Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Loveby Asra Nomani
A Foreign Correspondent's Search for Her Cultural and Spiritual Identity
What began as an assignment from her editor at the Wall Street Journal to investigate "America's hottest new fad," the secrets of sexual ecstasy in Tantra, became a story that would lead reporter Asra Nomani halfway around the world and change forever her life, faith, and/em>
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A Foreign Correspondent's Search for Her Cultural and Spiritual Identity
What began as an assignment from her editor at the Wall Street Journal to investigate "America's hottest new fad," the secrets of sexual ecstasy in Tantra, became a story that would lead reporter Asra Nomani halfway around the world and change forever her life, faith, and self-identity. From a New Age Tantric seminar in Santa Cruz to sitting at the feet of the Dalai Lama in India, from meditation caves in Thailand to crossing the Khyber Pass with Muslim militants and staring down the barrel of an Afghan soldier's AK-47, Nomani's trek unexpectedly climaxes in Pakistan, where she risks great danger in joining the hunt for kidnapped fellow reporter Danny Pearl. She travels the globe in search of this elusive "divine love," but ultimately hers is a journey of self-discovery in which the divine within herself and within all women -- all "tantrikas" -- is revealed.
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Traveling the Road of Divine Love
Learning American Tantra
My search for Tantra, sex, and love began with a gnarly foot wash in a forest of pine trees in the Canadian countryside.
I washed the scaly feet of a lanky stranger, cloaking them with soft soap suds and warm water. We sat on the porch outside a sprawling log house, the sun draping itself over us like the gentle touch of a velvet glove. The scent of home cooking wafted toward us from the kitchen inside and mingled with the lavender smell of the soap that I caressed on the bottom of this stranger's feet. I massaged each toe separately, stretching them under my fingers, pressing my thumb into the small dip where his ankle began. As I slid my hands underneath, he flinched. My touch tickled him. He giggled. I smiled politely and averted my gaze.
"What am I doing here?" I asked myself, trying not to look at his gangly toes and smashed toenails.
I had been living in a bird coop of an apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side.
I had just finished writing an article about how gorillas in Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo lived in cages with more square footage than the apartment of a couple who recently moved to Manhattan. I hated my home. The windowsills were splattered with bird droppings. I was in a miserable relationship. A metal safety gate spread across the windows like an accordion, reminding me of the jahlee, or screen, through which my Muslim sisters in purdah peer when they are hidden from the outside world.
I wasn't hidden, but I wasn't happy. I had been looking for love in all the wrong places, first my failed marriage, then a string of bad relationships. Now, in humiliation, I was finally letting go of this latest boyfriend when I escaped to a new apartment across the Brooklyn Bridge. When I arrived, my cat, Billluh, sat in the window, his nose twitching at the gentle waft of a summer breeze that swept into the apartment, the first fresh air he had breathed in months. I breathed in at last when my nineteen-year-old cousin-sister Lucy Ansari arrived in Newark, New Jersey, on an early morning Continental Airlines flight. In India cousins, especially first cousins, are considered brothers and sisters. All her belongings were packed into a knapsack on her back. It made me yearn for a life in which things could be so simple. She came to visit me at the tail end of her adventures around the world. Her father, who had died of a heart attack a few years before, was my mother's eldest brother. I called him Iftikhar Mamo, and had helped me unfurl my wings. When I was a college freshman considering journalism, an unorthodox field for a child from India, he encouraged my mother to support me. At one low point in my life, he reminded me of the power within me.
"You are creative," he told me. "If the real world is bad, you can create a new world. Through your writing, you can create a new world."
Now, his doe-eyed daughter, a long-legged gazelle of a poet in flip-flops and cargo pants, brought the beauty of the world to me again. She helped me recover what the damaging relationship had obscured. Lucy cooked dal and chawal, lentils and rice, for me. She stirred me awake before work to run through the tree-lined brownstone streets of Brooklyn Heights, down the Promenade. Step by step, life began again, but I was disillusioned by romance. I wondered if I could ever find love.
Then Ken Wells, one of our page-one editors at the Wall Street Journal, came to me with a reporting assignment. "We want you to look at the business of Tantra. Go find Mr. and Mrs. Tantra." Ken told me Tantra was America's hottest new fad. It was a natural assignment for me. I'd earned an informal reputation on the tenth floor among my fellow reporters as the Journal's sex reporter, the rising incidence of "Mile High Club" sexual misconduct on airplanes among my page-one stories.
In my cubicle at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, adjacent to the World Trade Center, I tapped www.tantra.com into the address line of my Web browser. The browser led me to steamy pictures of men and women in different sexual positions. Clicking further, I came across ancient images from the Kama Sutra of men and women in acrobatic positions of lovemaking.
I punched T-A-N-T-R-A into the search line on dejanews.com. A crazy world unfolded before me as I clicked from screen to screen. A man talked about introducing something called his lingam into his wife's yoni. He held his wife still and focused on her ajna chakra and meditated. Another Tantric explained the chakra puja, where a guru picked eight couples to randomly pair up for a night of "passive copulation" in a circle around a guru and his shakti. What did shakti mean? What was a puja? And was it really something Wall Street Journal readers needed to know?
I called my experts on India, my parents, in Morgantown, West Virginia. "Have you ever heard of Tan-trah?" They didn't know what I was talking about.
"You know, Tan-trah?"
They finally figured it out. "Thun-thruh," my mother said. They didn't even pronounce it the same way. In India, it turned out, Tantra was considered a cult of black magic used by evil people. It was to be avoided. It had mantras that were like spells. I didn't know any mantras. I certainly didn't know the word was actually pronounced "mun-thruh" instead of "mahn-truh." As a Muslim, I didn't even know the spiritual significance of the dots Hindu women in India wear on their foreheads. I just knew I wouldn't be caught dead with one ...Tantrika
Traveling the Road of Divine Love. Copyright © by Asra Nomani. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, has also written for the Washington Post, New York Times, and Time magazine on Islam, and has covered the war in Afghanistan for Salon.com. She has spoken about women’s rights in Islam on CNN, PBS, NPR, and the BBC. A Muslim born in India, Nomani was raised in the foothills of West Virginia, and currently lives in Morgantown with her son, Shibli.
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I came across the name of Asra Nomani in Marian Pearl¿s book A Mighty Heart where she was present throughout the book while surprisingly Bernard-Henri Levy in his book Who Killed Daniel Pearl ? hardly mentioned her name. In her book Marian had written that Danny and she (Marian) stayed in Asra¿s rented house in Defense Society, Karachi. When Marian questioned her as to what was she doing in Karachi Asra told her that she was doing research on Kama Sutra. To the question that Kama Sutra was an Indian book why was she staying in Pakistan Asra replied that she was doing research on the spiritual aspects of Kama Sutra. According to her Tantra is the means to reach sexual fulfillment spiritually by practicing Yoga. Tantrika is the one who practices Tantra. Thus it is the story of Asra who is a Tantrika herself. Perhaps readers would be aware of the fact that there are hundreds of Tantra Companies throughout the world that teach the practice of Tantra to their members. If the book Tantrika is the outcome of Asra¿s research carried out in Karachi on the subject then its is hardly worth all the time and money she spent. However, the book describes her journeys into Indian sub-continent where the art or science of Tantra is actually practiced. Since it is autobiographical in substance therefore we come to know about Asra¿s background and Danny comes into the picture when Asra joins Wall Street Journal as a reporter. Earlier on insistence of her parents Asra had married a Pakistani young man with whom her marriage lasted only for four months ending in a divorce. She has not written the reasons for the divorce and lays the blame exclusively on her former husband. She writes that at that juncture Danny provided her psychological relief. A chemistry developed between the two and when Danny was asked to move to Pakistan from Bombay he stayed at Asra¿s residence in Karachi with his wife Marian. Asra recounts the tragic murder of Danny at the hands of extremists in Karachi and relates the details of the futile search carried out for him after he was kidnapped. She flew out of Karachi with Marian after the confirmation of Danny¿s murder. On a personal note Asra talks in the book about her affair with a young Pakistani journalist of Karachi resulting in the birth of a son whom she ironically names as Shibli after the name of Allama Shibli Naumani a well known Indian religious scholar who happens to be one of her ancestors. In her description of Danny¿s episode she corroborates the story told by Marian. However, the story of Asra on personal level is quite depressing. She seems to be torn between the two worlds -- East and West. Islam does not allow a woman to have a child out of wedlock and the punishment suggested is stoning to death. Asra who was brought up by her parents in a religious atmosphere therefore tried to find solace in Hinduism and Buddhism. But her confusion still persists.
¿Tantrika¿ is not a book on sex or sex-techniques. Readers looking this aspect, will not find in this book. 'Tantrika' is a philosophical and deep thinking book, written in a simple and enjoyable way. One never gets bored. Actually one will get so much involved in reading they will hesitate to stop or take a break. One becomes one of the characters. One will feel that the author is describing the reader¿s own emotions and experiences. It deals with the struggle of a young immigrant women. To read this book, one need not be young or an immigrant. Women and men of all ages, ethnic groups, faiths and race will enjoy the book and get emotionally affected. It will help in attaining peace within oneself and the environment - especially among people. It will help in better understanding one¿s religion and other faiths. The book helps us respect ourselves and other people. It will help in bringing harmony and peace in the world. Modern day tensions and problems often lead to stressful married life and broken marriages. The book clearly demonstrates the strong relationship between sexuality and spirituality. Positive female and male energy will contribute to happy married life and the working environment. This book is not a novel or a fiction. It is a true story about the experiences of the author. The author is describing the real world and the shock of the hypocrisy and duality of people. The reader will discover how deeply people have forgotten the real message of their religion today. Another dimension of this book is that it can serve as excellent reading material for college students in disciplines such as diversity programs, international studies, counseling and rehabilitation, sociology, social work, philosophy, psychology, religion and culture, English creative writing. In summary, ¿Tantrika¿ is a deeply philosophical and very enjoyable book. It opens the mind of the reader. Everybody gets benefited in both their spiritual and real worlds.