To be or not to be

Sheece is an IDD manager at BMC. He has made his journey from automobile engineering to copywriting to technical writing. He is an avid practitioner and evangelist of minimalism. You can watch him in action at the conference doing the "Can you Haiku?" workshop.

Sheece Baghdadi

A living ghost has possessed the writer and is telling you its story. Will you heed? Tweet this

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Oh! How I have suffered over time! You, who know me, know not of my trials and tribulations. You know not of the torture you put me through. I am not sure if you even understand me. My self-esteem is at your mercy. I am used, abused by you. At times, I can't even recognise myself. And if you understand me, claim to know me well, then why do you not accept me as I am? Why do you not let me be? Why the constant effort in wanting to improve me, simplify me, de-enigmatise me? Why?

I have been introspecting for a while now. Introspection… it is the characteristic of the living, no? Maybe I am not completely dead yet, just dying. Dying slowly. But then dying is a synonym of living, isn't it? You don't die until you are dead, and you continue living until you are dead as well. How very quaint! (I am so full of wonder sometimes, ain't I?) But I veer. You are here with your time and attention and I must value it above anything. So I will keep it short – As You Like It! I also have constraints: number of words, space, and the greatest is the instrument I use to speak on my behalf. I am a living spirit that has haunted him - my instrument - and his intelligence is questionable, so if he resists and his will intervenes, and I cease making any sense, lets blame him. HAHAHA!

As you may have already noticed, I can interchangeably be melodramatic, brooding, and evil. I can be enthusiastic, chirpy, and excited as well. I can be anything I want to be, or rather you want me to be. I am not sure if you have guessed who I am yet. But if you are reading this, you know me well by now. And everyone knows me, it is just a matter whether you have guessed or not.

I must confess I am going through an existential crisis. Have you gone through one? If not, I am surprised, and I fear for you. You must taste it someday, I highly recommend it. It makes you strong. The cookie will crumble, I promise. You don't have to say it, I know, I am the prophet of doom, it is an occupational hazard of sorts. But it is the kind of thing that in a strange way keeps me alive. So rather than calling me mean, you should be taking notes.

Alright, let's move on. Introduction is over.

My instrument was reading Hamlet a few months ago. He must have been confused or something because much like the trajectory of the humming bird (or is it the bumblebee), there was no recognisable pattern in how he was reading it. He read the synopsis on Wikipedia, then he read the summary on Spark Notes, then he tried the No Fear version. Shuffled between acts, read the original, then the No Fear version, then back to the original. What the huck was he doing? (I like to get angry but do not want to irk censor boards, everybody knows how I feel about them, so the typo is intentional, and depends on the kind of mind you have, you will read it accordingly. I encourage you to tap into my feelings though, and do justice.)

Haan1, so what was I saying? Yes, no pattern in the bumblebee instrument. And yet, surprisingly, he had an insight (which is a matter of celebration) but let's move on. Let me show, rather than tell.

Here's something from No Fear Shakespeare, which basically puts the Shakespeare version and a version in simpler English side-by-side to help you achieve whatever it helps you achieve. The extract that you see below is from the play – Hamlet – and is the famous 'To be or not to be' soliloquy.

Did something happen inside you? Any insights yet? I am hoping something at least, after all you are the horse on whom I am betting all my life's savings. Offended again? I don't mean to call you a horse, it is just a nasty way of saying I believe in your erudition. So keep the humour! It will take you far.

I will tell you what the instrument felt. When he first read the Shakespeare version – swish – the ball went flying over his head. And his honest reaction was, what the huck was Shakespeare smoking?! Then he read the No Fear version, and his grasping power returned. He bravely read the Shakespeare version again and this time he was ready for the single malt. He appreciated how it felt on the tongue, how it moved on the palate, the sound it made to his ears, the silent introspection that it led him to, and the slight inebriation that he felt after. Interestingly, it would have not happened without the No Fear version at his disposal.

A translation in the same language accentuated the original's value. Made it more reachable. Why was the original so difficult to grasp? Not too many difficult words in it either. The language seemed to be dancing. Much like the chauffer with a placard on the airport, who keeps shaking the placard instead of holding it still. It renders it unreadable. The brain needs to hold it down, at least figuratively, and read it after a slight adjustment.

For some, probably it is more natural. The instrument I have possessed also reads a lot of Urdu in the English script, Ghalib to be precise, and very little adjustment is needed. It is a different language but, interestingly, he consumes it easily. But give him the same in Devnagari script and he has a mini panic attack. It seems like some biological locha2.

So what is the moral of the story?

There are many morals here. One of them is that technical communication of current times will always be accessible but over time it would probably get tougher to appreciate rhetoric that turns complex and the ideas within it will either have to be translated or they will become inaccessible.

Don't get me wrong, simple English in technical communication makes a lot of sense and I am not saying we change that. But to write in simple English, you must know what simple English is. Conveying something meaningful in simple and precise English is an art in itself. To be able to do it consistently, you have to read a lot and, of course, write a lot. And it has to be a wide range. More variety, more gain. People who do not read something different everyday will remain koopmanduks3. You are the community that defines and redefines simple language, and I can't afford you to remain a frog in the well. If you think about it, the idea of simple English has changed at least 3 times in the last 10 years. And it seems like it will keep changing.

And finally, I would like to sign off by saying that I am at your mercy. I will twist and turn the way you want me to. I will become meaningful or incoherent as per your wishes. I will transform to suit your needs. I will reinvent myself as I pass through cities, states, countries, continents, worlds, and time. I will become something unrecognisable a 100 years from now, may be, or sooner. I can't predict it precisely. But I will still survive.

Hope you know who I am by now.

More importantly who the huck are you? And how the huck will you stay relevant?

Borrowing the wisdom from one of Big B's movies, 'Apni to jaise taise, thodi aise ya waise, kat jayegi. Aap ka kya hoga janaab-e-aali?'4

References

  1. Haan is Hindi for "Yes".
  2. locha is colloquial Hindi for "something of a spot".
  3. koopmanduk is a Sanskrit word meaning a frog that lives inside a well.
  4. The reference is to Amitabh Bachchan (also called Big B) in the film "Lawaris": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf8CQgFPwj8.
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To be or not to be

Written and narrated by Sheece Baghdadi.