Many of us know Lalita Arya as Ammaji, the Mother who welcomed us into her house and her life for so many years. Now she has given us all a deeply personal gift -- a book of poems. The book takes its title from a poem she wrote inspired by Kanyakumari. She tells us how the poem Eyeful of Sky was inspired:
"There are few places on earth where one is fortunate to witness sunset and moonrise at the same time in the sky. I saw this phenomenon at Kanyakumari, India, a sort of land's end, the apex of the triangle of the sub-continent, on whose two sides were the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and facing the vast Indian Ocean."
Indeed, there is a vastness to this small book. It contains worlds and the dots that dot the constellations of her life and the lives of people she has loved. Inside the lives of the Arya family, close friends, mountains, trees and deer, the Devi Herself lives and is very much present in this book. Eyeful of Sky spans Ammaji's life from her youth and her encounter with a boa constrictor while waiting for a ferry during high rains, all fears assuaged by a gentle, wise stranger and replaced with compassion--- to her life-changing pilgrimage in 2012 at the sacred temples of Kamakshi, Kamakhya, Guwahati, Assam and Kalighat, Kolkata.... mysterious places of the Mother Power.
It is particularly special to me because as I walk through the rooms of this book, I am going up the front walk of their old house in Minneapolis, spiritual home to so many, going up the stairs to the altar, opening the door where Shankaracharya also lives - Na me dvesha ragau... Neither attraction nor aversion have I! - and divine force fields I can almost touch but not see or name.
In the early days, theirs was a house whose upstairs was brimming with stillness and mystery while the apartment beneath the Meditation Room was filled with laughter and the escapades of children - and a kitchen at times bursting at the seams with hundreds of Dr. Arya's students coming and going like family. We learned Shankaracharya shlokas which I still sometimes sing when I am cooking. I believe, as Ammaji and Panditji (later Swami Veda Bharati) taught us, that the food we make contains the vibrations of the cook.
The sacred flame and the smoke of incense at the temples of Kamakshi and Kalighat seep from the pages, and the book becomes a temple. Elsewhere she invites us into the family living room in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, which has been transformed into an altar for a Lakshmi puja that unfolds, casting out all darkness. You, the reader, are there at the house when Dr. Arya does not phone from Germany - uncharacteristic of him. He has suffered a massive heart attack on the other side of the world. Ammaji flies to Germany to care for her husband. There is a scramble to normalize the home front and a close student of her husband hurries from Dehradun to Delhi to live with their high school aged son. She boards the plane not knowing how long she will be gone, if her husband will survive and if so in what physical state.
Ammaji not only let us into her life, but lights the divine flame as she takes us by the hand from her school days to walks through "the fresh pine smell of green fir trees" near the homes of her children and grandchildren in Going for a Walk:
Music plugged into my ears
My feet beat rhythms to
Bob Marley's reggae guitar strings
Or slow to Nagma's ghazals ....
I startle a grazing deer....
It blinks and lopes gracefully
One of my favorite passages was from Gangotri, a holy town in the Himalayas, the seat of the goddess Ma Ganga, close to where the River Ganges originates. It is one of the four important pilgrimage sites of the Char Dham.
(The) kids came running back to me, shouting, "Ammaji, Ammaji, come quickly and see this!" I had no idea what "this" was but I went after them as they stopped suddenly and pointed up to one of the mountains way into the sky. I looked up and my jaw dropped as I saw this vision of Shiva carved halfway up the mountain shining with ice crystals all the way to the tip of the mountain. While I gaped and wondered at the marvel of the sculptor, the kids ran ahead with glee. We finally arrived at the inn and after checking in I asked the receptionist if he knew who was the sculptor of the beautiful statue of Shiva way up high on the mountain. He looked at me in amazement and said, "There is no statue on the mountain." I thought he was joking so I said "Come, let me show you." When we went out and looked up all we saw was the plain mountain covered in snow! I again gaped and stuttering tried to explain when he laughed and said "Well, you are only partly lucky, you saw only him. Some people see his entire family."
Here is a gleaming excerpt from that poem A Vision in the Mountains:
I meditate upon the form of Shiva.
Carved in ice as tall as the mountains
Of Gangotri, who is that
Sacred mouth of my Ganga River.
Of brilliance radiating around this revelation
A blue ice-ness sparkling
Not only does Ammaji give us her poems, gems in themselves, but also, on adjacent pages, the footprints of events that prompted many of the poems. She generously lets us see through her eyes as her life unfolds in these poems. At times, she dances over the pages as in Just Dance:
Dance in the sun and let the light
Engulf your ego.
Dance in the night
And be lost to it all.
At times there is deep prayer as in her poem Drowning, after her meeting with the Devi at Kamakhya:
May I lie with my head in HER lap
For all eternity.
Eyeful of Sky by Lalita Arya can be purchased at https://www.createspace.com/3919855. It is also available at Amazon as either a paperback or a Kindle edition, at Barnes & Noble as a paperback, and at other bookstores.
Lalita Arya is the founder of KHEL, a charitable organization. "KHEL provides equal opportunity education, support and employment, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation. We believe that it is only through one's own efforts that success is possible. KHEL gives future generations the necessary tools to change their lives." We invite you to visit the KHEL website: http://www.khelcharities.org/
Lalita Arya is also a mantra initiator in the AHYMSIN sangha and a member of the AHYMSIN Adhyatma Samiti, or Spiritual Committee.