I’ve recently been sent two very different but very appropriate bits of prose from my two best friends from college. In itself, it is exceptional to hear from them at all. It is a bittersweet benchmark of age when those to whom you spoke, nay, saw practically every day for years, those who could routinely barge into your room unannounced in tears like nothing, those with whom you exchanged nothing less than passionate love letters over infinitely long holiday breaks now, though remaining indelibly in your life, surface but once or twice a year. When they do, it seems always to be a surprise, if a welcome and warm one. Perhaps it is a book received by post with a brief inscription, or a call from the airport at which a layover has been extended to make time for a weekend visit. I now have friends into whose rooms I barge in tears but now with a polite “is it ok if I…?” request beforehand, whom I see routinely though not daily because time has replaced the immediacy of everything with the ability to savour what is truly important, to whom I do not write passionate letters but probably should in the interest of preserving that art form. But when I do see or hear from my dear old college friends, it is as if no time has passed, as if no catching up needs doing, as if they know me so well and I them that it is enough to say to one another, “you and I exist and for that I am glad,” and not even that really needs saying. They keep me grounded and honest and humble and remind me of who I am, and I hope I do a bit of that for them too. They are wonderful, intelligent, beautiful and fascinating creatures, these friends. Anyway, here’s what they sent:
From one, currently working on her PhD at Oxford, though apparently reading my facebook or blog when procrastinating:
“I really enjoy Michiko Kakutani’s reviews. This one [of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, “The Marriage Plot”] at made me think of you, and this paragraph, particularly:
Leonard, needless to say, breaks all these rules, and Madeleine soon realizes she’s deeply, madly in love — or at least very smitten: “It was as if, before she’d met him, her blood had circulated grayly around her body, and now it was all oxygenated and red.” For someone so used to being in control, it’s a thrilling, disorienting and frightening experience, heightened further when Madeleine realizes that Leonard’s depression is not a passing mood but a serious and chronic condition that could well sabotage their relationship.”
I must say, it is a comfort to know that my own personal drama is enough of a universal human condition that whole novels and plays and films and tome after tome of poetry have been devoted to it. And it provides perspective: at least I won’t be tossing my spent self in front of an oncoming Metra anytime soon. Those lines she sent – and this is all she sent, you must know – resonated deeply, eerily. But I was not embarrassed or upset. I laughed at how she knew me and at myself. I used to tell people, do not try to be a character in a novel; write your own novel! I was 18 and it was all very profound. But there is no infinite supply of plots, it seems.
I received the following essay from another, who is a student of traditional Odissi dance in India. The piece was published in the New Indian Express “Devi” Magazine in Bhubaneswar. It’s as beautiful as anything.
From Autumn to Aswin
Each October in my home town, the groves of slender aspens in the Rocky Mountains would be turning a bright yellow and raining down golden showers of coin-like leaves blown about by autumn’s brisk breeze. We would wait for the first snow on the mountain peaks, eagerly conjecturing about the conditions of the coming winter skiing season. The first white flutters in town always seemed to come around Halloween, the holiday when all the kids wear costumes and visit the neighboring houses at night collecting chocolates. How many tussles erupted between concerned moms and excited children who didn’t want a heavy coat and muffler to obscure the well-planned effect of their Spiderman or Snow White outfit.
For the last five years, this season has taken on an utterly new significance for me. The month is marked as Asvin, not October, and the season is known as “rainy” and not autumn. Still, in an entirely different way, it remains one of my favorite times of the year.
During Durga Puja, I love to feel the charged atmosphere. The rhythmic gong of cymbals, the melodic tinkling of bells and the low drone of prayers create a powerful vibration which elevates my mind to a state of peace. Smoke scented with the sweet aroma of ghee and agarbati cleanses the air of impurities. Sense-impressions acquire an other-worldly clarity as the atoms of nature hum with a divine energy. The soft, warm brightness of the sun’s rays is accentuated as it shines in the drops of new rain. Bright green sprouts, bursting with life-force, grow as the days and nights pass, the moon changing its shape, the sun changing its place. I tune to the cycles of the planet as we invoke the powerful goddess through the elements of nature.
Worship of Devi is absolutely universal, as her energy and presence pervade every molecule of the universe and are felt in the hearts of every human being. Personally, I relate to Her in many ways. As a woman, I relate to Her as a symbol of empowerment and strength. As a spiritual aspirant, I relate to Her as the destroyer of ego and bringer of ultimate liberation. As a student of Odissi dance, I relate to the godess Durga through her mythology, as a protector, the slayer of inner and outer demons and the ultimate manifestation of bliss-giving beauty. I recently had the opportunity to learn the choreography “Durga” by the late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. In this choreography both her softness and grace and her intense power are portrayed. As a human being, I relate to the goddess Durga as a manifestation of the force of nature or prakriti. She is the universal mother, who, like this earth who births and sustains all creatures, both gives and takes life. I feel that she is very intimate, our very own near and dear and also an awesome and awe-inspiring force before which we are reduced to mere ants.
Wherever we are on the planet, whether in the Rocky Mountains of the United States or in the red-earth Malis of Orissa, the Goddess is manifested in the pure and unpolluted beauty of nature. I pray to the Goddess that on this Durga Puja, all of us, her children, are reminded of how perfect and beautiful she is in her form as Mother Earth. I pray that all of us should make a commitment to protecting the very special earth that is Orissa. I pray that we can work to protect and empower the women in the communities across Orissa. Ultimately I pray that her great peace will prevail in all of our hearts-that we will feel perfectly at peace within, that there will be peace between us and that peace will pervade the earth.
How beautiful is that? I am no hippie. And religions, well, I won’t be joining one soon. But reading this, from her, I am reminded of her infinite supply of energy and curiosity and fearlessness and wonderment, and how pleasantly contagious it all is. I can see her performing this piece, being fierce, animated, charismatic and then her falling on the floor giggling from the catharsis and totally over-the-top poetry of of all. The timing is certainly coincidental, yet this more than anything is exactly what I needed in my email inbox at this moment. This is exactly what I needed from a friend. A shift of focus, a reminder of what is important, a swift yank out of my worldly stew. And that bit about the goddess Durga as a protector, the slayer of inner and outer demons and the ultimate manifestation of bliss-giving beauty rocked too…
It seems so criminally easy for us to lose our humility, our perspective, our people.
Read a silly novel and know you are of that same silly species as its characters.
Go for a long walk and observe the forces of nature at work all around you.
Write a friend a passionate love letter.
Remain in touch.