Words are magic, aren’t they? Picture this – a giant stone castle sitting atop a perfectly textured and tall mountain, overlooking the ocean where you watch as the sun fades into the horizon. Not far from the castle’s window, you see a colony of seagulls riding the evening breeze, and you can sense the breeze gently caress your skin, leaving your lips mildly salty. Now don’t picture a pod of dolphins jumping excitedly in the ocean, as one of them looks right back at you and winks. Couldn’t help it, could you?
My name is Ashwin Nair, and I’m fascinated by the power that words hold in our lives. I am currently working as a Process Engineer, with a background in Mechanical engineering. Engineering has not always been my first career choice; during my schooling, I was more inclined towards English literature. It was in my late teens, when I was exposed to the applications of engineering concepts, that I developed a penchant for understanding the existing technologies, and for developing technologies of the future. This, however, did not occlude my fascination for literature, as writing became my cherished avocation; something I would eagerly resort to in a quest for creative nirvana.
I was born in Kerala, one of the states in southern India, and grew up in the city of Mumbai. Kerala is known for its aesthetic, green beauty and the backwaters that attract tourists from across the globe, who are eager to rent a houseboat to relax and enjoy its local beauty and cuisine. Mumbai, on the other hand, is a fast-paced metropolitan city, also popularly known as the ‘City of Dreams’ (no brownie points for guessing why). Therefore, I had the best of both worlds growing up, was exposed to multiple cultures, learned to speak four Indian languages, and found good diversity in friends. My fondness for diverse cultures, combined with my dual interest in engineering and literature, soon led me to pursue my Master’s degree in Dublin, Ireland.
Growing up, my grandmother played a significant role in helping me develop an interest in prose and poetry. From my early school days, she would narrate to me a myriad of stories from the Mahabharata (which is said to be the greatest story ever told) to the Holy Bible. My thirst for listening to good stories and poetry grew exponentially, until my grandmother ran out of pieces to narrate. She then encouraged me to read, and warned me the only worry I would have henceforth is not having enough time to read everything I like. I started with easy comic books and soon moved on to short stories and then novels. A pivotal moment was in grade 5, when our Literature professor read out my essay in front of the class and asked my classmates to follow my example. Subsequently, I completed the literature assignments for most of my friends (in exchange for their lunch boxes!).
Over the years, I have been inspired by a plethora of writers and poets. Come to think of it, I can attribute certain phases of my life to certain literary virtuosos, from Franz Kafka to W.B. Yeats. Each had their own distinctive style, tone, and prevalent theme that I could relate with and be inspired by. I remember reading The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde in school and feeling awestruck by his narrative style. ‘I wish I could write like that’, I thought for once, and then countless times thereafter. My teenage years were my Kafkaesque phase, when I adored the theme in his books. I have now come to appreciate a variety of written pieces, in the sense that no piece is good or bad, but only ones that are complete or can still be modified.
As with my reading preferences, my writing style has evolved over the years. In the beginning, writing was a way of expressing thoughts that I could not speak of. I would write poems about my anxiety, abstract dreams, or even unrequited love. I then moved on to writing short stories, being more inclined towards suspense thrillers. I loved getting the reader hooked on from the very beginning, sending them on a nail-biting ride, and finishing with an end that leaves them feeling astonished and satiated, all at once. As I started working and the attention span of readers diminished, I started writing shorter, more abstract pieces. For instance, a stray cat once jumped over the fence of our backyard, and I wrote this piece titled ‘You think, therefore I am’:
When I started writing, it was merely a form of expression. I could effortlessly let complex ideas flow onto paper and watch as they made sense (at least to me). Once I started sharing my writings with my friends and teachers in school, hearing them go ‘Did you really write this?’, led me to a phase where I would write to impress. Soon after, writing grew to be a form of therapy, which I used to build a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. I now write to attain a sense of creative ecstasy, the satisfaction of having utilised my senses, skill, and learnings to create, modify, and bring an idea to completion. What I also like about writing is its relatability to the readers. I have come to realize that we enjoy watching, reading, or even listening to stories that we can relate to. In its narration, we experience our own bliss.
As with any other art form, writing is an iterative process. The way I see it, there are three primary stages to creative development – inspiration, imitation, and creation. Most artists are born when they look at / read / hear a piece of art and go ‘Wow’. They then try to imitate the art they were inspired from, learning more about the original artist and picking up additional styles along the way. Once they reach their mastery in imitation, they become capable of creating their independent work, which is more likely an amalgamation of the numerous styles they have been inspired from. I prefer not to write unless I am inspired to. I wish the flow of ideas into words to be smooth and, therefore, create most of a piece in one sitting. A meme I recently found online read ‘Love is like a fart. If you must force it, it is probably crap.’ The same can be said about creativity.
I have had many fun experiences with my writings. Some of my friends are particularly proud of my skill, as it helped them convey their heartfelt feelings to their lovers through poetry (except for a few instances when they were caught copying poems from my social media profiles, only to have a hearty laugh about it later). I realised the power of words sooner in life while reading George Orwell’s 1984, when like an epiphany, it occurred to me that our thoughts are limited by the words we know. Some languages have words for feelings / things / philosophies that other languages do not. Therefore, people speaking different languages may interpret the same situation differently. This encouraged me to learn foreign languages to better understand people and diversify my thinking.
With the proliferation of social media, people from across the globe are more connected now than ever. There are more sources to read, learn, express, inspire, and be inspired. On a personal level, technological advancement has caused me to move from writing on paper to typing. However, the downside is the reducing attention span of the average human (if you have reached this line of the article, kudos to you). Most humans find it difficult to focus on a page for more than a few seconds. This may seem like a nightmare for writers who wish to engage a wider audience. Even so, I am determined to publish a suspense novel in the future. I have started developing the storyline and am taking my time to savour the creative process. It will need several revisions, paranoid as I am, until I believe it is able to provide the desired experience to the reader.
Fortunately for me, engineering and writing have more in common than one would think. Both fields have a similar ideation process, and both are equally influenced by the individual’s background and inspirations. Both fields have something of value to create, and in the process, stand to enhance the lives of its users (and in the case of writing, its readers). My skills and learnings in writing prove to be especially useful at work when communicating with my manager/peers, and in areas related to content development. You would be surprised to know the wonders good language skills can do to your communication. Words are magic, aren’t they?
Lastly, my advice to those interested in writing short stories or poetry would be not to strive for perfection, but to focus on expression. It is not important to write the perfect story or poem, because there are hardly any. What is important is for you to start writing, for many ideas are lost in the head, but none on paper (or the screen, if that’s what you prefer). Be fearless in your writing and let thoughts flow seamlessly until you experience the satisfaction of having told your story.
Considering technology and arts follow a similar process from ideation to creation, it is not surprising that many in the technology industry indulge in their own creative pursuits. Both fields present the opportunity to create something that excites, engages, and inspires every life that it touches. It is riveting to read about how the various interests of these professionals work together and help them achieve their personal and professional goals. There is certainly more to tech, and it is exciting to know what lies beyond.
To read more from Ashwin, be sure to visit www.pleasureinreading.wordpress.com.