A LEGEND IN HER OWN MIND  

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fb_img_1483263162986Last night I had one of my long dreams—often they are complete stories and quite fascinating in their twists and turns. The star of this one was a woman I know who, by dint of hard work and her husband’s ability to take enormous financial risks, has moved up from a lower economic status to become a multi-millionaire. Unfortunately, although she maintains a simple façade, she is blown away by her own rise; although she continues to be miserly and harsh in her treatment of the poor and the sick, she will not fail to let you know that she and her family have been specially favored by the material gods.

In this dream, she was a great dancer and the members of her family were her greatest fans. I too was mightily impressed by the performance she put on for us at her opulent home, simply because I did not see her as an artiste. After the show, I mentioned that I would have to practice hard for the show I was planning to give, whereupon her husband admonished me sternly, warning me that I should not aspire to greatness, since talent like his wife’s was rare. His children seconded his warning with somber nods. Continue reading

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A RADICAL POINT OF VIEW

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fc5f42ebd9cde2880ecba45f83338027There’s a middle-aged sadhu here in Tiruvannamalai whom I often give a ride to on my way to and from the Ashram. He’s skinny, bespectacled and a speed walker; he foots it everywhere, from morning to night, getting his free food at the various Ashrams, and then finding a quiet place to do his meditation and study. He tells me he practices yoga everyday too, and most passionately. In his frayed shoulder bag he carries cheap packets of biscuits and feeds the stray dogs he encounters on his daily travels. I’ve known him now for close to eight years now and he tells me he prays for me every single day, which makes me inordinately happy.

Recently he mentioned that he felt enormously blessed to be able to do what he does. Penniless and dependent on the largesse of local Ashrams for his sustenance and clothes (he wears only an ochre lungi), he is always happy and grateful. Laughing like a child, he told me why: because he knows that eventually his road will lead him to moksha, while the rich folks who pass him by on the Girivalam Road in their fancy automobiles are still lost in the relative dream. Who knows how much suffering they will have to endure before it dawns upon them that their present way of living, with its focus on accumulating assets they cannot take with them when their body dies, finally takes root?

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7He sighed at this point, with genuine compassion. Then they will have to turn back, he added sadly, and begin their journey on the path that leads to the Spiritual Heart. And this is why he smiles when these “rich” humans stop their cars and hand him a few rupees, believing they are being oh so generous to a homeless wanderer.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer, who vows to destroy the intricate web of illusion that Maya, Cosmic Enchantress, spins around us, – so that we may finally know that we are the blissful and immortal Self!

NEW!!! My latest book – COPPER MOON OVER PATALIPUTRA – just went live on Jun 30th. Read all about it and on how to get your own copy here.
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A PERMANENT SOLUTION TO A TEMPORARY PROBLEM

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ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338A friend who once worked as a psychiatrist in a posh town in California once said to me that he saw the act of suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Ironically, his own crazily hedonistic lifestyle militated against his innate wisdom and he himself later tried to commit suicide. But I never forgot his words, especially since I lost a few friends in this manner; every single time I heard someone had offed themselves the shock was great. The worst news was the suicide of a lovely woman I knew in New York. One fine day in fall, she had gone home and shot herself with a gun she had just bought, and that too before her beloved cat.  Since she lived alone on the top floor of a condo, her body was not found for several days, and that poor cat had to be a witness to the gradual decomposition of the body of his beloved mistress. I was in a restaurant enjoying brunch with a friend when I heard the news; I literally screamed—because I had once been close to her. She had been a strong Zen practitioner, calm, quiet and loving, and also the last person in the world I would have thought would have killed herself. Later I heard she left a note saying she was going over to the other side to see what it was like, or something asinine in that vein, which just goes to show that we should never go by a façade.

I love the teachings of the East because they tell us clearly that getting rid of the physical body, which is just a mix of the great elements of fire, air, earth, water and consciousness, and run by the three “gunas” of rajas, tamas and sattva, does not get rid of our suffering. Simply put, our immortal Spirit takes a new form and the suffering continues. This nugget of mystical information should be enough to stop us from ever contemplating suicide, but then, how many on the planet today give a damn for eastern philosophy, or even know that its ancient truths are priceless? Continue reading

Be Calm & Follow Your Bliss

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The world into which I was thrust made absolutely no sense to me. I was solemnly informed that there was a God who had created the world, but, even as a child, I considered this arrant nonsense. God, I was further told, was pure Love, which made me even more dubious about the authenticity of this wisdom. If God was pure love, I wondered, how in sweet hell could he have created a world so full of ignorance, misery, hatred and suffering? Did it give him perverse pleasure to watch babies starving, men being blown to bits in senseless wars, innocent brides burned to death for lack of a larger dowry, monstrous inequities in wealth, and a myriad other forms of implausible wickedness?

Soon I discovered that pleasure could be derived from this same world simply by indulging one’s senses and using one’s talents to become rich and famous. Yes, one could enjoy a variety of entertainments, sparkling if fickle companions, terrific parties, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. But why did a feeling of pain and emptiness invariably follow indulgence in these so-called pleasures? Instead of waking us up, I discovered too, this hollowness often drove humans to chase new forms of pleasure, which also ended up in the same dreary hell—which is why, I supposed, insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Continue reading

THE DASHING FENCER

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8da3adf3c53bf14b391fd6a892025c43At a certain phase of my life, when I was desperately planning my escape from a city many would give their eye teeth (whatever that means!) to enjoy (Manhattan), I worked for a posh law firm and took every opportunity for overtime that I could, hoping to pay down my big fat mortgage, sell my adorable apartment, and flee to the Himalayas. One of my favorite lawyers to work for was the powerful head of the Real Estate Division and a multi-millionaire many times over.  During our post-midnight stints as he churned documents out and I whipped them into shape, he had let slip that as a young idealist he had dreamed of wandering India, ancient land of sacred cows and hoary temples, in quest of himself. But he had sold out when he won a scholarship to an ivy league outfit and even more when he had married a woman who wanted him to make more and more money so he could send their kids for horse-riding lessons and to vacations in Paris.

fb_img_1486272499213It must have been about 3 in the morning when my eyes fell on a photo on his desk. “Who’s that?” I asked, intrigued by the handsome and dashing figure of a young man dressed in fencing garb and brandishing a sword or whatever. He glared at me, offended. “That’s me,” he said. I laughed and shrugged, “how could I tell?” You have mask on.” But the truth was that that slender young man bore absolutely no resemblance to the pot-bellied rotund double-chinned bespectacled worry-wart before me. Continue reading

YOUNG SOUL, OLD SOUL

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Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1The New Age (which I happen to mostly detest and keep my distance for, for really it is all recycled material that they use often to great detriment of depth and richness) has popularized many buzzwords and one is that someone or the other is an old soul. Now when I threw the words “young soul” at a close friend one day in frustration, he blew up at me and said these phrases were ridiculous nonsense. Not so, I said, for to me the difference between an old and a young soul is as clear as the full moon shining over Arunachala on a balmy summer’s night.

An Old Soul is simply a human who has seen through the mesmerizing veils of Maya, the Cosmic Enchantress. He or she has either experienced the double-edged sword of samsara in this lifetime, or his knowing has emerged from countless past lives. Never mind, but this person is no longer enchanted by stately mansions surrounded by a forest of palm trees, obscenely plump bank accounts or stock portfolios, expensive vehicles, supermodels, celebrities of all kinds, or by those pampered creatures with access to the so-called good life. Why is this? Simply because this person now knows for sure that while there is a great deal of pleasure to be drawn from the world, this pleasure is invariably followed by pain, which is why the mystics refer to indulgence in a hedonistic lifestyle as licking the honey off a razor’s edge. And what about the Young Soul? Oh, he or she is still dazzled by the façade, that’s all.

c945ed890f540a675b775ccb608893f3Now for the critical question: is one better than the other? My honest answer is, while I would prefer to be an Old Soul, the essence of both is exactly the same—pure existence, awareness and bliss. Would you turn back as you ascend an infinite stairway and have contempt for those who have just begun their journey of comprehending reality? Not if you were wise and loving, for sure. An Old Soul was once a  Young Soul and a Young Soul will inevitably evolve into an Old Soul, but, and it’s a big but, this depends on consistent effort. Liberation is guaranteed to all of us, but no one is saying when. So its up to us to prolong the suffering or not.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to open our inner eye so we can discriminate between the real and the unreal, between true joy and the fake pleasure that comes from the reckless enjoyment of the senses!

NEW!!! My latest book – COPPER MOON OVER PATALIPUTRA – just went live on Jun 30th. Read all about it and on how to get your own copy here.
If you’ve enjoyed reading my posts, please also check out my BOOKS and LINKS.

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EVERYONE HAS A HIGHER POWER

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c54413c0d2a06f18743e8ad014a31eaeManhattan broke down my identity; in south India I was more or less confident that I could accomplish anything I set my mind on. I was popular, well-known in certain circles, and could have launched myself into a lucrative creative career had I wished to. Instead I suffered a deep dread of never leaving home and so I finagled my exit to a foreign country that I admired for many reasons. Yes, I loathed the deep-rooted misogyny, caste and class system I was surrounded by and longed for the freedom I hoped to find in America. But I was unprepared for the shocks to my system in the land of the brave and the free. Indeed, nothing was as I had expected it to be and I had to literally reinvent myself, alone, since my husband and in-laws were no help, and instead actively wanted to shove me into a box, lock me up, and throw away the key. You see, they had not expected an Indian woman to be feisty, independent and outspoken about her rights, and so they lashed out in me in a variety of inventive ways until I was deeply miserable despite abundant material comforts. My husband had promised that I could study creative writing and film at NYU, but now he ruthlessly nixed that idea and I found myself temping on Wall Street and in posh law firms, making a lot of money but still a prisoner of my new family and my husband in particular, who insisted on controlling our finances as well as the trajectory of our lives. Continue reading

CHEAP THRILLS

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9e1a511e7a9166a72e30bd913768d213Growing up in south India at a time when the West was not as accessible as it is to Indians today, my first glimmerings of the wild life I (delusionally) believed all Americans and Europeans led was via the thrillers of writers like James Hadley Chase. Yes, I read Agatha Christie too, and more sedate authors, but it was the paperback thrillers I found most addictive, for they spoke of hippies and drugs and scarlet women pouting at bad guys and getting murdered—and of course there was always the unwary bystander or canny detective who got dragged willy-nilly into the spicy stew.

Oh, how exciting it was to get one of those books in my greedy hands and to devour it at a single stretch! There were times I’d read a book a day, and since it wasn’t easy to find this kind of material lying around then, I’d woo anyone who had a home library and was willing to share his/her hoard with me.

It was my brother-in-law, an academic and professor, who dourly pointed out to me the effects that reading what he called ‘trash’ would have on my impressionable mind. It’s a hard addiction to break, he warned, and when you need to digest serious stuff, you won’t be able to. I dismissed his warnings since I was doing very well in academics myself, and believed, with all the raw arrogance of youth, that I knew better than preachy fuddy-duddies how to separate study from fun. Continue reading

MOUNTAIN GODDESS

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14876327_10155479883214199_334843953_o-768x575When I first landed in Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas, straight from the frenetic city of Manhattan, I was lost and bewildered by a strange new world. Soon I found my way to the Tibetan Library, where every morning a beautiful old Geshe, aided by an English female translator, patiently taught us the ancient scriptures. I was sitting outside the small cafeteria when I saw a woman I liked on sight, nonchalantly rolling a cigarette. I asked her to roll me one, whereupon she handed me the fixings and retorted sarkily that if I wanted one, I’d have to roll it myself. Oh, I thought, amused, liking her even more, for she reminded me of folks in Manhattan who are also uncomfortably direct but also possess shining hearts of gold if you stick around long enough to get past the prickly surface.

We became friends, and I discovered she lived right above my beautiful apartment with the huge glass windows, through which I could gaze at the splendor of the snow-clad Himalayas. As a seasoned practitioner capable of handling any crisis, she was often impatient with me, rightly viewing me as a spoiled infant with no clue how to handle herself in a small Himalayan township peopled by hardy Tibetans (most of whom had bravely made their way over the mountains to be with their charismatic leader, who incidentally lived a mere ten minute walk away from me on the peak of a hill guarded by both Indians and his own people) and equally tough Indians. Continue reading

Get used to living with recurring, crippling doubt…Paul McVeigh QUOTES FOR WRITERS (and people who like quotes)

I honestly don’t suffer from this crippling doubt that many writers and artists claim they do, but this is perhaps because I focus on writing spiritual fiction and feel the awesome support of all my teachers….read on….

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

sea-2312623_640…get used to rejection. It happens to us all. I know writers who got rejected even after 4 or 5 novels already published.

You will also have to get used to living with recurring, crippling doubt. Develop ways of ignoring it, side-stepping it, reasoning with it… whatever works for you, but don’t let it make you stop. I find taking the pressure off helps – ‘I’m only doing this for myself, no-one will ever see it’.
Paul McVeigh

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The almost accidental photograph that left an indelible impression …ART FOR WRITERS

Once seen this photograph is never forgotten. Taken in 1936, it stands alongside Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in revealing the terrible human consequences of a failed economic policy. As the American writer E.L. Doctorow said, “the historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” And for novelist you can read artist, poet, photographer….

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

migrant mother

Once seen this photograph is never forgotten. Taken in 1936, it stands alongside Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in revealing the terrible human consequences of a failed economic policy. As the American writer E.L. Doctorow said, “the historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” And for novelist you can read artist, poet, photographer….

 An article on Artsy website reveals how Dorothea Lange took the photograph of a migrant mother while working for the United States government’s Resettlement Administration. You can read it in full HERE.

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 3/4

236b5bffa3aec42a4dafbe6ef9a84e94Another little tale: Noor, a slender Muslim girl with a sexy overbite, joined my school as a senior. Rumor had it that she’d been expelled from her old school for hanging out with boys. Pretty Noor was clearly lacking in the brains department and soon she was back to her old tricks—Lotharios on fast motorbikes and slicked-back pompadour hair would pick her up at the school gate at the start of lunch break and rush back with her, grinning shamelessly, just before the bell rang for afternoon class. What they managed to do in so short a time boggles the imagination.

Years went by and I was in college. One day, strolling down the main drag of our suburban neighborhood, a woman waved at me from the doorway of one of the new houses that had mushroomed all around us. Garbed in purdah, carrying an infant in her arms, she did not look like anyone I would know. Curious, I walked across and recognized the overbite—yes, it was Noor! As she plied me with tea and pistachio barfi, she told me her father had forced her to marry right after school. Her husband was a businessman who treated her like dirt—because, she admitted sadly, he was aware of her wicked past. He’d agreed to marry her only because of the huge dowry her father had offered. She pointed to a photo of her husband and herself on the mantelpiece; I bit my lip: just a few days ago, this same fellow had stopped his car as I walked down the road and, with a lecherous smirk, had asked if I’d join him for a beer at Bangalore Club.

If this sort of stuff happens in the higher echelons, what do you think happens to, say, women servants? Let me tell you about the strapping driver employed by a friend of mine. After work, the fellow would visit one of his five mistresses—each of whom had been abandoned by her husband. The woman would fry up spicy chicken livers to go with the country liquor to which he was addicted, but if she dared to pick a fight, he’d up and leave, sticking four fingers in the air—the message was this: hey, woman, if you don’t like me just the way I am, there are four others right now who’ll take me in! 

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Deepa Mehta, one of our finest film-makers, was asked why she thought the attitude towards women in India is so depressingly ugly. “Patriarchy,” she retorted succinctly. “We’ve always felt that the girl child is worth nothing and should in fact be aborted even before she is born. The boy can do no wrong. If the girl is treated as a sub-human, or the boy is raised to believe he can do no wrong, then this is what will happen.” But India was not always this way. What happened? My own elliptical quest for answers led me to partially blame Manu, author of the Manava Dharma-shastra (dates for the creation of this text vary from 1500 BCE to 500 AD) for tossing the Indian gender ball down the hill. Some say Manu compiled the laws at the request of ten great sages following a great flood; others claim he was given the sacred laws by Brahma the Creator himself, rendering the Manusmriti divine. Whatever the truth, Manu was no democrat, for the Brahmin (highest caste) was accorded near divine status while the Sudra (lowest caste) was denigrated and reviled. The Manusmriti specified light fines and penalties for Brahmin offenders and these punishments increased in severity for warriors, farmers, and serfs.

Manu’s views on women in particular make me shudder. Woman, he pronounced, was inept, inconsistent, and prone to sensuality. Therefore he deemed her unfit to exercise individual rights. As an infant, she was to be placed under the dominion of her father; as a wife, she was to be subservient to her husband; as a mother, to her sons; if widowed in her youth, she was never to marry again; if her husband was an adulterous rogue, she was still bound to consider him equal to God; while she could share in the wealth of the family, her wages were never to exceed half of a man’s wages for the same labor; and worst of all, she was prohibited from studying the sacred scriptures or participating in important social functions. I am not surprised that Dr. Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti in public. Born into the lowest caste himself, this brilliant man who battled unimaginable odds to rise to his eminent position, and who crafted the Indian Constitution, would have had excellent reason to do so. I only wish I had been there to dance around that particular funeral pyre.

The good news is that Manu’s influence was not as profound as it might have been. Indians, bless our hearts, can be notorious law-breakers; many, I am sure, scorn Manu’s code for its evil in rigidifying the once liberal caste system and for its misogyny. In fact, right up to about the eleventh century, Indians were a free-thinking lot with a healthy sexual outlook. Take a look at the Kamasutra (The Art of Love-Making), where union between the sexes is elevated to an unparalleled art form. In those golden days, Indian women were free to choose their own partners and men vied with each other to win their hearts in a tradition known as swayamvara. As for the amazing temples of Khajuraho and Konarak, they depict the art of sexuality in both its proud eroticism as well as its transcendental spirituality. Nor was it just sexual freedom that our maidens enjoyed—Gargi, Maitreyi, Leelavati and Lopamudra engaged in spirited philosophical and political debate. As for Mirabai, a fourteenth century Rajput Princess whose heart-melting songs of adoration for the Blue God Krishna are still sung all over India, she  wriggled free of a rigid and entrenched patriarchy to become an icon for the liberation of all women.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1Certainly the Shakti Cult was responsible for providing women with a multitude of freedoms. Predating the Hindu faith, it was based on the sacred union of male and female as the balancing forces in the Universe. Male represented the physical manifestation of the “Divine”, while female represented Shakti, or non-material energy. Adherents of this path treated all females as personifications of Nature—a notion which echoes eco-feminism in new-age terminology. And so ancient India glorified polyandrous Draupadi with her five Pandava husbands, and extolled Mandodari, wife of the demon-king Ravana, who married her brother-in-law Vibhishana after her husband’s death. Tara wed Sugriva after the death of Bali and Kunti had pre-marital sex. All these women were considered noble, and rightly so, for they were exceptional humans. As for the Mahabharata, it provides proof that far from being considered a mundane pleasure, sexuality had entered the dimension of the sacred.

Then Muslim hordes invaded India and ruled for almost six hundred years. Hindus ordered their women to stay indoors, fearing the hot eyes of their Muslim rulers. And, as ugly fear-based patriarchal values took over, the mutual respect, friendship and love forged between our men and women dissolved into the fear and suppression we so often see today.

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2Sex is a creative energy bestowed on all living creatures and inextricably aligned to the level of consciousness. Since humans have the highest degree of consciousness, sex occupies a vital place in human inner consciousness and is therefore more than a self replicating process. All ancient civilizations performed fertility rituals to celebrate the energy of the elemental Universe; indeed it is through the body that both body and mind can be transcended, for orgasmic ecstasy suspends the body and elevates consciousness. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my posts, please also check out my BOOKS and LINKS.

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Beautiful art…was created by human beings just like you… Maya Angelou QUOTE FOR WRITERS (and people who like quotes)

“Find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.”
Maya Angelou
Now read the whole post!!!

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

starry-sky-1948523_640Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin – find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.
Maya Angelou

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Dear Mr. President – A Response to the “Shithole Countries” Comment

I leave you with the words that have been attributed to both Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Read the whole post!

worldgeochat

Dear Mr. President,

I have so many thoughts right now, but I’ll try to keep this simple for you.

My school has students from 38 nations. It is hard enough for them to adjust to life in a new country as an adolescent without someone calling their homeland a “shithole country.” As a geography teacher, I’ve spent the better part of two decades trying to get students to see that ALL countries have problems, and ALL countries have cultures to be proud of. I’ve had hundred of students watch the TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story.” You should consider watching it, it would serve you well.

What 12-13 year olds understand, but you clearly don’t, is that we cannot, and should not judge an entire group of people by that actions of some. You have done this repeatedly with respect to Muslims, Mexicans, and anti-Nazi protesters…

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Learning how to be truly individual with Leonora Carrington ART FOR WRITERS

Many great creative artists are considered insane by the mundane world – why? because they simply don’t understand them….and yet some of these same “insane” people become great lights in our world…read on…

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

the-giantess-1950

This painting is of the Giantess, (or The Guardian of the Egg)  by Leonora Carrington. She lived a rich and varied life – from being presented at court as a young debutante and imprisonment in a Spanish mental asylum to becoming a celebrated artist.

Reading about her, I’m struck by the range of her influences from Irish myths to literary works (by Dante, John Donne, Jonathan Swift and others) and her use of satire in her paintings.

And her life is enough inspiration for a dozen novels. There’s a fascinating Guardian article  by a cousin who was brought up to think of her as the black sheep of the family who ran away to be an artist’s model. When she decided to enquire about Leonora 60 years after she left home, she was amazed to discover that her cousin was not only still alive and still working, but was…

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 2/4

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95As I moved into my teen years, I sought out friends who equally dreaded being thrust into the marriage market—to be assessed in terms of dowry, fair complexions, domestic skills, and the ability to please husband and in-laws. (While the practice of dowry has been illegal for decades now, women are harassed, even burned to death, if their families are unable to satiate greedy in-laws. In some cases, a man marries, gets a good dowry, kills his bride in collusion with his mother, and gets away with it, either by bribing the cops or by faking a credible accident—whereupon he goes bride-hunting again.)

During summer holiday afternoons while the rest of my family was taking their siesta, I’d creep out to pay impromptu visits to my girlfriends in the hood. Inside their bedrooms, with the fan going full blast, we’d giggle and gossip as we gorged on sweets and savories. One family I befriended were Himachali Brahmins who had settled in Bangalore. The husband spent his time slumbering or seated cross-legged on the living room couch, perusing the papers or some crappy thriller. His wife was a good-looking and industrious woman, a Hindu fanatic and Sanskrit scholar who ran the household with iron efficiency and was tough on everyone but her indolent husband. All he had to do was crook a little finger—demanding chai or that she clean his ears or trim his finger and toenails—and she’d run to obey.

Unfortunately “Uncle” took a weird shine to me. One afternoon I dropped in on the family, unaware that the girls were away visiting relatives. Uncle opened the door, summoned me over to his couch and handed me a paperback novel. He pointed to a paragraph. “Read this out to me, please,” he ordered. Vain as I was, I began to read in a loud voice, showing off my perfect diction. It was a Harold Robbins book, and the section he’d chosen described the heroine being banged silly by the smoldering hero. Innocent as I then was, I still knew an older man asking a thirteen-year old to read soft porn to him was hideously wrong. In seconds, I was red-faced and stuttering. Uncle took a firm grasp of my arm to prevent me from escaping. I was doing so very well, he crooned; he was so enjoying my reading. Just then his wife entered the room. With a rude flick of a hand, he ordered that proud woman out. I wriggled out of his grasp, flung the book on the floor, and hurtled out into the hot afternoon, feeling an ugly mix of guilt and shame and rage.

9e4db9873c00799c674eaa9df76ed47aKnowing I’d be blamed, I was reluctant to confide what had happened to anyone in my family. Who asked you to go there in the first place? I could hear my mother shriek. Weren’t you supposed to be sleeping? WhatYou jumped over the wall again? You are utterly shameless and deserve everything you get! You see? Already I was aware that in the world I inhabited, the female of the species would be the eternal scapegoat. Had I complained, a variation of that old song would have been sung: “Don’t blame meShe was wearing a red dress, and so I raped her.”

On the street parallel to our home lived a Rajput family. Rajputs are a fierce and beautiful race, originators of Sati, the ancient and hideous practice of urging a wife to leap on to her husband’s funeral pyre—for what is a woman worth without a man, anyway? Better to burn baby burn, and get all the endless abuse to which a widow is subjected out of the way once and for all. Never mind that in thousands of cases the dead husband was a doddering old fart, and the wife a young girl led to marital slaughter by virtuous parents. Duty and honor were considered paramount, and a “good” woman was urged to end her life when her man was gone. Those who refused were drugged, thrown onto the funeral pyre, and drums were beaten loud and hard to drown out their shrieks.

Now Lakshmi, youngest of three daughters born to this family, committed the mortal sin of falling in love with the attractive son of a local Muslim building contractor. Traditionally speaking, the Rajputs and the Muslims are arch enemies; so, when some spiteful gossip leaked the information to Lakshmi’s parents, her father, an important man in the community, went bonkers: Lakshmi was pulled out of college, given a whipping, and placed under house arrest. Shocked, a bunch of us neighborhood kids held a pow-pow to which we invited Shaukat, her grieving lover. Since I was considered the bravest, it was decided that I would find out what was going on. Next morning we waited until her father’s car drove out of their house. Armed with a letter from her swain hidden in my bag, I walked in through her gate and rang the house bell. Her mother, a darkly pretty woman from a village near Jaipur who spoke no English, opened the door, probably thinking I was a salesman. I pushed past her and raced up the stairs to find Lakshmi, who had spied me entering the gate through her window, standing at the door to her bedroom. Quickly I slipped her the love letter and tried valiantly to control my tears—for in the space of days, her eyes were swollen with crying and her lovely face was covered with pimples. In a low dramatic voice I delivered Shaukat’s romantic oath—that he would rescue her and make her his bride. The light that shone through her stark misery made me want to cry even more.

e5a9d684e0fb9c4db5f10eaa9cae51c9Like Rajput heroines of yore, Lakshmi was amazingly resilient. She managed to convince her father—in truth, a kind man who simply could not break free of the old ways—that she had “reformed”. Then, three years later, exactly a day past her twenty-first birthday, she simply disappeared from the house, leaving behind all the expensive gifts her parents had given her. A note sat on her bed: “You gave me everything material,” it read in true Bollywood style, “but not my heart’s desire.” Her father drove frantically over to Shaukat’s house. “Where’s that bastard?” he screamed in Hindi at the servant woman who stood by their gate. The old thing spat a stream of red betel juice over the wall. “Gone,” she announced with a shrug. “Nobody here. All gone Shaukat marriage.” More than a decade later, on my annual vacation from Manhattan, I bumped into Lakshmi’s brother on Commercial Street. “How are things with Lakshmi? I asked anxiously. “Fine,” he replied with a grin. “They have three kids—two boys and a girl. Dad relented and invited them home after their third baby. Now both our families are friends.” A fairy-tale ending? Yes, but then Lakshmi was patient and cunning and Shaukat never gave up—and perhaps the Muslims wanted to teach the proud Rajputs a lesson. Most such situations would have ended in depression, murder or suicide. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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The Fundamental Truth Of Being Alone

Learning to love first one’s relative being, and then the Absolute that resides within us permanently, are gifts for a real seeker of peace and joy. If we can’t be alone, then it is hard to commune harmoniously with others. Read on….

Luthar.com

We have come alone in this world.

We will leave alone.

Behind all the glamour and colors of this world, the great joys and laughter, and all the pain and horrific suffering, the fact of being alone is a constant for all beings.

Meditation on this fundamental truth serves as a gateway to Self-Realization.

Describing this state, Maharshi Patanjali (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) says in Book 1, the third verse, “The Seer now rests in His own nature.”

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The Nature of Satsang

Gautama Buddha advised us not to seek the company of those who will bring us down; yes, “If we find the company of good people on our path, it enhances our life in every way. In Sanskrit, we call this, Satsang (Spiritual Fellowship).” Read on and thank you for a great post, Harsh Luthar!

Luthar.com

If we find the company of good people on our path, it enhances our life in every way.

In Sanskrit, we call this, Satsang (Spiritual Fellowship).

Sages emphasize the power of Satsang to transform our life.

The Satsang need not be physical or face to face. Coming into contact with the thoughts of great saints and yogis via books or other media also constitutes Satsang.

Sri Ramana used to say that physical contact with the Guru is not important. It is the mental and spiritual contact that is critical and central for our growth.

All Love

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 1/4

WWG-Small-TrilogyIn the Manhattan winter of 1992, I dreamed about writing an epic set in a mythical civilization ruled by Rudra-Siva, the great god of paradox, and infused with the beauty of Tantra. Somehow, I intuited that the Wild God himself would spark my dream into roaring life; believe it or not, this is what happened twenty years later, under the shadow of Arunachala, the hill considered by millions to be the form taken by Shiva in order to help seekers dissolve back into the immortal and blissful Self.

While researching this novel, I came upon an ancient saying in the Tantras that goes something like this: When Shiva set his seal upon this world, he cleaved it into male and female; when male and female come together in sacred union, Shiva blesses them with the bliss of Oneness. Whether depicted as Ardhaniswara (half-man, half-woman), or in his contrasting roles of ascetic and hedonist, I knew this union referred to more than the conventional man-woman nexus. Shiva’s point is clear: in order to be whole, male and female must unite, and this can take place either in a celibate who seeks to unite these polarities in his or her own being, or in the matrix created by a spiritual couple.

As an Indian woman born into a multi-tiered society, I began to mull over why all male-dominated cultures had turned into raging gender battlefields. Since each of us is bound to have a unique take on the often subterranean gender wars that have ruined the fabric of our existence, I can speak only for myself and the way I learned to “see.” My home was dysfunctional, as most homes over the planet are, whether on the surface or deep in the bowels of core relationships; the tacit understanding that men ruled the roost permeated our domestic atmosphere. A brilliant and charismatic man who enthralled our guests with his easy raconteuring, his rage could incinerate, while his scathing tongue could eviscerate. Despite his liberal attitude towards educating all his children, my father was the undisputed patriarch and none of us, least of all my dutiful mother, dared challenge him.

Kiri 16GB sd card 4418Our society was studded with double-standards that applied to every aspect of our lives, and yet most women seemed to have accepted their lot. Some were born docile and did not rebel against playing second, third or nth fiddle; others were born under a lucky star—their men were sympathetic and pliable and life was good; still others toed the line because they had no option: since they were not encouraged to fend for themselves, existence could be pure hell if they incurred male ire.

The Indian patriarchy, like all virulent cancers, has a gazillion ways of perpetuating itself. One major trap: every married woman is urged to have children as soon as possible. The pressure is so enormous that many sink into depression when this does not happen. (Read: May You Be The Mother Of A Hundred Sons, by Elisabeth Bumiller). And once children come, so does slavery; burdened by hungry mouths to feed, at the mercy of menfolk who hold firmly on to the family purse-strings, women have even less time to challenge the patriarchy. And God forbid a wife should dare to complain about an abusive husband! If you are one such, you risk being called a “shrew”, a bitch, or even a “ghodi” (horse, a fast and therefore bad woman) or even ostracized.

Featured Image -- 9585While my father wanted his children to become doctors and diplomats, he firmly believed in the institution of arranged marriage. This was ahated prospect that hung over my mutinous head like a sword of Damocles, and I’d grumble to my mother that there was little point in educating us if we were going to be shoved into marriage and forced to have one kid after another. “How can you decide who I should live with, sleep with, cook for the rest of my life?” “Be a good girl,” she’d warn. “If you’re lucky, your husband will let you do what you want. Love comes after, not before marriage.” The word “good” was thrown at us so often that I cringed to hear it. What about being an original, excellent, humane, exciting, creative, and liberal human being? As for bad girls, they were warned that the entire family would suffer on their account—after all, which decent family would permit their children to marry into a family that harbored a single bad seed? And so emotional blackmail was thrown into the simmering witches’ cauldron of double standards. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

If you’ve enjoyed reading my posts, please also check out my BOOKS and LINKS.

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