Remember the countercultural invasion of India? Here’s a memoir showing how complicated it could be, lasting a lifetime
Asheville, NC, March 30, 2021 - Robert McGahey's India: A Love Story 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. This passion for India is the driver and fulcrum of their love affair and marriage, opening a wide window on the cross-cultural affair between American counterculture and Hindu South Asia, beginning in the late Sixties and extending into the millennium. The author and his wife Geeta settled in Celo Community, Yancey County, after a formative pilgrimage year in India.
India: A Love Story (Dancing Elk Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1-7346200-0-9, $19.95 - e-book ISBN 978-1-7346200-1-6, $4.99
It all begins with 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, I thought. Despite my fear, deep down, I’m possessed. 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,” Judi tells me this the week I meet her. A few years later, I return to India with her, a medical doctor and yoga teacher who is skeptical, reluctant to share my experience of India. 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, raise children, fulfill our work, and serve our parents. We can return after we complete these 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 renames her Geeta Jyothi. As our sons leave the house, she begins long winter ashram sojourns, contemplating vows of monkhood which 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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert McGahey is a retired humanities teacher, working that fertile field at settings in junior high, high school and college. He is a graduate of Harvard College, with an EdM from Harvard Graduate School of Education, following his Fulbright year in India. He earned a PhD in myth studies at Emory University's Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts in 1989, afterward teaching integrative humanities at Moorhead State University (MN). After retiring from full-time college teaching in 2000, he trained with Joanna Macy to facilitate deep ecology groups (The Work that Reconnects). He is past board member of NC Interfaith Power and Light, and past board chair of Arthur Morgan School. He and his wife Geeta have lived in the North Carolina mountains within Celo Community, the oldest non-sectarian community land trust in the US, for 45 years. He has a long history with Quaker Earthcare Witness, giving many workshops on the global ecocrisis at Friends General Conference, and is now presiding clerk of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting. Robert continues to be active with choral singing and hosts a contradance in Celo. He loves to hike, garden, and spend time with his four grandchildren.
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