Monday, February 11, 2008

How Blogging Clicked...For Me

Sometime last year, I read a survey conducted by some magazine, on the most overrated things/people/products in the universe, and not entirely to my surprise, I found blogging to be one of the winners to this dubious hall of fame - while only a few years back, it was hailed as the voice of the common man. For a while, I have been reading quite a few bloggers say they are quitting. Some attributed it to pointlessness, no ideas to write about, lack of comments, not knowing who their audience was, insipid life, etc, etc. And yesterday, Silverine sent me a post from a very good blogger, where on reading backwards I discovered him to be having some of these problems. I replied to her, wondering how many more such bloggers are lost in this race for instant gratification.

Many people tell me I am a good blogger. I am happy with the compliment. But I have known deep inside that it was just a case of being at the right place at the right time. It was a case of accidentally doing some things right, and then accidentally using the right tools to pierce through the numerous blocks and barriers that soon came my way. And so, after a long time, I again thought of devoting a post, to this hobby, which fortuitously came to me at a time, when my self-esteem stood low at having to become an average programming zombie in corporate madhouses, and having only myself to blame despite knowing that several better but improbable careers like politics, government service, etc would have suited me better. If you are a new blogger, or one on the verge of quitting, despite having a love for writing, hopefully reading this post will give you some new ideas to start over.

1. Incubation - For the first few months of my blogging, I kept it to myself. When I go back and read, I find my first pieces of writing to be gems in dull and long rambling prose. In those months, I did not know of such a thing as blogosphere. A blog was merely a diary open to public eyes which funnily contrasted with my long-held opinion of a diary being a very private object of one's affections. When I gained confidence, I slowly let word out to my classmates, who suddenly had begun to clamour on why my long emails to our yahoogroups had dried up, and which for a long time(6 years) had been my sole forum to write. Comments didn't matter to me, I was just happy to do writing in the public domain, and gleeful that my name popped up more in google search and showed up alongside my dad's. I would have innocently kept to this idea of blogging, for quite a while, and probably even given it up, once ridden of the novelty until Neil and Silverine left the first outside comments here. Through Neil, I discovered the Kerala Blogroll.

2. Enable Your Site Feed - I think Blogspot by default sets it to a "No"! You never know from where readers will land up. And do refrain from using gaudy templates, with colours that give readers a headache.

3. Join the Kerala Blogroll - Though it isn't in me to be parochial, it is hard to track all the indian bloggers. Kerala Blogroll offered me a good collection of malayali bloggers, but now I rarely find much good stuff there from new hands. If you are writing well, you might catch the interest of many visitors there. I am thankful to Dr.Manoj who has for so many years kept his Melam feed aggregator running, considering the time he has to devote to his research and teaching, and brought us bloggers, so many readers.

4. Build a Community - Through Silverine's blogroll and the Kerala Blogroll, I found a set of young, recently begun bloggers like me, and we made a formidable online community. All of us posted once a week, left comments for each other and reading their blogs widened my vision on how a blog could overflow, not merely encompass. This collaborative success had solidified my thinking that an online initiative can be successful only if it is interactive. Some of those folks like Anish, Geo, Thanu and Praveen seem to have given up, some like Jithu and Flash have become irregular, but the 6 months I was active in that fold was a period of immense creative energy, the only time I really felt beholden to my set of readers. Back then, I would really felt rotten if I hadn't written a post, a week. What new bloggers need to do, is build communities, especially with other starters like them. Visit people whose blogs you like and leave comments. Some of them will keep coming back. For me personally, I content myself with a set of few blogs I read. I don't go out scouting for new blogs to read now, sometimes I am such a jerk that I don't even respond to the gesture of fellow bloggers who leave comments here - I wish I could go back to the days I devoted a solid hour daily to reading blogs. Silverine, on her part sends us some good reads once in a while and she says that is her new year resolution to uncover more new bloggers. I wish I had her tremendous energy, but this is what bloggers need to do, watch out for each other.

5. New Challenges - The only way to continue blogging is to put your mind to work looking for happenings around you or to look for new writing challenges. I chose the second route because the first didn't appeal to me - my social life in the US just hasn't satisfied me and incidents around me just don't inspire...its another story that years later I will look at these days differently and gather a different perspective. I too have said here two years back that I am quitting. It was yet another knee-jerk reaction from me. I stopped saying that after quite a few writing ideas appeared to me out of thin air. When I first went hunting into blog-world, I realized there was no limit or a defined set of topics, to what a blog should keep to. Your talent is your only limit, and finding out what those talents are, has been a reason I am still here. The best challenge, I have thrown at myself emerged from my discovery of this blogger at Kerala Blogroll, and on reading this post. I had suddenly discovered somebody who shared my aspirations and frustrations. A new frontier was suddenly mine to conquer through blogging - fiction - and having done that, I wanted a new challenge. And it was right before my eyes for many years, but I never took it up, for fear of failure - writing humour in a conversational tone. For years Silverine had done it, and I would sit open-mouthed when not laughing, reading her funny posts at Poomanam, wondering how she did it so regularly, week after week and month after month. Of course, I had written posts on funny incidents and anecdotes, but none of that really landed the knockout punch I was looking for, until I tried the conversational format out, last Feb. Now I have a new challenge set for me, writing that needs analysis, research and a lot of people skills - it goes beyond blogging, but I believe I have done some of the groundwork here. Ashok, another blogger, has become a friend, philosopher and guide on this mission, I know not what will happen, and where it will take me.

6. Love Writing - I have seen people begin blogs for many reasons - but I will list one reason I am still here. I love to write. A well-written post lands me high for a few days, before seemingly succumbing to the laws of gravity and dropping me down with a resounding thud, back to hard ground. The fall hurts and sometimes I stick to the idea of staying on level ground and enjoying freedom from creative foment. But, I keep coming back and looking for new highs to conquer with the knowledge that the fall which will follow has only helped me get better at my craft besides quickly busting any pretensions of having cooked up a timeless creation. Most people begin blogs itching to write something but most give up for other reasons. So don't ever forget that reason which brought you to this endeavor in the first place - keep that flame alive when it begins to flicker.

I don't know if this post took up a preachy, moralistic or self-congratulatory tone - but that was never the intention. Your motivation for blogging may be different or you may or may not be the target audience. But if the few tips here from hindsight helps budding bloggers, to break through the millions of blogs that have served more to obscure and stifle, rather than project the good blogging seeds - I will be thankful at having partly repaid a debt to this hobby that gave me the courage to honestly face my aspirations and fears...and so this post. Happy Blogging!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Oru Paathiriyum Rande Kunjaadukalum...

Jagathy: "Kalyaana kuri vaangikkan pokuvaano"
Mohanlal: "Athe"
Jagathy: "Pathu kalpanakal ariyaamo"
Mohanlal: "Illa"
Jagathy: "Ennaal poyitte kaaryamilla"
That was Jagathy in a short but funny role, whose desire to get married is repeatedly foiled by his parish priest, Thilakan in the movie Koodum Thedi, for not knowing the Ten Commandments.

Recently I had to accompany my sis to our parish in Trivandrum, to get the kuri for her. And it turned out to be more hilarious than I ever expected. Going to this church and meeting priests from this church was a tense affair for me, because I was irregular for mass, had bunked sunday school and we never made it for their prayer group sessions.

The priest handed out a four page form to fill out. My sis is dismayed as it is in Malayalam, not her strength by any means. What surprised me is she ventures to fill out the form in malayalam, ignoring my entreaties to get it done with, in english. I decided to watch mutely, the fun that was to follow. Yes becomes "Uvve" in malayalam and No becomes "Illa" while filling forms. But my sis wrote "Aaa"(her colloquial for Yes), and when I broke down laughing, she changes it hastily to "Athe". The questions the form asked were funny too but i forget them. And where her answer was negative she writes "Alla", firmly in the grip of colloquial usage. Gleefully, I let her leave it that way, hoping the priest would spot it. She took the obsession with writing in malayalam to dizzying heights by attempting to write our US address in malayalam and when she came to the words "apartment", the helpless look on her face was a moment to treasure for eternity. I stopped making fun of her right there, as she seemed to be on the verge of exploding with rage and tears.

The Achan took up the form, and the first sound that escaped him was a groan, and his hands went up to his face, seeing the systematic murder of the malayalam langauge that had taken place. Like a school teacher, he diligently corrected the spelling mistakes, semantic "misjudgements" and the grammatical errors. Sis sat red-faced, while I was enjoying the comedy of errors thoroughly. It was a long time, since some situational comedy happened in my life.

Achan: "Nee kooduthal chirikkanda. Ningalode njan chila catechism questions chodikkan pokuva"
Me (laughter substituted by fear): "Njan alla acho kettunne. Ivala"
Achan: "Pathe kalpanakal ethokkeya"
I begin sweating. Luckily sis knows them all.
But the next question stumps both of us.

Achan: "Pathe kalpanakal ethrayaayitte churukkaam"
Sis: "Eh?! Angane churukkaan pattumo?"
Achan: "Sheda! Illaatha Kaaryangal njan chodikkumo"
Sis: "Ezhe"
Achan: "Ezho! Ente karthaave ninte sabha pokka"!
Achan: "Ennaal nee para"
Me: "Acho njaan alla kettunne."
Achan: "Haa parayada"
Me (tepidly): "Naale"
Achan: "Naalo! Correct answer is two"
Achan: "Ninakke extra two evidanne kitti"
Me (embarassed): "Athe njan enikke vendi ondaakiya rande kalpanakal aanacho!"

Achan: "Seven sacraments ariyumo"
Sis: "Of course."
But the seventh stumps her. The priest turns to me.
Me (triumphantly): "Holy Orders!"
Achan: "Ho nee vichaaricha poleyallallo."
Me: "Oru kaalathe enikke achanaakanam ennondaayirunnu."
Achan (sarcastic): "Ho bhaagyam, athe nadannillallo!"

After more questions and some disturbing answers from my sis...
Achan (to me): "Ithokke kettathukonde ineem ninakke eluppamaayallo"
Me (chuckling): "Achan ithey chodyangal thanne chodikkanam, please!"

The priest winds up the session, giving my sis some really awesome words of advice. We were very impressed. Mom had given us a very wrong impression of this priest, both of us thought. He had totally floored us. But like a predator, quickly moving in for the kill after cleverly ensnaring his prey, he made his next move.
Achan: "We are building a church at Pongummoodu, and we are severely short of funds."
Me (that sinking feeling): "I forgot my checkbook."
Achan: "Cash mathi"
Me: "Veetil poyi eduthonde varaam acho"
Achan: "Sheri"
Me: "Kuri?"
Achan: "Cash konde varummbam tharaam. Porey?"
Me: "Mathi acho!"
We ran for our lives. Sis, embarassed that her catechism had failed her. Me, cursing myself, for not reading the Achan's mind well enough.

Back home, we tell our parents, all what happened.
Pops: "Why did you tell him you both are working in the US. You should have said you are studying."
Mom: "Ente maathaave, enikkingane rande mandan pillereyaanallo kittiyathe"
Me (sheepishly): "It is for something good, right?"
Mom: "Achanmaarke aavashyathilere kaashonde. Athe edukkaathe nammale pirikkaan nadakkuva"
Pops (mournfully): "I sent you guys there, to escape him. Ineem njan thanne pokaam, and hopefully undo all the damage!"
Me: "Another reason, to do a register marriage!"

P.S: Phew! I never thought i would blog again. Feels nice to be back. And enjoy this wonderful xian song, that I have listened to, a hundred times already!