Chart-topping singer Belinda Carlisle has had a spiritual connection to India for the longest time.
It has resulted in her embracing the rich culture of the country, becoming an accomplished yoga practitioner and co-founding the Animal People Alliance, a non-profit organisation based in Kolkata. The charity helps women in poor countries to achieve skills that help them avoid becoming victims of human rights abuses, such as human trafficking, poverty, and abuse.
Many of the women in need are trained to help animals in positions including as vet assistants and dog handlers. By building a bond of respect between human and animals, Animal People Alliance helps give a livelihood to those in need and increases understanding in India about animal rights.
On March 1, the American pop icon will be undertaking a 1,135-mile rickshaw ride from West Bengal to Rajasthan to raise money for her charity and raise awareness about the need to protect animals. She will also doing a lot more besides on her action-packed trip to India.
Eastern Eye caught up with Belinda just before she left for a two-month trip to India to talk about her spiritual connection with the country, her charity work, love of Bollywood, music and more.
When did you first get connected to India?
(Smiles) Well, I remember as a young girl being fascinated with [Hindu god] Shiva and photographs of the city of Varanasi for no logical reason at all. My first trip to India was about 17 years ago and that is when I began a love affair with the country. Since then I’ve been to India maybe 20 times.
Your connection to India seems to be very spiritual. Where does that come from?
I’ve always believed in something bigger than myself. I went on a yatra trip with my teacher Gurmukh Khalsa in 2008, and that pretty much turned my life into more of a spiritual quest, and I have been many times since then.
How has spirituality helped in your life?
I can’t imagine living a life without some sort of spiritual foundation, whatever that may be. I know that there is a divine order and there is always a bigger picture and that I am protected. I’m here to learn and to serve.
Tell us about your forthcoming trip?
On this next trip, I’m finishing my kundalini yoga teacher training in Rishikesh. I’ll be there for a month and then I’m off to Kolkata to work on my animal project Animal People Alliance, after which I will be embarking on a rickshaw ride from Kolkata to Udaipur, where our partners Animal Aid are located. I’m going to train there for a few days.
Your rickshaw ride will be raising money for the charity Animal People Alliance. How did you come up with the fundraising idea?
(Smiles) I actually didn’t come up with the idea. One of my partners who has worked with a non-profit organisations in Kolkata came up with the suggestion. I love extreme travel and I really love India, so I thought this was an amazing plan and great way to see some of the countryside that visitors don’t really get to see.
How much preparation have you done?
Paul, my partner, lives in Kolkata and has done for a long time. Also we have a team that has put a lot of time into mapping out the journey. I have had to get a motorcycle licence in order to legally drive the rickshaw. (Laughs) That’s pretty funny, because I really don’t like motorcycles, but was forced to ride and learn something new. I’m actually pretty proud of the fact that I followed it through and got it.
How important are the Animal People Alliance and Animal Aid charities to you?
This is what my calling is now. I will always sing, but I’ve always wanted to be of service to animals. Then I met my friends Jim and Erika Abrams, who have had Animal Aid for almost 20 years. They are one of the first animal hospitals and sanctuaries in India. I thought that combining my love of animals and India is perfect for me. I will dedicate myself to this now, but still sing and tour – it’s all possible.
What else do you hope to do while in India?
Like I said, I’m in Rishikesh finishing up my kundalini yoga teacher trai-ning. I am so excited about this, it’s a dream of mine to teach one day.
Tell us about your connection to yoga?
I have been a diligent student of Iyengar and also of Kundalini yoga for about 10 years. They are both completely different from each other. Iyengar is more external whereas Kundalini is internal. Both are physically challenging in different ways. I can’t imagine my life without yoga. I would like to think it’s made me a better person. It’s magical.
You have been to India so many times before. What have been some of your most memorable moments from previous visits?
I would say visiting Kashmir is right up there. It really is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I also really loved Amritsar and I loved going to the tomb of Nizzamuddin to see the Sufi singers. Varanasi, of course, stole my heart. I have so many amazing memories of India.
Is there any particular Indian dish you enjoy and can you handle the spices?
I love baigan bharta and bhindi masala. I love carrot halwa also, and learned to make it. (Laughs) As far as spices go, the hotter the better.
What do you think about Bollywood?
I really love Bollywood and am fascinated by it. It’s so much more interesting than Hollywood, I feel. In fact I prefer Indian cinema.
Which leading ladies or men do you like?
Well, my favourite actor is Irrfan Khan, but I really love Salman Khan. I also have to say I really love the old Amitabh Bachchan films. I saw Silsila three times and love Rekha, who I think is the most beautiful woman who has ever lived. I love (director) Deepa Mehta’s films, and have seen all of them. My favourite Bollywood films are Mughal-e-Azam, Love Aaj Kal and Mother India. I also love Satyajit Ray who was such a great filmmaker, and I have seen all of his films too. I could go on and on. I love the colour and art direction.
Would you consider doing a song for a Bollywood film or maybe even a role?
I would be honoured to do either. I was walking down a street in Colaba (in Mumbai) a few years ago when I was approached and asked if I wanted to be an extra in a film. I was leaving the country the following day, so was unable to do it. It was a very Shantaram type of moment.
What is happening on the musical front for you?
I’m working all of the time, as little or as much as I want. I’m very blessed to have a big back catalogue that people love to hear. Right now, though, I’m working on a Kundalini Mantra album – it’s really a lot of fun and where I’m at now.
What do you think of the music industry today?
Oh, it’s not so much about music any more, it is about money. Art is secondary, I feel. It’s very boring and although there are a few really good artists out there; for the most part, it is pretty awful.
What are your greatest non-music passions?
I love to read. (Laughs) I eat books. I also love hiking and travelling. I enjoy extreme travelling and think there is nothing like a good adventure.
You look incredible – what are your beauty secrets?
I don’t drink or smoke. I am a vegetarian. I use a good moisturiser and do a tonne of pranayama [yoga breathing exercises].
What inspires you?
There are so many things that inspire me, but I think travelling is when I feel most free. I am a curious person by nature and just love this planet of ours. It’s wild and wonderful.
Finally, would you like to give us a message for your fans?
I’m truly grateful to people who have supported me. Thank you.
Log onto www.belindacarlisle.tv or www.twitter.com/belindaofficial to find out more.