Embracing the radical equality of life

May 2016

By Arundhati Subramaniam

Arundhathi Subramaniam speaks to contemplative writer and thinker, Lata Mani, on her recent film on Tantra


There is something about Lata Mani. It is not just her fine-tuned alignment of idea and articulation. Or the clarity of her speech. It is not just her capacity for deep thinking. Or her ability to wed intellectual rigour with spiritual quest. It is her presence – a presence of quiet luminous integrity.

And it is that presence that is abundantly in evidence in her recent film, The Earth on its Axis, We in Our Skin: The Tantra of Embodiment. While Mani is already known as a contemplative writer, it is this film, to my mind, that allows us a fuller glimpse of her unique presence. Nicolas Grandi, as filmmaker, and Kabir Bavikatte, as probing interlocutor, help sensitively bring the authenticity of that presence to the fore.

What also comes to the fore is Mani’s remarkable story – a head-injury that turned turtle the ‘head-oriented’ approach of her life as a scholar and compelled her, as she says, to ‘rethink everything from the ground up.’

It proved to be an event of far-reaching implications. And although Mani describes herself with characteristic understatement as a ‘student’ of life, we see her in this film in a role for which she seems remarkably suited – that of thinker, speaker and inspirational voyager. A woman in whom the ‘ground up’ reclamation of self has produced an exceptional integration of the cerebral and the deeply human, the spiritual and the political, the reflective and the experiential, all of which is rooted in a manner of unhurried calm and humility.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did the film happen? Was this film conceived as a window, an invitation, to your book, The Tantra Chronicles?

It was Kabir, my interlocutor in the film, who proposed the idea. He was interested in making core ideas in The Tantra Chronicles accessible to more people, including those who may never read the book.  I am, as you know, not the author of those teachings but one of two recipient-transcribers. It took him some time to persuade me since I was unsure I wanted to take on the role of an interpreter in that public way.

I had two concerns: first, the way interpreters of received teachings are customarily considered “teachers” (I see myself as a student). My
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