Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Interview with Raji Lukkoor, Author of 'Inner Pilgrimage:Ten Days to a Mindful Me'

Raji spent her early years in the sleepy state of Goa, India. She now resides in California, USA. Both states define the western coastlines of their respective countries and have pristine, white-sand beaches, swaying palms, towering mountain ranges, spectacular vistas, world-class resorts, action-packed cities and charming towns, round-the-year sunshine, fabulous gastronomy, rich biodiversity, and only the world's finest people.

Raji attended Goa Engineering College, graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1990. Thereafter, she joined the graduate program at San Jose State University, California, earning a master's degree in environmental engineering. Raji also has a certificate in Technical Writing and Communication from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Her passion for writing has led her for nearly twenty years now, to write for government and technology companies in Silicon Valley, where she lives, and provide volunteer writer services for non-profit organizations throughout the world.

Today it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome and introduce you all, to the author Raji Lukkoor. I would also like to say thank-you to Raji from us all, for taking some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us today.

Thank you. It’s my pleasure to talk to you.

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about California and why you like living there?

 I had a dream one night about coming to America. That was when I was in the sixth grade. It just turned out, years later, that the man I married relocated to California! I currently live in Silicon Valley, which has been my home for over 21 years and home also to technology giants such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Intel, HP, Cisco, Adobe, Oracle, and Facebook, among others.

My family’s favourite places and activities include cruising along Fisherman’s Wharf in picturesque San Francisco, walking under the sandstone archways in Stanford University’s enchanting campus, and driving on scenic State Route One on a clear day while soaking in breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Some factual nuggets on California...
Bordering the blue waters of the Pacific, the state of California is the third largest of the US states with a population of approximately 37 million, i.e., every one in eight Americans lives in California. In addition to being the nation’s leader in population, California also boasts of having the following “mosts”:
·         Earthquakes (approx. 50 every day! Yikes!)
·         Millionaires (663,000 in 2010)
·         Inventions (20,000 new inventions per year)
·         Cars, surf gear, video games, milk, farm produce, wine
·         Nobel Prize winners (at least 219)
·         Judges (a total of 1,600 state-wide)
·         Colleges (10 public university or UC campuses, 23 CSU campuses, 110 community colleges)
·         Major professional sports league franchises (3 football, 5 baseball, 4 basketball, 3 ice hockey, and 3 soccer)

Allow me to share a few personal earthquake memories:
I had just arrived in the US. I was home alone one afternoon, watching the news on television when the screen jumped a few times and the news reader, obviously shaken from the jolt, composed herself and muttered, “I...think...that was an earthquake.” It was my introduction to earthquakes.

Another time, while pregnant with my second son, I arrived early for an offsite meeting and decided to wait in my car, which I parked in a lot right across from train tracks. As I sat there, listening to the radio, a loud roar—like that of an airplane—interrupted my listening. Next thing I knew, the steering trembled, my heart hammered in my ribcage, and my parked car slowly shuddered to the right. I leaned forward, hesitatingly, to see if there was a train coming. There was no train. It was an earthquake!

Recently, one evening, as my children and I entertained a house guest in our family room, the familiar roar of an airplane sounded. It was actually quite loud, as if the airplane were flying right above our heads. As the seismic wave rumbled and rolled across the room, the wood floor creaked, my throat went dry, the photo frames on the wall shifted, the furniture moved, the hairs on my spine stiffened, the dangling light bulbs swayed, and the patio doors shuddered. It all happened in a matter of seconds. We’ve lived here long enough to know what to do. We sprung to our feet and dashed to the street, our hearts quickening from the image of the glass doors shattering and exploding in our faces, as in a Hollywood disaster movie, which, much to our dismay, didn’t occur.

I live on shaky ground, for sure, but there’s no place else I’d rather be—Kaa lee four nee yeah!

You spent your early years in the State of Goa in India. Do you have any memories from there that you would be willing to share?

I like this question. Goa is my joy, my pride, my very essence of being. Goa is India’s smallest state, bordered on the west by the Arabian Sea and located approximately 400 km south of Mumbai. I have vivid memories of every school that I attended, every neighbourhood that I scampered through, every face that I befriended and, of course, the breathtaking and sometimes dramatic sights, smells, sounds, and the characteristic warmth that is Goa. Who can forget the stunning Dona Paula wharf or the magic of the roaring waves that slap its shore? Or the gushing, milky roar at Harvalem Waterfall, enhanced by the monsoon rains, to the lush greenery that defines the countryside. The old Portuguese-era churches, temples that incorporate traditional Hindu, Islamic, and Portuguese architecture, unending stretches of beach, forts, wildlife sanctuaries, resorts, swaying coconut palms, and the resplendent rice paddy blossoms round out the tourist attractions.

I have visited Goa only a few times since I moved to California, and this past July, I had the opportunity to visit again. Here’s a recent photo of one of my favourite Goa hangouts.

Raji Lukkoor in Dona Paula, Goa, July 2011

Can I ask you what sort of books did you enjoy reading during your childhood?

The typical children’s books of a bygone era—Enid Blyton (The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, and my personal favourite—Malory Towers), Agatha Christie, Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys), the Nancy Drew mystery series. In school, I studied the works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Louisa May Scott, Emily Bronte, Mark Twain, Lewis Caroll, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, Daniel Dafoe, H. G. Wells, P. G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, Robert Arthur, Robert Louis Stevenson, W. Somerset Maugham, Rabindranath Tagore, George Bernard Shaw, John Keats, W. B. Yeats, Elizabeth and Robert Browning, Miguel De Cervantes, and William Wordsworth.

Some memorable books and characters: Alice’s escapades in Lewis Caroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland; Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s unlikely romance in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper’s piratic pursuits in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

As I transitioned into adolescence, my reading repertoire expanded to include Mills and Boon, James Hadley Chase, Barbara Cartland, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sidney Sheldon.

Do you think the books that you read during your early years influenced your current writing in any way?

Although difficult to measure, I’m sure that my early years’ reading injected an element of influence into my current writing. However, the turning point for me, and what I believe sparked my love for the English language, was my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Sukhtanker. She was intense and had a sense of purpose—she connected well with students. She was always well-prepared and delivered her lessons spot-on. I remember some of her lessons vividly to this day. Mrs. Sukhtankar’s lectures helped me develop a solid foundation in English grammar and mechanics, and further instilled in me a sense of wonder and curiosity of the universe.

Did you always want to become a writer?

I have loved to write since the 7th grade, and I wrote extensively in my job as an engineer. It was only after I “retired” as an engineer to raise my two young boys that I decided to focus solely on writing. I took up a part-time gig as a technical writer, but was overwhelmed by its limitations. So I began to explore volunteer writing opportunities on the Internet to hone my creative side. Then, in 2003, an essay I penned for the United Nations not only brought me accolades, but it also elevated my rafters of consciousness, stirring my senses and opening up my heart and mind. It was the beginning of a dream—the dream of becoming a published author.

Where do you do your writing best?

In the shower and at the gym! No, wait! That’s where I do my thinking best. I generally do my best writing on a laptop, in a tranquil environment.

Can you tell us a bit about your book "Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me”?

Humans are seekers—of wealth, fame, approval, acceptance, and, through it all, of peace and contentment. We falsely believe that taking refuge in material pursuits, fanatic ideas, cigarettes, sex, alcohol, drugs, food, medication, emotions, the internet, even work or exercise, will bring us peace. The idea that happiness and satisfaction lie with the next job, at the mall, or in the neighbour’s house is a fallacy. Dysfunction, addictions, and impulsive behaviours are on an upward trend as a result, but peace remains eclipsed.

Silence or meditation is a tool that can help an individual transcend external chaos and confusion, surrender to their inner calling, and birth their true self. Happiness and satisfaction lie in the present moment—the here and now—the ultimate motivator for living a balanced life. This is the premise of my book, described using my personal journey of self-discovery that is based on a ten-day silent (vipassana) meditation retreat that I attended.

Post vipassana, my authentic self began to unfold like an origami design. Vipassana, the blueprint of a new life, is helping me live a life filled with mindfulness and presence and a life that is in sync with my heartfelt longings, without the fear of failure or of being judged.

Was it difficult bringing your book to the stage of publication?

YES! But the main ingredients of patience, persistence, and planning, enhanced with generous sprinkles of positive thinking, my manuscript eventually found a home.

Do you have a set routine when you are writing?

No, not really, unless there’s a deadline looming, I suppose. I write when I’m inspired. When I write, I sometimes fall into a stupor of sorts—I can go on for hours without a break, which drives the family up the wall!

What is your favourite book and why?

I have so many favourite books in so many genres. Where do I begin? Today, I’ll go with Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Thirteen year-old Anne Frank was an extraordinarily good writer for her age and she wrote with a deep sense of awareness and honesty. Anne Frank’s demonstration of courage, pragmatism, and wisdom—as she and her family concealed themselves from the Nazis in the secret room of an office building in Amsterdam, from 1942 to 1944—has taught me much. It has taught me to appreciate life’s preciousness and temporality, to focus on my strengths during times of distress, and to remain motivated despite life’s challenges.

In summer 2010, my family and I had the privilege of visiting Terezin—a Nazi concentration camp located about 60 km north of Prague where nearly 98,000 Jews, including as many as 15,000 children, were either executed or died owing to hunger and disease. It was a poignant visit, to say the least, and gave me a sense of the horrors that Anne Frank and others like her might have endured during their captivity.

Have you any another books in the making at the moment?

Yes, I’m working on a children’s series. With a background in environmental engineering, I feel compelled to educate youngsters about their responsibility when it concerns the environment. But I don’t want this to be yet another book/series on the environment. Not unlike Inner Pilgrimage, I’m structuring the environmental series to inspire young minds, so that they can motivate themselves to take action.

To bring our interview to a close can I ask you what one simple thing in life can make you smile?
My children  :-)

Raji, I would like to thank-you again for taking the time to visit and speak to us today.  I wish you every success with your writing career!   

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  1. Great interview and what an interesting writer, thanks for sharing it on Book Blogs.

  2. Finally get to know this charming lady! Wonderful interview...I was particularly struck by your reference to your english teacher. I too dedicate my interest in english language and writing to my 7-10th grade english teacher. She was the best and continues to inspire me.


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