Demon of Eclipses & Illusions – Part 8/9

girl_smokingDuring my teens in south India, I sneaked outside during a boisterous party for a secret puff. An older male relative caught me in the act. “Put that out immediately!” he ordered, even as he lit up his own ciggie and exhaled a stream of toxic smoke in my direction. “Think you’re cool to ape those foreign movie stars, do you? Well, let me warn you, young lady, an Indian woman who smokes is seen as nothing but a whore!”

“What about you guys?” I’d demanded, itching to throttle the arrogant sod. “You smoke like a chimney! Are you a whore?” He’d sighed and shaken his head, despairing. If I didn’t stop smoking pronto, he added sternly, he’d advise my father to get me married as soon as possible — it being sound Indian policy to tame a hellion before she brought unutterable shame to the family. I’d stomped away in a huff, too proud to let him see how his words had both shaken and infuriated me.

But I could not stop brooding over what he had said — why did I want to keep smoking? The truth was complex: one major reason was that cigarettes were available for me when people and situations let me down. And so I continued to smoke, on and off, for decades, despite all the wisdom and training I was simultaneously acquiring. Looking back, I can see that on the psychological level I smoked to separate myself from the traditional herd of Indian women, to make myself unwanted on the marriage market, to tell the guys that if you can get away with it, so can I! Continue reading

Demon of Eclipses & Illusions – Part 1/9

opening_imageStrolling down Manhattan’s Broadway in the early 1990s, I stopped to stare at a dramatic hoarding, the elements of which I shall attempt to recapitulate for you: a smoldering cigarette hangs out the corner of the mouth of an older woman with a halo of frizzy gray hair; her heavily made-up face barely masks a mesh of wrinkles and furrows, her cunning eyes are narrowed as a shield against the rising smoke, her cracked smoker’s lips are painted a bright red; as for the ironic caption below, it reads: Smoking Is Glamorous.

Oh what a powerful message! I thought, even as I dragged deeply on the fragrant Nat Sherman cigarette hanging, Bohemian style, out of the side of my own mouth. But despite the irony of that moment, that harsh image continued to hover on the fringes of my insubordinate mind, warning me how I might end up if I didn’t quit smoking.

Back in India, two upper-class women of my mother’s generation had ended their lives looking pretty similar to the hag on the hoarding. Both had thumbed their noses at convention and taken up smoking and drinking with a vengeance. Both had died heavily burdened by the circumstances of their lives, their striking beauty a sad memory; despite medical warnings, the mounting concern of their respective families, and their own fierce wills, neither had ever been able to quit either ciggies or booze. Continue reading

Luminous Kalyanamitras – Part 1

kalyanamitraLean on me when you’re in trouble, as that fabulous old hit goes, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on….Right on, bro, when life administers yet another unkind kick to the butt, there’s nothing like a friend to dispel impending doom: a crabby aunt who gifts you hard cash when the mortgage is due; a stranger who points you in the right direction when you’re panicking in a new city; a muse who whispers encouragement at critical moments; the buddy who stays loyal, even after you tumble off your lofty pedestal, revealing frayed and dirty knickers.

Certainly everyone who supports us in this cold world is a treasure. And yet…to that rare human who ventures into the uncharted territory of inner worlds, a higher level of alliance becomes essential. This is the realm of the kalyanamitra, a friend who dances to subtle inner rhythms, refusing to conform to the standards of an insane world. If you’re lucky enough to attract a kalyanamitra to you, make sure you always give this precious one the right to hoist you out of the sulphurous quagmire of delusional thinking and hazardous habits—and be ready to return the favor! Continue reading