Manhattan 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
Growing 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
When 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
I write my morning posts off the top of my head, meaning I don’t generally research the topic, so you must forgive me if I use ancient stories merely as devices to get a message across, and don’t bother unduly about details or settings. Anyway, this morning it struck me in a new way that some humans are so damaged that they cannot express their intense feelings for others except via negative comments, passive-aggressive behavior, slurs or downright untruths.
Now Gautama Buddha’s beautiful wife Yashodhara had a brother, Devadatta, who hated his brother-in-law for several reasons—not least that he had abandoned his beloved sister to follow the path to enlightenment. Devadatta did not simmer silently nor alone, no; he sneaked around the Buddha’s sangha (congregation of monks) making trouble and telling terrible lies about the sage. The Buddha tolerated him, of course, for nothing can fracture the equanimity of a true sage. But one day, when Devadatta crossed the line yet again and began to spew insults at him, Gautama said something like this: I know that anger is all you have to offer me, Devadatta, but nevertheless I reject your gift. Continue reading
Before I moved into my own home here in Tiru, I had four landlords over a space of three years, each of whom was nightmarish in their own unique way. One was so slippery that he would assure me he would be over in ten minutes to fix a tap or whatever, but would simply never show. But when it came to collecting his rent, or to complain to me ad nauseam about the “foreigners” here (whom he had a strangely schizophrenic relationship with—on the surface, obsequious and smarmy, because he wanted them to rent his properties, behind their backs, virulently critical and mean), he was, ha ha ha, amazingly prompt.
Once I moved into my home, I realized that, although hopefully I had left all slimy landlords behind, another major mundane problem had raised its pointy little head: which is that workmen would assure me they would be over right away to fix something or the other, but they too would never show, or arrive hours after their appointment when I had already left home—and then they would accuse me of not being home to receive their lordships! Since my command over Tamil is terrible, I had no way of expressing my shocked disbelief at their bad behavior, and besides, I needed them to survive; and so I swallowed by anger and kept going, a day at a time. Continue reading
The other day I read a statement by a “guru” (who claims to have thousands of devotees) that all men are polygamous by nature. Ah, I thought, brilliant excuse! Let’s blame Nature for all the dishonesty and delusion we see around, clearly this works just fine for your sheeplings, for now they have the perfect justification to play the field.
Now what do I really think of his statement? Simply that such generalizations are asinine. First of all, due to genetics, circumstance and environment etcetera, no two humans are exactly alike; Secondly, no human needs to continue to be a slave to habit or predilections, no matter how strong these habits are, or for how many generations they have been an accepted part of the misogynistic fabric of certain societies.
So you want to play the field and keep your options open? No one should have a problem with that—it’s your precious life after all, and it is you who will have to pay the karmic piper. But please keep in mind that your freedom comes with a corresponding duty—which is to respect the freedom of another precious soul. If you want to mess around, by all means do so, but have the decency and the courtesy to do so transparently, so that others can decide whether they want to have you in your lives or not. Continue reading
Freud opened the minds of millions of Westerners to the hidden codes that determine our behavior. I read his work from time to time as a young woman, and one particular novel I plunged into as a teenager particularly fascinated me since it reduced his teachings to the primal urges of sex and death.
Now, in the Eastern view, these powerful drives stem from the lowest chakra in the human system, known as the root chakra or mooladhara. Yes, it is critically important to understand the root chakra, because our mooladhara drives us to create a life based solely on surviving and thriving in the relative world. If we do not realize this, we are condemned to spin senselessly around in the vicious cycle of samsara for eons, never realizing we are far more than our material body, mind, emotions or possessions.
Eastern mystics and sages authoritatively inform us that our true and immortal nature is existence-awareness and bliss (sat-chit-ananda). The way to knowing this can be beyond arduous and can encompass striving for eons. But once this sinks in, then we are definitely on the inner road to peace and bliss. Continue reading
“You know what?” he said as he studied my astrological chart. “You’re like a souped-up Ferrari with the brakes on.” He laughed at my puzzled expression. “Well, I say that because you’ve got some great planets on your side, but equally tough ones countering their beneficial effects. The trick to beating all of this negativity is to accept that your suffering emanates from your own past karma. YOU have created this scenario—so don’t waste precious time blaming others. Instead focus on melting down all that blocks you from evolving into the powerful woman you were meant to be.”
“What are these brakes?” I asked nervously.
“You know what they are,” he said. “You’ve even admitted them to me. But don’t worry, I rarely see such potential for transformation. You’re going to make it.” I took his words seriously—because a friend had assured me that this man was the best vedic astrologer then working in America. This brilliant man told me other stuff that blew me away too—and a couple of years later, one of his predictions literally saved my life. Continue reading
This is serious advice for serious writers—to kill our darlings. Sounds brutal, no? Well, actually, what it means is that sometimes we come up with great material, but, in the context of the whole piece of work, say a short story or novel, this terrific piece of writing does not work to create a vivid continuous dream that the reader can resonate with. It hurts to do this, yes, that particular piece may have been celestially inspired, but sorry, it ruins the whole and therefore, once we have stepped from our opus and decided that it sticks out like a sore thumb or ruins the thread of the plot, we must be willing to commit word murder. A sacrifice of the brilliant part to the cosmic whole.
Fortunately today we have computers—I often marvel at what great writers in the past did. Imagine writing War & Peace with ink and paper and then trying to kill or rework sections of it—my god, how lucky we are today! We can cut our darling out of the current piece and store it safely in another file so we can use her later, in a place where she does work. And it strikes me that this advice is valuable anywhere, even as we begin the intense and often lonesome journey into the spiritual heart. We must kill our darlings, all those ideas, habits, dreams, concepts and conditioning that no longer mesh with our present map of reality. And we must make sure they stay dead, by burning their very roots, so that they do not rise up again with a vengeance to ruin our perfect plan for blissful liberation. Continue reading
My father taught me a powerful lesson growing up; I watched many a time as he out-intimidated the legion of official and governmental bullies that routinely harass all Indians and make millions of lives miserable. “Do you know who I am” he would roar, and the would-be bully would literally quake with fear and trepidation. And he did this with genuine anger, because this kind of official misbehavior personally offended him. He stood up not just for himself—in his prime, he was a wealthy, powerful, articulate and educated man with immense influence—but for those with lesser resources, and even for the illiterate poor who had no option but to bow down to these horrible apologies for man so that they could get their work done. Since survival was a burning issue for many of these people, and the bullies knew they held the winning card, most often there was no competition.
Recently I was reminded of how the Indian poor in particular are hounded, harassed and cheated when my maid came crying to me to inform me that the local police had extracted a huge bribe from her laborer brother. Her brother had beaten up his wife’s lover and brought her back home after a sensational elopement. I told my maid I would go with her to the Collector’s office and help her to make an official complaint against these men—something I would hate to do since I dislike offices in general, and the men who run them even more; but I felt so awful at the thought of this poor man being bullied and robbed that I felt I had to do my bit. And what did she say? Gave me a shrug and said it wouldn’t work, that everyone was corrupt and all the family could do in such a situation was to suck up this huge crime and carry on. I yelled at her and said it was because of this passive attitude of the voiceless masses that things have gotten to this ghastly state, but of course she did not understand where I was coming from and did not accept my offer. Continue reading