Friday, June 16, 2006


Today’s Vocabulary Words:

Bathing Costume = swimsuit
Chai = tea
Chikadoo = small
Sulpa = just a little
Sacre = sugar
Tusker = elephant
Chat = snack
Bandh = strike
Goonda = gangster or goon

I’m in Room 19 of the Kaveri Lodge as I write this on the laptop – I’ll transfer it at the internet place later, using the thumb drive – and it’s pouring like crazy outside. The rain is actually horizontal, and it’s quite dark. Apparently the monsoon has returned. The power is out and it’s too dark to read but the computer battery is working and so is the transistor radio, which is pumping out Bollywood hits and Kannada gobbledygook. I’m being good by typing rather than watching Episode 11 of Deadwood.

I’ve tried calling Matrika, who last I heard was wearing her unusual new Indian bathing costume (long bottoms, baggy waist, festive pattern) at the Southern Star pool, but she doesn’t answer. I want to know if she’s headed indoors for tea and chocolate cake…. If so, I’d like to join her. Guruji gave us the day off because he had to go to a special puja three hours away (by train), and even though I did some intermediate series poses in my room this morning, I’m keen to be bad. And chocolate cake is just about as bad as it gets here.

I also had a caster oil bath /massage at 3 Sisters today and am feeling its effects: exhaustion and slightly cold. Castor oil is meant to be cooling and toxin-releasing and help your yoga by making you more flexible, but it can also make you tired. I can’t possibly have a third nap. But you’re not supposed to get caught in the rain and I’m not up for a trip in the rickshaw, no matter how fabulous the cake. I think I’ll just call down for a chikadoo chai, sulpa sacre.

Harini said, after my bath/massage: “I thought people from New York were the most tight. But they are not.” Does Chicago win? I asked. “Yes!”

I heard today that senior NYC teacher Eddie Stern is here with a video crew that’s doing a documentary on Guruji. Since “Guru”* is taken, I wonder what they’ll call it.

Now the thunder and lightening have kicked in. Definitely no chocolate cake for me.

Some more background on Ayodhya, mentioned in yesterday’s post, and Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat. Ayodhya is said to be the birthplace of Lord Rama (from The Ramayana) and is a pilgrimage site for Hindus. It’s also a pilgrimage site for Muslims, because until 1992 there was a centuries-old mosque on the site. But in 1992, 10,000 Hindu fundamentalists, under the auspices of a group called the RSS**, stoned the mosque to the ground (don’t ask me how they did this; but do keep in mind this is a country where people commit suicide over love or bad test scores, start themselves on fire to protest a movie, torch their wives over dowry issues, attack busses that run over two-wheelers -- and where villagers live in fear of wayward tuskers).

The stoning caused Hindu-Muslim violence that led to some 1200 deaths – most of them Muslim. It flared up again in 2002, when fundamentalist Hindus made a train pilgrimage to the site. The train stopped in a Muslim-dominated village, and words were exchanged between the Muslim chai and chat wallahs who got on the train to ply their wares; apparently the hard-line Hindu pilgrims wouldn’t pay them. Apparently these fundamentalist Hindus also started to build a temple on the site once they got there – which they were forbidden to do (they claim there was a Rama temple on the site and it was destroyed by the Muslims who built the mosque there). On the return trip, the Muslims torched the train and passengers (including women and children) were burnt alive.

Violence again erupted, and thousands of Muslims were killed (usually by being locked in their houses and burned alive), while the Hindu nationalist BJP, the party in power at the time, did little to stop it. At the same time, these Hindus called for the nationwide bandh or strike to honor the train victims; anyone caught not closing up shop was attacked by goondas. Hence, Mysore was dead that day (except for some reason we all went to conference at the old shala). Here’s an excerpt from my 2002 diary (NOTE: IT's long but it does include references to Mike D and the old shala):

2 MARCH 2002

11:30AM Kaveri Lodge

Drumbeats from the makeshift festival site down the street. Streets
strangely empty on my way back from telling the nice people with the new house "Thanks-but-no-thanks bla bla too expensive...very sorry, etc." Amy's friend M. Geetha not at her nursing school; they are on break. No traffic cops at their posts at the big intersections - no traffic. Me on the too-small blue Lady Bird bicycle zipping around, la-la-la, like everything is fine, just easier today. Then I ran into Craig outside of the Mandala, and he told me that there is a demonstration today at KR Circle, and to stay away. It's related to the train-burning two days ago in Gujarat. It's hard to piece it together from the bizarre and biased Indian newspapers [which in fact are no more bizarre and biased than their American counterparts], but from what I can piece together the victims were Hindu pilgrims to a holy site where they (hard-line Hindus)had razed a mosque a decade ago. They are starting to build a temple there - both Hindus and Muslims think the site is holy -- over the (half-assed) objections of the government. The pilgrims were on their way to put things into motion and passed thru the primarily -Muslim town of Godhra on the way up, and reportedly traded insults with them and stiffed the food vendors. On the way back the train stopped for 3 minutes and there was a mob and doors were locked from the outside and after it started to leave someone pulled the "stop" chain. Gas and burning things were thrown in through the open windows and 58 people (mostly women and children, of course) were incinerated. The police had to shoot up the mob to break it up (a detail carried by Reuter's but omitted by the Indian press). So today, against gov. orders, fundamentalist-led Hindus are staging a protest along with a massive bandh (strike) which is supposedly in honor of the victims.

After talking to Craig I tried to stop at the tailor-who-hates-me and they were closed, as was everything up and down the street. I was going to visit the Internet place and email my brother and tell him what was up but drove right past; it too is closed. So I thought I'd call Michael, since he always gets the phone. But the STD/ISD place across the street is also closed. And so is the one a few doors down. And the drums are going and I pulled up to the Kaveri and the grate/gate in front is pulled closed - not padlocked (yet) and there are no bikes in front. I walked in and said, "Why is everyting closed?" to the manager who looks like Mr. Slate from the Flintstones, even though I knew. Of course he smiled and was, like, "No problem, Madam. Plumber is coming." And the small ponytailed guy of unknown ethnic origin who works at Mandala was there handing out flyers for tonight's performance (2 musicians named Kumar). He said he was in Bombay in '93 during the original riots over the mosque-razing, and it was intense, and the riot were everywhere and some people here in Mysore remember them, too, and he said it was politically motivated because it's election time and some people think the militant Hindus staged the train-torching and that there would have to be one or two more "incidents" for things to get out of hand all over India like they did back then, and that it won't this time…).

But it is like the Twilight Zone outside - the episode where a thriving place becomes a ghost-town, or the one where everyone's hiding behind their shutters - and I'd like my brother to know what's up and that I'm OK at this time. Craig and I were just discussing how this violence goes back to Partition and did you see the movie "Earth" and I can't believe this is still going on, why torch people over a stupid building? …

A guy did ride up to me on his moped today (all evildoers ride mopeds) and with all seriousness said, "I want to suck you." And waited for my reaction. I almost started laughing; it was such a refreshing departure from "Suck my d---!" - more like an offering than a command - but instead I said, "That's not a very nice thing to say" and yelled "Naughty boy!" as he sped off."

A few minutes ago the amplified off-key call to mosque went off as usual.

I cannot believe World Events are happening here and now and I cannot go online or make a phone call or, most important, cannot obsessively flip back and forth between CNN and the others. As I was leaving the lobby Mr. Slate turned on the TV and it was the news but alas, it was in Kannada.

I am thinking that I want to go to KR circle and see what's going on. I have my press pass but as we know from the Daniel Pearl case it offers no immunity and might as well be an invitation to whatever group to make a point. So I won't go. It's probably all men in slacks and dress shirts with rolled-up sleeves and moustaches shouting and sweating. Maybe I'll go downstairs to see what's on TV at least, and read the newspapers (even though the large, wild-haired men who hang out in the lobby can be quite intimidating). It's funny - yesterday at this time I was emailing and looking forward to seenig a movie in Kannada (it featured not one but two wacky buffoon-fools and dance numbers including one with rickshaw drivers and it made no sense whatsoever and was hilarious. About an hour into it I asked George, "Is this a different movie?" Fifteen minutes later we realized it we were watching a flashback) and today at this time I finally comprehend why all the houses and businesses and buildings have shutters that shut and grates over the windows and gates that lock. In a way it's a (weak) echo of the days of the WTC attack (it all comes back to that, doesn't it?).


The paper says there was more violence yesterday in Gujarat (up north, near Pakistan) - mobs torching businesses, stabbings, etc. - and that the state cannot handle it and they're calling out the army. Someone at 3 Sisters said all the restaurants are closed - no wonder the place filled up with loud people all talking about their petty party tonight. Apparently there is some sort of competition to have the Best Party, and there are many pounds of marigolds in Mike D's backpack

On the way to the 3 Sisters I ran into one of the Portuguese girls, who only has Rs 100 to her name and was trying to find a rickshaw to take her to an ATM.

The Hindu newspaper also says that 30 people from the minority (Muslim)community were burned alive and that "the response to the bandh (strike) call was total. Hooligans forced the closure of most state and central government offices in Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and other cities. All schools and colleges, cinema theatres and other establishments remained closed. Even cable television operators - "under instructions from the VHA [Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which called the bandh, which is in turn supported by the ruling BJP] - were forced to suspend the telecast of entertainment and sports channels; only news channels were broadcast during the day."

3:30 and I'm still in the lobby. We did convince Mr. Slate to turn on the BBC but they were airing boring magazine-style feature stories about the Middle East. Turns out Caroline works for them (the BBC) but I did not get a chance to learn what she does. She says it reminds her a bit of September 11, too, and that in the newsroom there are TV's everywhere and they saw it all, and no one talked to each other.


I paid Guruji. "Caca." He says it so nicely. I asked him about coming up from backbends and he said one more week of primary and he would help me with intermediate. We'll see. One woman told me that he's been telling her "next week" for years.

No busses today, either, and no petrol. One loud guy who seems to know Guruji told him, "Rickshaw drivers charging double today." And then, "You're the only one making money today." Big laughter. Then someone asked (it's a conference, and when he's done w/ the mail we can ask questions about yoga, which is a rare opportunity, and he is a great scholar)"Why strike today, Guruji?"

After awhile Sharath notices Mike D. sitting on the floor (like the rest of us) and greets him. Then he points to his pants and says something to Guruji in Kannada, ending with with "own company" and inclining his head towards Mike D. Guruji nods, smiles, looks at Mike D. and says, "You working there?" Big laughter (from me only).

(Beastie Boy Mike D. is one of the forces behind Xtra Large, a hip hip-hop clothing line).
Mike D: "No time for working there. I just give ideas and pay bills."
Guruji: "Prana?" [this is the hip new company for overpriced yoga togs] "Prana is my friend."

Mike D: "Yes. Encinitas."

The conference wears on. Bob pokes his head in and asks what they think of passive stretching and sitting in supta baddhakonasana for 15 minutes at a stretch. "Does it help?" After much discussion and clarification - Bob has mispronounced the name of the asana, which even when pronounced correctly does not exist in astanga vinyasa yoga, where poses are held for 25 breaths max, but rather is from a different school)-Sharath says, "We don't know about this stretch. We've never done."

Guruji fields questions about teacher qualifications (they must have his blessing and adhere to his methods or it becomes "very dangerous on both spiritual and physical level") and we learn that pregnant women should not practice during the first trimester and the minimum age to start primary series is 15. Someone asked why he decided to start teaching westerners back in 1973. "They came." Near the end of course he reminded us that astanga is "99 percent practice and one percent theory."


After the conference there were busses on the street, and people. The gas stations were open and so were the restaurants (but not the tailors). After a long dinner at 3 Sisters (followed up by a frozen pineapple lassi) Craig and Madeline and I went over to the party. We sat in front for a long time looking at the pink light from the windows before venturing halfway to the door (the path was lit by votives). We stood for awhile and finally I was, like, "We're here. We should just go." (They want to see the place because they know Maya is leaving next week and they may want to move in. There's a shoe-pile at the top of the stairs - not as big as the one at the shala each morning, but impressive nonetheless - and Beck-the-coconut-guy is in the kitchen with (allegedly) 70 coconuts (this is instead of beer)and some traditional Indian dancer is doing her thing and everyone is rapt and it's impossible to see because the doorway is completely blocked. Madeline and I give up and go back to the street, where the moon is still almost full, and orange, and the Hortario from Sutra House is out there looking at it and the rickshaw driver has had it with us, so finally we leave. Of course he tries to squeeze extra rupees out of us "because of the bandh" and "no petrol."

Next day I learned that several people I know and like went "for five minutes" and hightailed it home. "It was a NYC-style party with a great DJ [apparently not one Tina Trash], and they even had video projection." And I thought about the English, and how they used to bring their furniture and china and ugly clothes to India back when they ran things here, and I wondered if anything had really changed.


*Guru is the title of the short documentary made last year by students who attended Pattabhi Jois’ 90th birthday celebration. This year it takes place on July 11; his daughter Saraswati is hosting a function, and many female students are planning to buy their first saris. Pity the locals who must dress them.

**According to Elizabeth Kadetsky’s memoir/biography “First There is a Mountain,” famous Pune-based yoga teacher BKS Iyengar has a relationship with Hindu fundamentalist groups such as the RSS and BJP and even authored some of their school curriculum!


  1. Anonymous10:26 AM


    I am afraid, you loosely use the word Hindus. Hindus demolsihed this and that, torched this and that. There are 800million hindus in India. RSS and VHP are fundamentalists verions of Hindus. Statictically, they are insignificant. They are mostly in the news because, they give soundbites for the media.

    Infact, for all the atrocities they have inflicted on others, the first group of people who oppose them and take them head on are Hindus as well.

    Anyways, its a good post. I liked it.

  2. Today's vocabulary words>
    1. baksheesh
    2. eunuch
    3. hijras

    Whose sari now? In India, newcomer not sure at first

    By Henry Chu
    Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times
    Published June 16, 2006

    NEW DELHI -- Henry Chu, a Los Angeles Times correspondent, recently took up a new assignment in New Delhi and soon encountered some of the more colorful characters of the Indian capital.

    The eunuchs came calling before I had even moved in.

    On a recent afternoon, as I stood surrounded by a dozen workers hammering, sawing and drilling in my new apartment, they materialized out of nowhere, two sari-clad women with suspiciously mannish features.

    The taller one had a broad face, a big nose and a purple sari --a color I like, but not on her. The other was thin, almost birdlike, in every way: face, body, voice. Something about their manner, or their rather harsh, heavily made-up look, put me on guard.

    "Yes?" I said cautiously.

    The tall one launched into a stream of Hindi. Newly posted to India, I know little of the language. But one word I did recognize, baksheesh (tip), clued me in to what was going on--that and the fact that the voice repeating it over and over was a richer baritone than mine. I was being hit up for a handout by one of this country's many hijras.

    They are eunuchs or otherwise transgendered people by birth, accident or choice. Something between male and female, they are shunned by Indian society as unclean. Many make a living through prostitution or by crashing weddings, birthday parties and other festive occasions, threatening to disrupt the celebrations with vulgar behavior and to bring bad luck unless they are paid off.

    And now they were in my living room.

    I don't know how they found me but I didn't want to provoke them; some hijras are known to grow violent, and the bigger one could easily take me down. But I also don't like being bullied for money, so I thought it best to smile blandly and feign incomprehension. They were undeterred, trailing me from room to room in the wilting heat.

    "Mister, baksheesh," the smaller one said, more insistent now, tugging at my shirt and pawing at my pocket. Then she reached into the bosom of her sky-blue sari and pulled out a wad of bills, like some scene out of a bad movie, so that there was no mistaking what she wanted. I kept playing dumb.

    India has somewhere between a half-million and a million eunuchs. The estimates are very approximate, because the hijras live in a secretive, shadowy world they've created for themselves away from the abuse and persecution of general society. They gather in public in large numbers only at their annual conventions, which always attract media attention for the skillful dancing, the raucous atmosphere and the sight of gaudy clothing draped around burly shoulders and dainty jewels hanging off overly thick wrists.

    In antiquity, India's eunuchs dressed as men, and a few were granted royal jobs--for example, as guardians of harems. But today's hijras make themselves up as women. In the West, they would probably be identified as something between a cross-dresser and a transsexual; in India, they often describe themselves as a third sex but refer to themselves as "she."

    Mark `E' for gender

    A few have become well-known. One was elected mayor of her city. Another has recently written an autobiography. Activists demanding greater rights scored an important victory last year when the Foreign Ministry began offering "E" as an option under "gender" on India's passport application form.

    Only a handful of outsiders have managed to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding the hijra community. Writer William Dalrymple, in his book "City of Djinns," describes an often well-ordered sisterhood divided geographically into local "parishes" whose members, overseen by den mothers, diligently work their beats.

    To ferret out parties to crash, eunuchs often bribe, flatter and flirt with the doormen in their neighborhoods, developing an impressive, reliable network of informants that, as a reporter, I couldn't help admiring.

    As a target, I wasn't too happy. After several minutes, the persistence of my two interlopers began to make me nervous, as did the tic in the big one's jaw, which was a good bit squarer than mine.

    The tradesmen in the house tried to help me out, pointing out that I was only a tenant, not the owner of the new apartment. "Go talk to the landlord," they told the two hijras, who scowled in response.

    A threat with a hem

    The short one continued to appeal to me directly, gazing at me meaningfully and sprinkling her Hindi with unmistakable English phrases such as "a thousand rupees" (about $22). At one point she knelt down and touched my feet in a sign of obeisance or importunity. Then, growing frustrated by my stinginess, she drew up the hem of her sari in a threatening way.

    I kept shaking my head and smiling to take the sting out of my refusal to be shaken down.

    Finally, after 20 uncomfortable minutes, they gave up, visibly angry as they walked out, uttering more words I couldn't understand, which was probably a good thing. "They talked to me in very dirty language," one of the workers in my apartment told me afterward.

    Since that initial courtesy call, the two hijras have come knocking once more. So have another pair, no more savory-looking than the first. Now I take the easy way out: When I see them through the peephole, I don't answer the door.

  3. I tried to be careful about identifying them as hard-line Hindus and fundamentalist Hindus and militant Hindus......not just Hindu-Hindus. As with any religion, it seems to be the hard-liners who are the least tolerant and cause most of the trouble (you know, like shooting Gandhi or blowing up the WTC or trying to do away with women's reproductive rights).