I would have given you the world

In Catching Infinity, an eternity happened whilst Alice and PW were sitting on a rickety, old punt on the Cherwell and the music of Christ Church Choir reverberated in PW’s mind. It was magic, because the choir was silent that night.

In its prequel, An Evening In Wonderland, it was during the walk from a teashop on The High to Magdalen Deer Meadow, when Alice and PW stopped and saw ethereal orbs of light dancing in front of them like magic. But in reality, those were just the light from passing cars, nothing more.

Magic is to be found in mundane things and ordinary moments.

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Photo: Road to Patong Beach

You fill a whole lifetime
In a single perfect moment
In those heartbeats of yours
So close to mine
I have heard them
The thundering within your ribcage
When I send you to the stars
And the solidarity with mine
When I sleep
In your arms

You are so deeply
Connected to my soul
From the soft dialogue
Between your fingertips and
The skin of my forearm, my face, my lips
You are the air
That I breathe
On which my spirit soars
All it ever takes with you
Is a picnic blanket
And a sunset or two

18th January 2017

There are more stars in the skies than grains of sand in the world. If life is long, all becomes one ❤

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Be part of my novel!

I have thought about this for years – if I have to choose one landmark that is representative of the story, which will it be? I narrowed my choices down to a bicycle parked in St Giles, St John’s College, the iconic George & Dragon on Little Clarendon Street, the clock tower at Christ Church or the Sheldonian. I chose the Sheldonian in the end because this was where the protagonist delivered his maiden lecture on the 26th dimension on that fateful day in June when it snowed as he stood on its steps.

If you are into colouring and would like to be part of my first novel, do download this picture of the Sheldonian, colour it, sign your name on the bottom left, scan it and email it back to me. x

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Writing literary fiction

My natural domain is writing cookbooks and parenting books. I do OK when it comes to writing about yoga and yoga philosophy too.  But I struggle with literary fiction.  Catching Infinity is being worked on at the moment by the talented editor, Steven Mair. I have begun my second one, with the working title The Sisterhood. Here’s an excerpt (Chapter Thirteen) inspired by a beautiful day looking for the South Down’s version of Jorge Luis Borges’s Strandbeesten with my partner, whose goodness inspires this book:

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

When he was a little boy, John McDermott wanted to be an anthropologist like his parents though his mother had died young, drowned, whilst searching for some obscure tribe in the Papuas.

John’s father had shrugged, tears somewhere in his gruffness, as he said to his young son, “She’s gone where she travels freely; it’s just you and I now, boyo.”

Death is but a horizon, just the limit of our eyes. Maybe that was what drew young John to become a doctor, this tightrope between life and death beckoned him from a young age, the way small children are compelled to peer over the edge of a tall building, wondering what it is like to jump off its great height, to fly without wings.

But actually, not. John still remembered the evolution of his thinking, from wanting to be an anthropologist to being here, ending up as a heart surgeon. It had started from his years of reading Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book Of Imaginary Beings under the duvet after lights out in the boarding school dorm at Winchester. Then he had wanted to seek out the mythical beings with exotic names. On his childhood holidays to Holland, the young John had looked out of the car window at the dykes, floodgates and canals. The Dutch had built them to prevent flooding and in the process, had created new landscapes. And according to Borges, this was where the Strandbeesten lived. The Strandbeesten were mechanical life forms, some as large as houses, others as small as dogs, but they all had arms like windmills and legs that were composed of triangles. They resolutely marched along the windswept dykes, floodgates and canals like mechanical millipedes. Strandbeesten walked the many miles but they never ate. They simply incorporated cordage, lumber or durable shells into new body parts. When parts wore down, the Strandbeesten freed the newer parts, and hence, the daughters were born.

Wasn’t that, in its barest form, the basis of life? Someone – John cannot remember whom – said that we walk, we reproduce, for that is the basis of life. We share this commonality across the board. Borges wrote too about Animals In The Form of Spheres, of which the Earth is the largest one. The Earth, an animal? But think of the mercury beating heart and of the weird stone flowers of Glauber’s chemical gardens.

Later, divining entrails of cadavers at Manchester Medical School, John knew that there were no difference at all between Borges’s Book Of Imaginary Beings and the world that we call real. And being in an induced coma, hovering between wakefulness and chemical sleep, he walked that very tightrope of his childhood imaginings, only that it was less frightening when it was actually happening. With his eyelids taped shut to protect his corneas, he saw a lot of things. Why is it that human beings see best with their eyes shut?

Of being English

 

When I close my eyes
And kiss your lips
I hear the winds
Of Uffington Castle
Singing in my ears
And the White Horse
Of Oxfordshire
Dances behind my eyelids
Hooves pounding in my heart
As the unmistakable taste of
An Englishman
strong on my lips
Each time I kiss you
Open your eyes
Show me your colours
Whatever you may say
Stop fighting me
Lay down your sword

Let go of
Your strength
Love yourself
And love me
Don’t give away
Your nationality
Don’t give away
Me
Together we are bound
By the heartbeats
Of our fair England
For Cross of St George
And my Englishman
My fire burns

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Strong emotions. This was what rages in Karin as she rails against her husband.

The fierce passion and the infinite tenderness between Karin and her husband:

You and I. Your hands as they cup my face, clumsy and rough like a schoolboy’s. No finesse. The initial kiss, too. No finesse. Just raw, male hunger. So greedy. Pressing of your lips hard against mine, fingers steadying my head for your onslaught. Your eyes hungry and impatient. Like a schoolboy’s. Where is your cleverness, your 44 years?

You utter my name. All your longing in one exalted syllable. No love or tenderness. As if hating yourself for not understanding your compulsion to be inside me more than any other woman in the world, for being driven to get on the plane to fly 6,000 miles to be with me.

And then your breathtaking tenderness. When it comes, it wipes away all my anger. How can I ever be angry with you? No man has ever loved me like this.

Joy of Man’s Desiring

Desire is beautiful, yet why do we hide it, why are we ashamed of it and why do we water it down instead of celebrating this powerful human emotion that keeps the human race going?

I think there is nothing more beautiful than a man in the throes of desire, whether it is desire for God or for his woman.  Desire is the fire that incinerates all reasoning of the manufactured man so that his True Self emerges: a raw, primal man unshackled from polite society. The fire burning deep in his abdomen becomes a real ache, the proverbial knot in his stomach, that travels up to his heart, making it race as if he’s running a marathon in the desert. All from the glimpse of a face, just a face, of the woman he desires. What can be more powerful than that?

This is a beautiful version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring sung by Allesandra Paonessa:

The sting in the tail of course is to desire the ‘right’ person though desire is like wildfire, irrational and uncontrollable.  In Catching Infinity, PW desired the 14 year old Alice who was at the edge of womanhood but as their lives unfolded, his desire turned inwards, homewards, towards the wife he had been married to for 22 years. His desire for Alice may have been like wildfire, but for his wife, it was something infinitely more powerful, primal, spiritual.

I strongly believe that the more strength of character and the more depth that man has, the stronger his desire. PW learns from his transgression and crawls on his knees after a love that he now knows to be his one true one.  Suddenly, he is no longer Master of the Universe but a man vulnerable and desiring.  I think there is something erotic when a 44 year old Professor who is celebrated, in control and erudite is suddenly reduced to his raw primal self. I think that’s when the masculinity of a man comes through best, strongest.

The invisible fields

In the storyline, Alice Liddell has the ability to manipulate events according to her will. She could make people and the Universe to what she bids. New Age calls this manipulation “manifesting you intention”.    You can read about it here. In Catching Infinity, this is supposedly possible  because of the Higgs Field.  So the big question: what is it in simple language?

The Higgs Field is a hypothetical invisible force field that pervades the whole Universe, that gives mass – and hence ‘realness’ – to elementary particles (basic building blocks) that interact with it. Without the Higgs Field, there would be no mass.  There would be no planets, no stars, no Universe, no life.

Though all particles are merely excitation of fields, people often find it difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend fields conceptually. Here are a series of images that designer Luis Hernan produced of invisible WIFI signals using a creative combination of long exposure photography and an Android app. Please click here for more stunning photographs.

With some artistic licence, this is what a field looks like.

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If the Higgs Field is so pervasive and important, how come we can’t see it? We can’t see the Higgs Field anymore than we can see the sea of air that we live in, but it is there all the same. PW wants to  build ‘an accelerator so large that it can be seen from the skies’  to find the Higgs boson so that he proves the Higgs Field exists. Finding the Higgs boson remains one of the last holy grails of physics.

Note: Our thoughts is a type of field too, and if we can this field to the one we live in, the potential is limitless.

 

 

From the ruins comes Love

The protagonist Professor PW Vanderleyden was a man obsessed with The Hunting of the Snark. Alice Liddell his 21 year old mistress with her Wonderland magic delivered him the Snark for the price of his soul and his seed. I thought of making the story happily-ever-after for PW, Alice and their baby.

But I felt very strongly that there is a more important story to tell.  One of my best-loved books on African literature is Cry, The Beloved Country, written by Alan Paton in 1948.

A priest in the novel says, “The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again…It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken.”

Yes. Things get broken because such is life. Idealism, trust, love – they get shattered in the ordinary course of living because life is not perfect. No human being is perfect and imperfect people break perfect things.  It is the picking up that makes us stronger, wiser, more human. It is the rebuilding – forgiveness – that is a testament of love.

Can a person ever forgive a huge, deep hurt? I would say, depends on the love.

In Catching Infinity, The Wife forgave. Many would say, she had no choice because she was completely dependent upon her flawed husband (she was unworldly and uneducated). But she forgave because she understood human nature, and human nature is essentially Love.

This drawing is from Buddha Doodles which sums up forgiveness and love:

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The later chapters of the book chronicles The Wife’s emotional rollercoaster.  She had done nothing wrong, lived her best life for him yet he betrayed her trust wilfully, put her through hell, hurt her immeasurably and destroyed a part of her forever because of the darkness and the poison in him.

Change, terrible change, had come into her safe life. Her adored husband had become a stranger who wore an ugly mask. He had brought someone into their pure world.  It struck a deep fear in her heart. Fear and pain change people – they often make decent people do terrible things because as animals, it is in our primal nature to lash out when we are in pain or in fear.

But The Wife held on to love because in her words, that was how humanity was fought and won. It is through Love – the mother law that spawned the four Fundamental Laws of Nature, the Cosmological Constant and Space-Time – that we live our best lives.

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The Wife’s Choice

Our mother’s voice is very often the strongest, and for good or bad, we hear it deeply within us, the loudest voice of all. It took me 48 years to learn that my Ma is not always right, for I was 48 years old before I learned that for life to function beautifully, there has to be balance, equality and a beautiful status quo.

When I was young, my Ma used to tell us that she had enough love for EVERYONE. There was no need to fight for it, there was no need to ‘keep accounts’ and there was no need to feel the lack. She had enough for all.

When I was an angst-ridden teenager, I used to argue with her, ‘You love Daddy more than he loves you” and she would reply peacefully, “I love him enough for two, dear, so it doesn’t matter who loves who more.”

In Catching Infinity, the wife Karin van Achterberg loved her husband PW Vanderleyden ‘enough for two’ too. She loved him deeply, loyally and with great patience: she stayed at home and raised their three sons whilst he played at being the ‘great’ Professor. In truth, he was just a mediocre man who believed too much in his own publicity. But she, The Wife, was always there when he came home, ever ready to listen about his work though it bored her to death. She did not give a damn about Fibonacci numbers or the Grand Universal Theory, but nonetheless she quietly listened to his monologue. He never once asked her about her day because he was so full of his own self-importance. Thus, he never appreciated how she had grown in their 17 years of marriage and after 17 years, he had forgotten too that he had once been passionate about her, that he had involuntarily sank down to his knees at the altar on their wedding day in gratitude to God that this beautiful woman would take a gawky farm boy like him to be her husband.

How many Karin Van Achterbergs are there in the real world?

I intentionally set the story in a homestead deep in the South African veld, in a place where women do not walk out on their marriages. Karin’s husband had hurt her immeasurably, but she took it stoically. Being religious, she saw the suffering as her cross to bear. Love will triumph in the end, she told herself. She believed that, totally.

What made Karin’s story poignant was the fact that she was the only child and she was so loved by her old parents. They treated her like a Princess and taught her only about the good things in life. This wasn’t the suffering they envisaged for their beloved daughter.

When I started writing Catching Infinity, Karin was just a secondary character but as the story developed, I began to feel an affinity for her. She became the women I have known in my life and parts of her became me. I wanted to reach into the story and tell her (oh, so many times), “Karin, leave this man. He is not worth it. You can walk out of an abusive relationship, girl, do it.”

As a devout Catholic, I live my faith through Karin. But as a yogi, I believe in balance, equality and a beautiful status quo as eschewed in a beautiful balancing pose. When all is on balance, you catch fire inside. It is a liberation, a jivamukti. And as a yogi, I celebrate being alive, not being killed by life.  Here’s to putting life into your days, not days into your life.

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