Question 1: Please share with us more about your background and what made you decide to write and publish a poetry book?
Lalit Mengi: I grew up in the lap of nature, due to postings of my father, a doctor by profession, in the hilly districts of India’s northernmost erstwhile state (now a union territory) Jammu & Kashmir, during my early childhood. The idyllic ambience of the captivating landscapes had left an indelible impression in my mind. Later during my service career as a civil engineer, I happened to revisit the same areas with nostalgic memories of the yore, and then many more mesmerizing hills, vales and dales, overseeing projects in various capacities. Bonanza of nature, the picturesque countryside’s’ had offered time and again to my feasting eyes, made my thought process poetic. Unbeknown to me though, yet I had realized it, when I analyzed transformation in my writing style over the years, becoming prose in poetry.
Writing has been my passion right from high school days, and quite often I would go beyond the curriculum to enrich the content with finesse, using newly learnt words and expression. Somehow during my service career and thereafter, my writing remained generally focused on technical subjects and presentation of papers in various forums, where I did get due recognition. Yet it preyed on my mind all the time, to broaden the scope of my writings, to give an outlet to my random thoughts on various aspects of life. The propitious stage did after all arrive, even though it was an opportunity in adversity in early 2020, by outbreak of pandemic, covid-19. It made our lives topsy-turvy and we were in forced solitude. There were two options to steer through the stressful, challenging times. One was to fret and frown, all the time bemoan the havoc that had befallen on the humanity. Second was, to sagaciously face the situation, adhering to the safety norms, but at the same time to disown negativity, and utilize plentiful hours available productively. I chose the second option, to reinvent myself, to trigger my demanding instincts lying dormant. I started writing regularly, covering the journey of covid-19, and in its backdrop, the trepidations and tribulations we were undergoing, facing the wrath of the unpredictable deadly virus; the transformations that had taken place in our life styles and its overall fall out.
I then expanded scope of my write-ups, covering subjects of day to day life of normal times, human traits and behaviour across a wide spectrum. Many a times, I would venture into the coveted realms of philosophers, saints and yogis’ who had spent their lifetimes understanding the enigmatic human life, a beautiful gift of God, yet for an average mortal like me, remains a conundrum. Nevertheless I could mistily gaze into some aspects, going through treasured writings of extraordinary authors and exalted souls, like Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Parmahansa Yogananda, Sri Aurobindo, and above all Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, a collection of highly inspirational poems, devoted to the universal lord leaving a deep imprint in my mind. Initially I would share my poetic write-ups, quite often concluding with befitting Urdu couplets, on Face book. I got an overwhelming response and appreciation from my friends, who not only encouraged me, but practically nudged me to go to the next level. That is how exactly my book project took off.
My poetic expression now gaining further momentum, gave a unique identity to my writing style, pleasing and easy on the eye. Consciously and subconsciously, I was greatly influenced by the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I read many times over, besides by the poems of renowned poets like Lord Alfred Tennyson, Khalil Gibran, William Wordsworth, John Milton, and then the fascinating ”Golden Gate” in 281 sonnets by Vikram Seth. I had eventually started writing regularly, and after initial reluctance of the balking mind, a cornucopia of ideas had started unfolding, notwithstanding a draught of thoughts at times. I would now share my poems, with my family. Prompt feedback and unbiased comments from my son Vikram and daughter Deepika, had made my immense task lot easier. This in fact proved no less than a spring board, to my cherished dream project, culminating into “Musings of the Mind-During corona times”.
I will sum up my expectations from my maiden literary endeavour, quoting one stanza from the Preface:
In my twilight years, amidst the gleams and slumber;
Dreams and ambitions yet alive, I wonder;
To my sedulous yearning and humble effort, I do surrender:
To seek what, I know not, but to get a pedestal to my musings;
Nothing more nothing under.
Question 2. What inspired you to come up with the book’s name “Musings of the Mind”?
Lalit Mengi: As the very name suggests, my book is a reflection of my pent-up observations, languishing in my inquisitive mind, seeking an outlet, like opening up of a flood gate at the appropriate time. I did not find any other title more befitting than the one I chose.
Question 3. Can you tell us more about your new book? Its uniqueness and what can readers expect from the book?
Lalit Mengi: Uniqueness of my book is that it dwells on topics of day to day life, through a lucid and cogent style of writing ; making home the point with metaphors and quotes, besides taking recourse to alliterations, rhythm and rhymes, essential tools of poetry. As an example, I may refer to the top stanza of poem titled “Temper” on page 87, as below:
Temper, a vital symbol of identity,
Can make or mar one’s personality.
Handled wisely, nurtured painstakingly,
And is in reality,
A good servant, but a bad master;
A good possession, why lose it at anger’s altar?
I have made an earnest effort, in all my humility, to unfold dilemmas of the human mind, while dealing with subjects of metaphysical nature, surrendering to the universal lord from the core of heart, as in Chapter 1-An insight. As an example, I will refer to the very first poem titled “queue”. It is a simple sounding word but has a deep meaning, the way in which I have dealt with the subject, stretching my imagination, from standing in a queue at Post Office to the divine queue: A fodder for thought to the readers. I will quote few lines from the last stanza on page 22:
Transcending the entire queues, there is yet one queue;
Of human imagination, the ultimate goal one seeks;
Looking for the benevolent glance, I too wish to be in the divine queue.
Question 4: How long did you take to work on the book and how do you go about finding inspiration for your poetry?
Lalit Mengi: It took me seven months to write and compile my poems ; and then five months with the publisher in book designing, proof reading, multiple times editing before clearing for printing. The inspiration to write in poetry, is perhaps deep inside, it is visceral, having developed a poetic mind right from the childhood days, the bountiful nature bestowed upon me, as I have said above. Over the years, it had started reflecting in my write-ups, and in the process my writing style had acquired an identity, which was in consonance with my instincts. But I stand in deep gratitude to the great authors, eminent poets, exalted souls, as I have mentioned already and reiterate, that their extraordinary works, like William Shakespeare’s plays particularly sonnets, and then Vikram Seth’s amazing Golden Gate, and above all Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, did profoundly influence and enhance my writing skills. I also did lot of research on line as well, to better understand the nuances of English poetry. Indubitably, it was an enriching experience, to decipher the metric lines, and appreciate the structures, rhythm and rhymes. In my poems, I have done my best to connect with the readers in my own style, without being hostage to any particular category of poetry.
Question 5. Do you think poetry is important and why?
Lalit Mengi: I believe a poetic mind has the potential to weave thoughts, which generally remain out of reach of an ordinary mind. It is analogous to that of a painter, who creates work of art with his brush and paint. A poet’s domain is no less. With his imaginative skills, he can transcend the barriers, uplifting an otherwise commonplace expression to excellence, which in prose would sound outlandish, weird and without sequence. For example, I may refer to first stanza of my poem titled “Old Age-A boon or a bane, page 75 :
At an unearthly hour, at my door tapping,
With steely steps, you caught me napping;
An unwelcome guest, a messenger of my
Twilight with all its trapping’s:
Shaking me in my deep slumber, from my
Fanciful world sent me packing.
It is the childlike innocence, a hallmark of a poetic mind reflecting in the poems, which catches the attention of the readers, who connect effortlessly, unencumbered with the author.
Question 6. What is your advice to someone who aspires to be an author like yourself?
Lalit Mengi: My simple advice to a budding aspirant to be an author is to listen to the signals emanating from the subconscious mind, lying buried crying for attention. What is needed next is to pick up pen and scribble thoughts, desperately looking for an outlet, in a language simple but meaningful. Simultaneously, it is very necessary to read and even reread books of eminent authors, to be well informed, to be better equipped, while embarking on your literary journey. It is absolutely necessary, to be truthful to facts, abide by the ethics and maintain a comprehensive record of bibliography.
Question 7. Understand that you are 80 years old. Do you have any lifestyle habits, that you will like to share on staying healthy and keeping our mind healthy?
Lalit Mengi: I will be 80 years old on the 2nd August this year. I have by and large led a disciplined life. I keep my mind occupied, remaining engaged with books, solving crosswords; maintain my own thesaurus, pen down my thoughts at any opportunity. I love my walking schedules, and there is no compromise on that. I as well practice Yoga, Pranayam (Yogic breathing exercises) and meditation, to keep my body, mind and soul in harmony. There are quite a few chapters in my book on the tricky subject “Mind”. I do also enjoy socializing with likeminded people, keeping negativity at bay.
Lalit Mengi held an enriching book reading event recently to share about his book and to watch the event, please go to https://youtu.be/d2qFetG5xdQ.
To get the book ‘Musings of the Mind’, please visit the link at https://www.hagargifts.com/products/musings-of-the-mind-during-corona-times. Proceeds will be donated to www.Hagar.org.sg