Recently, someone asked me this on Quora, I thought I'll reproduce what I wrote to that question:
Curiosity. Being curious about the things and people around your will lead you to interesting discoveries about them, and eventually yourself. You'll read more, study more and observe more. It will help you step out of your comfort zone and teach you important life lessons. Knowledge gathered in this way, will hopefully make you an expert on some topic or the other and help you earn a livelihood. But all knowledge is limited, and almost all the decisions you make will be based on insufficient data. And you realise this is why great men like, from Socrates to Feynman, have always said ' I don't know'. Because when you say you don't know, you learn. And that teaches you:
Humility. You understand that you are not the be-all and end-all as your ego would have you believe, and that the world doesn't revolve around you or your opinions. And that just like there are people worse than you, there are people better than you. Humility teaches you that the more you know, the more there is to know, so you don't become arrogant. And that when things are not going your way, it doesn't mean that they are not happening the way they should. You learn not to rush and this brings us to:
Patience. Everything takes its own time. The emperor and the beggar will have to wait nine months for the baby. A seed will take its time to become a tree, physical or metaphorical. It will teach you to be gentle with yourself, your loved ones and the planet. It'll make you realise, as sages have said, that the universe is unfolding as it should whether you are aware of it or not. This leads us to wisdom, which will teach us that there are probably more than three qualities you should possess.
On our recent trip to New Zealand which included a visit to Kaikoura where we were lucky to watch four sperm whales, Hector dolphins and the Dusky dolphins, which was a rarity, said our whale watching guide. They know when the whale is going to the Flipper thing, so they tell you to wait and tell you exactly when to press the button as their experience in the business and the elevated seat in the boat gives them the advantage.
She also said something very insightful and true. "See with your eyes, and then take the photos". Seems obvious but ever since we have been given the power to take a photo in our palm, we don't seem to "see" our world through eyes anymore. Everything is seen through a social media likeability lens. See a rainbow? Snap and forget. See a fight? Snap, post and wait for 'likes'. See something cute? Snap.
Don't get me wrong, we need to keep records of what we see to share and treasure them later, especially something rare as a sperm whale. But we don't have to rely on our phone camera all the time, do we? Can't we see the world with our eyes, enjoy the sights, take in the beauty, marvel at Mother Nature's creations and then take a photo?
I know you are supposed to be sparing with the use of exclamation points but if the culmination of a year of writing, rewriting, deleting, trashing, coming up with new story ideas, revising, editing, rewriting doesn't warrant a single !, I don't know what does.
Well, so it's finally here, my second collection of short stories with a twist. It's titled 'The Last Meal on Haight-Ashbury and other short stories with a twist'. Here's a brief description: It takes you from the sixties hung-over Haight-Ashbury to the guilt-ridden mind of a mother who feels relieved over the death of her special child. From the powdery white snows of Kanazawa to the dark, deceitful schemes of an antique dealer. There are tales of an incorrigible Casanova helping a couple on the brink of breaking up and those of a five-dollar bill changing the life of an advertising veteran with twenty years under his belt. A phone call goes awry in Napoli while a grandfather clock may prove to tell more than just time.
I've read it so many times while revising and editing that I feel like Henry Ford, who, when he asked his staff at a board meeting when they were going to stop the campaign for his latest car, was told that they hadn't even started running it yet.
I should thank my wife who went through it with a fine tooth-cliche and made sure I didn't stop at the good enough stage. She probably read it more times than I did during the process of editing.
I did a final check before publishing it to Amazon, it should be live by tomorrow. I've published it on Gumroad which took all of two minutes, you can buy the PDF by clicking the 'Click to buy' on the right-hand side of this page, and also on my other site, www.shortstories.guru.
Hope you like it. Do let me know what you think, your feedback helps. And help spread the word.
"Communication is about being pithy and telegraphic", my eight grade teacher used to tell us while teaching a portion of the Indian epic, Ramayana (the Kamba Ramayana version). "And no one does this better than Lord Hanuman."
When Lord Hanuman came back to Lord Ram and his army after completing his mission to Lanka as a messenger, the first words he uttered were: "Found Sita". Not a word more. Nothing on the numerous hardships and problems he faced on his trip.
A little background to this portion of the story:
Before Lord Ram and his army crossed the ocean to Lanka, they wanted to send a messenger of peace first. Hanuman was chosen and he flew across. On the way, he faced a multitude of problems: a mountain rose hindering his flight; a monster challenged him to enter through her mouth; another fought with him unprovoked and was defeated. On entering the enemy country, he still faced many challenges. He was insulted, ill-treated and was almost executed but spared when the king's brother intervened. Instead of being executed, his tail was set on fire and he was dragged all over the city. But when he flew back to Lord Ram and the army, all he said were those two pithy words: "Found Sita"
"The point to note", said my teacher, "is that Hanuman never once mentioned, not even hinted at all the hardships he faced or how he overcame them. Not even the bit about getting nearly executed. All he said was that he found Sita. Because that was the point of the mission. That was brevity in communication. That was what needed to be said."
Which somehow reminds me what Jonathan Ive said about design in the documentary, Objectified (a must-watch documentary btw): "When you see the indicator come on, I wouldn't expect anybody to point to it as a feature, but at some level I think you are aware of a calm and considered solution that speaks about how you are going to use it, not the terrible struggles that we as designers and engineers had in trying to solve some of the problems".
"All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie", rasps Dylan in Things Have Changed. Which is what Advaita Vedanta alludes to in general. Once you know the rope to be a rope, then the fear of it as a snake disappears. It's not that everything you see in the world is an illusion. It's not that there is no cruelty around, or that people are not killing people, and that there is no violence. It's the wrong identification with the body that gives rise to the sense of reality curated by the five limited senses. As Ramana Maharishi would often remind people, "Did all these occur to you in deep sleep?"
Meaning, all of this came to life with the waking up of the wrong 'I'. We see the world after we open our eyes, the world doesn't come and tell us it exists. In deep sleep, we have no nationality, no religion, no beliefs, no gender, no family, no name, no worries, no anxiety, no plans and we don't even have our body. Yet, we wake up and declare that 'I' slept well. Bhagwan Ramana would ask questioners, "Who is the I that says I slept well and who is the I that has all the problems and questions and doubts?"
Or that's what I understand (that's the trouble with limited knowledge, isn't it?). So all that we think is true, all that we think is the 'snake' is, in fact, a strand of rope.
Kannadasan, the greatest Tamil lyricist of the 20th century who distilled the most profound truths into easily digestible, simple cinema songs, has a similar yet more powerful take on it. In a song titled "Yaarada mandihan ange" (meaning "who is the real man there?") he says, "In laughter, Man isn't. In tears, Man isn't. In his heart, Man isn't. In sleep, man is. Living beast, sleeping god, in between is Man". Brilliant.
It is the Man in sleep who is real. Not the beast that reacts and repents. Not the Man in between two stages who is confused and confounded. It is the Truth that lies behind one Big Lie.
So says one of the graffiti messages in a book compiled by Nigel Rees I found many years ago. It sums up the way the language is heading these days. People don't craft anymore. Nobody seems to spend any time weighing the words before hitting the keyboard. And nobody bothers to check before subjecting innocent members of the public to horrendous misuse of the language.
We grew up writing and rewriting copy, in David Ogilvy style, with his seventeen drafts regime. We were told never to use words like 'That's not all', or 'What's more' to link sentences. Not even in brochure copy. Because that was a lazy way out. We were told that body copy should flow from the headline, linked syntactically and conceptually so it flowed better, with the last line looping back to the headline. We were told to use tactile words, like 'bristle'.
And we studied the work of masters of writing, legends such as David Abbot, Tony Brignull and Tom Thomas among others. In one ad, Abbot had used 'on the contrary' as a paragraph. I spent many days trying to mimic that, and when I was able to, I was so thrilled I drowned that immediately in a few beers.
But not many care for the language or the crafting part of it these days it would seem from what you can see in the newspapers. One could live with laziness, blaming it on the era of smartphones (people still read on their smart devices, don't they?) and short attention span, but what is irking is the total lack of respect for the language (it goes for any language incidentally, not just English) evidenced by headlines such as 'Path your way to success'. Since when is path a verb? You can beat a path, carve a path, create a path but you can't just 'path'. Here are some more examples that I'm sure will irk you too:
Irregardless. It's not a word. It's like saying 'unirrelevant'. It's regardless.
Should of. If you are writing that instead of 'should have', you need to go back to school. Like now.
It's vs its. Its is possessive as in 'the metal has lost its sheen'. It's is a contracted form of 'It is'. If in doubt, use the expanded version, it'll be clearer. Whenever it is sounds wrong, it's quite likely its, if you know what I mean. There are a few good sites that can clear your doubts such as grammar girl. I keep 'Elements of Style' recommended by Stephen King and Fowler's Modern English Usage recommended by my former boss many years ago. You could try these methods if you're between it's and its or discrete and discreet.
Freedom comes with responsibility. I firmly believe that, not just because it was observed by J.K the Indian philosopher, who it seems, if I may point out rather irrelevantly here, influenced the legendary Bruce Lee.
There was a book sometime back slandering the Hindu beliefs and some of its eminent leaders. Some people I spoke to said it was the prerogative of the author to write whatever he or she wanted and it was up to us to not take it seriously. 'Don't let anything hurt your sentiments', I was told.
I disagree. I feel that as an author, especially someone who can influence an audience, however small its size may be, must exercise caution when it comes to sensitive topics. It becomes even more critical when you write about a subject others have little knowledge of, and draw firm conclusions based on what you have to offer (poor souls). You must be responsible and understand that, whether you like it or not, certain things are sacred to certain people, and mindless offence in the name of freedom is just that, mindless.
There is a reason why we don't pee in a restaurant. Nothing is stopping you, is there? You can jolly well go to an expensive restaurant, order a fancy meal, open your zipper, and start peeing all over the table, because, you know, you have paid for the meal and you have freedom, don't you? Or you can routinely abuse everyone and their families you see at work and defend it on the grounds of freedom. But we don't do that, do we?
It's because we are adults. We behave responsibly and try to be sensible beings if not superheros to our kids. Because not everything has to be laid out in the constitution and cast in stone. And who better to explain this than Dave Barry and Dennis Farina?
It occurred to me the other day when I was reminiscing about the beautiful, orange-sun-drenched, all-smiles-no-worries happy days of youth with a childhood friend of mine. About how pure everything was, how nice people were and how peaceful it all seemed then compared to the problems and worries of today.
Then it occurred to me, as I mentioned already, that we tend to look back on the good old days with misty-eyed romanticism and longing mainly because we were not exposed to any of the atrocities happening elsewhere in the world. All the violence and wars, street crimes and starving children, senseless bigotry and unnecessary killings were happening back then just as they are now. The only difference is we, as kids, we not exposed to them. There were no 24-hour channels bringing the guns and gore right into our livingrooms. We didn't even have TVs then in fact. Whether it was the mindless deaths during the Vietnam War or the murder of innocents by blood thirsty monsters posing as dictators in some African country, we read about them in the newspapers. Depending on how serious the national news was, the global atrocities either made it to the front page or they didn't. Even then, we, as school-going kids, didn't bother to read about them, especially when there were cricket matches involving the Indian team.
Priorities and exposure. These decide how you look back on your growing-up years. It's not that people were not getting killed or that children were not going hungry, it's just that we had our minds focused on passing the next exam. We didn't have to worry about where the next meal was going to come from. We didn't have to work to feed and clothe us. We were kids, so we were shielded from the unnecessary harshness of reality by our parents. Everything was just as it is now. Granted things have become more violent and senseless on a more frequent basis with every bullet fired landing on your dining table but essentially not much has changed.
Perhaps that's what fogs up our perspective and tints out glasses a lovely shade of rose when we look back on the good old days. Ah, those were the days, weren't it?
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This is about writing (mine and my favorite authors'), and e-publishing. Hope you find it useful. You can click on the covers below to read excerpts and purchase my ebooks.
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