This is a longer essay I wrote several years ago, which I am posting in installments
Part I The Magic Kingdom I–The Varieties of Magic
Part II The Magic Worlds of Art and Nature.
But the magic of nature pales before the deep magic from the dawn of time.
I was first struck by its wonder in a train racing through the Indian countryside when I was about ten. We’d left with our mother to visit her parents in Bombay with the usual flurry and battles about what to pack during which the cook left without carrying the suitcases to the car, and my father carried them. “Look at the veins bulge on his forehead,” my mother said. “Oh, Pa’s heart; he will die before we reach
.” The premature death of my father, who was in his late forties when we were born, was an omnipresent specter. Bombay
There were just two people whom I deeply loved then, my father, and an Irish nun at my Catholic boarding school, Sister Josephine, who had “adopted” me, and loved me tenderly, choosing poetry and classics for me to read, discussing literature and theology with me, forcing me to repeatedly recite my elocution pieces to her to master public speaking, and who once claimed with some hubris, “Whatever you are, I’ve made you.” So I prayed frantically, fearfully, that my father would not die.
The astounding, magical premise of prayer then struck me for the first time: that I could sit in a train and think, and a good and mighty God would know exactly what I was thinking, and might give me something just because I asked him to. I experimentally thought something. God knew it. I thought something else. God knew that too. And, at the same moment, he knew what the billion other people on the planet were thinking at that very moment. All through the two day journey, I marveled at that: “You perceive my thoughts from afar.” If the one who merely asked, received, well then, that was deep magic. I believed it, I hardly dared believe it, I prayed desperately that my father would not die. (My father, incidentally, is now 87. )
“Give me a lever long enough, and I can move the world.” As a child, that apothegm of Archimedes, like many adult sayings, felt nice-sounding but meaningless. Actually, that lever, , is prayer. Ironically, the first “mountain” I moved by prayer was also the largest. Is “use it or lose it,” “risk or rust” the rule for the muscles of faith as for those of brain and body?
Restless and bored after my abortive novitiate at Mother Teresa’s convent, soon after graduating from school at 16, I now decided to go to college overseas, and spent a few hours in the libraries of the British Council and the USIS, researching universities in America, England, and even Australia and Canada. Before I wrote to request application material, however, one odd evening, I heard a quiet, clear voice within me say, “Apply to
.” I recognized the voice. “Okay, Lord,” I said, somewhat stunned, “ Oxford Oxford and Cambridge;” (my first cousin, now my husband, was then at .) “No, just Cambridge ,” the voice replied. Oxford
Well! Less than a percent of the far better prepared British population got into
, I discovered. It had two fee structures, modest for British citizens, and exorbitant for overseas students. And even were I to get in, and find money, I still needed to get permission from the Reserve Bank of Oxford University to buy scarce foreign exchange from it, and this was hard to get, especially to study the Arts overseas. I decided to study English Literature, and, eventually, become a writer. India
One can proceed with doubt and trembling despite a clear directive. But I did proceed–applied to
, wrote my admission essays on Much Ado about Nothing and Marlowe’s Edward II and waited with hope and prayer and anxious impatience. One heady evening, I opened a letter with an Oxford postmark to find that, incredibly, I had indeed “got in.” But, as of then, without a scholarship. Oxford
The tuition, a quarter of a million Indian rupees, could buy me an apartment in Bombay, India’s most expensive city, my grandmother, who lived there, repeated ruefully; “you are the kind of fool who goes to Oxford,” she added. I had prayed before; I prayed desperately now (working out a schedule of prayer seven times a day, like the Psalmist; what’s good enough for him…). Faith can make of life a fairy tale, but most of a fairy tale, remember, is agonizing; adversity upon adversity, you almost don’t want to continue reading. But I did continue praying, and money did continue coming in: the Radhakrishnan scholarship for Indians to study anything at
Oxford; an Eckersley Foundation grant for anyone to study English at ; interest-free loans from relatives. One day–after minor miracles–I declared, “I could trust God for ten thousand rupees, but I need a hundred thousand.” If the fairy tale is God’s favorite genre, irony is a favorite literary device. That day, along with the award letter, a scholarship check for ten thousand rupees arrived in the mail from an Indian foundation I’d applied to. “I wish I’d said, ‘I could trust God for a hundred thousand rupees,’” I said mournfully. Anyway, in drops or showers, all the money I needed came to me. Even my thousand pound deposit which came due before I got my Reserve Bank permit to convert rupees to pounds was improbably paid by an uncle’s friend in Oxford . A relative who had impetuously resigned from the Reserve Bank of America India in , went with me to his former subordinates to get the rare, coveted permit. And the years at Bombay were a happy period of intense growth that, in many ways, made me a different person. Oxford
Share on site of your choice … Wikio