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?

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.

The Name that Wasn’t

No voice, no noise.
No reflection of oneself.
No definition; none for assumption.
I am not myself.

Now here, now there.
I pity myself.
Now this, now that.
I am not myself.

Neither today nor tomorrow.
I can’t portray the inner self.
One’s thoughts, another’s actions.
I am not myself.

Neither from the rain
Nor from the draught.
From where do I then
Glean myself?

I am but a name
That tiny nothing
Neither more nor less.
I remain myself.
© Suyog Ketkar

The Call of the Pen

Perch, stop not
For you deserve much more
Rest for a while, and don’t
Stop until you reach a new shore.

Halt, break not
For you are destined to break more
Conversations otherwise unspoken.
Conversations, not a mere folklore.

Stand up, sit not
For you must explore much more
Than yourself, the limits of which
Won’t be decided today, not yore.

Pen down, digress not
For you must scribe much more
Than what’s beyond fantasy
Write what’s fathomable in only a lore.

Bring, deny not
For you have earned this
Glory beyond words what
Has always been Yours, for sure.
©Suyog Ketkar

Flipside

Tears that trickled down
My cheeks, filling me with fear;
Tears that once tore me apart,
Convey my thoughts, too.

Fear, the feeling of which
Scared me to death;
Fear that led me to nothingness,
Wakes me up to new limits, too.

Death, the addressing of people as Late,
Made me think of “for what?”;
Death that once parted my loved ones,
Cracks up avenues for a new life, too.

Cracks, within emotions, that once
Filled me to grief,
Cracks that leaked emotions
Leak my inner sunshine, too.

Grief, which once scarred me,
Only Time will come to heal.
Grief, which I’ve come to see,
Brings me to peace, too.

Time that once was clueless,
Brought me down on my knees
Time, the all mighty, now
Tells my brave tales, too.

Oblivion, the existence of which
Bothered me of endless inexistence;
The search for it again,
Empowers me to pen my dreams, too.

Endlessness that once endorsed
Unwilling, untrue souls around me;
Endlessness that then knew no end,
Authors my tiny successes, too.
©Suyog Ketkar

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.

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

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.

Contribution to STC India Annual Conference 2018

Since the last few years, I have been regularly contributing to the STC India Annual Conferences.

This year though, I was loaded with work. After I gave up the co-editorship for Indus, the STC India chapter magazine, I could free up some schedule for the blog. So, I could schedule articles and posts beforehand and be more active on my blog (site).

Late November, about three days before the release of the newsletter, I received a request to write an article for this year’s Annual Conference’s newsletter. Of all the time I was given, this is what I could manage.

I am happy that my article fits well with the others. And, happier, because I could deliver within the given time. Hope you too will like reading it. 🙂

Harvest

When the scorching gusts of heat
Fade the tears in your eye,
Recite the songs of the Spring,
Believe that seasons change, ask not why.

When circumstances are bleak,
Your bivouac is left far behind,
Choose what you must—
That let me not remind.

When without the trails
Should You journey barefoot,
Seek sojourns within a companion
In whose heart you could stay put.

When You, and only You,
Represent souls in the strife.
Look within as much as without.
Surely, the only rule of life.

When the days are few
You count each one anew
Amidst the hellish weather that
Destroys your crop that’s but already few.

Remember, always, to stand tall
And present the challenges a full face;
That You are your own harvest:
Be that befitting reply; and the one with grace.
©Suyog Ketkar