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On Writing Books

I was born in Kottayam, and lived my early life there. It is a small, prosperous town in the southern part of Kerala, which, in 1989, came to be known as the Aksharanagari, the city of alphabets, for achieving 100 % literacy. It is the home of the CMS press, the earliest printing press established by Benjamin Bailey, a Christian Missionary in 1821. In the 1950s, there were three Malayalam newspapers published from Kottayam. A unique Travancore institution that started in Kottayam in 1945 is the ‘Sahithya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham’, Writer’s Cooperative, which published books and gave financial security and social status to writers. On my way from school, I would pay an occasional visit to the Co-operative’s Book Stall, with its shelves full of books that gave me great inspiration to follow the path of writing.

One teacher I was very fond of was Kanam E. J. Philip, our Malayalam teacher who was also a writer. Inspired by him, I started writing poetry. However, he clarified that poetry had no future and that I should write stories like him. I kept in contact with him later when he became an editor of the Malayala Manorama weekly.

Another incident strengthened the desire to write. The Malayalam drama we had to study was Antigone by Sophocles, taught by P. J. Thomas, a young teacher. He asked us to write an essay on Antigone as a heroine. I decided to depict Antigone with all mortal failings and argue that she transcended mortality by her steadfast loyalty to her father despite this. The teacher was very impressed by this and made complimentary comments about this radical view.

With time, this dream faded, ever-present in the subconscious, but at no time showing signs of becoming a reality. With the existential struggles of doing well in studies, getting a PhD, and making a career, writing a book became an ever-receding mirage.

I believed that I possessed the basic skills. Years of diligent reading of the editorial page of the Hindu newspaper under my father’s tutelage did bear fruit. Writing is an essential skill for a scientist who needs to communicate his discoveries and insights to his peers. I read William Strunk’s Elements of Style many times. All I needed to bring out a book was an appropriate subject.

In the 1990s, I began to concentrate on developing commercially viable plasma technologies. I started a newsletter — Plasma Processing Update — with the strong motivation to communicate the exciting knowledge about industrial applications of plasma physics to industries. The first issue of the Plasma Processing Update came out in 1994. The early issues were written almost entirely by me. With time came new enthusiasts from among the new staff. After two decades, this newsletter is still going strong, communicating to industries the developments in India on plasma processing and applications.

Around that time, I gave a talk titled “Plasma Science and the Creation of Wealth” in a meeting of the Plasma Science Society of India in Rajkot. After the conference, I was approached by one of the publishers in Rajkot, asking whether I would like to expand my address into a book. The dream, permanently lurking in the subconscious, suddenly emerged into the light, and I decided to start writing a book.

I had in mind a book that discusses the versatility of plasma as an enabling tool for wealth creation in industrial, manufacturing, environmental and engineering applications. It should introduce the technology, practice and commercial aspects of plasma-assisted manufacturing. The agents of change in present-day society, entrepreneurs, business people, consultants and technocrats, were the target audience. But, unfortunately, a book of this nature did not exist in the literature.

My 8-month stint with IAEA in Vienna boosted the writing effort. I acquired a laptop which came in very handy in preparing the book. The excellent library at IAEA and the easy internet access were a great support. The draft of a book finally emerged.

It took me three years to complete the book, and Tata McGraw-Hill published it in 2005. This book discusses the versatility of plasma as an enabling tool for industrial, manufacturing, environmental and engineering applications. It introduces the technology, practice and commercial aspects of plasma-assisted manufacturing. The book did reasonably well, though I was disappointed by the publisher’s lack of enthusiasm in promoting the book. Nevertheless, personal efforts succeeded in selling many copies. So it was a surprise when I found a copy of the text on the online Google Books.

Prof. Shouguo Wang from the Institute of Microelectronics, Beijing, approached me, indicating that he was interested in translating the book into Chinese. Originally the idea was to have the reputed publisher ‘Science Press’ publish the book. However, Prof. Wang later decided to publish the book himself. Therefore, we agreed that The Chinese language version shall be an accurate translation of the original English version and shall mention all facts concerning the authorship of the original version. Through my Chinese colleagues in ITER, I learned that the book was published and a success.

In March 2016, I gave “Dr S. S. Ramaswamy Memorial Endowment Lecture” at the Entrepreneur Development Institute, Gandhinagar 33rd DAE Safety & Occupational Health Professionals. The topic was Plasma Processes for Decarbonisation. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board published the PowerPoint file on their website. Shortly afterwards, Lambert Publishers from Germany approached me, asking whether I would like to expand the talk into a book. I did this within a year, and they published the book electronically in 2017. The book explores the pervasive role of plasma processes in making green energy and a clean environment possible. I added material on all plasma-based processes relevant to clean energy and greening of the environment. The physical copies get printed only when there is a demand. So, no stockpile of books as in conventional publishing. The cost of the book, however, was a steep 36 Euro.

My third book is a collection of poems written over two decades. My poetry is a nostalgic reflection on life, people, places and the past. Occasionally, I brood philosophically on issues of humanity and science. An electronic publication through the efforts of my son Joseph is available from Lulu in New York. I published another version with the help of Aji Bhaskaran Nair, who designed the layout and printed the book in Kottayam.

Walter Mosley says, “I think that everyone can write a book. … if they do, the writing of that book will change their lives.” Though he said this about writing fiction, I believe it can be generalized. Writing demands a certain kind of mental and emotional discipline. Then, when it comes out as a published book, it is a moment of extraordinary self-revelation.

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