All posts by Shakuntala Rajagopal

August 15th, Indian Independence day

In 1947, when India gained Independence from Great Britain, Mahatma Gandhi was against splitting the country into two Nations, Pakistan, and India.India-flag
In support of Gandhiji’s views, My father had

these photographs printed in the local papers. I am wearing a Nehru Cap and carrying the Indian Flag. My sister Shanthi is wearing a Muslim outfit, and carrying a Pakistani flag. We are standing, united as partners, side by side over a relief of the combined India- Pakistan Map. The accompanying article carried Gandhij’s message pleading the leaders not to split us up.

As history has shown, they did not listen to him.

1947 Shaku holding Indian flag and Shanthi the Pakistan flag
1947 Shaku holding Indian flag and Shanthi the Pakistan flag

 

 

My Summer Garden

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Working in my Summer garden I took note of the changes happening there.
The transformation of my landscape as the season changes and the warmth of the Sun in Summer affects the way each plant grows fails to amaze me. They resurrect from the deep freeze of Winter, grow and bloom and spread their seeds, all in a short span of the Summer season.
It got me thinking. And, it stopped me on my tracks and made me take stock.
My rose called Double Delight is in full bloom, the unusual deep reddish pink combined with a string cream color petals. The vision makes me want to ditch my dentist’s appointment and go get my easel and colors to record the pretty picture. Especially the way the Sweet Alyssums underfoot frame the rose in bloom. Inspiration indeed.
Then there are the masses of daylilies in four different corners. The bright yellow ones reflect the spirit of the Sun, while the bronze ones and the mauve (almost purple) ones pop up amidst the yellow lilies, beckoning my attention.
I turn the corner and two full rows, and few other groupings of Hostas greet my eyes. There are hostas with dark emerald green leaves, others with pale green color and white borders. Two groupings show even lighter green hue. Right now all of them tout hundreds of blue and white tubular flowers on tall green stalks waving welcome in the sun.
The dark red and brown stalks of Penstimmon’s carry brown seed-pods. Their floral glory is over for this summer season, however, the seeds promise a great return next year. Right next to the Penstimmons and behind the daylilies a tall clump of Monardas, or Bee Balm as they are called are showing off their pale violet feathery heads of flowers. Bees buzz around warning me not disturb them…or else…
My clump of Mint is waiting to see if I am making lemonade yet. A twig of mint in freshly made lemonade is the ultimate in summer drinks.
The Viburnums had vibrant white flowers in bunches just four weeks ago. Now the blooms are replaced by green berries. But watch out. Soon the berries will ripen to a deep dark purple. One fine day a whole army of sparrows will descend on the Viburnum bushes and feast on the berries, leaving clusters of bare stalks which held the blooms, and then the berries. It is a sight I try not to miss later in the summer.
The entire process makes me realize how our life-stages reflect the comings and goings of all the various plants and flowers. Knowing well they only bloom for a short while, they still put forth their best show each summer. I take a page from their lessons and decide to put out my best work out this Summer. For my next book.

My Summer Garden
My Summer Garden

My Summer Garden
My Summer Garden

More Double delight roses
More Double delight roses
Double delight roses
Double delight roses
my Double delight rose
my Double delight rose
Hostas, daylilies and monarda
Hostas, daylilies and monarda
Hostas
Hostas
My Bench
My Bench

Song of the Mountains Book Signing at Port Edwards

Blog, 2015
July 10th, 2015
Port Edwards Restaurant, Algonquin, Illinois has become my family’s favorite Restaurant.
It all started with my friend April M. Williams who brought my book to the attention of Edward Wolowiec, owner of Port Edward’s. Edward and I talked, I was referred to C.J. the manager, and I had my Song of the Mountains book-signing  for my memoir at the restaurant on July 9th, 2015.
It was a joyous occasion because my daughters Devi and Molly, Sons-in-law, Don and Suresh, grandson Travis, grand-niece Uma, niece Shanthi and her friend Mark all joined to celebrate the book-signing.
Old friends, Doctors Chinnamma and Joseph Thomas came, and we talked about how Chinnamma and I were students at Trivandrum Medical College, India in the late fifties, and years later Joseph and I took Creative Writing classes at University of Chicago.
Members of my writing group, Algonquin Area Writers Workshop, Kay, Joyce, Carolyn, and Richard were there also. It was fun talking about our writing accomplishments, and the publishing process.
The entire staff at Port Edward’s including Chef Keith and the manager C.J. treated us warmly. 
In the preceding weeks the members of my family had dinner at Port Edward’s on different occasions, and we each had our own favorites on the menu.
After my book-signing, we proceeded to order our favorite dishes and settled to enjoy dinner at our now favorite local restaurant.
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal with her book Song of the Mountains at Port Edward book signing
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal with her book Song of the Mountains at Port Edward book signing
Author and artist Shakuntala Rajagopal and Port Edward owner Ed Wolowiec
Author and artist Shakuntala Rajagopal and Port Edward owner Ed Wolowiec
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal and Chef Keith of Port Edward
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal and Chef Keith of Port Edward
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal and business owner April M. Williams
Author Shakuntala Rajagopal and business owner April M. Williams

 

Book signing at Port Edwards Restaurant

mudslides cutting up the face of the mountain
SONY DSC

 

 

Shaku doing Ganga Aarti
Shaku doing Ganga Aarti

Rudraprayag. Confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini tributaries of Ganges
Rudraprayag. Confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini tributaries of Ganges
SONY DSC
Shaku descending from Kedarnath

 

 

 

 

 

 

SONG OF THE MOUNTAINS – My Pilgrimage to Maa Ganga
Shakuntala Rajagopal, MD
If you like to read about adventure…
If you want to be inspired to move beyond heartbreak, read on…
Unable to contain the grief from the loss of her husband of forty years, Raj—her soul- mate and best friend, the author ‘Shaku’ (to her friends) decided to go on a pilgrimage to the holy river Ganga carrying the ashes of Raj. As she points out, “New beginnings need empowerment from within. I decided to seek help from above to attain this. I felt a pilgrimage to The Holy River Ganges—Maa Ganga—would be a chance for a rebirth, and a new beginning.”
“In her second book, Shaku takes us on an unforgettable journey, albeit a perilous one at that, to the ‘Char Dham’ (the four sacred sites revered by Hindus) nestled in the majestic Himalayas. As we travel along with her, we get to see the many splendors of nature like glowing glaciers and alpine meadows, listen to the songs of the mountains, worship at the holiest of Hindu shrines and get the blessings of the Gods. I have never felt so close to heaven in my life.” M. P.Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACCEditor in Chief, AAPI Journal

Packed with emotion, Shaku allows you to experience with her the range of sensation and emotion as she travels through the Char Dham, from the blissful sensation of dipping in the cold rushing waters of the Bhagirathi Ganga at Gangotri, 10,000 feet above sea level to the scorching dip in the hot springs of Alaknanda Ganga at Badrinath at 10,500 feet. Entwined within this beautiful travelogue is Shaku’s own love story, an enduring monument to the only man in her life, her husband Raj, which is at once moving and inspiring.

Find out what in the pilgrimage gives her a sense of rebirth and how she is able to finally find peace without her beloved Raj.

For as Shaku says, “As my life and psyche evolved into survival mode, the reader sharing my journey will also be changed in the way he or she approaches major changes in life. My story will definitely empower the reader to take action and go forward in their own life, whatever the circumstance they are facing.” Written in beautiful prose that reads often like poetry, this is a love story and a spiritual tome. A must read for everybody.
http://shakuraj.com

BUY YOUR COPY at www.shakuraj.com

Book signing

“Song of the Mountains, My pilgrimage to Maa Ganga.”
By Shakuntala Rajagopal, local author and artist

Port Edwards Restaurant, 20 W. Algonquin Rd, Algonquin, 60102.
July 9th, 2015, 5 -9 PM

Cloudy Summer Day

June 14, 2015

A cloudy summer day today. The rains in the last two days have beat up my peonies. The flowers have shed their million petals and the resulting  tricolor tapestry of pink, magenta and crimson design decorate the green grass below the plants. I know the next wind will erase the design that Mother Nature created. Replacing the colorful peonies, yellow primrose, white and pink penstimmon and purple and pink columbines have raised their stalks with glorious flowers.  On and on the flower show continues.

Every year when the weeding gets to me, or the rabbits eat all my petunias, I wow to stop planting any more petunias or eggplants. But summer comes and the colors in my garden make me forget the labor that goes into maintaining it.

The flip side is that the labor in my gardens keeps my body and my mind healthy. In my younger days I had many more roses because that is the only flower bush that blooms all summer long.

I will include my Vegetable garden philosophy here. Food for thought!

                                                                  My Vegetable Garden Philosophy

My vegetable garden symbolizes my philosophy in life.

Life need not be ordinary.

Hard work and ordinary chores are the necessary backbone of survival.

Yet, to limit ourselves into shaggy vegetable gardens is not needed.

 

The ordinary activities of life, even as the naturally unruly vegetable growth

can and should be glorified

by the beauty of paths that take you to nowhere—

but into our own selves.

 

Need a fountain or two keep our eyes upwards to

divert us from any tired and dead plants at end of autumn.

Need some rising colors of sunflowers and zinnias

to contrast with the browns of the aging spinach or the graying cucumber vines.

 

All this we need to help uplift the rising spirit of our souls

even as our aging bodies claim rest from our labors.

 

The beauty created by me in my vegetable garden

echos the beauty that I create in my life.

Amongst the mundane in our lives and amongst pain we cannot avoid,

we still cherish the smiling face of a sunflower or of a special smiling boy,

 

Enjoy a bear hug from a girl child

like hugs of a morning glory vine around a wooden post.

Cascading marigolds suggest the loud laughter of a tickled child

Red tomatoes on vines warm me the same as chubby red baby cheeks

 

Purple eggplants bring royalty to my stone throne

the beauty of life reflected, elevate me out of painful chores

Albeit, the chores are the backbone of survival

And oh so necessary for living!

 

Shakuntala Rajagopal

June 2015

Me as a Memoirist

Me as a Memoirist.

How I keep memories alive. 

I am fortunate in that I often dream of people from my past.  I dream of the life I shared with them, and I dream I am doing the things I wish I had done with them.

In my last dream Daddy was here in Chicago, walking with me and my grandson in Millennium Park.  In my dream we laughed and talked, and he and his long white beard were the same as when I left him and India 48 years ago.  I could only see wisps of my own hair, and my 12 year old grandson was vivid in the picture, skipping along beside me, talking to Sivaraam Appoo, that is what he would have called his great grandfather, my dad, if he was here now.

My Dad has been gone for forty years.  My dream evoked memories of the time he and I walked the Botanical Gardens and Zoo in Trivandrum, South India, where I lived until I was twenty three.  I close my eyes, and I can hear his rich, vibrant voice telling me I could be, and could do anything I wished in life, if I believed in myself.  More so, he instilled in me the belief that the divine power of God is within each of us.

This dream not only triggered memories of Dad, but made me look up other stories from my past I had already written.

I plan to share them, soon.

Good Friends

June 3rd, 2015
A week ago I had the good fortune to spend some time with my classmate from Kindergarten and High School, Ambika Sukumaran. She was an actress, a renowned movie star in Malayalam movies, (Malayalam is Mother tongue). Ambika acted in many award winning movies and was heroine to some famous actors in the sixties and seventies.
We reminisced of our time at the Holy Angels’ Convent High School and laughed at how naïve we were when we came to the U.S.A. We talked about all the years in between when we did not see each other for forty two years, yet we were comfortable sharing stories of our life, of our children and best of all about our grandchildren. We promised to do this again, soon.
I have been told not to be stuck in the past.For the memoirist that I am the past stories did not get me stuck in any place, rather gave me one more stepping stone to write about a few more characters from my past.
A double bonus from a rekindled friendship.
Shakuntala.

Summer Breeze

Summer Breeze  

Summer breeze
warm and wet, from the seas
waving, moving, my hair set abreeze
running running
sand in my eyes
sand in my toes

sandals thrown , lost in the sand
echoes of my ammoomma’s voice
leave your sandals in the car, lost in the wind
too late too late, they are
gone in the sand
sand everywhere

winter breeze
dry and cold from the snow
boots dig deep
heavy steps dragging dragging
chills my bones and bogs me down
tries to stomp my spirit

pick up your feet, go on go on
life’s to be lived, and love’s awaiting
I call on the summer breeze
come blow, and blow
and fan the fire within me
warm up my soul, my body and mind

million miles from summer
million miles from sands
is it too far for the summer breeze to flow?
will it blow, will I grow?
I know I will, ‘cause
the summer breeze lies within

Shakuntala Rajagopal

Night-blooming Cereus

Night-blooming Cereus, May 22, 2015

Tonight around 9:00 P.M. two blooms appeared on my Night blooming Cereus. Perfect white petals arranged in three layers started opening about 8:00 P.M., and the bold –faced flowers, eight inches in diameter swung gracefully from ten inch long stalks which arose from the very edge of one leaf each. They look like they would drop to the floor any minute. However, each flower stayed attached while spreading an unique fragrance which filled the room.

This took me back to when I was ten years old, when the Cereus in my home in Trivandrum, India bloomed, maybe two or three times a year. There, in the subtropics it bloomed at around 11:00 P.M. All the children stayed up late to see the rare sight. In my home here, the farther North I am, and with the daylight saving time changes, the opening time of these flowers also vary. On the occasions they open in the fall, it happens later, like at 10:00 P.M. onwards.

Shaku flower 3 Shaku Flower 2 Shaku Flower 1

Just as we who moved North adjusted to the movements of the Sun, the Cereus, or (the “Night-blooming Lily” as we used to call it,) also varied its habits of blooming.

Tomorrow the flowers will dangle listless and damp-looking, all the wild white energy spent. The fragrance will linger for another twenty-four hours. That is it. Until more buds appear next month or next spring, whenever that happens.

Shaku Rajagopal

May 22nd, 2015

A Writer Writes

A Writer writes.

As an Author, I need to write my story.

Every one of us has our own unique story to tell the world.

I feel it is important to tell the young members of my family growing up here, the experiences of a first generation Indian from Thiruananthapuram, Kerala, India, who settled here in the sixties.

Where Raj and I came from, our given name is usually our ‘surname’ or ‘last name’ and is often used as the official name in business and documents.

So, when our progeny looks up ancestory.com, the search will end with the first person who came here.  Unless the entire family sticks to a common last name, or follows the family name, no previous history will be found.

Hence, it is necessary that we put down in words all about where and who we came from.

It is important that they know not only of the growing pains of young immigrants in this land where the language, the food, the clothes and the customs are different, but also of the joy and the spirit of comradery among us newcomers that enabled us to get accustomed to the place we made our home.

Above all, they need to know why it is important to remember people who helped us survive the tough winters and show them why we need to pay forward  to those who come after us.

I personally have this need to tell them how our Indian element became an integral part of the melting pot that is the United States of America.

I have been telling my story to anyone who wishes to listen, and am determined to put together my next book of how I was:  Transplanted  from 100°F in the shade to 10°F in the sun, in a twenty four hour period. I will also tell how our love for each other kept me and my husband Raj going, despite all odds.