Whip the Wild God…how it all began. It’s the Manhattan winter of 1992 and I’ve just walked out on my mate of fourteen years with nothing in my pocket. Where does this constant low-grade terror I feel spring from, I wonder bleakly? I trace it to an insidious notion that I lack the guts and fierce will needed to survive alone in this frenetic city—where those who don’t make the grade drown in the gutters of low-self-esteem and increasing emotional and financial penury.
What the hell is wrong with me? The western women I’ve come to know through freelancing at Manhattan’s upscale financial and law firms impress me with their confident risk-taking and street smarts. Why am I such a coward? Perhaps it’s because I was born into a traditional Indian community known to punish, even ostracize, females who dare to be bold, unique, autonomous. Most girls of my generation had only this to look forward to—marriage to a virtual stranger (a transaction based on caste and status and arranged by matchmakers in cahoots with anxious parents), followed by breeding the right number of children and decades of stultifying domesticity.
The Indian Marriage Market. I’d fought tooth and claw to break out of this matrix, even deliberately cultivating vices like smoking, and singing rebellious folk-rock music accompanied by my guitar, which I subconsciously hoped would cause potential mothers-in-law to shudder at the prospect of their precious sons even considering me as a mate. Yet, paradoxically, my eccentricities often attracted men who, in their patriarchal arrogance, wanted to “tame the shrew.” On the other side of the balance sheet, though, I come from generous and hospitable people gifted with a genetic propensity to spin fantastic yarns, tinged with an omnipresent belief in the supernatural. I inherited my passion for stories and story-telling from them, and stories have kept me alive through my darkest times: when nothing was going right, I would dive into a good book and forget the chaos of the moment.
A Bitter Bite of the Big Apple. Eventually I married out of my community and flew to New York City, where I hoped to shake of the last chains of an archaic social system. In Manhattan, though, my charming husband morphed into a baffling stranger whose ideas on life, love, philosophy and ethics were drastically at odds with my own. I’d always known we were poles apart, but in my youthful conceit, had believed I could “change” him. Ha ha ha. That old cliché is true—neither leopards nor humans change their spots unless they consciously invite transformation; the first step of change is to acknowledge that there is something wrong, then comes acceptance, followed by action. Yet no matter how hard I tried to get him to “see” himself differently, my husband’s mind was closed to change.
The Miracle of Yoga. I turned to music, books, long walks in Central Park, cooking and occasional soul friends for solace. One day, desperate to change the status quo, I decided to become a yoga teacher. This single action turned the tide of my life from negative to positive, for the wisdom of the east combined with the physical practice of hatha yoga to open up a wellspring of inner power.
My Guru at the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan, a westerner who had taken to renunciation like a fish to water, blew me away with his quiet ability to transmit eastern wisdom. The core message of the Bhagavad Gita resonated mightily within me: on a simmering battlefield in ancient India, just before a cosmic clash between good and evil, Prince Arjuna, hero of the Pandavas, quakes at the prospect of killing those who once nurtured him. Assailed by doubt and confusion, he begs his divine charioteer Lord Krishna for help—whereupon Krishna counsels his beloved friend that, once a spiritual warrior has determined on the right course of action, he or she must follow through, no matter the consequences.
Spiritual Warrior. As a wannabe spiritual warrior, I resolved that I too would fight the good fight, no matter what the consequences. Prince Arjuna had faced a magnificent army of high warriors; my own battle would entail fleeing a marriage gone sour in order to realize my highest goal—which was to seek enlightenment. I was convinced that if my motive was noble, I would attract the aid of both invisible and visible beings. Yet I still could not see a practical way out of the ghastly mess I had created.
Talk Therapy. Enter Amy Hanan, a talk therapist. Gentle and gracious, Amy rarely spoke during our weekly hour-long sessions; instead she allowed me to examine the circuitous inner thoughts that had me trapped in a sticky web of denial. What I heard myself say in her wise presence was gibberish—that despite my intelligence and many talents, I could not survive in Manhattan without the help of a mate, that I would never be free to pursue my dream of liberation. Acknowledging the falseness of these thoughts infused me with even more courage—and I decided to take the plunge and leave my husband.
An Ugly Divorce. Manhattan lawyers cost big money, and I had none: fearing financial independence would imbue me with the courage to split, my husband had blocked my access to our joint assets. A legion of friends came to my rescue. One was a feminist lawyer who warned me strongly that my chances of getting my husband to cough up my share of our assets was nil; she suggested I cut my losses and start again—life was precious, she reminded me, and money would come in other ways. Finally I walked out of my marriage without a cent, knees knocking together with fear, yet oh so grateful to be free.
From Darkness to Light. Six months later, at a beautiful ashram nestled high up in the Catskills, I met a yogi who introduced me to the esoteric philosophy of Tantra. Tantra enthralled both the hedonist and the ascetic in me. As I delved into its philosophy, the idea of writing a story began to form in my mind’s eye: a saga that would involve my personal background, my community’s unusual history, and, last but not least, my urgent need to describe the suffering of an unusually gifted girl imprisoned in a brutal patriarchal social system, and whose greatest yearning is to be free. I got the title from a little known myth I discovered in a slim book called The Brilliant Function of Pain by Milton Ward: when the Wild God Rudra-Shiva truly loves a soul who has strayed into hedonism, he whips it hard; it is the agony inflicted by his divine whip that forces one to re-examine the nature of reality and to seek permanent enlightenment. Et voila, Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India was born.
Why did the jagged history of my community figure in this saga? Because certain scholars claim that the Saraswat Brahmins had not just thrived in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, but also that they were among the earliest proponents of Tantra. Perhaps due to massive tectonic shifts, these people had been forced south, until they hit the verdant coast of Goa. Here they flourished until the Portuguese came along, sometime in the 15th century, their greed excited by the fragrance of spices. Since it was these influential Brahmins who blocked access to the immense fortune to be made in the spice trade, the Portuguese invaders decided they would have to be either converted to Roman Catholicism, or exterminated like vermin. Backed by their monarch and the Vatican, a band of Dominican priests unleashed a long reign of terror in what has come to be known as the fiendishly cruel Goa Inquisition.
The Unexamined Life. These new threads of knowledge disturbed me deeply. Why had no one in my community bothered to investigate the horrors of the Goa Inquisition in the light of the deep scars it had left on their psyche? Had they sold their souls for the proverbial mess of pottage? These questions and more buzzed in my head: I yearned to share my thoughts with the world, but who would listen to a nutty woman raving about a distant past that had seemingly no relevance to modern life?
A Saga of Enlightenment. Gradually, thesediverse streams coalesced into the vision of a spellbinding saga. Into this tale, I resolved to embed both my deepest thoughts about the issues that burned me, as well as the precious teachings I’d been given on the process of enlightenment. My protagonist would be a teenage girl growing up in a village adjoining a fabulous civilization in ancient India. Ishvari would be selected by the Royal Astrologer to be trained by Tantric monks in order to serve as consort to the commanding but twisted monarch of Melukhha. But despite her beauty and intelligence, she is racked with anguish and rage—her father has been murdered by the dominating scoundrels who rule the village, and the rest of her family have been declared pariahs. The sleazy village priest is abusing her lovely mother on the sly, and the rest of her small family faces the dire prospect of starvation. Things are so bad she wants to die. Then the Wild God, Shiva-Rudra, appears to her to assure her she is on the cusp of great change. His prophesy comes true—and seven years later, this angry rustic child has metamorphosed into the mesmerizing High Tantrika of Melukhha. In the face of ghastly trials, however, Ishvari’s demons rise up again in force and she goes to pieces. What happens next? Read the book!
Sending Whip of the Wild God out into the world. My hunger for wisdom drove me from classical hatha yoga, to Zen, to Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, and Sant Math (The Path of the Mystic) before I finally came to rest in the living cradle of Advaita-Vedanta. During this span of time, my novel too morphed. I finally completed Whip twenty years after I began it—in the shadow of Arunachala, the ancient hill considered by millions to be the God Shiva incarnate.
Since my Manhattan-based literary agent was unable to find the right publisher, I decided to self-publish. The process was a bitch! Again I received enormous help: One friend offered me potent injections of emotional support as I struggled to acquire the requisite knowledge for the project; a gifted artist I met at a local Ashram painted the wild blue god on the cover; still another uploaded the novel on to various sites—and all of them stopped me from pulling my hair out in chunks when things went south.
Why do I write? Writing keeps me sane: if I don’t plug my boundless creative energy into an engrossing piece of work, my monkey mind drives me nuts! I love words and the power they have to convey nuance, feeling, thought and concept. I love the idea of weaving fantastic engrossing sagas from a single idea that ignites the imagination. Most of all, I am in awe when a reader tells me my work has positively influenced his or her inner life.
Today Whip careens through the world at her own sweet pace. My only regular promotion is through my blog, which I launched around the same time that this novel went live. I get great reviews, and folks write to me from all over the planet, telling me how much they enjoyed it. Almost every one of them says Whip would make a fantastic movie; if you think so too, let me know!
You can find sample chapters via my blog HERE and I do hope you read them! While you’re at it, FOLLOW my blog—just plug your email address into the right box and we can stay in touch. Meanwhile, I am working on Krishna’s Counsel, a novel in the genre of metaphysical crime fiction; and once KC is ready for the world to enjoy, I plan to work on Copper Moon Over Pataliputra, also set in ancient India, which will perhaps be my most challenging piece of work—so wish me well!
Many thanks to you, Chris Graham, for offering to host this interview on your intriguingly-named site – and for being your generous, multi-tasking, and witty self.