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?

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.

Before I sleep….

He was so tired, so very tired, when he crawled into his big bed at the Old Parsonage Inn. But despite his tiredness he wanted to do one last thing before he called it a day: he opened his laptop and connected to the Internet and to Skype, to reach out to his wife across the 8,390 miles and across the different time zones.

He was trying very hard to keep awake, smiling but his eyes were tired, soft, unfocused; his soul was beautifully opened like the unfurling of a lush fern after the rain. She, from a distance of 8,390 miles, stared hungrily at him, at the powerful well-defined muscles of his upper arms and chest visible above the crisp white sheet. My husband. How she hungered for him. The hunger was almost physical. It started like a knot in her stomach – a tightening of her insides – that made her catch her breath at its crescendo.

She said nothing.

He watched her, smiling lazily at her earnest face. Thinking to himself, “Isn’t it ironic, I have just been with my mistress yet it is my wife I long for before I go to sleep.”

She touched his face on her computer screen, her fingers moved almost in wonder, as she yearned to feel his skin beneath her fingers. Instinctively, he did the same from 8,390 miles away. He reached out to touch her on his computer screen; he touched the image of her lips. Their eyes met, they smiled at each other almost shyly. 8,390 miles away but distance was incinerated by the bytes and bits of their electronic touch.

“I’m coming home to you, Karin,” he said softly. She was not sure if he was aware of what he had just said. She knew he was in Oxford where that dirty girl was. That muloi with dirty energy who wanted her husband.

She watched him a little while longer as he drifted off to sleep, thinking to herself, love is not the passion nor the desire. It is not the adventures nor the highs. Love is the coming home when there is no more physicality. The highs of physical passion are merely incidental, waiting for love to reveal itself.

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Excerpt from Chapter 13, Inside the Higgs

The first journey is within

It is ironic, Alice thought to herself, that people are more curious about meteor showers and events happening in the distant reaches of outer space than the births of neutron stars, exploding supernovae and total solar eclipses happening within them. By not seeing the wonders within us, we can never know the Universe. For we are the Universe.

In his book, In the Quest of Absolute Zero, PW wrote that human beings are earthbound life forms of stars because we are made from the same material. The first two elements of the Periodic Table (Hydrogen and Helium) are remnants from the Big Bang. The next three (Lithium, Beryllium and Boron) come from cosmic rays. The rest of the natural elements come from supernovae, large stars and small stars.

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Periodic table from Cmglee/Wikimedia and AsapSCIENCE

This magical Universe came into being simply because firstly, protons and electrons have opposite charges and are attracted to each other and secondly, because in the beginning, there was slightly more matter than anti-matter. That’s the meaning of life, PW often exhorted, that’s how simple it all is!

Alice smiled to herself. How sweet he is. That’s why he asks people to run outside to look at the stars and meteor showers. But my dear Professor, it is we who create the Universe the moment consciousness was born. Like the Double Slit experiment you wrote so eloquently about but failed to grasp the true significance of as you continue spiraling outwards to seek meaning in distant stars. That’s what happens when people are running outwards like vassals of the Cosmological Constant rather than know that it is an illusion that keeps the Universe going.

When you run and talk, you don’t hear or see a thing, Alice’s fourteen year old brain thought.

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Excerpt from Chapter 7: Wonderland revisited

Note: Last week, there was a solar eclipse.  People rushed out to see it. Social media was abuzz with photos of it. There was more interest in what was happening millions of miles away than in the daily births of neutron stars, exploding supernovae and total solar eclipses that are happening within us. Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga, said that yoga is an adventure in consciousness.

When my external world fell apart, a Yogi took me by the hand and led me inwards. In there, I saw light and Love. ( The journey began when he took me to a small meditation group in Central London, then Vedanta classes in North London, slow runs along Chelsea Embankment where we talked deeply and then  yoga in Clapham Junction).

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Happy, healthy, successful – and The Answer

As a parent I often wonder what makes some adults so deeply unhappy, despite the early indicators of success in their lives – good education, financial security, attractive, robust health, a place in society. I had two friends – both are well-educated and successful (he a top photographer, she the patron a several charities), married to adoring spouses, lovely children, no debts and charmed life in London. Yet both took their lives, one committed suicide by drug overdose whilst the other by lying on railway tracks.

I read an article about a 70 year old British study on the subject of growing up to be happy, healthy and successful. The study started in 1946 and its findings had been used to formulate important government policies on maternity care and education. However, it was a bit thin on the subject of happiness though this was thoroughly studied in a 78 year old Harvard Study (one needs a good wife).

My children’s father and my cardiologist both share the same life-view: human beings are at their happiest when they have nothing but what matters. They arrived at this life-view from two very different directions, which makes it all the more valid and powerful.

My children’s father grew up in a humble house in a working class part of South East London. His father had to work at three jobs to keep the roof over their heads – as a bus driver, a mechanic and a roofer – and even then, the house was divided up and sublet to another family. His mother worked very hard but she often took him along on her cleaning jobs. Though money was tight, no one ever went hungry. In fact, there were lots of family parties in the Cockney tradition: the dining table wasn’t big enough, so my mother-in-law used a piece of plank covered with table cloth to accommodate everyone.

My children’s father had been abroad only twice – to Spain where his mother’s family comes from and Greece – until he met me. He had never been in a restaurant until he met me. But the years of his life were filled with happiness: holidays to the coast with other bus drivers’ families, long cycle rides into the Kent countryside with his friends, working at the butcher’s, playing guitar in somebody’s garage and football matches for treats. Living in Knightsbridge with a successful partner (me) did not make him happy. At every opportunity, he would load our children into the car and drive them home to the house he grew up in. Happiness for him was clearcut – simplicity and family.

My cardiologist on the other hand, did not have a happy time after his mother died (he was only eight years old). Though financially he wanted for nothing, there was a lack in his life, a pain and an unhappiness from his childhood that no amount of success, wealth and beautiful partners can eradicate. By his thirties, he had already reached his career high. He had the lifestyle and the women to go with it. At his peak he chose to walk away from his ‘rich’ life, a life that many would literally die for.

If success, wealth, health and attractive lovers do not make a person happy, what does? Life only goes downhill after that.

He chose to move to the most difficult city in the world – Jakarta – and lived hard, punishing himself, hating himself, raging, searching for answers. Then realisation came to him one day: he had always known The Answer.

He noticed that many patients, irrespective of age, social status, family circumstances, job situation or financial assets, all show the same expression when they come round from general anaesthetic – they looked awed, they looked grateful, they looked thankful. In the moment when they had nothing but life, they demonstrated an almost childlike happiness.

I once knew someone who was a deeply unhappy person who manifest that unhappiness in emotional unkindness and ingratitude. But in the first moments when he was coming round from anaesthesia, his unfocussed green eyes looked at me with such happiness, gratitude and love. It’s an expression, a truth, that I could never ever forget. Yes, we human beings are at our happiness when we have almost nothing.

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Photo: Sweet roads of Phuket

End of the road

As I walked out of the oncology unit for the last time, I feel this explosive joy inside me, this crazy joy of being alive! So alive!

I know I still have some way to go building myself up, especially my heart muscles. I am still not my best self yet, but that is to come. Definitely!

My cardiologist was waiting for me with a beaming smile.

“Hey Jac, you should get a new tattoo,” he said. Then seriously, ‘I could do it for you if you like.”

Me: “Are you crazy?”

He shrugged. ‘You didn’t do such a good job on yourself,” he remarked, pointing to the ones on my left wrist that yes, I tattooed on myself – badly.

I was curious. “What would you tattoo on me?”

Again, that beaming megawatt smile. “Only two words, Jac. Nulli Secundus.”

I couldn’t stop smiling.

I am always pale and ill-looking after each session of radiotherapy (yeah and feeling weak) as you can see from this photo, but here I am, bursting with joy and happiness. Yes, the cancer journey is over! Five days a week of radiotherapy over five weeks with a short break in between – it was grueling (haha, hence I am Nulli Secundus). I have deleted the previous posts of my cancer diary, because as of now, we are only going to have wellness, sunshine, happiness and success. Similarly, I have detached myself from many friends, including close friends, until I have rebuilt my auric shield completely. I find there is so much fear and unburdening going on out there if I allow it in – people tell me they cry about my illness or are shocked, scared, worried etc. But hello, we all die, lose our jobs, fall sick, break up, have babies, make things, rise, live. It’s all part of life.

Embrace life freely and with courage. As my wise friend Azlan Adnan says, if you die with fear in your heart, you die feeling like a piece of shit (he had to be revived twice so he does know what he is talking about). I think living with fear in your heart is just as bad; it is simply tragic. This blog will be filled with great short fiction – I am so focused now on making my novel a big success in 2016 that I am going to be writing lots in my little office.

And watch this space too – you will see the most amazing physical transformation. Love to you all!

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