Cloud Messenger: Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas by Karen Trollope-Kumar

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Pradeep began to sing a haunting melody. 

“Phool  kitabon mein milen… What does it mean?” I whispered, not wanting to break the spell of the music.

“It means, ‘Now we will be seperated. And perhaps we shall only meet in dreams. Our love will be like a flower pressed between the pages of a book.” 

Pradeep’s ghazal (lyric poem)  sang with feeling was right, they would meet in dreams, but dreams they made a reality.  When Canadian medical student Karen Trollope-Kumar went to India to study medicine, little did she know she would meet and fall in love with a pediatrician named  Pradeep, as well as his dream of living in the Indian Himalayas. Though they parted, they couldn’t deny their destiny, to be together as husband and wife. With courage as strong as leaping off a mountain, Karen does indeed return to India to work in the foothills as Pradeep’s wife. She soon learns ‘how profoundly communication is shaped by culture’. Never in her wildest dreams did she know she would marry into a culture immersed in religion and tradition, having come from the Western world it is an eye opening experience. As a doctor, the shock is life altering, going from rural to remote villages the practices are vastly different. Amid such sometimes appalling conditions, the ceremonies and festivals sprinkled throughout their time in India are beautiful, moving. The descriptions within the book transport the reader to the villages, feeling much like a spiritual eye in the sky.

Idealistic in our dreams, we don’t imagine the obstacles we will face. Politics, superstitions, religious beliefs, poverty of people and their village, nature itself (earthquakes) and lack of trust in medicine are just a few complications that appeared.  Soon learning how to come together with your beloved with such different upbringings, surely it’s a challenge for the newly weds, but can seem like a mountain of hardship. Accepted by Pradeep’s family, depsite not being Indian herself, the beauty of their love is evident in the ceremony early on when placed on the shrine, beside the God Ganesha sits a cruxifix, to honor their grandson’s bride. In time, she learns through stories the hardships his family had faced, the fears they had for the children based on so much suffering but too she sees the turn of fortune they have later.

Desperate to bring proper care to pregnant women and new mothers, the reader is given insight into the harsh conditions such women face. At the beginning, confident with her knowledge of medicine, the arrogance that she can better their world- the reality of things is a humbling. When Pradeep confides he longs more for spiritual enlightenment than medical practices, it’s hard for Karen to understand, having come from a home that wasn’t overly religious. Her calling seems to be bringing medical care to the furthest reaches, to those most in need of life saving techniques, training dais (midwives) proper care. Even if superstitions get in the way, she won’t give up, but there are disheartening encounters as much as beautiful ones. Deep lasting friendships are formed as much as a love for the places she travels to, and lives in. She learns that she must look into herself, “Your work now  is to  look into the nature of your own discontent.”  A message any of us can take to heart in dealing with our problems, our loved ones… Our expectations often make it so hard to flow, to accept that which is real. It isn’t always someone else that is to blame, it’s our own difficulty owning what is compared to what we thought would be.

Any sort of traveler can be in for culture shock, I certainly have been myself, but India is said to be a place of contradictions. Beauty amidst poverty, physical illness and yet superior spiritual health, as much open love and acceptance as close minded rejection. We Westerners have a instinct of wanting to fix what we think is wrong, and that’s both a strength and a flaw. It’s the happy medium that’s so hard to find. Within this memoir, it’s obvious that Karen persevered through things so many of us may not be able to do half as well. People romanticize such journeys in their minds, but the reality can be a slap in the face. She learned to accept her changing dreams and the husband she loved, tied to her destiny but also his own spiritual being. Along came children, and with it so much advice from Indian women. I thought about that, and imagined the eye-rolling of others, but in truth- we think we’re advanced here in the western world where you have a baby and often go home, sometimes without generations of women (family) around to help you, and as much as magazines and the internet can guide, who knows more about mothering than other mothers? It has its charm, this unity of motherhood. As with any place on earth, there is happiness, there is suffering, there is love, there is loss, there is change and there is acceptance of things that never change, or will- but at their own pace, not yours.

A wonderful story about a young doctor who takes a big risk to create a beautiful life for herself.

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