Formerly a businesswoman and now a life coach, Sajili has spent the last several years living with curiosity and nourishing her spirit. Up until a few years ago, she had never been much of a traveler. Now, however, she is keen to explore the world and its infinite possibilities for personal growth. From an animal communication workshop in South Africa to a cycling trip between Prague and Dresden to a horseback riding excursion in Mongolia, she’s living freely and unapologetically.
Recently, Sajili traveled from her home in Mumbai, India to the small hilltop town of Guardia Sanframondi in southern Italy. There, she spent five days in the studio of master artist Clare, where she learned painting, explored the markets and cobblestone streets of Guardia, and lived her days immersed in creativity and self-expression. We sat down to talk with Sajili about her experience and how it aligned with her personal mission to tap into her spirit and intuition.*
Sajili in Clare's studio in Guardia Sanframondi, Italy. Courtesy of Sajili Shirodkar.
Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I turned fifty three years ago. And as the years have been passing, I find that I’m getting younger in terms of my spirit. In the sense that I am less bothered and more curious. So what I find is that my need to be right, to prove that I’m good at something, seems to have taken a huge backseat, and I just want to explore and tap into whatever it is that calls me. I think VAWAA is a wonderful way to explore what’s out there in the world. To explore the true sensibility and to tap into your own understanding.
Do you have a philosophy that you live by?
You know, there’s a word I came across, not that I didn’t know it earlier, but I became attentive to it two or three years ago, which is the word “unapologetic.” And it struck me like it had never struck me before. I just knew that the kind of person I had become, for whatever reason, was a very cautious and careful and appropriate and good and right person. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but somewhere it misses your spirit. I just feel that if I keep moving in the direction of my spirit being unapologetic, about what I say, feel, and do, somewhere I feel that I will really be tapping into myself. When “unapologetic” hit me--it’s a simple word in English, but it took me weeks to digest it and to see how much it resonates with the direction I want to move into.
That’s one part of your answer. The other part is also my need to communicate is very high. Constantly I’m being bombarded with things happening in my system, whether I watch a movie or I talk to someone or I see a picture. What I didn’t realize is that it festers inside of me if it is not expressed. So I know I need to be attentive to what is it that’s needing expression. And it’s not a once in a while thing. It’s an ongoing thing with me. So if I can be more attentive and find mediums of expression, that would be wonderful.
What kind of people inspire you?
What really gets me is people who are tapping into themselves, whether it’s writing or calligraphy or painting or traveling or reading or music. People who are looking into themselves and are eager to learn and grow. There’s some work they’re doing with themselves. Creativity takes so many different forms. I find that extremely nourishing. It’s like I latch on to learn how they learn. What can I learn from them? What kind of conversations can we have? What aspects of emotion do I see in them? How are they wired, because I have an energetic sense from the coaching and energy work that I do. So I think something which makes it a little more meaningful for me is what I really cherish. Very consciously, I am becoming more patient with people who are unlike me because there are all kinds of people in this world and there are all kinds of people who come to me for coaching.
Tell us about the moment you first arrived in Guardia.
I have to say that Clare is just very kind. She made it so easy for me by helping me shortlist an Airbnb. By connecting me with someone who would pick me up at Rome airport. It was as if I was already in Guardia before I landed; I was that comfortable and reassured. She had also messaged “When you reach Rome you message me and then we’ll plan a drink or we’ll go out to dinner.” So you know, I was so taken care of that even before I boarded the plane, I was already such a dear friend of Clare in my mind and heart. She took such good care and was so attentive. So at one level it was all new, and on another level there was a familiarity thanks to Clare.
What was it like working with Clare in the studio?
She is the expert, she is the master, but she has the skill of being very non-interfering. And not in a way like “You have to decide, I don’t know, not like that.” The environment she creates and her gentle conversations, for somebody like me, were so flowing. And I would say “I want to do this, I want to experiment, but I’ve never done this.” So she plays along, keeping an eye on the fact that you don’t know the medium, you don’t know the brush, you don’t know what will happen. So if the experiment is not even going to take off, she has a very gentle way of mentioning it. And then she sees what path you want to take, so all through my experience, she was tuned in to what it was that was coming out of me. And then she gave it some of her skill and direction. So that was very nice. I never felt that, “Oh this is the painting she’s given me, now I have to go to try to copy it.” Not for a moment.
Tell us about how you spent your days. What kind of routine did you have in Guardia?
I’d get to Clare’s place by 9am, and I think she has a great sense of when an artist needs a break. So you know, she’s the one offering tea, coffee while I’m painting, reminding me to wear the apron, and if I’m hungry, there’s food or whatever else. Then we’d take lunch. Our understanding was if she’s doing the cooking, I’m doing the dishes. Or we would just step out for a glass of wine. I may not realize that’s it’s been a system overload, but she senses it, being an artist. So she would create the break. And then in the evening, we would carry on. So I would be there until about either 4:30 or 5pm, and then sometimes I just went back to my Airbnb. It had a beautiful terrace, so I just sat there and I wrote. I did a lot of writing. I spent more of my time being on that beautiful terrace and spending four, five hours by myself and writing about the moon, writing about myself, writing about so many things. Clare would always leave me with little things to think about when I came back tomorrow. So I’d spend a little time to think about that, and sometimes I’d listen to music.
What did you create during your VAWAA, and what inspired your work?
Clare took me to the Sunday market. And I found this little figurine of a man and a woman embracing each other. For one euro. One euro! Completely intact, so adorable, I couldn’t believe one euro. So I said, “Clare why don’t I sketch this?” So I did a couple of sketches and she encouraged me along. She had these random pieces of stone, and she said “Why don’t you try acrylic on this? Instead of going straight to oil.” And she kept observing and commenting. But in a very sort of encouraging, direct, gentle way. And then she said “I think we better move on to your big canvas.” And then asked what I would like to do. I thought I’d paint a Shiva, but then when I started sketching it on the canvas it looked like a Buddha, and finally by the time I gave the face I said “No, Clare, this energy is not a Shiva, not Buddha, this is Krishna.”
And I wasn’t looking at any pictures. So I was like “Who’s talking to me? What is happening to me here?” And before I knew it, I made that entire painting out of my head. And the way it evolved in three and a half days. I was inspired by this absolutely brilliant painter called Jamini Roy and the kind of eyes he paints. I think so much was stored inside of me, and it was such an allowance to explore knowing that there is someone who will hold the space together.
You’re from Mumbai. Tell us a little more about Guardia, which is a very different sort of place.
The part of Guardia which I was living in, thankfully, was very old school, with the cobblestone streets and the church and all that. It has a little market. One or two beautiful restaurants, oh my god, the restaurants, you can just sit there and have a lovely glass of wine. There are lots of places you can go from Guardia. There are lots of day trips. I mean, I could have spent another fifteen days on this trip. Very warm, very friendly people. The Sunday market is a sheer delight. Everyone is so warm and cheerful and curious and they want to know where this bella has come from and why she’s here.
What was your favorite memory from your VAWAA?
Wielding the brush. Knowing Clare is there, and yet not there.
How has this experience impacted you now that you’ve returned home?
The skill when Clare picked up a brush, to help and support me. Her own personal journey and struggle. And her determination to stay on this path. It’s not the most lucrative path when you start. It really impacted me in the sense that, what is the pursuit of passion? It’s the struggle and the journey. What emerges, you don’t know. But because you’re passionate, you continue and pursue.
And what I find is that I’m looking at things--when I look at a magazine, and I find a painting or a sketch, my attention to it is different. Instead of judging it or commenting on it, I’m more curious about the art form of the artist, what skills do they use, so I’m looking at things really differently, that’s something I can identify. And I’m very game to buy an easel and experiment.
*Comments have been lightly edited for clarity and length.