breathing cycles technique with variable intensities (Slow-Faster-Fastest). It helps push the capacity of our lungs to absorb more oxygen. And because most of us don’t use our lungs to their maximum capacity, we were told to rest ourselves against the support of walls. The technique is so powerful that a few of us even felt dizzying or nauseated toward the end of it. But, that is why it is always advisable to only get initiated formally with the help of a guru.

It helped that I had been regularly practicing Naadi-shodhan for the past ten years. Just that because I had trained my lungs into practicing fuller breathing, my experience was a bit mellowed down than others. I didn’t feel the instant magic. But the overall experience of doing it with a host of others like me, even though it was online, was still encouraging enough. That feeling of becoming a student: I had felt that for a long time.

There are a few dos and don’ts associated with the technique. And because I am writing my review on the online happing program, I feel it a duty more than an option to state them:

  • Do it every day; be consistent with your timing if possible.
  • Do not perform the Kriya more than once (Slow-Faster-Fastest is one cycle; you must perform 3 cycles in one sitting) every 24 hours. If you wish to get initiated, do not search for YouTube videos. Seek a guru and ask to be formally initiated.
  • Once you are initiated, do not try to initiate others into the practice. There are levels of this practice that you must pass before you can become a trainer yourself.
  • Perform the Kriya on an empty stomach.
  • Sukhasana, or the usual posture of folded legs, is more than sufficient for you to experience the technique.

The trainers were well-versed with the course contents, and the format and they constantly helped and guided us with how to accomplish our purpose. The question-answer sessions addressed our questions and cleared our doubts.

The Impact & My Observations

I’ve never missed my practice since the initiation. And over time, even though it is just two months, the improvement is worth noting. I am:

  • Assertive and confident
  • I feel less drained out by the end of the day
  • I feel more sure about what I do; the self-doubt is still there but with an unexplainable sense of assurance
  • More relaxed
  • My course-mates, at least those whom I have spoken to since, have had similar experiences. Some of them told me that they even reported an increase in their productivity. Even I’d agree to it to an extent.

Conclusion

The teachings are restricted to the premise of an online workshop, and so the Kriya length (time and scale) takes about 40 minutes to complete, including the Pranayamas. The timing and scale will vary for those who got initiated in person and are practicing since. My friend who introduced me to the technique, Deepak Patil, has experienced Advanced level breathing techniques. He is a daily-practicing follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the past eight years. His is an elaborate practicing regime that takes about an hour for him every day.

These are testing times for all of us, and if only breathing in a certain way can help us better ourselves, then it definitely the technique is worth a try. For me, it is an experience that has increased the pace of my spiritual growth. I am a better person. And I’ve begun valuing myself even more since the initiation. All that, without losing the degree of compassion I hold for others. That is my biggest takeaway.

If you, too, wish to enroll, I can happily usher you to the right person.

Tourists

It was at the first light of life
That they took the baby step.
And continued to walk along
Even as they slept.

Still bright and breezy
Were they at the wee hours.
Trudged through while
Still learning their powers.

Amidst the blossoming yellow
Bathed, fed the fellows!
Then around the noon
Their lives began to bloom.

Their gaily souls traced the trails.
Still young at hearts, very hale.
The afternoon arrived, though pale,
Blessed with occasional bursts of the gale.

Until evening, their routine was set.
Along with pleasure, closures were met.
Truths were told. Masks had fallen.
Even the hardest had begun to soften.

Wearied souls came upon a bridge.
Living each episode unabridged.
Twilights coated with burnt orange.
Forgiveness tasted sweeter than revenge.

The night, it seemed, soon fell.
Such that no one could foretell.
It was time to pack the bags—
It was time to bid farewell.

The tourists then made the choice
For how long were they to dwell?
Death then enrobed those
Who had managed to quell.

The tourists then sojourned the bright tunnel.
They seemed to cope. And well.
What lay beyond that comfort, now
How were they to tell?

©Suyog Ketkar
June, 2021

The Visualization and the Flow of Thoughts

Challenges are an inseparable part of life; not just with me, but with everybody. And one must commit to those everyday challenges with a dedication that equals their willing commitment toward their dreams. Such is our wish—as strange as it may be—to ward off all worries that we forget that it is their co-existence with, and not the absence of, that makes life what it is!

Last week, when I was, yet again, getting bogged down by the increasingly heavier workload, I thought I was going farther and farther away from where I wished to be. Despite how much commitment I showed, I was walking slower (figuratively, of course) with each step.

My family felt and shared the pressure. And so did my friend and well-wisher, at Samruddhi AstrroVastu, who told me to resort to the relieving therapy of creative visualization.

He told me to visualize that I was sitting by a river-side and observing the flowing stream. Eventually, when my mind was in a calm(er) state, I was supposed to get up and pour down all my assumed impediments, challenges, and worries into that river. I was to be just an observer and not become a participant in the process (and thereby get affected by the feelings). Yet I was to witness the feelings and watch how the cosmos (I think he used that word, but I am confident I can equally make that up on my own, too!) received my negativity and transformed it into positivity. Later, I was required to report the changes to him. But the writer, a poet, in this case, responded with a poem. He liked it and wished me to share it with all of you.

So, here it is.

The Flow of Thoughts

By the quay, within my mind,
In the quietude devoid of time.
Flew along ‘that’ stream
A stream of thoughts.

Impressions of, then,
People surfaced
From within my mind—
From all walks.

Reflections of, then,
Events and conversations
Gleamed that had
Shone from all talks.

Surrendered, then,
I, to the bishops,
Rooks, queens.
And, even, to pawns.

Forgave, then,
All those who had
Once betrayed.
Corrected all the wrongs.

My fluvial thoughts—
Yes, that never-ending stream—
Then gave way to risings.
’Twas to be a new beginning: a new dawn.

©Suyog Ketkar
June 2021

Such visualizations can help us rid the negativity and ride the wave of assertiveness as an observer. We may never know the limits and strengths of our minds. But then if we did, would we remain as humble as we are?

Twenty Words Tuesday: Week 35 Prompt

Thank you, Bulbul’s Bubble, for this week’s writing prompt.

So, here’s my entry for #TwentyWordsTuesday, a 20-words-story-prompt. which for this week is Banner.


Banner

He read every word she skipped—her eyes, as if, held a banner. Respect begot respect. And love poured unconditionally.


If you, too, would like to participate, just:

  • Write a story in exactly 20 words, excluding the title. The story must highlight the prompt of the week.
  • Tag her post
  • Leave a link to your attempt in the Comments section in her post.

I hope that you like my humble attempt.

Inner Voice

I said, “I listen to you every time 
Yet you sound anew on each occasion.”
“Someday, I’d sit back and listen to you,” it said.
Or, perhaps, it was my assumption.

Ever since I’ve yearned for
That participating audience.
With whom I can discuss
All problems and their solutions.

The wait, how I wish, to soon be over.
The wait, which has been rather long and clever.
I can hardly wait. Actually, no longer.
Here I am to you, my muse; in full submission.

Be my thoughts, words, and voice.
Lend me the pleasure.
Here I am to speak and to listen.
Give me thy affirmation.

©Suyog Ketkar
Composed in March, 2021

How to Write

A lot of writing is an outcome of introspection and self-analysis. We look at ourselves, sometimes as an outsider and oftentimes as an insider, with the expectation that we either see what the world sees in us or we see in the world that no one else sees in it. This is a lot of topical overthinking—both unidirectional and multi-directional. Amongst the questions on writing that bombard, clutter, and occupy one’s mind, many involve finding answers that lead to further bewilderments. Let us delve few of such questions.

On what must I write?

As easy as it might sound, selecting a topic is anything but simple: you bang your head against a wall and I guarantee it will bring results. There are days when you can spot yourself staring at the blinking cursor or the blank page with mixed feelings of admiration and frustration. And such days usually occur more frequently for some than others.

Topics lend the capability to set the perimeter for your writing.

A question that nests within this question is how critical is research in writing. Well, the easy answer to it lies in what you wish your readers to do after they go through your work. Do you want them to do something, like a task? Do you want them to read and react? Do you want them to follow the suit and continue their research on your lines of thoughts? Do you want them to feel what you are feeling? Or, do you want to enlighten them with deep insights? Set a perimeter to the range of topics and then let the topic set the perimeter for your writing.

A topic helps put barbed wires, sort of, so that you can fence out the territories where your imagination isn’t supposed to wander. Such self-contradicting is this counter-thought that you must first set a perimeter to the topic before it sets the perimeter for your writing. So, more than the topic, it is the subject of your study that determines what you must write.

In what format must I write?

It reminds me of a masterful chef who curates a platter of intricately cooked, composed, and crafted dishes. Remember, they don’t cook food: they create a course of meal for you. The format of writing is similar.

Masterful writers incrementally build their readers’ experience throughout the passage of their work.

And even if this means some rules govern the structure or format in which to serve the course of the meal, no rules limit your creative license to bring in colorful variations in tastes and textures.

Is there a pattern?

There are time-tested, subjective patterns: in some, you hold onto your readers; in others, the reader holds on to your work.

The pyramid is applicable wherever you build the context before you unveil the core content. All novels and short stories use this approach where they first build the old world before they bring their protagonists on the cliffhanger that changes everything. They introduce the core learning for the protagonist who then must set their world anew.

And then there is the inverse pyramid approach. The print media follows it. We follow a similar approach in technical writing, where we communicate the most important things first and then supplement the details.

The choice of the pyramid for creative and inverse-pyramid for non-creative isn’t always easy, for it depends on a lot of parameters the values for some of which aren’t even known. Take a calculated guess of how your average readers might wish to read your work.

Is there something that’s never discussed enough?

Yes, a couple of things, actually.

Grammar

There isn’t any formula, a strict pattern, process, language, structure, or way of reaching your readers’ hearts and minds. Yet, there is a way you can map your intentions with their emotions and understanding. This is where grammar can help. The sticklers for grammar call it the mortar for the bricks. Words are bricks that build your work. And grammar, as the mortar, holds the bricks together in place so that your work appears and appeals to the readers with the same intensity and purpose.

Rewriting

There must be a few works—often from select authors—that you find are effortless reads. Even when you read their work for the first time, within an instant you connect to their work. And then there are other authors whose work builds itself on you over time. It matures like a wine where the more you age with it the more you appreciate what it brings to you. Each time you open it, you stumble upon a new message wrapped in the same old words.

The act of writing, I reckon, must be the second-last step in the process of writing itself. The last step must be rewriting.

Once you finish creating your first draft, let it sit and age. If over time you think it reads the same, your work will achieve its purpose. But if—and it usually is the case—it doesn’t quite read what it must, then rewrite it.

Continue to chisel out the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs if they don’t serve their purpose.

Conclusion

After we have said (and done) what all we must, there still remains so much more than we can say and do. Writing is such an easy skill that it reminds me of life itself.

Only after you’ve lived your life that you learn how to live it.

Each experience is new in its own way. Every single day brings forth new learning. All experiences, good or bad, make up life what it is. This is why life is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. And you, as a writer, are responsible for helping people read and, thereby, live through your words. How effectively they do that depends on how efficiently you can map your ability to think like them and the skill to write like your true self.