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‘Eat Pray Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

February 21, 2012

At the outset I admit the book is vain – the author sounds like too much of a narcissist, so self-obsessed and selfish, still as I have always wanted to read this book and also see this picture, i bought the pirated version of the biography (if i may call it so -otherwise we can classify it as fiction) for 140 bucks in Pondy Bazaar platform. (i justify buying the pirated versions because i have come across lots of pirated Indian movies in Malaysia, Singapore and Qatar).

Besides, this is a girlie book – about sort of girl who is always sad, wants to be sad (!) Men will flinch naturally.

I love the Italian part of the book the best because of the pizza angle honestly! Someone going to Italy seeking pleasure in the most primitive, brazen manner – via food – somehow appeals to me most! Bon appetit Liz! Envy you – for all the pastas and pizzas you gorge day after day, week after week, and month after month for a good part of the year! (4 months in total!) That Roman architecture and museums and fine arts take a back seat after jelatos and ice creams and mozzarella sounds pretty interesting and impressive to food-cravers like me!

As for the Indian part, I can make point-wise observations i guess:

1. Like, even if i am an Indian/Hindu by birth, i don’t subscribe to Guru-centric philosophies and don’t believe I need a guru to lead me to enlightenment. Yes, hindu scriptures lay a lot of weightage on the so-called ‘guru’ – your teacher (the guiding light of your life in case you need assistance getting there) but then this nation has spawned so many, many fake gurus that i have grown a bit wary of this guru philosophy.

2. Secondly i feel its strange that such a practical and logical and level-minded woman like Liz from New York would accept someone/anyone as guru just because she feels drawn towards this personality mystically, magically. This type of guru-attraction is waning even in India. Somehow, it does not make sense.

3. Thirdly, an ashram life is hardly the sole path guiding human beings to their salvation. Most sacred pilgrimage spot on earth, says who? Have always hated the concept of Ashram (in modern day context) – again, the reason could be the highest incidence of fake gurus who have been plaguing our society from before 1970s. (the last decent ashram was Sabarmathi ashram in public memory, that of Mahatma Gandhi in Gujarat and mind you, Gandhi was no spiritual leader).

4. I have never delved deeper into either Yoga or Meditation – Yoga was taught in my school until class 5. As for meditation, my maternal grandfather was involved with Ramakrishna Mission & Mutt in Mylapore and in those days, the present-day modern temple did not exist. Only a big prayer cum meditation hall and a still-library with pindrop licence that you had to walk to, through a peaceful deserted garden where cuckoos sang from every tree.

My grandfather always began his day with mediation cum prayer in our second floor room of his – with an ear-piercing chanting of ‘Om’ – actually just that one l… syllable would travel half the street and my entire neighbourhood would become aware that my grandpa had started his prayers! Rest of his prayers were in silence and meditation formed a good part of the same.

Every evening he went to the Ramakrishna mission mutt and continued his meditation upto 9 or 10 at night. Sometimes whenever he got too late, my mom would rush to see if her father was alright. My mom was the son of her family.

My grandfather made considerable donations to  Ramakrishna Mission orphanage for Boys, Mylapore, one of the best run, best managed, most disciplined of such kinds of institutions in the city also having produced notable and successful citizens out of the boys who came from nowhere) …

Still i lost respect for the swamijis when in 1981 or so they all went on a tour of Singapore – and my grandfather went with this group. Everyone had a shaven head in the group except for my grandfather. They took a flight and even though i was a young school girl then, i recall being disgusted at the swamijis and especially my grandfather.

5. Around the same time my mother’s catholic institution went on school excursion to Sri Lanka – which was a heaven until then. Trouble was starting to brew in Sri Lanka but it remained hidden from world view thanks of lack of communication network in those days. My mother’s school went by ship to Lanka and when the party returned i remember my mother telling us that it was the catholic nuns who shopped maximum buying clothes, tape recorders, sandals and perfumes in duty-free capital Colombo.

My distrust for religious people is thus deep-rooted from a very young age!

6. I will illustrate here a serious devotee’s case: my best friend’s sister who is no more was a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s devotee and was very much involved with the ‘Art of Living’ of the swamiji alongwith her family members.

When she died in late 30s, my friend says, to her horror, her sister’s husband kept telling his 2 teenage daughters not to fall and cry or grieve over their mother’s body, repeating to them, ‘what did Art of Living teach you? no crying when a soul leaves earth; no grieving; you must be happy!’

As a consequence the entire neighbourhood and the relative circle were shocked when the 2 precious daughters of the dead mother never cried over their mother’s untimely death. They stopped themselves from grieving with tremendous self-control but somehow this behaviour is not viewed as healthy or natural by anyone.

I mean, what sort of Guruji teaches his disciples not to grieve for the loss of a parent – especially given that the girls had lost their mother under most tragic circumstances, her death being most untimely? And i am asking, do we really need such a guru at all in our life who wants to show us the enlightened path, making us lesser humans than what we are in due process…

And if this is the nature of salvation my faith promises me, i DO NOT WANT to adhere to such a faith. I am clear-minded enough to differentiate between what is pronounced as detachment (from material world and bondings) that comes with age and what is perceived as abrupt and unjustifiable disentanglement from engaging earthly attachments. Even Gautam Buddha got his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree after getting married to a woman and fathering a couple of children, having lived his full quota of life as a normal and average human being/male.

Sri Sri Ravishankar is today a very revered godman/swamiji of international status and repute, with cult following around the world. Somehow, i still cannot accept him as MY GURU, sorry. Many of my friends are his followers and some keep pressurizing me to attend one of his famous lectures, but I don’t even wanna give the guruji that slim chance of occupying my mind and influencing my thought process for briefest possible minutes of my lifetime.

My aversion for Gurujis/Ashrams etc is thus very strong and unwavering.

7. Same for Matha Amrithanandamayi – the guru from Kerala who has found great educational institutions, hospitals etc. May be I should not talk much about godmen/godwomen as I don’t know much about their philosophies in the first place.

But those swamijis like Baba Ramdev give me ample scope and reason to dismiss their entire breed without a second thought.

8. My last acceptable saint (never guru) were/are Shirdi Sai Baba and Satya Shri Sai Baba of Puttabarthi. I also have my respects for Shri Ramana Maharishi of Tiruvannamalai. I have been to his ashram, and even though he attained his ‘jeev samadhi’ decades back, the ashram is still full of both local and global devotees.

9. Why I can never accept Islam/Christianity as well:   i am profoundly angry with self-proclaimed prophets for their irresponsibility in creating most violent group of believers on earth. I don’t wanna know what he/they said or did not say: i only believe solemnly that no human ever has the right to misguide and misinform the human race. Even gods have no right to say this is haram and that is haram. This is my sincere opinion. And this opinion of mine reflects exactly the philosophy of life we follow in India – the spirit of free will. Hinduism is essentially a way of life that you pursue on free will – our scriptures and gods shy away from passing quick judgements on anyone or anything. From homosexuality to infidelity to thieving and murdering, everything is condoned as a variant of human nature. At best, in Mahabharath, Lord Krishna says, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reacton’ – the very same exact words as Newton’s third law of motion.

Our scriptures thus limit themselves to telling the followers (not followers really but humankind in general) that we and we alone can be held responsible for our actions, and an equal reaction must be awaited for in future as a consequence (which is defined by the single word ‘karma.’ )

So having been fed upon this kind of philosophy, Islam fails me at the very first instance because i think its too harshly judgmental.

In her book, Liz does list this great hindu/Indian philosophy of life that might be termed as ‘as action and reaction’ in a single simple phrase, that which stops short of being judgmental and that which allows one’s free will to prevail.

(One more reason for me for not accepting the alien faiths is, they are not Indian; its hinduism that’s Indian; i as well as fellow hindus strongly feel Islam is the faith of the Arabs whose god spoke in Arabic. Whereas, hindu scriptures are all in our own native sanskrit, the language of India and the most ancient language of the world. Same goes for christianity which has got nothing to do with Indian subcontinent.)

This does not however mean, i don’t respect other’s way of life. My frank opinion is that, both Islam and Chritianity in entire Indian subcontinent/South Asia DO NOT FIT IN HERE AS THEY DO NOT BELONG HERE – still as they have come to stay, as a civil citizen of India, i am tolerant, broadminded and secular enough to accept them here in my fold and accommodate them without a grudge.

Just like fellow Hindus/Indians I do always sense that the main reason for failure of both Pakistan and Afghanistan is this. That they are cherishing and celebrating something which is not theirs’ , which can never be theirs. But then, aren’t converts the most fanatical everywhere? Even after another 1000 years, Pakistanis will remain first and foremost the worst converts to Islam in Indian history. Their arab-connection is well, BIG BULL SHIT (not if you don’t take into account their camel riders in arabian deserts).

No offence to any faith – but this is what i sincerely believe in. I can accept Arabic Islam because it is theirs principally, but never the Pakistani Islam sorry. Even the basic faith is not original in our neighbouring nation. So how do you expect them to fare better?

21 centuries of written world history shows how the English, Romans, Greek, Japanese and now the Jews, the Chinese and Indians are flourishing and prospering because, we are all following our own NATIVE FAITH and culture, not borrowed ones. Egypt failed the day it embraced Islam totally which is alien to its native faith. Same for Iraq where Mesopotomia in the BC era nurtured its own native culture and faith – WHICH WAS NEITHER CHRISTIANITY NOR ISLAM.

Well this is my theory – and quite a few friends of mine and fellow Indians/hindus share this ideology.

One main reason for Indians to lack respect for Pakistan is, we never see it as an islamic nation but as a nation of converts without roots or original identity. Convincing even the arab world or the america could be possible, but acceptance from fellow Indians/Hindus who were one nation just 65 years back is IMPOSSIBLE. Its like a little lost boy not knowing who fathered him in the first place …. this is what I think of Pakistan frankly.

Well as usual, i have gone off track…. but a discussion on one’s faith always elicits such an interest in most humans….

10. On the surface, Liz seems to project everything Hindu as Indian – and in India its true that both these identities are somewhat synonymous … still, after a point all that generalization starts to look too deliberate….

Like the way she generalizes everything like Yoga and Meditation as secular – initially even i seemed proud of this analogy; and in a way Liz is right; Yoga and Meditation are never mentioned in any scripture as Hindu practices; they are the wealth of this entire humanity on earth; still…. don’t you think DISASSOCIATING completely these 2 greatest Hindu heritage from Hinduism is stretching things too far? I need no certificate from Liz – i know what my nation is, what my faith is, culture is… and Liz must be aware too that even Buddhism and Jainism are branches of Hinduism, and Gautam Buddha was first and foremost a practising Hindu.

Again as I said, i don’t want credit for my heritage from anyone – while i accept that most Hindu principles, practices and Gods are now considered universal and secular including even the sanskrit language… i still resent Liz writing up at a point, she got ‘RID’ of a broken ‘Indian’ god Ganesha in an Indian man’s room in the Ashram. So Ganesha is also an Indian god? And why not, when Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan dance for ‘Ganpathi bappa morya’ and have the elephant god firmly planted in their living rooms of their residential quarters? Inter-religious faith is very common in India – strange it might sound to bigots i know….yet, when Liz did get RID of Ganesha in the manner she says it, i thought she was being unnecessarily rude…. Sweet Lord Ganesha deserves lot more respect and love than this 🙂

Or may be i am reading too much between the lines and making a mountain out of molehill? May be Liz is all innocent?

Because then again she contradicts herself and avers, one must have no confusion about cherry-picking one’s faith – if that will give them the spiritual fulfillment they are seeking. In this context, Liz mentions both Hinduism and Buddhism. So may be in this scenario, i can try to understand Pakistanis. Although its well documented in history, our neighbours never cherry-picked Islam; they were force-converted starting from 7th century AD, and the process is continuing to this date with the hapless minorities who continue to defy the alien faith in their soil.

And here I also feel, the evangalists of India who are on conversion spree amongst poorest of Indians might be starting to feel uneasy. Because we know how when Islam was spread in India by sheer terror for centuries, christianity is spread in India in the present day by bribing the lowest classes of the society.

The gurujis from India have still won us a quiet battle – and without coercion the westerners flock to India seeking spiritual enlightenment drawn by our Vedas, Upanishads, Sanskrit Mantras, Yoga, Meditation and Shiva and Shakthi.

It still therefore makes me enormously proud that this nation of mine is thought of as knowledge centre, spiritual centre of the world and that my faith is revered as the most enlightened and peaceful path by seekers of truth and salvation around the world….

What a silent victory for every hindu/Indian?

Frankly i resent the terminology myself – i hate calling anything hindu… i have never referred to myself that way anywhere under any circumstances except in documents like passport, school certificates etc… Even our scriptures don’t mention the word ‘hindu’ anywhere either in any context…. and what a relief it is to know that I am pursuing a faith of pure freewill just like my ancestors?

11.I have to thank Liz for giving me an opportunity to dwell upon so much theology – and last but not least, quite like her i am not for rituals either… i believe rituals are introduced in our religious practices for continuity’s sake, for enforcement sake and for serving no other purpose. In this one area i am harsher on Hindu rituals than Liz is in her book. Yet i carry on with the rituals because (i) like i said, i have to keep the faith growing and nurturing and this is one good way of doing it and (ii) secondly our rituals are harmless!!!

12. Meandering off the course completely from focal point i know: but let me give a thought to this transcendental meditation that Liz talks so much about. This transcendental meditation that removes your conscious mind slowly (rather detaches) but totally from your physical being and lets it hang/suspended in a subconscious trance – in a mystic world of light – was first documented by Maharishi, a swamiji popular in the USA in the 70s. (Transcendental meditation is in practice in India again for over 10,000 years, principally practised by yogis but Maharishi made a first ever compilation of it). Believe me this sort of suspension of the mind from us physically through intense meditation is NOT HALLUCINATION as most others who are not aware of Yoga or other Hindu customs might perceive. As Liz says, someone demonstrated how a blue light transpires if a brain scan is done on Tibetan Monks on meditation while an angry red flashes when the scan is done on an agitated human brain/mind. Attaining this level in transcendental meditation is not easy i know – but frankly i don’t wanna get there. I am spiritual, but my brand of spirituality is NOT SO INTENSE as Liz or any other Ashram-wasi. I am happy with my regular dose of spirituality in my daily life, bus! As a humanbeing i expect myself to err and further err !!!

Anyway, the institution that Maharishi founded is walking distance from my old/new home – but i am proud to say, i have never tried and tested his advice/philosophy. For the same reason i did not send my son to his school either. I am severely allergic to this kind of teaching or cultivating faith – even if its a Hindu institution. I want neutrality not just for myself, but also for my son, and mainly for my son.

My views on Islam or Christianity are my own derivatives; they do not have to conform with others’ ever. I want my son to grow up with his own mind . I did not enrol my son in Maharishi Vidya Mandir for the simple reason, i wanted to raise my son as an unbiased, unprejudiced, secular and free-willed citizen. Many of my friends even today cannot accept my arguments.

13. My final acclaim is for Liz’s faith in the sanskrit mantras as healing powers full of vigour. Power Centers. Very true. And the aura of our mantras that are over 10000 years old have a very strong vibration that every single nerve ending of ours will tingle as they are chanted again and again and again…..- and in India, pregnant women are advised by doctors to listen to chanting of the sanskrit mantras to beget the nicest human beings into this world.


I lost interest when I came to the Indonesian (Bali) part.   And I think i lost my respect for Liz as well with this – i am not sure.  I find her very naive in Bali with her medicine man,  traditional medicine doctor friend and everything.  I find the entire thing so unreal, impractical, crazy!   Somehow in Indonesia i sense Liz losing steam…….  betrayal by trusted people could do that to you?

Or perhaps since Liz was paid for the travel she could afford this craziness plus the bills that came with it, who knows!

Whatever, my final opinion after finishing the book is, Liz needs to grow up!  I was expecting a nice ending – i didn’t like the ending as well.   I mean, i don’t see a closure in her story.   Feel like its hanging….

Liz – about your Indonesia melodrama – let me tell you this: poverty could force people to any extreme step.  You guys don’t know it because you have not felt it.  And traditional medicines are not limited to only Bali – the entire region including Malaysia and Thailand has it.  In Malaysia i have seen malaysian chinese taking traditional herbal medicine for ailments are serious as blood pressure and diabetes without referring to an allopathy doctor.

The only thing that again that rouses my interest  about Bali is their still-existing Hindu connection although there is nothing hindu about them.   Even the Yoga seems different (mind you i am no Yoga expert or medication expert or even theology expert)  But the book gives a lot of insight into Bali way of living – one day perhaps i will go there 🙂

Hope finally Liz found her inner peace and is happy now 🙂  I keep getting the feeling this is one restless woman, unstable and naive !  Correct me if i am wrong!


From → Books

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