Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Talk at TEDx VNR VJIET on April 2, 2016

A couple of months ago young Abhinay Renny, budding writer, final year engineering student at Vignan Jyothi Engineering College, ideator, basketball player and a man of many parts, contacted me and said he had got a license to organise a TED talk and would I - talk. I do not think I am an expert at anything so I was not so sure if I wanted to share something I don't know anything about. One thing led to another (the tipping point came one day from Anjali who insisted that I must speak - and also gave me pointers on how to speak) and I ended up giving my talk on 'Cricket, Creativity and Writing' on April 2, 2016 at the VJIM campus. It was a day that deserves more mention than one blog because I met many interesting people and had so many interesting experiences so I will write more in blogs that follow.

Some info about the event at this link

But I must write a bit about my experience. The TEDx Team VNR VJIET surprised me no end with their professionalism, commitment and intent. It was a team of 30 young students, all third and final year students of engineering, and I was so impressed by the way they handled things. Abhinay, Meghna, Vijay and others. I can't imagine doing anything like this when I was their age. From regular follow ups to ensuring everything is done on time and more importantly with the right spirit, they were simply superb. More about them and my experience on the day in a later post soon. But for now, well done Team.
Nice souveneir

I somehow realised that such good work cannot happen unless the leadership guiding this team was equally good. So when I met Mr. Rao, Mr. Murlidhar, Ms. Kiranmai of the college and the group, all so supportive of the youngsters and like Abhinay said - with the energy of 23 year olds replying to text messages at 2 am - you know why there were such good vibes throughout the day.
A Fine Gift - A Fine Sketch by Kittu, a talented and multi-faceted young man
I was too caught up preparing for my talk and missed a couple of good sessions in the morning but did watch the wonderful band 'Rooh' perform and inspire. I also had the good fortune of chatting with them - Shreya, Shruthi, Vivek and Nikhil, for a long time and even lunching with them. They are a delightful bunch of youngsters - all very creative, honest and passionate. I met Ramana Gogula and listened to his impromptu performance which was lovely. And the Beatbox was superb too.  The artists Shubham and Abhishek displayed fine talent in their work.

Here's the talk as I wrote it. I pretty much stuck to the script I think.

Cricket, Creativity and Writing

My cricket coach of 35 years, someone with 50 years of experience of coaching cricketers, asked this question the other day. 'Do fast bowlers have brains?' he asked. It’s a joke among cricketers that fast bowlers have their brains in their knees etc. 

We have classes in cricket too. The smart class and the not-so-smart class. The smart class does what all smart classes do. They do what everyone wants to do, the glamour jobs, the glory jobs and the powerful jobs. They are the batsmen.

The not-so-smart class does what all not-so-smart classes do. They do a lot of hard work with little to show. They are the bowlers.

Within bowlers there are classes too. The spin bowlers get the same or better results with less effort. The lowest in this hierarchy of classes are fast bowlers. They choose to do back breaking, injury prone work with little to show. They are the working class of the game. Used to hard labour.

To put it in context. If this were a classroom, the smartest people in society would be in the front benches, and the back benchers consist of the sportsmen. Now, if this was filled with sportsmen, fast bowlers would still be the back benchers of the back benchers.
Fast bowlers are actually a little slow. Not very creative.

I am a fast bowler. I belong to that stock. The hard labor class.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the front benches, belong the writers. Sensitive, perceptive, intelligent.
Creative, in all senses of the word.

I am often asked why I chose writing as a career. That too after a not-too- successful stint even as a fast bowler. I am not trained as a writer. I am more trained to be a bouncer. So, what was I thinking?

When I think, it’s really scary. Why did I undertake this long, slow crawl from the back benches of non-creativity to the front row? Why is a fast bowler mingling with the writers? Why not just stick to your fast bowler class? Why am I mixing up the classes?

The only thing I can say in my defence is that cricket, in all its generosity, taught me my understanding of ‘creativity’. It’s a fast bowler’s understanding of creativity, a flawed understanding perhaps, but an understanding on which my life is sailing on.

But it’s important to share my understanding of creativity for all the fast bowlers out there. There are many fast bowlers in our society – beyond the back benches where we cannot see them - of different colors, genders, sizes, abilities. Most of them wondering if there is any connection between the hard labour and creativity. I owe it to them.

In fact I believe that a bit of a fast bowler exists in all of us. That feeling of not being good enough. I owe it to them.

So my understanding of creativity is this - creativity and hard labour are pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that at the end of the hard labour, a creative person will find a beautiful cherry to put on top of the icing. That makes all the difference. The pursuit of that beautiful outcome, the cherry, that one idea, that defines us. This adding of purpose to hard work, transforms hard labor into a creative act.

Let me tell you how cricket taught me this. In the beginning I saw no creativity in cricket. I showed up at the ground and hoped something would happen. I did not believe I was good enough to create anything. In writing terms it is the equivalent of going hammer and tongs at random words, without a structure, and hoping a bestseller would emerge. There is no creation here. Just purposeless, hard labour.

The result of my purposeless effort on the cricket field was constant and repeated failure. I failed. My team lost. It’s painful. I waited for something to happen. For stars to align. For luck to change. For the batsmen and spinners to do something.

Until one day I told myself - enough. Of losing, of hoping that someone will make it happen for me.

That was the first lesson in creativity that cricket taught me. The thought that I could decide to create a win. That each time I decide to create, I create a new possibility. Creativity is power. I could change outcomes even as a fast bowler.

That decision was the creative spark. But we must not confuse that decision, a mere thought, with the flash of brilliance, that we normally confuse creativity with. Creativity is not a flash of brilliance. I think it’s the outcome of all that happened before. All the pain, frustration and humiliation of losing. I needed all those failures to push me out of my comfort zone and create a new reality.  To unshell. It needed courage. I believe creativity is about courage. You need courage to see the goal, that beautiful outcome clearly.

That one decision changed my outlook. From being the victim to being a creator. What had been outside the realm of my consciousness till then, was now within. Surprisingly this new responsibility broke many shackles and gave me a lot of freedom. It gave me the freedom to think beyond my role as a fast bowler. I could score a hundred or get all the wickets or pull off a stunning catch or something.

The vision in my mind needed to be brought to reality. This is where the hard labor comes in. To create that big win I needed to create several small wins. I have to take brilliant catches, save runs, take wickets. Creation was about thinking ahead. Being fully prepared and taking no chances. It required complete responsibility. It is tough work.

It requires tilling the entire field of possibility and making it fertile. Though seemingly meaningless we must till the entire field. You don’t know when the cherry could pop up and grow. 

That day when I decided that it was enough, when I acted purposefully, I, the fast bowler, scored a huge hundred and helped my team win. Favorable outcomes could be created if I decided and acted purposefully. It had nothing to do with my class. I just had to decide.

So, as a fast bowler, I decided. I quit my secure job and jumped headlong into a career as a writer without any training. I soon found that writing is similar to the job of a fast bowler. It’s hard labor. As a writer with a fast bowlers soul - - I work hard at creating. The more I work, the better my work gets. The more ideas I explore, the better my ideas get. I think. One small idea leads to another bigger idea and to another. It’s fascinating. The quest for that beautiful cherry, the big idea, is on.

The second lesson about creativity that I learned from cricket, from my good friends the batsmen really, is that these outcomes can be achieved efficiently, elegantly. With less effort. A good batsmen does not bludgeon the ball. He caresses it, times it. He lets the ball come to him. A bowler with the perfect action glides up and delivers thunderbolts. A good fielder makes catches look easy as he receives them. He does not grab them. There is no violence in their acts. They look so beautiful and graceful. They use a master key that unlocks all other keys of technique, hard work. This master key that I call love. It’s an important lesson for fast bowlers. They are normally angry people. 

The first lesson was about deciding and adding purpose to hard work, to create beautiful outcomes. The second lesson was about adding love to hard work to create magic.

How does one add purpose? By envisioning those beautiful outcomes. How does one add love? By not fighting with the environment. By being gentle with all around us.

The key to the cherry I realise is not to force things. Creating the masterpiece is about being patient, waiting, allowing things to happen. Doing things with love. It applies to writing as well. More can be said with less. A lot can be said in what’s unsaid. Writing simply is not simple. It requires hard work.

This then is how a cricketer understands creativity, how he understands writing. I believe creativity is about creating many options, many of them seemingly leading nowhere. But after all that hard work, among the many deliveries I bowl, if I understand the essence of creativity, I will hold one delivery back. I might pitch one up slightly.

And I will get a result I want. The big idea that defines me. The cherry on the top.

When one least expects it, I will slip one under the bat.

Clean bowled!  

Thank you.

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