On This Day

Dear A,

Ten years later you won't have the assets – time or otherwise – to be able to write for yourself, or to think, for that matter. Let that not dishearten you. For now, you must start. Let that crazy little idea that forms in your head manifest itself in the real world. Ideas are volatile, non-existent until you express them.

Start somewhere. Be it that half-a-day trip to a nearby park you went on the previous weekend, or the adventure of rescuing a – of all the things you will find in a city – monitor lizard, or those small expeditions you went on with your family. You still haven’t started on the latter, by the way.

Observe, don’t merely watch. Experience, don’t just feel. Read, don’t just see. These three things will form the crux of your passion as you grow. Treat them as your fundamentals, not rules. Rules will restrict you. Deprive you even. Fundamentals will give you wings but keep you grounded. They will help you hypothesize. To be creative. They will make you ask questions. To romanticize. Let it be so. If someone tells you not to romanticize writing – on nature or any subject you are fond of – you will become as rigid as a block of brick. Trick about writing on nature is to shape your stories like a tree. If you cannot personalize the story of a snake or an ant you will find it hard to tell their story. In fact, romanticize even more when you feel down, when everything seems melancholic. Turn your report to an article. Prose to poetry. Write intimately. Remember, however, the ground your fundamentals are bound to are governed by laws, like roots of a tree. The strongest part of a tree lies in its heartwood – these are your fundamentals held strong by laws and all your ideas are the tree rings that form around the heart of your story – they carry the weight your writing, the leaves and the flowers. Let not your romantic eye overshadow the laws of ecology. They work curiously like a tree.

Start humbly. Begin by writing for yourself – if you can run for yourself, sing for yourself, surely you can begin by writing for yourself. You will be your worst critique, but you have to live with him forever. Write what you feel about something before you criticize others – and I know you will do this a couple of times, but do not yell from your Windows. Slow down on social media rants. Learn to respect the opinion others have even when they are polarizing. No matter how much you feel you are ready to respond, before you address your concern, take your time, change your way of writing, change the platform of publication, or, send them a personal message. Remember the fine line between critique and criticism. You will do mistakes. Ever time. And you will learn new things at each turn.

You will always be learning. You will be better than you were the year before, but you will have to better yourself – not others – the next. Over time you will learn how complex life is – nay, not your personal little sphere, but life itself. And you will have sleepless nights at times mixing physics with biology to comprehend life. You will start to see the universe in a moth’s gossamer wing, but you will always be stumped. So be it. Sleep on it. Grand equations start simple. Focus on the simple.

Start small. By all means, take the word small literally or figuratively – the farthest object in the sky appears small, does it mean that it is small? To start small and simple is to start with the basics. Build upon your fundamentals. And then challenge yourself. Expand your outlook. Expand your dimensions. Start weaving the threads together or unravelling them – it is all a perspective of how you look at it. Try to find patterns in obscurity, but again, remember the laws that govern us.

Try to avoid generalizing, assuming, and the use of clich├ęs, but excuse yourself once in a while, like when I say: hope, but don’t expect. Work towards where you want to be, physically and philosophically, as a naturalist or as a conservation practitioner, as a writer. Do so not with speed but perseverance. You know whom I’m going to quote here: ‘adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience’. You will find yourself in quicksand every once a while – either the writer’s block will come to haunt you, or you will be drained of your creativity, or, as they say, life will happen. It won’t stop from happening. When that happens, go back to the fundamentals. Observe, experience, read. Persist.

Write. Not because you have to, but because you want to. You like to. Over time you will have many ideas, all relevant to the time when you thought them through. Note them down so you can come back to them. You may not have the time to reminisce your past but when you do, words will flow like aged wine. Then there will be pieces you started but never really went back to. Do not beat yourself for it. Their time has just not come yet. Or, they will evolve into something entirely different.

Write patiently. Take your time. You will rush into writing after every expedition you come back from. What you write should satisfy you, make you sigh in relief. But, write. Write after every expedition, nor matter how small or large, eventful or mundane.

Who am I to tell you all this? Here’s a quote from a book I came across only early this month by a biologist whose work you admire. This, I know, will keep you going.

“Put passion ahead of training,” writes E. O. Wilson in Letters To A Young Scientist, “Feel out in any way you can what you most want to do in science, or technology, or some other science-related profession. Obey that passion as long as it lasts. Feed it with the knowledge the mind needs to grow.”

You ten years older (but none the wiser)


  1. Congratulations :) Here's to many more years of Sahyadrica


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