Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Yann Martel’s “The High Mountains”

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

The High Mountains, like Life of Pi, is a book filled with wonders, sublime emotionality, and a bit of implausibility. There is, too, the ingenious bond between human and animal, in this case between a man and an ape. This theme, critical to the story Martel tells, begins with the slave trade and a Portuguese priest’s revelation that humans are “risen apes, not fallen angels,” then circles forward in the third novelette to Peter, a retired politician living with his ape companion, Odo, realizing that, “what’s come as a surprise is his [Peter’s] movement down to Odo’s so-called lower status…While Odo has mastered the simple human trick of making porridge, Peter has learned the difficult animal skill of doing nothing. He’s learned to unshackle himself from the race of time and contemplate time itself…” Martel seems to be implying that in becoming this “risen ape,” humans have lost something immeasurable, something vital, something soulful.

The book is filled with laugh-out-loud humor, gorgeous detail, and moments of such tenderness that the heart can’t help but ache. The second novelette, however, acts as some sort of rubbery glue, consisting of a mini-dissertation on the Bible and Agatha Christie which, though intense and fascinating, feels out of place, interposed with a strange, surreal autopsy which produces a chimp inside a corpse. This is one place where Martel falls short in his mastery of storytelling.

But  moments where self and the other meet, as in the case of the priest and an imprisoned slave woman, are shattering. “She turned her head & looked me in the eyes… My tongue was stilled of any priestly cant. I am transformed. I saw. I have seen. I see. That short gaze made me see a wretchedness that until then had never echoed in my heart. I entered that cell thinking I was a Christian man. I walked out knowing I was a Roman soldier. We are no better than animals.” And later, full circle again in the third novelette, Peter recounts the remarkable moment when his ape truly sees him. “To be so imperatively summoned by the ape, and therefore so forcefully acknowledged – he is shocked. He feels as if he’s just been birthed out of nonexistence.”

What is human, what is animal? Slaves were considered animals, creatures put to work the soil, lesser, equated with brutish behavior, inferior status, intelligence, and morality. But as Martel shows us by the third novelette, to be an animal is to embody emotion, compassion, dignity, love. To be an animal is to understand the present moment, to revel in it, to have no past, no future, to “[burst] dramatically…then [make] way once more for the blue sky, the permanent blue sky.” We are human and animal both. We must no longer see them as a clash between superior and inferior, sacred and profane, but a merging between two sides of wholeness. To reach for the greatest qualities in each is to discover our highest potential.


My Encounter With A Medium

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

When I was on book tour in 2009, Ryan Ray invited me to be a guest on his TV show Wake Up!, about people who have awakened to embrace their best life. I, however, seem to be in a constant flux of waking up one day, and falling asleep the next. Halfway through the episode, we were joined by a medium. I was casually picking up my coffee mug and waxing eloquently about how the coconut in Indian culture is symbolic of the human ego and thus why we break it open at the altar of the gods, and next thing I know Ryan was asking me if I had any questions to ask this psychic. Is she the real deal? I sat there aware of the camera, internally debating this question, wishing I could break open my own coconutty ego. Meanwhile, the medium, perhaps sensing my discomfort, went on to regale me with flashes from my future. “Your book will be a movie.” Well, that sounded great. Big smile. “You’re writing a trilogy.” I continued to smile but inside I thought, no way. Years later, however, I decided I was perhaps writing a metaphoric trilogy. My first book, Haunting Bombay, was my water book: an infant who drowns while being bathed, a cursed fisher girl who’s cast out of her community at the onset of her menstruation, a ghost that haunts a bathroom and wreaks havoc when the monsoons break over the city… My second book became my fire book, all heat and passion, but then somewhere along the way, I realized I was indeed carrying a trilogy in my head. My first book isn’t part of it; it’s something entirely new. So there you have it. Now all I have to do is wait for that movie deal.

Groundbreaking Film “Margarita, With A Straw”

Friday, May 1st, 2015

It was so amazing to see so many friends last night at the closing night of the Asian Pacific Film Festival in mass support of Shonali Bose and her incredible film “Margarita, With A Straw,” exploring the taboo subject of sexuality of a disabled person. Knowing Shonali’s five year journey of struggle and pain that led to the making of this film made it all the more astounding. For me, hearing Shonali talk about the film afterwards was so moving. She had so much poise and clarity in her vision, and she spoke about scenes that broke her open, and what it meant to be a female director to openly weep on the set in front of her entire cast and crew. Did this mean that she would lose respect as a filmmaker? No, because she took that pain, the loss of her eldest son, and that intense suffering, and brought it bear upon those scenes with a razor-sharp focus and tenderness. Gorgeous, gorgeous filmmaking. Shonali, thank you.

Amy Brill’s “The Movement of the Stars”

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Amy Brill’s The Movement of the Stars is the type of book I just love, love, love. 1845 Nantucket, a young Quaker woman hopes to discover a comet in the night sky. When she dares to want more from life and to challenge the prejudices of a society that considers itself reasonable and just, she faces opposition, public humiliation, and difficult choices. She’s smart and tough, but it’s her inner softening that speaks to me most, the letting go of self-imposed limitations and the slow leaning into her heart, allowing it to open and guide her onto a path as wide and bright as the heavens.