Tuesday, July 20, 2004


For those who are wondering what the hell I mean by "Beatlemania flap":
I wrote a piece about Guruji's NYC workshop last year and mentioned running into two locals who signed up for just one day because they had to get back home to attend a weekend workshop with one of Guruji's students (he of the many metaphors). I wrote something to the effect that I practiced ahimsa and kept myself from quipping, Why would you go back home to see Beatlemania when the Beatles were right here? Of course by writing it I was not practicing ahimsa (non-harming) at all, I was being a smart ass and making a point. Apparently this did indeed cause harm, as it sparked some letters pointing out what a vulcan bitch (my words, not theirs) I yam, to divide the "community" like that. This happened at a time when some carpetbaggers were allegedly teaching sequences tailored to individual students and calling it ashtanga (something I was dying to write about but did not). So you tell me who was dividing the "community." (There are going to be traditionalists and non-traditionalists in any type of yoga; I think it's good to say which you are and tell people when you are deviating from tradition so as not to confuse the students. But that's just me).

So now I have caused harm by describing some ashtanga blogs as being mindnumblingly boring (see 6/28) and going on to list the minutae they describe. Apparently this was taken as a personal attack (me and my big keyboard). Which was not my intention at all (and about which I feel pretty awful). But as I wrote on 7/1, when you read several entries in order and start to see a narrative, these blogs *usually* become lot more interesting. It's all about context.... Many such blogs are gathered at www.ashtangi.net, which is a great resource for those who are: A) Struggling with doing a regular practice and living in the real world, B) Want to go to Mysore at some point, or C) Want to put off work a little while longer.

This harming thing has me considering A) writing only nice things (not possible, although I tried it once with my first set of India musings and it turned out to be quite funny), B) moving all entries since my return from India to a secret location, the URL of which would only be given to a handful of people (also cowardly), and C) putting my real name on here (way too much of a coward to do that).

My mouth/keyboard has always gotten me in trouble, going back to that time at the roller rink, when some kid's mom grabbed me by the arm and laid into me about "you and your smart mouth." I thought writing was a good outlet for it and that the yoga had tempered it. Ha. The question is, should I be myself (the not-so-young woman with the sharp tongue inherited directly from her grandmother Betsy) or the perfect I'm OK/You're OK yogini that I'd one day like to be. The fact is that at the moment I'm a combo platter who throws a lot fewer phones than she used to.... and if you don't like watching the process, you probably shouldn't come back for seconds.



It's been brought to my attention that my emails are "negative" and that I "fail to see the wonder" of India.* Fine. Although I think it's impossible to set out to write something "nice" without sounding like a publicist or a wide-eyed idiot, I'll try to accent-u-ate the positive - for one email only.

India is an enchanting land of contrasts; the air is filled with the conflicting aromas of mothballs. cow duty, jasmine, nag champa incense, fresh fruit, auto exhaust and old urine.

Oops. That didn't go very well at all. I'll try again.

The people are a handsome lot with their dark skin, perfect teeth, luscious black hair and sparkling eyes. The sidewalks are a moving sea of saris in every color imaginable. The men wear dress shirts and dress pants or dhotis, and moustaches are popular (to look like the Hindi movie stars, someone told me). There seem to be far more men than woman - some experts put this down to female infanticide and bridal burning, but how could such things happen in this day and age? - and the men are always asking me my name, and inquiring after my well-being. The children also want to know my name and where I'm from, and often seem to be in need of a pen for school. (The girls, by the ways wear Chuck Taylor-type shoes with their white-and-blue school uniform; sort of like the Ramones-meet-Catholic schoolgirl).

And they are a religious people! It seems as though every business and home has at least one colorful member of the pantheon of Hindu gods displayed on their wall. The Kaveri lobby boasts a huge, beautiful Saraswathi (female God, representing education) carved out of sandalwood, and it is the first thing you see when you walk in (it truly is awesome). The boys who work there do regular puja, and often walk through the halls with incense. In the morning, the nearby mosque and temple duel it out in their sonic call for prayer, thus ensuring that we ashtangis don't oversleep and miss class, which, if you include Ladies Holiday and Saturdays and moon days and Guruji's occasional surprise days off, would come to a loss of Rs 1250, or $25 . The widely-read newspaper, "The Hindu," runs a wide variety of local, national and international articles, including one that blamed the low marriage age in Kerala state on "the backwards Muslims."

Obviously I can't do this....

I had a meltdown on Tuesday, what with waiting for the elephants that never came and the tailor problem and the heat and having to pee all the time (looks like I may have nipped a bladder infection in the bud) and being stood up for a long-awaited sunset trip up Chamundi Hill with moto-boy and missing dinner and trying to get into the coconut I'd gotten "to go" and cutting the hell out of both thumbs (Swiss Army knives do not work as ice picks) so that the thing was covered in blood when I finally got it open. (But it was tender and juicy and well worth the struggle. Also my sore thumbs, if you will, made for a great conversation-starter the following day, and were even better in some ways than walking around w/ a small, cute dog). Anyway there I was in my bright and expensive hotel room having to urinate and thinking, "No one in India cares whether I live or die, except for the green-eyed clerk, and he's off today and anyway he's paid to care." Then I started thinking about whether or not anyone back home would notice if I died in my sad little bachelorette pad, and this really opened the faucet: "What a mistake I made coming here." And "I'd be just as miserable at home. I'm miserable wherever I go, and I make other people miserable too. No wonder I'm alone all the time." I think part of this meltdown, which was no fun at all and seemed like it would never end, has to do with a statement by the Vivacious Russian Girl With Men Falling at Her Feet (I actually find her quite charming as well; maybe she's one of those evolved people who did the right things in their past lives). She was at 3 Sisters, where I went after being stood up (but there was no food for me because I did not order ahead). She was telling everyone, "I just love it here! I haven't had one bad experience here! It's the best!" and of course I thought, "I was born on a bad day, that's all there is to it, and I'm doomed to be miserable and spread my misery for as long as I live. It's a good thing I don't have children.....This Russian girl cancels me out." Eventually I pulled myself up off the bed and did some "bits and bobs" as the Brits say, and after awhile M. called, as if on cue, and all was well. For another few hours, anyway.

Next day I took the train to Bangalore, which was fun - especially after a Chivalrous Indian Man with impeccable English gave me his seat next to the window. The C.I.M., who wore Nikes and is Catholic and told me his name is Geoffrey, asked me about my thumbs, and soon we were talking about restaurants and yogis and toast and lodges and business opportunities in Gokalum, where the yoga shala will move this summer, and the 3-plus hour trip took no time at all. Once there he insisted on dropping me off at Lufthansa, where my ticket change went swimmingly well (they even had a western toilet - with paper!). While there I thought about when I first arrived in India, in Bangalore, and how chaotic and dirty I thought it was. Now, after time in busy Trivandrum and sleepy Mysore, Bangalore comes across as a vibrant, hip metropolis (it's the cyber-center of India) that is full of foliage and actually lives up to its name as the Garden City - at least in the parts I saw.

I even found myself in the same shopping area where Devdutt took us to find yoga clothes when we were missing our luggage not-so-long ago, and I felt older and wiser and maybe, just maybe, a little bit less closed to it all. Anyway C.I.M. came back and we had lunch - he'd never dined with a vegetarian before! -- and did some shopping (it was all quite innocent, thank you) and then I went back to the train, where I got a window seat but somehow 9 people squeezed into a compartment for 6. It wasn't that bad tho (Nothing compares to my bus trip to Brindhavan gardens, where the Spaniards and I made the mistake of leaving right after school let out, and it was the fullest bus ever - no such things as No Standees Permitted, Cap 66 here -- and it did not leave the depot until we'd sat there for over a half an hour not moving as more and more people got on and there were elbows and thighs and bad breath and B.O., and I thought I was going to faint or die and they kept passing school-bags back to the girl next to me (3 in our seat for 2) and then they were passing something else, and it was an infant w/ shaved head and earrings and bindi).

Since then I've learned that mango season starts next week, and I'm starting to know people a bit better and I've found the coconut stand where people go after class. Going there, and drinking coconut milk straight (no straw) and talking and watching the schoolgirls walk by (it seems that school starts at 10am) in their pigtails and sitting there baking in the sun and watching the wallah hold the fruit in his bare hand and cut it perfectly with his machete with no fear..... all this, when you know it's February back home and you have no plans all day, other than figuring out what / where to eat, is an experience I feel lucky to have. So I guess that's the positive part of my note. Also the fact that A.L's room-mate J., who was also in Kovalam (only I didn't meet her til we were both at the Kaveri after a 22-hour train ride wondering why they'd given our rooms away), invited me to a most excellent dinner party at their posh apartment (it featured Keralan coconut stew, lemon rice, stuffed chapatti, "jacket potatoes" and many, many beautifully-colored shredded raw vegetables, which are a novelty here). We sat on cushions on the marble floor, and before and after dinner we read aloud from Yoga Mala and thumbed through the current issue of Man's World magazine, which has a story about Pattabhi Jois (from it we learned that Indian students pay Rs 150, or $3, to study with him for a month). The electricity was off again, and so we dined in candlelight, and the conversation was intimate and meandering. That too is right up there w/ my favorite experiences - especially since it happened on what would have been my mother's 73rd birthday.

This morning the electricity was off again and it was pitch-black outside, so I got my torch (flashlight) and made my way to the shala, about a 15-minute walk (the flashlight was mostly to keep cars and rickshaws from hitting me). There were so many stars in the sky! And all of the ponies had food. But on the way, near the brightly-lit chai stand, one of the street mongrels started to bark at me (they do this to westerners, as I think we look and walk differently), and next thing I knew it was at my heels growling and then I felt a pull and the thing had taken a chunk out of my pants! Fortunately they were flare-legs, and he missed the flesh. I turned around and shined my light in its eyes and let loose with a string of epithets worthy of any sailor. And the thing ran off! And now I have to make a trip to tailor, instead of the hospital for rabies shots. For that, too, I am thankful.

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