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?

The Name that Wasn’t

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

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

Mankading: The Case of Ethics vs Laws

Life is a curious case of choices. The choices make us who we are. The choices may or may not be ours, but they do influence us a great deal. But, as we look at it closely, life isn’t any different than the game. And, so aren’t the choices.

Such critical are the choices in the game that it can either make or break records or the name. One such case occurred in the latest game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2019 when Ashwin’s KXIP defeated Rahane’s RR.

But before we get to the Mankading incident, here’s what the law states, “If the non-striker is out of his/her ground at any time from the moment the ball comes into play until the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the non-striker is liable to be run out.” The non-striker would be run out “whether or not the ball is subsequently delivered”.

The video footage suggests that though Ashwin did not give any warning to Jos Butler, he was right in saying that it was his “space.” We can see that in the footage, too. Ashwin was about to take the delivery stride when he whipped the bails off.

Here is the link to the video of what happened (Courtesy, ESPNCricInfo):  http://www.espncricinfo.com/core/video/iframe?id=26361862&endcard=false

For those who wish to go by the rules, Ashwin’s efforts meant that Royals lost a wicket and subsequently lost the match. For those who wish to go by the spirit of the game, well, we didn’t lose any hopes to see a good game until the last ball. We did see an exchange of words or two, but was that not a violation of the spirit of the game?

Mankading isn’t unlawful. It is disgraceful of the bowler unless he has given warnings. On the other side, it is just a disgraceful way for a batter to get out. Certainly, it is stupid for him to not be within the crease (read, starting point) as the ball is bowled. I mean, logically, you may stand outside of the crease when a fast bowler is bowling because you’d like to use that extra heads-up to complete a run on a close call. And, here Jos was on the spinner’s end. So, the extra step wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Ashwin, in my opinion, should not have mankaded Jos. Had this been an international match or the IPL 2019 final match—thereby, being a critical case that demanded a critical solution—things would have been different. This was a league match of IPL. After all, winning important. But, winning still isn’t everything. I would have chosen to preserve the spirit of the game.

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.

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.

The Soul Purpose

Brought to thee
The stories that have
Countless stories within, the Self knows.
Who knows what’s more?

Smelt the magic of the rains—
The petrichor. Though,
Drenched, lost, drowned is
My conscious, helpless Self, to the core.

The evening strands of gleaming light have
Your fragrance, or am I
Afloat the love unbound?
Don’t bother bringing me back ashore.

The chirping of birds.
The rustling of leaves.
Thoughts that come and go.
A rhythmic lore it is, I am sure.

Turned orange, the evenings, again.
Silently mourns my soul.
Wilfully nervous, it tells me.
Could oneness with You be any pure?
©Suyog Ketkar

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

Speaking with Kids in English? Here’s Why I Don’t.

The following conversation happened recently between the Class Teacher and us:

The Teacher: As part of giving Spruha a comprehensive learning experience, please talk to her in English at home.

I: Well, we do use English words and phrases in our conversation. But, mostly the conversation is in her mothertongue. Why do you stress speakinng with her in only English?

Teacher: It will ease our communication. She must become habitual of the language. After all, she is going to use it for the rest of her life.

I: I still fail to understand the importance of speaking in only English?

Teacher: Spruha will soon graduate out of this preschool. For her ease of learning, you must speak to her in the language that schools these days use. In most cases, they compel all students to use English, which is why I tell you to speak with her in English.

I gathered my thoughts and spoke:

I: Language is of sound importance in the first five years of anyone’s life. But, no language except for her mothertongue will help create a bond between us and her. While I certainly get your point, I find it largely impractical on my part to teach her English before helping her communicate fluently in her mothertongue. The critical part is, she must learn to communicate, and not merely speak.

Teacher: I see your point. I just wanted to tell you that schools expect certain things.

That’s when Shambhavi eased the conversation.

Shambhavi: I know what you are saying; even I have observed the same thing. But, I also see from where Suyog is driving his point home. We’ve seen people try to speak with thier kids in their own [usually annoying] versions of English the moment they see us speak with Spruha in English. People feel overwhelmed by this self-assumed responsibility of speaking in English the moment they see someone else do it out of plain habit.

We all chuckled. Then, Shambhavi added.

Shambhavi: There is also a common misconception that speaking in English makes people appear sophisticated. Basically, Spruha has to first learn to respect her mothertongue. And then, any other language. Let’s just say, we will teach her Marathi; you teach her English.

The long conversation deservedly followed an almost-equally long pause. We assume that we convinced the teacher on our point of view.

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Given that pretext, let’s get to today’s conversation. As a learning facilitator, I’ve been itching to write on this subject for long. For kids, getting to express themselves is the foremost thing to learn. But, if that’s the case, and I believe it is, why do I see an increasing number of parents restrict their respective kids—toddlers, in some cases—from using any other language in [almost] all public spaces if not for only at their homes? Are they all snob? Many bothersome questions like these underpin this post.

 

 

In India, dealing with “English” matters in public is still a matter of pride—for those who speak—and amusement—for those who don’t. Typically, when parents speak with their kids in English in public places:

  • Some people desperately try to ignore thinking that it is in fashion nowadays.
  • Some just walk off. They mentally call you an angrez (Angrez is in Hindi for people from England—or any other English-speaking nation).
  • Some feel scared. They even try to compete by faking an accent; never mention their grammar.
  • Some feel low on importance. This category will usually begin speaking a bit louder. Yes, in a common language, like Hindi.
  • Some ask the Hindi version of, “Goes to an English medium school. Right?”

7583954880_IMG_1739Aside from such funny situations (and people), this is a learning lesson for me. Let me be specific: there is a visible gap between those who use English out of habit and those who [try to?] flaunt it. If they still do it with the sole intention of helping their kids learn a new language, I can still buy their argument—so long as they don’t advertise it. There are countless reasons, such as North India-South India divide or that two people may not understand one another’s regional language.

But for the most part, most of us do it because they fall prey to a sort of social pressure. Yes, you guessed it right: the same social pressure that makes us think that one language is superior to the other and the same social presume that makes us feel that, eventually, one degree (like the Medical or Engineering) is superior to the other vocational courses. It is still a huge statement to say that some of us see kids as kids, and some, as report cards.

Let us help our kids learn to respect themselves. Let us help them preserve their core. Etiquette and skills can (and, certainly, do) follow.

🙂

Between Then and Now

Then, I loved brushing my father’s thick facial hair,
Which, I was pranked belonging to my grandfather
And which my father had stuck on his face.
Now, a part of my daily schedule
Is my own beard that equally isn’t few!

Then, the miniature me, for whom,
Everything looked big and formidable.
Now, I laugh that nothing
Is neither so shocking
Nor so ignorable.

Then, the unpaved trails to my home
That I loved to run around in glee.
Now, all I do is smell the hometown
On the shores of the workplace,
Hoping peace to alight on me.

Then, the biggest small HOME
That was more than enough for four.
Now, a HOUSE that’s big enough for eight,
In a time where
Living together is only in folklore.

Then, the wounds that healed
Way before the pain was felt.
Now, the scars of countless stories,
Not on knees but on heart,
You know, all that is left.

Then, the little me,
Who crouched behind a chair,
Waited like stocking a prey,
Now, staring at the lurking fortune,
Would the game be any fair?
©Suyog Ketkar