Review: Bending Over Backwards by Carlo Pizzati
A keyboard slave on a world trip seeking a cure for chronic backache ends up gaining much more
“Yes, I’m a mess. I’m a screen-staring victim, like hundreds of millions of other people who have worked in an office, at a desk or a counter for most of their lives,” Carlo Pizzati says in the preface to Bending Over Backwards: A Journey to the End of the World to Find a Cure for a Chronic Backache. This is the starting point of Pizzatti’s quest to find a permanent solution to a nagging backache.
Around the time, the author is 40, in Rome, going through a rough patch professionally and personally, “beginning to feel the fatigue of twenty years in journalism…” Post failed therapies, he ‘stumbles upon the odd notion that a spiritual problem might be at the root of this chronic pain’. Voila! He decides to set out in search of the holy grail of that ‘perfect’ remedy. Pizzati’s condition is severe. ‘Spondylosis’ would be a commonplace term for the varied and scary vocabulary that he “recites as a rosary” to address his affliction. Think “Lordosis, Scoliosis, pulled psoas and a pinched coccyx nerve”, amidst the pedestrian “sciatica, carpel tunnel syndrome, cervical pain”! Fortunately, this morbidity only offers thematic scaffolding to his travelogue.
His medical tourism, of the adventurous, backpacking variety, enlivens this deeply personal and sometimes existential narrative. The seeker travels to different countries trying all kinds of experiments: “From Venice to Colorado, from California to the Cinque Terre, on to Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Mar del Plata in Argentina”. There’s Rome to Assisi, all the way to Mysore, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kovalam, among other cities in India. From a posturologist in Italy, to a masseuse with a “miraculous touch” in the rarefied mountain air of Boulder, to “techno-spirituality” in LA, to a trance-do deep in the forests, to an exorcist-shaman’s den near Buenos Aires, he tries them all. He finally zeroes in on something that suits him perfectly at an Ashtanga yoga centre in Mysore.
Throughout Pizzatti’s self-deprecating humour is evident as when he refers to his “frenemy”, his belly, who is “ambitious and never tires of wanting to grow.” Along the way, he meets a motley bunch of gurus and guides. “I know it sounds banal and is perhaps a cliché, I also came to India looking for answers,” he writes.
Bending Over Backwards then takes the reader on an exploration of another sub-plot, that of documenting the author’s evolving relationship with India. Becoming an observer of himself, Pizzatti records his reactions and responses to his internal tussle between reason and superstition. The writing on his journey towards healing grows more coherent and collected towards the end, perhaps mirroring his own state of mind. The author is clearly in no rush to supply readers with answers and is more interested in sharing his journey that, in its ‘bending’ analogy, underlines flexibility and openness.
Closure comes with an understanding of the personal and real meaning of ‘bending over backwards’ and with opening up to experiences without a fear of falling or of being uncomfortable. He acknowledges that in order to live a little, individuals have to accept and understand that death is the final reality.
This is a wise, witty and personal book that felt like it reflected this reviewer’s own beliefs on spirituality and “divine design”, rationality and superstition, and the physical and metaphysical aspects of healing. This is not a medical tome but the story of a personal quest engagingly told. The author’s statement that he does not intend to espouse meditation or yogic discipline as a ‘one size fit all’ quick-fix, lends credibility and an endearing authenticity to the roller-coaster narrative.
Watch: Books and Authors: A time of transition: Interview with Carlo Pizzati, author of Mappillai; an Italian son-in-law in India
Especially interesting is Pizzati’s revelation that while immersed in strenuous yogic discipline and meditating on hilltops, he had an explosive insight into his past births, which, in turn, leads to an encounter that will change his life forever. Read on!
Swati Rai is a communication skills trainer and freelance writer. She lives in Hyderabad.