When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a lot of things at different points in time. As a kid, growing up on Russian books on cosmonautics, I wanted to be an astronaut. I am sure a lot of kids want to be astronauts even today. That is the closest you can come to being Superman!
When I was 10 or so, I discovered I had some musical talent and wanted to be a professional singer. I trained in classical music for six years before the rigors of academics began to take their toll. By the time I was in college, I was pursuing a “normal” engineering career. Destiny had different plans.
What did you study to become?
I studied to become an electronics and communications engineer. In particular, I enjoyed VHDL and assembly-language programming in college. In my final semester, I was placed as a communications engineer with a leading telecom firm. As things would turn out, I never joined them.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I don’t think I am everything yet that I’ll eventually turn out to be!
I began my career as an editor for the LINUX For You magazine. As a student, I was inspired by the open source software world and contributed a few articles to LFY. As I approached the end of my B Tech degree, I was offered a job at LFY. Since writing had always been a passion for me, I jumped at the opportunity.
The transition to “core” technical writing happened a year later when I joined a networking technologies startup. Later, I worked for HCL Technologies, where, besides regular technical writing deliverables, I authored research papers and whitepapers as a founding member of the HCL Research group.
I currently work as a technical writer with Adobe Systems.
What do you do in your spare time?
I write and translate poetry. Poetry has been by my side for as long as I can remember. My grandfather and father wrote poetry in Hindi, so as a kid, I wanted to emulate them. I wrote poetry in English during my teenage years and had some success publishing my poems in reputed magazines. Most notably, I contributed to Chandrabhaga edited by Jayanta Mahapatra, and Indian Literature, published by the Sahitya Akademi, on several occasions. Eventually, I came out with two books of poems—Anhadnad(2000) and Shadows Don’t Live In Walls (2004), which were well-received by readers and critics.
As I began to write “professionally” in English, for some strange reason, I shifted to Hindi as my language of poetic expression. The transition was long overdue in any case. Creative writing, I think, is more fruitful in one’s native language. Over the past few years, I have contributed to some influential literary magazines in Hindi. Right now, I am working on my first book of Hindi poems, tentatively titled Smritiyon Mein Baaki Hai Ujaas.
I also translate from Hindi and Punjabi to English and the other way round. In 2007, I published a translation of the path-breaking long Hindi poem Luqman Ali by Soumitra Mohan. Translating Luqman Ali has been the most challenging assignment of my brief literary career.
After several failed attempts, I have resigned to the fact that my brain is not wired densely enough to write prose!
Are you telling us you are a non-creative writer by day and a creative writer by night?
I think the notion that technical writing is uncreative is inherently flawed. All the positions I have held so far had ample room for creativity. In fact, the changing face of the profession demands that technical writers juggle creatively between multiple roles—community moderator, social media expert, astute communicator, and of course, documentation author.
The shift to the community model of Help has already gained momentum at my workplace. We are getting in touch with expert users of Adobe products and encouraging them to add value to documentation. The results so far have been very enlightening. See this introduction.
I believe all companies will eventually wake up to this new model of documentation, revamping the role of the technical writer in the process. So, if technical writers are not finding enough ways already to channelize their creative energy at work, it won’t be long before they do!
Do you feel balancing technical writing and poetry is a dichotomy? How easy do you think is it to keep these two styles apart (or do they keep merging and you consciously have to segregate them)?
Poetry demands its own time and space. Whatever the profession, some poems always drift unwritten amid the exigencies of work. That is true for any writer. As the famous Urdu poet Faiz aptly put it: tujhse bhi dilkash hain gham rozgaar ke.
Apart from that, I don’t struggle significantly balancing technical writing and poetry. Technical writing is work—it is less spontaneous, more structured, and has to be delivered on time. Writing poetry is a long-drawn process. A poem keeps simmering in the depths of the mind for weeks, even months. Then suddenly, all you need to do is to pen it down. That may even be in the middle of a hectic workday. Penning the poem down is just the mechanical culmination; the poem has already been lived.
Also, I don’t think any good poet can be content just writing poetry. The insight for good poetry (or literature, for the matter) comes from everyday struggles and frustration. Life is inescapable.
Given a choice (assuming your financial needs are taken care of), what would you be and why?
That is a big if. I think I would still be writing for a significant portion of my time. I enjoy my career as a technical writer immensely. I think I’d continue to be a technical writer—a more finicky one!
Of course, if I were to suddenly turn a billionaire, I’d have little choice but to spend my time managing the money! “Letters to Shareholders” don’t (or rather shouldn’t) count as creative writing, should they? 🙂
Do you blog? Are some of your writings accessible online?