Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Coupla firsts 

Monkey sighting.
Meandering down shady banyan tree-lined street, low sun filtering through branches, cool breeze sweeping hair back. Coming back from initial exploratory (read: did-not-make-it-all-the-way-up) moped ride up Chamundi Hills overlooking the city. Improbably pink-faced matted grey-furred monkeys (rhesus?) perch on new-construction wall, idly watching passing traffic. “Holy cow, I’m in India moment” of the day. Yesterday’s: picking mango leaves from one of Tina’s two gargantuan trees to string over my front door with orange flower garlands, disrupt baby iguana from its midmorning nap. Nasty looks and lazy scurrying to next branch ensue.

First rain.
Dinner at Tina’s. Who, I found out, used to prepare meals for students at the old shala (back when the room held 12, not 60 at the palatial new place in the new neighborhood, last couple of years). When the shala moved from Laxmipuram to Gokulam, she moved with it. Every night, the menu boasts one soup, one salad, one sweet. Invariably scrumptious and not Too Spicy and easy to digest (which is vital for evening meal, when it is taken at all, for earlymorning practice). Much as I love going to Nalpak’s for dosas and Green Leaf for elaborate lowpriced thali meals (heap of rice and several curries/sauces/veggies and breads and curd), nothing beats having the guesswork taken out of the equation for you, once in a while. As mercury rises and brain damage threatens, the choice of one or all three and the promise of lovely company and a sheltered environment are hugely appealing, right now. You go, you sit, you say “Yes please!”.

Dinner at Tina’s, a few nights back. A bunch of us latestayers are finishing leafbowls of halwa (exactly like greek halva: semolina browned in ghee/oil finished with sugar/honey syrup and raisins/almonds) and ginger tea with mint leaves, as flashes of lightning shine through the canopy of colorful fabric strung through the mango trees in the yard. Lightning storm passing over. Run out to watch, for a bit. Slowmoving thick cloud at twilight overhead, housing thunder and spewing forth laserlight show from its gut. Within minutes of my return to the back yard, the air thickens, wind blows, rain starts to fall. Soft drizzle builds as we hasten to remove plates and cups and red cushions and straw mats from underfoot as people remember laundry hanging and windows open. Drive up the hill in drenching downpour. Arrive home to power outage and loud Indian family form next door quiet as they sit outside. Sit on my doorstep and watch coconut trees sway and skies flash in darkness. Read by candle light, as water noisily pours from roof and clatters down driveway and washes away dust and renders the air and earth fresh and cool.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Swim class 

One of the first things I did on my first day here was to purchase a monthly pass for the Southern Star Quality Inn pool. For just under what many pay for a month’s rent, I got a photo ID granting me limitless pool access and a membership number that allows me to deduct 15% off all food and beverages purchased onsite. Which would be great if I were so inclined, but being that prices are 4 to 10 times what they can be on the outside, I tend to not. Although the veggie burgers and grilled tomato and cucumber sandwiches sell more than you’d think. And you can get the most expensive lime soda (fresh-squeezed lime juice in a glass to which you add sweet concentrate and soda water) in Mysore, 40 roops, I believe. The hotel itself is very pink, modern and midrange but the egg-shaped pool is clean, the lounge chairs plenty and the shade cool.

It is such a scene, here. Even over the “quiet” weekend the place had many yogastudents miling about and soaking up the sun and sleeping and reading and chatting and swimming- but mostly sleeping. I amused myself, the other day, with thoughts of what kind of impression the waiters and workers have of us western students- yah, those yogastudents are a fit bunch, and they sleep a lot. We show up and zombielike retreat to recover from the day’s practice and heat’s assault. Although we can also be plenty active- recently someone brought an oversized innertube and much fun derived from diving into it and handstanding onto it and fighting over it.

We had few Indians, until this week, when Swim Class takes place and for an hour three times day a couple dozen kids take over the shallow end. 10-11 in the a.m. (I am usually still breakfasting), 12-1 (usually doing minor errands or laundry or cleanup at home before the heat strikes for real) and 3-4 (which usually finds me sprawled on the grass behind some potted plants). Something vaguely troubling: in all these days and all these kids, I have never once seen any of them, in their bright caps and brighter swimsuits, head to the boys’ and girls’ room off to the side. Cess-pool? Their hour-long efforts are very much for the benefit of the proud parents, who watch from a procession of plastic chairs duly set up on one side of the pool. Who tend to watch us westerners more than their children. Most are just plain curious, many filled with the kind of sentiment I come here to get away from, for a bit.

Mixed feelings about coming here, in the first place. Part of me absolutely recoils at the image of me sipping sodas under a coconut tree, which is not what I came here for, what I am here for. Some of me loves that I get to come here, cool off, chill out. Sanskrit and chanting afternoon classes start soon enough. In the meantime, pledged to myself that I would not take on too much too quickly as I am prone to, first few weeks here, and allow for adjustment period. Am achieving that just marvelously- many assume I have been here for way longer than I have, and it sure feels that way. Am even starting to look like I am no longer fresh off-the-plane, with hair getting lighter and skin darker, stride more confident and communications clear. Have met some great people, many poolside, that I may not have otherwise, or not for a long time in any case. A couple of students who have actually moved here. The ladynurse from the Tibetan settlement a couple of hours outside of town. Couple of students who are here as long or longer than myself. The greek lady who is wonderful and a long-time student (this is something like her ninth trip to see Guruji). I will try to visit her and see the new littlestudio she built adjacent to her home on Mykonos, later this summer. Also a couple of students of Sharath’s (Guruji’s grandson who assists at the main shala and has classes out of his home, the man who stands to inherit and continue to transmit the lineage) who I was pleased to see very devoted to him and have good things to say about him both as a man and a teacher.

Practice has inevitably plateaued somewhat, after the first few phenomenal days here. Now, I look forward to building it back up, slowly, day by day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Settling in 

The mosquitoes here are impressively oversized, but slow- I just smushed a couple sitting here, with a swift handclap. I was informed this morning that killing mosqies will give you bad karma. Short-lived, like they are. I say, ahimsa does not apply to them.. Spiders and ants and bugs I will sweep up gently and place outside. I have tried to drive the mosks out, with fan and swirling motions and coil. The persistent few that stay, we make war. I let them drink my blood at night, and chase them by day. Yoga Journal makes the best moskiekiller, I find- much better than getting their little bodies on your hand or book or towel. Swack!

Suspect I have found my favorite moment of the day, here. In the post-practice glow (or haze, depending on the kinda day you’re having), students spilling out of the shala are greeted by the coconut man (also flowerseller and various enterprising folk like the guy who sells bread and peanut butter). I am told that coconut-wallah comes all the way from Laxmipuram, where the old shala used to be, and is the same guy who has been selling to Yoga Students for a while. For seven rupees he will choose a coconut for you (“best one”) and a few hacks of the machete, last one decapitating the green head, yield a hole amidst fibrous shell for you to slurp and suck on the milk through a straw or straight from the hole. Always thought the stuff would actually look like milk, or the stuff you buy canned for cooking, but this juice is clear like water with just the right mix of sweet and salty to replenish and energize. No two are alike, either. Bet you can learn a lot and like a wine connoisseur discern the subtle differences from coconut to coconut.

The sun is just beginning to get bright, gather heat, and the air is still reminiscent of night’s cool. People hang out, or not, then go for breakfast, or not. I have been. Been going mostly to Tina’s, an Indian lady who also serves dinner and gives cooking lessons during lunch. Her back yard is an oasis of canopies under mango trees with cushions and low tables for students to eat and chill on and you can have fresh and safe and yummy nosh and chat, or not. There is also a bulletin board and a beautiful black bitch by the name of Coco who chases frogs, and has been known to sit up on other side of the gate (about 5 feet high), perched like one of the lions flanking the entrance to the New York Public Library or the gateway to Agamemnon’s tomb in Mycenae. She also likes to follow me and bark, after I have rubbed her tummy.

My favorite doggie is a mangy yellow littleguy that hangs out on my street (the same street the shala is on). He looks like the product of Benji’s smaller pup and an oversized rat- I call him weaselface, but mostly Buddy. He loves sweetmeats and gnaws on leftover ladoos as if they were bones. I always give him a little something, and he always makes it a point to say hello and follow me for a bit. I am told he got shots last week, curtesy of yogastudents. Poor littleguy is mostly unperturbed as the newspaper boy flings rocks at him and keeps trotting along, tail wagging, as the local-owned German Shepards bark up a storm from behind closed gates. Perhaps he enjoys a freedom they envy.


Was so veryvery weak, for a while there. The parasite that ate my voice descended to my lungs. Where it took up permanent residence, resulting in green alien forms I spat out my mouth and blew out my noise, and a lovely bout of a sickness I was plagued by as a child but not since- bronchitis. Funny how it hits you were you are vulnerable. One other lady has the same flu she battled as a kid, others get diarrhea right off the plane (which I have managed to avoid thus far). Getting sick as you get here is almost a rite of passage among western students. I of course was going to be the one who didn’t fall prey. The miracle of antibiotics- from the first day I went on them, everything subsided. Luckily, I didn’t miss any practice (or afternoons at the pool or breakfasts or coconut-hangouts). It was a quiet weekend, with many leaving town from Thursday or Friday; big group to Goa, national parks, Hampi, Bangalore… I was happy to stick around and rest up. Saturday was a moonday, which was observed on Sunday which was a holiday- classes and conference canceled in observance of the South Indian new year, Ugadi, which celebrates the first day of Spring. An auspicious time for new beginnings, and the perfect time for me to move into my new littlehouse. We had led classes on Monday instead of Sunday, with Primary starting at the relatively earlyhour of 5:30, and Intermediate following.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Tinted windows 

Here, too, I watch the neighborhood come alive, earlymornings. Sit on a generous terrace at auntie Geeta's palatial home in the affluent suburb of Gokulam in the beautiful city of Mysore and have a cup of morning beverage- these days green tea with honey and boiled gingerwater for the throat, hoping for the croak to turn into a deep husky voice in the next few days, the rasp to be tranformed to even, if not deep, breathing.

Opted for the Tipu Express down from Bangalore; 198 Rs. for a 2.5 hour journey, versus 400-600 for the Shatabdi Express for the 2 hour trip out. Let my host talk me into purchasing “chair” A/C reserved class: airplane seats and tinted windows and regurgitated cool air, as the countryside rolled by as if on a screen. Ventured to the second/reserved class to find uncrowded open-air bench seats and glorious sinlight and wanted to be there, instead. Sure, I got more stares- but that is more the norm than the businesspeople coralled behind the dark windows, by now. The first class moremoney thang only buys you less, or in any case more discreet stares- little more. There was one Western couple in front of me from one of the Skandinavian countries and we talked, briefly. They were traveling all along India’s southwest coast, from Bombay to Kerala on the southernmost tip. I really wanted to ask them why they chose to travel through tinted windows, but didn’t. I am not doing that again- no need.

About half an hour from Mysore, grabbed my ticket and sunglasses and made my way to second class, where I stood with glee at the mouth of the separating car, one hand on a pole the other free, inches away from branches and earth and feet away from workers and families and homes and shanties and bullocks and goats and coconut trees and rice fields, the wind tugging at my kameez as the sun and wind and a sense of movement and freedom swept over me. That’s what I am talking about.

Spotted Mysore in the distance, and a surge of emotion overcame me, as tears threatened to spill over and a smile found its way to my face, equal parts disbelief (“I am actually doing this!”) and gratitude (“I can’t believe this is happening!”). This is the tribute trip, a pilgrimage. This is where Guruji lives and teaches, where so many students and teachers and students of teachers have come for so many years before me. And now I, too, embark on this same journey. Same, but different each time- much like the practice itself.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Lazy entry 

Copied from email:

Nothing I would think or hope to expect came close to what my first practice at the shala this morning was like. Just, crazy. They let me go through the Series!!! I kept thinking a voice would ring out, stopping me, that I am rushing and maybe they are busy and not seeing me but apparently things were ok, bindable mari d but not supta k and badha k with a little help from sharath but I just kep going and going and stopped for backbending at setu b and told sharath, when he came over, "finished", question mark very much implicit in my tone. He nodded. Hm. That is a full practice- so much for the adjusting period. The energy in that room is crazy, 10 times what Eddie's is and that place is intense.

Had a bit of a magical Guruji moment. As I stayed in Kurmasana, he was one mat over backbending a lady so he came over. I completely relaxed and surrendered- there is no room for fear, here, not even in an pose I have hurt myself in. So he crosses my ankles somewhere over my head then intones "TAKE IT UP" with the kind of authority the little voices of doubt and fear can do nothing against (this being the exact moment I tore a ligament in my collarbone in, a few months back, and have been wussing out of doing anything but a weak exit out of the pose since). Without a thought or moment of doubt I inhale up and exhale back to chatwari, like there is someone else moving me. "GOOD", he says, and we smile at each other as I look up at him from updog. Crazy.

Am desperately apartment hunting since I don't want to spend more than a week with the Indian lady I am staying with since her prices are inflated (though less than a hotel) and I really want to start settling down. Most of the stuff available is hugely inflated, but 3500/mo per person seems about average; like in NYC there's some really crappy stuff out there for a lot of money.

Have completely lost my voice; plagued by a cold or the pollution or stress or too much/tooloud talking and bargaining with indians who try to charge me western prices. Or all of the above. It is not too hot at all, now. People who are here are mostly settled into their grooves, and while I find my feet I am looking forward to finding some folks to hang with and explore my own groove.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Clothes change 

Writing from flashy high-speed A/C netcafe at Fifth Avenue shopping center on Brigade Road, which is indeed Bangalore's equivalent of NYC's Fifth Ave, or London's Knightsbridge or Athens' Kolonaki area. Even in this swanky area, men have no qualms taking a whizz against a wall in broad daylight, any and everywhere. V.S. Naipaul goes on and on about the ubiquitous squatters, folks who "go" number twosies everywhere; I have yet to spot one- but this is a Big City.

So, I've gone ahead and gone native, after all. Ventured into City Market, which is an open air bazaar/shops center far removed from the worlds on MG Road. There I was not only the only Westerner in sight (whereas in the fancy areas in aforementioned worlds you do tend to run into the occasional pale face and bare arm/leg), but also one of few women. Idly walked into a sari/salwar store that boldly pronounced “BIG SALE!” and had a look around, with the help of a young not-pushy girl. She helped me pick out a quiet, off-white and burgundy salwar kameez (long shirt over wide pants with scarf) in a soft synthetic material. After negotiating the bus station at rush hour, gratefully made it back to the Tibetans’ where I proceed with the experiment, and changed outfits.

It was the most amazing change, from the moment I emerged in the salwar kameez (sans scarf, as it’s a little much for a Westerner/not entirely necessary) according to my hosts. The insistent hungry-endless stares were instantly replaced by the odd glance that rarely linger. The whistles replaced by “madam”s. By the time people notice my light-colored hair, I have already passed. I am so much happier being the eccentric foreigner than the western slut. I am sorry to say that the majority of females I have seen are either in shorts or tanktops- which tend to be all the more form-fitting if they are travelling with a man. Which is such a bummer, and makes it hard for the rest of us. But oh-so manageable. I just speak up, and it’s fine, and it feels good.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

In countryside 

Second day, thought it would be wonderful to leave the crazy city for a few hours and head out to the countryside. Satya Sai Baba, a teacher with devotees worldwide of whom I knew little beyond the fact that his main message is one of service to others and sports an imposing afro in the photos, has his summer ashram in White Field, a town about 45 minutes from Bangalore. The thought of seeking a place devoted to so-called spiritual endeavors, a place of quiet, if only for a bit, was not without appeal (although much less than on day one, when I craved a few moments of quiet). Also, the thought of seeing and maybe talking to other Westerners also had attractive qualities.

After a breakfast of hot-off-the-skillet rotis (a flat bread) with peanut butter and mixed fruit jam and several rounds of “The wheels of the bus go ‘round and ‘round…” singing and dancing with the Tibetans’ two-year-old (he called me sister and cried as I was saying goodbye), bravely boarded one of the many buses noisily navigating the nearby station. Instinct saw me claiming a seat behind the driver, and it was with some relief that I saw that the front few rows of the bus are the ladies’ domain exclusively. Only the back of me was pierced by relentless stares. I had a seat, and copied the women’s way of sitting as they studied me. Feet together or crossed primly at the ankles, bag on lap, hands folded or clasped over bag. Found myself favoring having the right hand on top, the one that features two gold rings I am wearing that could very easily be construed as engagement/wedding rings. Found myself really wanting to “represent”, to portray a respectable image, to be demure, cultivating that impassive look behind dark glasses that is quickly supplanting first day’s glee-filled smiles and staring back at Those Who Stare. The leers and hungry eyes quickly weaned me of that. Now I hardly ever make eye contact, am somewhat abrupt, regressing to junior high school levels of body language with shoulders forward, gaze down, mouth pursed. Don’t mess with me. But I talk and smile with the ladies, and everyone leans in to listen and watch. Favorite question: “what is your place?” I want to say, I am looking for it. Instead I say, Greece, and if that draws a blank stare I say, Europe. They know I sound American though. Couple of cheeky fellas tried sitting in the front, one next to me, seemingly unconcerned. “Ei!!”, I protest, gesturing to the conductor and prompting them to make their way to the back, laughing. Rush hour in Bangalore is pretty much 10am till 8 or 9 in the evening. Leaving the city center did not afford sweet-smelling breezes- just replaced by industrial smells of tar and dust and construction work. People, everywhere, each a snapshot, each distinct. So happy to be here, much more than I’d anticipated or hoped for.

Of course, even though I’d asked both driver and conductor to let me know which stop I needed for the ashram, it’s not until a nun, dark-skinned and peach-sareed asks if I wanted Babaji’s. She gets off with me, we talk, I give her a lollipop for her favorite student and she deposits me in a rickshaw. 25 rupees, he says (about $.50); no, I protest, too much- 10 rupees. These meter-less outside the city guys. 20 ruppees, he agrees. Assured by the sister that this is fair, I clamber in. The ashram is a majestic looking structure in pastels, with a hospital and an institute of higher learning and not a single westerner to be had. I am handed a shawl to cover my long-sleeved shoulders and told to take darshan- “even though the guru is not here now here is Here Now”. A vast outdoor hall with polished black marble floors in front of a stage with lifesize photos of the guru and signs asking we serve and love others. The only sounds are coming from the marble polishing machine and a tape deck offgrounds. Gratefully, I let my eyes close and let the head and heart clear and quiet a little. Not allowed into the main compound, I make my way to the store/bookshop. Maximalist that I am, indulge in a few 20-rupee books and some incense- “all less than on the outside”, I am assured. Been there, done that, bought the book, she says, hugely relieved she opted for the reconnaissance trip rather than just showing up expecting to stay a day or two. Armed with vague and contradictory directions as to how to take the bus to get the Bangalore-bound bus, I wait for a while with a couple of other respectable-looking ladies, while everyone all around watches this foreign-bred specimen. Beggar-woman with baby descends, insistently standing in front of me, hand extended for several minutes as I shake head, no, hold hand up in a gesture that is new to me but comes naturally and frequently and is just as effective with street vendors and store keepers and also beggars: like a blond Supreme, I do the “Stop, in the name of love” traffic cop hand held up, palm facing away. No-problem. When an old guy smoking not-cigarette starts moving his hand briskly under his lungi, I just walk away. I was waiting on the wrong side of the road, anyway. This not-giving stare-ahead person is not me. Me would be giving candy and warm looks or at least a smile-accompanied “sorry, no”. Somehow I don’t feel that’s the way to go on this. So I barely blink as that blind beggar clacks his cane on my shins, barley flinch as, minutes later, he bumps into me. Step away from the legless man on the sidewalk. Dodge the boy with no-bones legs. All the while staring straight ahead through the dark shades, I am not one of those noblesse oblige folks, “oooh, look at the hungry babies/skinny doggies/hungry ladies” kinda gal and can certainly accept that life includes all of this without too much of a struggle. I see, react, then work on releasing. These are, after all, as much India as the idyllic sunkissed Rams and Hanumans and the blueblue skies. All of this, and that, too.

Ladoo cow 

After a spectacular thali meal, that saw me scooping up unending quantities of rice and lentil dal and curry okra and spicy eggplant and crunchy popadum off a shiny banana leaf with my hand as the waiter hovered, ever-ready to pile seconds, thirds on my plate until I pleaded, no more, covering said leaf with hand.

So we are walking along, heading back to the “Sivaji” area, which is actually the old part of town. I spot the prettiest black-and-white and shiny-coated cow I have seen. I will grant that she was just my second; first cow sighting was around the time of morning when the reddish sunlight kisses the deities depicted on the roof of the Ram temple down the alley, granting rosy cheeks and pink bellies to all, prompting one of only two “I HAVE to grab my camera!” moments, thus far, as she lazily made her way from one mound of trash to the next. These lovely ladies know the routine, as she waited for the sweeper to do all the heavy labor for her, collecting all kinds of fragrant treats like a buffet lining either side of the narrow street.

I am brandishing a bag from Niligiri’s supermarket, containing a box of ladoos for the household, but also for me to sample since I can’t wait to have my first ladoos here- they are about my favorite sweet: like little suns about the size of your index finger and thumb giving the “OK!” signal, made of a syrupy concoction including gram flour and semolina, heavily spiced with cardamom and a host of other goodies and very reminiscent of the sweets I grew up on in Greece. So we are walking along, and I spot the prettiest black-and-white and shiny-coated cow I had seen. I will grant that she was just my second; first cow sighting was around the time of morning when the reddish sunlight kisses the deities depicted on the roof of the Ram temple down the alley, granting rosy cheeks and pink bellies to all, prompting one of only two “I HAVE to grab my camera!” moments, thus far, as she lazily made her way from one mound of trash to the next. These lovely ladies know the routine, as she waited for the sweeper to do all the heavy labor for her, collecting all kinds of fragrant treats like a buffet lining either side of the narrow street.

Here we are on a Friday night in Bangalore walking down a quiet street and this pretty cow is trotting along, about to overtake us. Now, I swore to myself that I would be good, and not go around chasing stray doggies and kitties to pat and give treats to. However, I don’t believe my solemn vows included these beautiful beasts. As a matter of fact, I distinctly recall NOT saying anything about cowsies. Plus, I don’t think you can actually get rabies from them. Naturally, I had to tear open that ladoo box. Photo opp number two, this trip. She knows what is coming, as her trot slows to an inquiring walk and her nose inches ever closer to my bag. I extend my palm and one perfect golden ball is duly inhaled faster than you’d think such a slow-moving animal is capable of, leaving a trail of black slime in her mouth's wake. I wipe the toxic sludge off my hand with an antiseptic wipe and a laugh, elated by the thrill and thankful for what seems like a lovely auspicious moment. Wash up with Dettol once home (a heavy duty antibacterial soap I remember being used in hospitals in Greece that I picked up from the super market here), pledge to do my best not to be reckless like that again. More than a few more times.

Day two 

Since my first morning here (only two days ago?!?), one of my favorite things to do is to watch the neighborhood wake up, as day's earlylight falls on the city. In the darkness, the sound of stray dogs barking and howling and growling as they make their morning rows, macho beasts that have no qualms napping in the middle of a busy road, often wounded or limping, invariably underfed and always beautiful. A solitary rooster welcomes the night's waning hours. The crows and pigeons and several magnificent hawks (which at first listen I vaguely mistook for seagulls, which seemed weird as we are well-inland) come awake as they claim their spots on rooftops and billboards and telephone wires, black shadows circling the greyblue skies. With a reluctant rumble and gasoline burps, the first buses start to arrive and depart. As day starts to breeak, the masses of garbage that covers the alleyway-wrappers from snacks and newspapers and losing lottery tickets and everything else that the stray dogs and cats deem unworthy of ingesting are cleared by the sweeper. A daunting task, but like clockwork he appears and in a whirl of red dust and quick flicks of the straw broom, the sweeper has quickly and efficiently ordered the chaos, creating smaller piles every few feet on either side of the alley. Later, someone else will come and transport these to a hand-held cart, yesterday with the help of a piece of cardboard, to be taken somewhere presumably to be consumed by fire. The whole process will be repeated tomorrow, as each day sees new accumulation of trash to be disposed of. Kinda like the universe, this small alley's garbage is forever destroyed and recreated and destroyed endlessly as by this evening the same garbage will have accumulated and by tomorrow the same sweepers will clear it. I have seen a single garbage can, here. People just dump stuff every which way. I had a tissue I held and held until finally, badlady that I am, I not-so-casually let it fall to the ground, joining a family of candy wrappeers and banana peels and magazine pages.

My favorite badlady moment, thus far, actually came on my first night here. More, later.

First practice 

Day two saw me succumbing to a five a.m. wake-up, minutes before the muezin (mouezin? Moo-zin?!?) starts speaker-amplified morning prayers, resounding in the still-dark neighborhood. Say good morning to the housemouse as it scuttles away at the sight of a non-family member as I make my coffee, making sure the milk boils even though it is from a pasteurized (Nandini brand!) container. The rituals of the things I do before practice every day- remove pendant, scrape back hair, find feet as I stand at the front of mat with palms pressed in front of me, close eyes, chant "vande gurunam..."- all imbued with a depth and weight that are not always effortless. Waves of relief and joy as I return to this familiar and beloved space, this practice. Briefly interrupted as an Indian cockroach (more reminiscent of one of the giant bugs from the Naked Lunch movie, than anything I know fromm the US or Europe) brazenly makes its way across my mat, narrowly avoiding my feet. Slowly, tentatively, I let each sun salutation take me where it wishes, letting my stiff body wake up as I negotiate the tightness within and also of the space I am in: the Tibetans' altar/guestroom, outfitted with a couple of shelves, a single foam matress and a window to what is currently my favorite image here: the narrow alley we are on leading to the Sivajinagar bus station, a main artery in the city's elaborate transit network. Alley is flanked by older two or three storey buildings in vibrant shades of pastels, and as the eyes travel to the main road they find the Ram temple on the corner.

What a difference two days and a coupla continents can make: the kind of expansiveness and openness that in NY allowed everything to be nothing less than yummy, even as each day saw breakthroughs in the recent challenge-pose (Badhakonasana) with chin and knees moving flat to floor and dropback/standups that can move with one breath out as I go back and one breath in as I come up and heels that are within sight, with a tantalizing few times where they were also within reach as I work Urdhva Dhanurasana, a distant memory as I navigate a body that is tense and stiff and struggle to soften into the forward bends and gentle twists that comprise the first part of seated postures in the sequence that I normally breeze through with joy.

Wimp out and let "compassion" and "less judgment" approach take me to a quick finishing and long rest. There is tomorrow, and the day after... very soon the practice will be very much in focus again, or rather THE focus again. For now, just pulling that one out was a feat, and I am realizing that just being here is a full practice in and of itself. A few days or weeks ago, I would have dismissed the preceding sentiment as completely lame and self-indulgent wussiness. Now that I am here, I know a little better, how your head heart and body are in constant action and bracing yourself; as with practice the okayness factor and equilibrium and stay-with-it and joy elements need constant tending to, as you temper the soaring highs and ride out the inevitable lows.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Having landed 

Last few weeks, I was thinking it's all been said, if not done, many times over- nothing I can write about India can be remotely original or vaguely interesting. As dusk falls at the end of my first day here, the mosaic of colors and smells and sensations and visuals are still with me. It feels kinda trite, but what can you do- it will only ever be this one time that I get my first day in India.

I am under a fan recylcing the hot air, redolent of the exhaust fumes that rise over Bangalore, inside an Internet cafe that doesn't serve coffee, just off the famous MG [Mahatma Gandi] road where many of the expensive shops are. The radio is blasting popular music on the city's "hot" station, with the English-speaking anouncer sharing info about the weekend's big parties. Spotted two of only five Westerners I have seen all day, here. Sinking gratefully into the familiar process of checking email. I used to scoff at the notion of being exhausted within a few hours of being outside in a big city here, but I kinda see how that can happen, now.

You know you are on your way to India when the Air India stewardess calls over another, who in turn gets the head steward and they all assemble around your seat debating the nature of the pudding you are served (consensus was that it was phirdi, a wheat-based yellow-hued custard)- and invite you to join them at Hotel Delhi for some REAL dessert. When the stewardess brusquely shoves the fish at your seatmate, even though he wanted chicken, twinkle just visible under her scowl. When a request for "veg" option is not met with a raised eyebrow. When your travel agent books you on a direct flight, London-Mumbai-Bangalore, that ends up also including a brief two-hour layover in Delhi. No-problem.

You know you are in India when the smells of the airport are somewhat similar to how the old airport oin Athens was, in the 80s; cigarette smoke and old carpet and closed spaces and unbathed bodies and synthetic fabrics and exgaust fumes and airplane waste. Seeing a swarm of sparrow-size mosquitoes flying every which way on the smaller plane to Bangalore, you think of the 3 bites you already got on your ankles and wonder if sucking it up and spending a couple of hundred dollars on those malaria pills was maybe not as superfluous as it seemed from NY. When you see a poster of Sai Baba alongside a neon image of Ganesha as you change money at the airport (note: not worth doing. You can get better rates in town, if you have enough to see you there- not Nilgiri's though, whose rates are even worse). When even at 6 in the morning, the traffic and crowds and pollution and busy-ness are enough to send you back to the quiet room for a five hour nap, after just a couple of hours of sightseeing.

I am bringing some gifts for some Tibetans here, and they were gracious enough to pick me up from the airport. I am traveling with entirely too much luggage, just an embarassing amount of stuff. Here I am, on my way to enlightenment, and I am clinging to the reassurances of having all the stuff I could possibly need- antibacterial wipes and 3 pairs of sunglasses and moisturizers and bathing suits and enough underwear to see me through about 2 months without having to do a wash. Globetrekker, I ain't. Although I do have a backpack. Borrowed though it may be, it's an image I can live with. Also a decent-sized duffle bag and an enormous suitcase. Hey, I am traveling for 6 months!! So the Tibetans joked that they thought maybe we would take a rickshaw into town, but upon needing two grown men to coax my stuff off the cart, there was no way we would fit so we took a taxi.

They live in the old part of town, Sivasomething, that somehow feels more real than the palm tree lined avenues and apartment complexes in the neighborhood I am in now. Their home is in a narrow alley just off a busy area where one of the main bus stations is at. Narrowly avoided stepping down onto poop, just as I got off the cab. Literally, my first step down would've been right on it. And it wasn't doggy-poop. We arrrived just before dawn, and daylight broke as I stood transfixed at the view from their balcony. There is a pretty spectacular tiny temple dedicated to Ram, with sun-washed deities populating its outside walls and towering up to the skies. There is also a mosque, a little further off, and, they tell me, a Christian Church around the corner. The apartment is very different from anything my Westernized sensibilities know. You sit on the floor and "go" in the hole that is just off the balcony and wash with the help of a basin and pitcher. Which I was very relieved to do, after about 20 hours of plane-time and nearly two days' travel-time. Felt human for about an hour and then exhaustion hit, as my host took me around town and showed offf the numerous gardens and parks and a couple of impressive-looking buildings like the High Court and the base for the State's parliamentary reps. I faded fast. Cars and buses and bicycles coming at me from the other direction of where I am looking and stares, stares from everyone. No westerners. Which part of me really digs. Hightailed it back for a nap, which no doubt was a disappointment to my host since he took the day off (they have a shop in the Tibetan Center that sells stuff like purses and shoes and fabrics) to show me around. I pledged, sleep for one hour only. Slept through my alarm and didn't emerge until about four. Everyone talks about the heat, and maybe because I slept through the hottest hours of the day, I don't see what the big deal is. It's hot and stinky but man, I grew up in Athens in the 80s. We did not have AC anywhere, then.

It is amazing, this area. There is a Subway sandwich place that smells exactly like the outlets in America, with that same smell of fresh-baking bread pervading the surrounding 3 blocks; one of few Kentucky Fried Chickens is here, as is Baskin Robbins and Pizza Hut. No McDonald's. There are shopping malls and Internet cafes and unpaved sidewalks and street vendors. I am amazed, and try to wipe the smile off my face. Almost got me in trouble, as I smiled to myself and looked up as a youngish guy was checking me out. Took me a few minutes of walking to realize he had followed me and was about to speak to me. I give him the Look and changed directions, like don't you even THINK about it. He didn't follow.

There is definitely an element of macho bravado, here. Dude, I am a New Yorker, she says. Striding purposefully through harried pedestrians, seemingly unperturbed as a busload of commuters just stare, looking straight ahead as the little beggar-girl trails her pulling at her sleeve: please miss, please. Not sure whether it will crumble or be strengthened, but for now the all-pervading attitude and oft-repeated refrain is: No-problem. Accompanied by the head nod I am looking to perfect, in the coming days and weeks.

The Tibetans will host me for a couple of days, and I may check out Sai Baba's summer ashram that is 45 minutes from here. Then, Mysore next week. Am planning for my first day to be 5 months to the day from that morning when Guruji said to me, at The Puck in NY: "you come to Mysore, when?" and I told him, next year. So, March 17th it will be. And I have somewhere to land; overpriced though it may be (5000 ruppees for one month or 1250 for one week or 2500 for a fortnight), it will be safe and 5 houses away from the shala. No-problem.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Counting days 

I count them by the seven-day vitamin compartment box, now down to five full ones and two empties; by the number of practice-days left at Eddie’s, now down to four. Saying goodbye to this, all this, will be hard- but I am looking forward to it, all of it.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Chilly feet 

Pre-trip jitters: what am I doing, going to India for nearly 5 months? Just the yoga is going to be about $1500, with little left for much else. Was elated as I flew out of the Indian Consulate on a sweet spring evening last week, six-month Visa in hand. Triumphant as I handed my travel agent (a garrulous Indian lady by the name of Shella) a check for $1,750, even. Calm as I met with the woman who will be taking care of my little place, while I am gone. Yet the knot in my throat, the twinge of sadness as I see spring's arrival, knowing I will miss my favorite seasons in the city, the lovely people at Eddie's, the rituals and routine that have kept me safe for a long while now. Returning to no money and no job, but hopefully a whole lot of heart and enough courage to see me through this.

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