A pain in the back is something that all of us are familiar with, especially those of us blessed with a desk job (back-breaking work it is!). For Carlo Pizzati, this condition led to a journey that started off with the intention of exploring a cure to his ailment but led to a soulful experience that took him across the world. He chronicles these experiences in Bending Over Backwards- A journey to the end of the world to cure a chronic backache, published by HarperCollins Publishers India.
A chronic backache can have a pervasive influence on all areas of your life. Long suffering from this condition, Pizzati travelled across continents in search of a cure to his problem. The quest led him to India which has been his home for the last decade.
The book talks about this meandering journey and his experiences. It is a memoir of sorts, seen through the prism of the physical condition and ailment that was unbearable- chronic backache.
Now before you take this lightly and wonder why in the world you would want to spend precious time on reading about his experience of searching for a cure for the backache has been, let me tell you that this is no plain journey. His experience and analysis of what happens to him are filled with humour and you’ll be guffawing at the subtle wit in the book all throughout. Then, it’s as much as travelogue as it is a record of the healing journey.
The book travels between the past and the present, jostling from one geographic location to another. You, the reader is very much a part of it, as you meet a very interesting array of characters- an ex-girlfriend who introduces him to psychic healing in Argentina; a meditation group in Italy, shamans and healers, yoga teachers, seekers and healers, aura readers, therapists and a host of other characters across the world.
Indeed, there are a range of remedies he tries- yoga, massage, psychoanalysis, aura scanning, music therapy at rave gatherings, Crystal healing, psychic healing, meditation and past life regression. One of my favourite chapters is the one on meditation where he beautifully describes his encounter with a Guru and his initiation into the world of meditation that has roots in the Indian spiritual tradition.
Somewhere in the middle of the book comes the turning point where he visits India, a decision that will change the course of his life. As an Indian reading the book, I approach this with a different view, feeling very proud of the rich spiritual heritage that we sometimes take for granted. But looking at it from a foreigner’s eyes will be revealing in a very nuanced way!
As is bound to be in an intentional journey towards self- realization and introspection, he grapples with many questions and existential issues. And as he questions experts and looks at their answers objectively on topics ranging from spirituality, yoga, the mind body connection, the link between spirituality and technology, the reader will be probably be able to connect with a lot of these thoughts and ideas.
In a sense it is almost like a roller coaster ride, a thrilling adventure that leads to many discoveries. For a supposedly rational and respected journalist to try out all these cures is no mean thing. The book is replete with examples of his internal dialogues when faced with all these different “cures” that may sometimes defy logic.
And as the reader journeys with him all around the world and finally to India and within it, there is one last surprise in store at the end. How does this journey conclude? Or, does it? Akin to the experience of reading a suspense novel, a part of the end of this book takes a break from the reflective nature of the narrative and adds a dose of suspense and excitement....the cherry on the cake if you may!
Carlo Pizzati’s search for meaning has a lot to offer any reader- whether suffering from backache or not!
“Every day you must get up at dawn, go through the strenuous Ashtanga series, knowing that you must stop if you can’t get over the obstacle. Then, instead of hoping to achieve it, you keep trying and wait for the day when you will finally be able to do it, with a desire for anything other than what you already have. The more you push with ardour, the further you get away from reaching your goal. This is the exact opposite of some Western ideas on how to achieve success. But, it’s the correct way to do things, as I’ll discover soon”