Life is Beautiful

The turf may appear rough,
It might be difficult to pierce the gruff,
But when you do go beyond it,
And fight till the end with sheer grit,
You’ll find,
Life is still beautiful,

Your heart still bleeds,
She has gone it is hard to believe,
But you keep that hope of her return afloat,
Hold her smile deep in your thoughts,
The wait will define,
That the life is beautiful.

You had a cord,
That held your life,
You clung to it,
With all the might,
You blinked and the cord snapped,
Making you fall in a winded trap,
You thought you met your end,
As you dashed to a ghostly descend,
Until you heart detested accepting the fate,
And it found a path for your escape,
Then you realized,
Depending on that string was so wrong,
You had to expunge bereavement and stay strong,

When you come to terms with self,
Then life remains always beautiful.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Reverie

It was a reverie
A canvas daubed with your memories
Now awoke to bitter actuality
I am discerned of your abrupt evanesce
And that withered hope of your appearance
Is dwindling away with the passing time
Knowing I couldn’t mend it
Making my heart bereaved of your endearment

But not the soul
Never deprived of your thoughts
Though our time was short-lived
The reminiscence enough to cherish forever
Your impressions still fresh from yesterday
For the times when I am alone
To bring that occasional smile
Drifting me to a reverie
Where I can live with your memories.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Writing About Situations

Often writing challenges authors with the classic paradox of situation description. How much is enough to aptly describe a plot surroundings is a debate amongst writers for a long time?

It can be the house the protagonist is approaching or a barren land the lead person is traversing on. Storytelling often needs readers to appreciate the plot’s backdrop. The settings, in a subconscious way, adds a realness to the narration.

While undoubtedly describing the context enhances the recount, overdoing or writing too little takes the shine away from tale-telling. Maintaining a fine balance differentiate a good writer from the crowd. In this post, I will share my experience about the usage of setting description. This is solely based on the learnings I harnessed while writing my first book, and by no means a scholarly advice. Please leave your suggestion, ideas, and thoughts in the thread below to enhance the learnings.

Consider the following situations

  1. You are describing a chasing scene. Your protagonist is on the run, trying to escape from some goons. You want to make the situation appear intense and nerve wrecking, with the readers gaping to know what happens next.  So how should you orient your narration? Should your sole focus be on the characters or should you attempt explaining the terrain as well?
  2. The protagonist is meeting someone for the first time in a house. Assume it is an important meeting that will reveal part of the suspense you have built thus far in your story. The protagonist is approaching the house. Should you focus on the conversation between them or should you also find space in your writing to describe the house location, surroundings, and interiors?

Before I provide my point of view for the above situations, let me explain the ground rules I follow in my writing:

  1. Building A Plot:  when building a plot describing the surroundings is extremely important. You want to ensure your reader is consumed in your fictitious (or non-fictitious based on the genre of your story) diegesis as if they are living through it.  What is the shade of weather? Is there any semblance of weather to the character’s state of mind? What about the place? Is it an urban location or a desolate scene? What about the people? Is the place crowded or an isolated location in a faraway place? In developing a plot describing the character’s surroundings is extremely crucial to get your reader’s attention.
  2. Character’s Thought Process: sometimes your story’s character is in constant battle with his/her mind about a past incidence or situational circumstances. In such settings, the debate between competing thoughts is more important than the surroundings the character is in. If the writing gives more weight to the character’s milieu than the battling thoughts your protagonist is going through, there is a high probability your readers will get disengage. In such situations giving importance to character’s perturbations should take the center stage and everything else should either be ignored or kept to bare minimum.
  3. Chasing scenes:  chasing scenes are usually the most difficult ones to explain. While on a run the surroundings play an important role, providing too many details can make the chase appear pale. Chasing are gripping and fast-moving. At every turn, there is despair for some and hope for few. The thumb rule I follow is to keep the surroundings’ explanation enough to be enticing. Oscillate between the character and everything else to keep the reader engaged and intrigued.
  4. Traveling to a new place: when the character, particularly the protagonist, is traveling to a new place. Take some time to describe the place. It always helps the reader to settle down with the new ambiance and help flow into the new dimension that your story is submerging to. However, ensure that the description of place compliments the character’s thought process. Avoid providing excruciating details of the place, unless it is required for the setting, otherwise, you may lose your reader’s interest.

I took help of the above scenarios to provide my perspective of writing about situations. The list by no means is exhaustive, but are select few to help explain my thoughts. Let us now revisit the two situations I outline in the beginning of my post:

  1. Chasing Scene: “The road was deserted. Not a soul was visible and the desolate afternoon was occasional battered by the roar of the passing wind. Amanda was running with all her might, unaware how far away the goons were from her. At times she was tempted to take shelter in the random patches of brier that kept appearing in a haphazard way across the desolate road.  But every time the thought occurred she decided otherwise. For the hope of finding a passing soul for her rescue was tempting enough than the respite of any temporary shelter.” As you can see I blend the surroundings explanation with the chase. The circumstantial navigation details are important, but so is the character’s state of mind.
  2. The protagonist in a house: “The house was standing alone dilapidated. The wrought iron gates were rust ridden and almost in the verge of giving away the long-standing guard, it braved over time. The ghostly appearance of the house had an uncanny eerie as if welcoming Amanda with a wicked smile. Reluctantly she pushed the gate and it broke the silence with an awkward squealing noise. It was a tall metal door. Though the house was in shambles, the access to the abode was guarded as if it was a bastion. She knocked the door. No one appeared.  She knocked again. The silence continued. The intensity of her knock kept increasing with every passing minute, but the door stood there inquietude. A sense of dejection loomed her. Frustrated, she turned away from the door asphyxiated and exhausted, when a slow cracking noise surged back the diminishing hope with extreme urgency. She turned around and saw an old frail figure appearing from behind the guarded door.” Another example of leveraging the surroundings to enhance the character’s approach to a situation. When the protagonist enters the house – probably you can more focus on the conversation and the characters.

Hope you find the blog useful. I will eagerly wait to learn from your experiences as well. Leave your thoughts and comments in the discussion box below.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Keeping Humanity Alive

Not too long ago I was on a Trans Atlantic flight to Hong Kong. To beat the evening traffic I started early and reached airport way before time. I found a quiet place and remained indulged in reading a half read fiction book, intending to finish it before boarding. My sitting area was right next to the customer service desk. The line was not long. There were three people waiting for their turn, while two agents were servicing customers. The agents were taking a long time to resolve whatever issue the travelers had. I presumed re-routing passengers on missed flights would be a complex phenomenon.  Soon, I lost interest in the book and dawdled into observing the people waiting for their turn to get served.

Most of the passengers looked asphyxiated and ruffled except for one person. He was last amongst the three in the queue and looked calm as he patiently waited for his turn. He was smartly dressed and appeared to be in his mid-thirties. About half an hour passed by and the agents thus far had dealt with only two customers.  Before the agents could call upon the next in the line, there was a sudden surge of anxious travelers joining the line. The queue which was just three people long was now extended to over 10+ people.

The first to join the existing line, next to the neatly garbed gentleman, was a lady.   She looked tormented and appeared extremely fidgety. Looking at her I could sense that if she failed to get help soon, she would break down. I presumed she must have missed her connecting flight and was desperate to avoid getting stranded at the airport. The lady had a conversation with the person in front of her, presumably asking him to let her go first. The gentleman allowed her to go in front of him. And then I saw him coming out of the line. I was baffled. He was waiting for more than 30 minutes.  Why would he leave the line when he was so close to getting to the agent?

My curiosity got the best of me and I couldn’t refrain from approaching him. I introduced myself and imposed my question with a clear hint of bewilderment in my voice. He smiled and answered,  “I was on the line to explore my options of getting an upgrade. When I learned that the people behind me missed their connecting flights and are trying to get on another plane to avoid staying at the airport overnight,  I realized my problem was trivial as compared to theirs.”

I smiled and thanked him for keeping humanity alive.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Because I have You

I am not afraid of any stormy night,
When the wind bellows dreadfully,
And lightning cracks the pitch-dark skies.

Nor I fear the thunderous squall,
When the waves crash ghastly,
Bringing everything under its impassive thrall.

It is not that I am brave,
Or a gladiator who can avert a stave,
Nor I have any magical span,
Or belong to some mysterious clan.

If you ask me what makes me take such bold strides,
The reason is simple, for I have you by my side.

In every spark of that lighting, I see your smile,
Every boisterous squall I find your beguile,
And when you are there in every shape of life,
Why should I fear from any stormy night?

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Finding The Right Words

As an aspiring author, one of the most tedious jobs I invariably face is to find that one word, which can express my writing in the most desirable way. How I always avoid getting entangled in those long-winded sentences and attempt to express my thoughts in few select verse.

Let me explain this with an example. I am sure you remember the distinct smell of mud after the first rain. That pungent smell that is so hard to explain, but it lingers on your mind. You can feel it but struggle hard to express it in words. Well, there is a word for it – it is called Petrichor. Will it not be cool to use this word in your writing. Something like,

“You are the raindrop that meddlewith soil,
petrichor raising gently making my heartto moil, 
The colors of rainbow defines your being,
You are a free-spirited anima with a soul that is clean.”

So how do you get such words in your treasure trove? Let us explore

Read voraciously, but with a twist – we all know the best way to become a better writer is by becoming an even superior reader. But reading alone is not enough. To become a good writer you need to exhibit some discipline in reading. Here are few things I religiously do

  1. Select books on the genre you are writing on. Reading the same genre helps in not only understanding how the plots are built, but also to appreciate the author’s choice of words.
  2. While reading, as you come across a difficult word or a word that gets your attention, note it down. Look them up in the dictionary, understand what it means.
  3. Noting the words is not enough though. We are not wired to remember everything that comes to us. So put them in practice. How? Learn what parts of speech the word is. Create your own sentences. Implement it. Experiment it. The more you use them, higher the chance of you using them in your writing.

It is not easy to read a book with such constraints. It takes much longer to finish, and at times may break the excitement of reading. Particularly if the book is interesting. But who says writing is easy.

Thesaurus – a boon or curse: Writing has become much easier than before. Tools like Microsoft Word gives ready access to word banks. While synonym does help, blind use of the same will make your writing look shallow. Here is why

  1. A synonym is a replacement for a word to word. It is not an alternative to a sentence or a phrase.
  2. It is a misconception that using a difficult word makes writing look cool. It is the choice of right words, not difficult that makes writing interesting.
  3. Not all words describe the same situation. Consider the following sentence. “The rescuers marked him alive after the catastrophic storm.”  One of the synonyms of alive is extant. However, “extant” is used more in the context of the existence of documents. So if one chose to use extant instead of alive the sentence will not make sense.
  4. Be careful with the parts of speech. Some synonyms are adjectives. And replacing a noun with an adjective can make your sentence confusing. Consider this. “The fetters clamped him to the ground.” One of the synonyms of fetter is a constraint. However, while fetter is used as a noun in the above sentence, the constraint is a verb. Changing fetters to constraints is not appropriate in the above situation.

So when you use synonym, consider the tense, the parts of speech and enhancement factor before using them.

These are some of the simple, yet powerful ways I have used to enhance my writing. Hope you find it useful. Let me know your thoughts, and if you have few more hidden tricks up your sleeves, please leave them in the discussion thread.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

The Quest For a Disciplined Life

Every single time I  flew the red-eye,  I had failed to get a good reason to justify flying overnight. Today was no different. I was on a red-eye flight from the bay area to Newark. My inability to sleep on a plane led my mind to deep thoughts. There was no one to interrupt, and I wandered on a path of self-discovery.

As I was flying over Chicago for another hour and a half to reach home, the question that I tried to answer was the definition of happiness.  For some time now, I felt happier than ever before. Inspired, I desired to get to the root of what happiness meant. Could it be the wealth one accumulates over a lifetime or a lifestyle that one could afford to buy? Or was it simply the bliss of being surrounded by a loving family? There could be a protracted list and the definition could truly change based on who you impose the question with.

The more I quizzed my mind, the more blurred it became. Probably happiness was the sum of all and more. Or maybe there was no wrong or right answer. However, somehow I was not able to come to terms with my way of defining happiness. I don’t know why? But something appeared missing. And in my quest to get some answers for my unrest soul,  a word of wisdom crossed my mind.

We are affected deeply by the factors that surround us. A bad day at the office could make the jovial kids at home irritating. One may be driving the most luxurious car, but when challenged with family troubles it could hardly give any happiness.  What I realized, our mind was a very complicated machine, it weighs in all the factors surrounding us, and the happiness was merely a quotient of maintaining a perfect balance between the elements that matter most to us.  Our mind wants all the factors to be in perfect rhythm, to feel liberated and happy. Even when one element of our happiness is in disharmony,  other factors get impacted and unhappiness prevails.

Unfortunately, the revelation of wisdom was not an answer to the question I imposed. So what could one do to minimize the impact of externalities and still remain happy? The literary world had lots to offer on this subject. Some defined meditation as the recipe, others claimed to devote oneself to God, and few called for detachment. The list goes on. However, in my opinion, these were easier said than done.

Retrospectively, for the past few years, I had felt more content than I was ever in my life. And when I look back it was not because of success in professional life or my family started loving me more.  So what was it? And after some deliberations and brooding, I concluded that the only change that led to my happy state of mind was my experience with self-discipline.

Three years back, I lived a life that revolved around my job. I used to travel extensively, work on an aggressive schedule, and wanted to maximize the 24 hours that I had in hand. Everything else was secondary, my health (of course I was young, so no health issue), my family, and my recreational expeditions, all took a back seat. It hit me hard when one day after returning home from an official trip my wife stated what my son told the principal of the school she was exploring for his admission. He was three years old and that day he was wearing a T-Shirt with a soccer ball design on it. As my wife was inquiring about the school the principal imposed some casual questions to him:

Principal – So you love soccer?

My son – Yes

Principal – So whom do you play with?

My son – With mom.

Principal – Why not with Dad?

My son – Dad is usually traveling or on the phone.

This single episode changed my perspective on life. I realized how badly I was engrossed in my work, and forgetting everything else that was happening around me. I was aghast and frustrated and I knew one thing for sure – I had to take some action. Here is what I did, which changed me for good.

  • There is more to work in life: We have a beautiful tool at work called calendar – it manages a schedule, reminds promptly of meetings, and of jobs that need attention. On the contrary, we do not have a calendar for life. Besides, the office calendar moves beyond the office boundaries eating into our personal time. The world is more global and people we deal with at work are all over the map, so that results in extending one’s day to oblige different time zones. Before going to bed, we call our team sitting across the oceans to get work done while we sleep, and in the morning we have a meeting to follow up on the same.  I was troubled by the same bug. It was a rat race- and what I failed to realize is how my work had encroached every possible time of the day I was available. I took some action. The first thing I did was to drop the night calls. It was hard to say no at the beginning, but to my surprise, the work was not suffering. Getting time blocked out really gave me the much-needed break in the evening to spend more time with my family. I immediately brought some changes, like taking the kids out to parks and sitting with them to get their homework done. This single change had changed my level of interaction with my family, and I am amazed to learn what they had to offer me back.

 

  • Finding Time for self: Before bringing these changes in my life I was nocturnal – I could work until the wee hours, but never used to get up in the morning. My work not needing me to be there at 9:00 AM sharp at the office was helping my behavior immensely. Human beings are designed to take rest at night and wake early in the morning. When young one could hardly realize it, but with age, it causes serious health issues. As I stopped working in the evenings, with nothing else to do, I started going to bed early. Subconsciously I started doing a great deal of help to my body. Now, as I was sleeping early, I started getting up early – the additional two hours in the morning were all for me. I started pursuing my much-forgotten hobbies. I started writing again and writing code – time forgotten hobbies showed back in my life again.

 

  • Get a grip on lifestyle:  By finding time for myself, I got into exercising and trail biking. I also go biking with my kids whenever schedule permits. I started getting back in shape. I was always a cautious eater, so that problem never required a solution. But now, I had different goals – participating in a marathon or getting that bulging biceps.  Getting a grip on my lifestyle made me more productive at work. I was sharper and my mind was agile.

 

  • Take Time Off: Taking a break from work and getting on a short vacation always helps to recharge and more importantly,  help bond with your family and friends. I now take three short vacations in a year.  And, it was not counterintuitive, as I always came back rejuvenated and charged up for the next challenge at work.
  • Make a time-table – Set Goals: I am a firm believer that we all should set goals and make a plan to achieve the same. The goals could be short-term, mid-term, or long-term – making a timetable brings discipline and that leads to the true art of living a healthy and happy life. Even if one fails in sticking to a timetable, even when we fall short of goals –  never give up on getting a timetable.  Keep revising them, keep making them – soon you will see things would fall into place.

Our minds could be trained, our habits could be controlled – all we need is self-realization and a quest to get the best out of our life.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Half A Mile Sprint

Not too long ago, I had a connecting flight from Charlotte to San Fran. The layover was 30 minutes, and to add to the misery the inbound flight from Newark was exactly 30 minutes delayed.

Upon landing, I rushed to the first available ground attendant who declared that the gate was closed. I pleaded and implored, and the lady took pity on me. The only condition was  I had to make it to the gate in 5 minutes.

I was in terminal B and my connecting flight was from the D terminal – about half a mile away. I sprinted like Usain Bolt and after a good 100 meters, I started panting. I pushed myself changing between dashing and sauntering. After another 200 meters, I was gasping for life. I somehow made it to the plane, half dead. Not sure if my checked baggage showed the same courage.

I finished a movie, caught up on emails and still had another hour to kill.  And then the thought of my wretched self after that fatal scuttle engulfed my mind.  I thought about the sedentary life I chose to live.  Things were different in college days.  I was active – Playing cricket, riding bicycles and the long walks in the evenings with friends. I realized, after stepping into the corporate world,  my agility had eroded.

For the past few years, every December while defining New Year’s resolutions, staying active remained high on the list. Unfortunately, the results were invariably disappointing. As I pondered, my inner self-reflected with a brilliant stroke – I realized in life either you do things out of necessity or for sheer love. If things do not belong to one of the two extremes we tend to move away from our stated goal; mostly in a subconscious way.

The reason I was more active in college was that I was in love with everything surrounding me. The goals were driven by passion and resolutions were a passing thought.  I guess if staying active was a goal I would need the inspiration to drive it, freedom to break away from the shackles of an ostensible life.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

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