Cover Photo: Tallulah Pomeroy
Tallulah Pomeroy

15 Minutes with Reena Maharjan

“Where are you?” a seeker asks God. “I am everywhere,” God replies. “Like wi-fi.”

Reena Maharjan used to write. “Philosophical articles,” she explains, embarrassed. Now she has a child less than a year old and another just learning to talk, and is co-owner of a shop that demands staffing and stocking. How could she have time to write? She places her palms on the glass counter and asks, naturally, about writing classes.

The shop, on 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan, is called Mystic Corner. Maharjan spends most weekdays selling stone rings, coin purses, and handmade knickknacks of faintly spiritual allegiance. The tiny room is fragrant with incense. More than one customer remarks that the scent drew them in.

Others greet Maharjan familiarly. To them, she is more sister than trader. A woman raises weary fingers to her throat, considering returning to singing after a hiatus, and Maharjan urges, “Do it.” Encouraged, this woman stands before the case of silver rings and daydreams of putting on a concert. She makes a proposition: When she performs, she will borrow that ring, the expensive one. The energy of the stone will nourish her during the concert. Then she will return it.

Maharjan gamely smiles. She is amused by the customer's idea of borrowing an item for sale, though not by the notion of absorbing energy from a ring. These things she takes seriously—energy, meditation. Finding the right frequency on the spiritual radio. Strangers have come bursting inside the shop, telling her, “You can help me!” And she does. She is a Reiki healer too.

Reiki healing involves tapping into a source of spiritual energy. To explain the process, Maharjan tells a joke:

“God,” says a seeker, “Where are you?”

“I am everywhere,” God replies. “Like wi-fi. You just have to connect.”

The healer “connects” and transfers energy to the patient. Usually this happens by touch, but it can work across a distance too. Maharjan recalls a patient in pain whom she called by telephone—“Ready?”—before hanging up and sitting down to meditate. Elsewhere in the city, he lay in bed. (When I ask whether Reiki healing can happen over the internet, Maharjan looks at me suspiciously, reconsidering my intelligence.) When her sister suffered nasal polyps, Maharjan’s healing sessions, over six months, shrunk the polyps to nothing. “It feels right,” says Maharjan, of Reiki healing. “That’s why I’m here. That’s what I should be doing.”

I point out impudently that she is not, in fact, doing it. She is managing inventory, tracking sales, and placing orders of incense and scarves. One evening, a man in office clothes, accompanied by a patient colleague, stands in disappointment before the soap shelf. The almond milk soap he wanted is still not available. Maharjan tells him to check in two weeks. “Yeah,” he says. “That’s what I was told two weeks ago.”

Maharjan grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal, a sensitive girl who refused to laugh or play at boarding school until her parents relented and brought her home. Those were simpler days. Your family would gift you new clothes once a year, at Dashain, the ten-day Hindu festival celebrating the goddess Durga’s triumph over the demon Mahishasur, who appeared as a water buffalo. Occasionally you saw white travelers roaming the city.

After a college course in commerce, Maharjan was working as a schoolteacher in Kathmandu when one morning an ad in the newspaper caught her eye. She applied. She attended an information session. Within six weeks, she had flown to New York, was shuttled to a Columbia dorm for a night of rest, and found herself, the following day, at a summer camp in the Catskill Mountains. (“Middle of the jungle,” she says.) Despite Maharjans efforts to introduce to the young children something of Nepalese culture, and to cultivate in them the seeds of what might mature into a cosmopolitan intellect, the children had other ideas. Camp was, after all, for roaming wild.

The children’s stubborn autonomy left an imprint on her. After camp ended, she chose to remain in New York. Whatever life she could have in Nepal, she could have a brighter one, a freer one, here. She took an English class and began working in retail. Those were days of ambition, so Maharjan smiles to speak of them, but of hardship, too, so she says little.

This, though, she says with happiness. It was in New York that Maharjan met and married the man who is now her husband and father to her two children. After their paths crossed, he remembered that she was a Reiki practitioner. One day, he visited her then employer—also a shop of Nepalese handmade items—and dropped off, for Maharjan, a brochure for a Reiki events venue. She called to thank him. They were married in twenty-five days.

A few days before the wedding, she told her bewildered parents over the phone. Then the couple went to City Hall, and to a Hindu temple in Queens. Confessing this act of daring, like something in a movie, Maharjan laughs and laughs. The nook behind the sales counter isn’t stage enough for her glee.

New York is full of interesting people, I say by way of introducing this project. Maharjan knows what I mean. She enjoys Humans of New York. She does not understand it, though. Happiest moment, saddest moment, biggest worry: the sieving of events leaves the matter of life behind.

Her happiness, she insists, is unremarkable. She has a peaceful life. She loves her family. What else is there?

Now, she says, tell me about you. She asks me the questions I have asked her: Where did you grow up? How did you come to America?

You know,” she reminds me, “I used to write, too.”

Megha Majumdar is a senior editor for Catapult Books, and the author of A Burning.

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