Thursday, August 07, 2008


Before practice this morning I went to hear the 7AM chanting at the Ramakrishna ashram.

Everyone was already chanting when I arrived; the ashram members in front, all in white, on a large purple cotton rug, facing the altar. The man in the middle was leading the chant and playing the harmonium.

A few civilian men were on the purple rug further back, on the right. The women were on the left. Everyone was following a book. When I asked about it, a young woman said, "It is in Sanskrit." Oops. So I took a seat with the woman, moved my lips and pretended.

The chanting ended just before 7:20. I stayed awhile longer and then went to the shala. There were fewer people in the entryway, and by 8:20 shala time (ie; 8:07) I had a spot in the back row. I was moved closer to the front later, by Sharath - just a few second before his mother told another student to go to the same place. I got there first.

But Saraswati got to me first in Kapotasana. Her adjustment was the more common one, where the hands are pulled closer to the feet. They touched the toes for a bit, and then jumped off. Oh, well. She also helped me in bacbkends. (BTW, standing up from BB is easier after Kapotasana - once you catch your breath and the heart slows down. So I've been standing up on the third one).

After two coconuts - one all juice, one with a little bit of gungy, or meat - I picked up a Deccan Herald and went to Green Leaf. I ordered kesari bath (a sweet saffron semolina dish with raisins and nuts) and kara bath (a savory semolina, or uppma). The waiter said, "Chow chow bath?" and I said no, kesari and kara bath only. Later I learned from Jammu that when you order both, it's called Chow Chow Bath. The things you learn your fifth time here.....

While speaking to Jammu on the phone a man in mustache and white dress shirt interrupted with, "Madam. Madam!" I told him I was on the phone, please do not interrupt. When I was putting away the phone, he returned and asked, "You are Kannada bhajan singer? Ganapa, Krisna singer, you?" I was like, What? "On TV I have seen, you singing Kannada devotional songs." Thank you, but no you haven't. Later, Jammu said, "I haven't heard THAT pickup line before."

Then I went to the railway station to buy a train schedule (Rs 35, or just under $1, it is the size of a pre-wireless phone book) and purchase a ticket to Bangalore for this weekend. I decided to get a reserved ticket, since it was nearly as cheap as unreserved and, well, you're guaranteed a seat. I figured I could go in the cattle car and if it got too crazy I could go to the assigned seat.

First, though, I had to find the special office.

Then I had to fill out a form. The posted train schedule tells you what time the train arrives from Bangalore, but not when it leaves. It tells you when the train to Bangalore leaves Mysore, but not when it arrives. I did the best I could.

Then I got in the queue.

It was long. People sat in several rows of chairs, and when someone went up to the window, everyone shifted seats. It was like some strange volleyball rotation.

Only it was not moving.

I eyed the shorter queue for credit cards and senior citizens. I headed over.

The man in front of me, a Christian from Kerala, helped me figure out which train I wanted. Then he told me to go and get another form, for the return ticket. I'd forgotten how much they like forms here. I filled it the second one. And waited. And waited. The man in front of me looked over my form, and asked me what type of seat I wanted. "Just reserved," I said. "Put AC chair," he said. So I wrote AC chair.

When I finally got to the head of the line, I was stunned by the price: Rs 450 for a round-trip ticket to Bangalore, three hours away. The unreserved seats would have been around Rs 70 (nearly $2). I felt mightily ripped off. Until I translated it into US currency (about $12).

After taking a quick bath and hanging out my wet yoga clothes, I visited Dr. Shetty the dentist. Apparently I have two new cavities, which she drilled (no novicaine) and filled on the spot. That, plus the cleaning, took only 30 minutes and cost Rs 1200 (just over $25).

I asked her to look over the filling done recently by my US dentist (Rs 7,000, or $168), which has been paining me. She said it was OK but the gum is receding and the root is exposed and there's nothing they can do. She agreed with his recommendation to use a sensitive-teeth toothpaste and a special rinse, and added that I should massage the gum each and every day.

Then it was on to another amazing lunch at Shaila's house in Gokulam. Her food is too good.

Later Ammu picked me in the car, and we drove to a temple near the bird sanctuary "for some peace." But the temple, which is on the Kaveri River, was closed. So we sat and watched the water for some time, and explored the area. People were washing dishes and taking ritual baths in the river, which was swollen and moving rather quickly. It hasn't rained here lately; the water was from upriver, in Madikieri. A man and his wife rode up on a motorcycle; she dipped her feet in and left, while he stripped down to his underwear and jumped in, splashing like crazy as he washed himself and his helmet.

In an attempt to get to some steps on the river, Ammu knocked on a door that seemed to lead to them. But it was some man's house. We apologized for disturbing him, but he insisted on letting us in; on the other side was the river, and he was having his dinner on the steps. There was a plaque in Kannada on a little island; I asked Ammu what it said. The said that some of Mahatama Gandhi's ashes are scattered there.

I also learned that this dilapidated little village sits on top of a gold mine, and that no one can dig there without the police looking over their shoulder. It is very busy during the upcoming Ganesh festival, since it is one of the only places where you can legally submerge your clay deity in the water.

While leaving, Ammu accidentally impaled the car on a cement spike. It was stuck. As he tried to get it out, every single passerby stopped what they were doing and helped push out the car.

That's what I came to India for.

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