Sunday, October 31, 2010


Some of the neighbors go all-out for Halloween.

Interestingly, the majority of this amazing display - which spans the sidewalk and includes the nearby trees (not to mention the yard and front of the house, which you can't see) - didn't appear until today.

If only it worked that way with political campaign signs!


So many pumpkins, so little time....

Photo snapped at the pub around the corner from where I teach on Mondays and Fridays.

There were so many pumpkins they wouldn't all fit.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

So many books, so little time....

Grimmly turned to The Ramayana, and Boodiba is thinking about giving it shot. (I love the audio version, read by Ram Dass). I recently re-re-re-read How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjai, and started on Volume One of The Upanishads. That should keep me busy for a few years.

I also like to thumb through Swami Sivananda's Self Knowledge, although it can leave me feeling a bit unworthy (hence the small doses).

Before bed, I'm re-reading Chandra Om's The Holy Science of Yoga.

But the book that's captivating me at the moment is Radhanath Swami's The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami.

It combines a few of my favorite things:

Memoir + entertaining story + lessons and information about the Science of Yoga.

In other words, it is a painless, engaging read that one does not have to feel guilty about enjoying.

Plus the author is Richard Slavin, a former hippie who was born in Chicago and grew up in Highland Park before making the hellish trip overland from Europe to India, via the Middle East, in 1970. In India, he lived as a wandering renunciant, meeting a who's-who of holy people (including Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, S.N. Goenka, Neem Karoli Baba, Swami Satchidananada, Swami Muktananda and Ananda Mayi Ma) before committing to his Guru, ISKCON founder Swami Prabhupada.

Some of the stories are rather fantastic; I heard the swami speak at YogaNow a couple of weeks ago, and he is quite a charming raconteur.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. The lessons he learns in the book are real - and those of us on the path need all the help we can get.

Here's a brief excerpt:

"In every spiritual path, there are those who are true and those who are false. Saintliness is not determined by one's title, dress, hairstyle or place of residence. This man, for example, had the title of swami, a shaved head indicating he had renounced worldly pleasures, and the robes of a sadhu. Yet he'd tried to exploit me to satisfy his own carnal desire. Real saintliness should be understood by a person's behavior. Exerting one's spiritual authority to exploit the innocent is a grave injustice. I prayed that this incident would not create doubt in my my mind towards sincere devotees."

I'd like to submit that when it comes to saintliness, gender too is largely irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Saw that coming....

There's been so much traffic that the metal plate has shifted to the point where it is no longer covering the pothole.


Some cars end up hitting both the metal plate *and* getting a tire stuck in the pothole.

Some cars make a severe swerve around both.

At least it's at a jaunty angle...

Upon closer examination, it seems the pothole is indeed the tip of the iceberg, with a sinkhole below - as Dreyfus predicted.

You can see that it's already receding further, and will soon become a massive hole, capable of swallowing whole Halloween Trick-or Treaters.

In the meantime, it's a convenient place to store leaves.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

from Sri Nathamuni's Yogarahasya presented by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya

"Just as an idle person cannot cross the river sitting in a boat which is leaking, so too a person who follows the instructions of an ignorant teacher cannot attain moksha."


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

See and Hear the Famous Pothole "Repair"

Monday, October 18, 2010

You can move away from a pothole problem.
But, like a sanskara, it is always waiting, ready to pounce.

You may recall that there was a massive pothole in front of my old apartment last year.

It was so big it became an installation, an obsession and a political statement - and eventually made it into John Kass's column in the Chicago Tribune.

You can read all about it here.

The city eventually covered the pothole with a giant metal plate - which as of yesterday is still there.

* * *

A few months ago, a small but very deep pothole appeared right in front of the new apartment.

Beneath the pothole was a huge hollow area that was far wider than its narrow, visible diameter.

The pothole stayed the same for a couple of months, never getting bigger.

And no one stuck anything in it.

Because, you see, it wasn't a menace.

Then, last Friday, there was a lot of noise in front of the building. It sounded like workers doing something.

Later, there were loud metallic thump-THUMP noises at irregular intervals.

They kept going on all evening.

They were LOUD.

Thump-THUMP. Thump-THUMP

Finally, I went out to investigate.

It seems that the workers had placed a giant metal plate over the pothole.

But they didn't nail it down.

So every time a car went over - which was often - it made a thump-THUMP noise that reverberated throughout the apartment building.

The sound went on all weekend. All day. And all night.

Thump-THUMP. Thump-THUMP.

On Saturday I called Dreyfus, and he could hear it over the phone - even though I was inside the apartment, with the window closed.

(It didn't bother me too much at night because I sleep with earplugs. Because loud neighbors can also follow you).

On Sunday I noticed that someone had placed wood shims under the plate, so that it wouldn't make as much noise.

And today I noticed this cryptic stuff...

...which is never a good sign.

Yet it did nothing to stifle the sound.

Thump-THUMP. Thump-THUMP!

(If only it went Ba-DUM-dum instead.

Now that would be funny).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In terms of self-care, are you the Kaveri Lodge, the Southern Star, or the Lalitha Mahal?

I was never a fan of Rosie O'Donnell until I got the current car and heard her show on satellite radio. She's hilarious and is clearly a yogi, - even though she doesn't perform the poses (for the record, most of the great yogis and saints have only performed a single asana - sitting with a straight spine).

The other day Rosie mentioned that she once heard Queen of Self Esteem Regina Wiechert speak on self-care. Wiechert asked the audience members to assess their level of self-care and said, "If your self-care were a hotel, what hotel would you be?"

(NOTE: self-care includes diet, sleep, medical care, dentistry, friendships, exercise, relaxation, spiritual path - the whole nine yards).

I used to be the Rustic Inn in Rolla, MO.

I still love the Kaveri Lodge in Mysore.

But now I'm probably the unpretentious, mid-range Curzon Court in Bangalore, with cool marble floors, cable TV, room service and A/C.

Which hotel are you?


Photo courtesy of Travelpod.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paulie Zink's Taoist Yoga is Not Just Sitting and Doing Long Holds

I attended Monkey Kung Fu Master Paulie Zink's five-hour workshop at CYC on Sunday.

As expected, it was awesome.

The poses and flows are mostly different than those in Indian asana, although they are also based on animals. They are designed to get the chi (life-force) flowing and maintain health. The goal is to get in touch with one's true, primal nature and move like a monkey.

It is not Yin Yoga, although that is one aspect of it. It is Yin/Yang yoga - which requires strength, balance, and flexibility (NOTE: According to Paulie, Yin teacher Paul Grilley studied with Paulie Zink for a year and learned only one aspect of Taoist Yoga from him). Paulie does not use a timer, and is one of the most laid-back teachers I've ever encountered.

A few the poses are similar to what we do in Indian yoga. His Philosopher's Pose, in which you stand and take the arms around the legs, grab the head and look up at the anus, is the same as Dharma Mittra's Stork Pose (about which a student once came up to me after class and said, "There's no stork pose in Light on Yoga").

Dharma spent 11 years with his guru before heading out on his own. He spent many years exploring different poses and probably invented 300 or more.

Paulie spent 10 years with his guru (their sessions were all-nighters!) and spent many years exploring differeret poses and also invented scores of them.

Both have a humble, playful demeanor - despite being accomplished masters - and have inventive flows and teach several levels of student at the same time.

Which makes me feel very lucky indeed.

(Still sore, though. - although my chronic hip pain has miraculously disappeared).

Read more about Paulie here.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Nine Nights of the Goddess Start Tonight
(click song at bottom to hear a wonderful Durga bhajan).

One of the reasons I love the Goddess Durga is because she slays the demon without anger or rancor; her faces remains impassive. She does it because it has to be done.

She has power and uses it wisely, but does not let it sully her.

And she is fearless.

We could learn a lot from her.

* * *

The first three days of Navratri are devoted to Durga, who destroys evil.

The second three days are devoted to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

The final three days are devoted to Saraswati, who represents knowledge, music and the arts.

The Tenth Day is Dussara - which denotes the victory of truth over evil and the triumphant ovation of the soul at having attained liberation while living in this world. Dussara was the day when the Goddess Chamundi (Durga) killed the demon Mahishasura - from whom the city of Mysore gets its name.

From Swami Sivananda:

Durga Puja is the greatest Hindu festival in which God is adored as Mother. Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has emphasised to such an extent the motherhood of God. One's relationship with one's mother is the dearest and the sweetest of all human relations. Hence, it is proper to look upon God as mother....

Durga is the energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Shiva has no expression and without Shiva, Durga has no existence. Shiva is the soul of Durga; Durga is identical with Shiva. Lord Shiva is only the silent witness. He is motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. It is Durga who does everything....

The Mother's Grace is boundless. Her mercy is illimitable; Her knowledge infinite; Her power immeasurable; Her glory ineffable; and Her splendour indescribable. She gives you material prosperity as well as spiritual freedom.

Approach Her with an open heart. Lay bare your heart to Her with frankness and humility. Be as simple as a child. Kill ruthlessly the enemies of egoism, cunningness, selfishness and crookedness. Make a total, unreserved, and ungrudging self-surrender to Her. Sing Her praise. Repeat Her Name. Worship Her with faith and unflinching devotion. Perform special worship on the Navaratri days. Navaratri is the most suitable occasion for doing intense spiritual practices. These nine days are very sacred to the Divine Mother. Plunge yourself in Her worship. Practise intense repetition of the Divine Name, having a regular "quota" of repetitions per day, and the number of hours spent on it.

Learn more about the Chicago observance of Navratri here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Remember this name: Ajay Naidu

On Saturday TiaS and I went to see the great Bengali actress and director Aparna Sen at the South Asian Film Festival.

First, though, we had to sit through Antaheen - a long-ish film set in Kolkata that stars Sen and her real-life husband, New Jersey-based English professor Kalyan Ray. The product placement (Reliance Mobile, anyone? Cafe Coffee Day? How about a Pepsi?) was distracting - it was directed by former adman Aniruddha Roy "Tony" Chowdhury - and it's nearly impossible to make an interesting film about people chatting on the internet. I would have preferred fewer cumbersome slow-mo music video numbers (when the final one started, the entire audience groaned in unison... just before they killed off the young heroine!).

This one was pretty good, though:

[Editor's note: HA! - the joke's on me. After writing this, I learned that the film's title means "The Endless Wait." Indeed!].

Afterwords, the regal Aparna Sen came out fighting and corrected the unsmiling University of Chicago film prof moderator, who described her as a "feminist" director. (I think she was offended. She is a filmmaker, period , and it reminded me of when people called Spike Lee "the black Woody Allen." Um, no, he's a filmmaker, period).

Aparna Sen's new film, The Japanese Wife, was screened the following day. She also directed one of my favorites, 36 Chowringee Lane (which stars Jennifer Kendal and was produced by her husband, Shashi Kapoor!), and 2003's Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. The questions from the audience were good, although people kept trying to get her to say that her films were better than the one we'd just seen. she didn't take the bait. She said it's hard to get funding these days, and that product placement is a necessary evil. She also said, "It's an exciting time for Bollywood. All kinds of subjects are being explored - it is no longer a boy-meets-girl or running-around-the trees story." We also learned that films about rural lives are not popular in Indian cinema (although this does not seem to be true in South India; plus, female director Anusha Rizvi's new Hindi farmer suicide black comedy Peepli Live is has been selected to represent Indian cinema in the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year's Academy Awards (it probably helped that the big-time Hindi film actor Aamir Khan has attached his name to the project).

Afterwords, TiaS and I dined on veg. biryani and curry, and talked about whether we could sneak into the next film - Ashes, which was getting its US premiere and was sold out before we arrived. It's directed by and stars Evanston, Illinois native Ajay Naidu - who attended film school at Columbia College for two years. It's the film we really wanted to see, since it's Naidu's directorial debut and had an interesting premise, - focusing on "two brothers whose lives are unraveling. As one brother plummets deeper into mental illness, the other, Ashes, copes by throwing himself into the drug-dealing community that consumes him."

We were finishing our meal and talking about yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga and yoga when a man with an official-looking ID badge dangling from his neck asked if we were interested seeing in Ashes. You bet! We said. He said it looked like there were a few seats left, and asked if we wanted them. We did.

The film was as alive, vibrant and heartfelt as the previous one was not. The score was visceral and unsentimental (as the other was not), with original music from the likes of Talvin Singh and Karsh Kale. I was pulled in from the start, and it kept me there the entire time. The relationships were believable, the acting and writing were great and so was the editing, directing and photography. It was awesome - especially the acting and directing - and at the end even I was crying.

Afterwords Ajay (whom you may know from Office Space, and The West Wing) and his producer and female lead came out to talk about the film. He said that he wanted to shoot in Chicago and spent seven years trying to make it happen here. But all of his crew, etc. was in New York. Once he realized it had to be shot in NYC (Queens, actually), he was shooting within a week.

He said that the stories - about an elder, bi-polar brother with Schizophrenia (I think) and his younger, drug-dealing brother came from real life and the events all really happened - "only not in that order." You could tell that he was speaking from the heart - both during the film and after. He said he hoped the film would serve as a catalyst for people to discuss that which is taboo in the South Asian community - mental illness and suicide - and bring it out into the open. He also said that the title comes from the ashes the saddhus (holy men) in India smear on their bodies. (BTW, his fiancee and high school sweetheart, Heather Burns, played the bad girl).

I pray he gets into the film festivals, finds a distributor with deep pockets, and that everyone gets to see it.

And then I hope they give him a big, fat budget for his next film.

Read the Times of India's take on the fest here.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The ringer may be off, but the phone's still on....

See in Class This Week:

-Student sending and receiving text messages

-Student checking football scores

-Teacher telling student such behavior is "distracting" and "frowned upon."