Kamla Kapur is a writer and poet who divides her time between San Diego and Himachal Pradesh, in India. Her latest book, Ganesha Goes to Lunch: Classics from Mystic India, attempts to re-tell some of the myths many of us heard in various forms, growing up. We asked Kamla a few questions about her adaptations, as well as the marketing of the book. She suggests that Indian myths “show us a way to transcend the conflict of duality with which most of us our afflicted.”
For more on Ganesha Goes to Lunch, visit its Amazon page or check out the publisher’s page, at Mandala.
SAJAforum: What inspired you to write this? The description says the tales are relevant to ‘modern times’. How’s that?
When five of my short stories based on retelling of Indian myths were published in Parabola, the Journal of Tradition, Myth and the search for Meaning, I thought about writing this book. Then Raoul Goff, publisher of Mandala Publishing, visited our home, and when I mentioned my concept of the book, he was very interested.
As for the inspiration part: I have always been interested in mythology in general, and Indian mythology in particular, for its artistic, psychological and spiritual potential. Characters in myths are manifestations of human possibility. They are models of how we can be, or live, and what we can become, no matter in what times we live. The myths continue to offer solace and wisdom even now, in this modern age. Myths have the great, practical value of mitigating anxiety, stress, offering archetypal perspectives to alleviate suffering, and reconciling us to life as it is. When my father died in early April, incredulous with grief, I asked my husband, Payson, “is this a dream?” His initial answer of “no,” was followed, after a pause, by, “yes, it’s Vishnu’s dream!” His answer gave a perspective to my grief, and reminded me of the dream-like nature of life and death. In the Hindu view, separation is part of the trick that Maya, the illusion of the world, plays on us. We are just figments of Vishnu’s dream. Even our so-called ‘real’ selves are actors in a dream world where the line between what is real or not is fluid and always in flux. You can’t take the dream too seriously, for it has an end when we awaken.
The greatest of our tragedies and losses is death â€“ the fear of it for ourselves and for those we love. Myths in every culture talk about the eternal regeneration of the self. Vishnu reincarnates again and again, and that is why the faith in individual reincarnation is very strong in India. The myth of the eternal return is counterbalanced by the desire of all holy men to transcend the recurring cycle of birth and death and attain Nirvana, or liberation. And Hindu myths and philosophy teach us how to do this.