I have a friend who loves India as much as I do; in fact, it was this mutual obsession with the country that drew us together as virtual friends, several years ago when I began reading her beautiful blog, Breathe Dream Go. After becoming good friends in the online world, as well as writing colleagues across the North American continent — I live in Texas and she lives in Canada — I finally met Mariellen Ward in person last November.
Fittingly, we met for the first time in India. In Agra, to be specific. And visited the magical, stunning Taj Mahal together (the fourth or fifth visit for both of us).
Mariellen has written an inspiring new travel book, Roll Out the Magic Carpet. A very unique cross between Eat, Pray, Love and the Lonely Planet India, the book will inspire you to overcome your fears, go after your dreams and travel safely and well in India and beyond. I would like to share my interview with her, so she can tell you about this book and her exciting IndiGoGo campaign to crowdfund its publishing — and, of course, her love of India.
What initially drew you to India?
When I look back, I think I have always been drawn to India. I was obsessed with the Arabian Nights’ stories as child; as an adolescent, I mooned over photos of George Harrison in Rishikesh with marigolds around his neck; as a teenager I loved to burn incense and try to read books on eastern spirituality (they mostly went over my head). But by the time I reached adulthood, I had deeply buried my dreams and passions. It wasn’t until I was faced with the biggest crisis of my life — a deep depression that followed the death of my parents and several other losses — that I resurrected the dream of India, and made it a reality.
Tell us about your first visit – what was transformational about it, and made you want to go again?
I left Toronto on December 5, 2005, and had a six-month tourist Visa, and a return ticket dated June 2, 2006. I had NO IDEA what would happen in those intervening months; whether I would even live through the experience. I truly felt I was throwing myself off a cliff … I needed to find out what would happen. Well, a net appeared of course, and in due time I realized the net was ME. Instead of a terrible travel ordeal, I had the time of my life. It was a six-month long magic carpet ride! I had been through many long years of loss and suffering, and India generously responded by holding out loving arms and giving me a wonderful welcome. I gained so much from that trip — trust, inspiration, a new family, a new career and perhaps most of all, belief in my self and my ability to manifest dreams and land on my feet.
What is the special relationship you’ve had with India through the years?
From the first day I landed in India, I felt uncannily at home. I had a very soft landing, staying at the home of an acquaintance in a really nice area of south Delhi. So that may have helped. But that soft landing set the tone for the whole trip. The acquaintance became a boyfriend, his family welcomed me, and I had a great home base to return to over and over again as I traveled all over the country and studied yoga. So, from the beginning, I was “inside” the culture as part of a family. I never felt like a tourist. A strong bond was formed right from the start. And I have been very accepted all over India, and by many people, including my readers and social media followers. I now have lots of good friends in India, I feel as home there as I do in Canada. But the affinity I feel for India and Indian culture still remains the central mystery of my life. I call India my soul culture. But I don’t know where the affinity stems from.
What is the most beautiful thing about India, to you?
Oh good question! I see beauty in India everywhere. I see it in the colors, the smiles, the sun-bleached landscape and the fabled architecture. I see it in the culture, the mesmerizing dance, the transporting music, the gorgeous textiles. India is a burst of beauty, even as it’s breaking your heart. God poured her soul into creating India, in all its rawness. India represents the knife-edge of beauty, the razor’s edge. You can’t see India’s beauty with your eyes or other senses, you have to feel it, experience it. This is why they say, India chooses you. “Once you have felt the dust of India, you will never be free of it,” as Rumer Godden said.
What is the most challenging?
It’s challenging in India to keep your feet on the ground. A friend of mine said that India sends you on a roller-coaster of euphoria and despair. And it’s true. I am an ultra-sensitive person, very susceptible to the nuances of atmosphere and energy; I have to be careful and work hard to stay centred. If you travel in India you often see very hard-bitten foreigners, especially in “hippie hangouts” like Goa, Dharamsala, Varanasi, places like that. These people look “off,” they are often quite filthy, and have a far-away look in their eyes that can be frankly scary. In fact, there’s even a name for it — India Syndrome. Some people unfortunately die from it; you do hear about people disappearing or jumping from a roof. I asked my teacher, Swami Brahmdev, about India Syndrome, and he said people should not come to India with fixed notions. I have found that staying grounded, and going with the flow, without judgements, notions, or expectations, works for me. I just embrace as much of it as I can, and close the door on the rest. And having a safe haven, a sanctuary, is essential.
Tell us about your new book, and the Indiegogo campaign.
I’ve wanted to write this book, “Roll out the magic carpet: How to travel in India and other life lessons” for a long time. It will be a cross between “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Lonely Planet India.” I want to help people travel well in India, and elsewhere, by sharing my story and what I’ve learned.
I’ve learned a lot about traveling in India, and all the various skills that it takes to travel well there — and I want to share my knowledge and information. It’s not just wanting to let people know how to buy a train ticket — any number of resources can give you that information. It is sharing what you need to know about the culture and the spiritual beliefs of India to be able to travel well there. These are the things that make it so challenging and rewarding for foreigners. For example, in India, you have to learn to let go of control. This is huge. If you don’t, you will drive yourself crazy. So, I want to talk about the inner process of learning to trust.
I also want to inspire people to go after their dreams.
Honestly, if I can do it, anyone can. I started late (in my 40s), I had no money, and no support; and I have had a life-long problem with lack of self-confidence. Plus, my dreams were somewhat odd and not very practical. None of that matters. What matters is believing in yourself and the abundant nature of the universe. The universe wants you to live your dreams as much as you do, maybe more. For every step you take, the universe will take two steps for you.
Platforms like Indiegogo help people manifest their creative dreams. Today, most writers and other artists pretty much have to do things themselves — publish their own blogs, their own books. That’s the new paradigm. So I need some help self-publishing this book, and by contributing, people can pre-order a copy. And get other great perks! I am offering magic rings, wish-granting mantras, Nirvana incense, even a guided tour of Delhi and the Taj Mahal.
Thank you, Mariellen, for sharing! I myself am going for the magic ring with my donation.
I can hardly believe it’s been two years since The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India was first published. At this two-year anniversary, I have exciting news.
The Weight of Silence has just been re-released, as an all new Revised & Expanded Edition!
Much has happened in the nearly three years since I wrote the last word of the book, and sent it off to my publisher. I have been back to India twice, and the kids have grown. Changes in their lives have happened, and I have kept up with all of them. New work has been advanced in organizations like The Miracle Foundation and Vasavya Mahila Mandali.
The new Revised & Expanded Weight of Silence includes an additional Epilogue chapter, in which I tell you what has happened in those years to Santosh, Daina, Sumitra, Yesu Babu and many of the other children both myself and my readers have grown to know and love.
I can’t believe it, but it’s approaching two years since The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India was published.
A lot has happened since then – and at the end of June, I will be announcing a re-release of the book. The updated version will have a new section at the back, with lots of new information about what is going on in the work for children’s rights in India, as well as updates about many of the children featured in the book.
Stay tuned for more information and to get your copy!
Tomorrow morning I board a plane headed for South Asia (first stop: Thailand), and I couldn’t be more excited. My boyfriend, Keith, and I are going to spend more than two months in Asia, including of course India, as well as Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. We will arrive in Calcutta, India on October 21, and from there take the train down to Orissa to spend four days with my darling, beautiful children of the Sishu Sadan orphanage outside Cuttack. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen them, and my soul is already rushing out for Daina, Pinky, Salu, Babina, Rashikanta, Rohit and the other kids who stole my heart over five years ago, and started the entire journey of this book.
After that, we will meet up with the Miracle Foundation volunteer group at Sooch Village, to spend a few days with the kids who are living in that wonderful children’s village full of individual cottage homes, a school, and a great lunch-and-learn program for the children in the surrounding village. I will stay on with Caroline Boudreaux for several days after that, at Sooch and at Rourkela, where many familiar faces will greet me such as Amir and Sumitra.
I will certainly be posting from India, and updating you on the children as well as sharing photographs taken during the visit. So please come back to see how they are doing and how much they’ve grown!
Before I go, I also wanted to let you know about some recent exciting happenings with The Weight of Silence. On September 23 I was featured as a return guest on Conversations Live radio show. I appeared on the show last summer, after the book’s release, and host Cyrus Webb invited me to return to discuss the issues of invisible children, and what’s been going on with the book over the last year. It was a great interview, and you can listen here if you’d like! (15 minutes).
A great new review of The Weight of Silence was also published on Luxury Reading. In part the review reads:
Author, Shelley Seale, takes us on an emotional journey, showing us the lives of children living in poverty, toiling as child laborers, and those struck with diseases such as AIDS. In the modern world, children are subconsciously taught to take for granted many basic things. Children in the slums of India truly see some of these basic things as privileges and luxuries. This book is likely to evoke feelings of heartbreak and tears of sadness, but is ultimately one of hope.”
So bon voyage, and the next time you hear from me will be from India.