A Love Story
I’m riding a late-night taxi through the streets of Bombay, sidewalks littered with hundreds of bodies, all the way to the curb. This must be some kind of plague, but nobody told me. Deep down, I’m possessed, despite my fear. So begins my love story with India.
This narrative records the complex, sometimes funny, sometimes agonizing relationship of two Americans, each drawn deeply by Vedanta into a marriage of East and West on many levels. Their love affair and marriage, in which a passion for India is the driver and fulcrum, opens a wide window on American life, culture, and counterculture, beginning in the late Sixties and extending into the millennium.
In Part One, during a Fulbright year based in Malwa studying khyal with the master Kumar Gandharva, I enter an underworld reflection of life in America, immersed in India's smells and sights as well as the inexhaustible sound-world of North Indian vocal music. My newly awakened sexuality is swallowed by the mythic substratum of Hindu goddess figures during a period of instinctive celibacy. Intrigued by an invitation from Maurice Frydman to “join the
fellowship of the undeceived,” I begin a lifelong effort to practice Advaita through self-inquiry as taught by Ramana Maharshi.
“I expect to reach enlightenment in this lifetime.” She tells me this the week I meet her.
In Part Two, I return to India with my wife Judi, a medical doctor and yoga teacher who is skeptical, reluctant to share the India experience with me. But as we hop between ashrams, she, too, falls in love with India. In the end, we are banished by the head swami, who tells us to go home, have children, fulfill our work, and serve our parents. We can return after we complete our householder duties.
When we return to India in the Nineties, the tables have turned. I, once totally smitten, am dismayed by modern India, whereas Judi is ever more deeply enthralled, throwing herself into Sanskrit and taking a teacher, who names her Geeta Jyothi. As our sons leave the house, she begins long winter ashram sojourns, contemplating vows of monkhood that threaten our marriage.
This memoir has the potential to interest a wide audience of seekers: those who throng the “spirituality” section in the West—especially “India freaks,” their children, and the burgeoning readership of South Asian writers, particularly middle-class Indians who remember the curious phenomenon of the "Amreekan hippy-saddhu." I believe it will appeal to the followers of Ram Das, Ramana Maharshi, Swamis Chidananda and Krishnananda (Sivananda Ashram), and Vinoba Bhave—characters all—but especially of Kumar Gandharva and Sunderlal Bahuguna (Chipko), remarkable figures with whom our lives become intertwined.