INDIA A MYSTICAL MAGIC BOX: Interview with Anuradha Goyal by Pradeep Krishnan

Being an avid India lover and a passionate reader, one day, while browsing the net, I chanced to browse the website, IndiTales.com. As each one of the stories therein revealed the inherent and unique greatness of the ancient land of Bharat, at once I was prompted to know more about the author Smt. Anuradha Goyal and her works.

Soon, I ordered her latest book, ‘Lotus in the Stone’ that gives one the clear vision (the drishti), to see India and its age-old traditions and culture in a proper way. The author with several examples gives the reader insights to appreciate the Indian way of life. Travelling across the length and breadth of the country over the years, Anuradha has poured out her experiences in the book. It is a book about those common people, who know how to make traditions remain alive by simply living them out – without a fuss. Having traversed across the country along, with friends and family, and with strangers, Goyal takes us to this riveting and endearing ride of an India. The invisible threads and sacred geography that bind Indian people together come alive in this book. I feel that this book is a must for all those who love this great country and its unique culture.

Anuradha, having 18 years of experience in various facets of IT industry, is currently an independent Innovation consultant and has published several papers in various forums and journals and is an active blogger. In 2004 she started the travel blog; IndiTales, sharing her travel stories, exploring the nook and corner of Bharath in a unique way. About her mission, she says, “I love walking across cities, nature trails and along the rivers,” to leave a lasting impact on the tourism economy of India through her blog, which was selected as the best travel blog by Outlook Traveller.

“I believe that Travel (and tourism) makes the world a happier place. Travelers are happy people, and it is nearly impossible to hate the people you have visited. Very few professions are blessed to be in a happy space, most are busy solving problems and handling disasters. Blessed to be in a space where you give people dreams of visiting distant lands as much as inspire them to look around and discover their own backyard,” she says.

Excerpts from an exclusive on-line interview Anuradha Goyal had with Organiser representative, Pradeep Krishnan:

What prompted you to step out and explore India?

Genes, I guess. I have been travelling since childhood with my parents and grandmother. Once started working, I travelled a lot as part of my job and then took every opportunity to explore new places. However, the turning point came in 2004 when I started writing about my travels in a blog. Over a period of time, it gained traction and my readers enriched my travel experiences by providing me more information, by telling me about new destinations and sometimes by even showing me around. With social media, my work reached out to a lot more people and by 2020 I was ready with ‘Lotus in the Stone’.

How far your explorations across the country helped you to have a better understanding of this unique nation and its matchless culture?

Well, the book ‘Lotus In The Stone’ is all about my journey of discovering India. Every travel deepened the relationship with the land of my birth. Every time I visited a place, it showed me a different facet, a new layer, a new dimension. Slowly I started deciphering the patterns that connect different corners of India, the stories that are universal and traditions that have survived all kinds of times. These patterns are what I have tried to cover in the book.

Please elaborate your statement, “India is the oldest continuously living civilization in the world,” with your travel experiences?

When you travel across India, time and again you get glimpses of the oldest living traditions. It is difficult for material evidence to stay beyond a time limit, but culture survives silently as lived experience. For example, we know the Harappa girl from Sindhu Saraswati civilization who wears bangles on the upper arms and we still see women in Rajasthan wearing similar bangles. Or the fact that Krishna is worshipped primarily with Radha in Braj while he is worshipped with Rukmini in Gujarat even today. I have quoted many such examples in the book where I saw long-standing traditions that are still living just as they would have thousands of years ago. Ancient civilizations have existed in all parts of the world, but not many have survived in their original form. India despite having influences from all those who came from outside, continues to have invisible threads that bind us to our distant past.

Long before Britishers usurped power, Bharathvasis, right from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and from Kamrup to Kutch, though divided between different political dispensations, had a feeling about the unity of their Rashtra. What would you attribute for the development of such a consciousness among the masses?

Political boundaries of India have kept changing always, but the sacred geography of India has been well defined as south of Himalayas and north of Ocean in many of our scriptures. This can also be seen as the extent of cultural India. This geography more or less continues to be what India is. I am followed by many people in the Indian subcontinent outside of current Indian boundaries and I see them equally connecting with our common inheritance as well as sharing the ancient heritage in their countries. India as a spiritual and cultural entity is tied through our shared stories and through Yatras that made us go from one part of the country to another. Anyone living anywhere in India wants to travel to Kashi, Rameshwaram, Kedarnath and Somnath or Ganga Sagar. Imagine people crisscrossing the country for travels – both for trade and for pilgrimage. This is what binds India together. By travelling across India, did you discover that India is too complicated to fit into any history textbook and realize that it has to be a lifelong exploration for those who choose to explore. Not complicated but history that is as diverse as its landscape and culture and multiplies it with the layers gathered since the time India has been a living land, nurtured by its sacred rivers. There is too much history to fit in history books that can be taught in schools. We must choose the history that is relevant to us or that interests us and explore it. India is a country of visual and scriptural libraries of all kinds. We need few lifetimes to see it, understand it but it takes a moment of realisation to love it.

You say that feminism in India is rooted in the worship of the Devi, the divine feminine. At the same time, we hear reports of gender injustices, suppression of women, etc. Is it not a paradox that while we worship the divine feminine, atrocities on women and girls are on the increase? Where did we go wrong?

I feel that we need to go back to Devi worship, so that everyone can see the Devi in each woman, including the women themselves. Today, women have forgotten their own inner strength, we need to connect back to it and then operate from it. I also urge to seek real Devi worshippers and see if they respect women or not. Are those who disrespect women, really the Devi worshippers? I do not think so. When we look at the women in ancient India, we know that they had far more independent lives and that included independence to pursue their chosen path or be known by their father’s names or their homelands forever. Today, we lose our identity the moment we get married. Women’s strength is not just in doing what men can do or having been traditionally, but their strength comes from being the source of strength for everyone around them. They have the feminine way to deal with things, which must complement the masculine way of dealing with life.

Our ancient temples and other constructions are architectural marvels built with precision and accuracy. As you rightly wrote, the phenomenal engineering of all these structures remains unrecognised. What could be the reasons for such gross negligence and why no serious discourses are taking place about the history of engineering sciences in India? If any university takes up its study you can imagine the problems terming it as teaching pseudo-science?

I think the British who first documented the temples, saw them as museums full of strange and highly developed art, that was difficult for them to decipher. That kind of set the gaze with which we started looking at the temples. Our scholars since have worked on documenting the dimensions, styles and periods of our temples, which has its own purpose. However, they being art historians or historians could not appreciate the engineering aspects of these giant creations. We need a stream of engineering heritage to study these structures. I see no reason, why it should be a pseudo-science. Are structures like Brihdeeshwarar in Thanjavur or Kandariya Mahadev in Khajuraho or Kailash Temple in Ellora not living examples of engineering par excellence? In fact, engineering is the biggest heritage of these structures, who have stood in all kinds of sun and rain, seen attacks of all kinds but still standing tall, almost non-replicable. The fact that they were built in small periods of time, with stones at times transported from distant areas with monoliths carved to perfection makes them even more intriguing for the technocrats of today. The tools and technology used are almost not researched yet.

Please elaborate on your statement, “after travelling throughout India, the way I looked at India has changed and India never ceases to amaze me.”

The sheer diversity couples with the eras of cultural evolution make India a mystical magic box. Every time you dip your hand; you find something new. There is never a dull moment and at every nook and corner, there is a surprise waiting to amaze you. If you travel around with a bit of curiosity, India will keep surprising you with what it has in store. The more you travel, the more it surprises you.

Interview by Pradeep Krishnan