‘A great read, I can’t get away from it’ – Britney Spears
The given quote by Britney Spears which appears on the blurb of author Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest autobiographical offering Eat, Pray, Love might appear to be a tad off-putting. After all, which (semi)intellectual would ever confess to reading, or wanting to read a book so strongly advocated by the resident Hollywood wild-child? When my granny lent me the book, I dismissed it immediately. However, sheer boredom eventually overcame me and I decided to give it a try. And much like Miss Spears, I was hooked from the first page itself!
For the uninitiated, the author, Elizabeth Gilbert is a part of the American literati with a collection of short stories already published. She was an award winning magazine journalist, happily married and struggling to conceive. She was living every woman’s dream. Success, family, love – life seemed to bestow her with all the possible blessings. However, sometimes ‘having it all’ isn’t really enough. After spending the first thirty years of her life dreaming of domestic comforts, she was amazed to realize that she didn’t want any of it, not the husband, not the children either. This sudden realization stuck her one night and she spent a great deal of time on the bathroom floor, crying. Is it abnormal to not want a family?
A few months later, she emerged battered from a trying divorce and fell easily into the arms of another man who made her feel whole again. The rebound relationship didn’t do her much good (they rarely do). And much to her family’s chagrin (and much against the grain of society) she decided to travel. She undertook a journey in which she spent four months in Italy, pursuing pleasure and learning Italian; four months in an Indian ashram meditating and reconnecting with God/Internal bliss; and four months in Bali – learning the fine art of balancing the need to seek pleasure and the need to seek God.
Let me start by saying that Ms Gilbert is a fantastically vivid and visual author and her books are rife with sumptuous details. Her description of the gondola’s in Venice and the Pizza in Naples and the winding streets and Gelato corners in Rome make it nearly impossible to not crave to be there, with her. She treats India and Bali with equal attention to detail and colour.
Since this is not a technical review, I will spare you the details of her use of language and the details of her journeys (I probably wouldn’t be able to do it justice). I’ll talk about how this book has inspired millions (myself included). Most women (not all) view family, marriage, relationships and procreation to be a very important end in life, fortunately, the urban woman of today also values her career a great deal – but there is no escaping matrimony and procreation. A career woman needs to learn how to balance her job and her family (especially in India). Most of our mothers have been compelled to put their solitary-dreams on the backburner for the very same reason. Whether we like to admit it or not (and even a die-hard feminist like myself will have to admit) convention cannot be altogether escaped. We reconcile ourselves to the fact that in order to be accepted and normal and successful – our personal yearnings for independence would have to be suppressed. Deviating from the norm would imply that we have failed and living the ‘healthy’ – conventional life. Miss Gilbert probably felt the same when she realized that she didn’t WANT children (Shock! Horror! A good woman is characterized by her implicit maternal instincts, right?) But despite her despair at failing at a ‘normal’ life, she has the courage to pursue what would make her happy. She chose to travel – live abroad for months at a time all on her own. As critic Jennifer Egan puts it “I’m willing to believe that Gilbert despaired over having failed at a more conventional life even as she sought out its opposite — complications like these are what make us human.”
This makes me wonder, is there anything that can actually be more important that personal happiness. And an independent woman is not exactly a social-deterrent. Therefore, when a woman dares to dream, when she yearns for freedom, does it really make sense for her to deny herself that? It’s difficult to escape the conventional life, but surely – the feat can easily be accomplished by one with sufficient will. Eat, Pray, Love, in the Indian context, is a powerful reminder that relationships, boyfriends, matrimony and children – the endless sacrifices to be made for immature boyfriends, husbands and children aren’t the determining factors of a woman’s life. If you’re striving for independence, you can have it.
Let Elizabeth Gilbert be your guide…
[Image Source: http://flickr.com/photos/dearbarbz365/2214588158/]