Hosted By Virtual Book Tours
Title: In The Land Of Shiva
Author: James O’Hara
Published Date: June 10, 2014
Publisher: Leandros Publishing
When Brother Jim leaves his comfortable life teaching in Catholic high schools and travels to India, he finds himself unprepared for the challenges he faces.
His assigned task is to start his religious order in that country, but as he immerses himself in a land of unfamiliar customs and ancient religious traditions, he soon discovers that his mission has become deeply personal. Brother Jim questions not only all his vows, but his deepest beliefs.
As he travels across India and encounters holy men, thieves, rabid monkeys, and genuinely good-hearted people of all backgrounds, he realizes that the religion of his upbringing is but one of many paths to spirituality, and a sometimes oppressive one at that. On the eve of celebrating twenty-five years as a brother, Jim must decide what he truly holds as important and how he wants to live the rest of his life.
India and Nepal, with all their clamor, fascination, and surprises, come alive on every page in this unusual memoir set in the ‘80s.
Chapter: The Pull of Gravity
(Setting – a small residential compound in the Indian countryside.)
As I sat reading under a tree at the compound gate—a slight breeze seemingly my only companion—a young man appeared. Not more than eighteen or nineteen, he carried a sickle in his rough hands and stopped directly in front of me to stare. I stood to acknowledge him, and took note of the gray string that crossed his chest diagonally and indicated that he had observed a “coming of age” ritual. A small patch of skin under the cord had lost pigmentation, and his hair was freshly wet and slicked back, making me imagine he had just cooled himself at a local well.
He eyed me steadily and smiled in response to my own hesitant smile. Shall I speak to him? Or is it better to say nothing than have a frustrating half-conversation?
“Namaste,” I said, and he repeated the greeting. He unabashedly looked me up and down, staring intently wherever my light skin was exposed. No Westerners visited that remote region and I must have been a curiosity to him. Uncomfortable with my body being an object of scrutiny, I decided to speak. “What is your name?” I asked in Hindi, and he replied with the name of the village down the road. Evidently my pronunciation left a lot to be desired. “What are you doing?” I asked and was pleased that I understood his response. “Cutting grass for the cows.”
We stood silently for several minutes not saying anything else. He continued to stare at me and I found myself doing the same in return. In fact, I wanted to reach out and touch him and find out if his brown skin actually was softer—as I imagined—than my own pale covering. But I didn’t. It would be presumptuous of me to touch him, maybe defiling his caste.
He gracefully shifted his weight to his other leg, then said something animatedly and laughed—so I laughed also. After another moment or two, he nodded in my direction and took off down the road. As I watched him walk away, his bare feet adjusting to the contours of the road, his arms swinging at his side and his whole body fluidly moving through space, I was simultaneously in awe of him and jealous of him.
That night I lay on my cot, tossing in the still, hot air inside the mosquito net. At midnight, sleep still had eluded me. A bath would help, so I pushed back the mosquito net and headed for the well. Someone had left a kerosene lamp by the door but lighting it would give off too much heat, so I counted on moonlight to illuminate the path. I headed down the dirt path, past the banana trees, and came upon the well in a small clearing. Frogs croaked in the well, but were momentarily silent when I dropped the bucket. I pulled up cool water, and took my time cascading it over my chest and each limb—slow-motion ablutions. I poured a second bucketful on my head, feeling the rivulets snake their way down my body. The water made my shorts cling to me, but I would change into a dry pair. On the way back to my room, a slight breeze that I didn’t know was astir cooled me.
Sliding out of my wet shorts and fumbling in the dark for dry ones, for a fraction of a second I saw myself in suit and tie teaching mathematics. Not much more than a year ago that was the only life I knew, a very different one from the present. Then, I was someone not yet introduced to mosquito nets and bathing by moonlight, someone who didn’t know the pleasure of an evening breeze against his chest, who knew of cobras and monkeys only from visits to the zoo. In short, someone out of touch with his body and removed from nature.
Trussed up in my white shirt and tie, I had had the security of knowing what my task was each day, but I hadn’t been connected to the earth. I had solved quadratic equations in my mind but not felt my bare feet walking a dirt path to the well. India, however, was changing that. She was forcing me into my body more and more each day—and it felt good. Gravity, it seemed, pulled harder in India.
Born in Milwaukee, WI, at age 18 O’Hara joined the Catholic order of Brothers who taught at his high school. As a Brother for almost 30 years, O’Hara taught math at both the secondary and college levels, and in his late ‘30s volunteered to travel to India to establish a branch of his religious order there. After seven years in India and Nepal, he returned to the States, left the Brothers, and became a massage therapist and massage instructor. In addition to doing bodywork, he has also become a certified dream worker. He makes his home in Berkeley, CA. His time in India and Nepal took him from immersion in religion to a place “beyond religion.”
Author Links –