Thursday, May 27, 2004

Storm clouds 

Last couple of days have been much like the monsoon skies we’ve had, recently, with dazzling sunshine eclipsed by thunder-dark clouds replaced by piercing blue sky overwhelmed by a rain-bearing darkness. All within a couple of hours. Underneath the surface tumult, though, quiet calm and serenity and joy are there, even as the winds blow by and the rains rattle rooftops.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Funny, that 

In NY, I relished every little bit of info or journaling or article or blog I could find on Mysore. Now here, month three, momentarily found myself drawn to nycbloggers.com and checking who in my neighborhood has a blog. The Strokes played Central Park, a coupla nights ago. It's been pretty hot and humid. Bryant Park Film Festival will be starting up soon. And I bet those sunsets from Riverside Park over the Hudson River are just about rockin'. But you can only see a sliver of sky at a time, compared to the vastness that is everywhere, here.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Some snapshots 

Man stopped on scooter in dark surrounded by fields under star-filled sky, enjoying a cigarette as he looks up. Woman combing daughter’s hair who combs her daughter’s hair. Saddhu and cow, both under colors and scarlet kumkum powder and saffron marigold blossoms, walking down street.

Just about the best advice gathered in my last pre-trip days was from Eddie: stay in India for a while, don’t get to Mysore fresh off the plane. This made sense back in New York, and is making sense on many levels in India. Also- from a lovely lady fellow student, who’s known me for a while: don’t get too caught up too quickly in the social scene. And I have but haven’t, visiting and taking meals with people but seeking out and savouring alone-time and space to watch the clouds billow by and really see the people and absorb the lessons and allow for things to sink in and find their way out- or in. Also- from a longtime student of Guruji’s, the kind of person whose light is so dazzling you can’t help but shine a little brighter yourself: don’t spend all your time in Gokulam, and get to know the Indian people. And I have been, to varying extents, and grateful for it.

The people who live near me continue to blow my mind every time I allow for space for interactions with them. Every time. Through sign language and gestures and a little English and less Sanskrit and more gestures, their warmth and frankness and bigheartedness still teach me and amaze me, every time.

The neighbor whose puppy I borrow and parade around, inviting me to the puja (ceremony) for the completion of their second floor apartment (three weeks ago, but still being completed as they tile floors and polish marble). The neighbor who accosted me as I mounted Scooty, handing me a fistful of still-warm laddoo. The kids on the corner who, upon spotting me on as I sat on my balcony, ears enveloped by Tori Amos, started bhangra and disco dancing on their doorstep, blasting music of their own. I turned the walkman off. The family across the way holding up a black and white fluffball of a puppy for me to see, gesturing for me to go see. I did, today. Sit on a stoop with the women and girls as they hand-roll damp black incense sticks (ready in one month) and hand talk and laugh and try to respond to their questions in Kannada aided by one-word English from a teenager. Jewelry is the thing, here. They admire my gold ring and diamond studs and try to convince me to concede that a nose stud like they all wear would be a good thing. They all ooh and aah over the Ganpati (Ganesha/elephant head deity whose affinity for laddoos I share) pendant I wear under my shirt. Even though it is silver. They cluck with approval at my bangles (today: bright blue and sparkly). Promise to come back. As I make my way cross the narrow green, am called over to the lowest of the three shacks next door. Through the smoke billowing out the chest-height entrance, the older lady shows me a mange-covered bitch with three tan-colored puppies tethered to the floor and to her teats. I smile and voice appreciation and gesture no, cannot take one but Namaskara anyway.

Radha from next door is in her final year for an MBA and takes refuge up the stairs on my landing for some view and quiet when she needs to memorize outloud from texts. She has asked me to teach her how to speak with an American pronunciation. Good luck to me, as my accent is neither very American nor very well-pronounced. But we will try, this weekend. Kids still holler “HI-YEE!” as I drive or walk by, and sometimes in Gokulam or in town I find myself initiating the greeting as they look at me, dark-eyed and half-smiling, sometimes greeted back by a continued stare as their eyes have seen many more Westerners than the kids up the hill near me. Last week, on one of my temple-seeking morning expeditions I drove up a cobbled street that was one-way. As I make a Uturn, a couple has brought out their toddler to check out the Auntie, who promptly starts bawling, evoking a belly-laugh from me and smiling admonishments by the parents. These things fill my heart, so known from my early years in Greece and so eclipsed in my recent years in New York. Will be taking so much with me from here, and it feels like the surface is only just being scraped. Excited and eager to see how it, and I, will evolve.

Sanskrit class has shrunk down to three of us, second month, and we are slowly starting on nouns and verbs. Chanting, also, we are three only, as the shala crowds are not so crowded (last week in led class, counted 16 bodies feet-up in headstand, as beginners were sent to back earlier). Practice is there, sharpening and shifting as I go about my days. As am I, it feels like sometimes. Half-joked, as I was leaving New York, many changes coming, this summer. Trying not to expect and anticipate. But I did, and they are, and of course they have been and will be different and deeper and more than I could or would imagine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Two months 

There is a time to communicate and a time to assimilate. I suspect some of the latter is going on. Not much blogging or emailing, but lots of internalising and absorbing is there. Have been in Mysore for just over two months. Crazy-amazing, true. My spirits soar, still, every time I Scoot into my neighborhood, up the hill from the shala. My eyes shine, still, from the many acts of kindness and warmth I have been blessed to receive from the Indian people, in my neighborhood and in town and country and wherever I go. Practice is there, still. No Breakthroughs, but ever-evolving shifts are there. A focus refined, renewed, sharpened. A strength building, growing, staying. I think the calm and equanimity I am finding in these places, these months, will be the greatest gift I will take home with me. This is my hope, anyway.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Rainy day 

I live in a crazy neighborhood. Every house, a story and every story, louder than the next.

At the top of my not-quite-a street are a couple of low thatch roofed brick shacks. I am friendly with Parvata-Ma, a lady whose face has spilled down in a cascade of burnt-flesh scars. I have not had the guts top ask her if she survived a “wife-burning” incident, but suspect that may well be the case. Parvata-Ma does laundry for much of the neighborhood. I know this, because she makes mountains of drying clothes everywhere- saree fabric up and down the length of the patch of grass near my place, piles of tshirts on patch of grass in front of her shack, mountains of petticoats and skirts on the hills of gravel for the new-construction, vying for a dry patch in the humid air. She owns the happiest dog in Southern India, naughty-Ramu who is well-fed and petted and gets to go off the leash and run around, free, a couple of times a day. He does get a lash of his chain leash if he is being super naughty, but he take sit in stride with a lowered tail wag. I visit them at leats once a day, preferably when Poossie is around. She is Ramu’s beloved, and they curl up and sleep and play together. She is a small bushy-tailed orange tabby cat, and shy of me. Sensing my interest in her, for several days, Parvata-Ma’s little boy (who is about the cheekiest of the cheeky-boy gang, but his eyes are kind) would see me, run to wherever the cat was napping , hoist her up by the front paws so her torso dangled down the length of his body and scream at the top of his voice “LOOOK AUNTIEEE! POOOSSIE! PHOTO!” At which point I would respond with the sternest of NOs I could conjure up and walk away so he would release the limp animal swinging from his hands.

Going downhill, my place is past the shacks, a beigey two-story affair with burgundy trim and gates. My landfamily, comprised of parents plus teenage kids, boy and girl, quietly inhabits the ground floor. The entrance to my place is off to the side, past their entrance and the little gated garage/driveway that can just fit Scooty and the dad’s Vespa if they park it. Which they do, every evening around 8:30 when he comes home. If I get home while they are still up, one of the kids materializes as I kill the engine and expertly maneuvers it up the driveway, with two swift turns of hte steering wheel, perfectly parallel parked. I am duly impressed, since the few attempts I have made have been pretty pitiful, with Scooty’s nose smushed up against the Vespa’s behind. Thus, when I do get back after pumpkin hour, usually 9:30 or 10pm, Scooty gets to sleep under the stars, double-locked and parked across the street.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Humbleasana Pt.I 

The upside of the fact that so many people are leaving these days is that we have so many goodbye meals and get-togethers. Full social calendar, so to speak. Friday night saw two big groups going to the Olive Garden (“Multiethnic Cuisine”, not the al-overboiled/bland Italian chain we have in the States) at the foot of Chamundi Hill just outside the city center. Usual meeting place: the coconut stand in Gokulam central (coconut wallah branching out, also serving piping hot masala chai in addition to his 7 Rupee coconuts, with a couple of burlap-sacked stone benches and a great view of all the coming and goings at the main intersection), and then people were to share rikshas into town.

Me? All macho bravado- I will meet but drive Scooty- we have made the trek out that way a coupla times, no problem. Convince a couple of other students that the drive won’t be so bad, and how cool are we, driving into town at night, leading a convoy of one other moped and a motorbike. Yaar, I am overtaking vehicles and speeding away and feeling all cool and speedy, as we hit 24kms and hit the town as it's busy going about its Friday night. Have a moment of adrenaline when halfway around KR Circle in the heart of town (known amongst yogastudents as Chaos Circle) I realize we need to turn left instead of continue around the circle, and kinda get to an abrupt standstill trying to cut through a wall of two- and four-wheelers zooming by. Somehow, a gap is allowed, and we make it through unscathed. But boy, so much for leading safely and confidently.

Past town and the traffic is clearing and the dark shadow of Chamundi Hill looms to the right in the rising moonlight. I see the hospital, and tell my copilot (who is responsible for eloquently hand-signaling our intentions to the other twowheelers) that if this turn is not the right one, we will need to doubleback and try again. Sure enough, it isn't, and we do. Take a look around;a route previously easy and familiar, completely transformed in the blinding headlights and unlit roads. Concede that we are “not-really-lost”, but venture into said hospital to ask for directions anyway. The pharmacist refers me to the receptionist who leads me to a nurse who takes me to a lady doctor who asks her son to herd us there on his moped. Said son cannot be arsed. As she chats to me about her trip to Italy (one identifying comment when people look puzzled, as I tell them “my place” is Greece, is where the Olympics are this year. When I get a polite smile that is still curious, I elaborate: near Italy. At which point people tend to smile but also nod in comprehension, feigned or not.), we walk to the riksha stand and after much negotiating with several drivers, find one who not only claims to know where the place is, but will drive us there. Said place, I know, is about 4 minutes from where we are. We start off, get cut off by a bus, lose the newly reformed convoy before the crossroad. Square one. Drive down one road, up another, go back to the hospital and restart the negotiating with drivers who claim they all know where this place is, but all give sideways glances and are asking each other questions. We are saved by yogis on a motorbike, and actually make it to the Olive Garden in time for drinks with everyone, though an hour after we should’ve been there. So much for enjoying a cold one while the others are coughing their way through town on the kamikaze rikshas. Now have the currrayzee drivin’ greek rep to try and live down. Or up to.

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