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

All Rights Reserved

Ashes and Beauty: writing from a Quote

Day Seven: WordPress Writing 101, September 152015

Catch ’em with a Quote

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken”

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Sometimes (well always, but one needs to be alert for that), the universe affirms the thoughts or ideas whirling around in the mind or knocking at the heart’s door, by an outer expression or a manifestation not of one’s own. That is why I decided on this particular quote, for that one line, nay, one word that has been swirling in my awareness, asking that it be given form or at least a voice.

The last couple of of days, the word ‘ashes’ kept coming to my mind. Ashes as in burnt embers, as in what remains after everything tangible has faded, as in that which talks of a past that is finally over. Sometimes in life one enters a phase where when you look around you find that you are standing on a heap of ashes — all that remains when everything known in life has exhausted its relevance. When situations and routines that made your day have fled, when priorities ‘so-called’ become obsolete, when old friendships, relationships and even acquaintances have outlived their affections (because they failed to value you or you have outgrown them or both), life takes on the appearance of a vast sand dune. When desires once desired, interests that gripped, issues that excited or opinions and affections that once mattered no longer find an echo in the heart, and neither do they evoke pain or grief or even an irritation mild, that is when you know you have arrived at the ‘Kingdom of Ashes’.

I expected to arrive at this point and feel a sensation of dread or at least a nostalgia for what was. But here is a secret. When finally you reach this point, when the past has receded like floodwaters after the monsoon and the future stretches, indeterminate like the foggy horizon, you are actually at peace. You are for a time, in that animated state of mind, what Keats might have meant by ‘suspension of disbelief’, when the outer world dims and the inner world comes alive with the promise of infinite possibility.

It is the mind in ‘in suspension’ held in time suspended ! This is the prelude to ‘beauty from ashes’, a quote I read years ago about how after everything was reduced to ashes by a mountain forest fire, the next spring the hillside was ‘afire’ with a wild harvest of beautiful, exotic flowers that  covered the slopes and lent their beauty and fragrance to the once ravaged hillside!

Waiting for my blossoms to bloom, to witness my very own ‘beauty from ashes’.


© Lakshmi S. Menon


My Writing Space

Day Six: WordPress Writing 101, September 14, 2015

The Writing Space:

What are your writing habits?
What equipment or supplies do you use to write?
What do you need and want in a physical space?

The Space to write

Last summer, when there were these different blog challenges going on in April and I had deliberately taken on more than I could chew, the unthinkable happened. My laptop on which I did most of my writing CRASHED ! All my well laid plans on scheduling posts and keeping up to deadlines flew out of the window and I ruefully regretted being so presumptious and signing up for too many things. In my defence I must say that having never really had the experience of blogging challenges except the WP Writing 201 course (poetry thingy) that I enjoyed to the core, I was determined not to let go an opportunity for sustained blogging. Well, I do need to be motivated and daily reminders help !

It was then that I got this thought of trying out something that I wouldn’t have dared had this not happened. I switched gears and my favourite writing tool-cum-space was born. I started using my IPad mini and the WordPress app for blogging on a regular basis (out of sheer necessity) and now this is where I do most of my blogging.

They say when the universe closes a door it always leaves a window open !! Well so my IPad mini became the window to my blogging world. It is so mobile and so convenient not to have to wait till I get my system on and loaded that this is where I love to write now. Ideas seamlessly flow from my brain to my blog and then the share with the world ! And well my favourite writing position is reclining like a possum on my bed 😉

© Lakshmi S. Menon

Writing and Procrastination: Let Social Media Inspire You

Day Five: WordPress Writng 101, September 11, 2015

Let Social Media Inspire You

Grant Snider
Grant Snider – ‏@grantdraws

I can’t decide if procrastination kills creativity or is essential to it.
5:55 AM – 28 Apr 2014

It must be obvious to any reader reading this why I chose this particular quote. Self-explanatory, my dear Watson ! Alright I made use of some poetic license here, but how many of you know that actually nowhere in the works of Arthur Conan Doyle ( creator of Sherlock Holmes) are these famous words, “Elementary, my dear Watson” found. I would love to be proved wrong, by the way.

Coming back to the topic of ‘procrastination and creativity’,  I am a week late with these assignments but today, I intend to write them all or most of them! I made two or three rough drafts, weathered a fever, but couldn’t get around to posting them, though I badly wanted to. And now, I am on a writing spree. The words are coming forth on the wings of ideas that were barely there and yet this has been on my mind ever since the course started. I would read and re-read the instructions, formulate some sentences mentally, look through what others have written (yes, trust me I have been visiting some of you online) and then — silence.

For me there is a fine THIN LINE between ‘procrastination’ and ‘writing when inspiration strikes’. As you can imagine, college assignments were a nightmare both for me and my teachers! On a serious and important note, as the writer matures, as that ‘inner voice’ is heeded to more often, as the obsessive hold of the mind loosens, delaying is actually good for the writer. The IMAGINATION (as Wordsworth and Coleridge meant it) then organises the ideas within, chooses the words to express them and all you need to do is SHOW UP. Delay but do not ignore the inner prompting that tells you it is time for action. I am happy that this is what works for me now.

PS: haven’t got round to the how to of the ’embedding the tweet’ bit yet. Shall do it soon !!

© Lakshmi S. Menon

Make a List

Day Two: WordPress Writing 101, September 8, 2015

Today, write your own list on one of these topics:

Things I Like
Things I’ve Learned
Things I Wish

Life is short, uncertain and always throws up the unexpected. Hence when the topic of lists came up, I thought of my life and all that I never got a chance to do. I then set out to make a list, willing that the Universe, that sphere of infinite abundance is listening to me and will help me to fulfill them. So here it is.

The LIST of things I would love to do before I die:

  • Visit an exotic country with an ancient,  hoary past and as different from the country of my birth and residence
  • Visit the mountains and go on a trek, even if a small one
  • Publish three books, at least — memoir, fiction, poetry
  • Learn to paint in watercolours
  • Brush up on my music that always is a lifeline when I am feeling low
  • Start a cookery blog apart from the three I already have ( filled with random musings and randomer postings !)
  • Initiate a social service project for young children that will help them to live their dreams
  • In some meaningful way, find the means to spread the message of my spiritual mentor that I know will immensely benefit the world
  • Create a beautiful home that will be a sanctuary for my family, a place of love and peace

And that is all there is to it, this wish list of mine.

© Lakshmi S. Menon