Monday, January 11, 2016

Eventually - I write

Writing is a passion that one develops when one starts reading, especially at a young age. There is something about being able to transport others into situations of your making and involving them in the lives of characters from your imagination that is incredibly exciting. The problem, though, is that making a living from writing is as incredibly tough and the idea of starving in a garret for the sake of your art is not really attractive to everyone.

In 1980, when I had just completed school in India, there were only two options for relatively certain employability – Engineering or Medicine. There were not too many seats available in either stream and getting admitted into a college to study either was a cause for celebration. Having managed to get admitted to study Chemical Engineering, I would have needed to be one of three things to turn it down and pursue a course in creative writing. I should have been the son of a wealthy father – which I was not. Or, I should have had confidence verging on delusions of grandeur in my abilities to make a living from writing – which I did not possess. Or, I should have had the delusion that I could substitute thin air (and a passion for writing) for food – which eluded me.

Working as a trainee in a fertilizer plant after graduation taught me that my metier lay elsewhere. The epiphany struck me on a day when a valve was damaged and everyone concerned rushed immediately to bypass the valve and save the reactor from imploding. Being particularly gifted in orienting myself geographically, I could see myself – under similar circumstances in the future - running around in circles and crying piteously, “Valve! Valve! Where is the valve?” I somehow suspected that this may not quite be the picture of the intrepid, efficient engineer that companies were eagerly seeking. A more immediate reason for seeking a change of job arose when my digestive system started acting up due to the abnormal changes in meal timings enforced by working on shifts.

The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore must have seen students coming in starry eyed with very many differing ambitions but, I daresay, very rarely would one have come in with the unique ambition to change over from a shift-based job to a regular 9-5 one. Merely to ensure that odd work timings never again ruined my digestion, I took up financial management. Those were more benign days when derivatives and the like had not yet made their entry, especially in India, and it was unlikely that someone would urgently need me to make a ledger entry in the middle of the night.

As it happened, I spent a long sixteen year period working in the area of costing and fertilizer subsidies. I was reasonably successful – and the reason why I felt I was successful was that I managed to save enough to meet my modest needs and quit at 41 years of age to pursue my original love – Writing. There I was, master of my time and free to write but, suddenly, reluctant to do so. Writing, as in all the arts, is a process of opening yourself out to strangers and seeking their approval for your work. As an author, the only way you know you have done a good job – or that you even have the ability to do a good job – is when others tell you so. The first time you write you cannot help being full of self-doubts. The thought of putting out a piece, and having people snigger at the fact that you even thought that you could write, was daunting. Years of writing “With reference to your letter dated…” is certainly no great training for writing the next big thing in thrillers.

I ducked the issue by taking up trekking. Huffing and puffing up the Himalayas and stumbling through the thickness of the Deccan jungles seemed much more fun than getting snagged in a thicket of words. The urge to write, though, was not easily evaded. I tried to satisfy it in a less dangerous fashion by writing pieces – primarily humour – in this blog “Life is Like This”. It just would not let me be. A short story published in a collection in India only whetted the appetite.

Then , came a collection of three crime novelettes – Sirens Spell danger – of which one was penned by me and the others were written by a couple of friends - Radha Sawana and Karthik L. Now having become a complete addict, I have come out with a satirical novella – A dog eat dog-food world.

The one lesson I have learnt is that age-old clich̩ РIf you want to write, Write; do not just talk about writing. If I had done it when I was far younger and more used to being inept at everything, finding out that I could not write worth a lick would only make me feel that I had made a misstep. Listening to harsh criticism would have seemed more the norm since, in those days, I was listening to criticism about everything else as well and was inured to it. Starting at 50 is more painful. If you really do not have it, everyone who reads you feels that you are such a fool for not learning what you could and could not do even after living for so long. Criticism sounds much harsher since you have reached a stage when you do not get to hear too much of it. (Being single is also a help Рno spouse to keep reminding me of my multitudinous shortcomings).

Yet, I have written and shall continue to write till I am convinced by others that I cannot write worth a lick. If that is true I would, of course, prefer to be told, “I am sure you did your sums wonderfully well. So, do not get too upset by the fact that you are incapable of stringing together a readable sentence” rather than a stark, “If you thought you could write, maybe you need to change your shrink.”

Living is all about trying to do what you want to do. A loser is not one who tries and fails but one who admits defeat without trying at all. Having wanted to write all my life, I feel good that I have, eventually, tried.

34 comments:

  1. And that wasan honest post. A reminder to Trishankus like me. I haven't read your books yet, but I am definitely going to include them in my TBR list for 2016. Good luck, Sir?

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    1. My posts are normally honest Rekha :) Only they are rarely personal, as this one was. Thanks

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    2. Oh...I didn't mean it that way, Sir! :-)

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    3. I never thought you did, Rekha! Sometimes I cannot resist pulling a person's leg on an ambiguity in the way something is written. :)

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  2. Your writing is amazing and I am glad you are pursuing your passion....whatever time you have spent on something else definitely provides fodder for this passion doesn't it? You are doing what is close to your heart be it trekking or writing....thats inspiring Suresh.... Good luck... :)

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    1. Thanks Jaish! I never really did anything where I thought I would let down others who may depend on my performace - THAT was the only reason that dragged me into doing things that I was not keen on doing, other than the need to eat :) Otherwise, I have generally followed my heart.

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  3. Once again you've done it....innocuously writing a piece like this, that tugs and makes you ponder! I think I am feeling quite inspired after reading this....to get moving with what I only dream about! Thanks for sharing these wonderfully candid yet motivating thoughts!

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    1. THAT's the most satisfying thing for me to hear, Kala! Always aspired to write in a manner that 'made you laugh and made you think' :)

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  4. This is the stuff. Oh how it resonates!

    There's that song that Rod Stewart sang - I wish that I knew what I know now; when I was younger.

    The drug-addled old fella meant something else altogether, of course.

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    1. Hahaha! I knew what I wanted to do, even as I was passing out of IIM, for that is where I decided I would not work beyond 40. What I did not know, of course, was whether I had the talent. Sometimes, you end up having the fire but not the fuel :)

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  5. This piece struck a chord ! Facing a similar situation myself and feeling utterly confused !

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    1. Life IS like that. You need to keep making decisions even when you lack information about the path ahead.

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  6. Not many enjoy the joy of writing and the fun of trekking. So keep balancing both- woods and words.
    Wish you more of both.

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  7. totally resonates with me, Suresh. I guess I have followed the same path as yours, though not exactly, but after all the rigors of the corporate world, I'm glad I found what I wanted to do, and that is -write. A book is definitely in the head, but when it happens, is to be seen.

    What age you start, hardly makes a difference, you (we) at least started, more than 99% of the people never take that call- to do what their heart wants then to do.

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    1. True Shubhangi! Some do not even know what they want, others do not have the courage to pursue it.

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  8. A very different post from the ones I have generally read on your blog, but equally honest and enjoyable. While the main message of the post is really important, esp for writers and wannabe writers, I somehow found another gem lurking in this writeup quite interesting - "Those were more benign days when derivatives and the like had not yet made their entry, especially in India, and it was unlikely that someone would urgently need me to make a ledger entry in the middle of the night." Now, that's quite a comment on the way things work today in finance industry :)

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    1. Yes, Beloo! I am a finance MBA and, intellectually, all these derivatives and the like give me great pleasure. The problem with them, though, is the problem with most social systems. There are always people whose only aim is to misuse the system. Also, after a level of complication we lose any control over such systems and become hapless victims of them, with no clue about how to sort out the problems created by them.

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  9. This is quite a different post from you, Suresh. I missed the usual satirical tone, but I must say, these are not your words only as many of us can resonate with it. Writing just for the sake of it and enjoying the process, I dream of such a day.

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    1. I rarely write personal posts, Maniparna! Sometimes, though,...

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  10. Suresh, I just blog hopped..and here I am. I am glad I right clicked to check your blog's most recent post. It was totally worth it. This post was straight from your heart, it connects the reader with the little dream he or she has. A dream they can live and realize it is never too late.
    It must be a proud and content feeling to have at least tried. I haven't read your books yet but read the reviews for both on Amazon-they look so promising. They go in my TBR list.. :) Will let you know when I finish.
    Also, your post was really motivating. Thanks for sharing glimpses from your journey of being a writer. Making choices, decisions is not always easy.

    Nice read.. :) All the best and congratulations!

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    1. Thanks, Megha! To be in touch with your dreams, to have the will to try for them...

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    2. More than will, I feel it is the courage and faith in our dreams that helps us realize them! :)

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    3. It depends on how you understood will. The will to choose a path - does it get forged without courage and faith? :)

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  11. You write so well.. It is so inspiring to read about your journey.. Congratulations on being able to live your dream ..

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  12. Ah, an honest memoir. Interestingly written and I am sure it will resonate with many readers here. Enjoyed reading it. :)

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  13. Great work, man! Nice to see some one pursuing the ambition of their life.

    All the very best to you. Do share your novel links so that we (SPIC EMSXII batch) could possibly read it (buy it?).

    Shantha Kumar

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    1. Aha! My room-mate of the SPIC days! The links are there in the post, Shanthakumar. Click on the names of the books and it will open the link.

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  14. Great post Suresh ! And I envy you. To be able to quit and lead the life you wanted to, is not something all can do. Forget about even being able to plan for it. Your not being married and saddled with the responsibility of kids is a big plus. It's great that you are following your passions and going where your heart led you.

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    1. Greater by far was the realization that my heart had not misled me :)

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  15. A nice insight into you the person. In a way, you have followed your heart. A lot of people would love to pursue what they really want to do. Only some are lucky enough and persistent to achieve that. It's wonderful, really! I hope you always continue to derive pleasure from writing.

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