In only 2015—quite recently, I know—I learned about Haikus. But, it took me three more years to begin to understand Haiku and the other forms of micropoetry. You might have read some of my recent experiments with writing micropoetry—like this and that.
So, this post is about the insights that micropoetry shares with technical communication:
Sometimes, a lot of solitary moments teach you more than an experience that lasts for a length of time. Micropoetry is one such experience of wisdom that lies within a moment. It is either result- or experience-oriented because each word or line carries an action or empathy.
This one matches the Pyramid Approach in technical communication. We communicate the most important information first; everything else Similar goes for micropoetry, just that there is no “everything else” in this case.
Words count; count the words. Usually, the lesser the better. Simple.
Words weigh based on their definition. Word also weigh based on the intention with which we apply them within a sentence. The latter is the reason people perceive the same word differently in different situations. So, for the sake of the composition, we must keep the right word in the right place.
Stories move us. Stories empower us. Stories educate us. All three apply to micropoetry and to technical communication alike.
I usually keep my feelings to myself unless I wish to write about them. Whether good or bad, this habit of writing looks like one that’s here to stay. Also, I cannot wait for another year to convey her what I feel for her: the person in context, my maternal grandmother.
It is easier to decide on your inspiration than to become like one. I, however, am finding it hard, for I have a little too many of them around. The trouble is, I can and do learn from each one of them with every passing day. This post is about the one who’s each day is a happy-sad challenge in her now salt-and-pepper life of intermingled experiences.
She is from an age (read era) where women were hardly considered powerful enough to have full education let alone running a family competing with husbands on the salary part. But, credit must be given where deserved. She has led her family well enough after her husband’s departure in 1976.
From the Second World War, India’s struggle for Independence, and the 1965 and 1971 wars, she has stood firmly beside by maternal grandfather. But, after these hard phases, the worst ones for her have been losing her family members—first husband, then my father (in 1993), and then her son (in 2011). In January, this year, she brushed past death after a series of heart attacks (two of Mild and one of the Severe degree) in a single day. On one occasion, doctors told us later that they couldn’t detect her pulse for as much as 10 minutes.
In April, she turned 88. But, if only that was enough for her to think that she needs to stop working. She still does everything on her own, which I find amazing. Did I tell you that she performed stage shows of Violin in the past? And that she learned to play synthesizer about 10-12 years back and plays it every day since then? She reads a chapter from Bhagwat Gita every day and has been doing that for as long as I remember. In the process, she has learned all the shlokas from all the 18 chapters from the epic.
If that is not enough, cooking interests her. So, she takes mental notes from the cookery show on her favorite television channel. Then, she experiments in the kitchen to prepare that for all of us. Yes, even today. It is because she thinks that the ready-made clothes don’t give her the required comfort and fitting, she stitches her own gowns that she usually wears every day.
Here is my message: We are and will be yours. Why this message? That too, after four months, you may ask. I don’t need an occasion to write about Aaji. You are an inspiration for people. But, you are much more than that for your family. I have come to conclude that if old age were to add numbers to people’s lives, it added wrinkles and stories to yours’.
The thing is: experiences disguise themselves as sometimes scars and sometimes as wrinkles. But they leave their marks on all occasions. And then, you don’t remain the same anymore. In the same sense, people are no more than wrinkles in the fabric of your life. You can iron out some; but, some just don’t go. They are there forever. They make you. They remain a part of you. You are as wrinkled a fabric as them. Have a healthy life ahead, Aaji. Your wrinkles and stories are a part of my fabric. They make me who I am.
In one of my previous posts, I covered how I compose my thoughts. In this post, I talk about how I get to what’s worth a composition.
The thing about writing prompts is that you can’t define them. There can and cannot be a pattern of how they occur. There isn’t a way you can generalize them. Pitchforking, for example, is one theme I have been itching to write about in the recent past. But, every time I sit down to write, my thoughts drift into the other unseen territories.
Today, I list all (or most) of my writing prompts for you:
Behavior and misbehavior of people around me
Endless thoughts and thought-provoking issues
Everyday work-related challenges and my tiny accomplishments
Listening to old songs; mostly from my maternal grandmother’s collection of timeless classics
My “I’m home” moment when my daughter rushes back to me with all her might, jumps into my lap, and, with the limited and unclear vocabulary, explains how she spent her day
Photography, especially B/W pictures
Play-doh and toy shops
Seeing other writers fail or succeed
Storytelling my daughter to sleep—I must come up with a new story every day
Sunset from behind an office building right across my office window
The feel of my father’s thick mustaches when I was a kid (I was told that they belonged to my grandfather, but my father had put them and was no longer able to remove)
The reflection of the Rising Sun
Tracing tiny footprint of insects and crabs on a beach
Wet shores that sweep from under my feet
True that it is easier to find an inspiration than to be one. But, finding what inspires you is still the first step. Here’s mine.
As we come to the end of this conversation I have this takeaway thought for you:
Your writing flourishes when your head, heart, and hands work for the same purpose; in the absence of which, you can be anyone and no one at the same time.
It is easy to say that time flies. It is still easier to say that we wish it to stop sometimes. But, it is way harder to be in the present and still give the warmth of the limitless love to your child, who you see growing before you. But, it does feel like it was yesterday that she was born to us. Spruha turns 3 today.
Shambhavi and I envy each other for playing gopikas that compete for the love of Krishna. Just that the roles are reversed in this case: Spruha is Lord Krishna, we are the gopikas. From the tiny pink fist that wrapped around my thumb for the first time to the everyday hug that I receive when she sprints toward me as I get back home after work, there is so much more to this story than I can ever share. Here’s that poem for Spruha:
The silence in my speech was Recognized by many. But, she could recognize The speech within my silence.
Each day, the sunrise sprinkled the magic Of beaming glory through countless windows. The happiness that gleamed to me was However, from those sparkling eyes.
What contrast lies between Her and I. For she is happy with even broken toys. And the pains of a broken heart Are visibly excruciating to my eyes.
At first, I wanted to compose this post as a poem. But, that would mean another poem on my blog. And, I have had a little too many poems on my blog within the last one year. This, in one way, diverges from the original contemplation on writing. But, wait. I don’t wish to begin this post with a negative thought. That’s is how much writing means to me.
My writing is my ambassador to you. It means so much to me because it is how I express what I feel. Usually, I don’t speak much. Yes, for a lot of my friends, I am an out-and-out extrovert. But, deep within, I am an ambivert who leans, in fact, toward introversion. My words convey what I can feel but can’t express, can see but can’t report, and can write but can’t speak.
Writing is my textual meditation. It is the way I introspect. Just like one must close their eyes to see within themselves, one must pen their thoughts to sieve through to the core. The clearer they think, the clearer they write. And, the other way around. My writing is my soul disguised as words.
Writing for me is like composing verses in prose. It is a melody. A song. There are sentences of all compositions and lengths. Some are long. Some, longer. A few, like this one, shorter. True! The long and short sentences convey the long and short of it—and everything that lies within—to the readers. Mentally listen to yourself when you read varying lengths of sentences. It sounds good. Good, because it is rhythmic. Good, also because it means that the melody is as important as the messages conveyed through the melody. My writing is a lyrical composition that I can hum, listen to, sway along with, or fall asleep to.
Writing is like a mirror. It is that sense of contemplation that adds a dimension of meaning to reflections. It isn’t only the reflection of oneself, but also a cause to reflect onto oneself. Writing is that catalyst without which the inner and the outer selves don’t equate. No reaction, whether it is chemical, is ever complete without a word of thought. It is that skillful, scientific art; it is that masterful, artistic science.
Writing is that folklore that records, refers, and rekindles life. It is that act of play where you are both the actor and the audience. Writing is both the pen and the ink that scribes your acts, with or against your will. It is both the cause and the outcome of your performance. It is also the background score that amplifies emotions without your knowing.
To me, writing is the means, the medium, and the end. It is as nameless, formless, and transparent as water. It originates with a spurt, from within. When it begins to flow like a stream of thoughts, it seeps and snakes through people’s minds, one after another, finding its way to you, who after traveling for miles has got down on their knees to enjoy their glittering reflections. When it flows from my heart to yours, it becomes a burbling river. When it becomes an ocean of emotions, you can watch it hug the limitless skies at the horizon and experience it wash-off the rare conch shells of revelations to the shore.
The most rewarding writing, however, often trickles down your cheeks as pearls of love. What does writing mean to you?
From what I recall, this is only the second time I am writing sometime on Spruha, my daughter. Here is what I shared on her some time back. The time I get to spend with Spruha is in a stark contrast with my wife. She, as a homemaker, gets to spend more quality time with Spruha. That’s why I enjoyed Father’s Day celebration at the Nurture Preschool, Gachibowli.
The event focused on dads getting to spend some quality time with their respective kids. I was the first one to arrive. It was nice to watch Spruha play with toys and skim through colorful books in her class.
Soon after a lot of fathers had come, the facilitators asked kids to assemble at the entrance. The kids welcomed us with “Happy Father’s Day” plaques and pom-poms. I enjoyed that Spruha accompanied me to the event area. Some kids weren’t in a mood for the event—the usual cute thing with kids. Others, like Spruha, were cool about the event.
The management introduced us to the event proceedings, and then we took pictures. Here’s ours:
Then, the kids danced on a song.
After the song, the school conducted a one-minute competition. The kids had to pick up one straw and run to their dad. Then, they would tuck the straw between father’s fingers and run back for another straw. We enjoyed this a lot. I even volunteered for a kid whose father could not come. The kid won. This kid was smart. He could pick and tuck 19 straws in a minute.
Then the most-exciting event followed: painting dad’s t-shirt. This confused Spruha because back at home, rules are different. We don’t allow her to paint or draw on walls and clothes, amongst the other exciting stuff. And, here she was free to decorate my tee with her modern art. But, she did a good job in the end. I will make her draw on it some more, sometime later, and then wear it to my office.
Then, it was the snacks time. Some fathers might have found this to be the most difficult. But, we all managed to finish on time.
The event concluded with some learning, a lot of fun, and a thank you note from us all.
As far as my memory goes back in time, I don’t recall participating in any such event with my father. This event was special for me for that reason, too. I can’t thank Spruha enough for this. But, I can express this by showering her with my already limitless love.
Time flies. Especially in case of kids who outgrow your lap too soon. It seems only yesterday that she was born. But, I am glad to see her grow into her own personality. Too early, is it? I don’t know. What I know is that my love and care will remain unchanged. Well, typical father.
As I sit to write this, I mentally pat my back for writing on something that has deserved this attention for long. A lot of curious minds have asked this to me: “What and how do you write? What, exactly, is technical writing?” I say, “Well, I write to empower and express. I write about stuff.” And, that’s what a technical writer does—write about stuff. I continue, “Just that the ‘stuff’ is technical in nature.”
If you are a writer, you too must have had a thought and an urge to communicate it. This post is born out of that urge.
We cannot ‘not communicate’. (We discussed double negatives recently.) That is, we ALWAYS communicate—even when we don’t. They say you could tell a lot about someone by knowing only four of their friends. If that’s the case, imagine how much will you know about me if I were to show you how I write? Conventionally, writing involves thinking (planning and structuring),writing and rewriting, editing, and publishing. For your ease of understanding, I sum that up into persistence, structure, and perspective.
I did not become a writer overnight. You know that. No one can learn to write overnight. Persistence is the word in context; we must work our way up the learning curve. We must keep investing in ourselves. The persistent I am with my writing, the steeper my learning curve is. I have seen a lot of improvement in my storytelling over the years. The same goes for everyone.
Let me introduce Structure in context of the words I often co-locate: thought and process. To share a good thought process, here is what I experiment with:
Some still follow the good-old method of PREP: Point-Reason-Example-Point. I usually follow Point (or Premise)-Rationale-Example-Conclusion for most of my blog posts. Here and here are a couple of examples.
Start-Body-End composition: Here, both the Start and End should be on a strong note, and the body should contain the logic to support your opinion.
Sequential flow. Here, one paragraph leads to another. This also means breaking down a task into logical steps by creating a structure of information. This one applies to technical communication or instructional designing.
Topical flow. Here, the first paragraph is usually the best (or the most informative), followed by mutually-exclusive paragraphs of supporting information. This one applies to technical communication—this is also called the pyramid approach. Pyramid, because we discuss the most important information first.
Rhythmic flow. Here, sentences sound lyrical, yet the composition of words is logical and thematic. This one applies to creative writing.
Your structure is how you wish to communicate a message: remember, it is the reason you often co-locate thought and process.
The example of finding a glass half-filled versus half-empty drives home the point: perspective is important. Important, I say, because it is your write-up. And, anything that you are describing should contain your words from your point of view. Some of us choose to stick to the realistic view of the glass being half empty. Some optimistically opine it to be half full. Others choose to poetically (Scientifically, is it?) consider it as one half filled with water, and the other half, with air. None of us are wrong.
A Point to Ponder
In my work time, I do action-driven writing. For some of my previous employers, I have also done empathy-driven writing, where each piece has a corresponding appeal. This kind of writing is easier to read (I find it to be that way.) and doesn’t always need people to have technical knowledge. Those of you who deal with the content side of the story will know what I am talking about.
And then there is storytelling—novel-ish writing. In some writer’s works that I have read, the description is so true that I remain awestruck. The empathy reflects on me. I become sad when the writing is sad. I become happy when the writing is likewise. It is blissful to realize that a few pieces of writing can make you admire the flow of emotions. I am lost in contemplation for some time. I have to take a couple of deep breaths before I can gather myself to come back to the remaining sections from the writer.
Words don’t convey anything until you give them the required context and structure. This means you must permit for their association—with either action or empathy. By permitting for associations, you can make words your silent ambassadors.
The thing about good writing is that both sense and simplicity lay its core. Your writing doesn’t always have to be thematic, emotional, or pinching. It must be reflective and truthful. All you should do is figure out if and how you can locate your inner self through your writing.
I always thought that it takes the knowledge of places, a camera, and later some quality storytelling to create a good travelogue. But, here’s what I found I could add to the list: a friend. I was lucky to have Geoffrey walk me around Cambridge (Cambridgeshire, the old name). And, while we did enjoy the day tour, the chilling wind and the last five minutes of Rugby (Six Nations, 2018) blew the wits out of me.
Let me start with the windy weather. The Saturday morning I underestimated the wind and wore my sleeveless jumper. Though the Sun shined bright throughout the day, the winds kept getting the better of me. And, for the creative sake of it, I will say that for all the while I kept walking my nose kept running.
We began the day strolling through Jesus Green Lido. The park shares its borders with the river Cam on one side and the Jesus College on the other. We walked on the quayside until we could, then we broke into a part of the city. Walking is the best way to experience any city, especially this city.
In Geoffrey’s words, the name of the city is a combination of the words Cam, which is the river that flows through the city, and bridge, which connects either side of the river. Oxford comes from oxen and ford—ford means a shallow river.
Just a thought: what if the word “shire” in Cambridgeshire has any connection with the Hindi word Shahar, which means an urban settlement?
There are a lot of old buildings in the city. Most of the old buildings have plaques that display the year of their construction—an age-old style; even Indore, my hometown, has buildings like that. Some buildings are as old as 1754. Maybe even older. The good thing is, the new buildings follow the design principles of the old buildings. This maintains the architectural aesthetics of the place.
After the Round Church, we decided to step into Caffé Nero. Over the coffee, Geoffrey and I compared the photographs we took—for an inspiration from the other’s works. Given that it was windy outside, a hot brew served its purpose reasonably well.
After the break, we walked past the Trinity College, which has the Newton’s Apple Tree. [Spoiler Alert: It is not the same tree under which Newton discovered the idea of gravity. Though seeds from the same Apple tree have planted this one here.]
While strolling the local weekend market, we stopped by a souvenir shop. We didn’t intend to buy anything, but we weren’t expecting what came next. The lady shopkeeper sat there soaking the gleaming Sun. She was getting only a little share of sunshine from between two buildings. She looked at us and said, “Enjoy the sunshine while you can. Don’t blame me later for not telling you.” True that inspiration can come from any source.
Throughout the city, I could find people taking photos. I even got a compliment for managing with a sleeveless jumper in that windy weather. This Southeast Asian guy didn’t realize that I wasn’t a local.
A side note: I am not a shopping person. But, I did visit places like the Poundland and Primark. The variety of products and the price range suit the budget of the middle class. That’s a given for any city. What’s special for Cambridge is that all major shopping destinations are about 15 minutes to half an hour of walking distance.
All major colleges in the University of Cambridge face the small area from the Fellows’ Garden to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Quite logically, the other side of the colleges is the Backs. The view from the rear of the buildings is comparably picturesque. [In the week that followed, Chris, a friend-cum-lead, helped me tour the Backs. We took some nice pictures there, too.]
Facing the Backs is Clare College behind which stands the Cambridge University Library. Yes, the same place that has a copy or record of every single work published from Cambridge.
I must say that I felt alive even as I walked past the colleges of the University of Cambridge. The energy that flows through the streets over the weekends is noticeable. If I were to compare it with India, I would say that it is Kota of the United Kingdom. But then, why compare!
When we walked past the Cambridge Corn Exchange, Geoffrey shared the history of the place. It is interesting how even after money becoming the medium of exchange it is still the word “Corn” that continues to be the term coined for it.
The word “interesting” reminds me of something. If you are in the local market, don’t forget to buy “gifts for interesting people”. See how those words make you think that the gifts are as interesting as the receiver of the gifts. I got some yogurt-coated candies for my daughter—not from the same shop though. The ones that have dried Banana or Cranberry are mouthwatering. If you are in Cambridge and wish to munch on your way through the city, get yourselves some. They have a reasonable shelf-life, too.
It is a British tradition to say sorry even if someone bumps into you. Chris says that in Britain you notice people singing their way through the crowd “sorry… sorry… sorry… oops… sorry… sorry… sorry” in rhythmic high-low-high-low notes. I must have caught on this habit because I remember saying sorry… only to realize a split second later that I had bumped into and was apologizing to a chair. Yes, I know!
Every country, every city has its own way of greeting people. Cambridge greets people with a combination of colleges and pubs. Other than university education if there is anything that defines Cambridge then I’d say it is three “Ps”: parks, pubs, and punting. Mathematical Bridge, where we stopped next, is opposite to the Anchor pub. And, most likely, there too, you will see people punting over the Cam river. A short walk down from the Anchor pub is the Darwin College of Engineering. It is notable how so many prominent personalities have had a part of their lives spent in this city.
We spent the longest time of our day-long tour at the Anchor pub. We initially chose to sit outside to enjoy the weather, but in due course changed our minds. That way, I got some relief from the weather, Geoffrey got his much-needed Rugby dose and we both got the food. I even gave my expert opinion as we watched the post-match analysis.
After the lunch, we set out to walk through Grantchester Meadows into the city walking past the James Dyson University of Engineering, the Judge Business School on the Trumpington Street, and Grand Arcade. As the dusk began to set it, we chose to skip two stops: The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum. I still managed to get some pictures around the areas.
While neither of us wished to end the day by spending time in a city mall—all malls are the same—we ended up at Costa Coffee, in Grand Arcade, because most of the coffee shops were either full or about to call it a day. I am not sure why we refer to it as “calling it a day” while it isn’t even a day anymore after dusk sets in. Quite a funny observation. Anyway, Geoffrey had ordered for large coffees. So, we continued to talk until the coffees lasted.
With the dusk setting in and the temperature beginning to steep further down, we decided to curse the weather—another British tradition—and “call it a day”.
This memorable, short tour of the city has a lot of for me as a takeaway. Let me summarize the day-long tour:
Best guide: a friend
Best time to visit Cambridge: any, particularly February-March
Best companion: a camera
Best munchies: yogurt candies
Best food: any, as long as you top it with a beer
Best modes of transport: walking and punting
Best gear: well, surely not a sleeveless jumper if it is windy and February
Much like me, you too wouldn’t feel an outsider in Cambridge for long. Not because it is a global city. But because of the faces that smile back at you, prospering local markets, tourists looking for authentic local flavors, and the welcoming giggles of toddlers that attracts you as an outsider. The city grows more on you if you know a “local”.
I didn’t cover everything. I couldn’t. But then, I realize that if I cover everything in one visit, what will I plan the next visits for? Considering that I meant business when I flew into Cambridge, the city has intrigued me enough to shift the target of my next visits. As I head back home, I remain a travel bug hungry for more.