Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Elizabeth Gilbert and ‘EAT, PRAY, LOVE’

Imagine you are an editor/ publisher and get a request for a book – where the author asks you for a major advance. An advance to spend a year travelling across the globe. Those travels would include a mix of sun, sand and lagoons, as well as one of the most expensive locations in the heart of Europe, and there would be one of the muckiest places somewhere in between.  And then, there might be a book about all of this somewhere after the end of the year. Would you buy into this pitch, however less or well-known the author was?

Well the world, at least millions of readers like me, shall forever be grateful to this kind soul who approved this request for it produced one of the most brilliant, literally life-changing books ever – EAT, PRAY, LOVE

All images sourced from the web

Again, like most events in my life – this too came by accident.  I don’t follow the latest bestseller rankings and am not much of a reader, especially of non-fiction or reference books.

So I switch on Oprah and it is like the last few minutes of an episode. She’s doing an interview and possibly the only time I have seen her doing the interview while she’s walking about and the guest is sitting on the regular plush sofa.  Apparently Liz's (yes, I’d like to think I’m on a first name basis with her J !) book already was a huge success and Oprah was doing this show to get some fans of Liz to share their experiences. 

And in this last segment I am watching Liz Gilbert explain how she experienced God and she’s all animated and she’s cupped her palms on how she held God, and could feel the energy bubbling through her. 

If you see this, I think its one of the few moments where everyone watching her speak,  universally had the same reaction, as also evidenced by Oprah’s face.  I think everyone was envious and wanted to tell her ‘sign me up, PLLLEEEEEEAASE’.

Needless to say, I promptly ordered that book and began reading it… several times over now. The first time I was reading this, was  at the same age as Liz, when she had her experiences in the book  And I too was going through some upheavals (actually, I cant think of a time when I wasn’t in the last two decades) and the book really helped me relate and put a perspective to… life! 

First, it helped me stop beating myself over for not enjoying life. I have had this middle-class puritanical guilt over going out and spending money to have a good time. Not that I didn’t do those things or enjoy them occasionally – it was only the guilt that kept eating into me, such that it just didn't seem like fun anymore. (Also didn’t help that you sometimes have a lot of folks around you who might in their own caring way can’t help telling you to cut it down. Sometimes its so judgemental it hurts, and in that case it hurts more because.. how could someone close to you feel you didn’t deserve to enjoy life – more so if you’ve earned it yourself, the hard way??).   Towards the last few chapters of her experience in Italy I think is a brilliant summary of why Italy has the best artistes and their philosophy of enjoying doing nothing. But mostly its her argument about, is it really a sin or a crime to enjoy those life’s moments that you come across - that struck a chord.
Her chapters on India were simply put just brilliant – and it is a little embarrassing to say that she possibly captured the essence of a lot of things that Indians, especially some Hindus like me, take for granted right from Yoga to the philosophies that we are familiar with.

The chapters on Indonesia didn’t really strike much of a chord with me the first time, and that’s possibly the one where there is a lot of narrative too, unlike the first few where there was so much reflection, synthesis and insights from her experiences.

But then I would reach out to that book every so often and pick up a chapter randomly and start re-reading it. And I think, certain chapters were meant to be read and were, say more suitable at a certain point in ones life and would resonate better then. Thus, even her experiences in Bali started conveying a lot more the next few times I read them. (I think the best example for me of how age and time makes a difference is Deepak Chopra – I just couldn’t appreciate his works earlier when I was younger they sounded mumbo jumbo, but when I read or listen to him now it feels huge and so transformative!)

There are a lot of chapters in Eat, Pray, love that would sucker punch me and I would get up and have to walkabout and really think about how it related to my life. (chapters 17, 18 and 19 especially have helped me in fighting loneliness and depression time and time again!)

I also have been a serial gifter of the book, sharing it with tonnes of folks I know, with mixed results. And since I have moved around so much, I thought it made for an excellent parting gift.  One victim of my charity (OK both the words fit) just loved the book but not the author, and thought she was a simpering, self-obsessed, pathetic person. One got spooked by the fact that the author was neurotic enough to write in a book and hear her own voice!! Another put down the book after the first few pages where the author spoke about God, and she also felt the author was proselytising Hinduism. A lot of them would look at me like, what is this fuss about and why are you so crazy about it.   I normally would have a smile and ask both them and myself not to be judgemental and see if anything, whatever, in the book worked for them or helped them.  And I continue to gift it in the hope that it might help at least one more person.

And this is not surprising at all. In her book she talks about one of her fellow retreat-ers in India, who'd spoken to his farmer dad about how meditation was so amazing, only to get a response that this is something that the dad knew all along and you didn’t have to cross the globe to learn it (or something along those lines, the book says it best!). 

And that really is the challenge – there are always going to be the few blessed folk who are all sorted out and pretty clear about life, as well as what they want out of it.  For the rest of us – i.e. folks like me, it’s gonna be a challenge and sometimes you are so busy and beat you might never have the time to reflect or even figure out what happened and what exactly your feelings about what just happened.

There are a lot of times I have wished, both for myself and for some others I'd meet, that if only maturity came in a bottle and everyone could drink it and become an adult instantly (kinda like the great sage Veda Vyasa the author of the Mahabharata, who apparently transformed to an adult right after he was given birth by his mother. Literally moments after he was born, he simply bowed to his mother, asking her permission to retreat into the forests, and do his duties of penance and meditation).  

Well, there’s no bottle for maturity – but there are great books like Eat, Pray, love and thank Liz (and that kind soul who approved her pitch) which help…

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