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Inspirational Woman: Jhilmil Breckenridge | Poet, Writer & Activist

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Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently

jhilmil-breckenridgeI’m just a girl trying to make a tiny difference in the world. I have been many things from a management consultant, a nappy changer (I have four sons) and a chef. However, I currently write. I write poetry and I am working on my first non-fiction book.

I also edit professionally. I am Fiction Editor at South Asian literary journal, Open Road Review (openroadreview.com) and Editor for the Woman Inc (thewomaninc.com), a website sharing resources, articles, and poetry for women, touching on core issues that affect women today.

I completed my graduation in Mathematics with Honours from Delhi University and I have an MBA from Boston University and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster, London. I have been accepted into a PhD course in Creative Writing at the University of Central Lancashire and will be starting that next spring. Reading and writing are my life!

I also take part in a lot of activism in the fields of domestic violence, women, mental health and creativity. I am in the process of setting up a trust, which will help give my ventures an umbrella.

As for my background, I grew up in sleepy towns in UP. I was born with privilege, but life has shown me all its sides and I am grateful for all my experiences and learning.

Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote

I am working on a small initiative to take poetry and art into asylums and prisons. I am passionate about creativity in incarceration, and believe that creativity leads to catharsis. In addition, the condition of asylums and prisons in our country is dismal, to say it kindly! I think regular workshops, a ‘train the trainer’ program, choosing inmates who show promise and building libraries and craft rooms will help greatly in controlling aggression, giving inmates an outlet, and a source of fund raising for prisons and asylums; some amazing talent may emerge.

What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?

My biggest challenge has been patriarchy and India. These factors have curbed me at so many crucial stages. Sometimes because the money was controlled by the men of the family. Sometimes, because although we grow up being told men and women are equal, women are not allowed to take decisions of their own. Sometimes, because society imposed stigma — oh, she is divorced, she must have been a bad wife, etc. I think to get where I am, staying feminine, being proud of being a woman, and celebrating women, is commendable in an environment such as ours.

What has been your greatest achievement personally?

Other than my fabulous four sons, I am very proud of the social work I have done since the age of 17. Be it small or big, just counselling, or a spot of fund raising, I have had a social conscience since then, and a heart that beat for the underdog.

If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?

I would be doing something physical, perhaps deep sea diving and photography, or teaching more yoga or other such forms (I am a trained yoga teacher in the Bihar School of Yoga tradition).

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration has always been my grandmother, Sadiqa Saran. Muslim, married into a zamindari-educated, upper-class family before Partition, my grandmother carved out a space for herself in the family as a leading theatre actress, a social worker of the highest calibre, traveling the world with Indian Women’s Congress and more. She always had time for everyone, was the most graceful woman I know, and she loved me unconditionally.

What does the future hold for you?

Magic.

About Jhilmil Breckenridge

Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. Her poems worry about issues of feeling lost in a changing world, the immigrant or foreign experience, love and loss and longing, and nostalgia for times gone by. She is passionate about issues of women, disability, mental health and is currently working on a biography with themes of mental health. She is also working on her first collection of poetry.

Jhilmil herself is a survivor of abuse and incarceration and has spoken out about her experiences in the hope that her story may inspire others. Her story has recently been made into a documentary by an NGO in Kolkata and is titled Come With Me.

Her work has been published in several literary magazines, mostly outside India, like Pankhearst, Magoism, Halo Lit, and many more. Some links to previously published works are at the end of this document.

She can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter. Her blog is jhilmilsjourney.wordpress.com. She can be found on Linked In as Jhilmil Breckenridge. Jhilmil is currently living in New Delhi.

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