The topic of my presentation today is ‘Testing the Limits of My Talent.’ (This is the full text of my speech at the event of GetSetUp on Feb 11, 2022). It was my byline on my profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook. Recently I have changed the byline on my profiles, but for several years ‘Testing the Limits of My Talent’ was the byline.
I will first present what I have done in the areas of my interest. At the end, I will discuss about my views on the limits of my talent. As Mark Twain says, ‘Everything has its limit – iron ore cannot be educated into gold.’ Discussion about limits of talent involves a bit of soul searching. And such a discussion often becomes philosophical, so we will keep it at the end.
Why That Byline?
When I retired thirteen years ago, in 2009, my friends asked me what I was going to do. I was not going to have fixed routine. No getting up early, no reading reports, no meetings and no official work. It was unfamiliar situation for me as I had worked for thirty-seven years in a 9 to 5 job. Now suddenly it was up to me to use my time the way I wished.
I had a big problem on hand! I had too many things on my mind. My list of to-do things was very long, and it was growing. How to choose where to start? How to prioritize?
I wanted to blog, write short stories, novels and poetry. Sketching, painting, practicing photography, travelling, writing travelogues was on my agenda. I wanted to travel from Mumbai to London by sea. These were just a few on my wish list.
During my corporate career there was not much time to do what I always wanted to do. So, I decided that I will do whatever I wanted to do following retirement. And the way I want to do it.
This resolution, I knew, was going to test my talent to the hilt. There were activities which I had never done before. I have a great fear of ridicule. It has stalled many of my actions. Discovering that I can’t do some things well was not going to be a pleasant experience. Will the acceptance of my limitations be easy at my age of 58, as I was then?
That’s a difficult question, right? I would never want to admit that I am not good at certain things. Or that I do not have talent for certain things. And there is a bigger question; how to decide that I am good enough at certain things?
But I was going to test my talent. That’s why the byline was ‘Testing the Limits of My Talent.’
( Watch my video Keeping The Child In You Alive https://youtu.be/JIXC5xVhygs )
‘You Decide How Much to Pay; I Decide What to do’
Immediately after my retirement, I moved to South Africa where I stayed for almost two months. That gave me a lot of time to think about my future activities. I was getting many requests for consulting and conducting training. One of the questions which bothered me was ‘how much should I charge to my client’. When you work in the industry, there is no question of charging anyone for your services.
After a long and harrowing thought, I suddenly realized ‘Never in my life I have charged anyone for my services, why should I charge now?’ That realization became my decision – ‘You Decide How Much to Pay; I Decide What to do.’ This meant, I will undertake an assignment if it interested me, but the client had to decide the fee.
I assured my clients that I will not question the fee they will pay, and I will accept without any complaint, whatever they give me. That was a radical step. But I would accept an assignment only if I found it interesting. (For example, I do not like working on ‘Assessment centres’, and I never accepted those assignments.) It freed me from thinking about money. And it placed the responsibility for fair payment on my client.
Believe it or not within a year I was earning more than half of my last pay. Not too bad for a retired man. Certainly, it was good enough for me.
My experiment had succeeded and it worked for four years! I realized that if you trust people, they reciprocate. It is an excellent way to create long lasting relationships. This lesson is not new to anybody. You realize it several times in your career. But in this case, I had proactively created a situation where I had made myself vulnerable. What if they paid me very low fee? Or did not pay at all?
And that brings me to another realization from this experiment. When you remove money from your mind, there is no clutter in your mind. The clarity with which we are able to think is amazing.
Another lesson was that we create trust when we make ourselves vulnerable. Some of them could have paid me very low fees, but, in fact, nobody took undue advantage.
For nine years I taught ‘Conflict Management’ at TISS. It included a session on building trust. This was a subject close to every student’s heart. Some of them had had experiences which made them to conclude that they will not be able to trust anyone easily. Discussions on trust were involved if not intense. I guess my desire to experiment took roots in those discussions with students.
In October 2013, I was at home when I felt discomfort. I was rushed to a hospital. A cardiologist examined me and within an hour he was inserting two stents in my heart. I did not know the cardiologist; I had not even heard his name. In spite of the speed of events and unfamiliarity with cardiologist, I was comfortable trusting my life to him. We were having a good chat; the funny aspect was that I was on the operation table and he was operating on me. Did my experiment made me trust the doctor totally? I think yes, it expanded the limits of my ability to trust.
This experiment also reinforced my enthusiasm of trying out my ideas. Success of my experiment boosted my confidence.
( Watch my video My Experiments With Trust https://youtu.be/f92FiIfrB58 )
Blogging to Book Publishing
In 2008, a year before my retirement, a younger colleague insisted that I open a blog. I had not seen anybody blogging. I had not heard the word.
Although blogging was new to me, I was writing regularly in Marathi by the time I retired. I had edited a special number of commercial magazine and my travelogues were published in Marathi magazines. Now I was writing English blogs. I started blogging hesitantly. I was afraid of the reactions of my colleagues and other readers.
Nobody praised my blogs, but nobody ridiculed them too. I was copying the style of Behram Contractor who wrote under the pen name Busybee. As I kept using his way of writing, I invented a character called Lulu. That was a parrot, his name was Lulu. Busybee used to speak to Bolshoi the Boxer, a dog, I spoke to Lulu, a parrot. My blogs became conversations between me and Lulu. In the last twelve years I wrote almost two hundred blogs of my conversation with Lulu, my parrot.
As I wrote those blogs, Lulu evolved in to an intelligent, articulate, well-read but a parrot somewhat condescending of me. Writing blogs as conversations was enjoyable, but it was not easy. In conversation format, the author keeps writing arguments from both the sides of an issue, and yet, he must take the conversation forward.
When you write an article or a blog or a conversation with Lulu, you have to decide what the end will be. You may not have an exact idea but at least you should have a hazy idea of where to take the discussion and how to end. For me, this was a discovery. You have a direction to write, and the journey from the first word to the last word is a great exercise in creativity. This is a peculiar process.
Sometimes your thoughts take you elsewhere as you write, and you go away from the originally imagined ending. The blog comes out better than the one originally planned. Who wrote that superior blog? How did different words flow from your pen? Psychologists may say it is the subconscious mind that did it. For those who experience this flow, this joy of creating is a special experience.
I received the Indian Blogger Award twice, once in 2013 and then in 2017.
A friend suggested that I should publish a book of Lulu blogs. After some hesitation I published a book titled ‘The Lulu Duologues’. As the pre-publication work came to a close, I realized that my mother’s hundredth birthday was only a few weeks away. I published my book on her 100th birthday.
A few years earlier, I had translated an English book in Marathi. I made a pdf file and published it on my father’s 99th birthday. Believe it or not, I had not planned both the events. Was there a divine force which got it done through me? Was it directed by my subconscious? I leave it for you to decide.
Besides blogs, I also wrote limericks. Along the way, few blogger-friends also got interested. We opened a blog for exclusively writing limericks. A limerick is a five-line poem, usually a humorous and mischievous poem. Writing Limericks and Lulu blogs kept the child in me alive (and should I say, kicking too!)
( Watch my video How I began Blogging https://youtu.be/mJ4RCQZpPdE )
I handled industrial relations during the first twenty-five years of my career. I have seen conflicts at their worst. There was one lesson I learnt: It is this – No matter who finally wins the battle, the loss to workers is the harshest and immeasurable loss. The heap of news reports which cover details of increased productivity and wages gained hide the plight of workers. I decided to investigate the labour issues and its impact on the lives of workers.
After my retirement I often spoke to Arvind Shrouti. He is the advisor to more than a hundred unions in Pune Chinchwad belt. I knew him for a long time. He introduced me to several persons and also discussed various issues.
I published stories of the injustice, and harm done by short sighted policies of industrial organizations. I also published stories of unusual experiments, there were many. Do you know two small Indian organizations have been sharing their wealth with their employees based on Economic Value Added (EVA)? Not just stories of labour violence and greedy employers, but I covered such positive stories too.
I had read articles of Dr Anil Awchat on such issues. I liked his way of writing, so I adopted it for writing blogs on labour matters. Its reportage way of writing.
Why did I copy? That’s because I find it easy to do my creative work if I have a format. And the reportage format is easy to work with. As I kept blogging on labour matters, my distinct style emerged. That’s the opinion of my friends, and I would like to believe it to be true. In my case, format has always come before the substance.
My blogs on labour matters had wide audience. I brought shocking stories of the employees of Racold to the light. On the day of Diwali Racold shut down their Chakan plant throwing out all employees with pittance of a compensation. One of the employees had had a kidney transplant done a few months earlier, he needed medicines worth thirteen thousand rupees a month. Another employee had a son suffering from Thalassemia Major. The future of these two employees is bleak. My blog helped me raise Rupees Ninety Thousand for each of them.
A professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and another at XLRI recommend reading my labour matters blogs to their students. A Labour Economist and Professor at Aston University, Birmingham, has reportedly quoted me in some of his research articles. I was invited to address the conference of all CHROs of the Tata Group. I was invited by UniGlobal, a global union for a talk at their conference in Nepal. And I was given ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by my alma mater. These were satisfying moments for me.
( Watch my video Industrial Relations and Investigative Stories https://youtu.be/pDoIj7QsMco )
Street Photography Is My Way
I was always interested in photography. And by the end of the twentieth century, it was becoming an affordable hobby. I was also travelling abroad frequently. My destinations were known as exotic locations. Fiji, Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados to mention a few.
I had a small Sony camera. And I carried it everywhere. Why? Because I read that the biggest mistake a photographer makes, is not to carry his camera with him wherever he goes. When I went to Trinidad, I interviewed a 103 years old lady and clicked photographs with her. She had gone there as an infant with her parents who travelled there from India as indentured labour. But I made a mistake. I put my camera in my luggage. It was stolen at the airport.
Things are easy now with mobile cameras becoming powerful to capture photographs anytime and anywhere. And you can upload them on social media instantly. So, no fear of losing photographs.
As I kept clicking, my skill improved. And I found a reason to continue photography – I started using them in my blogs. I have a large storage of good photographs captured over last fifteen years. I got interested in candid photography. It earned me some good compliments from people, particularly my relatives. When Mr. Abhijit Bhatlekar who is an accomplished photographer, appreciated some of my photographs, I almost danced with joy. I am now seriously in to Street Photography. For street photography, a good mobile camera is a big boon.
Two forms – Candid photography and Street Photography. Both require catching the moment. You have to be ready to click because the opportunity vanishes in a second or two. Contrast this with portrait photography, where you can adjust light, position and click a dozen photograph to choose the best.
I have been publishing my work on twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I hope to publish an album of my work.
From photography to videography was just one step more. I have my YouTube channel. There is so much which can be done in photography and videography, that I run short of time, but not ideas. And retirement has provided me with ample time to fiddle with cameras.
( Watch my video Photography and Me https://youtu.be/7E47xXI6Qnk )
Sketching and Painting
I am going to speak about my sketching and painting. While I can sketch not too badly, painting is another story. And mind you I worked in Asian Paints for 33 years. A paint company! Sadly, painting is quite simply not my piece of cake. The watercolors are uncontrollable, like a four-year-old child, which enjoys running in every direction with or without purpose.
I had big mind blocks about sketching and painting. Somebody introduced me to Danny Gregory’s ‘Art Before Breakfast.’ Just in case you have not read it, please do. It gave me a lot of ideas and encouragement to try them out.
After much experimentation I have more or less settled on sketching. And I discovered urban sketching. That really excited me. As an urban sketcher you draw on location. In plein-air, as they call it. When I go to London, which I do once a year to meet my son and family, I go out and do urban sketching. When I visited Tate Modern Museum this year, I sat there in freezing cold and drew the view of Thames River and the St Paul Cathedral. I have not had the courage to try it out at Thane where I stay. That is another hurdle to cross.
And finally, some loud thinking on talent. And its limits.
I have been blogging for thirteen years and am enjoying it. I have done investigating stories and my passion for this work is undying.
But I have not been able to write a story. Not a novel. My career in HR gave me plenty of opportunities to observe conflicts in human life closely. There are dozens of seeds of big stories in the dramas which I have observed. Hemingway made a great story out of a seemingly simple event. ‘The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber’. A film was made on it. I would be happy if I can also do it. But writing short stories or a novel has eluded me so far. Yes, so far. Because someday I hope to write short stories like Somerset Maugham or Hemingway.
Street photography and Candid photography are my passions. Not portraits. I have gone much beyond the usual sunrise and sunset photography. Landscape photography does not excite me. I am also not attracted to wildlife photography where you sit for hours waiting for an animal to emerge from the woods. Bird photography requires elaborate photography equipment for catching them in motion. I am not for it.
I enjoy sketching perhaps because it allows corrections. When I sketch, I have total control over the picture that emerges. It is unlike watercolours which I have tried with disastrous effect. I have watched Shibasaki’s videos on watercolour painting for countless hours and I have been amazed by his ability to blend colours. The romance of blending and bleeding colours holds me spellbound, but when I try to paint, the watercolours seem uncontrollable. In choosing sketching over watercolours, I have unknowingly chosen control over flexibility. Sketching allows me correction; watercolours are unforgiving if you make a mistake.
Generally speaking, mine is a case of spontaneity versus patience in all the three areas – blogging, photography and painting. I have unknowingly chosen spontaneity. Blogging, Street photography and sketching even urban sketching requires spontaneity. Writing stories, novels, wildlife or birds-in-flight photography and watercolour painting require patience. Spontaneity over patience; that’s me.
There is another aspect. Novelty attracts me. I feel security, novelty and meaning are three anchors of my life. When I trusted others to pay me as they wish, I had put my security considerations to test. May be in a limited way, but surely security was put to test.
Looking back, I feel that blogging, street photography and urban sketching were encouraged by my craze for novelty. That is my understanding. The child in me keeps novelty alive. You experience a flow when you write a blog in a flourish. Ditto with urban sketching and street photography. Obviously, the child in me is satisfied quickly. And a child does not have the patience of an adult.
That creates the limit.
Testing one’s talent is essentially a journey of overcoming mind-blocks. I have not been able to do many things which I have counted here, like writing short stories or novels. But I will keep attempting. Maybe I will cross the Rubicon with some efforts or maybe with a mentor’s support.
I will work for the dawn of that day. It will be the beginning of a new life before the sun finally sets.
(My speech at the GetSetUp Meeting on Feb 11, 2022), Photographs copyrighted.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”