All posts by Shakuntala Rajagopal

Indian Independence Day August 15th

Seventy-one years ago my sister Shanthi and I alongside our cousins, were allowed to stay up until midnight to hear the celebration on the radio of The Birth of a New Nation, an Independent India.

The National Anthem blasted over the radio at Midnight. I sang along, as best as I could at seven years old. I don’t think I knew all the words. But I remember my little heart pounding with pride as my father cheered on.

The next day we watched the Independence Day Parade at the Pangode Military Base, not too far from town. We were handed little Tricolor flags of a free India to wave as the Parade passed by the viewing stands.

In the year previous to this event, Mahatma Gandhi had tried his level best to avoid splitting “India” into the two countries of India and Pakistan. In support of Mahatma, my father, photographer Sivaraam, who was an ardent Gandhian follower, posted these tableaux in the local paper as an illustration to keep the two countries together. With the relief of an United India-Pakistan in the background, I donned a Nehru-cap and touted the Indian flag, while Shanthi had the Muslim salwar-kameez outfit and the flag of Pakistan. The accompanying article pleaded with our leaders not to split the two countries.

While both attained freedom from the British rule, history has shown the united nation was not meant to be.

1947 Shaku holding Indian flag and Shanthi the Pakistan flag

Freedom fight, 1946-1947
On the relief of an United India-Pakistan country, Shaku wearing a Nehru-cap holding an Indian flag, and Shanthi with the Muslim Salwar-Kameez outfit holding a Pakistani flag. This was the local town’s appeal to avoid splitting the two Nations. It did not come to fruition.

A Hot Summer Day

What I love about a hot summer day is that I have an excuse to slow down, watch the sun move across the sky and daydream about all the things I still wish to do in my life on earth.

One of my favorite pastimes is perusing the thousands of photographs I have. Some photographs bring to mind key events in life from long long ago. Like hot afternoons on the beach with my Dad, Mom, sisters and brother. Walking barefoot in the sand with my ammoomma and my sister Shanthi for miles at a time. The warm feelings they evoke give me joy in the lazy and hazy days of summer.

My photos with my ammoomma make me thankful for her influence on me to stay level-headed in times of chaos and crisis.

Although tinged with sadness in missing them, I sigh with gratitude for all I gained from them. With a new assurance that I have their blessings to continue my work on this planet, I spring up from my chair and start fulfilling my dreams.
And I am rewarded by the fruits of my labor for this moment in time in my present life.

There goes the lazy days of summer……..Not lazy or hazy anymore. Yet, very gratifying.

Shakuntala Rajagopal

 

Sole Hope Project

There is a parasite called jiggers in Uganda that enter the skin and causes infestation affecting the feet of children and many adults that render them unable to walk, causes anemia, disability and even causes them to be social outcasts.

The Sole Hope organization helps to provide uppers for shoes made of cut up jeans and plastic inserts. These are made by people in the US at “sole cutting “ parties then sent to Uganda. The workers make the shoes there. The patients are treated by removal of the jiggers under the skin and then wear the shoes for ongoing protection.

More information at www. Solehope.org/.

My niece Shanti is dedicated to this cause, and last weekend eleven of us had a sole-cutting party.

In one afternoon we made forty pairs of cutouts to send to Uganda. We also have to provide $10.00 per shoe pair to complete the mission. It was also a very neat bonding experience for us,working for such a worthwhile cause.

My Fall Garden

The colors in my fall garden surprise me each year. Brilliant reds of my roses, the four different hues of just that one color, red all amaze me. The way I plant them, I have the million petite blooms of Sweet alyssum at the baseand the red color pops up. But then the pink and purple snapdragons appear in unplanned spots and add vibrant contrast to the whit alyssums and the roses. I turn around and my orange-yellow marigolds and the pure orange zinnias boldly wave to tell me they are there too. None of these can be ignored. And, add to all this, my red hibiscus in the pot, the violet and pink clematis and the long stalks of the purple sage; and that will complete the picture in my front yard garden.

Pink Rose
Pink Rose

Oh, then there is my arch of climbing Autumn Clematis that forms a breathtaking backdrop to my lady in the garden. This statue is Anne, and she has her hands on two children climbing up on to her legs. Raj and I got that statue in 1972, when we moved into our first home in this country. In 1973 I had sweet white alyssums planted in front of her. Those days I had dozens of roses on both sides of her. I have a picture from that fall garden too. Memories……

I did not plant, feed, water, talk and sing to them to ignore them in all their glory. I do wish to enjoy, savor and dream upon them.

Sunflowers
Sunflowers
Autumn garden color
Autumn garden color
Autumn in my garden
Autumn in my garden
Alyssum in the garden
Alyssum in the garden
Alyssum
Alyssum

It is true they will all be gone in a few days. The only truth we know for sure in life is death. I know the colors of the different seasons add to the variety of life. Yet, fall brings a feeling of tightness in my chest that lingers just beneath the joy that the glorious colors of my garden give to me. I don’t really know why. Just like death and goodbyes I have learned to accept, manage, and live beyond the loss of my fall garden which is imminent and is under the mercy of that first frost, and the ones after that…..

A poem I wrote a long time ago still reflects my thoughts of this season.

Melancholy of Fall

Melancholy of fall weighs heavily in my heart
the beauty of auburn Maple, yellow golden Ash leaves
and rose hips turning red and brown
signal goodbye to blue herons, robins and the geese

falling leaves wave farewell to summer
and force me to remember of times I had to
bid somber farewell to loved ones in far away places
and those long gone with the setting suns

sunbeams push weakly through fog hovering over still waters
even fat frogs croak sleepy and slow
lazy golden sunsets change to orange autumn specters
and a pallor fills my eyes with sadness unexplained

when winter winds bring chilly nights
frigid and still though they may seem, they seethe
with the energy of sleeping dreams readying
to unfold the hopes of Spring not far behind

but, it is the slow of fall I really dread
as I face long swarthy, submissive evenings
and the restrained sorrow that fills my heart
owed to nagging pains of remembered goodbyes

Shakuntala Rajagopal

Autumn flowers
Autumn flowers

 

Alyssum flowers
Alyssum flowers

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Local Author Shaku Raj to Exhibit at Autumn’s Living Library

** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE **

Local Author to Exhibit at Autumn’s Living Library

Raising Scholarships for Girls on the Run of Northern Illinois

Crystal Lake, Ill, Sept 5, 2017 – Avallon’s Voice Inc. invites the community to Autumn’s Living Library, (ALL) October 5th where readers and writers come together to raise scholarship money for the Northern Illinois Chapter of Girls on the Run. The event will be held at McHenry County College, Building A (Atrium), 8900 NW Hwy, Crystal Lake, IL from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Authors will be available to answer questions, sign books, and will have their latest works on display.

Join local author Shakuntala Rajagopal as she brings her book “Song of the Mountains: My Pilgrimage to Maa Ganga!” This memoir chronicles my healing journey to the origins of the great and holy river Ganges, when I lost my dear husband Raj of forty three years. The journey took me to four historic temples in the Himalayan ranges.

I won  the CIPA and The MILL CITY PRESS Author Award, 2017.

The second book I will bring to the fair is my novel “Radha”, a story of two medical students, Radha a Hindu girl and Danny a Christian, and their saga over twenty-five years. ___________________________________________________
One guest from an earlier, March 2nd event stated, “the vibe in the room was so welcoming, I didn’t want to leave!” That gathering raised $380.00 for girls who otherwise wouldn’t have the finances to participate with GOTR. “It was a fun way to share my newest release and to encourage the important work of building up young women in our community,” said Elizabeth Harmon, an exhibiting author and partner in both events.
This year, GOTR of Northern Illinois is celebrating 10-years of building confidence in young girls through running, while preparing them for friendships and the future. Kerstin Schaefer, Marketing Assistant for Avallon’s Voice states, “I’m glad that we are bringing people together and happy to be a part of helping girls to learn of the potential for great relationships.”

About: Girls on the Run NW Illinois
Girls on the Run® is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams. Offices are located at 111 Erik St, Suite 115, Crystal Lake, IL. More information is available at: https://www.gotrnwil.org/Our-Programs

About: Avallon’s Voice, Inc.
Avallon’s Voice, Inc. is in Crystal Lake, Ill and exists for the purpose of helping people and companies find their own unique “voice”, then share it. Rocks represent hard parts of the past, by dropping the rocks, we are freed to share our gifts, build beneficial relationships, and prosper. The company is founded by Kimberley Schumacher, Author and Communication Specialist, and is located in Crystal Lake, IL. More information is available at: http://www.avallonsvoice.com/.

You can find event details at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1930686097213026/

– Shakuraj.com

Author Shakuntala Rajagopal
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal

 

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The Chenthitta House, November 1945

November, 1945

I was a five year old girl at the time.

I was startled awake from a deep sleep by the hustle and bustle of unusual activity, doors opening and closing, and many footsteps back and forth outside my Ammoomma’s, grandmother’s room, where I slept alongside my three year old sister, Shanthi. Footsteps hurried across the floor. Listening closely I heard more footsteps that paced back and forth outside my bedroom.

The clock said 2, O’clock. I was glad that somebody remembered to leave the blue night light ‘on.’

Suddenly a new sound pierced the night. A wailing sound of a baby crying. I got up and walked out of the bedroom and straight into the arms of my maternal aunt, Ammachi.  She explained what I heard was a baby’s first announcement of its arrival, a demanding cry which was a craving for attention.  The craving was quite evident-(a craving I have come to believe ends only with our last breaths) – and I knew we had a baby in the house. I ran towards the room where the sound came from. I could not wait any longer to be called. (An obedient child never interrupted adults unless expressly summoned!) Thank God everyone was too busy;  too happy to be strict at that point. I barely heard my Ammachi’s voice, something about a new sister. And then I saw her- a squiggly baby, shining wet after her first bath, still screaming, and oh so small.

So, this was my new baby sister. I pushed forward to see her face. I was sure she looked straight at me. My five year old heart swelled with love for her instantly.

The adults were still bustling around preparing an official welcome for the new addition to the family. As was our custom in South India, the oldest member of the family present, my Ammoomma, was going to feed the little one three sips of honey and gold. I saw Ammachi rub a piece of gold, my mother’s wedding ring, into a few drops of honey placed in a little white marble boat. I recognized it as the  marble mortar in which our medicine pills were ground up to feed us medicines. The sweetest food of all, honey, and the most precious metal of all, gold; a mixture that is a symbolic offering of the best in life to new and smallest member of our family, by the senior-most family member, Ammoomma.

But- not this time. I was vehement; she was “my” sister. I wanted to officially welcome her, and boy I wasn’t going to settle for a nay answer, and, I must have won my point. Because this time they waived tradition. Soon I had the squirming little sister in my lap. My small hands needed help to keep her there. I held the bundle of joy while grandma had to lean down to feed her the gold and honey. Everybody smiled. Dad shook his head in disbelief.  My Ammoomma was not one to give in to anyone. But she did for me, her special kochu-mol, grand-daughter.

The sweet stuff must have made an impression on the little one- for she soon settled quietly in her big sister’s arms as I sighed in relief and sat back basking in the sunshine of all the attention I was sharing with my own baby sister.

That was the very special place, where my two sisters and I grew up with my parents, and my Ammachi, my maternal aunt, when I was five years old.

Seventy one years later, I really believe that the sense of belonging, the sense of unconditional love and the sense of ultimate trust in placing a live human being in my hands—-all these add up to what I became when I grew up from my five year old self.

 Shakuntala
Shaku and her siblings
Shaku, Jayee and Shanthi

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Authors Supporting Authors

Speaking of supporting each other, we authors attend book-release parties; edit each other’s works in workshops and writing groups and offer pep talks………..
I had the privilege of attending an Author event, “Wednesday’s Way With Words” in The Listening room at Lakeside Arts Park, in the Dole Mansion, Crystal Lake, Illinois.
This was the first session of new series of Literary events planned in The Listening Room.



At the opening session of this laudable event, six Authors read their works, and their published works were available for purchase.  Matt Brauer, Linda Heuring, Carrie McGuigan, Elizabeth Harmon, Douglas Elwell, and Kimberly Schumacher, under the able guidance of Gwen Koehler, the Program Manager, shared their writing, each treating us listeners with their unique stories, literary styles and some humor.

The Cotton Tree

Last month, on my way to a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram I saw a tall cotton tree carrying brown pods about 4” to 6” long, some open and spewing white cotton into the wind.

As a young girl in my Ammoomma’s home, I, alongside my sisters and cousins, extracted the fluffy white stuff that transformed into cotton.

That tree that gave us cotton for our mattresses was called the ‘Elavu.’

In the beginning of Summer, end of February to early March, dry brown pods from the flowers of the Elavu trees, also called Silk-cotton trees, were delivered to my Ammoomma’s house. Three to four bags almost as tall as me, and I was about three or four feet tall then, making a crinkling noise as they were moved, intrigued me. As I saw one opened, oval shaped brown pods, some cracked open were spewing white cotton puffs into the air. I remember the first time I caught one. It felt soft and fluffy.

I was told they came from our own trees that grew in one of the properties Ammoomma owned in the suburbs of Trivandrum.

After the morning chores, the cook, the outside maid and we the children gathered around the pods, and sitting in a wide circle handled them. An adult cracked the pods with a round stick, and passed them to the next in line. My sister, cousin and I opened the pod, released the white cottony stuff, and put it into a barrel placed in the center of our circle.

The oldest among us, (usually my Kitchen Ammoomma,) told us stories of where our doctor Ammoomma grew up. She also told us about different pieces of property that Ammoomma had purchased, and how some of it got leased to other people for farming. The Elavu trees were one such crop, and how every summer we got a share of the crop for our family.

When the barrel was about two-thirds full we stood up, and using a wooden lathe, similar to the ones used to churn butter, churned the cotton. The fluffy stuff rose to the top and the brownish-black seeds fell to the bottom. The tallest in the group then picked up the cotton and stuffed them into jute bags.

As I remember, this was sent to a seamstress who made pillows and mattresses. When the mattresses we were using lost their fluffiness, they were emptied of the old cotton and refilled with the new fluffy stuff. Same thing was done to our pillows also.

Now–a-days I don’t see anyone fluffing the cotton. They probably have small factories that do this.

I am wondering how the young ones are learning stories of yore, if they are not gathering together to do chores like getting out the cotton, or helping to grind and other grains….. Now, that is another story yet to be told!!!

Shakuntala

A bird called Uppan

 

A balmy morning in South India, trying to escape the cold cold Chicago winter, even if it is for a few days.
A fleeting color of dusky copper brown alerted me and I got up from the porch chair. It was an Uppan bird with distinct chestnut wings and long dark blue-black tail. He brought back memories of being awoken by the classic hooting sound of the Uppan, a common bird in Kerala, but one which did not come too often to our home in the city where I lived  as a child.
Nimmi grabbed her camera and low and behold an Uppan was sitting comfortably, swinging on a low palm branch of a coconut tree. He was quiet. A few seconds later he took to the air and we saw another one, possibly his mate, rise up from the next tree. That was a mango tree. We both were excited about the sighting and the good luck of capturing his short flight.
The Uppan is a Greater Coucal.  It is also called a Crow pheasant.
What I remember was as a child I heard him often, but living in a busy central part of Trivandrum town, the sightings were rare. So, this visit was very special…. a very special blessing in the sun.
Shakuntala

Scenes from my Past

When I plan on moving forward in my life, scenes from the past run through the screen of memories. To move forward in life, you cannot live in the past.
By the same token, it is definitely your past experiences that guide your future action. If there is a traumatic experience in my past or yours, it would be well worthwhile to go deep into your memories to see what part of those can help with your future decisions. Similarly, any victorious or joyful occurance can guide you forward on the actual future you are planning for yourself.
Six years ago when my dear husband Raj passed away, I had a hard time figuring out what to do with all the strong feelings within me. While I mourned his absence, I knew I had too much pent up energy that if not spent productively would explode. It was not easy because the last ten years of my life revolved around the physical caring of Raj, helping him manage his Diabetes and other medical conditions. I had to build up energy, physical and mental to do that. I also knew I had to honor his strength and his love of our family.
Thinking back, I remembered how strong my mother-in-law, Thankom-Maami was when she lost her husband at the young age of thirty nine. Her youngest child was only ten months old. Three years later her oldest son, Raj, my husband, decided that coming to America for his post-graduate training would afford him the best opportunity to take care of his mother and siblings. Knowing it was the right move for him, Maami stood stoic as she hugged him goodbye, even though her heart was breaking to let her first-born travel so far away.
Raj and I with his mother in the center and his siblings, 1963
My mother lost my Dad when she was close to fifty years old. She immersed herself in caring for her children and grandchildren, never once complaining about how she missed him or blaming God for her loss.
Following the footsteps of strong women in the family, I too acted courageously.
Raj and I with my Ammoomma,Grandmother in the center and an extended family, 1963.
I was “Transplanted from 110 degrees in the shade to 10 degrees below zero,” when I decided to live in Chicagoland. I felt it was crucial that my progeny grow up knowing my heritage and knowing what I lost in leaving my land of origin, and gaining so very much in this land I call my own. Hence my writing about my past, my childhood, my challenges in life, my religious beliefs, my philosophy in life….I need to share all these facets to illustrate how you can gain strength from your past and not let your past drag you down. My stories will help all readers understand that the differences in culture are easily transcended by the recognition that all people have the same needs as foodsafety, peace, and above all, being loved.
And in sharing my experiences, I am certain many can draw strength to manage challenges in their own lives.