Why Write Memoirs?

     Human life is perhaps the highest divine endowment within our comprehension. Even the gods seem to have taken their time through the process of evolution in arriving at our genus Homo sapiens, conferring it on to the chosen ones with a purpose, intent and an expectation.
     Having received such an honor, having lived it and having reached the endpoint of the allotted span of existence here, one ought to introspect and contemplate on what and how their bequest was expended. It is essential for every individual to leave a receipt for being here, for using the space and resources on this planet that we called our home during our lifetime. Such a commitment is not merely a courtesy but a mandatory requirement that many of us are not accustomed to or indoctrinated to oblige.

     As one having reached the ninth decade of being here and realizing that my final destination is closer than ever, I feel very content that I have endured through and accomplished such an undertaking. I have just released the memoirs that took me about five years of my time and several visits through a variety of experiences, a medley of exhilarating, contemplative, repentant and rewarding essentials of my historical existence. As I slowly recalled the remnants of my past, I became overwhelmed. I felt elated at times; sad, depressed, gratified and triumphant at others. I smiled and laughed, and more often sobbed and cried out of control but essentially the sensations offered me much inexpressible contentment.
     I was born in India, the pre-independent, colonial, British India, growing up through the struggling and lean times of global depression and Second World War, and witnessing the proud moment of India gaining its independence from our rulers. I was born into a traditional, middle-class Kerala Hindu Nair family as the first child to my parents, and was raised observing and witnessing the rich and colorful customs, rituals and festivals. My grandfather was my teacher, best friend, and hero, who taught me the elements of life, of discipline, punctuality, obedience, as well as mathematics and grammar. He poured out his unconditional love on me as well as ruthlessly disciplined me, creating the person who I became. The abundance of love I received from all my dear ones easily overshadowed the materialistic and economic constraints of the times.
     My initial intent of writing my life story was to create a record for my descendants to refer back on, to explore and discover where their grandparents came from, to trace and identify their roots and lineage as well as be proud of the rich heritage they belong to. As we chose to accept America as our new home, our domicile where our following generations would continue to breed and raise their progeny, it is crucial that they are able to proudly claim a legendary legacy that their predecessors left behind. As I continued, I felt convinced that every one of us immigrants owes such a narrative to our posterity, and compelled to motivate and persuade all to make an earnest attempt to create one. This note is my request.
     We feel blessed to belong to a tradition of Sanatan Dharma, Eternal Righteousness, the essential philosophy of Hindu faith that is based on tenets of a Supreme Reality, the universality of Divinity, the immortality of the soul, unity of existence and harmony of religions. My wife maintained and adhered to performing and celebrating all our traditional observance, explaining the significance of such to our children that they understood and felt comfortable with. We rejoice that our efforts have amply paid off, observing them keen and happy to celebrate such traditions, setting examples for the following generations.
     Beyond the call of our individual needs, the demands of the family and loyalty to the profession, there is a distinct obligatory assignment for each of us towards the society we live in and the needs of common interests. Every country prospers with such input of selfless contribution from socially conscious citizens. As an immigrant opts to accept a new place as his home, he has to pitch in to improve the interests of his new home and the community he lives in. He must also make an effort to enrich the place with the cultural riches from the place he came from, some of his old traditions that can enhance the society in his new land. Music, arts, dance forms, languages, culinary varieties, and many such global contributions have made us refined, augmenting our civility.
     Each immigrant has a distinct and unique story to tell. Leaving generations of habits and an established comfort zone, the tribulations of leaving the past, the trials of transfer and the travails of a new formation are interesting readings to everyone with an inclination and penchant to know. Apart from the physical hardship, demand on endurance and tenacity, the psychological adjustments can do havoc on many. The feeling of guilt of forsaking precious traditions what the ancestors preserved and nurtured for ages, the sense of culpability in many cases of walking away from one’s personal obligations to parents and others, and often an obligatory allegiance to the motherland that fostered one can perturb forever the conscience of the expatriate.
     America is a land of plenty, of riches, challenges, and chances where the melting pot offers the opportunity to all who are willing to work hard and where the motivated ones on the lowest rung can find a way to reach the top. It is the place built by the migrants whose contributions are legendary stories that attract and invite others to follow. There are not many places on earth where a child who got his first pair of shoes in his sixth grade and studied under the light of a kerosene lamp in a remote land can come and succeed as a thriving doctor and the president of a nationally reputable organization. That is precisely my story. Such sagas need to be told; such stories merit an audience; such tales motivate.
     Writing one’s memoirs is sharing. It is an expression of camaraderie, of offering, of compassionate conversation. As much as it is comforting to tell, it could be consoling to listen. By telling, the writer reveals; and by hearing the reader comprehends, appreciates and empathizes. We observe misery all around us, in everyday life; despair often out of not knowing. We witness agitation, animosity, anger and aggression against each other; enmity because of misgivings. Even the global violence that has become habitual and endemic can be attributed to just one correctible blemish – ignorance. Sharing our story can make others understand. Be kind and write your own.

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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