[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

A road well taken

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

On a bright, humid summer morning, she is walking along a trail deep in the park. Tranquil surroundings, smell of fresh air, and the lullaby of running water from the stream – she felt thankful for everything. A few other morning joggers pass over exchanging courteous nods. From moment to moment, her thoughts wander away into the inglorious past. But she quickly recovers to stay in the moment and relish the liveliness. Yet again, next moment comes, she is lost thinking something about a promising future. Thankfully, her third eye is keeping her in a steady pace through the trail.

Until she runs into a three-way intersection.

Regaining total awareness, she slows down heading towards the groomed island at the center of the intersection. The other two trails leading away from the intersection seem alien. She isn’t quite sure if each will lead to the same kind of experience she has just had in the last 20 minutes. One appears too dark for the morning. The other seem to become narrow within a few yards so she couldn’t make anything out of it.

She takes a moment to turn around and appreciate the trail she came in from.

“May be I should just go back the same way, It sure is worth another trip.”

She is reluctant and quickly gives up that notion. She squeezes her eyes to see as far deep as she can into the trail on the left. It sure feels more inviting. But that’s just a feeling though, they both look more or less the same from where she is. She grinds her teeth for wasting too much time on this trivial thing, but she just can’t make up her mind which one to move on. Yet, she is sure she wants to go the trail as good or better than the one she just came in.

She takes a sip from the bottled water. The digital watch reads 7.44 AM. She wants to be home by 8 AM or at least by 8.15.

She can hear someone breathing hard, rushing to cross over from the trail she came in. A black Labrador swirls around her followed by a tall guy who slows down to look right into her eyes.

“Do you need help?”

“I am all right. I am wondering which way to go”

“Well! Take the one on the right, you will be in good company plus you will love the view of the downtown a mile or so down”

She thanks him as he jogs down the trail to the right. He doesn’t look back and she is still double-minded.

“Do I care for the view?”

Just as she swipes the dripping sweat off her chin, an old couple walk into the intersection from the trail on the left. They look happy, chatty and wanting to talk. She wants to ask their opinion of that trail but decides to just wish them a good morning even as the couple pass staring at her. They fade away into the trail behind her.

“I have always followed my intuition, let’s just move on the trail to the left”

“Wait! Why wouldn’t I enjoy the view of downtown? I haven’t been here before…”

“What the heck am I doing here? This is stupid. What’s the big deal? Just go with whatever!!!”

She begins to walk towards the trail on the left.

“Why should today be any different?”

“You know what? Let it be different. For once, I am going to give a break to my intuition and instead take someone’s advise!”

She turns away heading towards the trail on the right. A few yards down, it becomes narrow, rough, and rather smelly too.

“Is this the company he was talking about?”

She can’t find any signs of other joggers. The morning breeze seem to have vanished and the air feels awfully dry.

“Where did all the chirps and lullabies go?”

Finally, she runs past a mom jogging with twin infants in a stroller. She finds it strange that both the babies are crying louder than all other noise around while mom is busy on the phone. Mom was too busy to bother a smile, so she picks up some pace wanting to get home sooner.

A few minutes later her cell phone vibrates with a text message. She checks the phone slowing down a bit but wobbles and steps on a beer can. The left over beer slurps across her shoes and a bit on her left leg.

“Crap!”, she yells.

She wants to clean it up right away, except all she has is one last sip of water. She wants to get home right now.

“How far is this damn thing going to go? I should have stuck to my intuition!”

A few more minutes of jogging between the trees and unexpectedly, the full morning sun from the east catches her attention. And there it is. Leaning over the edge of the trail, She gets a glimpse of the river and past it, the spectacular downtown. Everything seems refreshing all of a sudden. The skyline is shining like a glorious Kohinoor diamond. The ferries and ships line up the waters as the peak hour traffic is buzzing across the riverside parkway.

“This is gorgeous”, she wishes every morning was as spiritual as this one. She takes the last sip of water, throws the bottle out in the garbage bin and looks up.

Her heart misses a beat. A massive airplane is ferociously descending down into the downtown’s tallest skyscraper.

Dare to go on a war with your Imagination

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

For anyone who is looking for reasons to write, Poems can be a great inspiration.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was they brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terror clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

With the sight of a gorgeous tiger in mind’s eye, William Blake derived the inspiration to extract those beautiful words out of his imagination. Here is a good study guide for the Tyger Poem.

Tyger by William Blake

It’s a fantastic poem that reminds me time and time again that writing, in any form, is act of bravery. You wage a war inside your mind against your own imagined inspiration, be it a tiger or a sunset or a baby. When the words finally but slowly draw out and settle down in front of you on the screen, you are winning. You actively engage in the battle for a while until you get a satisfactory feeling that you have rescued your fair share of words out of your imagination.

Then, you engage in a joyous craft of literary peace making. You re-read the whole passage while your inspiration takes a back seat. You clean up words that seem burned-out in the process of extraction and polish sentences that came out awfully raw. You rehash certain ideas lost in collateral damage. At last, you stop. You just birthed with at most care and love a wonderful piece of writing, .

You walk away as a proud creator, knowing all too well that you love to wage this war forever and ever.

In Praise of Atanu Dey – Deeshaa.org

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Who is Atanu Dey? I know nothing about him personally and the little I know of him is what’s on the “About” page of his website – Deeshaa.org. What I do know is his writings. And what I aspire is to think and write like him.

I have feeble memories of when and how I stumbled upon this guy, must be early 2000s when Rajesh Jain was a dotcom heartthrob. But what a find: Atanu Dey is an authentic citizen of the sort that India sorely needs in millions. He is everything I want to be, but am not – at least not entirely yet.

With an education from more than one Ivy League institution, he could have been cruising now in a senior management job in corporate America but instead, he chose to focus his mind share on India’s development. He is most likely a omnivorous reader but more importantly, a free thinker and articulate writer. We may not agree with all his opinions, but he eloquently writes what he wants to say. I know not the hours he toils to compose his blogs, but I know what he ultimately writes are articles that you won’t find in reputed media. The topics, style and the tone makes me wonder they might as well be editorials for the day in mainstream media. That may sound as an exaggeration, so judge for yourself.

Atanu Dey writes on India's development @ Deeshaa.org

His writings are usually commentary on the state of politics, economy and education – primarily focused on India. But what distinguishes the commentary is its offbeat perspective and depth, which is generally lacking in the blogging community. For many bloggers today, being quick and quirky is more important than being deep and authentic. In that sense, Atanu is either naturally gifted to create a perception of depth or, as I believe, plows through background readings before constructing his arguments. To be fair, I should mention he occasionally throws diatribes that endlessly belabor his own notions.

Ultimately, what makes me return to his blog is that he is an ordinary and responsible citizen with no affiliations but lot of insights on current issues. In many cases, he does outline a vision for solutions too. Some day, he will be recognized in a larger stage for his authenticity and boldness, but until then, as Desh Deepak writes, he will be one of jewels in the overcrowded world of “restless, maverick and quirky Indian bloggers”.

Run your own race in life and definitely write about it too!

Friday, March 4th, 2011

One of my cousins sent me an email a couple of days ago…

…I couldn’t stop myself from ending with these couple of lines:- Every time I think of you, am amazed at how a once shy and recluse Sudhar turned things around and unfurled himself to become who you are today! And that’s no joke…you’ve made it up all by yourself! I bet you should start writing an autobio…

I was on cloud nine by the time I was done reading the email! Those kind of words always fan one’s ego.

Thankfully, only a few weeks earlier, I had read the NYTimes article “The Problem With Memoirs” – I even tweeted that “Half the people in America seem to be writing a book, especially memoir. The other half could care less. No wonder Borders B&N are bankrupt”.

That article was somewhat unnecessarily brutal. Yet, it was a timely reminder on a couple of fronts. I like to call out a few things from it, for my own sake:

That you had parents and a childhood does not of itself qualify you to write a memoir. A vast majority of people used to live lives that would draw a C or a D if grades were being passed out — not that they were bad lives, just bland.

That’s what happens when immature writers write memoirs: they don’t realize that an ordeal, served up without perspective or perceptiveness, is merely an ordeal.

I ask myself, Did I have a life that would pass a A grade? Likely No.

Did I have any ordeals that offers a perspective? Probably. Is it unique? Likely No.

It is probably fair to conclude that a nobody like me should not publish a memoir.

But hang on. I say publish not write.

As William Zinsser argues in this fitting rebuttal to the NYTimes article, every self respecting soul has The Right to Write. Here is a gist of what Zinsser had to say – which is exactly what I had concluded myself after reading Neil Genzlinger’s rant in NYTimes.

All of us earn that right by being born; one of the deepest human impulses is to leave a record of what we did and what we thought and felt on our journey. The issue here is not whether so many bad memoirs should be written. It’s whether they should be published–let’s put the blame where it belongs–and whether, once published, they should be reviewed.

Run your own Race (Source: kaboodle.com)

Zinsser, as some of you may know, is one of my teachers and role models in writing – so I trust his opinion more than Genzlinger’s. I do wonder if the inkling to leave a legacy is true for every person. May be it is and manifests in many ways, not the least of which is an effort to write a memoir, that too published & in rare cases, end up as best sellers!

All of this reminds me of the phrase “Run your own race”. Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can. Let’s be a hero to ourselves first. Being our own hero or a hero to our own small circle of people is in itself worthy of our efforts. That my cousin was “amazed” by my life thus far or that I inspire a few from my little circle of friends and family is all I need to eventually rest in peace.

We can save the trees and the publishers. Of course, we can give a break to some bored NYTimes book reviewers too.

Reading to be a Writer

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

God knows I want to write more. This blog has been virtually haunting me everyday to do so.

Of late, I have been reading more and practically stopped writing. Except, of course, writing at work. Which doesn’t count in my books as the same writing in this blog.

Perhaps it was the haunting or an intuitive attraction to certain books, I have been heads down reading books about writing. Two of them I highly recommend for anyone, who first wants to read good books, and second, have tender hopes to write – even if its in private.

As it usually happens, I stumbled upon during my usual wanderings in the library, a fantastic book by Francine Prose’s “Reading Like a Writer” (A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them). I ended up overwhelmingly proud of myself for finding this book, rather serendipitously, that I just ordered a used copy of this book to own for life. She dissects some of her favorite books and authors on how they have chosen and written certain words, sentences, characters and story lines. Prose, herself a versatile writer, takes a back seat as a humble reader, to bring to light some of the fascinating writings across English literature. I, for one, have not even heard of most of the writers she mentions. That’s a blessing and curse. Why Curse? May be that’s harsh, but I curse myself because I don’t have the breadth of reading to know many of them. Every writer she brings forth is typically an accomplished person, but one must be a omnivorous (I picked up that word from her book!) reader to have come across all of these authors. Why Blessing? Indeed, because now I know who I can read if I ever run out of books to read. But, hold on, running out of books to read? that ain’t happening baby!

The second book is one I own and go back to every so often. Especially when the demon in me occasionally shows up in deep sleep, only to remind me that all I can do is read, read and just read even more but can’t get my ass to write more! I have previously written about William Zinsser. His most popular book, On Writing Well, is worth every dollar (though you can buy a used one for pennies!) not so much for writing instructions but to be a constant reminder that simple writing and especially writing well, is absolutely doable, be it painful. See, Zinsser is not one of the greatest writers, but he is one of the common, but good writers who exactly reinforces my confidence that I can be one too. If you are interested, Zinsser writes a weekly blog, “Zinsser on Friday”.

I want to write, simply for the purpose of expressing myself in a simple yet coherent way. Besides, as both Zissner and Prose constantly remind throughout these two books, writing well is all about rewriting. It’s not about writing more. It’s not about writing with fashionable and Shakespearean words. It’s about writing and rewriting and immersing ourselves in the pleasure of toying with simple words and sentences, literally crafting it, to get the point across in its most economical, smooth and simplest way.

On the other hand, Prose’s book at times made me wonder how in the world could someone come up with such fantastic writing. She brings to our attention writings by Samuel Johnson, that is so good to the extent of wiping off all my confidence that even I can craft great sentences. I mean, seriously, Samuel Johnson must have been a genius, if he naturally had the flair for such writing.

Here is a glimpse into fantastically crafted paragraph from The Life of Savage, By Samuel Johnson

It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe.

To be clear, I didn’t completely understand the entire meaning in one pass. I must have read it a few times before I digested his point. Perhaps, I am not used to this type of sophisticated 20th century writing, but, every time I read, I pause on certain places, just to wonder about what must have gone through his mind when he wrote those words – “splendour of their rank”. To imagine writers of past have hand written or typed all their writings is unfathomable. I am only glad I didn’t have to hand write my writings – would absolutely end up with no hope for any aspirations to be writer.

Writing one blog at a time

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Writing a blog should be about expressing my opinion in an authentic voice – initiating a conversation with myself and of course, readers. It is not about finding the right topic or spending twice the time to “edit” the writing or censoring the thoughts before they show up on screen.

OK – I think I understand.

But the laziness comes from different directions. Having no readership is no incentive to anyone, though it shouldn’t stop me from writing. We all start from zero. But that is beside the point, I do seem to have some readership already, I have to presume they are real people and not search engine crawlers.

Or does it matter? See how I find excuses?

The habit of not following through on the ideas is possibly due to fear of imperfection. Perhaps, I have lost faith in my own capacity to form sincere opinions – let alone express them in writing – forget being able to write perfectly. I seem to have this unwritten expectation that what I write should of highest quality. Truth is I need to acknowledge that I am just another one of the millions writing through blogs and that I should simply write for myself and for the love of writing.

The biggest negative is, interestingly, the insatiable curiosity to read and read and…read, anytime, regarding any topic that catches my attention at the moment. iPhone and Google has only made it worse. I search and read about things so far and wide that if Google were to profile my searches, they could classify it as either ‘mindless’ or ‘cosmic’! Of course, this doesn’t help a bit because I seem to trade the time I could be writing to reading one more thing. Much of the reading is helping expand my awareness, which in itself won’t be of much use – or is it?

On the other hand, I do have a burning desire to write. This is the nutty part of this whole struggle. The desire is at a point where it’s equally pushing down on my procrastinator and mental naysayer – but unsuccessful. Ideas run through my mind all the time on what I could write about. It is as if I sit in imagination to write and hit a block and give up. The imagination reassures that I don’t need to waste time in real. Even if I end up writing the full blog in my imagination, it somehow seems to extend beyond that time frame to indicate the blog isn’t that great a writing. Another reassurance to go do something else – may be read about inability to write a blog or something!

In the end, I get it. This is a battle with my own psyche. Nothing will help unless I let desire to write raise up. No amount of reading matters, unless I let a few words down the hand into this laptop – to make up one blog at a time.

The silly part is this is my 350th post!

You want to write? want to learn it short and quick?

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

The recent edition of American Scholar magazine published William Zinsser’s succinct instruction on how to simply write well in English. I always look out for good writing habits and this article does a fine job of boiling it down to simple principles. For those bored of reading books on writing skills and sick of struggling to write well, this article should help immensely. It was targeted to international students at Columbia School of Journalism, but I find it applicable to just about everyone with a desire to toy with writing.

It’s really hard to write well because it’s really easy to write garbage.

I just made that sentence up as I type and I would be stunned if nobody ever said that before!!!