Thursday, June 29, 2023

A Trip WIP

29th June 2023

About 6 years into a major career switch, my journey can be summarized as below.

Writing and a wish to take it up on a professional basis did not happen on a whim. To me, making this transition was a logical next step. I am a writer. In retrospect, I have always been.

I must stress that I did not move out of engineering because I hated it. It is just that I liked writing more. I continue to be fond of engineering, the many talented colleagues, and amazing friends that it brought my way. I am also immensely grateful for the cross-cultural professional experiences, on-the-spot problem solving opportunities and the financial stability that it offered me in the midst of my daydreams of pursuing “something else”. All my travel around India, the USA, Canada, and Cambodia, not to mention the complete transformation and deep-seated confidence that (often solo) travel brings, I owe completely to my 11-year engineering stint (2006-2017).

Along the way, my national writing competition wins with the Indian Express (2008), Outlook Traveller (2017), and the Wildlife Institute of India (2017) gave me a little self-belief that I might be able to make a fist of it if I were to try to write for a living. Turns out that I was able to talk myself into taking that leap of faith.

I began with an editorial internship in May 2018 at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun where I was tasked to co-edit (with Dr. Sonali Ghosh and Ms. Prerna Bindra) an anthology of nature writing “Wild Treasures”. By the time it saw publication in April 2019, it had given me opportunities to read through the best of naturalists and wordsmiths on nature spanning 200 years. Their words on wild places in the Asia Pacific were a fair reminder of how much work remained if I were to REALLY call myself a writer. Coming across my “Wild Treasures” parked next to Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” at a local bookstore assured me that I had at least taken that tiniest of first steps.

From August to December 2018, I was privileged to work as Program Manager, Outreach, for the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore, a pioneering conservation organization undergoing a rebuilding phase at that point of time. With their legacy of historic conservation initiatives and a small driven team projecting a start-up vibe, those few months were packed with intense activity with my role spanning press releases for scientific papers; building up social media presence and their website from scratch; book launches; donation drives all the way to managing the nuts and bolts of office infrastructure as needed by our beautiful bungalow turned office.

In January 2019, I was back at the foothills of the Himalayas as the 30-km motorcycle ride that separated the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun from the greatest mountain range in the world drew me back. As I found myself in the role of World Heritage Assistant (March 2019 – Present) at the UNESCO Category 2 Centre for World Natural Heritage Management, it was time for a deeper immersion into the world of heritage which while editing “Wild Treasures” I had already dipped my toes into.

In the process of shaping, promoting, and implementing the UNESCO World Heritage Convention as the Centre is required to do, I found myself at the wonderful intersection of history, conservation, politics, psychology, and communication that the field of heritage conservation represents. “What is heritage?” (valuable enough passed down to the next generation) is not a simple question as follow-up subjective questions of who defines value and how many others agree follow. Why indeed must anything be saved at all? Everything from a school assembly song to millennia old ruins spread across hundreds of square kilometres can fall under the ambit of heritage, as can snowy mountains distantly seen and the deepest seas never swum alongside their denizens – all valuable in their own manner and subject to the same grindstone of change that bears down on us all.

In pursuit of answers, I have had the chance to co-parent an inaugural MSc in Heritage Conservation & Management as Assistant Course Director, walk the forests of Mt. Fuji learning of the nature-culture continuum as it exists in Japan, cruise the narrower channels of the Sundarbans in search of the creature that Bon Bibi protects us from in that transient world of sea and land, work with forest department staff of some of the most stunning wildscapes training and learning from them. From wildlife biologists and community researchers with whom I share a wild and wonderful campus with, I now know of cicadas that sound like gunning Yamaha engines and elephants that may (or may not) be secretly using a beach island in the depths of the blue Andaman Sea.

Not to sugarcoat the challenges, conservation (or heritage conservation) seems to be an incessantly uphill and lonely struggle for those who are in it for the long run. Years of dedicated record keeping and meticulous science often lead to blunt bureaucratic denials and political exclusion. Forests long loved and taboo mountains worshipped can still vanish in a snap. That makes passion for the objects of study an almost non-negotiable necessity. In the face of shrinking funds, unstable career tracks and casually thrown accusations of “impracticality”, it is only the truly dedicated that can soldier on, side-stepping cynicism, and frequently embracing compromise as conservation makes you do.

That said, the ceaseless energy that permeates life infects many that walk this road. The chance to wander least trodden trails swapping stories, as the gears of the brain whir merging all manner of skills – technical, soft, and expedient – to craft a solution that works in these most challenging of circumstances is the incentive that keeps on giving. Still rather new to this world, the possibility of answer(s) being out there waiting to be found is what drives me on. As a person with a deep interest in communication, I find it irresistible that every artifact in this wonderfully under-explored field, from a map of the world to the structure of a fig flower, has a story to tell.


The Stranger - Not A Review

Image generated by Microsoft Designer
Image generated by Microsoft Designer

29-Jun-2023, Thursday

French-Algerian writer Albert Camus' "The Stranger" first featured in my world in a conversation with Ma a long time ago where she mentioned of a novella where the protagonist's refusal to grieve for his mother's passing lends to extrapolated assumptions from the same. I started reading it only in the aftermath of her passing away and its bleak logical outlook of the world failed to strike a chord with me, especially at a time when I was feeling emotions most keenly. Halfway through the book, at the point where the protagonist is arrested after shooting a man dead (for no particular reason, it must be added), I gave the book a pause.

The second half of the 77-page book I resumed yesterday and ran through it in an evening's worth of effort. The courtroom process and our guilty narrator's passionate disinterest in the same are exquisitely captured as are the visual details narrated that only a person least bothered with all the human chatter around him can observe. In a way, "The Stranger" forms the antithesis of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" where the main character of Rodion Raskolnikov is wracked by guilt and slowly disintegrates mentally. 

That I still relate strongly to Dostoevsky's projection of the world, as bleak as Camus' if not more, is possibly an indicator where I fall on the socialist-individualist spectrum. Dostoevsky's protagonist is (eventually) very concerned with the repercussions of his crime within a larger moral universe while Camus makes his narrator fume (in an intellectual manner) only about society's glee in punishing him for his differentness, for his casual battle against conformance. While Raskolnikov comes to terms with the fact that he is not above the rules at all, the Stranger waits for the guillotine confident that the due proceedings are only simply prosecuting his refusal to comply.


Friday, June 23, 2023



Jolyon Wagg - A frequently encountered side-character in the Tintin Series by Herge

Of all the professions in the world, the enthusiasm of a salesperson (probably) needs to be the most indefatigable and deep rooted. Not being fully invested in her work is not an option she has. Whatever be the product or service and its relevance to the customer, her only job is to push the sale to an often less-than-interested client. No wonder the salesperson is a favoured character in comedies, dramas and tragedies alike. We have all encountered a character like Tintin's Jolyon Wagg in our daily lives and our irritation with them is tempered with the fact that they have been given a tough job to do.

While all of us have some part of our professional lives that we struggle through, it is eased by a formal separation from the selection/rejection whatever it is that we have been giving at least 8 hours a day towards. We mostly work on a small part of a larger impersonal project and rejection, while worry-inducing, is not borne alone. The salesperson on the other hand is handed a product or service that she hasn't designed or built, convinces herself of its distinction from all other similar products and pitches the same to strangers whose interests and motivations may be universes apart from even the best features of Product X. 

I understand that sometimes the product sells itself and sometimes even the customer has an active interest. I remember the time when a door-to-door salesperson brought little plastic lights, blue and white and shaped like spaceships (as per an industrial designer and an imaginative child), that could be tapped on for a warm friendly night light. My mom and me were equally enamoured and at the price at which she was selling them, the sale was a foregone conclusion. Those lights remained at use in home long after I had ceased to qualify as a child.

In some respects, I suppose that sales can also be viewed from the frame of just another job where strategy and selection yield 'results' with the right 'execution'. But the biggest challenge in my (ignorant, inexperienced and unsolicited) opinion would be in how to make the rejection not feel personal. When you have approached someone with all your charm and conviction only to be told "Not interested", sometimes repeatedly, how do you keep the fire going?

Thursday, June 22, 2023


A casual glance at the Gallery folder of my 8-month old phone gave me reason to pause. 7571 photos lay entrenched in that particular location. 7571 photos that I had consciously taken within 8 months and none of them selfies! Until that moment, I had had airs of being superior to "this generation" who spent their entire lives in front of cameras it would seem. At 1000 photos a month, I couldn't make any real claims of being above it all. Even if I wasn't clicking pictures of myself, I was spending enough time with the phone camera to lose all moral authority to judge others for the same.

Pets dominate my mix of photos with landscapes that then seemed interesting coming a close second. In a very telling contrast, most of the landscape pictures seem bland and repetitive on a later viewing but the pet photos retain their warm cushiness. Flesh and blood even as a static image have a life of their own but rocks and trees lose their vividness once the environment they were clicked in is not immediately accessible. In a desperate attempt to take some of that beauty back with me to my less scenic daily life, I had clicked vigorously and to an extent, indiscriminately. The end result is a lot of high definition pixels which only re-emphasize that it was so much better in person.


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Longest Day

The longest day is already upon us and with it the arrival of the monsoon. A morning person like me has hardly any reason to complain in that regard. Extended hours of sunlight shielded by clouds loaded with relief is a win-win in my book. June is almost over, with it the half-way mark of the year, causing the well-organized to recap what was achieved thus far. Unlikely to be accused of such good qualities, I take the time to savour the change of air after summer’s long sultry goodbye. There’s a thrill in having survived another sun-fest season in a top floor room.

What do I do with the extra 2-3 hours that I get by waking up early? I use it to breathe a little easier and enjoy the luxury of not having to plunge into the day’s frothing pool of activities in a barely awake state. This is not to say that I approach the dreaded work hour with a confident calm. It is more about having some free time before rushing into the due-yesterday channel of professional commitments. In its favour, besides the long daylight hours, summer offers the chance to be less drawn into the infinite charms of sleep as its co-conspirator, the blanket, has been put away for the season. 

My dogs are happy campers with regard to the hours I keep. Dawn is their golden hour too. At the slightest movement showing my emergence from slumber, they pop up at my bed-side eager to wage battles or pursue alliances in the as-yet unplanted fields behind my house. The seriousness with which they survey their home turf and the protocols with which they deal with friends or foes makes me wonder if inefficiency and error susceptibility are the best markers of being human?