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Posted at: Feb 4, 2018, 1:45 AM; last updated: Feb 4, 2018, 1:45 AM (IST)

Fragrance from her garden of kindness

Artist Sonaksha Iyengar is trying to make the world a better place with her illustrations on mental health

Chanakya Grover

In a world that seems to be hell-bent upon tearing itself apart, meaningful art just might do what science cannot. And when that art is of a personal nature, yet, carries a universal appeal, it becomes hard to look the other way and even harder not to relate to it, introspect and act.

“Writing, reading, drawing and making things everyday, while sharing my mental-health journey” is the introduction one gets to the world of Sonaksha Iyengar, a writer, painter, illustrator, book designer, graphic designer and a mental-health activist. She goes by @sonaksha on Instagram, the social media platform, where, in April last, she set out to create a garden with the objective of making this world a kinder place to live, simply by emphasising the importance of treating oneself with kindness. Her tools: self-created images, honest words, and the power of social media.

“When I was diagnosed with a mental illness I didn’t realise it would stay for so long. I didn’t realise that there would be days I would feel so alone, sinking deeper and deeper into that feeling. I didn’t realise that there were ways to share, ways to be that would make daily living and breathing a little less painful and a whole lot meaningful. But there is, and of this I am sure because everyday, you and I, we return here and share a meaningful moment over a few words and that translates to so much for me and I hope it does for you too,” reads one of Sonaksha’s Instagram posts.

It started with posting positive reminders and positive affirmations and sharing of personal experiences and thoughts with the help of images. However, it gradually turned into conversations where people started sharing their personal experiences in the comments section of her posts and through email or direct messages. Sonaksha smiles as she says, “After all, gardens come alive when we’re growing them together.”

Among Sonaksha’s noted contributions is the A-Z series on mental health, which has been receiving recognition and appreciation from all quarters —including both offline and online media — and which is freely available on her social media handles. Another issue that Sonaksha holds dear to her heart is that of body-shaming. Through her art, she wants to promote body-positivity. “I won’t ever forget those teary-eyed nights I spent after being repeatedly called ‘motu’ at school. What’s wrong with fat? Why do we think it is a bad word? It’s time to change that. It’s time children too understood that fat is not a bad word,” she shares, picking up a freshly-minted first-edition copy of The Curious Case of Mohit and Rumi the Rabbit written by Varsha Varghese and illustrated by Sonaksha.

Expanding further on the Garden of Kindness initiative, she says, “I’ve been brewing and aching to take this further for a long time now. I want us to create these shared safe spaces where we can celebrate being, while growing. Whether we’re sitting on warm grass sharing tales or walking past painted pillars, I want it to be about what we’re doing as much as how we choose to do it and who chooses to be there. I want to take Garden of Kindness offline. I’m currently in Bangalore, so, logistically, I want to start here. But I hope to take this across cities and even countries.”

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