Author interview: Barefoot walker Manjushree Abhinav

You might as well think she is Gandhi Green (a fringe eco-movement about ceasing to do any harm that increases one’s carbon footprint). Filmmaker Manjushree Abhinav walks barefoot everywhere, commutes only on bicycle or public transport, doesn’t own a television set, shuns hot baths, avoids processed foods and will pursue organic farming “as soon as my son grows up”.

Add to that her regular practice of alternative therapies like “oil pulling”, and meditation techniques like NSP and ASP (Nithya Spurna and Ananda Spurna programme), and it’s apparent that she lives out what she believes in.

Manjushree is an alumnus of the Film and TV Institute of India, she has taught scriptwriting and film making at the prestigious FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), NID (National Institute of Design), and Storygram.

I met her at her Mumbai residence after she’d returned from another Vipassana meditation camp. Her younger sister Rajshree (also a published YA author) joined us as I interviewed Manjushree about her book A Grasshopper’s Pilgrimage (Rupa & Co).

grasshopper

The novel draws from her experiences traversing our country. Part travelogue, part spiritual memoir, part fiction, it’s the story of a TV channel executive from Mumbai who quits her job and flits like a soul-searching grasshopper from guru to guru, lovers to boyfriends. She encounters myriad characters; Sufi babas, hippies, firangs without a visa, freedom fighters. Along the way, she discovers a friend in her grandmother and falls in love with a mountain!

“The point is not whether Indian readers are ready for ‘fiction-spiritual’; the caterpillar who has become a butterfly will make sure A Grasshopper’s Pilgrimage is worth every step,” Bollywood director Anurag Kashyap says about the book.

“The novel is 75% my story,” Manjushree reveals. “I had difficulty coming up with names for the characters, so I named the protagonist Gopika, but didn’t change the real names of the rest of the people in the book.”

American novelist Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Eat Pray Love made a success on the same lines. But rarely have Indian English writers attempted spirituality in fiction. For Manjushree though, it was a natural pick. An ardent follower of Swami Nithyanand, her rendezvous with spirituality began while studying at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. “The intensity of the filmmaking course and the natural environment breathed self awareness into me,” she says.

After making a number of documentaries across India, she took off to the mountains to study alternative healing. This faculty member at NID and FTII is also the only Indian member of the Society for Barefoot Living.

“We deprive our poor feet the right to feel different surfaces by continually covering them in thick footwear,” she believes. “Try walking on bare earth for 15 minutes, twice every day. After a month, you’ll find a new strength in your body, feet up.”

By Kasmin Fernandes

A Grasshopper’s Pilgrimage by Manjushree Abhinav was published by Rupa & Co.

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