While editing a blog on my website, I noticed to my surprise that I had been blogging and writing for ten years! And I have so far published eight hundred blog posts. Not too bad, What say you?
I published my first blog post on 13th June 2008. Later, on 6th May 2009 I started another blog where I wrote mainly on Employee Relations or HR subjects.
This journey was not smooth as the numbers indicate. It all began with my job!
My employers used to publish a magazine in Marathi which was devoted to education of workers. I was saddled with the responsibility of editing it. It created a fear of ridicule in my mind than excitement. I enjoyed writing, but writing an article or editorial which would be read by my colleagues was not my dream – I feared ridicule while having lunch or travelling to and fro work. Moving from [Marathi] vernacular medium of instruction in school to English in college was a big and disruptive change for me. I could understand English but writing, more than that conversing in English, was a huge problem. There were students who had studied in English medium schools and their favourite pastime was to joke about others’ mistakes in conversations – not even professors escaped this treatment.
I felt muzzled with inability to write creatively or hold fluent conversations. I used to be a voracious reader and I read Marathi literature, but then there was a great urgency to learn English. People asked me to read stories, Perry Mason was popular then, but I understood nothing. My speed of reading which was very high for Marathi books dropped to abysmally low level for English books, and the problem became compounded with pitiable comprehension. It was only after graduation that I discovered PG Wodehouse and the joy of reading English. But the fear of ridicule stayed with me.
Editing the company magazine meant writing articles in Marathi and yet not invite the feared caustic remarks from colleagues. It was not as if they were making such remarks, but fear is always irrational, and has no roots in reality. I found a solution to this problem. I would read TIME, and some Indian magazines, pick up a story for translation which provided a lot of material without having to do any original work. Later I grew emboldened to add my views. I realised that workers appreciated choice of some stories like the one on euthanasia [based on the Quinlon story in TIME] , and later realised that at least two of my Marathi articles [needless to say, based to TIME stories] were picked up by house magazines of other companies. I later learned that Japanese Management Techniques place greater value on imitation than on innovation – looking back I understood why!
I had a shock and surprise when a khadi clad man wearing a Gandhi cap and holding a cotton bag in hand walked in to my office. I did not know who he was, but my colleagues rushed in to tell me that he was a much respected socialist leader and a Gandhian. He was Mr V S Bapat who then used to publish a magazine ‘Shramikanchi Watchal.’ Bapat asked me to write an article on Dr Datta Samant!
He wanted to publish it in his magazine. Dr Samant was then the most feared union leader. Not a day passed without vernacular and even English press writing stories on his activities which in most cases were about mindless violence. I was taken aback with his request. My article obviously had to be written in Marathi. I knew it would be read by a good number of workers and any thought in sharp disagreement with their views would be intolerable. I was literally torn between the excitement provided by an opportunity to write on Dr Samant, to express my views on his leadership and almost disabling fear of consequences.
I chose to write! There was deep fear of ridicule, fear of adverse consequences [quite unjustified looking back!] inside me and so also inside was a non-conformist, deviant child. Writing on a subject like Dr Datta Samant’s leadership is a very interesting, nay learning experience. You write something, then halt to examine your thoughts from various angles, and then change the original draft and proceed. It is like finding your destination in any Indian town or city. You travel up to a point check with those on the street if you are on the right path, take directions from them to proceed and then finally reach there. Writing makes you take a well formed view, and in these days of Google’s ubiquitous availability, well informed view too.
As I kept writing on various issues, I learnt very important lessons – that you must write responsibly but without equivocating, and that you must take a position on an issue. Arguing a point of view and defending a position is in my view at the other end of the spectrum which begins with the fear of ridicule.
For a person who fears ridicule it is an uphill task. More so when the child inside him wants to take on the world and pushes him to do it!
* * *
I met Sharad Chavan in the late sevenities, he was one of the most popular voices – he was the news reader – on All India Radio’s Mumbai station, when I wanted to translate a certain document but was terribly short of time. He was a professional translator. Sharad Chavan was to publish a weekly column on labour matters later in Maharashtra Times earlier and later in Loksatta. Chavan was about ten years older than me, and yet we struck a very positive relationship. He often consulted me on various labour issues. It did not mean he accepted my views.
Chavan had an interesting way, perhaps the journalist’s way to write a story. He would meet people and discuss an issue, say strike in a company. He was never evaluative in the discussion, yet he would ask some very searching questions. Then sitting at his desk in the drawing room at his home, he would mull over the facts and views of various parties. Having cooked the story in his head he was almost ready to write it, yet he would not lift his pen unless he got the ‘punch line.’ The ‘punch line’ was his last line, the concluding line. Unless it was packed with a punch he would not write the story!
When I started writing regularly on my blogs, I realised that I had unknowingly learnt this lesson.
Working with Chavan, I realised how the representatives of both the sides, management as well as union tried to influence a journalist to write and emphasise their side of the story. Offering financial incentives was quite common. Fortunately Sharad Chavan guarded his independence fiercely. He was therefore a much respected person.
I have spent many hours sitting with him at my home or office and sometimes at his home too. I have seen even embassies contacting him to establish rapport with his help, with some labour leaders who were perceived to be difficult and had their unions in the companies originating in the country the embassy represented. Chavan carefully stayed away from getting involved.
My close association with Chavan taught me lessons which were useful in analysing situations impartially. I learnt to listen to others carefully [my wife does not agree!], what I mean is empathetic listening. I learnt to hold, with a lot of effort, my tendency to respond immediately. I saw benefits in listening and mulling over the information one received.
As I came closer to retirement I decided to accept invitations for speaking at conferences. Nervous as I was, I would always write my speeches first. My thinking and writing on a subject was deeply influenced by Sharad Chavan’s way of doing it. [Chavan unfortunately passed away a few years before I retired in 2009].
Chavan introduced me to some journalists. I accompanied him [on his ‘Press’ pass] to some memorable events and lectures. He took me to Press Club of India. It was Sharad Chavan who gradually got in to mentoring me. I realised later, but looking back, I am able to see a pattern. He asked me to write for a Diwali special number of a commercial magazine. The subject had nothing to do with the subject of our common interest, labour. The Diwali magazine called अबकडइ [ABCDE] was a magazine of some repute and they had decided to publish a special number on ‘reincarnation.’
I knew precious little on the subject, yet I accepted his suggestion. I read a good many books. I realised that Ian Stevenson had done extensive research on this subject, but in those days [Google was not yet born then] laying my hands on those books was an impossible task, or at least so I presumed and gave it up. I wrote a small section which appeared in the magazine as a ‘Box’ in a story on reincarnation. A few years later I found the Stevenson book when I went to the famous annual sale of Strand Book Stall. That I did not try hard enough to get the book, became my deep regret! I often thought about this missed opportunity. I blamed my lack of perseverance for this failure. But having done some research already, I also reached one conclusion clearly.
I realised that one can write on any subject, even unfamiliar subjects, if one decides to, and that researching the subject [and yes, with perseverance] was essential key to writing well. While writing my blogs I have always made efforts to do research. With internet availability, the resources are available on a click today.
An interesting fall out of this event was that I got to know Mr Chandrakant Khot, a well-known author. He was the editor of the Diwali mag. I met Khot at a marriage of an acquaintance, and we spent good time talking. Actually he was speaking and I was listening! He told me that he considered Sai Baba [of Shirdi] as the God of smugglers and thieves, but his views changed radically because of certain experiences. He later wrote ‘Shraddha ani Saburi.’
After this meeting with Khot, my interest in people’s life stories got fired up. It became a habit to get people talk about their life. I realised that the life stories of people around us had more drama than what we see in films.
And I also realised that getting people to talk about their life was much easier than one would imagine. It was easier then to see patterns of behaviour in a person’s life. You understand them much well, and also empathise with them almost naturally.
When you work with people and take decisions which impact people, knowing how those people dealt with various issues in their life earlier, how they thought in a conflict situation provided semblance of predictability. Moreover the empathy helped me counsel them effectively. In some way they also change you.
It is amazing how people in your life impact you. No, impact is not the word. They quietly enter your mind to transform you. It takes years to realise what they did to you.
Vivek S Patwardhan