Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is an autographical book on a spiritual quest by a young American writer who has suffered a divorce and is on a yearlong tour across the globe to find out the solutions to the problems of her anguished life. My copy of the book is published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., London in 2006, and consists of 349 pages, and it is being a pirated copy bought from the Gulshan junction, it has some twenty extra unnumbered pages that include the Chapter One of her next book, Committed.
The book is written in a no-holds-barredfashion and candid in expressing the intimate moments of the author's life in a language unpretentious, racy and moving and adorned with innovative clusters of images. The reading of the book is a mighty pleasure.
Divided into 108 short chapters or tales, following a Yogi's rule of having the same number of beads to a meditational rosary, japa mala, the author narrates her experiences in Italy, India and Indonesia, respectively, in equal number of chapters, that is 36 tales dedicated to each of the three locations she has stayed in for a four-month duration.
Liz, as the writer prefers to use her nickname, is the quester, and the first thing that will strike the reader is that she suffers from a Hamletean limbo, that is she does things which she knows she does not have to do. In the beginning of the book, we come across this problem that while she is having legal battles with her husband she gets entangled in a love affair with a man called David, who has performed in the role of a character from a story written by her. Look at the analogy she makes while describing her critical situation: "I clung to David for escape from marriage as if he were the last helicopter pulling out of Saigon" (p. 19). Apparently in despair, Liz yet is an incurable believer because "God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies . . . (p.22). With that substitutional hope she lands in Italy, beginning the first phase of her yearlong quest for mental peace. In the meantime she has broken up with David, and has written a signed letter to God to help her end her divorce, but in Italy what is awaiting her is another love affair with this beautiful language, Italian, aggravated by her acquaintance with the twin-brotherlanguage teachers Giovanni and Dario. With the former she makes this agreement that she will learn Italian from him, and heEnglish from her. But Eat Pray Love is a great book not because of the pronounced holy aim of finding the ultimate truth about life but because of the continuous ability of the writer to flare up a commonplace observation with a brilliant touch of wit. Now she wants to make Giovanni laugh, who does not always get her humour. So she says, "Humour is hard to catch in a second language" (p. 59).
Her stay in Italy constitutes the eating part of the title of the book, but she says she is not given to seeking pleasure as her ancestral family line-up suggests that she had Puritan relatives with names like Diligence and Meekness (p. 63). So the dichotomy exists-she wants to pray but the pleasure is in the way. And she one day walks home to her apartment in Rome, boils a pair of brown eggs for her lunch and arranges them with seven stalks of asparagus, and on the plate spreads some olives and four knobs of goat cheese that she collected from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon, and a lovely peach for dessert, and as she sits in the balcony under the warm Roman sunlight, she imagines her contentious husband admonishing her, "So this is what you gave up everything for? This is why you gutted up our entire life together? For a few stalks of asparagus and an Italian newspaper?" (p. 67).
Italian, the most beautiful romantic language in the world according to Liz, has fascinated her so much that when her friend Luca Spaghetti takes her to watch a football derby between Lazio and Roma, she is most fascinated by an excited old man sitting behind her who keeps on ranting "Dai, dai, dai, Albertini, dai . . . aaahhhhhhh!!! Valafanculo. . ." the word, 'valafunculo' meaning in Italian, 'Go, fuck yourself' (p. 73). And the writer, loving every word that came from the mouth of the man, observes that the "whole stadium was full of such soliloquies" (p. 73).
'Attraversiamo' is the most beautiful Italian wordto her, which means to cross over, literally to cross to the other side of a street, but metaphorically she loads it with all suggestions of transitions, from one state of mind to another state. Her physical attraversiamo takes place from Chapters 37 to 72 in an ashram in India, where she does the job of a floor sweeper while engaging herself in a rigorous life of austerity. The catchword of her life here is Om Namah Shivaya('I honour the divinity that resides within me' (p. 127). And Yoga is the practice that helps one to discover the divinity within. Tough and exhaustive is the lifestyle here, demanding one of rising from bed as early as three in the morning, and learning to tolerate the excruciating physical pain some of the ashans or postures, or chants, like gurugita, required of the devotees to reach the turiya (the apex) state, and our author passes all of them successfully, but what we readers miss here is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings which lit up the Italy pages or will light up the Indonesia pages, compared to which one would feel that the book if considered in terms of a sandwich, the middle part, the India pages are drab and dehydrated. The one precious thing that she learns here is overcoming the fear of death. She awakened to the fact of "mortality's inevitable march" (p. 160) at the age of ten, but here at the ashram, becoming a devout follower of Buddha, she realizes that what one has to do is "Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water" (p. 164). While she recognizes the traditional religious lore in Chapter 57 that the "search for God is a reversal of the normal, mundane worldly order" (p. 184), however, her friend, Richard from Texas, who affectionately calls her Groceries, tells her that in the Upanishads it is said that the ways to find God are as many as there are rivers which flow into the same ocean.
With that feeling of multiplicity she arrives in the Indonesian island of Bali, which she visited even two years ago, and where she comes back to meet the octogenarian,or whatever his age is, the medicine man, KetutLiyer by name. The man is everything that the Indian ashram was not. Discarding the concept of deep mediation accompanied by physical pain, Liyer says only smiling to oneself will do. Detailing the Balinese society historically, Gilbert emphasizes the economic strength of the Balinese people lying in the concept of a strictly stratified society, while her local friend Wayan, a pain healer and shop owner, and a divorcee herself, teaches her a lesson of what it means for a philanthropic westerner when she tries to meddle with the affairs of the locals. Wayan, mother of a teenage daughter and adopted mother of two grown up girls, is facing eviction, and to rescue her, the author contacts her American friends through email whose help immediately arrives in thousands of US dollars. She gives all this money on good faith to Wayan for buying a piece of land, which Wayan never seems to be able to do on this or that pretext, but then getting a tip from her newly-gained boyfriend, the Brazilian middle-aged man, Felipe, she threatens Wayan of her donator-friends demanding the money back if the land was not purchased before she left Bali. Wayan obliges, and the author continues to have her sexual life, kept in abeyance for nearly a year, with Felipe.
This, her friendship with Felipe, is the finest part of the journey of the soul, I think. This is love, in all senses of the term that engulfs the tortuous life of the author. After withholding his advances for many a moment, she finally gives in one night: "Felipe finally put his palm against my cheek and said, 'That's enough, darling. Come to my bed now', and I did" (p. 301). But what kind of relationship is it going to be? Does she want to be cared for by Felipe? Does Felipe want her to stay back in Bali? Or do they want to pass their remaining days in the small island of Gili Meno, on a fishing boat, sunbathing? Felipe's children are in Australia, she herself is from America, and Felipe is a Brazilian, and he is running a business in Bali, so geographically it fits into a rhyming pattern of AABB, and they both decide that they must let their relationship remain like that, love without fringes. And she says, 'Attraversiamo'. Though Felipe does not speak Italian, we know the meaning now, let's cross over.
A beautiful book it is for readers who are languishing in their hearts.
Dr. Mohit Ul Alam is a writer and professor and Vice-Chancellor of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University.