Friday, April 21, 2017

An Ode to the Written Word

The time was 5:16 am.  I was in deep slumber yesterday when the rather unpleasant din from my alarm shook me up a little.  Yes, I do have my superstitions.  My alarm times have to add up to 12.  No, that is not my lucky number.  It was my grandpa’s.  Please don’t ask me to rationalize.  I already said it – it’s a superstition!  So, I walked downstairs to my kitchen, opened the blinds and saw that it was quite perfect for an early morning jog.  After doing my yoga, I was putting on my socks and shoes to head out.  Next to my chair, I noticed the latest edition of TIME.  On the cover was a picture of the enterprising COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg.  Next to her profile picture were the words, “Let’s talk about grief.”  Grief.  It is a topic that I don’t take for granted.  I could hazard a guess that it was about the loss of her husband (who had passed away at the age of 47).  I wanted to read it right then.  But I equivocated for a few seconds – do I want to read that article?  Or, do I want to go out running?  I chose the latter because I have a certain fondness for the orange sky in the mornings.  But even as I stepped out, I did not turn on my iPod, as is my wont.  As the tea was brewing in the kitchen, so were my thoughts around the headline that I had just seen.  I asked myself, “How does a person like Sandberg, who has such a pivotal role to play in one of the most game-changing companies on the face of earth, balance work and personal life in the wake of a tremendous tragedy?”

By the time I had returned, I sat down, with my chai in hand, to read the article.  I had the answer to my question: Sandberg threw herself back into work, while not being oblivious of her grieving experience.  There was one line in the article that was poignant and eloquent in equal measure – “Dying is not a glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature.”  Yes, that is true – it’s just that this “feature” features in certain systems way before it should or when we are least expecting it.  This is one operating system that has no consistency across units, no reliability and no testing that could make it foolproof!  The fault therein lies in the inventor, I mused.  But my point (finally!) is that the written word made me pause, reflect and it made me…write!  Let me elaborate…

The first non-fiction book that I read was Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” back in 2008.  Up until then, I had written a few short stories and several movie reviews.  But I had never written much about things that meant something to me, things that bothered me or things that I wanted to be.  It was in the summer of 2010 that I read Sheena Iyengar’s “The Art of Choosing.”  Pausch (who passed away in 2008) and Iyengar have since then become the two great influences of my life.  Not only did they inspire me in certain enduring ways – Pausch for making me focus on the right things professionally and personally, Iyengar for making me prioritize in ways that I had scarcelyimagined – but they also inspired me to get inspired!  I realized that the wider I opened my eyes and put on the lens of perspective gifted to me by different writers (be it bloggers, critics or book authors) that the world, starting with that person in the mirror, could be seen differently.  I also realized that by writing about people like Iyengar (who was the first in my “Inspirations” series), that I was fleshing my thoughts better and making it personal.  That is why after every book that I read, I allow myself a period of rumination instead of going to the next book.  I let the book sink in and see what else I can learn from it and execute on at home or at work.

When I write non-fiction, it typically falls into two categories – film related or about topics or people that mean something to me.   When it comes to analyzing films, I usually have my thoughts fleshed out in my mind prior to writing a piece – my write-ups are just my expressions of reaction, be it awe (“Rhythm”), admiration (“Kaatru VeLiyidai”) or sometimes, just plain irritation (“Kandhasamy”).  But when it comes to, say a person, a book or an area of personal interest (such as talent management) that I want to write about, the writing begins, the thoughts follow.  When I am lucky, the thoughts become epiphanies. (At least, to me they are epiphanies!)  One of my articles which had a bit of a therapeutic value for me was my piece on grieving that I wrote following my Aunt’s passing away last year.  I started the piece knowing that I just wanted to vent about my grief but by the time I ended it, I had, to an extent,  come to peace with myself.  My last line of that piece went, “The show is over.  But the highlights will continue to play...”  It is a line that I am glad that I wrote.  Because it helps me reconcile to the fact that I will see my Aunt only in my mind’s eye, for the rest of my life.  (Now you know why Sandberg’s piece made me perk up yesterday even before the sun did.)  And it is my hope that people that read my pieces – especially the non-film related ones- walk away with something that makes them think or even smile.  Also, the best part of the blog sphere is that the traditional one-way communication from an author to a reader has transformed into a dialogue between the two.  And that dialogue is a gift that keeps on giving.  And I must thank those that engage, sometimes indulge, me in that two-way conversation.

As I look back, the written word – both mine and that of others - has been a lock that has offered closure on certain issues; it has been a key that helps me unlock certain mysteries – such as theism- that I can't necessarily solve but at least appreciate and accept the complexities of.  It has been the foundational stone of friendships that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.  And it has been a pillar that has sometimes supported my drooping shoulders.  So, with this write-up, I profusely, sincerely thank writing itself!


Anonymous said...

Life must go on....

Rekhs Hc said...

awsm as awsm can be ram
i agree
diff ppl cope with grief differently
but getting bk to the vortex of work
numbs the mind i am sure
at least till we are able to cope with it
my dotr's cat died and i have no idea
how to console her
while she accuses me of being an insensitive amma:(
when i told her practically
move on and get another cat!
i meant well tho!!
continue thinking aloud

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : I read this yesterday straight off the bat.

Then I waited.....

I went jogging all of 2.8 kms today and ran the article in my mind and realized I'd missed lots of things especially the latter part.

I read it again today...slowly.

I never ceased to be amazed at your sleight of hand in being able to write light, "fix"y stuff about crass things such as films and then switch to topics requiring deep exploration and introspection.

You've triggered certain circuits.

Like my attending a public speaking course while doing CA.
I was more interested in the pretty young thing five years older than me but who didnt look a year over sixteen.

There was a gimmick we were taught ( I forget its name) wherein you grab the attention of the audience right away.

The mention of Sheryl Sandberg falls in that category.

It appears Death is an equal opportunity feature - it doesnt know that you are CEO of Facebook.

Another was an article by a lady writer in Readers Digest who insisted that one wake up at 4 am in the morning and do nothing but give that hour to God.

You can hear the hum of the fridge , and feel the Divine presence and when the orange sun comes up you feel a surge of joy. She did it right through happy times and sad times and it pulled her through.

There are other memories but they are too numerous.

I loved the mention of writing being both a lock and a key.....a key to new friendships and the entire article (but I should read it again)

Hey Ram ! Thanks Ram !

ravishanker sunderam said...

Read it again just now.

Superb !

Its the ease with which you write on topics which look like they are heavy going is definitely your mojo.

I remember when we were teenagers my dad attended a lecture by Shri Parthasarathy the Vedanta, Gita exponent and in that lecture he kept stressing on the importance of reflecting.

My dad passed on the 'gyan' and then he asked us"So what should you do ?"

We were blank and then he thundered "REFLECT !!!"

Ram Murali said...

Anonymous / Rekhs / Ravishanker - thank you all for your comments.

Rekhs - I am sure you daughter realized that your intent was to console her. So, don't worry :)

Ravishanker - I laughed out loud at your "REFLECT" comment - I could see my father and I having that kind of a conversation, except that I would be the one thundering that way!

Kousalya Murali said...

Ram-The piece about throwing yourself to work is what I did naturally when calamity hit us last year-it is so true-death does not warn us in most cases especially when it snatches away good people far before their time. I was at my laptop the next day finishing up the month end close as I knew the office needed me although they were so nice as to not expect me to work after such a catastrophe.
Yes-Writing is therapeutic, puts things in perspective and I love the way you are able to internalize and share with people close to you. This is a big service. Keep it up and I am ever proud of the good human being you have turned out to be.

ravishanker sunderam said...

I guess that makes Mrs.Murali and myself creatures of the same fraternity....Shattered Accountants