Thursday, April 29, 2004

Quiet times 

Everyone is leaving this week or next, it seems. And no-one is arriving. We have had two new students in the last week, where there were about half a dozen a day when I first got here, and a coupla dozen a few months back. People I got friendly with when I first got here, who were here for "ages yet" are among them. Has it been ages, these six-odd weeks I've been here for? It's flown by. If I only were to take three months at the shala, would be at about the halfway mark. Tomorrow's led class (where the postures are called out sequentially by Guruji, instead of us each doing our own practice at the pace of our own inhales and exhales) has been pared down to only one group, for the first time since December. Which means we have 50 or less students inhouse- or will mean a very crowded practice tomorrow! Sharath made the anouncement at 5:40 just before the opening mantra, so for those coming later (second wave who start at 6 and thereafter as the first group slowly wraps up and takes finishing ["cooling"] postures in the changing rooms) this all may come as a surprise. We'll see how good we've been at spreading the word.

Scooty has granted me three flats in as many weeks- I reckon it's about time we change the back tire, rather than constantly patching it up (with paper? cellophane?). Today's flat (or "puncture", as they call it here) occured just a few minutes from home, and I promptly left him at the autorickshaw stand as I've been instructed to do in case of flat (cut to me driving around with wobbly steering and completely flat tire to get to class and then to the repair shop, last time). Of course the driver tried to take me in a different direction than anything that would be going towards the shala. No tip for you, mister! Last puncture was on the road to Ooty, outside of town, where I was temple-hopping a good hour away from Gokulam. Long wait for the patch-up brigade ensued, but awesome people-watching at the cluster of stores across from the Ganpati Ashram was there to be had.

Buddy has been adopted. A yogastudent house that has seen a couple of parties since I've been here and is leased for a year has taken him in- he comes with the furniture, now. He still hangs out outside the shala and roams free, but he gets food and safety and shelter when he seeks it out. Eyes clear, fur less matted, air playful, Buddy is having a second puppyhood and tries to wrestle every time we meet. He is also trying to court a beautiful lady by the name of Bonita who is about twice his size and tan-brown and looks like one of those Egyptian sculptures and would likely never have anything to do with the likes of him- but he tries anyway.

Guruji has been adjusting me in badhakonasana (where you are seated holding feet together and hinging at the hips, go forward to touch head beyond feet) recently. Unassisted, knees are to floor and feet open to ceiling, but touching floor is possible only after many breaths and some effort. With a "relaaax" and a well-intoned grunt he gets my head down and chin out. Every time. "Very goood", the man elaborated today.

Yesterday, saw a toenail-painting session on my stoop. First Chettanah's fingers in pearly peach, then toes in ravishing rose, then her baby sister sat still long enough to get her own peachy stubby fingers and asked her mom also get the same treatment. Better get some acetone/remover soon since I did not exactly do a salon-quality job on them. As I was collecting my stuff to go upstairs, Chetanah's mom says "yes, rose". Unhh, yes, I agree, we did do them rose. What she meant was the grandmother was coming out with two red roseblossoms for me in thanks. One has made its way to the centerpiece of my clay flower-floating bowl at my entrance, the other gracing my coffee table in a glass bowl. Slowly opening up to these warm people.

The other night, big event. A diwan-couch was delivered to my place, since the family next door replaced this melamine one with a wood-lacquered bigger piece. They were kind enough to also include several throwpillows and a coverlet that matches my floors and complements my walls. If I am not careful, the place will start to look like a real household soon. Still adjusting to the idea of having to walk to a different room to get something or do something in a room that is a separate entity from where I am, coming from a NY "studio" apartment that is about the size of an icebox. Still loving watching life unfold in the field across the way, framed by my window in the washroom as I bathe. Cricket playing and herds grazing and people walking and driving and talking and squatting in the ever-changing light. Still having trouble believing that I am actually here, actually doing this, sometimes.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Election Day 

This is going to have to be a short one since we have a test this afternoon. A test! In Mysore! Having completed the alphabet, thought we’d be about ready to tackle some early slokhas (couplets) in the Bhagavad Gita we are chanting after Sanskrit, three days a week. Not so. We learned last week how when you take a consonant and add one of the vowels to it, you get a whole new letter. More to learn, and today we review the whole thing. Biting nails. Even with the little foundation I had in Sanskrit, we are moving very quickly in this course and I am already being challenged. Did I mention I am loving taking these classes? They really help make the days feel full, to have a more structured afternoon, thrice a week. We meet in the loft area of the ladies’ changing/finishing room (I wonder: is this because the ladies’ is bigger? Nicer? Cleaner?), about 12 gals and one guy.

Which about reflects the guy/gal ration in yoga. Not as much for ashtanga. I guess since it is perceived as a more macho, less “om-shanti” style, we are blessed with a higher male/female ratio. Which still basically sucks for us girls, since you have to take into consideration those who are married/attached and those who are gay. Which leaves you with something less than 12 to 1. Oh, and also adding those-who-are-cute but-very-single to the equation, whose overt attentions place them firmly in the “don’t go there” pot with the aforementioned groups, and I might as well be back in NY. The much yearned-for Mysore romance is not coming. Have I mentioned this place can be hook-up central? Many people have met their spouses here, and many more have a short-lived or trans-continental romance. People previously pinched and single, blossoming in the embrace of a fellow-yogi. Have not even had a shala-crush. You’d think, but not. Do have a huge crush on a local boy, though. He is a darker taller Adrien Brody, and has been spotted chilling with his mates at Coffee Day and speeding past on his big motorcycle. Two whole times. We will have beautiful children.

Today is election day for Karnataka: apparently, 16 million people voting, in this state alone. Really happy about this, since it should mean the end of autorickshaws equipped with LOUDspeakers and several men’s limbs sticking out driving around our formerly quiet neighborhood BLARING music and exortations to vote for this or that party. Sounds a lot like “YOU! Up THERE! Give UP the goods! Come OUT! Hands UP! Trallaleelahloooh, toorootooroooh!” All day. Much of the night. Up the street, down the road, back up the street, park in the square, let kids blow and whistle into mike, back up the street. Flags waving, posters shredding. Impromptu agoras have been set up in every neighborhood, with plastic chairs and tents and party posters materializing in moments. Banners and posters on every street, over every road, every circle. Hopefully it will all be over today, and we can go back to the polyphony of pigs squealing and roosters crowing and kids playing and TVs blasting- the slowly-familiar sounds of my beloved new ‘hood.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Morning off 

This new neighborhood also comes alive early in the mornings. Four-thirty hears the first buckets being filled and by five-something most homes are lit and waking up. Pre-dawn’s gray light sees people already dressed and out. Here, though, no-one dons new sneakers and takes walking stick (or sometimes wife) for morning walks while the servants prepare the breakfast and home for them. Here, they all do their own work. By the time sun shows through trees and clouds on the horizon, everyone is out and about and the sound of grass brooms briskly sweeping away yesterday’s dust as crows caw overhead has been replaced by morning conversations as chickens squack and sparrows chirp.

The omnipresent sound from before light to after dark periodically punctuates the idyll: “Chhhhhttoooack-FFFTOOO!”. From Bangalore’s less-affluent area where I first stayed, to Shalacentral, to here and, one assumes, everywhere, people hawk, hack, honk, then spit with great panache, copiously and constantly. I did, a little, as the dirt and dust of downtown Bangalore clogged my lungs and closed my throat. Here, though, the air is clean and clear, if not cool. Can’t imagine what people collect to produce the kind of sounds the morning breeze carries. Women, too: “Chhhhhlaaack-FwahTOOO!”.

Slowly working on bridging the distance between myself and the neighborhood. The only other yogastudents in the area, a couple from America, left yesterday. Felt alone and sad for a moment, as it was nice to have another household up and lit as early as mine. Then a sense of relief and freedom came over me; am now free to carve and shape my identity alone amongst the Indian neighbors. Respectful, but ultimately as curious about them as they are about me. Don’t want to be the person that drives in and out and just goes upstairs and lives behind shut doors and windows and curtains drawn to the world outside and no interaction, affording the rare glimpse as I peek out from the balcony or whiz by on the moped. The pedestal must come down. Take out my garbage pail at the same time as the other ladies, midmorning (this is unceremoniously emptied in or around the garbage dump, a cement cylinder perched on a slope within sight of my castle, which gets turned on its side by the sanitation workers and everything left by the garbage collectors, both human and beast, is set on fire). Meet stares and head-nods of acknowledgment with soft smiles that are invariably reciprocated, at which point I tend to grin and they smile wide. Sometimes greet the perpetual chorus of “WHAT’SYERNAME!” by the swarms of kids that are everywhere with what’s YOUR name? Say hi and bye and goodnight to Chetana, the beautiful seven-year-old who lives across the way next to the peach house with her baby sister and smiling mother and soft-voiced grandparents and rarely-seen father.

Was accosted by my lovely landlady and her daughter as soon as I put key to door, last night, as I came back from a late dinner. They had saved me a covered tin bowl of sweets and snacks from a puja (ceremony/blessing) and celebration at the grandmother’s new home. Made the requisite enthusiastic gesticulating and told them how much I love sweets (having glimpsed a couple of ladoos amongst the unnamable biscuits and puffs) and that I will return the bowl the next day, if that is ok. Want to return it filled with something nice in return- perhaps a few choice mango slices. While the newspaper boy is on his bicycle, dismounting and carefully distributing the morning news on gates and inside driveways, the milkman fills waiting bowls from his imposing motorcycle. There are no cars in this neighborhood; people walk or pile onto two-wheelers, skinny brown arms clutching and bare dirty feet dangling precariously close to the bumpy roads and cobbled streets. Women, here, are almost exclusively in saris (though some go around in their nightdresses); have seen less than a handful in kameez and none in western dress. Have tried to be respectably-dressed as I go about my days, but the western woman living across the way blazed my path with tank tops and short pants. No wonder I am “auntie”.

The local sanyasi or renunciate makes his way up the street. He carries his earthly belongingd in a small cloth bag and makes his presence known by the clang on a gong-cymbal thing he holds and a blow on the conch shell he wears strung around his neck: “Daonggggg. Tamooooo.” He stops at households and waits, making sound, while the residents come out for him. Guess they bring him money, know he lives off the charity of others. Meet eyes with Chetana’s mom, who affirms my inquiring rubbing of thumb and forefingers together in the universal sign for cash-money. Run to kitchen, grab two-Rupee coin form counter and mixed nuts box from shelf, dash downstairs to find him waiting at my narrow entrance. How he knew to wait there, when he has never seen me nor I him, I don’t know. He presents his round clang-thing horizontally as a tray, dark eyes burning at me as I place coin and box on it with a nod and a smile. Not sure how unorthodox an offering the dried fruit and nuts was. It felt good to do, kinda like feeding cows, just what you so. Hope I got his blessing, in any case.

Sit on my balcony as still-wan sun gives subtle pink glow to peach-hued house across the way and thatched low shacks next door. Cows amble by with their owners at a companiable pace. All up and down the street, women dribble loose chalk from tin bowls in swirls and spirals at the entrance to their homes, having swept and washed them clean. Mostly lotus flowers, but also stars and more elaborate geometric shapes and patterns, these mandalas are a tangible example of letting go, as they are trod on and faded by evening, to be washed away and created from scratch tomorrow, in unending cycles going back who knows how many generations. Every day different, but based on unchanging principles and patterns- kinda like the practice, and kinda cool.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Mango Season 

My fruit salad at home this morning (prep time: 40 minutes, with triple washing and peeling and dicing; eat time: about 4 minutes) was made up of four different kinds of mangoes, all sublime. Also "oranges" that are like oversized tangerines, "sweet lemons" that are like midget sweet grapefruit, bananas and a fruit whose name escapes me that looks like a cross between a kiwi and a potato and tastes like a divine date. The rain, when it comes, does not mess around. The consensus has been that we will not see rain for a while, as we deal with unrelenting heat. Even moved the pale blue rainsuit I kept stashed in Scooty's seat (along with mosquito repellant, antiseptic wipe, pen and paper, candy for the kids, peanuts for the dogs, toothbrush and paste, water, clear glasses and a cap for keeping the dust at bay while driving and whatever other stuff spills out of bags and finds its home there.) to a high shelf at home, not expecting rain till I guessed next month. Today, from email place, inform guy at desk as I see eery quality of light at sunset: "rain, coming". He laughed and without disagreeing, disagreed. Silly western lady fantasies. Rain not coming until the monsoon hits for reeeal. Not an hour later, rain pelts down from the heavens sending people running for cover and candles as the power also goes and hail starts shooting down, with streams for gutters and pools for streets. Still here, as the generator keeps the computer humming and fans turning as the dark worlds outside are cooled and drenched, once more.

Have been here for just about a month, to the day. Feels like much longer, already. Buddy, or Ratdog, as he has been fondly dubbed by the yogastudents, is looking and acting much more like a dog and less than something that crawled out of a shallow grave in Pet Sematary. His fur has few patchy spots left and though his eyes still run, some days, he is always playful and we wrestle and he knows the sound of Scooty so even though I don't live on his street anymore, he still runs after me when I drive down. I give him peanuts or biscuits or leftovers pretty much every day. He is a veggie dog. His teeth are ground down to stubs and like a lion tamer I put my arm in his mouth as we playfight- the skin will not break. A mostly veggie dog (perhaps he's caught lizards or insects), Buddy knows to hang out at the right times outside the shala and greet us after practice- he gets much attention and pieces of coconut gange, or flesh, that he wolfs down with relish. He is also beginning to respond to his name, and is proudly wearing a scrappy blue and red torn collar, garnering much respect and more envy from the neighborhood German Shepards and Retrievers who bark at him from behind closed gates. Their tails are wagging, though.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Easter Sunday 

The heat is here. Everything requires that much more effort, first to decide to do, then to decide when to do, then to actually do. May have to alternate from my favorite 10 Rupee an hour Cyber Paradise where I am now, with the whirring fans and local boys watching movies on DVDs (and also checking out porn sites behind drawn curtains each terminal is equipped with) and red-lit altar over my head and no yogastudents to the more popular 25 Rupee an hour iNet with its airconditioned sparse room and orange pod-cubicles filled with mostly yogastudents. Any and all desire I had on my way here to start getting caught up with emails and make a blogdate are evaporating faster than the sweat lazily making its way down my temple. A short one, then.

Like an old-fashioned camera, the practice is slowly but steadily coming into its due focus, with everything else shifting a little and becoming softer and more peripheral, little by little. I think some of my earlydays practices, here, were just about maintenance and survival. Last few days, it’s just all gotten sharper and clearer- and I suspect my second month here, which I embark on this coming week, that process will continue. Now that I have a place of my own (two rooms of my own! And a balcony! And a rooftop!) and am less concerned with everything and settled into something, it is all coming. Strong practices and improving backbends. I am sure the heat will help, since before we had mornings that my funkyblack Adidas sweats and a long-sleeve shirt were very necessary, going to practice. Today was the first day that, though pure habit lead me to start piling on the layers I came in, post-practice, as I pulled on the leggings I wore over the shorts under the sweats, I got hot and threw them off and drove away not bundled up. At 7a.m. Although I heard it was below freezing in NY last week, so I am certainly not one to complain about the evening cool. Which we are seeing less and less of. The bravado with which I anticipated the heat’s onslaught is not so present at the moment. This afternoon, after practice and breakfast and shopping at the nearby organic market and tidying up my second room which is currently serving as my boudoir, felt too weak and didn’t muster the energy to make it to the pool for a couple of hours. Just wet my head and played dead in my room under the squeaky fan, on my new bedspread that is blue and white and has flowers and many elephants on it.

My room is baby-blue walled with burgundy floors (the whole place has the latter) and a white ceiling. Double mattress and four built-in shelves and a cushion on the floor. As you come in, a sense of cool overtakes you as the pistachio-green walls and invite you in. The washroom is to your left, kitchen just past the entrance alcove to your right. Washroom (slightly deeper blue walls) is equipped with a squat (or Turkish, as they are interestingly called in Greece) toilet, old fashioned water heater (not in use) and new-fashion water heater: Bucket. Plug-in prongs, like the tubes from an automatice kettle or a tea-heater. Fill bucket with water. Clip on heating contraption. Wait several minutes, checking water temp. Scoop out jugfulls and wash. Bucket also serves as washing machine and toilet flush. The deluxe edition: bought economy detergent and got free bucket, so I have two-one came with the apartment. Also was given two red plastic chairs (which have been migrating from balcony, where I sit and watch the neighborhood, to the (prettypink) boudoir, where I fling just-worn clothing, to the living room, where guests sit or I fling just-bought shopping), diwan-y mattress pillow thing, small coffee table Any and every thing else, I will need to provide. It won’t be much: renting fridge (500 Rs per month, or about $11.50 which am hopefully getting any day now) and may consider buying or renting gas stove so I can start making rotis and chapattis at home, sometimes. To be consumed when very hot with butter and jam and peanut butter and honey and bananas and chocolate and chutney. Also fantasize about buying a blender of sorts (it would pay for itself within a month considering the price of buying peanuts to grind. Versus the jars of peanut butter I go through, she says), and also making lassis (Take curd. Add fruit of choice like pineapple or mango. Sugar. Ice. Blend well. Drink immediately.), but we will see- may have to live vicariously through better-outfitted friends.

I am perfectly outfitted and very happy, finally. Daylong natural light and breezes from all around in my second floor littlepalace with pot for floating flowers at entrance and rooftop terrace that sees boundless skies all around and the life a non-sterile neighborhood far removed (but only a few minutes downhill on Scooty) from the Malibu that is shalacentral affords. Which is fine for some, but for me the chickens scuttling and pigs trotting and buffalo and goat herds passing and children playing and running after me shouting “hi auntie!” and “whatsyername!” and TVs blasting and ladies chatting and radios playing and men peeing and cows munching and garbage burning and sunsets blazing is why I am here. Here I am.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Mr. Scooty 

My Scooty is about 50 cc's of monsterpower; he has a black seat that gets scalding hot when it sees sun and a forrest green trunk that gets lighter when the mud dries on it and his name proudly emblazoned on the side: “Scooty”! He grunts and moans when I have a second person join us on ventures, complaining at the added weight and losing what minimal suspension he has so every pothole (of which there are more than stars) is a deep valley we pass over with thunks and clunks, every piece of gravel (of which most roads are made of, since it rained) a hill we recover from with a firm grasp on the steering wheel and a soft eye on the road. One time he even granted us a flat back wheel when we took him to town, which the owner of the store we bought fabrics from had fixed at “no charge”.

Scooty rocks, man. We have been known to hit 30 kilometers, which is probably about 18 miles, when I give him all the gas that he's got and we are moving down hill- lorries and buses beware when Tina and Mr. Scooty are approaching!! I may have to invest in one of those massive horns popular with autorickshaw drivers, that emit a deep low loud HONK that should belong to far larger vehicles and are meant to inspire terror and respect amongst lesser vehicles. Scooty rocks, man. He has allowed freedom from rickshaws and haggling and black exhaust and detours and wondering how I’ll get home, and beauty of breeze as we coast down hills and red neck as the sun catches up to us and mobility at all hours, if need be.

Me? I adore driving here. Like with asana practice, you need to stay strong while pliant, soft and calm while firm and grounded, to allow for surrender as you claim your space and ease within that. If you have doubt or fear or get tense, your chances of getting hurt are higher since sudden starts and mindless reacting endanger both your equilibrium and your vehicle. Like the practice, driving follows a predetermined set pattern, but is different every day, since every day there is different stuff going on. And hesitant as I might be sometimes to go for it, when I have finished my ride I am glad I took the road in the first place. Or: remember those Nintendo games from the 80s where you would dodge and jump and avoid stuff? Like Donkey Kong, where the gorilla jumps over barrels coming at him with ever more speed and frequency, or Mario Bros. where little men avoid the bad stuff and get points for finding the good.

Much has been said of driving here, the elaborate games of chicken that unfold daily on dirt paths and highways alike. The car caste is very clearly defined, here. Lorries (multi-colored and sometimes garlanded and often named abut always massive) and buses, then smaller trucks and larger cars, then smaller cars and little vans, then rickshaws (although you would think they are right up there with the first group, with the amount of them you see driving in the middle of the road or on the right, impossible to overtake even as the top out at about 20kms. Rickshaw school for sure offers courses on large-ego development, as they are the kamikazies of the roads and to be respected or they will ram you. Finally you have motorcycles who get to bully mopeds (family of three on old Vespa subservient to young man on new Kinetic), who get to bully bicyclists, who can scare pedestrians, who stop for few anyway. Everyone stops for cows. I want a Tshirt: "I brake for cows".

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Friday nights 

Friday evening. Expansive rooftop surrounded by coconut trees and neighboring terraces. Garlands of marigolds and candlelit stairs . Cushions and mattresses on floor, samosas and popadoms on low covered table. There is beer, also. And beautiful sunkissed happy faces enjoying the ragas a quartet is sending into the still night, the murmur of quiet talk and warm smiles rising into the soft air, as children weave in and out of the seated bodies and gentle contentment settles. After the band, the DJ conjures songs from decades recent and months past from his iMac as the beat pulses out of strong speakers and sweating dancing bodies move on straw mats for hours. Or what seemed like hours. Sweaty-haired and sated, we walk into the night a little before midnight, with broad smiles and tired limbs.

Friday night is the big "party" night for ashtangis, since their Saturday is the traditional day of rest. As such, preceding night lends itself to staying up a little later (10pm, woohoo!!), indulging a little more, eating a little heavier. I usually do, anyway. Last night was a going-away dinner at Tina's and a couple of movie screenings at student homes and also the Greek couple's last night in town. How quickly their three weeks passed. We had late-night snacks and beer at the Green Hotel and watched the thunderstorm approach and arrive and drove back in another downpour. By eleven. One thing about the rain I've seen, thus far: it lasts for a while. I kind of expected it to pour and then depart, much like it does in Greece on the rare occasion that it does deign to rain. Here, it has lasted sometimes hours and into the morning. Invested in a 250 Rupee skyblue rainsuit from Krishna Tailor's (tailor who has been sewing and creating and recreating clothing for students since the old neighborhood, who brought his livelihood to Gokulam when the shala moved), which I keep under the seat of my moped, Mr. Scooty.

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