I was late. Traffic had come to a virtual standstill; the result of a political procession that was passing through the Jamal-Ratna Park area. Half an hour had already elapsed since my appointed meeting with Carolyn Boch- every passing minute further accentuating my tardiness. And I still had to make it all the way to Jawlakhel. I had a mental image of a ‘hopping mad’ middle aged white lady chastising me on the values of punctuality. Not that I knew what she looked like or anything else about her for that matter. I hadn’t done my homework. I sweated some more.
To cut a long story short, I arrived at Moksh, Jawlakhel a full hour late! Acceptable by Nepali standards, but she was a ‘foreigner’ and wasn’t at the restaurant. She had left perhaps. I called her up only to get an answering machine. No sooner did I put the phone down, than in walked Carolyn Boch. Halfway through my apology and blaming the delay on the ‘jooloosh’, all the anxiety that I had been experiencing a few moments ago flitted away as we chatted amiably about the political situation and all those things of little import that make up a good conversation. That is Carolyn Boch for you-calm, composed, affable, smiling and always positive.
As it turned out, Carolyn Boch is nothing like the stereotype I had envisioned. But she certainly is a colorful person. Right from her stylishly short auburn hair with an interesting little pony tail, her vibrant eyes that belied her age, the colorful attire to her personal philosophies- she is all the colors of a rainbow.
Carolyn was born in Long Island, New York. She went on to get a degree in Fine Arts from Kent State University, Ohio and then moved to New York City to study theatre there. In the meantime, she also acquired a diploma in education from the University of London. This was followed by a stint with the film Industry in Hollywood, California as an assistant producer. In the early 70’s she studied yoga under Swami Satchidananda, which changed her life forever. Spontaneous by nature and filled with a sense of wanting to experience more than what America had to offer, Carolyn sold everything she had and embarked on the fateful journey that finally landed her in Kathmandu.
Her first stop was Mexico where she stayed for three months. From there it was Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and eventually Brunei, Borneo where she stayed for three years. There she worked at a local newspaper called the ‘Borneo Bulletin’ and taught the first grade and art to high school students. During this time she also gave yoga classes to locals. Never one to stay put, she grew tired of living in the tropics and decided it was time to move on. Her travels took her to Pakistan, where she met up with friends and went trekking with them to Chitral. Then it was off to Dharamsala, India and then to Ladhak. Carolyn Boch first arrived in Kathmandu in 1979 as a tourist, and later took up a teaching position at Lincoln School where she instructs students in the fine arts. It was here that she met ‘a friend’ and got married. She lived in Dhankuta for a year and gave birth to a son, Daniel at the British Medical Hospital, Dharan. She then moved to Chobar where she raised her son who attended Lincoln School. She now lives in Jawlakhel, where she keeps a studio and also conducts yoga classes regularly in the city.
Carolyn Boch - The artist
Carolyn reminisces; as a child she would carve into her mother’s furniture with a pin. Perhaps even then, it was the artist in her that always felt the need to create with her hands. She fondly remembers her first painting set - the colors that have since been an essential part of her life. She describes herself as a very visual person where the need to see is of utmost importance. She narrated a personally traumatic experience when she was temporarily blinded because of some mascara that got into her eyes. The fact that she could not see, though momentarily, left a deep sense of loss in her as though the very essence of her life had been snuffed out in an instant. “Colors represent me” she says passionately. “On certain days, I need (to wear) a certain color and this connects me to the world and to the day.” When she paints, she does it instinctively. The colors and lines come to her naturally according to the mood and subject that she is painting. She attributes creativity to the right side of the brain.
In her ‘Creative Mandala classes’ she teaches a technique where the left side of the brain responsible for consciousness and intellect is suppressed and creativity is uninhibited. Her paintings are mostly in water-color while she also experiments with mixed media like oil, pastel and so on. The spontaneity of her personality shows in the way she chooses her subjects too. If she spots an interesting face that she would like to paint, she immediately invites them over to her studio for a session. With an uncanny knack for reproducing humanity on canvas, she feels connected to her subjects on a spiritual level. In all pieces, she sees a reflection of herself. Perhaps, that is the reason why her portraits are all so remarkable and yet retain the ‘Carolyn Boch’ touch. Having lived in Nepal for over two decades now, she has three exhibitions to her credit. The first, appropriately titled “A Diary of Portraits I” was held at the Summit Hotel, Patan on December 2000, followed by “A Diary of Portraits II” at the Phora Durbar American Recreation Center, Kanti Path on November 2001. Her most recent exhibition “A Diary of Portraits III” was held at Moksh, Jawlakhel earlier this year. All three exhibitions are the culmination of a lifetime of painting portraits and experiences which are like pages off a very personal diary.
Carolyn has been teaching for most of her adult life .From teaching art at both Brunei and Kathmandu to her creative Mandala and yoga classes, she has always enjoyed the process of imparting knowledge. In her words “by teaching, I try to give people the same experiences that I’ve had”. The process of teaching stimulates in her the desire to learn. “Oftentimes” she remarks, she “becomes the student while teaching”. It is her desire to provoke creativity in her students and inculcate true appreciation of life and humanity.
Carolyn and Yoga
Carolyn was first introduced to Yoga during her struggling days as a student of theatre in New York. Her struggle was not only professional but also spiritual. As she contemplated on what she really wanted to do with her life, “Yoga”, she says” changed my life”. It was during long retreats outside the city that she discovered that it was not the ‘materialism’ that prevailed around her that she really wanted. There was something far greater that she yearned for. She vouches that yoga is not only physical exercise but an “awakening of the senses to the environment, spirit and to the heart. It keeps you aware and gives you clarity of perception.” While talking to her, one is aware that her eloquence comes from experience and heart-felt sincerity. To her yoga is therapeutic, facilitates the release of her creative energies and a way of life. A qualified teacher in Hatha - yoga, she has been conducting yoga classes here in Kathmandu since 1995. She also propagates an unconventional way of teaching yoga called ‘crazy-yoga’ which is ideally suited for beginners.
Carolyn and Spiritualism
Carolyn sees herself as a “spiritual being” where there is always the need to connect to something outside of her. She believes in the ‘Universal Self’ where all people are somehow connected. “It is the awareness of this connection that makes one realize the value of each moment and of the people around us” she says philosophically. While painting or practicing yoga, she finds this aspect of herself “opening up and flowing”. In the course of her travels, she picked up ‘tai-chi’ and became an avid practitioner of Buddhism and took refuge in the Kalo Rempuche. She related a story about her, when she went into the forest in Brunei on a retreat and got lost in the woods for two days without food or water. Such is the extent to which she will go to find that ‘inner peace’. She firmly believes that all religions from Hinduism to Christianity have the innate ability to better a person.
Carolyn and Nepal
Throughout most of her formative years, Carolyn Boch grew up in a place surrounded by nature. Later as a student she felt stifled in the city and longed for more natural environs. Her long and eventful journey led her to Nepal where she felt “far more stimulated in an environment where you can see everything as it happens, the possibilities are endless and one can feel and touch things as they happen.” In Nepal, she discovered a nation which was warm, open and unpretentious. This not only appealed to her spiritual side but to the aesthetics as well, which she feels are linked. She believes she would not be able to paint if she did not feel spiritually connected to the place and its populace. Nepalis, she senses, are not afraid to be themselves, unlike the west where the true-self is lost because everyone is trying to project an image that is superficial and conforming to certain standards. Here in Nepal, she found the right balance between the cosmopolitan and spontaneity, honesty and innocence of a genuine people that she had been looking for. Here, she could move about in many circles and was stimulated to create some of her best work. Of late however, because of the current upheavals in the political situation and increasing ‘westernization’, she states sadly that she has been “loosing her joy”. Being a person who always went by what she felt was right, she has been contemplating moving.
The Many Facets of Carolyn Boch
There are many sides to Carolyn Boch. Her personal philosophy of experimenting with different things with an open mind and making an effort to experience them like she had never done them before has greatly enriched her life. Carolyn is not only an artist and teacher, but also a doting mother. She loves singing-in fact she is taking music classes in Bhaktapur and enjoys dancing. Lately, she has also taken to designing jewelry. She feels all these aspects of her are but vehicles that help her connect to the spiritual. n
To find out more about Carolyn Boch, visit her web-site: www.carolynboch.com
Photo: Pramod Neupane-WWF Nepal From red pandas swaying on branches in the eastern Himalayas...