As a little girl growing up in the vibrant heart of south India, I overheard my father warn a friend that a certain woman whom he referred to by name—a stranger to me—was so clever she could even “draw blood out of a stone.”
My father—a charismatic and handsome fellow gifted with a silver tongue—caught my attention with his vivid language. How I burned to meet this sorceress who could coax a crimson stream of blood out of ungiving stone! What other supernatural gifts must she possess? I wondered dreamily.
Soon after, the whole family attended a wedding in the community. In the crush of adults milling about, I heard someone greet a formidable woman—dressed in a resplendent peacock-blue silk sari bordered with gold—with the name my father had used for the woman with the magical ability. Greatly excited, I ran up to this wondrous creature on sturdy little legs and gazed up at her in awe. “Are you the woman my daddy says can draw blood out of a stone?” I demanded breathlessly.
The witch glared down at me in utter shock, her painted mouth worked furiously, though no words emerged. My mother rushed over and dragged me away, apologizing profusely, her lovely face flushed with embarrassment. I was scolded, perhaps given a sharp slap or two, I don’t recall. What I do remember were the rumbles of delighted male laughter, and the eruptions of female giggles, when the now highly embellished tale of how I had rendered the witch speechless was recounted on breezy summer evenings.
Years later I discovered that the ‘witch’ was actually a wealthy widow who had taken to lending money out at loan-sharking rates of interest—and, a la Shylock, had no qualms about extracting her pound of flesh! Out of the mouth of babes, etcetera….
Most of the events I recall today with a smorgasbord of mixed emotions were never told to me straight. Children were to be seen, not heard; certainly we were never included in serious talk. So I learned to crouch in the shadows, eavesdropping and interpreting the whispers of adults, even as I fabricated marvelous tapestries to explain our unusual way of life to my own highly curious self.
Despite my mother’s entreaties, and my father’s harsh punishments, this pattern of compulsively shooting my mouth repeated itself all through my childhood and adolescence. One evening, strolling back from a friend’s home in twilight with my mother, she stunned me with this grim announcement: “You’re going to get into terrible trouble if you keep spilling whatever rubbish jumps into your head!”
A teenager at the time, even more precocious than I had been as a child, it came to me in a flash that it was my inherent nature to speak my mind—and that I would be compelled to continue to do so all through my life, no matter the consequences. I blurted out this bizarre insight to my mother and watched her face grow sad.
Given our traditional patriarchal Indian society with its double standards for men and women, my mother must have feared the trouble her irrepressible daughter would inevitably invite with the passage of time. Perhaps this was why she rarely spoke her mind, unless it was to do with the large home she ran, assisted by servants, the welfare of her children, her burgeoning garden brimming with banks of delicate ivory and sun-yellow lilies and shaded with mango, papaya, gooseberry, cherry and sapota trees, or her collection of cactii and exotically hued orchids, which she had taken to displaying around the inner walls of our spacious home.
As a grown woman in Manhattan, in the aftermath of a dehumanizing divorce, I sat defeated before my therapist and humbly admitted that my mother had been right—had I kept my big mouth shut a little more often, perhaps I might have diminished the string of crises I had suffered in the intervening decades. Oozing self-pity, I added that it continued to baffle and frustrate me that so few in the family agreed with my version of past events, or cared to support me emotionally in my current depressing situation.
Amy, a gracious and civilized being of immense kindness, smiled warmly. “Don’t you worry, Mira,” she said. “Every sibling has a different set of parents. What you experienced is just as valid as what the others say they did. Now you must forget how the rest of the world thinks and focus solely on healing your self.”
She was right—each member of our sprawling clan nursed their own special views. We had each entered the world at different stages in our parents’ lives and our natures were crafted by unique personal karmas. Our degrees of rebelliousness ranged all the way from placid acceptance of the status quo (arranged endogamous marriages, the usual gender hypocrisies) to extreme reactivity to what was expected of us as “good” members of our community. Yes, I mused, though all my siblings had shot into the world through the same parental channel, our views and perceptions of distant events as well as of the trials of the day were bound to be different.
Dr. Brian Weiss—who broke out of the conventional therapist closet by daring to publish an incredible tale of past lives that emerged during his treatment of a severely disturbed young woman—once mentioned during a weekend workshop at Omega in Rhinebeck, New York, that every little thing we sense and experience, whether others agree with it or not, and whether from “imagination” or from “real” waking life, is grist for the inner mill.
Today, though my wildness has been tamed by the deliberate attempt to cultivate the wisdom of the ancients—as well as by fatigue induced by tilting at an endless succession of windmills—I am still compelled to speak my truth. The difference is that now I clearly acknowledge that it is only “my” truth, a subjective and shifting truth, and that everyone who looks at the same situation or event or person is bound to see and experience it differently.
Age has also graced me with a certain maturity; I no longer feel entitled to use my tongue as a slashing sword—the sacred duty corresponding to the sacred right to speak one’s truth must accord with the sage’s warning—that under no circumstances must we inflict needless harm. And yet there are occasions when tough love seems to be called for, though to determine when requires discrimination—an art I am still in the process of refining.
So instead of letting fly with my big mouth, I write; and writing, I have learned, never fails to bring me back to some level of sanity. I pour my heart out in a torrent of words when tormented by doubt and confusion; in the aftermath, I invariably find myself able to move forward with confidence. And when the urge to express something huge and critical overwhelms me, I write a novel. Whip of the Wild God, which I began in the winter of 1993 in Manhattan, and which took twenty years to complete—is the direct result of a compulsion to express my personal gratitude for the transforming power of eastern philosophy—in particular, the richness of tantric philosophy—to a world that seems to have devalued this ancient treasure. Two other novels are simmering right now on separate burners in my mind, each connected to a burning issue that must find release in the magical art of writing.
Today I also accept that neither shooting my mouth nor writing alone will ever completely satisfy me—my spirit craves more, for subtle inner truths transcend the finite reach of even the best crafted language. What I do continue to have faith in—and history continues to reveal this truth, time after glorious time—is that it is the power of the written word that endures, long after the ignorant knife has done its bloody work.