‘Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia’ was published in 2006, as a memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. As a journalist, the prowess in writing comes across proficiently increasing the readability factor. It is amazing how Elizabeth Gilbert manages to weave her spiritual journey with minimal anecdotes and characters in an intelligent, enjoyable way.
Far from Julia Robert’s land of cinematic ‘Eat Pray Love’, the book takes you through an emotional experience in a logical manner.
“I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.”
A bit of trivia, the Gilbert writes that her tentative title for this book was “Don’t touch anything but yourself.” I guess it worked best for her to change to ‘Eat Pray Love’, a more appealing one without the burden of an overtly balky self-help handbook.
The book begins with Elizabeth Gilbert aka Liz’s desire to kiss Giovanni, her handsome Italian partner from the Tandem Exchange program.
At this juncture, Liz has gone through a terrible relationship crisis, a nasty divorce after an eight-year-old marriage and the rebound is sought through a year of travel. She honestly writes that the contract to write a book based on her journey during this year coincidently fell in place with her plan. So it wasn’t a random teenage rage kind of an atmosphere inside a 34-year-old woman which sets the character on traveling the world on food tripping and spiritual awakening.
The plan to be in three countries – Italy, India and Indonesia is chalked out and the author fills pages explaining how this coincidence with names beginning with ‘I’ countries came up. It wasn’t random; Gilbert was always a fascinated towards Italy and the time was apt to explore the language and the country as her first destination. Bali was destined from a previous visit and India was on the cards as she got to know about a Spiritual Guru.
Gilbert chooses Italian over other languages that would have helped her professionally at a later point in life, purely on emotional basis. As an individual living in 21st century, we tend to weigh ourselves on the scale of profitability expecting an outcome from every aspect of life. Modern society cannot accept a human being’s craving for traveling or learning without an outcome.
“But why must everything always have a practical application?”
I liked reading this book for the sheer honesty with which Gilbert puts down her feelings. She shares her feelings on praying for the first time, her troubled times with depression and medication and her sour relationships. There is a bit on her experience with anti-depressant medication and it has quite an impact.
“I’m deeply ambivalent about mood-altering medications. I’m awed by their power, but concerned by their prevalence.”
Gilbert writes about people boasting about raising their children as if it is their greatest accomplishment. As if nothing else in life then atleast they raised their children well. You can either judge the author for being too frivolous or self-centered or being brave enough to point at this. As a woman, one is expected to fit into the socially accepted way of life which means family and children.
“But what if, either by choice or by reluctant necessity, you end up not participating in this comforting cycle of family and continuity? What if you step out?”
Liz’s sister had said, “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain what you want before you commit.” And Liz wanted to get balance in her life, attain spiritual bliss and travel than any other commitment.
This book beautifully explores Italy, its food, culture, people traversing through famous places of the country. Italian culture is accepting of the concept of pleasure in recognition to Liz’s idea of seeking four months for herself in Italy. This is in contrast to the American way of thinking, “How completely irresponsible of you”, or “What a self-indulgent luxury”.
There is a point where Liz deliberates to continue her stay in Italy for it has made her happy and content. But the prelude to visit to India is set, ‘traveling through Sicily – the most third-world section of Italy, and therefore not a bad place to go if you need to prepare yourself to experience extreme poverty.’ It can be offensive only for the fact that Liz does not travel to any poorer areas of India except the ‘Ashram’ (somewhere near Mumbai).
The author explains why the conflict existed between the pleasures in Venice and the austerity of an Ashram in India. But honestly, the chapters on India drags on with the monotony of daily routine comprising meditation, yoga and seva, with interludes of Richard from Texas. In India, Gilbert is devoted more on finding inner self and overcoming depression. And I didn’t understand why are ‘splendid’ and ‘nonsense’ are colonial words?
So, let’s reach the final part of the book, the picturesque Bali. This is my favourite section and Ketut, the old medicine man has to be my favourite person from the book. Ketut is similar to the traditional Indian healers who use herbs, mantras and spiritually powerful pictures to cure diseases. His claim to English is Willy Wonka’s line from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’ – ‘See you later, alligator!’
Again we get a bit of a travelogue, this time regarding Bali, its history, religion, traditions and culture. I was fascinated to read about the common names in Balinese. Yes, such fun facts about Bali and its people fit in beautifully while Liz is settling in her new luxuriant accommodation.
Bali section has many stories – Liz’s own story of finding love, Ketut’s story of becoming the medicine man, Yudhi’s story of migrating to America and being deported after 9/11 and Wayan’s story of a single mother working as a healer within the confines of a conservative society.
The visit to these three countries enriches Liz and surely, we get a peep into certain aspects of living in these countries that are not written in regular travelogues. The experience of notoriety in Naples or the miserable lives of people in Venice or the near con attitude of the healer in Bali is what makes this book interesting.
In the end, ‘I don’t know the answer, and I suppose that’s what this year of journeying is about. Finding my word.’ Liz found her word in Italy and it was ‘Attraversiamo’ meaning ‘Let’s cross over.”
The ‘Eat’ and ‘Love’ portions are sure to suffice you and as for ‘Pray’ perhaps leaving little notes of positivity for yourself in a journal or praying in your own way to God would work. And, if not that, there is a reprimand as cited below.
“Next lifetime you might come back as one of those poor Indian women busting up rocks by the side of the road, find out life ain’t so much fun. So appreciate what you have got now, Ok? Keep cultivating gratitude.”