Expose Yourself!

As all you regular readers/visitors are aware,  I’ve been unwell for the past 8 days now. But for the sake of blatant self-promotion, I feel obligated to do this post 🙂

I do apologize however for brazen sarcasm and a lack of my usual writing finesse. Somehow, this extended illness, and my ‘ill’ luck of being in Calcutta (rotting in bed without being able to do anything I had planned) has manifested in a complete loss of humility!

Jokes aside though..

For most anything in life, it is probably a good idea to try, before we opine. Many people for instance, who are opposed to non-vegetarian food (not for religious reasons I must clarify) shun it, without having tried it. My point being – unless we EXPOSE ourselves to different experiences, things, places, facets – how will we EVER KNOW what is OUT there?!

That is where the Short Workshop comes in. I’ve been holding them for a while, broadly in the area of Writing & Communications. And I’m delighted to share that my latest one, coming up in December, is at my own favorite Media College in Jaipur – TOSS (The Open Space Society).

Its JUST a week, modestly priced, and will offer you a PERSPECTIVE on Fiction Story Writing. A peek. An insight. An orientation into this enigmatic, fascinating, creative, cathartic world.

Check out the details on the TOSS Facebook Page. And Jaipur, come,

EXPOSE YOURSELF!!!

https://www.facebook.com/events/826801807498239/

Write Right – Myths About Writing!

Writing… That holy grail of creative pursuits and self-expression that to most, is scary, unattainable,  insurmountable. While I am not claiming that it is easy, what I do want to share with all of you, is that the REASONS a lot of us assume it is IMPOSSIBLE, are WRONG!

When I teach Writing, be it at a school, a college, an independent workshop or at home to an individual student; I often come across certain perceptions that have taken hold, and are difficult to shake-off. So to all you budding writers out there, here is my list of MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS about ‘effective writing’

  1. NO FANCY LANGUAGE is NEEDED – There is a common misconception that in order to write a compelling, engaging piece of fiction (especially), one needs to be some kind of Language Pandit. UNTRUE. The point of good writing is not to use big, flowery words. Sure, it helps to have a wider vocabulary at one’s disposal rather than the alternative. Having said that, it is NOT necessary. Many amateur writers become unnecessarily ‘language-lavish’, which, rather than serving the purpose of the story, draws attention and focus away from it!
  2. DEGREE IN LITERATURE – Similar to the earlier point; many people seem to believe that one has to have ‘studied’ the subject (language), in order to write. Sometimes this is also interpreted in a way where people believe that one MUST have ‘read’ lots, to write. Both are UNTRUE again. Sure, reading helps. But like a dear author friend of mine always says, reading too much, cramps his originality!
  3. NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS AROUND ME – In other words, people feel they do not have an engaging enough PLOT; perhaps not realizing that if we were to really analyze a book, a film, a story that we really liked, we will come to the realization that it wasn’t the ‘action’ or the ‘events’ that got us hooked on to that story but rather its primary CHARACTER/CHARACTERS. Great stories are much less about what’s going on ‘outside’, much more about what is going on ‘inside’ a PERSON.

The Skill-Set that is required to become a good writer are completely different from what we tend to assume. And the good news is, with a little discipline, ANYONE can learn them. In an age where everywhere is going visual and there is less and less ‘written word’, a romantic like I can only hope that we as a society do not let the endless creative possibilities and the resultant joy that writing provides, become extinct. Because while a picture might be worth a thousand words, those thousand words are able to ‘paint’ the picture; and that has immense value!

TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

I had the privilege recently of getting to know a very interesting couple in Jaipur. Shilpi and Hitesh Adwani. These photographers/film makers have given birth to a silent but potent movement in the city. Their radical, free-thinking school/college/creative playground, The Open Space Society (TOSS), has quietly begun to make an impact.

The couple, and their ‘society’, has certainly made an impression on me. Though I’d met them some time ago,  I finally made my way to meet the two, at TOSS, earlier today. From what I can understand, it is a space that has no ‘boundaries’. Literal ones aside, just as their mission, to espouse creativity; the space has no limits to what can be conceived and created within its liberating campus. TOSS regularly holds workshops in the broad area of the ‘media-arts & sciences’, be it Photo-Book Making or Theater, conducted by carefully selected, highly qualified & experienced, eminent experts. The school also organizes film-screenings and other events, with a slew of exciting, piping hot offerings always brewing.

I’ve always fancied myself as someone who provides an atmosphere for creativity – Shilpi & Hitesh though, have fashioned a living, tangible reality in TOSS, one that quite literally is a manifestation of their creative-karma! Poised to shortly turn into a state-of-the-art, full fledged Media College offering a slew of courses covering the entire Media Gamut, TOSS has to be seen to be believed. Made entirely from reclaimed materials, the air through TOSS is easy yet inspirational, modern yet traditional. To house, among other things, a one-of-its kind Media Library upon completion (very soon), TOSS will emerge as the definitive Media-Studies & Expression destination.

The couple is ingenious, unorthodox, and quietly eccentric (in my view, and I mean that as a big compliment). Just what the city needs to ‘charge’ up the environment. For the young and the young-in-spirit, The Open Space Society must be engaged with. Because here, they don’t give a TOSS about who you are… rather, what you CAN BE! It is then, really, a delectable TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

https://www.facebook.com/tossjaipur/

The Discovery!

The sun shone bright as a ripe orange on the second morning of Jeff and Karen’s Mediterranean honeymoon. Full of youthful bounce, the couple made its way out of their resort at the edge of the ocean to the tiny main street of their idyllic romantic getaway. Complete with matching straw hats, together atop their bicycle hired from the resort, the plan for the day was ‘exploration’; perhaps not just of their immediate surroundings, but also of themselves as a newly married, united entity. The air filled with giggles of innocence as Jeff complimented his better half on how beautiful she looked, radiant as she was, like the clear blue waters of the beach. They’d even skipped the complimentary breakfast at their hotel and had decided instead, to wind their way riding, and stop at any street-side cafe that would catch their fancy. They shared a uniquely competitive yet friendly banter, more akin perhaps to that of close friends being as comfortable with each other as they were in their own individual skins; than the sometimes awkward atmosphere that the weight of recent marital status brings. Jeff, the IT programer who’d risen quickly through the ranks at Microsoft, steadfast, scientific, his good looks belying the often-quoted ‘geek’ stereotype; went about everything including their ongoing and mutually agreed ‘discovery-of-the-village’ with a cautiously planned approach. Karen on the other hand, a young, up and coming graffiti artist from the trendy Soho area, unabashed, unapologetic, and entirely arbitrary in her ways; compelled Jeff to just “let go” and “be”. As the two lightheartedly quarreled whilst riding they came upon a quaint little eatery and for a change yelled together spontaneously…. “Breakfast”

Karen and Jeff parked their bicycle right outside the cafe, Jeff instinctively reaching out for a lock that didn’t exist, perhaps a result of his everyday routine of riding to his office and having to ensure the safety of his daily-runner. “No need for locks here darling”, quipped an excited Karen, who’d never used a lock a day in her life, no matter where and for what! The duo entered the cafe. The enticing aroma of freshly baked bread and butter wafted through the tiny 10 seater place. At the counter, behind a modest but well stocked temperature controlled show-window that had the most divine looking confections, just a single, familiar-looking, middle aged man, his hands full of dough, smiled at them and signaled by gesture for them to seat themselves and that he’d be with them, momentarily. Karen and Jeff noticed just one more table occupied towards the end of the small space. Curious to see who else had had the same idea as them, especially given this was a village almost exclusively patronized by tourists, they made their way down the other 5 tables to the one at the end. Along the way, they passed the pale yellow, rustic wall of the cafe, dotted sporadically, with black and white pictures that seemed to be of a young man at the beach with his family. It became clear to Jeff and Karen that they were of the same oddly familiar man that had greeted them at the cafe, making it quite obvious that he was the owner. Before they’d settled into this knowledge, they’d reached the end of the cafe to the ‘table’. And as they caught sight of the couple sitting, eating, laughing, enjoying their morning, at the table they’d been curious about… They realized. The couple at the table, was them!

The RATE CARD!

The first time I experienced this phenomena was when a writing project came our way over a decade ago. The client said, “what’s your rate?” Confused, perhaps a bit cheekily, I asked, “rate for what?” Pat came the reply, “per word rate”. Now, I understand that the writing/content industry does often subscribe to ‘fixed rates’. My question though is, should the ‘rate’ for a word such as ABROGATE be the same as it is for IT? And what about ideas? How do we have a ‘rate card’ for those?

The same tends to happen when prospective students come to me to get some one-on-one lessons from me at home. Again, the ‘tuition’ industry in India follows ‘per hour’ rates. Having said that, I am teaching in the age range of 5 – 55! I am often times not teaching any prescribed text/texts or something that exists as a formal subject. I design ALL my study material myself, on an individual, case-to-case basis. This requires immense effort, time, and a deep understanding of each individual’s specific requirements. How then, can I have a ‘rate’?!

Even the vegetable-vendor changes rates according to how he/she perceives the shopper. At least I’m not doing that. My ‘rate’ is based on the amount of time, effort, research, study-material-development it will require on my part.

So let us leave the ‘rate card’ to its intended purpose – for Transport, Hospitality and other services with FIXED valuations; and NOT subject Creativity OR Individuality, to rates!

W’RITE’RS WRONGED!

Until eight years ago, my wife Anuja and I were working with different Media Companies (Production Houses, TV Channels) in Mumbai. Then, merely months into being married, we were both Pink Slipped when the recession hit. The Media Industry was particularly bad, with mass retrenchment and companies either winding off, or laying off almost entire work-forces! That is when the two of us, because we had a fair bit of experience in Writing, decided to become stand-alone, freelance, professional Writers & Content Developers.

To our minds, we had hit upon a brilliant survival-idea. We had a pre-existing network into the Media Industry, and we had both been Writing within our various roles over the years as Directors, Producers and Assistants. This would need NO investment. We’d work from home. And we wouldn’t inform our parents (back home in Delhi or Jaipur)!!  🙂

Then came our first reality check. We were asked by a large corporation (said organization shall remain unnamed) to develop their Website. Now typically we would quote a certain figure for the project with a break-up of Writing/Ideation/Supervisory Fee as one block & Designing Fee as another block. We were shocked to learn that the client, upon seeing our cost break-up, rather nonchalantly said that he’d be willing to spend the money on designing, but would cut the Writing Fee by a 5th!!! Why? Because “kaun toh padhta hai”. Agreed. But where would the ENTIRE ‘idea’ for the website come from? Us of course, which is why it formed an integral part of our ‘writing fee’. Bad luck for that though. It was just fine that any design-software-savvy person (not to take away from the genuinely talented designers that are out there) would be able to create a me-too site by seeing ‘references’ provided by the client! And for that ‘copying’ work, the client was willing to pay, let’s say 1 lac, but not our 30,000 rupee Writing Fee!

This was only the beginning of our brutal initiation into the world of ‘freelance writing’. What we dismissed as a first, one off bad client, turned out, to our horror, to be the norm. We’d write scripts upon scripts for huge television networks for paltry sums of money, and those payments would be made to us, after ‘daily’ follow ups (read phone/email begging and countless physical visits to their accounts departments) 6 months to a year later! So while the on-air talent would be paid, lets say 50,000 per episode, IMMEDIATELY, we’d be waiting for a 50,000 cheuqe for 5 scripts, for a year!

I don’t mean for this to sound like a rant, or ramblings of a frustrated writer. The truth though is, it is tough. We even had to ‘invent’ a Brand and Brand ourselves, just in order to be taken a little more seriously. Even that didn’t work.

I just want to leave you with this thought… If Customer is King (which most clients admit), then shouldn’t the Content, which ought to engage them, appeal to them, appeal them, and ultimately lure them (and that will ONLY happen if it is based on careful study of the target audience and developed on the basis of some real human insights of that target), also be KING? Agreed, hardly anyone reads nowadays. But isn’t an IDEA, or a SCRIPT on which VIDEO content is based, worth something?

I sign off with a video interview that UTV had done with us shortly after our Pink Slips in Mumbai… And urge you, do not WRONG WRITERS. We have VALUE!

JUDGMENT BE DAMMED!

A student of mine recently confided in me. The things he/she shared awakened me to a startling reality. What kind of an environment are we subjecting our children to? The student said his/her peer group at school had boycotted him! Why? Because he failed to solicit the latest model of a cellular phone from his parents, his ‘lesser’ phone, falling a mile short of ‘cool’. To add to these woes, he/she had expressed no plans or desire to prepare for the SAT and subsequently study abroad. This, proved to be the final nail in the coffin! How could this kind of blasphemy be pardoned? Promptly, his ‘uncoolness’ was punished as he/she was struck out of the ‘gang’.

Is it just I who finds this ABSURD? I too attended a school that is sometimes dubbed elitist. I don’t remember being antagonized for who I was and where I came from! Rich or poor, intelligent or average, tall or short, we were ALL the SAME.

It got me thinking. Could this undeniably unhealthy situation be related more to kids’ parents, rather than to the kids themselves? Are we as parents doing the right thing? Instilling the correct values? Being good examples and role models? Or could it perhaps be that we have lost our path? That in our tearing hurry and desperation to demonstrate that we have ‘arrived’, we might have, unwittingly, unintentionally, misguided our children?

I’m not sure. But it is certainly food for thought. In the meantime, don’t we owe it to our children to ensure that we create an atmosphere that is COMPLETELY FREE of judgment? A place, at home and at our schools, where our children aren’t burdened by banal issues like brands & defining themselves through them? A habitat where experimentation, discovery, self-expression are uninhibited and unstoppable?

We grew up in a simpler time, where we were footloose and fancy-free. Shouldn’t we decide for our children’s sake, JUDGMENT BE DAMMED!?