Tuesday, January 31, 2006


OLD SCHOOL:
FIRST DAY AT GURUJI'S OLD SHALA IN MYSORE, 2002



I'm in the middle of beginning-of-the-month deadline hell -- too busy to take a busman's holiday -- so here's a journal entry from four years ago, almost to the day.


TUESDAY 29 JANUARY 2002

We finally got rooms at the Kauvery on Sunday evening. We'd spent that day buying mosquito nets, hanging out in a park, drinking coconut milk (they're greener and sweeter here than in Kovalam, and have more milk and less "meat."), and locating the yoga shala -- in short, doing everything but taking the naps we so desperately needed.

We arrived too late on Sunday to register for yoga, and Monday was moon day. A nice woman from Austrailia gave us Guruji's number, so we called Sharath and he told us to come on Tuesday at 6:30am (which is when all the new people are told to come. Turns out there are a ton of us here from Kovalam).

The rumor in Kovalam was that prices had been raised from $550 to $600. While we were waiting over an hour on the stairs (to get a spot in the studio, which holds 12), we learned that Guruji had raised it to $555. Who brings $5 bills to India, we wondered. We spent a good part of the afternoon finding someone who could break a $20 (turned out it was the American Express office, which was none too happy about it, either).

While we registered, Guruji asked us our mothers'' names and our ages, but nothing astrological. He's been wearing Ray Charles-like sunglasses, as he just had catarac surgery. Once we'd registered, we waited in line some more before getting a spot for our mats.

Guruji mostly sits on a stool and shouts out verbal adjustments (he's 86) while Sharath is more hands-on. They didn't stop me during the primary series (if they do you have to go upstairs and do the finisng sequence), which is a good sign. Also Sharath did drop-backs with me (helping one go from standing into backbend), also a good sign). Because Sharath is helping me, it means I will probably not be dropped on my head (but you never know). That is the other big rumor: Guruji will drop you on your head. So far he has not. Anyway practice here is very intense, as you want to do your best, to show them that you know what you're doing. Also because the other students add extra energy to the room. Guruji's been teaching here for, like, 40 years and so there's a lot of prana in the walls and carpet. He's building a big new studio, to open in June. I'm glad I got to see him in the olde one.

The yoga students are OK. A bunch of us arrived at the same time, which means we're all more or less equal (so there's a bit less attitude than in Kovalam) and everyone's just a bit more open and friendly. They all seem to be taking Sanskrit lessons or hanging out at the pool or taking cooking classes. I would do well to try the latter, as I only know how to prepare food. We'll see. There's a yoga sutra class that seems like it'd be most relevant to what I'm trying to accomplish. Also the writing.

At around 4:30 each afternoon Guruji holds satsang. After a late lunch at the Mandala, a restaurant-cum-yoga studio-cum-cultural center started by westerners, for westerners, we went to the shala. A small group had gathered by the time Guruji arrived, wearing sunglasses, a dhoti and a sleeveless Yoga Moves shirt, and proceeded to read the paper (in Kannada).

For the next 45 minutes we watched him read and look up and say "Yes, yes hello!" any time someone new arrived and touched his feet. Then Sharath rode up, dashing in all-black, on a shiny motorcycle. He changed into yoga clothes, sat adjacent to Guruji and began opening mail. We looked at them, looked at each other, and looked at the kids riding bikes outside. Occasionaly someone asked a question. When Guruji went upstairs to register new students, some students took the opportunity to flee. By the time he returned, Sharath was teaching his Indian students (who are charged Indian prices). A package arrived, and two senior stduents from New York City read the contents of the accompanying letter from a kowtowing London publisher who wanted him to recommend someone to write a(nother) ashtanga book. At 6 he looked at his watched and we all got to leave.

People staying at the Kauvery all seem to be looking for a different place to live. A lot of students live with families or share (luxury) apartments near the shala. After class Alan LIttle, a Brit whose online Mysore Diary was instrumental in helping me decide to come here, invited us up for tea and answered all of our questionsw about Guruji and ashtanga and Mysore Life (in effect holding a far more effective satsang than the official one). During our chat the lights went out, of course, and the walk home was treacherous. We ended up eating thalis at a nearby veg place called Iyengar's, where the towels are folded neatly (of course) and there are signs on the wall that say "DO NOT WASH YOUR HANDS IN PLATES."

That same day, earlier, I found a new place to live, But now I'm not sure I want it; so far I'm quite happy at the Kauvery, which is like a dorm w/ private bathrooms. My room and bathroom are bright and clean, and there's my new pink mosquito net. . There's even a phone, where I can get incoming calls! (The Hex has called twice so far, which makes me far less homesick). My room's on the top floor and only steps from the roof; I'm also near the palace and a major shopping area. The guys at the desk are very helpful. But everyone seems to want to get out of the hotel.

I found the place after running into Jennifer (yoga mat benefactor from Kovalam) on the street. The fancy house where she lives is in a more residential neigborhood, across from the Mandala and really close to the yoga studio. She and three other yoga students live in dingy little rooms on the roof (were they meant to be servants' quarters?). For rp 125 / day (vs the Kauvery's 205) they receive one meal plus laundry and hot water and room-cleaning (they have servants).

But now I am having second thoughts. On the one hand, it's a good idea for me not to cross too many busy streets, as I'm always looking the wrong way and stepping into the paths of various rickshaws / motorcycles / trucks / tongas. It'd probably be a more "authentic" experience, though there wouldn't be much interaction w/ the family, who are rumored to be descendants of the maharaja. There are the other students, and implements for boiling water. At the same time, it's far from Internet and there's no phone and it's kind of a dump (dark mattress on floor, icky walls and bathroom. And my room is supposed to be the "luxury" accommodation).

So I'm trying to figure out what to do.... I gave a small deposit and am supposed to move in Saturday. But I'm not sure if I will (I'm mostly worried that depressing surroundings = depression, which is, thankfully, remaining more or less at bay at the moment). In the meantime I'm trying to make friends w/ other women at the Kauvery and find out how long they plan to stay.



Photo of Author in Laxmipuram shala (c) 2002 by Kike (pronounced "KEE-kay")

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