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!

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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

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

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

LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF SAMSARA

615d07728be5f75d5dd066fd9849c5f3I’d been out of sorts for the past couple of days, and so I went to bed early, allowing my guest, exhausted as she was from long travel, to dive under the covers too. The dream came on quickly, swallowing me up in its awesome maw…lost, panicked, empty, I ran from home to home, from country to country, situation to situation, looking for refuge and finding none. I dreamed of three beautiful black babies; each had a strange device inserted into the mouth which connected them to their mother, who monitored them closely although she was far away. Oh, how I wished I could change places with these happy and secure infants! I flitted through smoky nightclubs and saw stoned and drunk party animals frenziedly changing dance partners; I wove in and out of them like a ghost, longing to flee but unable to find the door that led outside. The nightmare went on, as my big epical dreams usually do, and I continued to fall into the hands of shallow, fickle humans with glittering false smiles and hidden agendas. Worst of all was the feeling of being a puppet with no smidgen of control over my thoughts, emotions or actions. Dread threw her thin cold arms around me and I wondered in a daze of sorrow why I should continue to live. Suddenly I was utterly exhausted; I knew I had to sleep, and yet I shied away from doing so, not wishing to wake up to another day of soul-chilling angst. The dread was so thick and fearsome that it actually woke me up—and thank god for that!!! Continue reading

ONLY AS SICK AS WE ARE SECRET

ed54db0481b9c9836e19388d8ce6f3d0Anyone who has grown up in a traditional community knows that one is strongly urged to never speak about the skeletons rattling around in both individual and community closets. As for me, I was so open with strangers right from the get go that my conformist mother would warn me to hush. “Your big mouth will get you into trouble,” she’d say sternly. “There’s no need to tell everyone how you think or feel. If you continue like this, no one will marry you.” I would snigger, thrilled at the thought that this innate habit of frank communication would repel prospective partners who didn’t appreciate honesty. Life had thrown enough chains on me already—why on earth would I want one more?

My mother was wrong. My wildness drew people to me. But I had seen too much already to be dazzled by the usual courtship rituals and already horrified by what I saw happen to women who were outspoken and bold—the patriarchy crushed them, and the matriarchy colluded in this, for often it was mothers-and sisters-in-law who did their worst to make sure that any new woman who entered the fold was made to suffer dire consequences if she dared to rebel. Yes, I knew quite well that if I fell into that age-old trap of marrying into the community, driven by the twin needs of security and approval, sooner or later I would be in for 50 shades of hell. This is how I viewed the scenario anyway and it led me to marry out of my community and move to Manhattan; now that marriage did not survive either, because we were driven by different value systems—in simple terms, he loved money more than honesty  and for me honesty always came first— but that is a story for another day. Continue reading

PLATINUM INSURANCE

36e4cbc86a09d338c9b54bed3a0b98fdHow are you? I asked a friend in Manhattan. Oh, I’m just FINE, he said with a laugh—then proceeded to inform me that FINE was an anagram for Fuddled, Insecure, Neurotic and Egocentric. (Actually he used two hyphenated words for the ‘f,’ but I think I’ll leave what they are to your rich imagination.)

The fact is that almost every one of us is (or has been) fraught by a million insecurities—and who could blame us? Consider the world wars our species has endured, the concentration camps and gulags, the ugliness of misogyny and patriarchy that plague so many, in a nutshell, man’s inhumanity to man—all of which leave scars on the collective human psyche. Above all, consider our ephemeral nature, as fragile as a snowflake melting under a hot sun. No matter how big we are in the world, nothing can protect us from old age, sickness and death; yes, when Yama , Lord of Death throws his deadly noose around our necks to remove us from this plane of existence, no power on earth can stop him. Continue reading

Do Not Be Serious About Anything!

9a777a0771ebcfae58de22014c1fa031-1During my stay at a beautiful Ashram in America long years ago, I was consumed with worry about my future. You see, I had jumped out of the mainstream by quitting a great  job in Manhattan, sold my lovely apartment, left good friends behind, and landed in the Himalayas without a parachute in the middle of a grueling winter. From there, still restless and seeking, I had moved around in both East and West, on a quest for that perfect refuge where I could focus on my creative and spiritual goals. But nothing seemed to work out and by now I was truly sunk in misery.

A friend saw my sad face; impulsively, she tore a page out of the book she was reading and handed it to me. The title said: Do Not Be Serious About Anything: it was a message from the guru of that Ashram, who advised his students not to take mundane life too seriously, but instead to dive beneath the surface and find the constant peace and joy that is our true nature.

The message begins like this: “We cannot really save the world. We cannot even destroy the world. It is not in our hands. If that Supreme Power wanted to save the world, it wouldn’t even take a second. All of us could be saints and sages overnight. Instead the Divine is allowing us to be a little ignorant. That is His fun. But we forget this and take life too seriously.” Continue reading

Samsara is a Fickle Beast!

Kiri 16GB sd card 3273‘Samsara’ is a Sanskrit word that approximates to ‘relative reality.’ When Buddha gave us his first noble truth: life is suffering, it was this level of reality he was referring to, simply, the ups and downs of a life lived in duality. It is his fourth truth that points the way out of suffering, and thank Ultimate Consciousness, I say, that there is indeed a highway that can lead us permanently out of this mess!

I’m writing this because I’ve been hit by a series of minor calamities (that’s probably an oxymoron, but never mind.) One dog who refuses since to eat and won’t tell me why, ha ha ha, my other dog who is totally nutso and terrified of most humans, and, out of the blue, a sciatica attack from hell, most likely due to the fact that I’ve been working way too long on the computer. It flared up last night, and this morning I could barely get out of bed. Thank god for my Ayurvedic doc, who came over right away and did some wonderful healing work. Continue reading

Brian Feinblum’s Interview with Mira Prabhu

e86345da08c09d1879f0e7eda3a5e911What inspired you to write your book?

Krishna’s Counsel is the second of a trilogy of novels whose theme is moksha(Sanskrit word for ‘liberation from suffering’). (Please see here). My first novel, Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India, is set in a civilization reminiscent of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, and my third, Copper Moon Over Pataliputra, is set in 300 BCE. I intended to stick with historical/mystical fiction, but way back in 1999, my Manhattan-based literary agent suggested I write a contemporary novel about an Indian woman who had moved from East to West. Nothing happened until many years later when I found myself marooned in a guest house in Rishikesh in northern India: a wild festival raged all around me, keeping me captive in my suite, and so I decided to sink my teeth into something that would engage my monkey mind; in six months, I had written the first draft of Krishna’s Counsel. Continue reading