Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Clearly, I simply need to find a camel in the Cotswolds but despite spending many a year here, I've never found one. Instead, I had to comfort myself with this little gem of a book by Lorna Kelly.
Lorna Kelly (b. 1945, d.2016) was the first woman auctioneer at Sotherby's. That's all I was told of her but as I was enticed to read The Camel Knows The Way by a friend who paid my fee, I determined to read it with relish: not least because I love a tale of derring-do by women breaking through the glass ceiling and beyond.
Instead I was introduced to a camel called Bob Marley who took her across the Sinai - a journey that was to become a metaphor for Lorna's life. Although confusingly for the geographically sassy amongst us, this book is centered around her spending three weeks in Calcutta, India. Almost a whole different continent away.
She'd only intended to spend two weeks there but Lorna is a woman of my ilk: prone to spontaneous decision-making and plans going wrong. In this case, she decided to go and visit Mother Teresa, whilst immaculately attired, because she wanted to do something for the poor, and that seemed to Lorna to be the grandest way of doing it. Rather than sending money, something that is always handy, Ms Kelly - an non-medic, non-social worker, non-Bengali speaking, lapsed Catholic and recovering alcoholic but active socialite auctioneer thought she might be of some use. Off she went to the Missionaries of Charity House in Calcutta - an uninvited houseguest, who didn't even bother with the social niceties of asking if it would be okay to pop around for a cuppa.
The suffering of the old, the sick, they dying and the destitute makes for tough reading - exemplified by Lorna's struggles to adjust with the less than fine dining, five-star comfort of her nearby accommodation, and contrasted against the mellowness and serenity of convent life. Each section is interspersed with memories from her own life - her mother's illness, the death of her sister, her experience of religion and her brush with poverty. She explores her relationship with her father, her failed marriage, and her freedoms when treating Meera, a victim of bride-burning for daring to visit a cinema with a male friend. She worked too in a Leper Hospital, describing how the hideous diseasetakes hold, and relates her experiences as an Alcoholic and subsequent recovery which gravitated her towards rekindling with her Catholic religion, and her admiration for the nuns' way of life.
And most of all, this book charts the beginning of her unique friendship with Mother Theresa, also known then as the living saint. Through snatched conversations, Lorna gets an better understanding of herself as an individual and also finds a mother-figure whom she can admire and have faith in. This in turn allows her to make peace with her natural mother and find some sense of forgiveness and perspective. Their friendship endures as British-born Lorna returns to New York, where she now lives through letters, repeated visits to India and Mother Theresa's visits to America and Italy. Their friendship remaining steadfast until Mother Theresa's death.
The Camel Knows The Way is very much about letting go and going with the flow. Looking at things with a new perspective, and exploring the past with a much more open-mind. Bob Marley knew exactly how to get where Lorna wanted to go, she just had to hang on for the ride, take in the scenery and time to reflect. Along the way, she battled a four-year long bout of depression, being fired, going broke, and finding a new level of peace. Her writing is vivid - her descriptions can be stomach churning at times, harrowing at others and yet tranquil during contemplative moments. Alas, I know nothing about how it was for her to break through the glass ceiling, although I learned a little about auctioneering. Nonetheless I really found myself quite enamoured by the book and Ms Kelly.