April A-Z Challenge 2017: Theme Reveal #AtoZChallenge

Hi Folks,

So it’s April and for bloggers, especially slackers like me, it is time once again to consider joining the annual Alphabetical Blog challenge. The best thing about these challenges is that they motivate you to seriously write and when there is a theme , write in a focussed manner. So after a break, I am hoping to give it a go with 26 posts for 26 of the 30 days, barring Sundays.

This year, the theme that comes to mind has to do with women: ‘women power’, the ‘inspiring woman’, the ‘representative woman’, and also women not just of the present, but of the past, including the remote past. While feminism and women’s empowerment are considered fairly modern phenomena, in actuality, these themes have been around from many millennia. While many of them feature in our history, the epics and myths of a culture are also storehouses of these stories, of women who became legends and continue to inspire generations.

And therefore, here is my theme for 2017:

The Sacred Feminine: Inspiring stories of WOMEN from History, Mythology and Legends of INDIA

Let the countdown begin !

© Lakshmi S. Menon & VOICE’nVIEWS

World Mental Health Day

October 10 is declared as World Mental Health Day. #WMHDay
Mental Illness is the least understood but most widespread form of disease known to humanity currently. The mentally ill, as in those who suffer from depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and many others both mild and severe are the hidden sufferers of society. Hidden because their disease is still not recognised to be such.

There is some kind of inexplicable stigma attached to people who do not fit the common mould because their minds have unusual thought patterns and their brains are wired differently. And so their suffering is often silent.

Awareness alone can change this situation and channel compassion and curge to these individuals. Not pity, but empathy.


incomplete my life

like shards of glass, broken dreams

bruise, flaw reveal.

by Lakshmi S. Menon 

The Future

Day Twenty: WordPress Writing 101, October 2, 2015

Congratulations! It’s the final day of Writing 101. We hope these prompts have encouraged you to brainstorm and write in new ways and introduced you to new tools and resources.

As we wind down the course, let’s look forward. What’s next? Some prompts to get you started:

Next month, I plan to . . .
What does the remainder of 2015 hold for you?
I believe that my future looks . . .
In the future, I could do without . . .
5, 10, 20 years from now .
. .”    —  the  awesome WP team 🙂

Just one thing about the FUTURE and here it is :

The only thing certain about the future is that it is uncertain ! Change, as they say is that one certain thing about life you can be sure about. So here’s to embracing change wholeheartedly and trustfully, for life is that which flows, changes, aspires, reaches. Stagnation is death.

Whatever the future may hold, expected, unexpected, ultimately the race must be run and run well. However in this changing miasma that is life, I intend to keep one thing always in mind and that is to keep WRITING ! Even this sometimes is not in my hands. The brain cells age, vision dims, love seems lost and inspiration flags; yet for the one stung with the writing bug, to keep on at it and preferably everyday might just make life blossom again and bring unreachables within reach. Who knows ?!!

Au revoir, Writing 101 and all those who participated 🙂

Mine your own Material: the Past

Day Eighteen: WordPress Writing 101, September 30, 2015

“Think about the things we leave behind. Tell us about a time you’ve left an object, place, person, or even an idea behind — and had to move on”. WP

Moving on beyond the PAST:

As I write this post, I can’t help wondering why moving on from certain things is so, so difficult. Sometimes you have a dream, an idea of what your life is going to be. It’s like a blueprint etched in the brain and when you come upon it you know that this is what you wanted to do all your life. It feels so right. You are willing to give up anything, undergo anything just to achieve this goal. This happened to me some twenty years ago. I was on a path that I thought destiny might have charted for me. It was not easy to get onto it. I even faced opposition from my family who felt that I was taking a very big risk with my life. Maybe I was. But the so-called enormity of the chances I was taking did not count because I had fallen totally in love with this idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Well, a small clue — it was a career choice that I made, away from the beaten track.

Does this sound familiar?

And then for five years in the prime of my life, when every energy and enthusiasm is at its best, when you are ready to take on the world, I toiled for this dream. Yes, I did make mistakes, I wasted time perhaps, I got distracted by emotions and by circumstances beyond my control, but I tried my best to make it work. I gave it my ALL. And then it happened. Just when I was about to reach the finish line, there it confronted me — total and abject failure. I had chosen ‘the road not taken’, and walking down that path, fraught with many challenges the least of which was loneliness, I came to a ‘dead end’. Life just stopped and I with it.

Today twenty years later, even when I know I had given it the best as I knew it then, regret sometimes fills my heart. The mind fills with ‘what ifs’. It is too late now and pointless too. The universe whispers messages that unless I totally let go and move on, I could never truly live again. That is what I have been trying I do these past years. First I tried many things to bring this dream back. Retrace my steps, so to say and hope that a miracle would find its way to me and there would be an opening I could clutch at! But nothing happened. I spent a lot of time in limbo, stuck, unable to move. The past kept me there. The past was over, that much I knew finally. But the future was a void and path less. I hung at the mouth of an abyss, neither falling in, neither flying up. Then one day something subtly changed.

Something totally unexpected happened in my life. I resisted it with all my might, but it did not go away and then slowly my fossilised brain understood that life was reaching out to me. So what if this new element was nowhere in my plans, so what if I never thought that the road I did not take that day in the woods waited for me still and was  opening up for me ? Life is very strange, friends and Grace comes when you least expect it. When life gives a second chance grab it! Even if it does not look like anything you ever imagined, go for it. There is a higher power that looks out for you and always keeps you in its sights. Some call it God.

Today I stand at a place where the future is not yet formed. It is like a cusp between the past and the future. These things take time, this much I have learnt from life. Finally, after much painful and sometimes involuntary lingering, I am finally letting go of this obsession, this so-called dream that seemed so perfect. No, that is not meant for me and guess what, it is relief that I feel. Well that is something I did not expect. It is as if I have given permission to rid myself of the burden of an unfulfilled dream. I discover that it was a beautiful mirage that I thought would fulfill me. But now sadder and wiser, with much more self-knowledge under my belt, I finally sense that I did not know myself at all. It was not even my dream after all.

The shattering of that long ago dream was necessary for me to truly arrive at what will make me happy. That dream itself was not mine, but one subtly superimposed on my psyche by expectations from people around me. Even when I thought I was following my own path, it was not truly mine. This long journey has been worthwhile because it helped me separate what I truly need and want from what I thought I did. Yes, I agree with the great Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, that “pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding,” a quote from his masterpiece, The Prophet that has always haunted me. Finally, I am ready to let go and for this, I am grateful.



Taking a Cue

Day Fifteen: WordPress Writing 101, September 25, 2015

A Cue from readers:
Well I choose to try this prompt instead:)

A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

— Marcus Tullius Cicero

Describe a life-changing experience with a book.
Where do you like to read?
Describe a favorite bookstore, library, or setting with books.

When I enter a room or someone’s house, or even a wait at the dentist’s or the optician’s, while others fiddle with their smartphones, I look for a book ! Anything will do. Even an outdated magazine or a brochure, (for at waiting rooms that’s what you find anyway) and I am calm! Here is a confession: I am more compatible with books than with humans!

On a more serious note, now that I have proved my credentials as an established bookworm and an incurable one at that, let me give you a glimpse of a favourite reading place that I used to haunt in my youth. I was living in a quiet city in the south of India and pursuing a teaching course. I was also preparing for an all-India exam that would qualify me for a scholarship for research and get a certificate to teach at college level. I was just out of University, head full of ideas of lofty academics and gearing up to enter the exciting world of teaching, or so I thought. Read more about this enigmatic statement here!

Trivandrum, (actual name: Thiruvananthapuram, which for obvious reasons the British in colonial India could not pronounce! ) the capital city of Kerala, a state in the southern most tip of India was those days a quiet city known for its old world charm, cultural festivals and intellectual climate. While I prepared for exams I also looked for a good library that could satisfy my non-academic reading cravings. And that is how I chanced upon the British Council Library, next to the YMCA building that was just a lane inside one of the  main roads of the city.

As compared to the musty libraries with dusty shelves in the college and University where I currently was, this was like a breath of fresh air! Perhaps those bigger and older libraries had more ‘useful’ reading matter, but I was looking for interesting stuff to read and broaden the horizons of my mind, beyond the merely academic. Of course academics too was on my mind. I was planning to do research on the ‘great Romantic poets’ within an Indian context and where better to hunt for material on them than in a library run by the British Council. I wasn’t disappointed, for I had an access to books by foreign publishers that in those days of the 90s decade, would have been too expensive to buy. Computers were still rare birds and the Internet was unknown. So libraries were the place where book lovers went, as did researchers and aspiring scholars.

I still remember with fondness, the modern building with neat spacious interiors, wide tables to sit and read or write, a well-lit common room where people were at tables silently jotting down stuff or browsing. I would go late mornings and haunt the library till closing time! Time just flew and the peaceful environs with their rich treasures was to me like some exotic magic land waiting to enrich my responsive mind. Still remember reading Ian McEvan’s “The Child in Time”and a book on poetic imagination, called “The Truth of Imagination” that for me epitomises the kind of books I found there.

It was a different world in there and it set a standard for what to expect from other libraries that I visited later on. Once inside, the normal world would fade away, time would lose its relevance and when I stepped out, usually at closing time, the outside world would hit me with the ferocity of the usual reality check! But then, since for some time at least I had dipped into a realm of my own, it didn’t matter!

© Lakshmi S. Menon & VOICE’nVIEWS

Play with Word Count: 100 words

Day Twelve: WordPress Writing 101, September 23, 2015

Since I tend to write long, here I am trying a ‘flash fiction’ (err, sort of !) of 50 words, with the prompt ‘Lost and Found’. Also fiction is something I balk at. So here’s to confronting two fears together !

Lost and Found:

Missing. Again. Just when she needed it. She kept misplacing it, wasted time searching for it and then got late. Always. ‘Why not do without it ?’, asked her friends. ‘Get something you can’t possibly lose’. ‘Oh, that I cannot’, she smiled to herself and pulled at her hair. Specs found ! 

Lakshmi S. Menon

The Pause in the Music: Writing and not Writing

Day 11: WordPress Writing 101, September 22 2015

Writing and not Writing:

Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice“.

— Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

‘As much as we love to write, it’s important to take breaks — to live your life and have new experiences, and to reflect and recharge so you can come back to your desk, ready to hit the keyboard again. Not writing allows you to gain the distance from your words, and thus perspective, which are both needed when it’s time to edit’. WP

The Pause in the Music:

The ceasura or the pause is an essential ingredient in great music. The silence enhances the note before and after. Taking this metaphor to the art of writing, a pause or a break in the writing regimen produces great writing!

The mind is a good tool for any purpose, albeit in some, especially artists, writers et al, it tends to take on an obsessive element. Concentration leads to focussed writing, but too much of this can make it a bit monotonous and repetitive. Hence if you want to come up with good ideas go for a walk in the midst of your writing when you get stuck. Literally. It adds to your literary value! Try it.

Sometimes it helps to do tasks unconnected with what you are writing, like some physical activity that does not require thinking or something else that is creative like music, painting or even cooking up a good dish which is my personal favourite. When the mind takes a break, it comes back to the task at hand, refreshed and rejuvenated. It is not that you lose the thread of your thoughts, for when the conscious mind is still, the unconscious has a chance to process information and ideas perhaps picked up subliminally. And herein lies one secret to good writing. PAUSE. Do something else. “Change of work is rest.”

If you want me to give an honest answer and not a goody-goody one like, “well, I do a workout”, as far as how I take breaks and recharge, well I do it by reading. I take up a juicy crime novel, a P.D. James or an evergreen P.G. Wodehouse and at the end of it, probably sometime the next day, something clicks at where I left off previously.

A Cuppa Coffee: some scenes from India!

Day Ten : WordPress Writing 101, September 18,, 2015

Over a Cup of Coffee:

Were I to be sipping coffee with you, then I would share with you, some small vignettes of life in colourful India. I would tell you how in this country with 22 official languages but hundreds more spoken in a few thousand dialects, people still live in unity amidst all this diversity. (Do not believe the media that highlights skirmishes and ignores the largely peaceful nation). 🙂

Were I to be sipping coffee with you, then I would tell you what a God-mad country India is, still ! You cannot escape or run away from God here 🙂 One of the most difficult religions to practise here is that of the ATHEIST ! God in India comes in different forms and without form too! If you don’t see Him or Her in a temple, deities decked in elaborate flowers and ornaments, depending on the fervour of their worshippers, or plain and austere stone idols in their timeless dignity, then you might come across infant Jesus held in Mother Mary’s arms at that next street corner. Also, if you still missed Him (I mean God), then the cries of the muzzein from the friendly neighbourhood mosque will summon you to prayers 5 times a day ! Forget all this, if it is noon and you are feeling hungry, just go to the nearby Gurudwara, where the Sikhs pray and you will be served a delicious and wholesome lunch in their free kitchen called the Langar. No questions asked. You are a child of God, period.

Were I to be sipping coffee with you, then I would let you have a glimpse of  a festival. Did you know that in India it is said ‘there are twelve months and thirteen festivals’ ! We have so many and each region celebrates even the common ones in distinct ways. Most have mythological roots, some are related to change of seasons and hence farming like the harvesting of crops, but they all are excuses for fun and frolic! Apart from the rituals of course.

Were I to be sipping coffee with you, I would regale you with tales of the cute and naughty, powerful and friendly ‘elephant-God’, called Ganesha, the favourite of all children, the remover of obstacles and invoked at the beginning of any venture, material or spiritual. In India, these distinctions get blurred 😉

Ganesha, the 'elephant God' with His friends !

Ganesha, the ‘elephant God’ with His friends ! Here He is playing on a flute, and I clicked this just prior to the ‘immersion’ ceremony, when after a three day festival the God goes back to the elements

Were I to be sipping coffee with you, well it has been a long session, I would invite you to visit India, the land of 33 crore gods and goddesses . . . . OK , do not freak out here! These numbers represent the qualities found in the human imagination and these different gods are symbolic representations of the human psyche. India, my friends is a monotheistic land but does not restrict how Divinity should express Itself/Himself/Herself !

A Letter to a fiery leader of India’s freedom struggle

Day Nine: WordPress Writing 101, September 17, 2015

NB: This is a letter that is prompted by the recent declassification of files related to one of the bravest and most prominent, yet controversial freedom fighters of India who mysteriously died in a plane crash in 1945,  a plane crash that now apparently is being confirmed never happened. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose remains India’s most beloved and heroic figures despite the media blackout prompted by a govt. that was in power for long decades and has been ousted now in the recent elections of 2014. Among his many famous quotes is this one: “One individual may die for an idea, but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives”.

A letter to my hero, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Dearest leader, dearly beloved of the children of free India,

We used to read in history books at school about you, but then not all that much. Your story unfailingly sent shivers down my spine — how you defied the British, how you mobilised an army of brave fighters to drive them away and when they arrested you finally, how you cleverly and dramatically escaped  and left the country to take the fight for independence to foreign shores. You created that famed army of freedom fighters called INA, Indian National Army that is the precursor to the great army we have in India, one of the best in the world. Yet, why is it that history books did not talk all that much about you ? Well now we know why. You had enemies and unfortunately your enemies were not just the British who hated your guts, but your own countrymen, fellow leaders of the freedom struggle, your contemporaries. And the root cause for this boycott was jealousy, jealousy that your people loved you and were ready to even sacrifice their lives listening to your clarion call, “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”.

Netaji, today we reap the benefits of the untold sacrifices of our people who fought for freedom from the yoke of colonialism and inspired many other nations to do so. People everywhere speak of Gandhi and Nehru and yes, their contribution was remarkable. But very few know that it was you who first addressed Gandhi as ‘the father of the nation’ and  this great slogan ‘JaI Hind’ (Victory to India), in honour of our motherland. Very few acknowledge the fact that Nehru found you to be the greatest threat to his assuming power within the Indian National Congress and in post independent India. Well, he did not have the fiery charisma that you had. Oh he was charismatic, no doubt, volumes have been written on that and many institutions founded on that, but you see you, Netaji, was a force to be reckoned with. You were like the mighty Ganges irresistibly flowing and taking the masses along with you. Nehru always needed the prop that was Gandhi.

Where Gandhi advocated a non- violent struggle to achieve freedom from the British ruse that had already looted, pillaged and destroyed this once wealthy land, your dynamism called forth for an armed struffle and you did not just rest on empty rhetoric, you went ahead boldly and created an army in the most stringent of circumstances. You mobilised and freed the prisoners of war caught by the Axis powers and gave them honour, freedom and an inspiration to live and fight. Why were our men fighting on the side of the British, in faraway lands for a cause that did nothing good for India or her destiny? (While India reeled under famine and millions died, foodstuff and grains were diverted by Churchill to feed British troops abroad). Yes, this was your logic and this was what prompted you to seek the help of the Japanese. After all, an enemy’s enemy is my friend. But then history is written by victors, the Allied forces won and suddenly you became a person non grata in your own country.

And then you ‘died’. Death was reportedly in a plane crash that now turns out never happened. Actually, Netaji, many in your beloved Mother India never believed that you had died. We kept hoping you were alive and we kept wishing for news of you, especially in your home state of West Bengal. Yes, your beloved Bengal was partitioned off to form a new nation in keeping with the British policy of ‘divide and rule’.  what could ordinary people do when  ‘the powers that be’ had no intentions of revealing what they knew of your fate. That you were alive and now from facts gleaned from relentless pursuit of the truth by some dedicated researchers, you were actually incarcerated in a labour camp in the USSR. Wow! Nehru, socialism, Russia, the great friend of India where another Prime Minister mysteriously died at Tashkent when he was attending an important treaty signing event. The things ‘friends’ do or ‘friends of friends’. Who was it that actually wanted that you be hidden away ?

We are waiting, still waiting for everything to be ‘declassified’, for truth to be freed from the clutches of pragmatism between nations, where individuals are the casualty. We will keep up the vigil, though,however long it takes. Truth has away of revealing itself finally.

Wherever you might be, great and beloved leader, the history of the freedom struggle will be re-written. That India did not win her freedom because of ‘passive non-resistance’ alone, but because the Indian army that was the tool the British used to subjugate the Indian people, were finally set to rebel. Enthused by the stories of your courage, valour and sacrifice narrated by the thousands of men who fought in the INA, their compatriots here no longer considered the British as their masters. Loyalty now was unalloyed towards the nation and not towards her foreign rulers. And this the British knew was the last nail in their coffin of dominating India. So then began the process for bestowing freedom and well, the rest is history.

I salute you Netaji, and millions of my fellow Indians will join me I know as I say two simple words, long overdue, ‘Thank You’.

© Lakshmi S. Menon & VOICE’nVIEWS

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